Saint-Exupéry and “le culte du passe”

The civilization that Saint-Exupéry lauds in Citadelle is ideal, but it is inspired in part by traditional civilizations with which he was familiar. Having been born in an aristocratic family that could trace its ancestry back to the Crusades, he admired the Christian civilization which flourished in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. At that time religion oriented all human activities and gave coherence to society and human relationships. Man was not conceived as an end in himself, but rather as the image of a principle infinitely more elevated and universal. His character and inner being were developed much more than in the materialistically oriented democracies of the Twentieth Century. Modern mechanized civilization is a disaster because the individual is deprived of the conceptual culture of the past. Machines have changed the individual too fast for him to be able to develop new concepts that harmonize with his new mode of living (Carnets, p. 118). Social equality is not found in nature, the strongest and the most intelligent reign among animals and men (Carnets, pp. 64-65). A great civilization is built upon what is demanded of men, not what is furnished for them. To serve another, as the medieval servant served his feudal lord; is not humiliating when considered as a normal social process (Carnets, p. 67). As they emulate them the common people grow to be like their aristocratic leaders (Carnets, pp. 198-199).

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 08:4
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