André Gide and the “Virtue of Freedom”

There are certain writers one must go back to, every once in a while, whenever one’s moral compass requires reorienting. Orwell and Lu Xun are excellent for this, but André Gide is no less effective when one has been hit by a case of the intellectual blahs. One of France’s greatest writers and the 1947 Nobel Literature Prize winner, he was, like many intellectuals of the early 20th century, a Communist sympathizer. Gide toured the USSR in 1936 as a big name guest of the Soviet Union of Writers, but on returning to France wrote a penetrating condemnation of Communism (Retour de L’U.R.S.S ). “In my opinion, in no country today, not even in Hitler’s Germany, is the spirit more suppressed, more timid, more servile than in the Soviet Union”.

Earlier, Gide had traveled to French Equatorial Africa and published two books, Voyage au Congo and Le Retour Du Tchad. “Among other things his report contained a documented account of the inhuman treatment of African laborers by the companies that held exploiting concessions in the colonies.” In 1920 he wrote Corydon, a Socratic-style dialogue defending and exploring the nature of homosexuality and its place in history and society.

Yesterday I was browsing through André Gide’s  Journals. Back in ‘73 I picked up a secondhand copy of Vol. IV of the English translation (by Justin O’Brien) at Shakespeare and Co on Paris’s Left Bank. In his entry of 10 May, 1941, Gide makes this observation that might partly explain why a section of present-day exile Tibetan leadership and society appear so incapable of valuing freedom and democracy over the unrealizable, and frankly, craven hope of gaining the trust and favor of China’s Communist bosses.  Here is what Gide had to say:

If the English succeed in driving the Germans out of France, a party will form in our country to balk at that deliverance, to discover that the recent domination had something to be said for it, since it at least imposed order, and to prefer it to the disorder of freedom. A freedom for which we are not yet ready and which we do not deserve. Freedom is beautiful only because it permits the exercise of virtues that it is first essential to acquire.

There is another entry in his Journal (18 December, 1905) which might strike a chord with readers who have observed the reverence of older Tibetans for the written word.

What especially shocked Paul Claudel when, after several years in the Orient, he returned to modern civilization was the waste. ‘What!’ he exclaimed, ‘when St Francis of Assisi found in the mud of a path a bit of crumpled parchment, he picked it up in his hand, smoothed it out, because he had seen writing on it, writing, that sacred thing and look at us, what we do with it today

Portrait of André Gide by the neo-impressionist Théo van Rysselberghe

16 Replies to “André Gide and the “Virtue of Freedom””

  1. Most Tibetans are democratic in the same way His Holiness is a feminist.

    Bhuchung K Tsering claims that Samdhong Rinpoche was a major player in shaping Tibetan Democracy, and I am sure he is right. Actually i don’t know what is right beyond the superficial. Could I be wrong thinking that Samdhong Rinpoche is as cynical about Democracy as H. L. Mencken was? A clever machiavellian would criticize Machiavelli.

  2. I am more and more convinced without doubt that we Tibetans are NOW losing the sense of being ourselves both religiously and politically beyond repair. Only history will reveal it someday. I think, we NOW live in a world of “Ritual Comsumerism”, a different Shangri-La myth of 21st century. The whole world is watching us with awe at our regular colorfulful rituals of submission to both the inside and outside forces. We are so mesmerized in our own world of imagination and emotion. Is this the freedom we are seeking? Exactly, what a naive yet ironically beautiful “hang-up”. Is our enemy also our greatest teacher even in our journey of struggle for A Free Tibet.? Time to rethink seriously. What are we actually fighting for – Tibet’s freedom or Individual Liberation (nirvana)? No mixing pl…….Dear fellow Tibetans! Pl. Pl. Do not ever misunderstand Jamyang Norbu la. He is not an anti Dalai Lama nor anti Tibetan…..

    Tsepak Rigzin

  3. Hi Yamyang, how can Tibet issue be resolved without gaining in some ways ‘ the trust and favour of Communist bosses’? can independence for tibet be achieved in the face of a highly pissed off and antagonistic beijing?

  4. old monk

    wow you are still looking to “gain” the trust of communists bosses? really?

    its sad that a lots of Tibetans hasn’t get yet the Chinese message from 60 years

  5. Try to gain‘the trust and favour of Communist bosses’. Brilliant!! And not the Chinese government, the Chinese people too, right? We also need to gain their trust too.

    But, how can we achieve this? What do the mainland Chinese people and their government value? I mean, besides money and aping everything Western. Chinese tradition! As interpreted by the CCP.

    We Tibetans need to embrace and celebrate Chinese tradition which will make the CCP regime and Chinese people so happy. This way, we are building bridges, building trust. Win, win!

    And nothing says Chinese tradition like eating cats and dogs. It’s high time we Tibetans start an annual Dog Eating Festival like the one that just took place in Yulin, China.

    Hundreds and thousands of cats and dogs, many stolen from pet owners consumed in few days. And what a BBQ it was! Really brought the community together, and everyone had an awesome time. We need to be a part of this cool culture!

    Now I know what you bleeding heart pet lovers are thinking but why should we Chinese value animals when human life is so cheap here?

    Don’t worry, the world will understand, and btw, greed is innate human nature so we have that on our side. And even if the world can’t be bought off in this instance, so what? We don’t need the evil West shoving their fake humane values down our throats.

    Incidentally, I read this to my dog. She rolled her eyes and licked herself. Dogs will do that and that’s why we really need to eat them now!

  6. India now want to prosecute karmapa, for being Chinese spy again!!!! and the Dalai Lama is pushing hardly for Karmapa to be his successor!!! whatever some may think he is innocent etc it could be though…does it sound right that someone is relatively suspecious to be the head of CTA?

    something is apparently very wrong

  7. Buddhist Outsider,

    You dont have to worry about Karmapa. The legal system of India will take care and He will be fine. You take care of those Shugden people who are crying in youtube.
    Kundun is going to live for 20 more years so you rest in peace. In that time much things will happen.

  8. Hi Jamyang La

    I am interested to know your opinion regarding the recent issue, which India will investigate Karmapa, and still suspect him to have some link with China?

    what do you think about this?


  9. Buddhist Outsider, where are you getting the info India is prosecuting Karmapa “for being Chinese spy?”

    I think this court case is the continuation of an alleged, illegal land transaction back in 2011. I recall the money trail was paved with yuan (and other foreign currencies). If India is suspicious of him, I don’t blame them what with China on their nasty neighbour. I am suspicious of him too because I don’t know him. Most Tibetans dont know him come on. Yet he may one day replace His Holiness.

    Something disconcerting and moral bankruptcy with the mind blowing coincidence that both His Holiness and the atheist CCP butchers in Beijing should choose the same boy as a “living Buddha.”

    On the charge of money laundering and illegal land purchase, the Karmapa can relax as Lobsang Wangyal, that queen of Dharsa, was seen on the news assuring the world that to a personage of the Karmapa’s stature, “money means absolutely nothing to him.” Does money also mean nothing to his handlers I wonder? Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of a poor tulku, even the Buddha dined with Kings. The power and the glory.

    All knowing beings, how wondrous! I wonder if Karmapa (the 3d one?) foresaw this sensational title from India times………The Monk Who Wants A Ferrari. Dalai Lama’s Successor Arrested For Money Laundering?

    Here in brief…..

  10. What about unaccounted and undeclared foreign funds enriching the following: Lithang Athar Tsering in America, socalled Tsem Tulku in Malaysia, traitor Gangchen Lama in Italy, Trijang Chocktrul and his brother Jamyang in America, etc., etc?
    Tax evasion is rife worldwide, nevertheless the IRS should prosecute these bloodsuckers.

  11. Speaking of land transactions…

    Sakya Pandita and Phagpa charmed the ravenous Mongol beast, the reigning superpower of the time, with non violent buddhist ideals. In-fact, Shakabpa wrote that Sakya Pandita “persuaded Prince Godan (Godan Khan 1206 – 1251) to refrain from throwing large numbers of Chinese into a near by river.”

    In retrospect, it might have been better for Tibet if the sage minded his own business and let the Mongols do what they did very well. Was Manjushri perhaps blind to future invention of the electric cattle prod?

    Ofcourse I am being unfair. Anyway, the point is made. Who knows (beside Bonaparte haha), history may repeat, Buddhism may yet save us again.

  12. The Chinese emperor being the emanation of Manjushri is just a myth created by Tibetan Lamas to appease Chinese emperor.

    Chinese emperor from the first to present are one of the most ruthless monarch down the history of mankind. So that would taint the image of Manjushri the Bodhisttva of Wisdom. Bodhisattva by definition is kind hearted deity who has forsaken his Buddhahood (enlightenment) to to help all sentient beings from suffering.

  13. The Chinese emperor being the emanation of Manjushri is just a myth. Chinese emperor from the first to present are one of the most ruthless monarch down the history of mankind.

    So that would taint the image of Manjushri the Bodhisttva of Wisdom. Bodhisattva by definition is kind hearted deity who has forsaken his Buddhahood (enlightenment) to to help all sentient beings from suffering.

  14. Karze

    yes Chinese rulers always was

    and this Tibetan approach toward beutifying them, is sill adapted by Kundun and CTA

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