Lifestyles and behaviour have changed since André Siegfried* wrote L’âme des peuples in 1950, but have people changed too?
What sort of cultural change are we talking about?
- An increase in pessimism
- A desire for security
- A reduction in individual initiative and personal freedom
- The primacy of the state, which took over the running of individuals’ lives
“Society is becoming more egalitarian, showing greater solidarity, but less liberal. Liberalism is today seen by advanced sections of society or those considered as such as being outmoded. It seems reactionary to want to defend the individual against the organisation, because organisation means progress”.
André Siegfried then asks whether the person as an individual is also progressing and considers the notion of cultural continuity.
What are our cultural foundations?
Liberalism is ruled out but nevertheless the liberalisation of our lifestyles and behaviour is incontestable, giving rise to other forbidden notions. With the stated aim of defending our freedom of expression, we have introduced another form of censorship.
With information technology, understanding and communication have become intertwined. We have replaced certain values by others but where do we really find a change and where is the continuity? Is it possible to talk about cultural foundations?
André Siegfried considered the cultural origins of peoples and their adaptation to the changes and revolutions they experience. Is his analysis still relevant today, more than half a century later? We will be bringing you a series of articles based on themes he explored, including Latin realism, French ingenuity, British tenacity, German discipline, Russian mysticism, and American dynamism.
The purpose of these articles is to check whether his view of cultures is still topical, if we still find continuity today, and if the knowledge of these cultural foundations can help us understand modern day behaviour. It’s important to distinguish between things which change quickly and visibly and those which are deeply entrenched in underlying mentalities, sometimes without us even suspecting it. Those aspects embedded in the collective subconscious often have their roots far in the past and may appear immovable. In reality, changes occur much more slowly than we think and are not accomplished in the space of a generation. It’s always interesting to identify our cultural foundations as these have repercussions on the way we think and the way we act without us always being aware of it.
André Siegfried (1875-1959)
Coming from an old Protestant family with Alsatian origins, André Siegfried was a free thinker. As a sociologist, historian, geographer, economist and writer, a pioneer in the field of electoral sociology, he became known for his research work, including above all his masterly Tableau de la France de l’Ouest.
After a great deal of globetrotting which took him among others to the United States, Mexico, Australia, Japan, China and the Indies, he served as an interpreter with the British Army during the First World War then held a post at the SDN. He taught at the École libre des Sciences politiques, where he emerged as the dominant figure, becoming the first president of the Fondation nationale des Sciences politiques in 1945. He was elected to the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques in 1932 and to the Académie française in 1944.
He produced a number of important works, including: L’Angleterre d’aujourd’hui, son évolution économique et politique, Les États-Unis d’aujourd’hui, Tableaux des partis en France, La Crise britannique au XXe siècle, Cours de géographie économique et politique, L’Amérique latine, Le Canada, puissance internationale, Qu’est-ce que l’Amérique ?, Suez, Panama et les routes maritimes mondiales, Mes souvenirs de la IIIe République, Mon père et son temps, La Suisse, démocratie témoin, L’Âme des peuples, Aspects du XXe siècle.