A Rationalist Within Reason

Albert Guerard - Stanford, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, February 26, 2010
Albert Guerard

Although born in France, author Albert Guerard loved his adopted American home, and the principles on which it is based. Guerard called himself a “do-gooder with a critical spirit,” and he believed that love and charity would raise mankind out of the “primeval slime.”

Age Group: 65+
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I was born in Paris within a stone’s throw of the Louvre. For nearly a decade in my formative years, London became the second home of my spirit. I felt to the full the charm of the vast chaotic metropolis, even the fog which wrapped that great center of power and trade in dream and mystery.

My father was a free-thinking Catholic—not an unusual combination in the land of Montaigne and Voltaire. My mother belonged to the pitiful remnant of the Gallican church. My wife’s family were of Scottish-Courlando descent. From these conflicting experiences, I have retained an odd blend of ideals, a deep love for long-rooted things, meadow books, old cities, ancient creeds. And also the sense that these were but toys and garments for the eternal and ever new thoughts of living man. The Tory and the radical within me smile indulgently and fraternally at each other.

The Dreyfus case taught me that the noblest tradition, when exclusive and infallible in its own conceit, could become a power of evil. I was bidden to the nation, the army, the flag, but these were laid against justice, and justice had to prevail. “My country right or wrong,” is the most insidious of blasphemies. It means thou shalt have no other God beside their country, not even God.

I found myself at home from the very first in the America of 1906, an America deeply attached to its brief past but first of all to its principles, which were shaping the future. An America which was admirably defined by David Star Jordan as “The land where hate dies away.” The America I had found in 1906 had erected a statue to William Lloyd Garrison with the inscription, “My country is the world. My countrymen are all mankind.”

I have remained an obstinate liberal in the strictest sense of the term—a lover of liberty—throughout the half-century of my American life. I have steadfastly combated the dogmatic exclusive systems which seek to crush man’s free spirit with their leaden feet. Partisanship and sectarianism I regard as wholly evil. They breed fanaticism in its blind, self-righteous cruelty.

I call myself a rationalist within reason. And I strive to be a do-gooder with a critical spirit. Those who sneer at a desire to do right, those who believe that evil, force, pride, greed is a safer guide than good, those men may call themselves realist and win pitiful little victories, but in truth they are the militant atheists. They are hampering the slow ascent of mankind out of the primeval slime into a freer, gentler, more humane world.

The key to the good is love or, in Christian terms, charity. My creed against the materialist, the realist, and the doctrinaires may be summed up in these words: “Faith is the hope that charity is not vain.”

Albert Guerard came to America in 1906 and served as an Army intelligence officer in World War I. He later taught French and comparative literature at more than a dozen colleges and universities, including Stanford and UCLA, and he wrote twenty-eight books.