November 01, 2010
The individual who then consciously opted into resistance was a man who accepted his own freedom: call it existential liberation.From Stephen Hawes, "The Individual and the Resistance Community in France", in Resistance in Europe: 1939-45, ed. Stephen Hawes & Ralph White, 1975.
This freedom was reinforced by liberation of a more paradoxical kind... The individual was also liberated, like it or not, from the pretext and from the sui generis constraints of democracy as we know it, from the illusion that the act of voting now and again is anything other than symbolic abdication of political freedom. It may seem inappropriate when talking of individual freedom in the context of German occupation to quote from Tolstoy on Russia in the nineteenth century, but his words may help to define the kind of freedom which was discovered in a country suddenly plunged into despotism:
Those Englishmen who come to Russia feel much more free here. At home they are bound by laws which they make themselves through their representatives, and which they obey, imagining all the time that they are free men. Now in this country it is not I who made the laws: consequently I am not bound to obey them - I am a free man.This may seem like Tolstoian pervesity, but there is more than a slight echo of these words in Sartre's famous beginning to 'The Republic of Silence':
We have never been more free than under German occupation. We had lost all our rights and first of all the right to speak; we were insulted to our faces each day and we had to stay silent; we were deported en masse as labourers, as Jews, as political prisoners; everywhere we looked, on walls, in newspapers, on the cinema screen, we were confronted by the same vile and insipid image of ourselves that our oppressors wanted us to have: because of all this we were free. Because the Nazi's venom infiltrated our very thoughts, each just thought was a conquest; because an all-powerful police sought to constrain us to silence, each word became precious as a declaration of principle; because we were hounded, every gesture had the weight of a total commitment.Under occupation this peculiar freedom - and its associated responsibility - was given to the individual.