A Commonplace Book
America seems destined to bring together all the people of
the world. The country is already a kind of microcosm, and we are
more and more international in outlook.
Robert Hayden, Collected Prose
Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge; but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields. No acquirement is on assignment, or even self-assignment. Knowledge of the second kind is much more available in the wild free ways of wit and art. A school boy may be defined as one who can tell you what he knows in the order in which he learned it. The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic. . . .
Robert Frost, Selected Prose
Yeats, like us, was faced with the modern problem, i.e., of living in a society in which men are no longer supported by tradition without being aware of it, and in which, therefore, every individual who wishes to bring order and coherence into the stream of sensations, emotions, and ideas entering his consciousness, from without and within, is forced to do deliberately for himself what in previous ages had been done for him by family, custom, church, and state, namely the choice of the principles and presuppositions in terms of which he can make sense of his experience.
W. H. Auden, "Yeats as an Example"
A poem is a witness to man’s knowledge of evil as well as good. It is not the duty of a witness to pass moral judgment on the evidence he has to give, but to give it clearly and accurately; the only crime of which a witness can be guilty is perjury. . . .
Modern science has destroyed our faith in the naive observation of our senses: we cannot, it tells us, ever know what the physical universe is really like; we can only hold whatever subjective notion is appropriate to the particular human purpose we have in view. This destroys the traditional conception of art as mimesis , for there is no longer a nature "out there" to be truly or falsely imitated; all an artist can be true to are his subjective sensations and feelings. . . .
The characteristic style of "Modern" poetry is an intimate tone of voice, the speech of one person addressing one person, not a large audience. . . .
W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand
All eras in a stage of decline and dissolution are subjective; on the other hand, all progressive eras have an objective tendency. Our present time is retrograde, for it is subjective: we see this not merely in poetry, but also in painting, and much besides. Every healthy effort, on the contrary, is directed from the inward to the outward world; as you see in all great eras, which were really in a state of progression and all of an objective nature.
The poetic act changes with the amount of background reality embraced by the poet’s consciousness. In our century that back-ground is, in my opinion, related to the fragility of those things we call civilization or culture. What surrounds us, here and now, is not guaranteed. It could just as well not exist--and so man constructs poetry out of the remnants found in ruins.
Czeslaw Milosz, 1980 Nobel laureate in poetry.
We are on the way toward the unification of our planet.
Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry.
The war years taught me that a man should not take a pen in his hands merely to communicate to others his own despair and defeat. This is too cheap a commodity; it takes too little effort to produce it for a an to pride himself on having done so. Whoever saw, as many did, a whole city reduced to rubble--kilometers of streets on which there remained no trace of life, not even a cat, not even a homeless dog--emerged with a rather ironic attitude toward descriptions of the hell of the big city by contemporary poets, descriptions of the hell in their own souls. A real "wasteland" is much more terrible than any imaginary one. Whoever has not dwelt in the midst of horror and dread cannot know how strongly a witness and participant protests against himself, against his own neglect and egoism. Destruction and suffering are the school of social thought.
Milosz, The Captive Mind.
The transformation of Eastern Europe has brought to an end a certain notion of history--the exorable movement from capitalism to socialism that combined the 19th century idea of progress with revolution. Throughout modern times, this structure of history gave comfort to many intellectuals. . . . But what happens now that it has disintegrated? Man can no longer return to living in a stable order like the Middle Ages. . . . now there is need for a new vision.
Czeslaw Milosz, "From the East: A sense of Responsibility," 1990.
We have become used to brutality and savagery. Human life has been described in those terms ever since Machiavelli and Hobbes. Then, in the 19th century, Marx promised that it would all be O.K. after the victory of the proletariat. Finally, there was the actual application of those principles in cold blood by Lenin and the advent of Hitler, who described himself as a socialist. As a writer, I struggle with these facts. I’m preoccupied with the way in which value is--or is not--assigned to human life. A writer comes to feel that there is a way of grasping these horrors that is peculiar to poetry, drama and fiction. I don’t admit the defeat of the humane tradition. -- Saul Bellow (U.S. News & World Report, 1982)
I am serious. The greatest things, the things most necessary for life, have recoiled and retreated. People are actually dying of this, losing all personal life, and the inner being of millions, many many millions, is missing. One can understand that in many parts of the world there is no hope for it because of famine or police dictatorships, but here in the free world what excuse have we? Under pressure of public crisis the private sphere is being surrendered. I admit this private sphere has become so repulsive that we are glad to get away from it. But we accept the disgrace ascribed to it and people have filled their lives with so-called ’public questions.’ What do we hear when these public questions are discussed? The failed ideas of three centuries. . . . Mankind must recover its imaginative powers, recover living thought and real being, no longer accept these insults to the soul, and do it soon. Or else! And this is where a man like Humboldt, faithful to failed ideas, lost his poetry and missed the boat. (Humboldt’s Gift, 1975)
What writers pursue now--or should pursue--is something lying behind the "concepts" and the appearances: signs and motions previously overlooked, a play of intentions, a shimmer in the looks of people that communicates impulses from a human hinterland unacknowledged by our modern enlightenment and its psychology, by the rational civilization that has brought us political and social gains and paid for them by sealing off our most significant impulses and powers. . . .
We can no longer derive our summations from the definitions of humankind set by enlightened democracy. These have been used up entirely. Those of us who are called, or call ourselves, artists must turn again to the sources of our permanent strengths, to the stronghold of the purest human consciousness. Only the purest human consciousness, art consciousness, can see us through this time of nihilism. Summations, 1987.
What no one was able to foresee was that all civilized countries were destined to descend to an inferior common cosmopolitanism, but that the lamentable weakening of the older, traditional branches of civilization might open fresh opportunities, force us to reassess the judgments of traditional culture and that we might be compelled--a concealed benefit of decline--to be independent. To interpret our circumstances as deeply as we can--isn’t that what we human beings are here for? Quite simply, when the center does not hold and great structures fall down, one has an opportunity to see some of the truths that they obstructed. Longstanding premises then come in for revision and old books are read by a new light. The New York Times Book Review, 1987
Now we must listen in secret to the sound of the truth that God puts into us. Humboldt’s Gift, 1975.
In the American moral crisis, the first requirement was to experience what was happening and to see what must be seen.... Something deadly is happening. The Dean’s December, 1982.
Only the purest human consciousness, art consciousness, can see us through this time of nihilism. Summations, 1987.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
The serious writer of our time . . . cannot but see that the power of religion, especially belief in revelation, is weaker today than it was in any other epoch in human history. More and more children grow up without faith in God, without belief in reward and punishment, in the immortality of the soul, and even in the validity of ethics. The genuine writer cannot ignore the fact that the family is losing its spiritual foundation. All the dismal prophecies of Oswald Spengler have become realities since the Second World War. No technological achievements can mitigate the disappointment of modern man, his loneliness, his feeling of inferiority, and his fear of war, revolution and terror. Not only has our generation lost faith in Providence, but also in man himself, in his institutions, and often in those who are nearest to him. -Nobel Lecture
We are still at the very beginning of learning both in science and in the arts. I foresee a time when many of the ideas we have rejected so lightmindedly may come back into science and art; such as the existence of God, Providence, the soul, a plan and a purpose to Creation, reward and punishment, free will and other such obsolete and refuted notions. -New York Times
However, it is a fact that you find the element of God--searching in the works of all great writers. Great men ask the eternal questions. For them, this is a must. from SR , 1980
Singer lamented the loss of faith afflicting the modern world but said, ’I don’t preach really, because if I would know how to go back to the old ways I would do it myself.’ -Newsweek , 1991
I’m a sceptic. I’m a sceptic about making a better world. . . . People will remain people, and they have remained people under communism and all other kinds of isms. But I’m not a sceptic when it comes to belief in God. I do believe. I always did. That there is a plan, a consciousness behind creation, that it’s not an accident. That what they call evolution is not a blind process. Even if there was evolution it was evolution with a plan. -Encounter, 1979
I’ve always criticized both the religious life . . . and modernity. I’m critical of the whole human race, and most of all myself. You find a decent human being quite rarely. So I wouldn’t say I’ve become more pessimistic. I’ve always been so. -SR, 1980
I find myself full of faith and full of doubt. Quoted in Epstein
Since there is no evidence attesting to what God is, I doubt all the time, as I told you. So I dramatize in these characters my own doubt. Actually, doubt is part of all religion. All religious thinkers were doubters. Even the Bible, although it is full of faith, is also full of skepticism. The Book of Job you can call a Book of Skepticism. . . . I believe in God, I also doubt. I have moments when I think maybe the atheist Feuerbach was right. Quoted in Burgin (102)
"What does all the world know today?" asked Zarathustra.
"Perhaps this, that the old god in whom all the world once
believed no longer lives?"
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Four, 1892.
Whispered to the conservatives . What was not known formerly, what is known, or might be known, today: a reversion, a return in any sense or degree is simply not possible. . . . Yet all priests and moralists have believed the opposite--they wanted to take mankind back, to screw it back, to a former measure of virtue. . . . Nothing avails: one must go forward--step by step further into decadence (that is my definition of modern "progress").
Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888.
The background of our cheerfulness . The greatest recent event--that "God is dead," that the belief in the Christian God has ceased to be believable--is even now beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe. . . . In the main, however, this may be said: the event itself is much too great, too distant, too far from the comprehension of the many even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived yet, not to speak of the notion that many people might know what has really happened here, and what must collapse now that this belief has been undermined--all that was built upon it, leaned on it, grew into it; for example, our whole European morality.
Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1887.
Art Still Has Truth. Take Refuge There. -Inscription over rear entrance to the St. Louis Art Museum, 1904.
The attempt to procure a protection against suffering through a delusional remoulding of reality is made by a considerable number of people in common. The religions of mankind must be classed among the mass-delusions of this kind. No one, needless to say, who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such.
Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927.
Modern culture which had its source in Europe and America does not simply belong to Westerners only, now it is the world’s culture and no one can overlook that. Pre-modern oriental culture does not have the power to replace this modern culture. . . . Now the Japanese together with the other peoples of the world are facing the great task of overcoming the contradictions and lacks of modern culture . Today may be said to be the age of the labor pains of giving birth to a new future.
Ienaga Saburo, Shin Nihonshi.
The old modern age has ended. We live in a post-modern as well as a post-Christian age which as yet has no name. It is post-Christian in the sense that people no longer understand themselves, as they understood themselves for some fifteen hundred years, as ensouled creatures under God, born to trouble, and whose salvation depends upon the entrance of God into history as Jesus Christ. It is post-modern because the Age of Enlightenment with its vision of man as a rational creature, naturally good and part of the cosmos, which itself is understandable by natural science--this age has also ended. It ended with the catastrophes of the twentieth century. Why are you a Catholic? (309)
Judeo-Christianity is about pilgrims who have something wrong with them and are embarked on a search to find a way out. This is also what novels are about. (366 cf.178)
Thanatos: The main issue is: to what degree is the sacredness of the individual recognized? -----1987
main target: It is the widespread and ongoing devaluation of human life in the Western world--under various sentimental disguises: "quality of life," "pointless suffering," "termination of life without meaning," etc. (394)
Weimar leads to Auschwitz. The nihilism of some scientists in the name of ideology or sentimentality and the consequent devaluation of individual human life lead straight to the gas chamber. (396, 1987) Paris Review
Yes. That’s what attracted me, Christianity’s rather insolent claim to be true, with the implication that other religions are more or less false.
You believe that?
I see. Moving right along now--
To what? (419)
But what I’m saying is that a good deal of the anxiety, the alienation, and the depression in the modern world is not due to any gene. It’s due to something wrong with the modern world and something wrong with the way we live. Southern Review (820)
Tragedy, then, is an imitation (mimesis) of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative, through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.
Poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in his word Mimesis , that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth; to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture, with this end, to teach and delight.
Sir Philip Sidney, Defence of Poesy
There are three basic assumptions necessary for tragedy: First, the dignity of man; second, the freedom of his will and his responsibility for the use which he makes of that will; and third, the existence in the universe of a superhuman factor.
Eugene O’Neill, Complete Greek Drama
Tragedy is (1) a form of a literature that (2) presents a symbolic action as performed by actors and (3) moves into the center immense human suffering, (4) in such a way that it brings to our minds our own forgotten and repressed sorrows as well as those of our kin and humanity, (5) releasing us with some sense (a) that suffering is universal--not a mere accident in our experience, (b) that courage and endurance in suffering or nobility in despair are admirable--not ridiculous--and usually also (c) that fates worse than our own can be experienced as exhilarating. (6) In length, performances range from a little under two hours to about four, and the experience is highly concentrated.
Walter Kaufmann, Tragedy and Philosophy
Distinctions between authentic and artificial epics, attempts to confine epic to verse or to a special grand style, are hazardous and confusing. It is safer to require but three qualities of the epic: that it should be narrative on a large scale, that it should be so serious as to merit the epithet ’universal’, and that it should be positive rather than critical. . . . I could explain the third postulate--that epic should be positive rather than critical--by saying that, on a balance, epic in its narrative sphere should correspond to the tragic rather than to the comic in the dramatic sphere.
E. M. W. Tillyard, The English Epic Tradition, 1936.
While at home in large areas of life, the epic writer must be centred in the normal, he must measure the crooked by the straight, he must exemplify that sanity which has been claimed for true genius. . . .Granted the fundamental sanity, the wider the epic poet’s mental span, the better. And ideally he should be able to range from the simple sensualities to a susceptibility to the numinous.
. . . the whole, however long, should remain fluid and unset till the last word has been written, that the writer should have everything simultaneously in mind and keep it open to modification throughout the process of composition. This must remain an ideal, for no man has possessed the powers of memory and control necessary to fulfil it. Even Dante was inconsistent.
Spontaneity will not suffice, and the author will have to summon his will to help him abide by the plans he has resolved on. The writing of any poem (except one dictated in dream or trance) needs some effort of the will to control and shape it. But the effort is different in a lyric, a short story, and a play, while only in the most intensely written long works is the will taxed to the utmost. . . .
This exercise of the will and the belief in it . . . help to associate epic poetry with the largest human movements and solidest human institutions. In creating what we call civilization the sheer human will has had a major part.
There is nothing so exciting and so awe-inspiring in the world of letters as the spectacle of a great spirit daring to risk everything on one great venture and knowing that in its execution he will be taxed to the limit of what a man can endure.
The epic writer must express the feelings of a large group of people living in or near his own time. The notion that the epic is primarily patriotic is an unduly narrowed version of this requirement.. . . But the group-feeling need not be national. Dante is medieval rather than Italian.
We can simplify even further and say no more than that the epic must communicate the feeling of what it was like to be alive at the time. But that feeling must include the condition that behind the epic author is a big multitude of men of whose most serious convictions and dear habits he is the mouthpiece. Epic . . . must have faith in the system of beliefs or way of life it bears witness to. . . . Only when people have faith in their own age can they include the maximum of life in their vision and exert their will-power to its utmost capacity.
E. M. W. Tillyard, The English Epic and its Background, 1954.
Country, religion, family, ideas of civilization, all the sentimental and historical forces that stood between cosmic infinity and the individual, providing some notion of a place within the whole, have been rationalized and have lost their compelling force. America is experienced not as a common project but as a framework within which people are only individuals, where they are left alone. To the extent that there is a project, it is to put those who are said to be disadvantaged in a position to live as they please too. The advanced Left talks about self-fulfillment; the Right, in its most popular form, is Libertarian, i.e., the right-wing form of the Left, in favor of everybody’s living as he pleases. The only forms of intrusion on the private-life characteristic of liberal democracies--taxes and military service--are not now present in student life. If there is an inherent political impulse in man, it is certainly being frustrated. But this impulse has already been so attenuated by modernity that it is hardly experienced. . . .
The resulting inevitable individualism, endemic to our regime, has been reinforced by another unintended and unexpected development, the decline of the family, which was the intermediary between individual and society, providing quasi-natural attachments beyond the individual, that gave men and women unqualified concern for at least some others and created an entirely different relation to society from that which the isolated individual has. Parents, husbands, wives and children are hostages to the community. They palliate indifference to it and provide a material stake in its future. This is not quite instinctive love of country, but it is love of country for love of one’s own. It is the gentle form of patriotism, one that flows most easily out of self-interest, without the demand for much self-denial. The decay of the family means that community would require extreme self-abnegation in an era when there is no good reason for anything but self-indulgence.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. 1987. Pages 85-86.
In many cases the increase of church membership and interest in religious activities does not mean much more than the religious consecration of a state of things in which the religious dimension has been lost. It is the desire to participate in activities which are socially strongly approved and give internal and a certain amount of external security. This is not necessarily bad, but it certainly is not an answer to the religious question of our period.
Paul Tillich, "The Lost Dimension of Religion," 1958.
Rather than building culture, popular religion tends merely to reflect the anomalies of the secular-humanist society it abhors. Much of contemporary religion is extraordinarily juvenile--psychologically, intellectually, and culturally. Although many of us want to support it against secular humanism, we must face the fact that it is in many respects less developed than the humanism we want to replace.
Russell Hittinger, in "The Failure of Liberal Humanism," 1989.
Still, the contemporary intellectual milieu is riddled with tension, irresolution, and perplexity. The practical benefits of its pluralism are repeatedly undercut by stubborn conceptual disjunctions. Despite frequent congruence of purpose, there is little effective cohesion, no apparent means by which a shared cultural vision could emerge, no unifying perspective cogent or comprehensive enough to satisfy the burgeoning diversity of intellectual needs and aspirations. "In the twentieth century nothing is in agreement with anything else" S(Gertrude Stein). A chaos of valuable but seemingly incompatible interpretations prevails, with no resolution in sight. Certainly such a context provides less hindrance to the free play of intellectual creativity than would the existence of a monolithic cultural paradigm. Yet fragmentation and incoherence are not without their own inhibiting consequences. The culture suffers both psychologically and pragmatically from the philosophical anomie that pervades it. In the absence of any viable, embracing cultural vision, old assumptions remain blunderingly in force, providing an increasingly unworkable and dangerous blueprint for human thought and activity. . . .
The intellectual question that looms over our time is whether the current state of profound metaphysical and epistemological irresolution is something that will continue indefinitely, taking perhaps more viable, or more radically disorienting, forms as the years and decades pass; whether it is in fact the entropic prelude to some kind of apocalyptic denouement of history; or whether it represents an epochal transition to another era altogether, bringing a new form of civilization and a new world view with principles and ideals fundamentally different from those that have impelled the modern world through its dramatic trajectory.
Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, 1991.
What is interesting about Emerson, particularly in regard to his association with Nietzsche, is that rather than calling, as Kierkegaard did, for a return to "New Testament Christianity," he moved further and further away from the traditional Christian dispensation that he had served, before his break with the church , as a Unitarian minister. Whereas Kierkegaard reached back to Jesus Christ as "the model," "the prototype," and even, in his notes, as "the overman," Emerson looked forward to the promise of the perfected man who will embody beauty, goodness, and strength. Since the secular idea of an exemplary man who possessed "genuineness" found its place in Nietzsche’s thought and was retained in a less poetic and restrained form as the centerpiece of Martin Heidegger’s conception of the genuine or authentic human being ( Dasein ), Emerson is a hidden presence in the development of existential thought . . . (11).
In his theology, he was more concerned with "the God within" than with a remote divinity that harshly judges mankind. Emerson conceived of God as "the supreme Power" that manifested itself in the millionfold forms of life and was actively present in nature and man. The power of divinity was immanently present in the diverse forms of actuality and was expressed in innumerable modes of being and value. Traditionally characterized a transcendentalist, Emerson, in actuality, propounded a theory of immanence--that is, a belief, as he put it, that there is a spiritual force in nature that "seeks" material embodiment . . . (14).
Emerson, like Nietzsche, was deeply concerned with cultural values and disvalues. Although other thinkers later reinforced Nietzsche’s awareness of a coming crisis in Western culture in general and an emerging crisis in Christian culture in particular, it was Emerson who first conveyed to him the idea that Christendom was in decline, that the official doctrines of the Christian religion were losing their hold on the minds and hearts of men . . . (34).
He [Emerson] criticizes the way Christianity is presented in Christendom and, on the other hand, he laments the loss of religious faith in a culture increasingly devoted to the pursuit of material, commercial success. In addition, he points out that the rising "culture" of natural science is eroding religious belief. . . . The traditional religious beliefs that were once the cement that held modern Western societies together seems to be crumbling. Mankind seems to be entering a period of crisis, a period in history that Nietzsche will later examine in an exhaustive way: the period of the emergence of nihilism . . . (34-35).
Nietzsche and Emerson, George J. Stack, 1992
Jews and Christians are today in much the same situation: one of non-belief. The great break of the ages, the real change in the times which, as is well known, took place in the last 150 years . . . has brought about an entirely new state of affairs in the last few decades: that of non-belief which refuses all discussion--even a polemic one--with the witnesses and bearers of faith, which adopts towards the history of the salvation of man witnessed throughout the centuries, an attitude no longer of incredulity and doubt but much more one of disbelief and indifference. . . . This is a catastrophic process which has not remained unnoticed either, but which today is becoming increasingly clear and more threatening. . . . There is no sense in shutting our eyes to the post-Christian world situation of the present, and in credulously believing that the modern powers of technology and of the industrial environment, of co-operative movements and national interests can still be christianised by the Church. This age is no longer of Jewish-Christian belief; as regards its qualitative nature, it is already something quite different.
Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Judaeo-Christian Religious Dialogue in the
Nineteeth Century, 1949.
It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. . . .
Thomas Jefferson, 1784
My religion is in the reconciliation of the Super-Personal Man, the Universal human spirit, in my own individual being.
Rabindranath Tagore, The Religion of Man, to Einstein
. . . gradually world ideals will grow in strength until at last they have fulfilled their highest mission--the unification of mankind. Rabindranath Tagore, to the Anglo-American Association in Peking
India has already become modern India, but Tagore still seems to want to return to the abode of Brahma. No wonder he and India are moving in opposite directions--he has already retrogressed several hundred years!
If we go back to a world in which religious authoritiescan set the limits of what is permissible to say and think, then we shall have reinvented the Inquisition and de-invented the whole modern idea of freedom of speech, which was invented as a struggle against the Church. -Interview
I have always insisted that what happened to me is only the best-known case among fairly widespread, coherent attempts to repress all progressive voices, not just in Iran but throughout the Muslim world. Always the arguments used against these people are the same: always it’s insult, offense, blasphemy, heresy. . . .-Interview with Salman Rushdie, The New York Review 1993
A society that refuses to question its own premises and denies its own artists and writers the opportunity to raise any doubts whatsoever; a society that does not dare to laugh at itself, and seeks to banish all impertinent questions--such a society has no chance at all of ever flowering again. Algerian Rabah Belamri,in For Rushdie , 1994
Dr Aadam Aziz, the patriarch in my novel Midnight’s Children, loses his faith and is left with "a hole inside him, a vacancy in a vital inner chamber." I, too, possess the same God-shaped hole. Unable to accept the unarguable absolutes of religion, I have tried to fill up the hole with literature.Observer, 22 Jan. 89 quoted. in Rushdie File, 62
India is a society about which not only multitude, but plurality is basic--there are all these different religions and different kinds of people, so you have to accept a kind of plural concept. . . . India, if it means anything, means plurality. Interview with David Brooks in Adelaide 1984
Doubt, it seems to me, is the central condition of the human being in the 20th century. We cannot any longer have a fixed certain view of anything. . . . Rushdie, The Guardian Weekly, Feb. 26, 1989
Traditionally, India is the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The values remain the same in every village, town or city.
Narayan in The Illustrated Weekly of India, 1963
Cultural ambivalence is a marked characteristic of Narayan’s fictional technique and he hovers between his Hindu faith and lack of it. He merely uses it as a landscape in his fiction. (142)
R. M. Varma, University of Jodhpur, 1985
. . . a novel in which his fictional world is cracked open, its fragility finally revealed, and the Hindu equilibrium . . . collapses into something like despair. 32
All the rules have been broken. 34
Jagan’s flight is . . . the opposite of the calm renunciation which Hinduism prescribes, when the householder, his duties done, makes way for his successors and turns to a life of meditation. That act of renunciation implies an ordered, continuing world. Chaos has come to Jagan’s world; his act is an act of despair; he runs away in tears. 35 V. S. Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization, 1977
. . . a novel set in modern India where individuals strive to make sense of a complex and fast-changing life and are continually caught in a clash of ideas and values. G. S. Amur, 1982?
All of Egypt is desperately searching for the freedom of thought. Yet we are denied access in the name of religion. As a result of religion, we are suffering.
In reality those people that use religion as a sword are far from the custodians of truth.
After many years of openness, Egypt should not return to the Middle Ages.
Historically, Egypt has defended the artist... Naguib Mahfouz, "Against Cultural Terrorism," Jan. 1994
In this decisive moment in the history of civilization it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the moans of Mankind should die out in the void. There is no doubt that Mankind has at last come of age, and our era carries the expectations of entente between the Super Powers. . . . In the olden times every leader worked for the good of his own nation alone. . . . Today, the greatness of a civilized leader ought to be measured by the universality of his vision and his sense of responsibility towards all humankind. The developed world and the Third World are but one family. Each human being bears responsibility towards it by the degree of what he has obtained of knowledge, wisdom, and civilization. Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Lecture, 1988
I am a believer in religion. For a while I wavered between the materialist and religious trends . . . but afterwards I settled upon faith as my own course. Naguib Mahfouz, 1977
I reject any form of sufism achieved at the expense of man’s concern with the world and the life of people. Naguib Mahfouz, 1989 interview
A sincere concern for Man’s quest for the ultimate spiritual presence behind the phenomena of the universe has been the principal inspiration of the greatest works of art throughout the ages.
Arnold Toynbee, Change & Habit, 1966
While I had still been at school I had read Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and had taken note of his "General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West." . . . Gibbon pauses to ask and discuss the question: "Could the terrible catastrophe that had befallen the western half of the Roman Empire in the fifth century of the Christian Era ever overtake the modern Western World of A.D. 1781?" . . . His conclusion is that it is inconceivable that the Roman Empire’s fate could be lying in wait for the modern Western World in its turn. . . . Before August 1914 it never occurred to me to question Gibbon’s judgement. In retrospect, looking back from the present year 1969, I find myself surprised that I had not been more sceptical. . . . In the first days of August 1914, the disaster, unforeseen by me, into which my own world was now rushing, suddenly opened my eyes to the truth.
Arnold Toynbee, Experiences, 1969.
Every past expression of religion has been attuned to the intellectual outlook of the time and place at which each particular expression was formulated. But the underlying essence of religion is, no doubt, as constant as the essence of human nature itself. Religion is, in fact, an intrinsic and distinctive trait of human nature. It is a human being’s necessary response to the challenge of the mysteriousness of the phenomena that he encounters in virtue of his uniquely human faculty of consciousness.
. . . Man, alone among the inhabitants of the biosphere, is also an inhabitant of another realm as well--a spiritual realm that is non-material and invisible. In the biosphere Man is a psychosomatic being, acting within a world that is material and finite. On this plane of human activity, Man’s objective, ever since he became conscious, has been to make himself master of his non-human environment, and in our day he has come within sight of success in this endeavour--possibly to his own undoing. But Man’s other home, the spiritual world, is also an integral part of total reality; it differs from the biosphere in being both non-material and infinite; and, in his life in the spiritual world Man finds that his mission is to seek, not for a material mastery over his non-human environment, but for a spiritual mastery over himself....
If a human being were to lose his soul, he would cease to be human; for the essence of being human is an awareness of a spiritual presence behind the phenomena, and it is as a soul, not as a psychosomatic organism, that a human being is in communication with this spiritual presence, or is even identical with it in the experience of the mystics.
. . . these sixth-century-B.C. seers are today still influencing mankind, either directly or indirectly, more than any human being who is now alive. The Buddha is influencing directly more than half, and Confucius more than a third, of the living generation. The direct present-day influence of "Deutero-Isaiah" extends to Christians, besides Jews. The direct present-day influence of Zarathustra is limited to Parsees, and today these are a numerically small community, though, like the Jews, they play a part in the present day world that is more than proportionate to their numbers. However, indirectly, Zarathustra today is influencing Jews, Christians, and Muslims as well as his own adherents. . . . some of Zarathustra’s most spiritually potent concepts--immortality, the Last Judgment, God’s operation through the Holy Spirit--found their way into Judaism and thence into Judaism’s two daughter religions.
On the strength of the contemporaneity of these five seers, the period spanned by their lifetimes has been called by Karl Jaspers the Axis Age, i.e. an age that is the hinge on which human history has turned. Their appearance has in truth been a turning-point in the sense that, as has been noted above, they have continued to influence mankind down to the present day and are likely to go on influencing posterity by their example, even if their precepts cease to be commandments and their doctrines cease to be articles of faith.
. . . The most momentous common feature is the attainment, by an individual human being, of a direct personal relation with the ultimate spiritual reality in and behind the Universe in which Man finds himself.
. . . The second common characteristic of the five seers is that they condemned, repudiated, and set out to change, the state in which they had found things. Their respective spiritual revolts differed from each other greatly in degree.
A confidence in the human spirit’s capacity to overcome greed; a belief in the creative power of suffering endured patiently; a call to make an exit into "extinguishedness"; a belief that there is only one God; a call to be a combatant on the side of Good against Evil: since these beliefs were declared, and these directives were given, by five great seers in the sixth century B.C., the vision of ultimate reality and the directives for human conduct have been transformed irrevocably.
Man is a psychosomatic inhabitant of the biosphere that coats the surface of the planet Earth, and in this respect he is one among the species of living creatures that are children of Mother Earth. But Man is also a spirit, and, as such, he is in communication with--and in the mystics’ experience, is identical with--a spiritual reality that is not of this World.
As a spirit, Man possesses consciousness, he distinguishes between good and evil, and in his acts he makes choices. In the ethical field, in which Man’s choices are either for evil or for good, his choices produce a moral credit-and-debit account.
Originally, Man’s relation with the ultimate reality had been, not individual and personal, but collective and institutional. Pre-civilizational societies had approached ultimate reality through the medium of non-human natural forces which, at this stage, held Man at their mercy. After the achievement of civilization, Man had shifted his approach to ultimate reality. Instead of deifying non-human Nature, he had taken to deifying a human community’s collective power.The organization of collective human power on the grand scale had inclined the balance appreciably to Man’s advantage in Man’s struggle with non-human Nature for the prize of mastery. In thus changing the object of his worship, Man had been consistent in always worshipping power, in whatever embodiment he found power to be most potent. Spiritually, however, the replacement of non-human Nature by collective human power as the object of worship had been a regression. Man had taken to aiming farther from, not nearer to, the mark when he had made this transfer of his spiritual allegiance.
Each of the five seers broke away from his heritage of spiritual subordination to the community in which he had been born and brought up. In defiance of tradition, he had rejected both Nature-worship and Man-worship and had broken through these obstructing and obscuring veils to win a direct vision of spiritual reality naked. . . .
When the requirements of technology constrained the founders of the earliest civilizations to assemble man-power in excess of the narrow limits of pre-civilizational communities, they invented a new social device: impersonal institutions. These can sustain larger communities because they can generate co-operation between human beings who have no personal acquaintance with each other. But institutional-ized social relations are both frigid and fragile. Human beings have never felt at home in them as they do feel at home in personal relations. Institutions are always in danger of losing grip and breaking down, and consequently the persons in authority who are responsible for maintaining them are always under temptation to resort to coercion as a substitute for the voluntary co-operation that institutions often fail to evoke.
Since the dawn of civilization, Man’s master institution has been states--in the plural, not in the singular; for, to date, there has never been one single state embracing the whole living generation of mankind all round the globe.
The present-day global set of local sovereign states is not capable of keeping the peace. . . . This ecumenical anarchy on the political plane cannot continue for much longer in an Oikoumene that has already become a unity on the technological and economic planes. What has been needed for the last 5,000 years, and has been feasible technologically, though not yet politically, for the last hundred years, is a global body politic composed of cells on the scale of the Neolithic-Age village-community--a scale on which the participants could be personally acquainted with each other, while each of them would also be a citizen of the world-state.
The record of Sumerian, Hellenic, Chinese, and medieval Italian history demonstrates that a set of local sovereign states can be no more than a transitory political configuration.
Arnold Toynbee, Mankind and Mother Earth, 1976.
In a twentieth-century world in which the whole living generation of Mankind is being knit together into a single society within a framework built by Western technology, this is the fundamental issue underlying all current economic, political, and ideological controversies. Shall Man worship Man or shall he worship God and seek Brahma-Nirvana?
I am aware that I am not an orthodox adherent of any of the traditional religions and philosophies. Perhaps I am not far from being a Quaker or a Taoist, but I should probably be disowned by the adherents of even these least dogmatic of the traditional faiths. I am in limbo. This is a lonely location; but I stand here because I cannot honestly stand anywhere else.
I believe that love is the supreme Spiritual Reality, but that the Ultimate Reality is beyond the horizon of normal human experience, confined within the flow of time/space. . . .
I am groping in the dark. My human capacity for loving and for understanding is feeble. But I hope I shall go on trying to love and to understand for so long as my consciousness survives.
The converted soul . . . adopts, instead, the opposite attitude of accepting suffering for oneself and trying to turn one's own suffering to positive account by acting at the cost of suffering, on one's feeling of Pity and Love for one's fellow-creatures. This change of heart in Man opens his eyes to a new Vision of God.
The spiritual traveller has been offered an ideal figure to follow as his examplar and his guide.One the Indian road the ideal figure is the Bodhisattva; on the Palestinian road it is the Suffering Servant.
Since self-centredness is innate in Human Nature, we are all inclined, to some extent, to assume that our own religion is the only true and right religion; that our own vision of Absolute Reality is the only authentic vision; that we alone have received a revelation; that the truth which has been revealed to us is the whole truth; and that, in consequence, we ourselves are ‘the Chosen People’ and ‘the Children of Light’, while the rest of the Human Race are gentiles sitting in darkness. Such pride and prejudice are symptoms of Original Sin [defined by Toynbee as self-centredness], and they will therefore be rife in some measure in any human being or community; but the measure varies, and it seems to be a matter of historical fact that, hitherto, the Judaic religions have been considerably more exclusive-minded than the Indian religions have. In a chapter of the World's history in which the adherents of the living higher religions seem likely to enter into much more intimate relations with one another than ever before, the spirit of the Indian religions, blowing where it listeth, may perhaps help to winnow a traditional Pharisaism out of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish hearts. But the help that God gives is given by Him to those who help themselves; and the spiritual struggle in the more exclusive-minded Judaic half of the World to cure ourselves of our family infirmity seems likely to be the most crucial episode in the next chapter of the history of Mankind.
The higher religions make their epiphany in the world with a spiritual mission of their own, the mission of preaching to every creature a new gospel by which Man is inducted into a new attitude toward Suffering through a new revelation of the character of God.
Suffering is something to be accepted as the price of acting on the promptings of Love.
In any living creature, the worst of all sins is the idolization of itself or of its own handiwork... This arch-sin is committed by the followers of a higher religion when they idolize their own religious institutions; and self-idolizing claims to uniqueness and finality have been made, in authoritarian terms that forbid dissent and even discussion, by all of the higher religions, and particularly by those of Israelite origin.
Perhaps they [all world religions] may work together with the surviving remnant of Western Christianity to re-introduce the discarded religious element into a Western Civilization that has now become the common civilization of all Mankind, for better or for worse.
In A.D. 1956 it was already unquestionable that the social unification of Mankind was going to come to pass. The question that still remained open was not what was going to happen but merely how an inevitable consummation was going to be reached.
We cannot foresee whether we shall reach this inevitable goal of world-government without inflicting on ourselves a supreme catastrophe.
Toleration does not become perfect until it has been transfigured into love.
Man's goal is to seek communion witht he presence behind the phenomena, and to seek it with the aim of bring his self into harmony with this absolute spiritual reality.
According to the Christian Mahayanian diagnosis, these are self-centered desires, in which the Self yearns for an object outside itself simply in order to exploit this object of desire for the greedy Self's own satisfaction... Self-sacrifice means, not selfishly extinguishing the Self but lovingly devoting it to the service of others at the cost of whatever Suffering this service may bring it. ...In feeling a desire of the self-devoting kind, it is treating the Universe as a society of selves like itself.
A time may come when the local heritage of the different historic nations civilizations and religions will have coalesced into a commond heritage of the whole human family.
The practical test of a religion, always and everywhere, is its success or failure in helping human souls to respond to the challenges of Suffering and Sin.
Arnold Joseph Toynbee. An Historian's Approach to Religion: Gropings in the Dark, 1979. Gifford Lecture: 1952-1953; 1st Edition, Oxford UP, 1956.
The political causes of decay were rooted in one fact--that increasing despotism destroyed the citizen’s civic sense and dried up statesmanship at its source. Powerless to express his political will except by violence, the Roman lost interest in government and became absorbed in his business, his amusements, his legion, or his individual salvation. Patriotism and the pagan religion had been bound together, and now together decayed. The Senate, losing ever more of its power and prestige after Pertinax, relapsed into indolence, subservience, or venality; and the last barrier fell that might have saved the state from militarism and anarchy. Local governments, overrun by imperial correctores and exactores , no longer attracted first-rate men. The responsibility of municipal officials for the tax quotas of their areas, the rising expense of their unpaid honors, the fees, liturgies, benefactions, and games expected of them, the dangers incident to invasion and class war, led to a flight from office corresponding to the flight from taxes, factories, and farms. Men deliberately made themselves ineligible by debasing their social category; some fled to other towns; some became farmers, some monks. . . . The imperial police pursued fugitives from political honors as it hunted evaders of taxes or conscription; it brought them back to the cities and forced them to serve. . . .
Will Durant, "Political Causes of the Decay of Rome."
With hindsight, moderns view the Late Roman Empire with greater clarity than those who lived in it, unaware that a great tragedy was unfolding. . . . While men know that they are mortal, societies rarely admit as much, and the ideology of the empire proved to be illusory within two lifetimes. A man born in the year of Constantine’s death might live to see the eternal city occupied by barbarians. Another man, born during the sack of Rome, would witness the dissolution of imperial authority in the West, the barbarization of the Western provinces, and the contraction of the remains of the empire within a Byzantine shell. A world that had lasted for half a millennium ceased to exist.
Thomas W. Africa, The Immense Majesty
Wyndham Lewis, "Cosmic Society and Cosmic Man," America and the Cosmic Man. 1949.
The logic of the geographical position and history of the United States leads only, I believe, to one conclusion: namely, the ultimate formation of a society that will not be as other societies, but an epitome of all societies. If a nation, then it must be a super-nation: so inclusive of all the various breeds of men, all the creeds, and fads, and philosophies, that its unity must be of quite a different character. It can only be something more universal than the Roman Empire. . . .
But those devoutly hoping for an international order naturally see in America the thin end of the wedge. The requisite raw material is there, namely the great variety of races present--all that is needed for the manufacture of Cosmic Man [cosmopolitan].
For a World Government when first formed to have a genuinely cosmic society there already, practicing--and preaching--all the collective virtues appropriate in a world-State, would be of great value. The example of a kind of universalized Everyman would prove infectious. And the new war-free, tolerant, nationless world society--arrived at last at the point reached by the forty-eight States of the Union--could do worse than take for its model American citizenship (purged of its nationalism, of course).
A World Government appears to me the only imaginable solution for the chaos reigning at present throughout the world. Many would agree that it is desirable, but very unlikely, in their view, to materialize.
To resume: the United States of America is a place where those conditions of fraternization and free intercourse, irrespective of race, class, or religion, already prevail, or enough at least for a start. Therefore it is a model for all other nations, still battened down within their national frontiers.
This is, I repeat, the only possible meaning of the U.S.A.--to be the place where a Cosmopolis, as the Greeks would call it, is being tried out. . . . the United States is . . . a splendid idea of Fate’s to provide a human laboratory for the manufacture of Cosmic Man.
Naturally, there is nothing farther from the thoughts of most . . . than a cosmic society of the future, or that they are in fact engaged in preparing the way for a "Cosmic Man"--a perfectly eclectic, non-national, internationally minded creature, whose blood is drawn--more or less--from all the corners of the earth....Yet it is to that end that their activities will imperceptibly lead.
All that is necessary is one government instead of many. It is as simple as that. How right Lincoln was to fight to the death for that. The end of state sovereignties would not resolve all the problems of human life. But the difference would be so enormous that anyone might be excused for thinking of that to the exclusion of everything else. No official of U.N., however the Charter may read, should admit any other thought to his head.
. . . speculations about the future of the world at large are imposed on one by the atomic developments which are responsible for a situation without precedent in human life. . . .
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God, which can only be done by the recognition and profession of the truth by every man.
Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You. 1894.
People are disunited by every external coercive form of government, and they are united by one thing—by their relation to God and aspiration towards Him, because God is one for all, and the relation of all men to God is one and the same.
Whether men wish to recognise this or not, before all of us there stands one and the same ideal of perfecting oneself, and nothing but the striving towards this destroys disunion and brings us nearer to each other.
Tolstoy,"The Crisis in Russia" from The End of the Age, 1906.
Every revolution begins when Society has outgrown the view of life on which the existing forms of social life were founded, when the contradiction between life such as it is and life such as it should be and might be, becomes so evident ’to the majority that they feel the impossibility of continuing existence under former conditions. The revolution begins in that nation wherein the greater number of men are conscious of this contradiction.
Life is the enlightenment of the consciousness, concerning the falsity of former foundations, and the establishment of new ones and the realisation of them.’The life of mankind, as well as that of the individual man, is a growth out of a former state into a new one.
For this great revulsion to take place it is only necessary that men should understand that the State, the fatherland, is a fiction, and that life and true liberty are realities; and that, therefore, it is not life and liberty that should be sacrificed for the artificial combination called the State, but that men ought in the name of true life and liberty to free themselves from the superstition of the State and from its outcome—criminal obedience to men. In this alteration of men’s attitude towards the State and the authorities is the end of the old and the beginning of the new age
The End of the Age, 1906.
...a fundamental cleansing of religious consciousness from all ancient religious and modern scientific superstitions.
...the simple law of love, natural to man, accessible to all and solving all questions and perplexities, would of itself become clear and obligatory.
But one thing only is needful: the knowledge of the simple and clear truth which finds place in every soul that is not stupefied by religious and scientific superstitions--the truth that for our life one law is valid--the law of love, which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind. Free your minds from those overgrown, mountainous imbecilities which hinder your recognition of it, and at once the truth will emerge from amid the pseudo-religious nonsense that has been smothering it: the indubitable, eternal truth inherent in man, which is one and the same in all the great religions of the world. It will in due time emerge and make its way to general recognition, and the nonsense that has obscured it will disappear of itself, and with it will go the evil from which humanity now suffers.
Tolstoy, Letter to a Hindu. December. 14, 1908.
"Religions differ in their external forms, but they are all alike in their fundamental principles. And it is these principles, that are fundamental to all religions, that form the true religion which alone at the present time is suitable for us all, and the adoption of which alone can save men from their ills...
This religion of our times, common to all men, exists —not as some sect with all its peculiarities and perversions, but as a religion consisting of those principles which are alike in all the widespread religions known to us, and professed by more than nine-tenths of the human race; and that men are not yet completely brutalized is due to the fact that the best men of all nations hold to this religion and profess it, even if unconsciously....
The principles of this true religion are so natural to men, that as soon as they are put before them they are accepted as something quite familiar and self-evident. For us the true religion is Christianity in those of its principles in which it agrees, not with the external forms, but with the basic principles of Brahmanism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hebraism, Buddhism, and even Mohammedanism. And just in the same way, for those who profess Brahmanism, Confucianism, etc.—true religion is that of which the basic principles agree with those of all other religions. And these principles are very simple, intelligible and clear.
These principles are that there is a God, the origin of all things; that in man dwells a spark from that Divine Origin, which man, by his way of living, can increase or decrease in himself; that to increase this divine spark man must suppress his passions and increase love in himself; and that the practical means to attain this result is to do to others as you would they should do to you. All these principles are common to Brahmanism, Hebraism, Confucianism, and Mohammedanism. (If Buddhism supplies no definition of God, it nevertheless acknowledges That with which man commingles, and into Which he is absorbed when he attains to Nirvana. So, That with which man commingles, or into Which he is absorbed in Nirvana, is the same Origin that is called God in Hebraism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism.)...
Religion is the definition of man's relation to the Source of all things, and of man's purpose in life which results from that relation; and it supplies rules of conduct resulting from that purpose. And the universal religion whose first principles are alike in all the faiths, fully meets the demands of this understanding of religion. It defines the relation of man to God, as being that of a part to the whole; from this relation it deduces man's purpose, which is to increase the divine element in himself; and this purpose involves practical demands on man, in accord with the rule: Do to others as you wish them to do to you...
Religion is not a belief, settled once for all, in certain supernatural occurrences supposed to have taken place once upon a time, nor in the necessity for certain prayers and ceremonies; nor is it, as the scientists suppose, a survival of the superstitions of ancient ignorance, which in our time has no meaning or application to life ; but religion is a certain relation of man to eternal life and to God, a relation accordant with reason and contemporary knowledge, and it is the one thing that alone moves humanity forward towards its destined aim."
“What Is Religion, and Wherein Lies It’s Essence?” From Essays and Letters, 1911.
Julien Benda, The Treason of the Clerks, 1927.
Our age is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds.
There existed until the last half century another, essentially distinct humanity, which to a certain extent acted as a check upon the former. I mean that class of men whom I shall designate "the clerks," by which term I mean all those whose activity essentially is not the pursuit of practical aims, all those who seek their joy in the practice of an art or a science or metaphysical speculation, in short in the possession of non-material advantages, and hence in a certain manner say: "My kingdom is not of this world." Indeed, throughout history, for more than two thousand years until modern times, I see an uninterrupted series of philosophers, men of religion, men of literature, artists, men of learning (one might say almost all during this period), whose influence, whose life, were in direct opposition to the realism of the multitudes.
The clerks did prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities. It may be said that, thanks to the clerks, humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honoured good. this contradiction was an honour to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.
Now, at the end of the nineteenth century a fundamental change occurred: the clerks began to play the game of political passions. The men who had acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators.
Those whose preaching for twenty centuries had been to humiliate the realist passions in favour of something transcendental, have set themselves . . . to the task of making these passions, and the impulses which ensure them, the highest of virtues, while they cannot show too much scorn for the existence which in any respect raises itself beyond the material.
In the first place, the clerks have set out to exalt the will of men to feel conscious of themselves as distinct from others, and to proclaim as contemptible every tendency to establish oneself in a universal. With the exception of certain authors like Tolstoi and Anatole France, whose teaching moreover is now looked on with contempt by most of their colleagues, all the influential moralists of Europe during the past fifty years, Bourget, Barres, Maurras, Peguy, d'Annunzio, Kipling, the immense majority of German thinkers, have praised the efforts of men to feel conscious of themselves in their nation and race, to the extent that this distinguishes them from others and opposes them to others, and have made them ashamed of every aspiration to feel conscious of themselves as men in the general sense and in the sense of rising above ethnical aims.
As if the clerk's function were not to tell the laymen truths which are displeasing to them, and to pay the price at the expense of his own peace!
Our age has beheld moralists, who have declared to the bourgeois world (or to the working classes) that, far from trying to check the feeling of their differences from others and to feel conscious of their common human nature, they should on the contrary try to feel conscious of this difference in all its profundity and irreducibleness, and that this effort is fine and noble, whereas every desire for union is here a sign of baseness and cowardice , and also of weakness of mind.
...I mean all those who speak to the world in a transcendental manner.
*We are staggered to see that they do not know that the moralist is essentially a Utopian, and that the nature of moral action is precisely that it creates its object by affirming it.
Our age has seen priests of the mind teaching that the gregarious is the praiseworthy form of thought, and that independent thought is contemptible. It is moreover certain that a group which desires to be strong has no use for the man who claims to think for himself.
The educators of the human mind now takes sides with Callicles against Socrates, a revolution which I dare to say seems to me more important than all political unheavals.
The old morality told Man that he is divine to the extent that he becomes one with the universe; the new morality tells him that he is divine to the extent that is in opposition to it.
Civilization, I repeat, seems to me possible only if humanity consents to a division of functions, if side by side with those who carry out the lay passions and extol the virtues serviceable to them there exists a s class of men who depreciate these passions and glorify the advantages which are beyond the material. ...The truth is that the clerks have become as much laymen as the laymen themselves.
For half a century, such has been the attitude of men whose function is to thwart the realism of nations, and who have laboured to excite it with all their power and with complete decision of purpose. For this reason I dare to call this attitude "The Great Betrayal."
The practice of the life of the spirit seems to me to lead inevitably to universalism, to the feeling of the eternal, to a lack of vigour in the belief in worldly conventions.
Modern humanity is fully determined that those who call themselves its teachers, shall be its servants and not its guides.
This attitude also seems to me to result from the decline of the study of classical literature in the formation of their minds. The humanities, as the word implies, have always btaught the cult of humanity in its universal aspect... Notice that this decline of classical culture in the French writers coincides with the discovery of the great German realists, Hegel and especially Nietzsche, whose genius had the more effect on these Frenchmen because their lack of classical discipline deprived them of the one real barrier which can be opposed to that genuis.
Remember that Nietzsche only truly esteems the thought of the ancients up to Socrates, i.e., up to the time when it begins to teach the universal.
The political realism of the clerks, far from being a superficial fact due to the caprice of an order of men, seems to be bound up with the very essence of the modern world.
Imagine an observer of the twelfth century.... He would see men of learning, artists and philosophers, displaying to the world a spirit which cared nothing for nations, using a universal language among themselves. He would see those who gave Europe its moral values preaching the cult of the human, or at least of the Christian, and not of the national, he would see them striving to found, in opposition to the nations, a great universal empire on spiritual foundations. ...All humanity, including the clerks, have become laymen. All Europe, including Erasmus, has followed Luther.
Obviously, attachment to the world of the spirit alone was easier for those who were capable of it when there were no nations to love.
This humanity is heading for the greatest and most perfect war ever seen in the world, whether it is a war of nations, or a war of classes.
These dark predictions do not seem to me to need as much modification as some people think, on account of certain actions resolutely direct against war, such as the setting up of a supernational institution and the agreements recently made by the rival nations. Imposed upon the nations by their Ministers rather than desired by them, dictated solely by interst (the fear of war and its ravages) and not al all by a change in public morality, these new institutions may perhaps be opposed to war but leave intact the spirit of war, and nothing leads us to suppose that a nation which only respects a contract for practical reasons, will not break as soon as breaking it appears more profitable. peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind. In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing, and moreover these tribunals leave untouched the economic war between the nations and the class wars.
Peace, it must be repeated after so many others have said this, is only possible if men cease to place their happiness in the possession of things "which cannot be shared," and if they raise themselves to a point where they adopt an abstract principle superior to their egotisms. In other words, it can only be obtained by a betterment of human morality. ...not only do men steel themselves entirely against this, but the very first condition of peace which is to recognize the necessity for this progress of the soul, is seriously menaced. A school arose in the nineteenth century which told men to expect peace from enlightened self-interest, from the belief that a war, even when victorious, is disastrous, especially to economic transformations, to "the evolution of production," in a phrase, to factors totally foreign to their moral improvement, from which, these thinkers say, it would be frivolous to expect anything. So that humanity, even if it had any desire for peace, is exhorted to neglect the one effort which might procure it, an effort it is delighted not to make.
It may be said that the clerk's defeat begins from the very moment when he claims to be practical. As soon as the clerk claims that he does not disregard the interests of the nation or of the established classes, he is inevitably beaten, for the very good reason that it is impossible to preach the spiritual and the universal without underminging the institutions whose foundations are the possession of the material and desire to feel distinct from others.
From all this it follows that the clerk is only strong if he is clearly conscious of his essential qualities and his true function, and shows mankind that he is clearly conscious of them. In other words he declares to them that his kingdom is not of this world, that the grandeur of his teaching lies precisely in this absence of practical value, and that the right morality for the prosperity of the kingdoms which are of this world, is not his, but Caesar's. When he takes up this position, the clerk is crucified, but he is respected, and his words haunt the memory of mankind.
It is hard to imagine a body of men of letters (for corporative action becomes more and more important) attempting to withstand the bourgeois classes instead of flattering them. It is still harder to imagine them turning against the tide of their intellectual decadence and ceasing to think that they display a lofty culture when they sneer at rational morality and fall on their knees before history. Nevertheless one thinks of a humanity of the future, weary of its "sacred egotisms" and the slaugherings to which they inevitably lead, coming as humanity came two thousand years ago, to the acceptance of a good situated beyond itself, accepting it even more ardently than before, with the knowledge of all the tears and blood that have been shed through departing from that doctrine. Once more Vauvenargue's admirable saying would be verified. "The passions have taught men reason." But such a thing only seems to me possible after a long lapse of time, when war has caused far more woes than have yet been endured. Men will not revise their values for wars which only last fifty months and only kill a couple of millon men in each nation.
Civilization as I understand it here--moral supremacy conferred on the cult of the spiritual and on the feeling of the universal--appears to me as a lucky accident in man's development.
The religion of the spiritual . . . seems to me a lucky accident in man's history. I shall go further, and say it seems to me a paradox. The obvious law of human substance is the conquest of things and exaltation of the impulses which secure this conquest. Only through an amazing abuse were a handful of men at desks able to succeed in making humanity believe that the supreme values are the good things of the spirit.
"And the honour of virtue is in contending, not in winning." Montaigne
America seems destined to bring together all the people of
the world. The country is already a kind of microcosm, and we are
more and more international in outlook.
Robert Hayden, Collected Prose
Copyright (c) 2004 Frederick Glaysher