The spirit bloweth where it listeth. It is folly for anyone not animated by its breath to express his thoughts in public; it is liable to result in total misunderstanding between this presumptuous person and those whom he addresses. Nevertheless, I am going to attempt to explain to men of good will the circumstances which induced Carrel to write this book.
When France was invaded, he was in New York where he had been sent on a government mission. Nothing forced him to return; he was among his dearest friends, those who understood his thought and admired his work.
Nevertheless, as in 1914, he felt the call of his country as imperative; he sacrificed everything to it and came back.
He wanted to find out for himself what the people needed, and to remedy, with all the knowledge at his command, the defects he perceived in the young people of France, but which distance prevented him from judging accurately.
No sooner had he arrived than he became aware of the great moral, physical and physiological confusion which, combined with undernourishment, was undermining a section of the people and threatening their ruin.
After a fierce inner struggle, his mind was made up. He would not return, even temporarily, to America where it would have been easy for him to carry on with the plans for his final work. That work was the child of his thought and, thanks to the disciples whom he would have trained, should have survived him and achieved the aim he had set himself.
For him, indeed, the "science of man" differed at all points from the classical sciences: each of which only envisaged one particular aspect of the human being and artificially dissected him in order to study only his component parts. Carrel's conception tended toward a total synthesis which would use all the available material and integrate it into a higher knowledge. Man was to be apprehended as a whole, in the totality of his physiological, mental and spiritual functions.
He would have wished to confide this work to a small group of men of the highest caliber who would be set apart from the ordinary contingencies of life. They would live in an atmosphere of calm which would allow them to concentrate themselves into a genuine "collective brain." This would have been the converging point of all the work put at his disposal by a method which Carrel described as "collective thought."
As a Frenchman, it was in France that he believed he ought to attempt the realization of this plan. The French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems was the preliminary sketch. With the help of young people whom he wished to train according to his methods and without taking into account the obstacles and the terrible difficulties he met at every step, he undertook this superhuman task which drove him to his death.
Although extremely depressed by the fact of the Occupation and, like all his compatriots, deprived of all comforts and weakened by undernourishment, he set himself resolutely to work. He would work with his legs wrapped in a blanket in an effort to fight the cold which he feared so much.
He hoped to live some years more in order to bring the task, whose outlines he could clearly distinguish, to fruition. God did not permit it In spite of the moral support of friends who remained faithful to the end and who surrounded him with sincere affection, his heart was too exhausted. Mortally wounded by the calumnies of certain envious people, it could not resist the malice of those who caused his death.
He accepted it with full knowledge and with the serenity of a Christian. In his tireless activity, he had resolved to pass on his knowledge to his "neighbor" before he died. He would have called this book The Conduct of Life.
Had he lived a few months longer, this book, begun before the war and written entirely by his own hand, would have been differently presented. It is composed of material assembled by him and destined to be sifted, polished and completed before being set out in that precise and living language of which he had the secret.
In such conditions, why let this work appear? For five years I debated the question with myself and others. I was overwhelmed with contradictory advice. But my own conclusion is that I have no right to keep his last counsels only for my personal comfort.
These last reflections, though incomplete, are addressed above all to those who wish to continue and develop the ideas sketched in these chapters. They will understand that the premature death of Alexis Carrel prevented him from giving this "Testament" the finish to which he had accustomed us.
My hope resides in the young who were the object of his preoccupation and of his affection. Some among them will feel the truth contained in these pages, unfinished as they are.
They will help them in difficult times to push open those doors behind which a useful, perhaps even a happy, life awaits them. One part of his aim will have been achieved.
In this hope, I launch his "ship" on the wide ocean, hoping that she will find a good harbor though the pilot is no longer at her helm.
"A Dieu vat.. "