philosophical convergence between both embattled /materialist and detached
idealist philosophers is captured in a short poem by René Char (14 June 1907 –
19 February 1988): ‘Towards your frontier, you humiliated, I walk at last with
confidence, warned that truth does not necessarily precede action.’ This
poetical aphorism opens two windows on the eternal dialectics between truth and
action, theory and practice, philosophy and politics, as I see them unfolding
in the Middle East convulsions of the early twenty-first century.
paraphrase the great French poet. The first part says: ‘Toward the frontier of
humiliated life, in the long night of the modern Middle East age of ruthless
dictators, the men and women of the revolution walk with the certainty of
truth.’ In this first window into the Middle East revolution, marching is
physical action, and the marching operates with confidence and inevitability in
its self-consciousness. The nexus between action and philosophy, more precisely
the nexus of action to truth, philosophy’s meta-object, is therefore far more
intimate than both engage or detached philosophers may be ready to concede.
is more to the poem than reckoning the revelation of truth in historic changes
of mass proportions that we call revolutions. Opening the second vista, Char
writes that ‘la vérité ne précède pas
obligatoirement l’action’ (Truth does not necessarily come before action).
Necessarily, obligatoirement, is the
key qualifier of the poem. Action is sometimes forced to precede truth.
Sometimes truth comes before action; sometimes it does not. Philosophical truth
faces deadlocks and impasses, aporia that action resolves, sometimes. In a
world where the individual is always overtaken by forces far beyond his or her
practical reach, the reach itself provides and answer to the impasse. Shorn of
philosophy, however, that reach misses its most important resonance in
world-historic terms. Truth is also
in action, which sometimes precedes
philosophy.”—From Chibli Mallat’s Philosophy of Nonviolence: Revolution, Constitutionalism, and Justice Beyond the Middle East (Oxford University
Further reading: Nonviolent Resistance in the Middle East: A Basic Bibliography