Mysticism and War: Reflections on Bergson and his Reception During World War I


  • Donna V. Jones University of California, Berkeley



Bergson, World War One, War, Vitalism, Mysticism


Once we grasp Bergson’s new conception of an intuitive metaphysics premised on a distance from action, it seems unlikely that a connection could be found between this metaphysics and an activist philosophy of war. In this essay I shall revisit Bergson’s metaphysics to see how they could have been understood to provide support for war. I discuss how Bergson’s metaphysics by way of its number theoretical understanding of oneness was thought to mirror or express the limit experience of war that attracted many intellectuals hungry for a shattering of conventional limits on what held up as reality. Finally I suggest that Bergson subtly changed his understanding of the élan vital in the course of the Great War, compromising in the process its initially non-teleological character in order to ensure that his doctrines would only be implicated in international peace, not jingoistic war propaganda.