Brief presentation of Élisée Reclus (born March 15, 1830, Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, France - died July 4, 1905, Thourout, near Bruges, Belgium)

Sunday 2 December 2007

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of " science " : Darwinism and Taylorism opened a new vision of the world : " rationality ", " profitability " became the key words that served to create a new reading of the world, an approach of which the modern states and the contemporary multinationals are the inheritors. These new maps of the universe provide the knowlege they need for their purposes.

But that same period also gave birth to other views of man, society and the cosmos. Humankind was not necessarily a pack of wolves, because each individual member was a microcosm of humanity, humanity was a microcosm of life as a whole, and nature itself had a meaning of its own. Elisée Reclus was perhaps one of those people who still offer us the most elaborate vision of a radically different world, in which mutual aid, social justice and a great deal of happiness, in fact joy, are possible for all people (other than those in exceptional circumstances, perhaps).

“without exception a series of events takes place through the alternation of momentum and rest, as the result of action and reaction, ebb and flow, corsi e ricorsi, as Vico stated.

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Etching: Franz Kupka

Since the beginning of historical time the scope of the fluctuation has never stopped growing as a thousand small local rhythms have slowly blended into the larger one. Minute alternations in the life of cities are followed by more generalized ones within nations, and then by great global swings that cause the entire earth and its peoples to sway in a single movement. And as these comings and goings increase in range, another pulsation takes place in the opposite direction, taking each person as the focus of attention and adjusting that person’s life to the wider spheres of the city, the nation, and the world. Society is a “Giant” in the manifold senses discussed by Aristotle, but this giant can only understands itself through a thousand analyses carried out by individual human beings, through “the delicate appreciation” (Gobineau) of each present minute.

Elisée Reclus, L’Homme et la Terre, I: 353-354.

One of the most brilliant geographers of his time - discover the serene beauty of his great geographical encyclopedia , - he was also a man of action : he actively engaged in the Paris Commune (1871), was forced into exile and actively aided activist workers who had lost their jobs, political refugees and prisoners. One of the greatest theorists in the history of anarchism, he continues to be an inspiration to a variety of intellectual and social movements.

The present site may give some idea of the variety, importance and amplitude of his work. It does not pretend to be exhaustive nor perfect, and we will gladly receive any comments and suggestions that will help to complete or improve this site. You may also tell your favorite librarian about the existence of this site and suggest that he or she eventually add other library holdings of this author.

Before starting your search, we suggest that you enter the rare book collection room of Pitzer College, Claremont, California, where you may see Joseph Ishill’s beautiful book, Elisée and Elie Reclus: In Memoriam (1927) that Professor Dana Ward has generously made available to everyone on the Internet.

Or read these lines written while arriving by ship on the Mississippi Delta:

" During two hours of waiting, we could leisurely observe the whales that are plentiful in these waters. These animals always frolic with their families, and gather in groups of two or three that always stay together. All their movements are rhythmic and interdependent. Sometimes, several whales leap out of the water one after the other and plunge back after tracing an enormous parabola. They give the impression of several cogged wheels slowly rolling, all engaged in the same system of gears. A group of whales seems to form a single mechanism"

Elisée Reclus, A Voyage to New Orleans Transl. and ed. by John Clark and Camille Martin, 2004.[1st ed. 1999]

Then, unless you directly want to find one of Reclus’ books, you may want to start by reading some of his appraisals, for instance John Clark’s review of Mary Fleming’s Biography

And now, enjoy the world according to Élisée Reclus !


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