Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world: there must be no sleep while that lasts.
Pascal, Thoughts (Le Mystere de Jesus)
Three hundred years have passed since Pascal’s birth, and hardly less since his death: Pascal lived but a short while, thirty-nine years in all.
During these three hundred years mankind has made great advances. What, then, can we learn from a man of the seventeenth century? If it were possible to recall him to life, he could learn from us, not we from him. The more so because, even among his contemporaries, Pascal was a “reactionary”; he did not feel himself impelled, with all the rest, forwards towards a “better” future, but backwards towards the deeps of the past. Like Julian the Apostate, he wanted to turn back the wheel of time. He was himself in fact an apostate; he abjured and denied all that humanity had acquired by its common efforts in the two brilliant centuries to which a grateful posterity gave the name of “Renaissance”. The whole world was renewing itself, and saw in this renewal the fulfillment of its historic destiny. But Pascal feared novelty above all things. All the strength of his restless, yet profound and concentrated mind, was applied to resisting the current of history, preventing himself from being carried forward by it.
Is it possible, is it reasonable to fight against history? Of what interest to us can a man be, who tries to make time run backwards?
Are not he, and all his works with him, foredoomed to ill-success, to failure, to sterility? There can be only one answer to this question. The verdict of history is merciless for the apostate. Pascal has not escaped the common fate. It is true that his works are still printed, still read; that he is even praised, celebrated; his august face is like the image of a saint, before which a lamp burns that will burn yet for many a long day. But no one listens to him. People listen to others, to those whom he hated and fought, and it is to others that they go to seek the truth for which he sacrificed his life. It is not Pascal but Descartes whom we call the father of modern philosophy; and it is not from Pascal but from Descartes that we receive the truth; for where else could truth be sought but in philosophy? This is the verdict of history; Pascal is admired, but passed by. It is a verdict from which there is no appeal.
What would Pascal reply to the arraignment of history if he could be brought back to life? An idle question; history deals with the living and not with the dead. True: yet for this one occasion, for Pascal’s sake, I will suppose that it were well to force history to concern itself with the dead. The undertaking is, indeed, neither easy nor straightforward. To justify itself, history would have to invent a new philosophy, for Hegel’s philosophy will prove inapplicable, and it is Hegel’s philosophy which all profess, even those who do not acknowledge him as master; and there were many who professed it long before his day. But would it be so terrible to take a little trouble? And is it so necessary to defend Hegel at all costs? Hitherto history has always been written on the assumption (unverified, it is true) that men, once dead, absolutely cease to exist, that they are consequently defenseless before the judgment of posterity, and without influence over the living. But the time may come when even the historians will feel that the dead were men like themselves; and then they will become more careful and circumspect in their judgments. It is our belief, indeed our strong conviction today, that the dead are silent and will always remain silent, whatever we say of them, however we treat them. But if one day we are robbed of this conviction, if we suddenly feel that the dead can come back to life at any moment, can rise from their graves, invade our lives, and stand before us as equals – how shall we speak then?