Sorel Georges(1847-1922) French philosopher, social theorist and advocate of ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM, best known for his espousal of the roles of‘myth’and VIOLENCE in social affairs. His best-known work is Reflections on Violence (1908). Sorel believed in the overthrow of bourgeois society through class struggle, but came to the conclusion that orthodox Marxist accounts of the process were flawed by a tendency to interpret reality through the use of abstract concepts, predicated on the view that human beings were rational and so produced an ordered, regular society, open to scientific analysis and the discovery of laws from which predictions about future utopias could be derived. In Sorel's view, there were no social laws; reality was chaotic and disordered, and any order it exhibited was tenuous and derived from the imposition of human will, rooted, not in rationality, but in instinct. No revolution could be predicted. It could happen, but only as a result of spontaneous, willed action by the workers, which required solidarity. Two historical developments, however, militated against solidarity: the philosophies of trade and consumerism. Together these stimulated competition, mistrust, envy, bargaining and compromise which weakened both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – the bourgeoisie was weakened by making concessions to the proletariat, which was, in turn, weakened by allowing itself to be bought off by the concessions. Revolutionary proletarians had, therefore, to eschew intellectualism, POLITICAL PARTIES and compromise. Instead they must develop their own ideas and seek to make the REVOLUTION at the point of production through direct action culminating in a general strike.
Sorel's thinking on myth and violence has been widely misunderstood. What he was mainly trying to do was to expose rationalist and bourgeois shallowness and hypocrisy. Myth consisted in ideas whose utility lay, not in their cognitive value, but in their power to evoke loyalty and to inspire action. All societies had myths which served these purposes. Likewise all societies employed violence, though usually for repressive and/or predatory purposes. The great myth of the workers was the general strike; it inspired them to revolutionary action, the violence of which promoted their solidarity by making them rely on each other as brothers and sisters in struggle. Likewise with violence. Provided it was neither repressive nor predatory, violence was liberating; its employment weeded out weaklings and compromisers, and so promoted a strong, committed workers’ movement capable of overthrowing decadent bourgeois society. Sorel's ideas had some impact in France and Italy in the early 20th century. Subsequently, however, his thought had relatively little influence, and his ideas are significant today as one important expression of the non-rationalist turn taken by political sociological thought in the early 20th century (see also Neomachiavellans).