Menalque was distinguished looking — almost handsome; his face was like a pirate's, barred by an enormous dropping moustache, already quite grey; his eyes shone with a cold flame that denoted courage and decision rather than kindness. He was no sooner standing before Marceline than I knew she had taken a dislike to him. After he had exchanged a few banal words of courtesy with her, I carried him off to the smoking-room.
I had heard that very morning of the new mission on which the Colonial Office was sending him; the newspapers, as they recalled his adventurous career, seemed to have forgotten their recent base insults and now could find no words fine enough to praise him with. Each was more eager than the other to extol and exaggerate his services to his country, to the whole of humanity, as if he never undertook anything but with a humanitarian purpose; and they quoted examples of his abnegation, his devotion, his courage, as if such encomiums might be considered a reward.
I began to congratulate him, but he interrupted me at the first words.
"What! You too, my dear Michel! But you didn't begin by insulting me," said he. "Leave all that nonsense to the papers. They seem to be surprised that a man with a certain reputation can still have any virtues at all. They establish distinctions and reserves which I cannot apply to myself, for I exist only as a whole; my only claim is to be natural, and the pleasure I feel in an action, I take as a sign that I ought to do it."
"That may lead far," I said.
"Indeed I hope so," answered Menalque. "If only the people we know could persuade themselves of the truth of this! But most of them believe that it is only by constraint they can get any good out of themselves, and so they live in a state of psychological distortion. It is his own self that each of them is most afraid of resembling. Each of them sets up a pattern and imitates it; he doesn't even choose the pattern he imitates; he accepts a pattern that has been chosen for him. And yet I verily believe there are other things to be read in a man. But people dare not — they dare not turn the page. The laws of mimicry — I call them the laws of fear. The fear of finding oneself alone — that is what they suffer from — and so they don't find themselves at all. I hate this moral agoraphobia — it's the worst kind of cowardice. Why, one always has to be alone to create anything. But who's trying to create here? What seems different in yourself: that's the one rare thing you possess, the one thing which gives each of us his worth; and that's just what we try to suppress. We imitate. And we claim to love life."
I let Menaique speak on; he was saying exactly what I myself had said the month before to Marceline; I ought to have approved him. For what reason, through what moral cowardice did I interrupt him and say, in imitation of Marceline, the very sentence word for word with which she had interrupted me then?
"But, my dear Menaique, you can't expect each one of them to be different from all the others." ...
This quote serves a great purpose by simultaneously demonstrating the necessity to overcome oneself into individuality, while also not asking the same of others. It is a common fallacy that we attempt to ask for reciprocity in the name of what we do for others to do –this is primarily called oppression. What is being lauded here is not oppression then but autonomy, which doesn't seek to oppress, it exists on its own. In this sense we avoid the errors a person first learning this advice who may ardently declare for the necessity of all people to take up arms and champion individuality. We find in this person championing a cause that is no less individual, and so they succumb prey to a new problem that leads in a similar destination of impotency or lack of individuality. Autonomy requires a driver towards some other pursuit, that isn't inclined to ask more people to pursue their pursuits. ↩︎
—André Gide, The Immoralist, p. 125