“A civilization, like a religion, accuses itself when it complains of the tepid faith of its members. Its duty is to indue them with fervor. It accuses itself when it complains of the hatred of other men not its members. it’s duty is to convert those oher men. Yet there was a time when my civilation proved its worth _ when it inflamed its apostles, cast down the cruel, freed peoples enslaved — though today it can neither exalt nor convert. If what I seek is to dig down to the root causes of my defeat; if my ambition is to be born anew, I must begin by recovering the animating power of my civilization, which has become lost.
For what is true of wheat is also true of a civilization. Wheat nourishes man, but man in turn preserves wheat from extinction by storing up its seed. The seed stored up is a kind of heritage received by one generation of wheat after another. If wheat is to flourish in my fields, it is not enough that I be able to describe it and desire it. I must possess the seed whence it springs. And so with my civilization, for it too springs from energy contained within a seed. If what I wish is to preserve on earth a given type of man, and the particular energy that radiates from him, I must begin by salvaging the principles that animate that kind of man.
My civilization had ceased to be radiant energy. I was able to describe it glibly enough; but I had lost sight of the principle that animated it and bore it along through the ages. And what I have learned this night is that the words I used to describe my civilization never went to the heart of the matter. Thus I have preached Democracy, for example, without the least notion that, in respect of the qualities and destiny of Man, I was merely giving expression to an aggregate of wishes and not an aggregate of principles. I wished man to be fraternal, free and strong. Of course? Who would not wish the same? I was able to describe how man ought to act — but not what he ought to be.”
— Antoine de Saint Exupery, “Flight to Arras,” 1942