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The chapter explores the rich resonances of Bergson’s philosophy in the field of politics and political thought, demonstrating how Bergson’s later thought provides crucial insights for contemporary problems and debates. It shows how Bergson takes up a Rousseauian strand of political theory that exploits the productive inconsistencies of the republican tradition and situates him within a realist tradition going back to early Christianity (with Pascal as his central reference) that resonates with current realist conceptions of the political. The chapter then moves to consider ways in which Bergson’s conceptions speak to - and disrupt - debates concerning nationalism and cosmopolitanism in political theory today, and in particular, debates between partialists, cosmopolitans, and dualists. Highlighting Bergson’s own participation in politics, the chapter then discusses Bergson’s contribution to the thinking of human rights via one of his early readers, the Canadian diplomat John Humphrey, whose notion of process serves as the motif of the essay’s concluding critical assessment of Bergson’s notion of democracy as a work in progress.
Summarizing the results of Bergson’s inquiry into the realities generally referred to under the heading “religion,” the chapter identifies what Bergson calls the “specifically religious element” as love (the mystics’ word for the élan vital) in action. To account for its possibility, the chapter turns to Bergson’s use of the term “conversion,” which he consistently employs to describe qualitative change, and articulates the mystic experience as a conversion that aims at a creative transformation of humanity. The very terms in which Bergson couches this conversion call up and shed new light on major themes of Bergson’s philosophy, including liberty, the élan vital, and philosophical intuition. The conclusion of the essay addresses Bergson’s problematic “conversion” to Catholicism as an instance of love in action.
The chapter presents Bergson as an underacknowledged yet first-rate social theorist, demonstrating that in Two Sources Bergson is in extensive, albeit implicit, dialogue with his two great predecessors in the tradition -Émile Durkheim and Auguste Comte - and that his encounter with them turns on three questions at the heart of sociology as a unique field of inquiry: first, what binds people together in society? second, what is the origin of society? and third, what is the nature of social change? By working through Bergson’s engagement with these key authors and themes, the chapter presents Bergson’s own original theory of society and sociability, which, as with all his work, centers on creativity, but this time in connection with personal and collective transformation.
The chapter examines racist and colonialist assumptions in Bergson’s philosophy and outlines what is at stake in the various approaches to these assumptions that recent interpreters have taken. Focusing on two readers of Bergson, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Messay Kebede, the chapter shows how the Négritude movement deployed a Bergsonian epistemology to challenge the dominance and domination of a European conception of rationality, mobilizing instead what Senghor calls an “embracing reason.” Critically assessing recent identifications of racism, the racialization of bodies, and whiteness as a transcendental norm in Bergson’s philosophy, the author concludes that Bergson cannot altogether escape the charges, given that his central distinction between open and closed in Two Sources relies on a notion of “primitives” as an indispensable foil for the achievements of the mystics. The question then becomes to what extent Bergson’s thought can be mobilized to remedy the evils it cannot wholly be extricated from. In conclusion, the essay surveys contemporary appropriations of the conception of the open society and suggests that Senghor’s rearticulation of Bergson’s intuition as sympathetic "embracing reason" offers theoretical and practical ways to address racist and colonial discourses.
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