Ideas Have Consequences
By Richard M. Weaver
THIS is another book about the dissolution of the West. I attempt two things not commonly found in the growing literature of this subject. First, I present an account of that decline based not on analogy but on deduction. It is here the assumption that the world is intelligible and that man is free and that those consequences we arc now expiating are the product not of biological or other necessity but of unintelligent choice. Second, I go so far as to propound, if not a whole solution, at least the beginning of one, in the belief that man should not follow a scientific analysis with a plea of moral impotence.
In considering the world to which these matters are ad-dressed, I have been chiefly impressed by the difficulty of getting certain initial facts admitted. This difficulty is due in part to the widely prevailing Whig theory of history, with its belief that the most advanced point in time represents the point of highest development, aided no doubt by theories of evolution which suggest to the uncritical a kind of necessary passage from simple to complex. Yet the real trouble is found to lie deeper than this. It is the appalling problem, when one comes to actual cases, of getting men to distinguish between better an4 worse. Are people today provided with a sufficiently rational scale of values to attach these predicates with intelligence? There is ground for declaring that modern man has become a moral idiot. So few are those who care to examine their lives, or to accept the rebuke which comes of admitting that our present state may be a fallen state, that one questions whether people now understand what is meant by the superiority of an ideal. One might expect abstract reasoning to be lost upon them; but what is he to think when attestations of the most concrete kind are set before them, and they are still powerless to mark a difference or to draw a lesson? For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.
Surely we are justified in saying of our time: If you seek the monument to our folly, look about you. In our own day we have seen cities obliterated and ancient faiths stricken. We may well ask, in the words of Matthew, whether we are not faced with ‘great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world." We have for many years moved with a brash confidence that man had achieved a position of independence which rendered the ancient restraints needless. Now, in the first half of the twentieth century, at the height of modern progress, we behold unprecedented outbreaks of hatred and violence; we have seen whole nations desolated by war and turned into penal camps by their conquerors; we find half of mankind looking upon the other half as criminal. Everywhere occur symptoms of mass psychosis. Most portentous of all, there appear diverging bases of value, so that our single planetary globe is mocked by worlds of different understanding. These signs of disintegration arouse fear, and fear leads to desperate unilateral efforts toward survival, which only forward the process.
Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.
One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine out course.
For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real,, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.
It is easy to be blind to the significance of a change because it is remote in time and abstract in character. Those who have not discovered that world view is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably-though ways are found to hedge on this-the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of "man the measure of all things." The witches spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the "abomination of desolation" appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.
Because a change of belief so profound eventually influences every concept, there emerged before long a new doctrine of nature. Whereas nature had formerly been regarded as imitating a transcendent model and as constituting an imperfect reality, it was henceforth looked upon as containing the principles of its own constitution and behavior. Such revision has had two important consequences for philosophical inquiry. First, it encouraged a careful study of nature, which has come to be known as science, on the supposition that by her acts she revealed her essence. Second, and by the same operation, it did away with the doctrine of forms imperfectly realized. Aristotle had recognized an element of unintelligibility in the world, but the view of nature as a rational mechanism expelled this element. The expulsion of the element of unintelligibility in nature was followed by the abandonment of the doctrine of original sin. If physical nature is the totality and if man is of nature, it is impossible to think of him as suffering from constitutional evil; his defections must now be attributed to his simple ignorance or to some kind of social deprivation. One comes thus by clear deduction to the corollary of the natural goodness of man.
And the end is not yet. If nature is a self-operating mechanism and man is a rational animal adequate to his needs, it is next in order to elevate rationalism to the rank of a philosophy. Since man proposed now not to go beyond the world, it was proper that he should regard as his highest intellectual vocation methods of interpreting data supplied by the senses. There followed the transition to Hobbes and Locke and the eighteenth-century rationalists, who taught that man needed only to reason correctly upon evidence from nature. The question of what the world was made for now becomes meaningless because the asking of it presupposes something prior to nature in the order of existents. Thus it is not the mysterious fact of the world’s existence which interests the new man but explanations of how the world works. This is the rational basis for modern science, whose systemization of phenomena is, as Bacon declared in the New Atlantis, a means to dominion.
At this stage religion begins to assume an ambiguous dignity, and the question of whether it can endure at all in a world of rationalism and science has to be faced. One solution was deism, which makes God the outcome of a rational reading of nature. But this religion, like all those which deny antecedent truth, was powerless to bind; it merely left each man to make what he could of the world open to the senses. There followed references to "nature and nature’s God," and the anomaly of a "humanized" religion.
Materialism loomed next on the horizon, for it was implicit in what had already been framed. Thus it soon became imperative to explain man by his environment, which was the work of Darwin and others in the nineteenth century (it is further significant of the pervasive character of these changes that several other students were arriving at similar explanations when Darwin published in 1859). If man came into this century trailing clouds of transcendental glory, he was now accounted for in a way that would satisfy the positivists.
With the human being thus firmly ensconced in nature, it at once became necessary to question the fundamental character of his motivation. Biological necessity, issuing in the survival of the fittest, was offered as the causa causans, after the important question of human origin had been decided in favor of scientific materialism.
After it has been granted that man is molded entirely by environmental pressures, one is obligated to extend the same theory of causality to his institutions. The social philosophers of the nineteenth century found in Darwin powerful support for their thesis that human beings act always out of economic incentives, and it was they who completed the abolishment of freedom of the will. The great pageant of history thus became reducible to the economic endeavors of individuals and classes; and elaborate prognoses were constructed on the theory of economic conflict and resolution. Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and -consuming animal.
Finally came psychological behaviorism, which denied not only freedom of the will but even such elementary means of direction as instinct. Because the scandalous nature of this theory is quickly apparent, it failed to win converts in such numbers as the others; yet it is only a logical extension of them and should in fairness be embraced by the upholders of material causation. Essentially, it is a reduction to absurdity of the line of reasoning which began when man bade a cheerful goodbye to the concept of transcendence.
There is no term proper to describe the condition in which he is now left unless it be "abysmality." He is in the deep and dark abysm, and he has nothing with which to raise himself. His life is practice without theory. As problems crowded upon him, he deepens confusion by meeting them with ad hoc policies. Secretly he hungers for truth but consoles himself with the thought that life should be experimental. He sees his institutions crumbling and rationalizes with talk of emancipation. Wars have to be fought, seemingly with increased frequency; therefore he revives the old ideals-ideals which his present assumptions actually render meaningless-and, by the machinery of state, forces them again to do service. He struggles with the paradox that total immersion in matter unfits him to deal with the problems of matter.
His decline can be represented as a long series of abdications. He has found less and less ground for authority at the same time he thought he was setting himself up as the center of authority in the universe; indeed, there seems to exist here a dialectic process which takes away his power in pro-portion as he demonstrates that his independence entitles him to power.
This story is eloquently reflected in changes that have come over education. The shift from the truth of the intellect to the facts of experience followed hard upon the meeting with the witches. A little sign appears, "a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand," in a change that came over the study of logic in the fourteenth century-the century of Occam. Logic became grammaticized, passing from a science which taught men vere loqui to one which taught recte loqui or from an ontological division by categories to a study of signification, with the inevitable focus upon historical meanings. Here begins the assault upon definition: if words no longer correspond to objective realities, it seems no great wrong to take liberties with words. From this point on, faith in language as a means of arriving at truth weakens, until our own age, filled with an acute sense of doubt, looks for a remedy in the new science of semantics.
So with the subject matter of education. The Renaissance increasingly adapted its course of study to produce a successful man of the world, though it did not leave him without philosophy and the graces, for it was still, by heritage, at least, an ideational world and was therefore near enough transcendental conceptions to perceive the dehumanizing effects of specialization. In the seventeenth century physical discovery paved the way for the incorporation of the sciences, although it was not until the nineteenth that these began to challenge the very continuance of the ancient intellectual disciplines. And in this period the change gained momentum, aided by two developments of overwhelming influence. The first was a patent increase in man’s dominion over nature which dazzled all but the most thoughtful; and the second was the growing mandate for popular education. The latter might have proved a good in itself, but it was wrecked on equalitarian democracy’s unsolvable problem of authority: none was in a position to say what the hungering multitudes were to be fed. Finally, in an abject surrender to the situation, in an abdication of the authority of knowledge, came the elective system. This was followed by a carnival of specialism, professionalism, and vocationalism, often fostered and protected by strange bureaucratic devices, so that on the honored name of university there traded a weird con genes of interests, not a few of which were anti-intellectual even in their pretensions. Institutions of learning did not check but rather contributed to the decline by losing interest in Homo sapiens to develop Homo faber.
Studies pass into habits, and it is easy to see these changes reflected in the dominant type of leader from epoch to epoch. In the seventeenth century it was, on the one side, the royalist and learned defender of the faith and, on the other, aristocratic intellectuals of the type of John Milton and the Puritan theocrats who settled New England. The next century saw the domination of the Whigs in England and the rise of encyclopedists and romanticists on the Continent, men who were not without intellectual background but who assiduously cut the mooring strings to reality as they succumbed to the delusion that man is by nature good. Frederick the Great’s rebuke to a sentimentalist, "Ach, mein lieber Sul~er, er kennt nicht diese verdammte Rasse," epitomizes the difference between the two outlooks. The next period witnessed the rise of the popular leader and demagogue, the typical foe of privilege, who broadened the franchise in England, wrought revolution on the Continent, and in the United States replaced the social order which the Founding Fathers had contemplated with demagogism and the urban political machine. The twentieth century ushered in the leader of the masses, though at this point there occurs a split whose deep significance we shall have occasion to note. The new prophets of reform divide sharply into sentimental humanitarians and an elite group of remorseless theorists who pride themselves on their freedom from sentimentality. Hating this world they never made, after its debauchery of centuries, the modern Communists-revolutionaries and logicians-move toward intellectual rigor. In their decision lies the sharpest reproach yet to the desertion of intellect by Renaissance man and his successors. Nothing is more disturbing to modern men of the West than the logical clarity with which the Communists face all problems. Who shall say that this feeling is not born of a deep apprehension that here are the first true realists in hundreds of years and that no dodging about in the excluded middle will save Western liberalism?
This story of man’s passage from religious or philosophical transcendentalism has been told many times, and, since it has usually been told as a story of progress, it is extremely difficult today to get people in any number to see contrary implications. Yet to establish the fact of decadence is the most pressing duty of our time because, until we have demonstrated that cultural decline is a historical fact-which can be established-and that modern man has about squandered his estate, we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to hysterical optimism.
Such is the task, and our most serious obstacle is that people traveling this downward path develop an insensibility which increases with their degradation. Loss is perceived most clearly at the beginning; after habit becomes implanted, one beholds the anomalous situation of apathy mounting as the moral crisis deepens. It is when the first faint warnings come that one has the best chance to save himself; and this, I suspect, explains why medieval thinkers were extremely agitated over questions which seem to us today without point or relevance. If one goes on, the monitory voices fade out, and it is not impossible for him to reach a state in which his entire moral orientation is lost. Thus in the face of the enormous brutality of our age we seem unable to make appropriate response to perversions of truth and acts of bestiality. Multiplying instances show complacency in the presence of contradiction which denies the heritage of Greece, and a callousness to suffering which denies the spirit of Christianity. Particularly since the great wars do we observe this insentience. We approach a condition in which we shall be amoral without the capacity to perceive it and degraded without means to measure our descent.
That is why, when we reflect upon the cataclysms of the age, we are chiefly impressed with the failure of men to rise to the challenge of them. In the past, great calamities have called forth, if not great virtues, at least her6ic postures; but after the awful judgments pronounced against men and nations in recent decades, we detect notes of triviality and travesty. A strange disparity has developed between the drama of these actions and the conduct of the protagonists, and we have the feeling of watching actors who do not comprehend their roles.
Hysterical optimism will prevail until the world again admits the existence of tragedy, and it cannot admit the existence of tragedy until it again distinguishes between good and evil. Hope of restoration depends upon recovery of the "ceremony of innocence," of that clearness of vision and knowledge of form which enable us to sense what is alien or destructive, what does not comport with our moral ambition. The time to seek this is now, before we have acquired the perfect insouciance of those who prefer perdition. For, as the course goes on, the movement turns centrifugal; we rejoice in our abandon and are never so full of the sense of accomplishment ag when we have struck some bulwark of our culture a deadly blow.
In view of these circumstances, it is no matter for surprise that, when we ask people even to consider the possibility of decadence, we meet incredulity and resentment. We must consider that we are in effect asking for a confession of guilt and an acceptance of sterner obligation; we are making demands in the name of the ideal or the suprapersonal, and we cannot expect a more cordial welcome than disturbers of complacency have received in any other age. On the contrary, our welcome will rather be less today, for a century and a half of bourgeois ascendancy has produced a type of mind highly unreceptive to unsettling thoughts. Added to this is the egotism of modern man, fed by many springs, which will scarcely permit the humility needed for self-criticism.
The apostles of modernism usually begin their retort with catalogues of modern achievement, not realizing that here they bear witness to their immersion in particulars. We must remind them that we cannot begin to enumerate until we have defined what is to be sought or proved. It will not suffice to point out the inventions and processes of our century unless it can be shown that they are something other than a splendid efflorescence of decay. Whoever desires to praise some modern achievement should wait until he has related it to the professed aims of our civilization as rigorously as the Schoolmen related a corollary to their doctrine of the nature of God. All demonstrations lacking this are pointless.
If it can be agreed, however, that we are to talk about ends before means, we may begin by asking some perfectly commonplace questions about the condition of modern man. Let us, first of all, inquire whether he knows more or is, on the whole, wiser than his predecessors.
This is a weighty consideration, and if the claim of the modern to know more is correct, our criticism falls to the ground, for it is hardly to be imagined that a people who have been gaining in knowledge over the centuries have chosen an evil course.
Naturally everything depends on what we mean by knowledge. I shall adhere to the classic proposition that there is no knowledge at the level of sensation, that therefore knowledge is of universals, and that whatever we know as a truth enables us to predict. The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.
The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction. Since the time of Bacon the world has been running away from, rather than toward, first principles, so that, on the verbal level, we see "fact" substituted for "truth," and on the philosophic level, we witness attack upon abstract ideas and speculative inquiry. The unexpressed assumption of empiricism is that experience will tell us what we are experiencing. In the popular arena one can tell from certain newspaper columns and radio programs that the average man has become imbued with this notion and imagines that an industrious acquisition of particulars will render him a man of knowledge. With what pathetic trust does he recite his facts! He has been told that knowledge is power, and knowledge consists of a great many small things.
Thus the shift from speculative inquiry to investigation of experience has left modern man so swamped with multiplicities that he no longer sees his way. By this we understand Goethe’s dictum that one may be said to know much only in the sense that he knows little. If our contemporary belongs to a profession, he may be able to describe some tiny bit of the world with minute fidelity, but still he lacks understanding. There can be no truth under a program of separate sciences, and his thinking will be invalidated as soon as ab extra relationships are introduced.
The world of "modern" knowledge is like the universe of Eddington, expanding by diffusion until it approaches the point of nullity. What the defenders of present civilization usually mean when they say that modern man is better educated than his forebears is that he is literate in larger numbers. The literacy can be demonstrated; yet one may question whether there has ever been a more deceptive panacea, and we are compelled, after a hundred years of experience, to echo Nietzsche’s bitter observation: "Everyone being allowed to learn to read, ruineth in the long run not only writing but also thinking." It is not what people can read; it is what they do read, and what they can be made, by any imaginable means, to learn from what they read, that determine the issue of this noble experiment. We have given them a technique of acquisition; how much comfort can we take in the way they employ it? In a society where expression is free and popularity is rewarded they read mostly that which debauches them and they are continuously exposed to manipulation by controllers of the printing machines I shall seek to make clear in a later passage. It may be doubted whether one person in three draws what may be correctly termed knowledge from his freely chosen reading matter. The staggering number of facts to which he today has access serves only to draw him away from consideration of first principles, so that his orientation becomes peripheral. And looming above all as a reminder of this fatuity is the tragedy of modern Germany, the one totally literate nation.
Now those who side with the Baconians in preferring shoes to philosophy will answer that this is an idle complaint, because the true glory of modern civilization is that man has perfected his material estate to a point at which he is provided for. And probably it could be shown statistically that the average man today, in countries not desolated by war, has more things to consume than his forebears. On this, however, there are two important comments to be made.
The first is that since modern man has not defined his way of life, he initiates himself into an endless series when he enters the struggle for an "adequate" living. One of the strangest disparities of history lies between the sense of abundance felt by older and simpler societies and the sense of scarcity felt by the ostensibly richer societies of today. Charles Fe’ guy has referred to modern man’s feeling of "slow economic strangulation," his sense of never having enough to meet the requirements which his pattern of life imposes on him. Standards of consumption which he cannot meet, and which he does not need to meet, come virtually in the guise of duties. As the abundance for simple living is replaced by the scarcity for complex living, it seems that in some way not yet explained we have formalized prosperity until it is for most people only a figment of the imagination. Certainly the case of the Baconians is not won until it has been proved that the substitution of covetousness for wantlessness, of an ascending spiral of desires for a stable requirement of necessities, leads to the happier condition.
Suppose, however, we ignore this feeling of frustration and turn our attention to the fact that, by comparison, modern man has more. This very circumstance sets up a conflict, for it is a constant law of human nature that the more a man has to indulge in, the less disposed he is to endure the discipline of toil-that is to say, the less willing he is to produce that which is to be consumed. Labor ceases to be functional in life; it becomes something that is grudgingly traded for that competence, or that superfluity, which everyone has a "right" to. A society spoiled in this manner may be compared to a drunkard: the more he imbibes the less is he able to work and acquire the means to indulge his habit. A great material establishment, by its very temptation to luxuriousness, unfits the owner for the labor necessary to maintain it, as has been observed countless times in the histories of individuals and of nations.
But let us waive all particular considerations of this sort and ask whether modern man, for reasons apparent or obscure, feels an increased happiness. We must avoid superficial conceptions of this state and look for something fundamental. I should be willing to accept Aristotle’s "feeling of conscious vitality." Does he feel equal to life; does he look upon it as does a strong man upon a race?
First, one must take into account the deep psychic anxiety, the extraordinary prevalence of neurosis, which make our age unique. The typical modern has the look of the hunted. He senses that we have lost our grip upon reality. This, in turn, produces disintegration, and disintegration leaves impossible that kind of reasonable prediction by which men, in eras of sanity, are able to order their lives. And the fear accompanying it unlooses the great disorganizing force of hatred, so that states are threatened and wars ensue. Few men today feel certain that war will not wipe out their children’s inheritance; and, even if this evil is held in abeyance, the individual does not rest easy, for he knows that the Juggernaut technology may twist or destroy the pattern of life he has made for himself. A creature designed to look before and after finds that to do the latter has gone out of fashion and that to do the former is becoming impossible.
Added to this is another deprivation. Man is constantly being assured today that he has more power than ever before in history, but his daily experience is one of powerlessness. Look at him today somewhere in the warren of a great city. If he is with a business organization, the odds are great that he has sacrificed every other kind of independence in return for that dubious one known as financial. Modern social and corporate organization makes independence an expensive thing; in fact, it may make common integrity a prohibitive luxury for the ordinary man, as Stuart Chase has shown. Not only is this man likely to be a slavey at his place of daily toil, but he is cribbed, cabined, and confined in countless ways, many of which are merely devices to make possible physically the living together of masses. Because these are deprivations of what is rightful, the end is frustration, and hence the look, upon the faces of those whose souls have not already become minuscule, of hunger and unhappiness.
These are some questions that should be put to the eulogists of progress. It will certainly be objected that the decadence of a present age is one of the permanent illusions of mankind; it will be said that each generation feels it with reference to the next in the same way that parents can never quite trust the competence of their children to deal with the great world. In reply we must affirm that, given the conditions described, each successive generation does show decline in the sense that it stands one step nearer the abysm. When change is in progress, every generation will average an extent of it, and that some cultures have passed from a high state of organization to dissolution can be demonstrated as objectively as anything in history. One has only to think of Greece, of Venice, of Germany. The assertion that changes from generation to generation are illusory and that there exist only cycles of biological reproduction is another form of that denial of standards, and ultimately of knowledge, which lies at the source of our degradation.
Civilization has been an intermittent phenomenon; to this truth we have allowed ourselves to be blinded by the insolence of material success. Many late societies have displayed a pyrotechnic brilliance and a capacity for refined sensation far beyond anything seen in their days of vigor. That such things may exist and yet work against that state of character concerned with choice, which is the anchor of society, is the great lesson to be learned. In the final reach of analysis our problem is how to recover that intellectual integrity which enables men to perceive the order of goods. The opening chapter, therefore, attempts to set forth the ultimate source of our feeling and thinking about the world, which makes our judgments of life not shifting and casual but necessary and right.
THE UNSENTIMENTAL SENTIMENT
But the thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest.-CARLYLE.
EVERY man participating in a culture has three levels of conscious reflection: his specific ideas about things, his general beliefs or convictions, and his metaphysical dream of the world.
The first of these are the thoughts he employs in the activity of daily living; they direct his disposition of immediate matters and, so, constitute his worldliness. One can exist on this level alone for limited periods, though pure worldliness must eventually bring disharmony and conflict.
Above this lies his body of beliefs, some of which may be heritages simply, but others of which he will have acquired in the ordinary course of his reflection. Even the simplest souls define a few rudimentary conceptions about the world, which they repeatedly apply as choices present themselves. These, too, however, rest on something more general.
Surmounting all is an intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality, and this is the sanction to which both ideas and beliefs are ultimately referred for verification. Without the metaphysical dream it is impossible to think of men living together harmoniously over an extent of time. The dream carries with it an evaluation, which is the bond of spiritual community.
When we affirm that philosophy begins with wonder, we are affirming in effect that sentiment is anterior to reason. We do not undertake to reason about anything until we have been drawn to it by an affective interest. In the cultural life of man, therefore, the fact of paramount importance about anyone is his attitude toward the world. How frequently it is brought to our attention that nothing good can be done if the will is wrong! Reason alone fails to justify itself. Not without cause has the devil been called the prince of lawyers, and not by accident are Shakespeare’s villains good reasoners. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases maleficence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good. We have no authority to argue anything of a social or political nature unless we have shown by our primary volition that we approve some aspects of the existing world. The position is arbitrary in the sense that here is a proposition behind which there stands no prior. We begin our other affirmations after a categorical statement that life and the world are to be cherished.
It appears, then, that culture is originally a matter of yea-saying, and thus we can understand why its most splendid flourishing stands often in proximity with the primitive phase of a people, in which there are powerful feelings of "oughtness" directed toward the world, and before the failure of nerve has begun.
Simple approbation is the initial step only; a developed culture is a way of looking at the world through an aggregation of symbols, so that empirical facts take on significance and man feels that he is acting in a drama, in which the cruxes of decision sustain interest and maintain the tone of his being. For this reason a true culture cannot be content with a sentiment which is sentimental with regard to the world. There must be a source of clarification, of arrangement and hierarchy, which will provide grounds for the employment of the rational faculty. Now man first begins this clarification when he becomes mythologist, and Aristotle has noted the close relationship between myth-making and philosophy. This poetry of representation, depicting an ideal world, is a great cohesive force, binding whole peoples to the acceptance of a design and fusing their imaginative life. Afterward comes the philosopher, who points out the necessary connection between phenomena, yet who may, at the other end, leave the pedestrian level to talk about final destination.
Thus, in the reality of his existence, man is impelled from behind by the life-affirming sentiment and drawn forward by some conception of what he should be. The extent to which his life is shaped, in between these, by the conditions of the physical world is indeterminable, and so many supposed limitations have been transcended that we must at least allow the possibility that volition has some influence upon them.
The most important goal for one to arrive at is this imaginative picture of what is otherwise a brute empirical fact, the donnee of the world. His rational faculty will then be in the service of a vision which can preserve his sentiment from sentimentality. There is no significance to the sound and fury of his life, as of a stage tragedy, unless something is being affirmed by the complete action. And we can say of one as of the other that the action must be within bounds of reason if our feeling toward it is to be informed and proportioned, which is a way of saying, if it is to be just. The philosophically ignorant vitiate their own actions by failing to observe measure. This explains why precultural periods are characterized by formlessness and post-cultural by the clashing of forms. The darkling plain, swept by alarms, which threatens to be the world of our future, is an arena in which conflicting ideas, numerous after the accumulation of centuries, are freed from the discipline earlier imposed by ultimate conceptions. The decline is to confusion; we ate agitated by sensation and look with wonder upon the serene somnambulistic creations of souls which had the metaphysical anchorage. Our ideas become convenient perceptions, and we accept contradiction because we no longer feel the necessity of relating thoughts to the metaphysical dream.
It must be apparent that logic depends upon the dream, and not the dream upon it. We must admit this when we realize that logical processes rest ultimately on classification, that classification is by identification, and that identification is intuitive. It follows then that a waning of the dream results in confusion of counsel, such as we behold on all sides in our time. Whether we describe this as decay of religion or loss of interest in metaphysics, the result is the same; for both are centers with power to integrate, and, if they give way, there begins a dispersion which never ends until the culture lies in fragments. There can be no doubt that the enormous exertions made by the Middle Ages to preserve a common world view exertions which took forms incomprehensible to modern man because he does not understand what is always at stake under such circumistances - signified a greater awareness of realities than our leaders exhibit today. The Schoolmen understood that the question, universalia ante rem or universalia post rem, or the question of how many angels can stand on the point of a needle, so often cited as examples of Scholastic futility, had incalculable ramifications, so that, unless there was agreement upon these questions, unity in practical matters was impossible. For the answer supplied that.with which ~they bound up their world; the ground of this answer was the fount of understanding and of evaluation; it gave the heuristic principle by which societies and arts could be approved and regulated. It made one's sentiment toward the world rational, with the result that it could be applied to situations without plunging man into sentimentality on the one hand or brutality on the other.
The imposition of this ideational pattern upon conduct relieves us of the direful recourse to pragmatic justification. Here, indeed, lies the beginning of self-control, which is a victory of transcendence. When a man chooses to follow something which is arbitrary as far as the uses of the world go, he is performing a feat of abstraction; he is recognizing the noumenal, and it is this, and not that self-flattery which takes the form of a study of his own achievements, that dignifics him.
Such is the wisdom of many oracular sayings: man loses himself in order to find himself; he conceptualizes in order to avoid an immersion in nature. It is our destiny to be faced originally with the world as our primary datum but not to end our course with only a wealth of sense impressions. In the same way that our cognition passes from a report of particular details to a knowledge of universals, so our sentiments pass from a welter of feeling to an illumined concept of what one ought to feel. This is what is known as refinement. Man is in the world to suffer his passion; but wisdom comes to his relief with an offer of conventions, which shape and elevate that passion. The task of the creators of culture is to furnish the molds and the frames to resist that "sinking in upon the moral being" which comes of accepting raw experience. Without the transcendental truth of mythology and metaphysics, that task is impossible. One imagines that Jacob Burckhardt had a similar thought in mind when he said, "Yet there remains with us the feeling that all poetry and all intellectual life were once the handmaids of the holy, and have passed through the temple."
The man of self-control is he who can consistently perform the feat of abstraction. He is therefore trained to see things under the aspect of eternity, because form is the enduring part. Thus we invariably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms. He approaches even those he does not understand with awareness that a deep thought lies in an old observance. Such respect distinguishes him from the barbarian, on the one hand, and the degenerate, on the other. The truth can be expressed in another way by saying that the man of culture has a sense of style. Style requires measure, whether in space or time, for measure imparts structure, and it is structure which is essential to intellectual apprehension.
That it does not matter what a man believes is a statement heard on every side today. The statement carries a fearful implication. If a man is a philosopher in the sense with which we started, what he believes tells him what the world is for. How can men who disagree about what the world is for agree about any of the minutiae of daily conduct? The statement really means that it does not matter what a man believes so long as he does not take his beliefs seriously. Anyone can observe that this is the status to which religious belief has been reduced for many years. But suppose he does take his beliefs seriously? Then what he believes places a stamp upon his experience, and he belongs to a culture, which is a league founded on exclusive principles. To become eligible, one must be able to say the tight words about the right things, which signifies in turn that one must be a man of correct sentiments. This phrase, so dear to the eighteenth century, carries us back to the last age that saw sentiment and reason in a proper partnership.
That culture is sentiment refined and measured by intellect becomes clear as we turn our attention to a kind of barbarism appearing in our midst and carrying unmistakable power to disintegrate. This threat is best described as the desire of immediacy, for its aim is to dissolve the formal aspects of everything and to get at the supposititious reality behind them. It is characteristic of the barbarian, whether he appears in a precultural stage or emerges from below into the waning day of a civilization, to insist upon seeing a thing "as it is." The desire testifies that he has nothing in himself with which to spiritualize it; the relation is one of thing to thing without the intercession of imagination. Impatient of the veiling with which the man of higher type gives the world imaginative meaning, the barbarian and the Philistine, who is the barbarian living amid culture, demands the access of immediacy. Where the former wishes representation, the latter insists upon starkness of materiality, suspecting rightly that forms will mean restraint. There is no need to speak of Vandals and Goths; since our concern is with the "vertical invasion of the barbarians" in our own time, I shall cite an instance from the modern period-and from the United States, so symbolical of the world of the future.
The American frontiersman was a type who emancipated himself from culture by abandoning the settled institutions of the seaboard and the European motherland. Reveling in the new absence of restraint, he associated all kinds of forms with the machinery of oppression which he had fled and was now preparing to oppose politically. His emancipation left him impatient of symbolism, of indirect methods, and even of those inclosures of privacy which all civilized communities respect. Dc Tocqueville made the following observation of such freedmen: "As it is on their own testimony that they are accustomed to rely, they like to discern the object which engages their attention with extreme clearness; they therefore strip off as much as possible all that covers it, they rid themselves of whatever separates them from it, they remove whatever conceals it from sight, in order to view it more closely in the broad light of day. This disposition of mind soon leads them to contemn forms, which they regard as useless and inconvenient veils placed between them and the truth."
The frontiersman was seeking a solvent of forms, and he found his spokesmen in such writers as Mark Twain, a large part of whose work is simply a satire upon the more formal European way of doing things. As the impulse moved eastward, it encouraged a belief that the formal was the outmoded or at least the un-American. A plebeian distrust of forms, flowering in eulogies of plainness, became the characteristic American mentality.
Has America vulgarized Europe, or has Europe corrupted America? There is no answer to this question, for each has in its own way yielded to the same impulse. Europe long ago began the expenditure of its great inheritance of medieval forms, so that Burke, in the late eighteenth century, was sharply aware that the "unbought grace of life" was disappearing. America is responsible for the vulgarization of the Old World only in the sense that, like a forcing house, it brought the impulses to fruition sooner. It enjoys the dubious honor of a foremost place in the procession. Today over the entire world there are dangerous signs that culture, as such, is marked for attack because its formal requirements stand in the way of expression of the natural man.
Many cannot conceive why form should be allowed to impede the expression of honest hearts. The reason lies in one of the limitations imposed upon man: unformed expression is ever tending toward ignorance. Good intention is primary, but it is not enough: that is the lesson of the experiment of romanticism.
The member of a culture, on the other hand, purposely avoids the relationship of immediacy; he wants the object somehow depicted and fictionized, or, as Schopenhauer expressed it, he wants not the thing but the idea of the thing. He is embarrassed when this is taken out of its context of proper sentiments and presented bare, for he feels that this is a reintrusion of that world which his whole conscious effort has sought to banish. Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment. He understands what is being done, but he cannot convey the under-standing because he cannot convey the idea of sacrilege. His cries of aheste profani are not heard by those who in the exhilaration of breaking some restraint feel that they are extending the boundaries of power or of knowledge.
Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality. It looks upon euphemisms and all the veils of decency with which things were previously draped as obstructions which it, with superior wisdom and praiseworthy courage, will now strip away. Imagination and indirection it identifies with obscurantism; the mediate is an enemy to freedom. One can see this in even a brief lapse of time; how the man of today looks with derision upon the prohibitions of the 1890's and supposes that the violation of them has been without penalty!
He would suffer poignant disillusion had he a clear enough pattern in his soul to be able to measure differences; but one consequence of this debauchery, as we shall see, is that man loses discrimination. For, when these veils are stripped aside, we find no reality behind them, or, at best, we find a reality of such commonplaceness that we would willingly undo our little act of brashness. Those will realize, who are capable of reflection, that the reality excites us is an idea, of which the indirection, the veiling, the withholding, is part. It is our various supposals about a matter which give it meaning, and not some intrinsic property which can be seized in the barehanded fashion of the barbarian. In a wonderfully prescient passage Burke foretold the results of such positivism when it was first unleashed by the French Revolution: "All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
Barbarism and Philistinism cannot see that knowledge of material reality is a knowledge of death. The desire to get ever closer to the source of physical sensation-this is the downward pull which puts an end to ideational life No education is worthy of the name which fails to make the point that the world is best understood from a certain distance or that the most elementary understanding requires a degree of abstraction. To insist on less is to merge ourselves with the exterior reality or to capitulate to the endless induction of empiricism.
Our age provides many examples of the ravages of immediacy, the clearest of which is the failure of the modern mind to recognize obscenity. This failure is not connected with the decay of puritanism. The word is employed here in its original sense to describe that which should be enacted off-stage because it is unfit for public exhibition. Such actions, it must be emphasized, may have no relation to gross animal functions; they include intense suffering and humiliation, which the Greeks, with habitual perspicacity and humanity, banned from their theater. The Elizabethans, on the other hand, with their robust allusions to the animal conditions of man's existence, were none the less not obscene. It is all in the way one touches this subject.
This failure of the concept of obscenity has been concurrent with the rise of the institution of publicity which, ever seeking to widen its field in accordance with the canon of progress, makes a virtue of desecration. In the nineteenth century this change came visibly over the world, bringing expressions of concern from people who had been brought up in the tradition of proper sentiment. Propriety, like other old-fashioned anchorages, was abandoned because it inhibited something. Proud of its shamelessness, the new journalism served up in swaggering style matter which heretofore had been veiled in decent taciturnity. It was natural that so true an apostle of culture as Matthew Arnold should have sensed the mortal enemy in this. After a tour of the United States in 1888, he recorded his conviction that "if one were searching for the best means to efface and kill in a whole nation the discipline of self-respect, the feeling for what is elevated, he could do no better than take the American newspapers." Is this why, two hundred years before, a governor of Virginia had thanked God, to the scandal of succeeding generations, that there was not a newspaper in the colony? Have we here another example of the evil discerned most clearly on its first appearance? What he beheld in germ has grown so immeasurably that today we have media of publicity which actually specialize in the kind of obscenity which the cultivated, not the prurient, find repugnant, and which the wisest of the ancients forbade.
In any case, it has been left to the world of science and rationalism to make a business of purveying of the private and the offensive. Picture magazines and tabloid newspapers place before the millions scenes and facts which violate every definition of humanity. How common is it today to see upon the £ront page of some organ destined for a hundred thousand homes the agonized face of a child run over in the street, the dying expression of a woman crushed by a subway train, tableaux of execution, scenes of intense private grief. These are the obscenities. The rise of sensational journalism everywhere testifies to man's loss of points of reference, to his determination to enjoy the forbidden in the name of freedom. All reserve is being sacrificed to titillation. The extremes of passion and suffering are served up to enliven the breakfast table or to lighten the boredom of an evening at home. The area of privacy has been abandoned because the definition of person has been lost; there is no longer a standard by which to judge what belongs to the individual man. Behind the offense lies the repudiation of sentiment in favor of immediacy.
There are arguments founded upon insidious plausibility which seem to vindicate this publicizing. It is contended that such material is the raw stuff of life, and that it is the duty of organs of public information to leave no one deceived about the real nature of the world. The assertion that this is the real world begs the most important question of all. The raw stuff of life is precisely what the civilized man desires to have refined, or presented in a humane framework, for which sentiment alone can afford the support. The sensations purveyed by the press are admittedly for the demos, which is careless of understanding but avid of thrills. We shall have occasion to observe in many connections that one of the great conspiracies against philosophy and civilization, a conspiracy immensely aided by technology, is just this substitution of sensation for reflection. The machine cannot be a respecter of sentiment, and it was no accident that the great parade of obscenity followed hard upon the technification of our world.
It is inevitable that the decay of sentiment should be accompanied by a deterioration of human relationships, both those of the family and those of friendly association, because the passion for immediacy concentrates upon the presently advantageous. After all, there is nothing but sentiment to bind us to the very old or to the very young. Burke saw this point when he said that those who have no concern for their ancestors will, by simple application of the same rule, have none for their descendants. The decision of modern man to live in the here and now is reflected in the neglect of aging parents, whom proper sentiment once kept in positions of honor and authority. There was a time when the elder generation was cherished because it represented the past; now it is avoided and thrust out of sight for the same reason. Children are liabilities. As man becomes more immersed in time and material gratifications, belief in the continuum of race fades, and not all the tinkering of sociologists can put homes together again.
It is sometimes said when this point is brought up that urban living renders relationships of the older kind impossible. There can be little doubt of the truth of the proposition, but the very fact that it is put forward as apologia is an evidence of perversity. For motive is the decisive thing, and had our view of the world remained just, congested urban living, harmful in many other ways too, would not have become the pattern. The objectification in sticks and stones of our conception of living can hardly be pleaded as cause of that conception. When people set the highest value on relationships to one another, it does not take them long to find material accommodations for these. One is dealing here, as at every other point, with our estimate of the good life.
In Megalopolis the sentiment of friendship wastes away. Friends become, in the vulgarism of modern speech, "pals," who may be defined as persons whom your work compels you to associate with or, on a still more debased level, persons who will allow you to use them to your advantage. The meeting of minds, the sympathy between personalities which all cultured communities have regarded as part of the good life, demand too much sentiment for a world of machines and a false egalitarianism, and one detects even a faint suspicion that friendship, because it rests upon selection, is undemocratic. It is this type of mentality which will study with perfect naivete a work on how to win friends and influence people. To one brought up in a society spiritually fused-what I shall call the metaphysical community-the idea of a campaign to win friends must be in comprehensible. Friends are attracted by one's personality, if it is of the right sort, and any conscious attempt is inseparable from guile. And the art of manipulating personalities obviously presumes a disrespect for personality. Only in a splintered community, where the spirit is starved to the point of atrophy, could such an imposture flourish.
When the primordial sentiments of a people weaken, there invariably follows a decline of belief in the hero. To see the significance of this, we must realize that the hero can never be a relativist. Consider for a moment the traditional soldier (not one of the automatons that comprise modern armies) as hero. It may at first seem paradoxical to say that he is of all members of the laity farthest removed from pragmatism; yet his is an absolute calling. Give him prudential motives, and he at once turns into a Falstaff. His service is to causes which are formulated as ideals, and these he is taught to hold above both property and life, as ceremonies of military consecration make plain. One sees this truth well exemplified in the extreme formalization of the soldier's conduct, a formalization which is carried into the chaos of battle; a well-drilled army moving into action is an imposition of maximum order upon maximum disorder. Thus the historical soldier is by genus not the blind, unreasoning agent of destruction which some contemporary writers make him out to be. He is rather the defender of the ultima ratio, the last protector of reason. Any undertaking that entails sacrifice of life has implications of transcendence, and the preference of death to other forms of defeat, to the "fate worse than death," is, on the secular level, the highest example of dedication. There seems little doubt that the ancient solidarity of priest and soldier-a solidarity becoming impossible today, now that mechanized mass warfare has removed soldiering from the realm of ethical significance-rests upon this foundation.
In addition, the disappearance of the heroic ideal is always accompanied by the growth of commercialism. There is a cause-and-effect relation here, for the man of commerce is by the nature of things a relativist; his mind is constantly on the fluctuating values of the market place, and there is no surer way for him to fail than to dogmatize and moralize about things. "Business and sentiment do not mix" is an adage of utmost significance. It explains the tendency of all organic societies to exclude the trader from positions of influence and prestige; it accounts, I am sure, for Plato's strictures on retail merchants in the Laws. The empirical character of British philosophy cannot be unrelated to the commercial habit of a great trading nation.
Some form of sentiment, deriving from our orientation toward the world, lies at the base of all congeniality. Vanishing, it leaves cities and nations mere empirical communities, which are but people living together in one place, without friendship or common understanding, and without capacity, when the test comes, to pull together for survival. On the other side is the metaphysical community, suffused with a common feeling about the world which enables all vocations to meet without embarrassment and to enjoy the strength that comes of common tendency. Our plea then must be to have back our metaphysical dream that we may save ourselves from the sins of sentimentality and brutality. Does not its absence explain why
The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity?
Without this grand source of ordering, our intensities turn to senseless affection and drain us, or to hatreds and consume us. On the one hand is sentimentality, with its emotion lavished upon the trivial and the absurd; on the other is brutality, which can make no distinctions in the application of its violence. Ages which have borne reputations for cruelty are more to be regarded than those renowned, as ours is coming to be, for brutality, because cruelty is refined and, at least, discriminates its objects and intentions. The terrible brutalities of democratic war have demonstrated how little the mass mind is capable of seeing the virtue of selection and restraint. The refusal to see distinction between babe and adult, between the sexes, between combatant and noncombatant-distinctions which lay at the core of chivalry-the determination to weld all into a form-less unit of mass and weight-this is the destruction of society through brutality. The roar of the machine is followed by the chorus of violence; and the accumulation of riches, to which states dedicated themselves, is lost in a blind fanaticism of destruction. Those who based their lives on the unintelligence of sentimentality fight to save themselves with the unintelligence of brutality.
The only redemption lies in restraint imposed by idea; but our ideas, if they are not to worsen the confusion, must be harmonized by some vision. Our task is much like finding the relationship between faith and reason for an age that does not know the meaning of faith.
DISTINCTION AND HIERARCHY
For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of mind, they would all be uniform and without distinction
THE most portentous general event of our time is the steady obliteration of those distinctions which create society. Rational society is a mirror of the logos, and this means that it has a formal structure which enables apprehension. The preservation of society is therefore directly linked with the recovery of true knowledge. For the success of our restoration it cannot be too often said that society and mass are contradictory terms and that those who seek to do things in the name of mass are the destroyers in our midst. If society is something which can be understood, it must have structure; if it has structure, it must have hierarchy; against this metaphysical truth the declamations of the Jacobins break in vain.
Perhaps the most painful experience of modern consciousness is the felt loss of center; yet, this is the inevitable result of centuries of insistence that society yield its form. Anyone can observe that people today are eager to know who is really entitled to authority, that they are looking wistfully for the sources of genuine value. In sum, they wish to know the truth, but they have been taught a perversion which makes their chance of obtaining it less every day. This perversion is that in a just society there are no distinctions.
Our course has reached a point at which the question of whether man wishes to live in society at all or whether he wishes to live in a kind of animal relationship must be raised in all seriousness. For, if the proscription against every kind of distinction continues, there is no hope of integration except on the level of instinct.
After man evolves his metaphysical dream and becomes capable of rational sentiment, he recognizes two grounds of elevation, knowledge and virtu~if these are not one, which problem need not be decided here. The good man, the man with proved allegiance to correct sentiment; has been the natural trustee of authority; the man of knowledge has been necessary for such duties as require system and foresight. With these criteria it has been possible to erect a structure which mirrors our respect for value. In proportion to their contributions to the spiritual ideal which the creation expresses, men have found lodgment on the various levels, with the essential feeling that, since this structure is the logos, their stations were not arbitrary but natural and right. This is society, in which the human being has a sense of direction; literally, it might be said, he knows "up" from "down," because he knows where the higher goods are to be looked for. It is possible for him to live on the plane of spirit and intelligence because some points of reference are fixed.
Obviously this is not a social situation in which everyone is called Joe-that anonymous name so eloquent of modern man's feeling about people. If sentiment endures, there will be real names and even honorifics. For the good of all, prerogative will attach to higher functions, and this will mean hierarchy. But hierarchy requires a common assumption about ends, and that is why the competing ideologies of our age produce confusion.
The history of our social disintegration began with the unfixing of relationships in the fourteenth century, but the effort to do away with society entirely did not become programmatic until the nineteenth, when it appeared as a culmination of the prevailing nature philosophy. Since both knowledge and virtue require the concept of transcendence, they are really obnoxious to those committed to material standards, and we have seen how insistent was the impulse to look to the lower levels for guidance. Into social thinking there now enters a statistical unit, the consumer, which has the power to destroy utterly that metaphysical structure supporting hierarchy. Let us remember that traditional society was organized around king and priest, soldier and poet, peasant and artisan. Now distinctions of vocation fade out, and the new organization, if such it may be termed, is to be around capacities to consume. Under-lying the shift is the theory of romanticism; if we attach more significance to feeling than to thinking, we shall soon, by a simple extension, attach more to wanting than to deserving. Even institutions of learning have yielded to the utilitarian standard, and former President James B. Conant of Harvard University declared in an address that the chief contribution of American universities had been the idea of equality of all useful labor.
This is the grand solution of socialism, which is itself the materialistic offspring of bourgeois capitalism. It clarifies much to see that socialism is in origin a middle-class and not a proletarian concept. The middle class owes to its social location an especial fondness for security and complacency. Protected on either side by classes which must absorb shocks, it would forget the hazards of existence. The lower class, close to the reality of need, develops a manly fortitude and is sometimes touched with nobility in the face of its precariousness. The upper class bears responsibility and cannot avoid leading a life of drama because much is put into its hands. Lightnings of favor or of discontent flash in its direction, and he at the top of the hierarchy, whether it rests on true values or not, knows that he is playing for his head. In between lies the besotted middle class, grown enormous under the new orientation of Western man. Loving comfort, risking little, terrified by the thought of change, its aim is to establish a materialistic civilization which will banish threats to its complacency. It has conventions, not ideals; it is washed rather than clean. The plight of Europe today is the direct result of the bourgeois ascendancy and its corrupted world view.
Thus the final degradation of the Baconian philosophy is that knowledge becomes power in the service of appetite. The state, ceasing to express man's inner qualifications, turns into a vast bureaucracy designed to promote economic activity. It is little wonder that traditional values, however much they may be eulogized on commemorative occasions, today must dodge about and find themselves nooks and crannies if they are to survive at all. Burke's remark that the state is not "a partnership in things subservient only to gross animal existence" now seems as antiquated as his tribute to chivalry.
Upholders of tradition habitually classify the forces menacing our institutions as "subversive activity." The description is just. There is often in the language of ordinary people a logic which, for want of philosophy, they cannot interpret; and so is there here, for it can be shown that "subversive activity" has an exact application. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a more accurate phrase. The expression means plainly an inversion by which matter is placed over spirit or quantity placed over quality. Thus it describes perfectly what it is usually employed to describe-the various forms of collectivism which rest on a materialistic philosophy. The dullest member of a conservative legislative committee, seeking the source of threats to institutions, does not fail to see that those doctrines which exalt material interests over spiritual, to the confounding of rational distinctions among men, are positively incompatible with the society he is elected to represent. For expressing such views, he is likely to be condemned as ignorant or selfish, because normally he does not express them very well. Let us therefore find him a gifted spokesman. Here is Shakespeare on the subject of subversive activity:
O, when degree is shak'd,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead;
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong
(Between whose endless jar justice resides)
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.
And Milton, despite his fierce republicanism, seems to have agreed that "orders and degrees jar not with liberty, but well consist." Our legislator may find support, too, in the first book of Corinthians, in which Paul defends "diversities of operations." Paul offers the metaphysical argument:
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
The program of social democracy would take away this "ladder to all high designs." It would do so because high design is an extremely unsettling conception; it may involve arduous effort, self-denial, sleepless nights, all of which are repugnant to the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the goal of social democracy is scientific feeding. If one dares to visualize the millennium of the social democrats, he is forced to picture a "healthy-minded," naturally good man, provided for by a paternalistic state and seeking to save himself from extinction by boredom through dabbling in some art. Is it any wonder that social democracy has never been able to motivate its programs? De Tocqueville was too shrewd to miss the connection: "Comfort becomes a goal when distinctions of rank are abolished and privileges destroyed."
Since subversive activity is the taking away of degree, it is logical that conservatives should treat as enemies all those who wish to abolish the sacred and secular grounds for distinctions among men. The proposal of the subverters is, however, impossible in practice, and the quarrel turns out to be over principles of selection. History thus far indicates that when the reformers get their turn, they merely substitute a bureaucratic hierarchy-and this because they discover that they do not wish society to collapse at all, but to continue under their conception of man's good.
The fight is being waged on all fronts, and the most insidious idea employed to break down society is an undefined equalitarianism. That this concept does not make sense even in the most elementary applications has proved no deterrent to its spread, and we shall have something to say later on about modern man's growing incapacity for logic. An American political writer of the last century, confronted with the statement that all men are created free and equal, asked whether it would not be more accurate to say that no man was ever created free and no two men ever created equal. Such hardheadedness would today be mistaken for frivolity. Thomas Jefferson, after his long apostleship to radicalism, made it the labor of his old age to create an educational system which would be a means of sorting out according to gifts and attainments.
Such equalitarianism is harmful because it always presents itself as a redress of injustice, whereas in truth it is the very opposite. I would mention here the fact, obvious to any candid observer, that "equality" is found most often in the mouths of those engaged in artful self-promotion. These secretly cherish the ladder to high designs but find that they can mount the lower rungs more easily by making use of the catchword. We do not necessarily grudge them their rise, but the concept they foster is fatal to the harmony of the world.
The comity of peoples in groups large or small rests not upon this chimerical notion of equality but upon fraternity, a concept which long antedates it in history because it goes immeasurably deeper in human sentiment. The ancient feeling of brotherhood carries obligations of which equality knows nothing. It calls for respect and protection, for brotherhood is status in family, and family is by nature hierarchical. It demands patience with little brother, and it may sternly exact duty of big brother. It places people in a network of sentiment, not of rights-that hortus siccus of modern vainglory.
It is eloquent of that loss of respect for logic to which we owe so many disasters that the French Revolution made equality and fraternity co-ordinates. In so doing, it offered a foretaste of the contemporary political campaign, which shamelessly promises everything.
Equality is a disorganizing concept in so far as human relationships mean order. It is order without a design; it attempts a meaningless and profitless regimentation of what has been ordered from time immemorial by the scheme of things. No society can rightly offer less than equality before the law; but there can be no equality of condition between youth and age or between the sexes; there cannot be equality even between friends. The rule is that each shall act where he is strong; the assignment of identical roles produces first confusion and then alienation, as we have increasing opportunity to observe. Not only is this disorganizing heresy busily confounding the most natural social groupings, it is also creating a reservoir of poisonous envy. How much of the frustration of the modern world proceeds from starting with the assumption that all are equal, finding that this cannot be so, and then having to realize that one can no longer fall back on the bond of fraternity!
However paradoxical it may seem, fraternity has existed in the most hierarchical organizations; it exists, as we have just noted, in that archetype of hierarchy, the family. The essence of co-operation is congeniality, the feeling of having been "born together." Fraternity directs attention to others, equality to self; and the passion for equality is simultaneous with the growth of egotism. The frame of duty which fraternity erects is itself the source of ideal conduct. Where men feel that society means station, the highest and the lowest see their endeavors contributing to a common end, and they are in harmony rather than in competition. It will be found as a general rule that those parts of the world which have talked least of equality have in the solid fact of their social life exhibited the greatest fraternity. Such was true of feudal Europe before people succumbed to various forms of the proposal that every man should be king. Nothing is more manifest than that as this social distance has diminished and all groups have moved nearer equality, suspicion and hostility have increased. In the present world there is little of trust and less of loyalty. People do not know what to expect of one another. Leaders will not lead, and servants will not serve.
It is a matter of common observation, too, that people meet most easily when they know their position. If their work and authority are defined, they can proceed on fixed assumptions and conduct themselves without embarassment toward inferior and superior. When the rule of equality obtains, however, no one knows where he belongs. Because he has been assured that he is "just as good as anybody else," he is likely to suspect that he is getting less than his deserts. Shakespeare concluded his wonderful discourse on degree with reference to "an envious fever." And when Mark Twain, in the role of Connecticut Yankee, undertook to destroy the hierarchy of Camelot, he was furious to find that serfs and others of the lower order were not resentful of their condition. He adopted then the typical Jacobin procedure of instilling hatred of all superiority. Resentment, as Richard Hertz has made plain, may well prove the dynamite which will finally wreck Western society.
The basis of an organic social order is fraternity uniting parts that are distinct. We must repeat, then, with reference to our first principles, that rebellion against distinction is an aspect of that world-wide and centuries4ong movement against knowledge whose beginning goes back to nominalism. For it requires only a slight transference to say that, if our classifications of the world of physical nature are arbitrary, so, too, are those of human society. In other words, after we grant that those generalizations about the world which we necessarily make-and this is a necessity no one can really deny-do not express an objective order but only afford convenient modes, the same must be granted about society. With this conceded, inherent pattern is gone; nothing is justified that does not serve convenience, and there remains no court of appeal against subversion by pragmatism. Thus, repudiation of knowledge of what is destroys the basis of renewal. It is not fantastic but, rather, realistic to see as an ultimate result of this process the end of civilization.
It is generally assumed that the erasing of all distinctions will usher in the reign of pure democracy. But the inability of pure democracy to stand for something intelligible leaves it merely a verbal deception. If it promises equality before the law, it does no more than empires and monarchies have done and cannot use this as a ground to assert superiority. If it promises equality of condition, it promises injustice, because one law for the ox and the lion is tyranny. Pressure from the consumer instinct usually compels it to promise the latter. When it was found that equality before the law has no effect on inequalities of ability and achievement, humanitarians concluded that they had been tricked into asking only part of their just claim. The claim to political equality was then supplemented by the demand for economic democracy, which was to give substance to the ideal of the levelers. Nothing but a despotism could enforce anything so unrealistic, and this explains why modern governments dedicated to this program have become, under one guise and another, despotic.
There are other aspects to the dilemma of radical egalitarianism. A defense often employed by the more sophisticated is that democratic equality allows each to develop his potentialities. This plausible argument involves grave questions about the nature of things. It is here implied that man is like a seed, having some immanent design of germination, so that for his flowering he needs that liberty which is "freedom from." If this is the whole account, it can only mean that our determination is naturalistic and that our growth is merely the unfolding of a plan established purely by nature. One need hardly add that this conception accepts orientation from below and assumes that man's destiny is to be natural, to develop like a plant. This makes impossible any thought of discipline, which would, under these circumstances, be a force constraining what nature had intended. But all teleology rejects "freedom from" in favor of "freedom to." That men are a field of wild flowers, naturally good in their growing, is the romantic fallacy.
A kindred notion is that democracy means opportunity for advancement, or in the language of the day, "a chance to be a success." Obviously this contention presumes hierarchy. The sort of advancement contemplated by these advocates is just the kind that requires a condition of high social organization, with rewards, degrees, and everything that comes with a frank recognition of superiority. If democracy means a chance to get ahead, it means a chance to rise above the less worthy, to have station with reference to points above and below. The solution of the dilemma is that these people wish democracy not as an end but as a means. Confronted with the realities described, the democrat may confess that his democracy is only a correction for a distorted aristocracy; he does want order, but he wants the kind in which the best, the gifted and the industrious, get ahead. There must be a fence, but the wrong rail is on top.
Notwithstanding this claim that democracy is quicker to recognize native worth, every visitor to a democratic society has been struck by its jealous demand for conformity. Such spirit is an outgrowth of competition and suspicion. The democrats well sense that, if they allow people to divide according to abilities and preferences, soon structure will impose itself upon the mass. Hence the adulation of the regular fellow, the political seduction of the common man, and the deep distrust of intellectuals, whose grasp of principle gives them superior insight. This society may even pay tribute to the exemplar of easy morals; for he is the "good fellow," who has about him none of the uncomfortable angularities of the idealist.
It seems plain that the democrats are ignoring a contradiction. Had they the courage to be logical, they would do as their predecessors in ancient Greece and choose their governors by lot. An election, is after all, a highly undemocratic proceeding; the very term means discrimination. How is it possible to choose the best man when by definition there is no best? If a society wishes to be its natural self, that is to say, if it wishes to flourish wild, unshaped by anything superior to itself, it should make a perfectly random choice of administrators. Let youth and age, wisdom and folly, courage and cowardice, self-control and dissoluteness, sit together on the bench. This will be representative; this is a cross-section, and there seems no room to question that it would create that society "filled with wonderful variety and disorder" which Plato called democracy.
A footnote, however, must be added to the practice of the Greeks. There were certain officials of highest importance whom they saw fit to choose by election. These were, as might be guessed, the strat'goi, the military commanders. It was seen that since the very existence of the state depends on them and since a general must have skill, it is better her to take note of differences and admit that in time of emergency authority goes to knowledge.
Democratic leadership thus always runs into anomaly. It has been argued that, whatever the aberrations of the democratic state, in periods of crisis such as civil war and the threat of invasion, the people instinctively choose a leader of more than average stature, who will guide them through. Even if this could be proved historically, which is doubtful, it would damage the theoretical foundation of democracy. For it affirms that in time of crisis the people, whether instinctively or otherwise, defer to an elite group who know what to do; when they realize that only direction will save them, they accept it and care not who rails against dictatorship; when a high design becomes imperative, they delegate authority to the extent of placing it beyond their control.2 In the periods between they are inclined to indulge in the comfort of relaxation and disorder, which is itself a commentary on ideals. Of course, this question is inseparable from that of the end of the state, as that is, in turn, from the end of the individual being.
The writings of the Founding Fathers of the American Union indicate that these political architects approached democracy with a spirit of reservation. Though revolutionaries by historic circumstance, they were capable enough of philosophy to see these dilemmas. The Federalist authors especially were aware that simple majority rule cannot suffice because it does everything without reference; it expression of feeling about the moment at the moment, restrained neither by abstract idea nor by precedent. They therefore labored long and with considerable cunning to perfect an instrument which should transcend even the law-making body. This was the Constitution, which in the American system stands for political truth. It is not an unchangeable truth, but the framers placed special obstacles in the way of change. It was hoped that the surmounting of these would prove so laborious and slow that errors would be exposed and the permanently true recognized. In this way they endeavored to protect the populace of a republic against itself. Their action is a rebuke to the romantic theory of human nature, and this will explain why the Constitution has proved so galling to Jacobins. They regard it as a kind of mortmain, and during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt its interpreters were scornfully termed, in an expression indicative of the modern temper, "nine old men."
Edmund Burke was forced to meet the same problem when the French Revolution drove him to examine the foundations of British constitutional liberty. In the absence of a written constitution he had the difficult task of establishing the fact that the English people are bound by a transcending limitation. The long passages in the Reflections on succession of the crown has, I think, been misinterpreted; for Burke does not mean, as Thomas Paine asserted, that a single British Parliament made itself a political Adam, by whose enactment all succeeding generations were bound. He rather argues that this act was a precedent in conformitv with other precedents, the sum of which binds the English people. If we are to be guided by the experience of the past, there is a perfectly real sense in which precedent is nonrepealable. And precedent was for Burke the principle of continuity and reference. The inheritance of "rational liberty" was thus Britain's protection against subversion.
It has been said countless times in this country that democracy cannot exist without education. The truth concealed in this observation is that only education can be depended on to bring men to see the hierarchy of values. That is another way of saying what has also been affirmed before, that democracy cannot exist without aristocracy. This aristocracy is a leadership which, if it is to endure, must be constantly recruited from democracy; hence it is equally true that aristocracy cannot exist without democracy. But what we have failed to provide against is the corruption of the system of recruitment by equalitarian dogma and the allurements of materialism. There is no difficulty in securing enough agreement for action on the point that education should serve the needs of the people. But all hinges on the interpretation of needs; if the primary need of man is to per-feet his spiritual being and prepare for immortality, then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else. The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the ma3ority. Those who maintain that education should prepare one for living successfully in this world have won a practically complete victory. Now if it were possible to arrive at a sufficiently philosophical conception of success, there would still remain room for idealistic goals, and attempts have been made to do something like it by defining in philosophical language what constitutes a free man. Yet the prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plane of the bourgeoisie. That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues. It neither encourages reflection nor inspires a reverence for the good.
In other words, it is precisely because we have lost our grasp of the nature of knowledge that we have nothing to educate with for the salvation of our order. Americans certainly cannot be reproached for failing to invest adequately in the hope that education would proye a redemption. They have built numberless high schools, lavish in equipment, only to see them, under the prevailing scheme of values, turned into social centers and institutions for improving the personality, where teachers, living in fear of constituents, dare not enforce scholarship. They have built colleges on an equal scale, only to see them turned into playgrounds for grown-up children or centers of vocationalism and professionalism. Finally, they have seen pragmatists, as if in peculiar spite against the very idea of hierarchy, endeavoring to turn classes into democratic forums, where the teacher is only a moderator, and no one offends by presuming to speak with superior knowledge.
The formula of popular education has failed democracy because democracy has rebelled at the thought of sacrifice, the sacrifice of time and material goods without which there is no training in intellectual discipline. The spoiled-child psychology, of which I shall say something later, has sought a royal road to learning. In this way, when even its institutions of learning serve primarily the ends of gross animal existence, its last recourse to order is destroyed by appetite.
Every attempt to find a way out of these dilemmas points to a single necessity; some source of authority must be found. The only source of authority whose title is unimpeachable at all times is knowledge. But superiority in knowledge carries prerogative, which implies, of course, distinction and hierarchy. We have seen, too, that the possibility of liberty and the hope of personal improvement rest upon these, for liberty must always work in the name of right reason, which is itself a conception of the scheme of things. The conservatives of our day have a case which only their want of imagination keeps them from making use of in the proposition that levelers are foes of freedom. Where simple massness exists, everyone is in everyone else's way, and a certain perilous liberty has been traded for stultification.
The average man of the present age has a metaphysic in the form of a conception known as "progress." It is certainly to his credit that he does not wish to be a sentimentalist in his endeavors; he wants some measure for purposeful activity; he wants to feel that through the world some' increasing purpose runs. And nothing is more common than to hear him discriminate people according to this metaphysic, his term for the less worthy being unprogressive. But since his metaphysic calls only for magnitude and number, since it is becoming without a goal, it is not a source of distinctions in value. It is a system of quantitative comparison. Its effect therefore has been to collapse the traditional hierarchy and to produce economic man, whose destiny is mere activity.
The mere notion of infinite progress is destructive. If the goal recedes forever, one point is no nearer it than the last. All that we can do is compare meaninglessly yesterday, to-day, and tomorrow. Aristotle noted that the concept of infinity makes impossible the idea of the good. If a series of things is hierarchically ordered, it is conditioned from top to bottom and so cannot be infinite. If it is infinite, it cannot be conditioned from top to bottom, and there is no higher and lower.
Now such a look at the nature of things is imperative, for our conception of metaphysical reality finally governs our conception of everything else, and, if we feel that creation does not express purpose, it is impossible to find an authorization for purpose in our lives. Indeed, the assertion of purpose in a world we felt to be purposeless would be a form of sentimentality.