Conservative by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made. This quarrel is the subject of civil history. The conservative party established the reverend hierarchies and monarchies of the most ancient world. The battle of patrician and plebeian, of parent state and colony, of old usage and accommodation to new facts, of the rich and the poor, reappears in all countries and times. The war rages not only in battle-fields, in national councils, and ecclesiastical synods, but agitates every man’s bosom with opposing advantages every hour. On rolls the old world meantime, and now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities.

Such an irreconcilable antagonism, of course, must have a correspondent depth of seat in the human constitution. It is the opposition of Past and Future, of Memory and Hope, of the Understanding and the Reason. It is the primal antagonism, the appearance in trifles of the two poles of nature.

There is a fragment of old fable which seems somehow to have been dropped from the current mythologies, which may deserve attention, as it appears to relate to this subject.

Saturn grew weary of sitting alone, or with none but the great Uranus or Heaven beholding him, and he created an oyster. Then he would act again, but he made nothing more, but went on creating the race of oysters. Then Uranus cried, ‘a new work, O Saturn! the old is not good again.’

Saturn replied. ‘I fear. There is not only the alternative of making and not making, but also of unmaking. Seest thou the great sea, how it ebbs and flows? so is it with me; my power ebbs; and if I put forth my hands, I shall not do, but undo. Therefore I do what I have done; I hold what I have got; and so I resist Night and Chaos.’

‘O Saturn,’ replied Uranus, ‘thou canst not hold thine own, but by making more. Thy oysters are barnacles and cockles, and with the next flowing of the tide, they will be pebbles and sea-foam.’

‘I see,’ rejoins Saturn, ‘thou art in league with Night, thou art become an evil eye; thou spakest from love; now thy words smite me with hatred. I appeal to Fate, must there not be rest?’ — ‘I appeal to Fate also,’ said Uranus, ‘must there not be motion?’ — But Saturn was silent, and went on making oysters for a thousand years.

After that, the word of Uranus came into his mind like a ray of the sun, and he made Jupiter; and then he feared again; and nature froze, the things that were made went backward, and, to save the world, Jupiter slew his father Saturn.

This may stand for the earliest account of a conversation on politics between a Conservative and a Radical, which has come down to us. It is ever thus. It is the counteraction of the centripetal and the centrifugal forces. Innovation is the salient energy; Conservatism the pause on the last movement. ‘That which is was made by God,’ saith Conservatism. ‘He is leaving that, he is entering this other;’ rejoins Innovation.

There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact. It affirms because it holds. Its fingers clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact. The castle, which conservatism is set to defend, is the actual state of things, good and bad. The project of innovation is the best possible state of things. Of course, conservatism always has the worst of the argument, is always apologizing, pleading a necessity, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate; it must saddle itself with the mountainous load of the violence and vice of society, must deny the possibility of good, deny ideas, and suspect and stone the prophet; whilst innovation is always in the right, triumphant, attacking, and sure of final success. Conservatism stands on man’s confessed limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitude; conservatism on circumstance; liberalism on power; one goes to make an adroit member of the social frame; the other to postpone all things to the man himself; conservatism is debonnair and social; reform is individual and imperious. We are reformers in spring and summer; in autumn and winter, we stand by the old; reformers in the morning, conservers at night. Reform is affirmative, conservatism negative; conservatism goes for comfort, reform for truth. Conservatism is more candid to behold another’s worth; reform more disposed to maintain and increase its own. Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory. Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry. It makes a great difference to your figure and to your thought, whether your foot is advancing or receding. Conservatism never puts the foot forward; in the hour when it does that, it is not establishment, but reform. Conservatism tends to universal seeming and treachery, believes in a negative fate; believes that men’s temper governs them; that for me, it avails not to trust in principles; they will fail me; I must bend a little; it distrusts nature; it thinks there is a general law without a particular application, — law for all that does not include any one. Reform in its antagonism inclines to asinine resistance, to kick with hoofs; it runs to egotism and bloated self-conceit; it runs to a bodiless pretension, to unnatural refining and elevation, which ends in hypocrisy and sensual reaction.

And so whilst we do not go beyond general statements, it may be safely affirmed of these two metaphysical antagonists, that each is a good half, but an impossible whole. Each exposes the abuses of the other, but in a true society, in a true man, both must combine. Nature does not give the crown of its approbation, namely, beauty, to any action or emblem or actor, but to one which combines both these elements; not to the rock which resists the waves from age to age, nor to the wave which lashes incessantly the rock, but the superior beauty is with the oak which stands with its hundred arms against the storms of a century, and grows every year like a sapling; or the river which ever flowing, yet is found in the same bed from age to age; or, greatest of all, the man who has subsisted for years amid the changes of nature, yet has distanced himself, so that when you remember what he was, and see what he is, you say, what strides! what a disparity is here!

Throughout nature the past combines in every creature with the present. Each of the convolutions of the sea-shell, each node and spine marks one year of the fish’s life, what was the mouth of the shell for one season, with the addition of new matter by the growth of the animal, becoming an ornamental node. The leaves and a shell of soft wood are all that the vegetation of this summer has made, but the solid columnar stem, which lifts that bank of foliage into the air to draw the eye and to cool us with its shade, is the gift and legacy of dead and buried years.

In nature, each of these elements being always present, each theory has a natural support. As we take our stand on Necessity, or on Ethics, shall we go for the conservative, or for the reformer. If we read the world historically, we shall say, Of all the ages, the present hour and circumstance is the cumulative result; this is the best throw of the dice of nature that has yet been, or that is yet possible. If we see it from the side of Will, or the Moral Sentiment, we shall accuse the Past and the Present, and require the impossible of the Future.

But although this bifold fact lies thus united in real nature, and so united that no man can continue to exist in whom both these elements do not work, yet men are not philosophers, but are rather very foolish children, who, by reason of their partiality, see everything in the most absurd manner, and are the victims at all times of the nearest object. There is even no philosopher who is a philosopher at all times. Our experience, our perception is conditioned by the need to acquire in parts and in succession, that is, with every truth a certain falsehood. As this is the invariable method of our training, we must give it allowance, and suffer men to learn as they have done for six millenniums, a word at a time, to pair off into insane parties, and learn the amount of truth each knows, by the denial of an equal amount of truth. For the present, then, to come at what sum is attainable to us, we must even hear the parties plead as parties.

That which is best about conservatism, that which, though it cannot be expressed in detail, inspires reverence in all, is the Inevitable. There is the question not only, what the conservative says for himself? but, why must he say it? What insurmountable fact binds him to that side? Here is the fact which men call Fate, and fate in dread degrees, fate behind fate, not to be disposed of by the consideration that the Conscience commands this or that, but necessitating the question, whether the faculties of man will play him true in resisting the facts of universal experience? For although the commands of the Conscience are essentially absolute, they are historically limitary. Wisdom does not seek a literal rectitude, but an useful, that is, a conditioned one, such a one as the faculties of man and the constitution of things will warrant. The reformer, the partisan loses himself in driving to the utmost some specialty of right conduct, until his own nature and all nature resist him; but Wisdom attempts nothing enormous and disproportioned to its powers, nothing which it cannot perform or nearly perform. We have all a certain intellection or presentiment of reform existing in the mind, which does not yet descend into the character, and those who throw themselves blindly on this lose themselves. Whatever they attempt in that direction, fails, and reacts suicidally on the actor himself. This is the penalty of having transcended nature. For the existing world is not a dream, and cannot with impunity be treated as a dream; neither is it a disease; but it is the ground on which you stand, it is the mother of whom you were born. Reform converses with possibilities, perchance with impossibilities; but here is sacred fact. This also was true, or it could not be: it had life in it, or it could not have existed; it has life in it, or it could not continue. Your schemes may be feasible, or may not be, but this has the endorsement of nature and a long friendship and cohabitation with the powers of nature. This will stand until a better cast of the dice is made. The contest between the Future and the Past is one between Divinity entering, and Divinity departing. You are welcome to try your experiments, and, if you can, to displace the actual order by that ideal republic you announce, for nothing but God will expel God. But plainly the burden of proof must lie with the projector. We hold to this, until you can demonstrate something better.

The system of property and law goes back for its origin to barbarous and sacred times; it is the fruit of the same mysterious cause as the mineral or animal world. There is a natural sentiment and prepossession in favor of age, of ancestors, of barbarous and aboriginal usages, which is a homage to the element of necessity and divinity which is in them. The respect for the old names of places, of mountains, and streams, is universal. The Indian and barbarous name can never be supplanted without loss. The ancients tell us that the gods loved the Ethiopians for their stable customs; and the Egyptians and Chaldeans, whose origin could not be explored, passed among the junior tribes of Greece and Italy for sacred nations.

Moreover, so deep is the foundation of the existing social system, that it leaves no one out of it. We may be partial, but Fate is not. All men have their root in it. You who quarrel with the arrangements of society, and are willing to embroil all, and risk the indisputable good that exists, for the chance of better, live, move, and have your being in this, and your deeds contradict your words every day. For as you cannot jump from the ground without using the resistance of the ground, nor put out the boat to sea, without shoving from the shore, nor attain liberty without rejecting obligation, so you are under the necessity of using the Actual order of things, in order to disuse it; to live by it, whilst you wish to take away its life. The past has baked your loaf, and in the strength of its bread you would break up the oven. But you are betrayed by your own nature. You also are conservatives. However men please to style themselves, I see no other than a conservative party. You are not only identical with us in your needs, but also in your methods and aims. You quarrel with my conservatism, but it is to build up one of your own; it will have a new beginning, but the same course and end, the same trials, the same passions; among the lovers of the new I observe that there is a jealousy of the newest, and that the seceder from the seceder is as damnable as the pope himself. On these and the like grounds of general statement, conservatism plants itself without danger of being displaced. Especially before this personal appeal, the innovator must confess his weakness, must confess that no man is to be found good enough to be entitled to stand champion for the principle. But when this great tendency comes to practical encounters, and is challenged by young men, to whom it is no abstraction, but a fact of hunger, distress, and exclusion from opportunities, it must needs seem injurious. The youth, of course, is an innovator by the fact of his birth. There he stands, newly born on the planet, a universal beggar, with all the reason of things, one would say, on his side. In his first consideration how to feed, clothe, and warm himself, he is met by warnings on every hand, that this thing and that thing have owners, and he must go elsewhere. Then he says; If I am born into the earth, where is my part? have the goodness, gentlemen of this world, to show me my wood-lot, where I may fell my wood, my field where to plant my corn, my pleasant ground where to build my cabin.

‘Touch any wood, or field, or house-lot, on your peril,’ cry all the gentlemen of this world; ‘but you may come and work in ours, for us, and we will give you a piece of bread.’

And what is that peril?

Knives and muskets, if we meet you in the act; imprisonment, if we find you afterward.

And by what authority, kind gentlemen?

By our law.

And your law, — is it just?

As just for you as it was for us. We wrought for others under this law, and got our lands so.

I repeat the question, Is your law just?

Not quite just, but necessary. Moreover, it is juster now than it was when we were born; we have made it milder and more equal.

I will none of your law, returns the youth; it encumbers me. I cannot understand, or so much as spare time to read that needless library of your laws. Nature has sufficiently provided me with rewards and sharp penalties, to bind me not to transgress. Like the Persian noble of old, I ask “that I may neither command nor obey.” I do not wish to enter into your complex social system. I shall serve those whom I can, and they who can will serve me. I shall seek those whom I love, and shun those whom I love not, and what more can all your laws render me?

With equal earnestness and good faith, replies to this plaintiff an upholder of the establishment, a man of many virtues:

Your opposition is feather-brained and overfine. Young man, I have no skill to talk with you, but look at me; I have risen early and sat late, and toiled honestly, and painfully for very many years. I never dreamed about methods; I laid my bones to, and drudged for the good I possess; it was not got by fraud, nor by luck, but by work, and you must show me a warrant like these stubborn facts in your own fidelity and labor, before I suffer you, on the faith of a few fine words, to ride into my estate, and claim to scatter it as your own.

Now you touch the heart of the matter, replies the reformer. To that fidelity and labor, I pay homage. I am unworthy to arraign your manner of living, until I too have been tried. But I should be more unworthy, if I did not tell you why I cannot walk in your steps. I find this vast network, which you call property, extended over the whole planet. I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills or the Alleghany Range, but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is his. Now, though I am very peaceable, and on my private account could well enough die, since it appears there was some mistake in my creation, and that I have been missent to this earth, where all the seats were already taken, — yet I feel called upon in behalf of rational nature, which I represent, to declare to you my opinion, that, if the Earth is yours, so also is it mine. All your aggregate existences are less to me a fact than is my own; as I am born to the earth, so the Earth is given to me, what I want of it to till and to plant; nor could I, without pusillanimity, omit to claim so much. I must not only have a name to live, I must live. My genius leads me to build a different manner of life from any of yours. I cannot then spare you the whole world. I love you better. I must tell you the truth practically; and take that which you call yours. It is God’s world and mine; yours as much as you want, mine as much as I want. Besides, I know your ways; I know the symptoms of the disease. To the end of your power, you will serve this lie which cheats you. Your want is a gulf which the possession of the broad earth would not fill. Yonder sun in heaven you would pluck down from shining on the universe, and make him a property and privacy, if you could; and the moon and the north star you would quickly have occasion for in your closet and bed-chamber. What you do not want for use, you crave for ornament, and what your convenience could spare, your pride cannot.

On the other hand, precisely the defence which was set up for the British Constitution, namely, that with all its admitted defects, rotten boroughs and monopolies, it worked well, and substantial justice was somehow done; the wisdom and the worth did get into parliament, and every interest did by right, or might, or sleight, get represented; — the same defence is set up for the existing institutions. They are not the best; they are not just; and in respect to you, personally, O brave young man! they cannot be justified. They have, it is most true, left you no acre for your own, and no law but our law, to the ordaining of which, you were no party. But they do answer the end, they are really friendly to the good; unfriendly to the bad; they second the industrious, and the kind; they foster genius. They really have so much flexibility as to afford your talent and character, on the whole, the same chance of demonstration and success which they might have, if there was no law and no property.

It is trivial and merely superstitious to say that nothing is given you, no outfit, no exhibition; for in this institution of credit, which is as universal as honesty and promise in the human countenance, always some neighbor stands ready to be bread and land and tools and stock to the young adventurer. And if in any one respect they have come short, see what ample retribution of good they have made. They have lost no time and spared no expense to collect libraries, museums, galleries, colleges, palaces, hospitals, observatories, cities. The ages have not been idle, nor kings slack, nor the rich niggardly. Have we not atoned for this small offence (which we could not help) of leaving you no right in the soil, by this splendid indemnity of ancestral and national wealth? Would you have been born like a gipsy in a hedge, and preferred your freedom on a heath, and the range of a planet which had no shed or boscage to cover you from sun and wind, — to this towered and citied world? to this world of Rome, and Memphis, and Constantinople, and Vienna, and Paris, and London, and New York? For thee Naples, Florence, and Venice, for thee the fair Mediterranean, the sunny Adriatic; for thee both Indies smile; for thee the hospitable North opens its heated palaces under the polar circle; for thee roads have been cut in every direction across the land, and fleets of floating palaces with every security for strength, and provision for luxury, swim by sail and by steam through all the waters of this world. Every island for thee has a town; every town a hotel. Though thou wast born landless, yet to thy industry and thrift and small condescension to the established usage, — scores of servants are swarming in every strange place with cap and knee to thy command, scores, nay hundreds and thousands, for thy wardrobe, thy table, thy chamber, thy library, thy leisure; and every whim is anticipated and served by the best ability of the whole population of each country. The king on the throne governs for thee, and the judge judges; the barrister pleads, the farmer tills, the joiner hammers, the postman rides. Is it not exaggerating a trifle to insist on a formal acknowledgment of your claims, when these substantial advantages have been secured to you? Now can your children be educated, your labor turned to their advantage, and its fruits secured to them after your death. It is frivolous to say, you have no acre, because you have not a mathematically measured piece of land. Providence takes care that you shall have a place, that you are waited for, and come accredited; and, as soon as you put your gift to use, you shall have acre or acre’s worth according to your exhibition of desert, — acre, if you need land; — acre’s worth, if you prefer to draw, or carve, or make shoes, or wheels, to the tilling of the soil.

Besides, it might temper your indignation at the supposed wrong which society has done you, to keep the question before you, how society got into this predicament? Who put things on this false basis? No single man, but all men. No man voluntarily and knowingly; but it is the result of that degree of culture there is in the planet. The order of things is as good as the character of the population permits. Consider it as the work of a great and beneficent and progressive necessity, which, from the first pulsation of the first animal life, up to the present high culture of the best nations, has advanced thus far. Thank the rude fostermother though she has taught you a better wisdom than her own, and has set hopes in your heart which shall be history in the next ages. You are yourself the result of this manner of living, this foul compromise, this vituperated Sodom. It nourished you with care and love on its breast, as it had nourished many a lover of the right, and many a poet, and prophet, and teacher of men. Is it so irremediably bad? Then again, if the mitigations are considered, do not all the mischiefs virtually vanish? The form is bad, but see you not how every personal character reacts on the form, and makes it new? A strong person makes the law and custom null before his own will. Then the principle of love and truth reappears in the strictest courts of fashion and property. Under the richest robes, in the darlings of the selectest circles of European or American aristocracy, the strong heart will beat with love of mankind, with impatience of accidental distinctions, with the desire to achieve its own fate, and make every ornament it wears authentic and real.

Moreover, as we have already shown that there is no pure reformer, so it is to be considered that there is no pure conservative, no man who from the beginning to the end of his life maintains the defective institutions; but he who sets his face like a flint against every novelty, when approached in the confidence of conversation, in the presence of friendly and generous persons, has also his gracious and relenting motions, and espouses for the time the cause of man; and even if this be a shortlived emotion, yet the remembrance of it in private hours mitigates his selfishness and compliance with custom.

The Friar Bernard lamented in his cell on Mount Cenis the crimes of mankind, and rising one morning before day from his bed of moss and dry leaves, he gnawed his roots and berries, drank of the spring, and set forth to go to Rome to reform the corruption of mankind. On his way he encountered many travellers who greeted him courteously; and the cabins of the peasants and the castles of the lords supplied his few wants. When he came at last to Rome, his piety and good will easily introduced him to many families of the rich, and on the first day he saw and talked with gentle mothers with their babes at their breasts, who told him how much love they bore their children, and how they were perplexed in their daily walk lest they should fail in their duty to them. ‘What!’ he said, ‘and this on rich embroidered carpets, on marble floors, with cunning sculpture, and carved wood, and rich pictures, and piles of books about you?’ — ‘Look at our pictures and books,’ they said, ‘and we will tell you, good Father, how we spent the last evening. These are stories of godly children and holy families and romantic sacrifices made in old or in recent times by great and not mean persons; and last evening, our family was collected, and our husbands and brothers discoursed sadly on what we could save and give in the hard times.’ Then came in the men, and they said, ‘What cheer, brother? Does thy convent want gifts?’ Then the friar Bernard went home swiftly with other thoughts than he brought, saying, ‘This way of life is wrong, yet these Romans, whom I prayed God to destroy, are lovers, they are lovers; what can I do?’

The reformer concedes that these mitigations exist, and that, if he proposed comfort, he should take sides with the establishment. Your words are excellent, but they do not tell the whole. Conservatism is affluent and openhanded, but there is a cunning juggle in riches. I observe that they take somewhat for everything they give. I look bigger, but am less; I have more clothes, but am not so warm; more armor, but less courage; more books, but less wit. What you say of your planted, builded and decorated world, is true enough, and I gladly avail myself of its convenience; yet I have remarked that what holds in particular, holds in general, that the plant Man does not require for his most glorious flowering this pomp of preparation and convenience, but the thoughts of some beggarly Homer who strolled, God knows when, in the infancy and barbarism of the old world; the gravity and sense of some slave Moses who leads away his fellow slaves from their masters; the contemplation of some Scythian Anacharsis; the erect, formidable valor of some Dorian townsmen in the town of Sparta; the vigor of Clovis the Frank, and Alfred the Saxon, and Alaric the Goth, and Mahomet, Ali, and Omar the Arabians, Saladin the Curd, and Othman the Turk, sufficed to build what you call society, on the spot and in the instant when the sound mind in a sound body appeared. Rich and fine is your dress, O conservatism! your horses are of the best blood; your roads are well cut and well paved; your pantry is full of meats and your cellar of wines, and a very good state and condition are you for gentlemen and ladies to live under; but every one of these goods steals away a drop of my blood. I want the necessity of supplying my own wants. All this costly culture of yours is not necessary. Greatness does not need it. Yonder peasant, who sits neglected there in a corner, carries a whole revolution of man and nature in his head, which shall be a sacred history to some future ages. For man is the end of nature; nothing so easily organizes itself in every part of the universe as he; no moss, no lichen is so easily born; and he takes along with him and puts out from himself the whole apparatus of society and condition extempore, as an army encamps in a desert, and where all was just now blowing sand, creates a white city in an hour, a government, a market, a place for feasting, for conversation, and for love.

These considerations, urged by those whose characters and whose fortunes are yet to be formed, must needs command the sympathy of all reasonable persons. But beside that charity which should make all adult persons interested for the youth, and engage them to see that he has a free field and fair play on his entrance into life, we are bound to see that the society, of which we compose a part, does not permit the formation or continuance of views and practices injurious to the honor and welfare of mankind. The objection to conservatism, when embodied in a party, is, that in its love of acts, it hates principles; it lives in the senses, not in truth; it sacrifices to despair; it goes for availableness in its candidate, not for worth; and for expediency in its measures, and not for the right. Under pretence of allowing for friction, it makes so many additions and supplements to the machine of society, that it will play smoothly and softly, but will no longer grind any grist.

The conservative party in the universe concedes that the radical would talk sufficiently to the purpose, if we were still in the garden of Eden; he legislates for man as he ought to be; his theory is right, but he makes no allowance for friction; and this omission makes his whole doctrine false. The idealist retorts, that the conservative falls into a far more noxious error in the other extreme. The conservative assumes sickness as a necessity, and his social frame is a hospital, his total legislation is for the present distress, a universe in slippers and flannels, with bib and papspoon, swallowing pills and herb-tea. Sickness gets organized as well as health, the vice as well as the virtue. Now that a vicious system of trade has existed so long, it has stereotyped itself in the human generation, and misers are born. And now that sickness has got such a foot-hold, leprosy has grown cunning, has got into the ballot-box; the lepers outvote the clean; society has resolved itself into a Hospital Committee, and all its laws are quarantine. If any man resist, and set up a foolish hope he has entertained as good against the general despair, society frowns on him, shuts him out of her opportunities, her granaries, her refectories, her water and bread, and will serve him a sexton’s turn. Conservatism takes as low a view of every part of human action and passion. Its religion is just as bad; a lozenge for the sick; a dolorous tune to beguile the distemper; mitigations of pain by pillows and anodynes; always mitigations, never remedies; pardons for sin, funeral honors, — never self-help, renovation, and virtue. Its social and political action has no better aim; to keep out wind and weather, to bring the day and year about, and make the world last our day; not to sit on the world and steer it; not to sink the memory of the past in the glory of a new and more excellent creation; a timid cobbler and patcher, it degrades whatever it touches. The cause of education is urged in this country with the utmost earnestness, — on what ground? why on this, that the people have the power, and if they are not instructed to sympathize with the intelligent, reading, trading, and governing class, inspired with a taste for the same competitions and prizes, they will upset the fair pageant of Judicature, and perhaps lay a hand on the sacred muniments of wealth itself, and new distribute the land. Religion is taught in the same spirit. The contractors who were building a road out of Baltimore, some years ago, found the Irish laborers quarrelsome and refractory, to a degree that embarrassed the agents, and seriously interrupted the progress of the work. The corporation were advised to call off the police, and build a Catholic chapel; which they did; the priest presently restored order, and the work went on prosperously. Such hints, be sure, are too valuable to be lost. If you do not value the Sabbath, or other religious institutions, give yourself no concern about maintaining them. They have already acquired a market value as conservators of property; and if priest and church-member should fail, the chambers of commerce and the presidents of the Banks, the very innholders and landlords of the county would muster with fury to their support.

Of course, religion in such hands loses its essence. Instead of that reliance, which the soul suggests on the eternity of truth and duty, men are misled into a reliance on institutions, which, the moment they cease to be the instantaneous creations of the devout sentiment, are worthless. Religion among the low becomes low. As it loses its truth, it loses credit with the sagacious. They detect the falsehood of the preaching, but when they say so, all good citizens cry, Hush; do not weaken the state, do not take off the strait jacket from dangerous persons. Every honest fellow must keep up the hoax the best he can; must patronize providence and piety, and wherever he sees anything that will keep men amused, schools or churches or poetry, or picture-galleries or music, or what not, he must cry “Hist-a-boy,” and urge the game on. What a compliment we pay to the good SPIRIT with our superserviceable zeal!

But not to balance reasons for and against the establishment any longer, and if it still be asked in this necessity of partial organization, which party on the whole has the highest claims on our sympathy? I bring it home to the private heart, where all such questions must have their final arbitrement. How will every strong and generous mind choose its ground, — with the defenders of the old? or with the seekers of the new? Which is that state which promises to edify a great, brave, and beneficent man; to throw him on his resources, and tax the strength of his character? On which part will each of us find himself in the hour of health and of aspiration?

I understand well the respect of mankind for war, because that breaks up the Chinese stagnation of society, and demonstrates the personal merits of all men. A state of war or anarchy, in which law has little force, is so far valuable, that it puts every man on trial. The man of principle is known as such, and even in the fury of faction is respected. In the civil wars of France, Montaigne alone, among all the French gentry, kept his castle gates unbarred, and made his personal integrity as good at least as a regiment. The man of courage and resources is shown, and the effeminate and base person. Those who rise above war, and those who fall below it, it easily discriminates, as well as those, who, accepting its rude conditions, keep their own head by their own sword.

But in peace and a commercial state we depend, not as we ought, on our knowledge and all men’s knowledge that we are honest men, but we cowardly lean on the virtue of others. For it is always at last the virtue of some men in the society, which keeps the law in any reverence and power. Is there not something shameful that I should owe my peaceful occupancy of my house and field, not to the knowledge of my countrymen that I am useful, but to their respect for sundry other reputable persons, I know not whom, whose joint virtues still keep the law in good odor?

It will never make any difference to a hero what the laws are. His greatness will shine and accomplish itself unto the end, whether they second him or not. If he have earned his bread by drudgery, and in the narrow and crooked ways which were all an evil law had left him, he will make it at least honorable by his expenditure. Of the past he will take no heed; for its wrongs he will not hold himself responsible: he will say, all the meanness of my progenitors shall not bereave me of the power to make this hour and company fair and fortunate. Whatsoever streams of power and commodity flow to me, shall of me acquire healing virtue, and become fountains of safety. Cannot I too descend a Redeemer into nature? Whosoever hereafter shall name my name, shall not record a malefactor, but a benefactor in the earth. If there be power in good intention, in fidelity, and in toil, the north wind shall be purer, the stars in heaven shall glow with a kindlier beam, that I have lived. I am primarily engaged to myself to be a public servant of all the gods, to demonstrate to all men that there is intelligence and good will at the heart of things, and ever higher and yet higher leadings. These are my engagements; how can your law further or hinder me in what I shall do to men? On the other hand, these dispositions establish their relations to me. Wherever there is worth, I shall be greeted. Wherever there are men, are the objects of my study and love. Sooner or later all men will be my friends, and will testify in all methods the energy of their regard. I cannot thank your law for my protection. I protect it. It is not in its power to protect me. It is my business to make myself revered. I depend on my honor, my labor, and my dispositions, for my place in the affections of mankind, and not on any conventions or parchments of yours.

But if I allow myself in derelictions, and become idle and dissolute, I quickly come to love the protection of a strong law, because I feel no title in myself to my advantages. To the intemperate and covetous person no love flows; to him mankind would pay no rent, no dividend, if force were once relaxed; nay, if they could give their verdict, they would say, that his self-indulgence and his oppression deserved punishment from society, and not that rich board and lodging he now enjoys. The law acts then as a screen of his unworthiness, and makes him worse the longer it protects him.

In conclusion, to return from this alternation of partial views, to the high platform of universal and necessary history, it is a happiness for mankind that innovation has got on so far, and has so free a field before it. The boldness of the hope men entertain transcends all former experience. It calms and cheers them with the picture of a simple and equal life of truth and piety. And this hope flowered on what tree? It was not imported from the stock of some celestial plant, but grew here on the wild crab of conservatism. It is much that this old and vituperated system of things has borne so fair a child. It predicts that amidst a planet peopled with conservatives, one Reformer may yet be born.

Jonathan Sacks on Creative Minorities

2013 Erasmus Lecture

Jonathan Sacks

Almost exactly twenty-six centuries ago, a man not otherwise known for his positive psychology sat down to write a letter to his coreligionists in a foreign land. The man was Jeremiah. The people to whom he wrote were the Jews who had been taken captive to Babylon after their defeat at its hands, a defeat that included the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the central symbol of their nation and the sign that God was in their midst.

We know exactly what the feeling of those exiles was. A psalm has recorded it in the most powerful way: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. . . . How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:1, 4)

This was, of course, what Jeremiah had predicted. But there is no air of triumphalism in his letter, no “I told you so.” What he wrote was massively counterintuitive. Yet it would be no exaggeration to say that it changed the course of Jewish history, perhaps even, in an indirect way, that of Western civilization as a whole. This is what he wrote:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jer. 29:5–7)

What Jeremiah was saying was that it is possible to survive in exile with your identity intact, your appetite for life undiminished, while contributing to the wider society and praying to God on its behalf. Jeremiah was introducing into history a highly consequential idea: the idea of a creative minority.

At this distance of time, it can be hard for us to realize how revolutionary this was. Religions until then were inextricably linked to geographically, politically, culturally, and linguistically defined spaces. That is what the exiles meant when they said, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” If your nation was defeated, it meant your god had been defeated, and you accepted that defeat, graciously or otherwise. If you went into exile, as the Northern Kingdom had done a century and a half earlier, then you assimilated into the majority culture and became one—or, in that case, ten—of history’s lost tribes.

Only a unique configuration of ideas made Jeremiah’s vision possible. The first idea was monotheism. If God was everywhere, then he could be accessed anywhere, even by the waters of Babylon.

The second was belief in the sovereignty of the God of history over all other powers. Until then, if a people were conquered, it meant the defeat of a nation and its god. For the first time, in Jeremiah’s telling of the Babylonian conquest of Israel, the defeat of a nation is understood as being accomplished by its God. God was still supreme. Babylon was merely the instrument of his wrath. A people could suffer defeat and keep its faith intact.

The third was the belief that God kept his faith intact. He would not break his word, his covenant with Israel, however many times Israel broke its covenant with God. He could be relied on to honor his promise, just as he had when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. In the future, as in the past, he would bring his people back to their land.

So Jeremiah, like all the prophets, was ultimately a voice of hope. The prophetic message is always: If the people return to God, then God will return to the people, and the people will return to their land. Only hope can sustain a minority in exile, and only a transcendent God, above all principalities and powers, can guarantee that hope, even if it takes centuries or millennia to be fulfilled.

Jeremiah’s letter became the basis of Jewish hope for survival in the Diaspora for twenty-six centuries until today—a fraught, risk-laden, and tenuous survival, to be sure, but a remarkable one nonetheless.

Jews were creative in three distinct ways. The first was internal. It was in Babylon, for example, that the Torah was renewed as the heart of Jewish life. We see this clearly in the pioneering work of national education undertaken by Ezra and Nehemiah when they returned to Israel. And it was in Babylon again, a thousand years later, that the masterwork of rabbinical Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud, was compiled. The encounter with Christianity in the Middle Ages led to the flowering of Jewish Bible commentary. The meeting with medieval Islam begat Jewish philosophy. Every exile led to some new form of religious expression.

Second, Jews were cultural mediators between their host society and other civilizations. Through trade, for example, they brought to the West many of the inventions of China during the Middle Ages. Maimonides occupied an important role in bringing the Islamic rediscovery of Plato and Aristotle to the Christian world, becoming the bridge between Averroes and Aquinas.

Third, when in the modern age Jews were admitted for the first time to the cultural mainstream of the West, they gave rise to a remarkable number of architects of the modern mind. Among those of Jewish descent, if not of religious affiliation, were ­Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss, and many others.

So you can be a minority, living in a country whose religion, culture, and legal system are not your own, and yet sustain your identity, live your faith, and contribute to the common good, exactly as Jeremiah said. It isn’t easy. It demands a complex finessing of identities. It involves a willingness to live in a state of cognitive dissonance. It isn’t for the fainthearted. But it is creative.

Fast forward twenty-six centuries from Jeremiah to May 13, 2004, to a lecture on the Christian roots of Europe by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI. There he confronted the phenomenon of a deeply secularized Europe, more so perhaps than at any time since the conversion of Constantine in the third century.

That loss of faith, Ratzinger argued, had brought with it three other kinds of loss: a loss of European identity, a loss of moral foundations, and a loss of faith in posterity, evident in the falling birthrates that he described as “a strange lack of desire for the future.” The closest analogue to today’s Europe, he said, was the Roman Empire on the brink of its decline and fall. Though he did not use these words, he implied that when a civilization loses faith in God, it ultimately loses faith in itself.

Is this inevitable? Or reversible? Can a civilization that has begun to decline recover and revive? The cardinal suggested that this was the issue at stake between two historians, Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. For Spengler, civilizations are like organisms. They are born, they grow, they reach maturity, and then they age and decline and die. There are no exceptions.

For Toynbee, there is a difference between the material and spiritual dimensions of a civilization. Precisely because they have a spiritual dimension they are open to the human ability to recover. That gift, said Toynbee, belonged to what he called creative minorities, history’s great problem solvers. Therefore, concluded Ratzinger, “Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, and help Europe to reclaim what is best in its heritage and to therefore place itself at the service of all humankind.”

This too was an unexpected response. For the Catholic Church, numbering 1.2 billion adherents, to define itself as a minority, especially in Europe, is a surprising proposition. Nor is this the only way a group can respond to the discovery that it has become a minority. There are three other ways. First, it can accommodate to secularization: the way of religious liberalism. Second, it can resist it, sometimes violently, as religiously extremist groups are doing in many parts of the world today. Third, it can withdraw into protected enclaves, much as we see happening in certain groups within Orthodox Judaism. This is a powerful strategy, and it has strengthened Jewish Orthodoxy immensely, but at the price of segregation from—and thus loss of influence on—the world outside.

The fourth possibility, to become a creative minority, is not easy, because it involves maintaining strong links with the outside world while staying true to your faith, seeking not merely to keep the sacred flame burning but also to transform the larger society of which you are a part. This is, as Jews can testify, a demanding and risk-laden choice.

Yet the future pope was speaking at a challenging moment in the history of the West. There had been a time, only fifteen years before the lecture, when the West seemed to be triumphant. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Cold War was at an end, and it seemed as if liberal democracy and the market economy—two of the West’s greatest achievements—were about to sweep the world.

Since then, however, we have seen two great civilizations, India and China, revive and begin to challenge the economic supremacy of the West. A third, Islam, is undergoing great turbulence. Meanwhile the financial collapse of 2008 revealed a whole series of economies, among them the United States and much of Europe, living beyond their means, borrowing more, manufacturing less, and sinking deep into personal and collective debt. From the inside, the West may look still strong, which technically and scientifically it is, but from the outside it has seemed to many to be already past its peak. So the cardinal’s comparison with the Roman Empire on the brink of its decline deserved to be taken seriously.

Civilizations do not last forever. Not only did Spengler and Toynbee say so. So, in the fourteenth century, did the great Islamic sage Ibn Khaldun, and in the eighteenth Giambattista Vico. So indeed has every student of long-term history. Perhaps the judgment that most resonates with where we are today is contained in the first volume of Will Durant’s epic history, The Story of Civilization: A “certain tension between religion and society marks the higher stages of every civilization,” Durant wrote. Religion begins “fighting suicidally in the lost cause of the past” and “priestly control of arts and letters is then felt as a galling shackle or hateful barrier, and intellectual history takes on the character of a ‘conflict between science and religion.’”

The intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and—after some hesitation—the moral code allied with it; literature and philosophy become anticlerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason, and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea. Conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end a society and its religion tend to fall together, like body and soul, in a harmonious death. Meanwhile among the oppressed another myth arises, gives new form to human hope, new courage to human effort, and after centuries of chaos builds another civilization.

Can the decline of a civilization be resisted? That was the issue raised, in their different ways, by Jeremiah in his day and Cardinal Ratzinger in ours. To understand what this might involve, it is worth revisiting the work of Toynbee’s that brought the phrase “creative minorities” into the conversation.

I had not read A Study of History until recently. I knew that it had upset many Jews because of its statement that Jews and Judaism were “an extinct society which only survives as a fossil.” They were even more upset by his later statement, in volume 8, published in 1954, that Israel’s treatment of the Arabs in 1948, when it was fighting for survival against the armies of five neighboring states, was morally equivalent to the Nazi treatment of the Jews—a statement he did not retract but repeated in his 1961 debate with Israel’s then-ambassador to Canada, the late Jacob Herzog.

What I did not fully appreciate was that the description of Judaism as a fossil is not a stray sentence in this ten-volume work but close to the core of his argument. A Study of History is, as many have noted, less a study of history than applied theology of a distinctly supersessionist kind. For Toynbee, Western Christianity is not a development of Judaism but rather a continuation of Hellenistic society, emerging out of the disintegration first of Greece, then Rome. Judaism, for Toynbee, was not a fallen or defeated civilization. It had never become a civilization at all. Its very existence is an anomaly and an anachronism.

Reading these volumes, the first of which was published in 1934, I felt a great chill as I read a distinguished historian repeating a sentiment that had been responsible for so many persecutions over the centuries and was about to reach its tragic denouement in the Holocaust. When I realized that afterward he was prepared to consign even the State of Israel to the trash heap of history, I realized how deeply a certain attitude is embedded in the Western mind, and I want to challenge it, not because of the past but for the sake of the future, and not just because of Christian–Jewish relations but for the sake of those between the West and the world.

There is a failure of imagination at the heart of Toynbee’s study of history, and it shapes not only his attitude toward Jews and Israel but much else besides.

His argument in brief is this: Civilizations are provoked by challenge. They never emerge automatically as a result of biology or geography. What happens is that a group or nation faces a problem—economic, military, or climatic—that threatens its continued existence. An individual or small group then comes up with an innovative solution, the inspiration or discovery that opens the way to prosperity or victory. This is the birth of the creative minority.

The majority, recognizing that the minority has opened the gate to success, proceeds to imitate it. The nation, now at an advantage relative to others, flourishes, eventually expanding to become an empire, or what Toynbee calls a “universal state.” But this never lasts forever.

Eventually the minority, having enjoyed success and power, ceases to be creative. It then becomes a dominant minority, in power not because of what it is doing now but because of what it did in the past. At this point, social breakdown begins. Since the minority can no longer justify its position, it alienates the majority, or what Toynbee calls the proletariat. There is schism. The internal majority may then find solace in religion by creating a universal church. The external proletariat, outsiders who were once in awe of the established power, now lose their fear of it and engage in acts of violence and terror, giving rise, in Toynbee’s phrase, to “a bevy of barbarian war-bands.” Time, says Toynbee, “works on the side of the barbarians.” When this happens, breakdown has become disintegration.

And so it goes. In Toynbee’s judgment, “of the twenty-one civilizations that have been born alive and have proceeded to grow, thirteen are dead and buried; . . . seven of the remaining eight are apparently in decline; and . . . the eighth, which is our own, may also have passed its zenith.”

There is, however, one possibility Toynbee does not consider. What if at least one creative minority had long ago seen what Toynbee and other historians would eventually realize? What if they had witnessed the decline and fall of the first great civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Assyria? What if they had seen how dominant minorities treat the masses, the proletariat, turning them into forced labor and conscripted armies so that rulers could be heroes in expansionist wars, immortalized in monumental buildings? What if they saw all of this as a profound insult to human dignity and a betrayal of the human condition?

What if they saw religion time and again enlisted to give heavenly sanction to purely human hierarchies? What if they knew that truth and power have nothing to do with one another and that you do not need to rule the world to bring truth into the world? What if they had realized that once you seek to create a universal state you have already begun down a road from which there is no escape, a process that ends in disintegration and decline? What if they were convinced that in the long run, the real battle is spiritual, not political or military, and that in this battle influence matters more than power?

What if they believed they had heard God calling on them to be a creative minority that never sought to become a dominant minority, that never sought to become a universal state, nor even in the conventional sense a universal church? What if they believed that God is universal but that love—all love, even God’s love—is irreducibly particular? What if they were convinced that the God who created biodiversity cares for human diversity? What if they had seen the great empires conquer smaller nations, and impose their culture on them, and had been profoundly disturbed by this, as we today are disturbed when an animal species is driven to extinction by human exploitation and carelessness?

What if these insights led a figure like Jeremiah to reconceptualize the entire phenomenon of defeat and exile? The Israelites had betrayed their mission by becoming obsessed with politics at the cost of moral and spiritual integrity. So taught all the prophets from Moses to Malachi. Every time you try to be like your neighbors, they said, you will be defeated by your neighbors. Every time you worship power, you will be defeated by power. Every time you seek to dominate, you will be dominated. For you, says God, are my witnesses to the world that there is nothing sacred about power or holy about empires and imperialism.

Anation will always need power to survive, but only as a means, not an end. In its land, Israel was, is, and will be a tiny nation surrounded by great empires that seek its destruction. Its very survival will always be testimony to something profound: the ability of a small people to outlast great powers by the sheer force of its commitment to justice, compassion, and human dignity. Whether as a nation in the Middle East or as a dispersed people in exile, it will always be a creative minority that declines the invitation to become a dominant minority. It will manifest by its very being the difficult, counterintuitive truth that it is possible to worship the universal God without attempting to found a universal state or a universal church.

Such has been the mission of Jews throughout the ages. So it is no accident that Toynbee cannot understand them except as an anomaly and an anachronism, because they stand outside his structure and fail to fit his categories. Indeed, they challenge those very categories. So there is all the difference in the world between Jeremiah’s concept of a creative minority and Toynbee’s. Jeremiah calls on his minority to pray for the city and work for its prosperity. He does not ask them to convert the city by persuading its inhabitants to become Jewish any more than God asks Jonah to convert the people of Nineveh. He wants them to repent, not convert.

Within any great religious tradition, there is more than one voice. In Judaism there are the distinctive voices of the priest, the prophet, and the sage, and they generate different kinds of literature. Within Christianity likewise, because of the circumstances of its early history, there is a Hellenistic voice and a Hebraic one. The Hellenistic voice speaks about universal truths. The Hebraic voice speaks about the particularity of love and forgiveness and about the differences that make each of us unique and that make human life itself holy.

The Hellenistic strand, of which Arnold Toynbee was an extreme example, leads in the direction of a universal church and a universal state. After all, Hellenism had already before the birth of Christianity given rise to two of the greatest empires the world has ever known. The Hebraic strand leads to the recognition that a small nation can play the role of a creative minority within the human arena, seeking influence, not power, hoping to inspire but not to conquer or convert.

Despite its claim to tolerance, Hellenism largely dismissed the non-Hellenistic world as barbarian and could not begin to understand why Jews might want to stay loyal to their seemingly parochial identity. The only explanation Hellenistic writers could give was that Jews were misanthropes who hated humankind. Under both the Seleucids and the Romans, there were attempts to suppress Judaism altogether, with tragic consequences. Any attempt to found a universal state or a universal church will always collide with Judaism’s principled particularity, and that, more than any other factor, explains the persistence of anti-Semitism throughout the ages. Jews lived and sometimes died for the right to be different, and for the belief that unity in heaven creates diversity on earth.

There are moments in history, and we are living through one now, when something new is taking shape but we do not know precisely what, when we are caught, in Matthew Arnold’s words, “Wandering between two worlds, one dead, / The other powerless to be born.” There have been many warning voices, from Alasdair MacIntyre to Niall Ferguson, suggesting that the West that dominated the world from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries is in decline. Certainly it no longer commands the respect it once did. It no longer even respects itself as it once did. In his lecture Cardinal Ratzinger referred sharply to what he called Europe’s “pathological self-hatred.”

What has come to be called the Judeo-Christian ethic is under sustained assault from two quite different directions: from those who would eliminate religion altogether, and from those who seek to create a universal theocratic state that is neither Christian nor Jewish.

Three phenomena cry out for attention. First is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing currently being carried out against Christians throughout much of the Middle East and parts of Africa. I think of the Christians who have fled Syria, and of the eight million Copts in Egypt who live in fear; of the destruction of the last church in Afghanistan and of the million Christians who have left Iraq since the 1990s. Until recently, Christians represented 20 percent of the population of the Middle East; today, 4 percent. This is one of the great crimes of our time, but it has gone almost unreported and unprotested.

Second is the return of anti-Semitism to many parts of the world today, a complex anti-Semitism that includes Holocaust denial, the demonization of Jews, the return in modern guises of the blood libel and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the attempt in Europe to ban circumcision and shechitah, in effect making the practice of Judaism impossible—not to mention the anti-Zionism that leads otherwise good and decent people to call into question Israel’s right to exist, much as Toynbee did in his day. That this should have happened within living memory of the Holocaust is almost unbelievable.

The third concerns the West itself, which has already gone far down the road of abandoning the Judeo-Christian principles of the sanctity of life and the sacred covenant of marriage. Instead, it places its faith in a series of institutions, none of which can bear the weight of moral guidance: science, technology, the state, the market, and evolutionary biology. Science tells us what is, not what ought to be. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power. The liberal democratic state, as a matter of principle, does not make moral judgments. The market gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make. Evolutionary biology tells us why we have certain desires, but not which desires we should seek to satisfy and which not. It does not explain the unique human ability to make second-order evaluations.

The results lie all around us: the collapse of marriage, the fracturing of the family, the fraying of the social bond, the partisanship of politics at a time when national interest demands something larger, the loss of trust in public institutions, the buildup of debt whose burden will fall on future generations, and the failure of a shared morality to lift us out of the morass of individualism, hedonism, consumerism, and relativism. We know these things, yet we seem collectively powerless to move beyond them. We have reached the stage described by Livy, in his description of ancient Rome, where we can bear neither our vices nor their cure.

So the fateful question returns. Can civilizational decline be arrested? To which the great prophetic answer is “Yes.” For the prophets taught us that after every exile there is a return, after every destruction the ruins can be rebuilt, after every crisis there can be a rebirth, if—if we have faith in God’s faith in us.

But the Judeo-Christian ethic will not return until the fracture at its heart is healed, the fracture that is the long estrangement between Christians and Jews and that has caused so many persecutions and cost so many lives. I have hinted at the way this healing can happen—namely, if together we recover the Hebraic rather than the Hellenistic voice, Jeremiah’s rather than Toynbee’s view of a creative minority. This means a willingness to be true to our tradition without seeking to impose it on others or judging others harshly because their way is not ours; a loyalty combined with humility that allows us to stay true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith. That is what it meant to seek the peace of the city and what it now means to seek the peace of the world.

European history has had three supreme Hellenistic moments: first Athens, then Rome, and then the Italian Renaissance, and we are living through the fourth. These were moments of supreme creativity, but each ended in decline and fall. Through it all, despite many tragedies, Jews and Judaism survived. Somehow, in a way I still find mysterious, the Hebraic presence found a way of defeating the law of entropy that causes civilizations to break down and eventually disintegrate.

I believe Jews and Christians can and should work together to promote the values that we share and that we believe truly are universal: the sanctity of life as the gift of God, the dignity of the human person as the image of God, the covenantal virtues of tzedek, umishpat, chesed, ve-rachamim; fairness, justice, love, and compassion. Let us stand together in defence of the ecology of human freedom: the loving, stable family uniting parents and children in a bond of loyalty and care and supportive communities built on the principle of chesed, or caritas.

The time has come for a new meeting of Christians and Jews, based simply on the fact that a church that sees itself as a creative minority in the Jeremiah sense has made space for the existence of Jews and Judaism in a way that was not fully articulated before.

One reason I feel empowered to say this is the courage the Catholic Church has shown in the wake of the Holocaust to seek a new way in Jewish–Christian relations, begun by Pope John XXIII, continued through Vatican II and particularly in Nostra Aetate, sustained by the healing visit of Pope John Paul II to Jerusalem, and given new impetus by Pope Benedict XVI’s use of the phrase “creative minority.”

The second reason is Pope Francis, whom I have not yet met but whose words I have followed closely. I was in Buenos Aires on the day he was elected pope, and I was struck by the high regard in which he was held by the Jewish community in Argentina, a community that has felt very vulnerable since the terrorist attacks it suffered in the 1990s. I was equally struck by the warmth of his dialogue—published as a book, On Heaven and Earth—with a local rabbi.

What moved me especially were the words he used in his open letter of September 11, 2013, to Eugenio Scalfari, editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. There he wrote: “God never abandoned his covenant with Israel, and notwithstanding their terrible suffering over the centuries, the Jewish people have kept their faith. For this, we will never be sufficiently grateful to them as a Church, but also as human beings.” This is language we have rarely heard from a pope before, and it embodies a truth we all too often forget: that if you are deeply loyal to your faith, you can respect the loyalty with which others stay loyal to theirs.

If we read the Book of Genesis carefully, we see that the great threat to humanity is sibling rivalry and what René Girard calls “mimesis,” the desire to have what your brother has rather than rest content with your own. There are four such scenes in Genesis: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. A superficial reading suggests that sibling rivalry is inevitable, part of the human condition. Biologists tell us it exists in other species as well. But a deeper reading emerges if we focus simply on the last scene in each story in which we see the brothers together. In the case of Cain and Abel, Abel lies dead. In the case of Isaac and Ishmael, they are standing together at their father’s grave. In the case of Jacob and Esau, they meet, embrace and go their separate ways. In the case of Joseph there is forgiveness and reconciliation, the first recorded instance of forgiveness in literature.

That last scene was memorably evoked by Pope John XXIII at the very beginning of this new chapter in Jewish–Catholic relations. Meeting a delegation of Jews in 1960, he said, in the words of the Bible itself, “I am Joseph your brother.” That, both in the biblical original and its recent reenactment, was an extraordinary scene of reconciliation. But there is in the Bible a second scene, several years later, when Joseph goes further and says to his brothers “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” What Joseph means is that by our acts in the present we can redeem the past. We can rescue fragments of light from deep darkness when we take our pain and use it to sensitize us to the pain of others—when we “save many lives.”

That second reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers was the essential prelude to the drama of redemption that took place in the Book of Exodus and forever changed the history of the world. Might it not be that Jews and Catholics are being called to their own second reconciliation as they stand side by side, two creative minorities, seeking to save many lives, including those who, like the Egyptians in Joseph’s day and the Babylonians in Jeremiah’s, are not of our faith but are nonetheless made in the image of our God? Such a reconciliation might give new form to human hope, new courage to human effort, bringing us a little closer to Isaiah’s vision of a world in which “they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

True creative minorities fight the battles of tomorrow, not those of yesterday. The Judeo-Christian ethic will, in my view, be reborn the moment there is a feeling that something new and momentous has occurred to heal the oldest injured relationship in the history of the West. When that day comes, Jews and Christians will stand together in their fight against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East; in defence of the legitimacy of the State of Israel as the place where the Jewish nation was born in ancient times, and reborn in ours; and as joint witnesses to the power of an ethic of love, forgiveness, and the sanctity of human life, to offer a more compelling ground of human hope than the new barbarisms, secular and religious. Nothing less than the future of the West is at stake.

Without Virtue There Can Be No Liberty

George Washington: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,”[1] 

George Washington: “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.”[2]

Benjamin Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” [3]

James Madison: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”[4]

Thomas Jefferson: “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”[5]

Samuel Adams: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”[6]

Patrick Henry: “A vitiated [impure] state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom.”[7]

John Adams: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[8]

John Adams: “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtueand public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”[9]

John Adams: Liberty can no more exist without virtue and independence, than the body can live and move without a soul. [10]

Benjamin Rush: “Without Virtue there can be no liberty” [11]

Benjamin Rush: “In our opposition to monarchy, we forgot that the temple of tyranny has two doors. We bolted one of them by proper restraints; but we left the other open, by neglecting to guard against the effects of our own ignorance and licentiousness.” [12]

Samuel Adams: “[Men] will be free no longer than while they remain virtuous” [13]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “What is the best government? — That which teaches us to govern ourselves.” [14] 

Henry Ward Beecher: “There is no liberty to men who know not how to govern themselves.” [15]

Notes

[1] Victor Hugo Paltsits, Washington’s Farewell Address (The New York Public Library, 1935), p. 124.

[2] Washington to Marquis De Lafayette, February 7, 1788, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, (U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington D. C., 1939), 29:410.

[3] Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, (Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, Boston, 1840), 10:297.

[4] Speech in the Virginia Ratifying ConventionJune 201788. Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1891) 3:536.

[5] Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1819. ME 15:234.

[6] William V. Wells, The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams (Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, 1865), 1:22.

[7] Tryon Edwards, D.D., The New Dictionary of Thoughts – A Cyclopedia of Quotations(Hanover House, Garden City, NY, 1852; revised and enlarged by C.H. Catrevas, Ralph Emerson Browns and Jonathan Edwards, 1891; The Standard Book Company, New York, 1955, 1963), p. 337.

[8] John Adams, October 11, 1798, letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts. Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, (Little, Brown, and Co., Boston, 1854), 9:229.

[9] John Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, April 16, 1776. A. Koch and W. Peden, eds., The Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams (Knopf, New York, 1946), p. 57.

[10] John Adams to the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, from Papers of John Adams Volume 2, December 1773 – April 1775, (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1977), p. 245

[11] Benjamin Rush, Thoughts Upon The Mode of Education Proper in a Republic (1786), in Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, (Thomas and William Bradford, Philadelphia, 1806), p. 8

[12] Benjamin Rush, An Address to the People of the United States (1787), quoted in Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in, (W.O. Niles, Baltimore, 1822), p. 234

[13] Samuel Adams, Letter to John Scollay (Dec. 30, 1780), in William V. Wells, Life of Samuel Adams, Volume III., (Massachusetts Spy, 1778), p. 115.

[14] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders (MacMillan & Co., New York, 1906), Maxim No. 225.

[15] William Drysdale, ed., Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Selected from the Writings and Sayings of Henry Ward Beecher (D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1887), p. 72.

Art of Making Sense Is Thing of Past: Only function of today’s barbarous academic writing is to disguise banality by Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton

The politicization of higher education in America is regarded by conservatives with mixed emotions. On the one hand, conservatives are alarmed by codes of conduct that threaten to prevent us from expressing our views on campus; on the other, we are glad to see the universities making such evident fools of themselves.

It is hard to know which to prefer: a university that clings to the authority of objective scholarship while busily promoting left-wing causes, or one that places “political correctness” before truthful inquiry, and thereby ceases to be credible.

By a small margin I favor the second development. For although it spells the end of our scholarly traditions, it causes young people to apply themselves to serious pursuits like horse-breaking and lumberjacking, and to dispense with those years when, instead of learning to read books, they are taught that books are all unreadable. At least, that is what they are taught by the advocates of “deconstruction.”

In fact, the deconstructionists have a point. Books written by university apparatchiks (in particular those written by deconstructionists) are unreadable. Modern humanities departments have developed two strategies: to render meaningless the cultural heritage of which they are custodians, and to create a wholly new kind of literature, whose meaning is permanently hidden. In these two ways they fulfill their supreme goal, which is to bring the art of reading to an end.

I recently returned to some of the modern classics of philosophy. Gottlob Frege’s “Foundations of Arithmetic,” Bertrand Russell’s “Principles of Mathematics” and Gilbert Ryle’s “The Concept of Mind.” I was startled by the clarity and simplicity of their language. These abstruse philosophical discussions are written in the natural idiom of human speech and form part of a thriving literary culture. Russell, for instance, uses words with the same delicacy and alertness as A. C. Bradley, E. F. Benson, T. S. Eliot or E. M. Forster, and his prose is every bit as readable as theirs.

Turning to the “latest advances” in what my colleagues absurdly call “philosophical research,” I find a completely different style of writing, of which this is typical:

If “S” thinks that a certain pain-type is (tenselessly) horrible, he must present it in a conceptual mode, but he may descriptively identify the type via an indexical reference to a token of that type.

It is in such (tenselessly) horrible prose that contemporary Anglo-American philosophy is written. For years, I have wrestled with it; but my considered response today is that life is too short.

Even if the author of that sentence has something true and useful to tell me, the time taken to discover it could have been used to read the whole of Immanuel Kant or William Shakespeare.

Of course, there are reasons why academics write in this barbarous way. If they were to use the language that is natural to them, and to express the thoughts and feelings that are really theirs, the result would be so stunningly banal that no one would dream of employing them in a university. It has become necessary to write gibberish to gain promotion.

Moreover, the would-be professor must show that he is not going to question the system of academic privileges, or display any true independence of mind. The campus ideology provides a useful test that must be passed by anyone hoping to enjoy the fruits of scholarship. The aspirant must therefore use the feminine pronoun whenever he can; he must pepper his abominable prose with sideswipes at Reagan or Thatcher; he must labor to imply his correct posture toward “racism,” “sexism” and “homophobia,” and his impeccably liberal sentiments concerning the issues of the day. His constricted style thereby acquires a second set of shackles and clanks disconsolately down the darkened passages of his intellect, lifeless itself and resentful of life in others.

The worst of it is that academics are judged by the quantity of their publications. The more wagon loads you can tip onto Mt. Unreadable the higher you will rise. Scarcely a month passes without a new journal entering circulation, promising “feminist philosophy,” “postmodernist literary theory” or whatever other pseudo-subject that has taken root in the fertile ground of ignorance. Careers are built, universities colonized and young minds destroyed in the building of this Tower of Babel. Like its predecessor, the tower will soon collapse in ruins. But this time, God will not need to confound the language of the culprits, since they have already lost the art of making sense.

What Is Right by Nature By Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin

In classical philosophy “right by nature” was a symbol, with the help of which the philosopher interpreted his noetic experience of right human action. Through dogmatization of philosophy, which began with the Stoa and has not been wholly overcome until today, the symbol of noetic exegesis was gradually separated from its underlying experience and, under the title “natural law,” turned into a topic of the philosophic schools. This topic, the idea of a body of norms with the claim of eternal and immutable validity, has had considerable effects since the seventeenth century, even though its noetic premises did not become very clear. Today the revived debate about natural law unfortunately still suffers from the topical character of its object, separated as it is from the experience containing its meaning. We shall try to get behind the topos of dogmatic philosophizing and to reconstitute the symbol of noetic exegesis.

To this end,  we shall examine the occasion on which the expressions “right” and “nature” first were related within a larger theoretical context, namely the Aristotelian physei dikaion. This case merits our attention, not only because it is the first of its kind so that we may hope to discover in it the experiential bases of the symbol, but also and especially because the physei dikaion of Aristotle is supposed to be valid everywhere and for all time but all the same is a kineton, everywhere changeable. Thus the content of the original concept varies considerably from that of the later topos. The question of the transition of the one to the other is certainly worth a detailed investigation and is still to be accomplished, but it lies beyond the frame of the present undertaking. It suffices for us here to clarify the meaning of the physei dikaion and to unravel some of its philosophical implications.

I. Physei Dikaion

The text in which the term physei dikaion occurs is so little clear that many have assumed that particular page of the Nicomachean Ethics (NE 1134b18 ss) to have come from a pen other than Aristotle’s. That may be, but I would not go as far as that. Rather it seems to be a first version, possibly a dictation. Anybody who has himself struggled with the task of penetrating a large context of thoughts will recognize a mutual contamination of different series of thoughts. The page should have been worked over once more in order to put the associative sequence in discursive order. The text is not clear because (1) the concepts burst out of the logical scheme of general and special and because (2) the term physis occurs in those few sentences in several meanings so that only the expert reader can say with some certainty which meaning belongs to which passage. The first reason has to do with the total complex of the philosophia peri ta anthropina (“philosophy of human affairs”, NE 1181b15 s), as Aristotle names the work that comprises the Ethics as well as the Politics, so we must deal with this reason first. Once the greater deficiency of clarity that affects the formation of concepts is removed, the smaller equivocations of the term physis offer no more difficulty.

The want of clarity in the concepts concerning the right by nature root in the dominant interest of the whole work in the theory of the polis and can be removed only through an interpretation of the text in the light of the larger theoretical context. To this end,  the definition in the Politics (1253a38 ss),  as well as the overall structure of the Nicomachean Ethics must be examined.

In the just-mentioned passage of the Politics, Aristotle formulates three fundamental definitions: (a) justice (dikaiosyne) is a politikon; (b) Right (dikaion) is the order (taxis) of the koinonia politike (the political community); (c) the judicial decision (dike) is the determination of what is right (dikaion). We infer from the definitions that Aristotle wanted to put the questions of justice and judicial decision into an essential connection with the polis. For justice is a politikon; the dikaion, in turn, relates only to the polis but not to any other kind of association and its order; the judicial decision, whether it is to be understood as a legislative norm of a judge’s decision, regards what is right within the framework of the community of the polis. Statements containing these concepts thus must not be generalized into an Aristotelian “philosophy of law,” nor may one conclude from the relationship to the polis that this or that statement may not be valid for other types of association. The statements must be understood as “primarily related to the polis.”

This rule of interpretation is confirmed by the curious structure of Book V of the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle begins with a distinction of justice in a general and a narrower sense; he then subdivides the latter in distributive and corrective justice. After the quite voluminous investigation has come to this point, he suddenly recalls that its object is the relation of what is generally right to what is politically right (politikon dikaion). Everything that was said after the section on justice, in general, appears as a single digression from which we now return—“we must not forget”—to the proper subject, the politikon dikaion. Together with this new beginning,  there are new subdivisions: The politikon dikaion consists of the physikon and the nomikon; the nomikon is eliminated since by definition it is concerned with the adiaphora, the essentially indifferent matters like traffic rules, measures, and weights; finally the investigation concentrates on the physikon dikaion as the right that is concerned with essentials. Within each of the two parts the formation of concepts thus clearly proceeds according to the scheme of general and special; the obscurity enters at the point of the break: there where justice in the general sense suddenly is related to the polis and the concept of the dikaion politikon is introduced.

What, then, is right in a political sense? Aristotle defines: “The just in political matters is found among men who share a common life in order that their association brings them self- sufficiency and who are free and equal, either proportionally or arithmetically. Hence, in a society where this is not the case, there is nothing just in the political sense in the relations of the various members to one another, but there is only something that bears a resemblance to what is just.” Explaining this definition, he continues: “For the just exists only among men whose mutual relationship is regulated by law, and law exists where injustice may occur.” This is possible only among men who are free and equal, for only among them there is public decision about justice (dike) that distinguishes between what is right (dikaion) and what is unjust (adikon). These sentences do not present an argument but produce a curiously floating circle of meanings in which justice is closely linked with the polis and its relations between free and equal citizens, while the relations between men belonging to other associations drop down into a just as curious shadowy condition of unreality.

The floating meanings receive a little more determination from the term nomos, which these sentences introduced. Nomos, the law, is to rule, not man. The ruler is to be no more than the guardian of the dikaion, of that justice that distributively and correctively obtains between men who are free and equal; if the ruler violates the dikaion by acting in his own interest, assigning to himself more than his equal share, he becomes a tyrant. For Aristotle, the rule of nomos thus does not cover any content whatsoever of statues or ordinances; rather one can speak of a rule of law only when the law has a definite and essential content.

Now we are in a position to dissolve the obscurities that were caused by Aristotle’s dominant interest in the polis.

Above all, one must pay attention to the several layers of meanings. Primarily the concepts refer to the polis as the manifestation of right order, so on this level, it appears as if justice, law, right could be mentioned only with regard to the polis. Since Aristotle, however, is aware that the problems touched by these terms also concern men who live in other associations than the polis, a second level of meaning is opened, in which he touches the corresponding problems beyond the polis. For Aristotle, there is not merely a politikon, but also a despotikon, patrikon, and domestikon dikaion, only it must be distinguished from the more essential justice of the polis as a homoion, a “resemblance.” Nor does he deny to the “justice” of other associations a physikon, even if it, too, is to be understood only in the modus deficiens as a “resemblance,” like the dikaion. Moreover, Aristotle has not much to say about these other types of what is right by nature, since they do not interest him in the course of an investigation of the politikon. Essential justice, then, merges with what is right in the historical-concrete polis, while the questions of right order for other types of association appear only sketchily on the edges of the investigation.

Given the dominance of the politikon, there can be no natural law conceived as an eternal, immutable, universally valid normativity confronting the changeable positive law. This is so because the justice of the polis, its nomos, insofar it constitutes the rule of law among men free and equal, is itself right by nature. The justice of the polis is not positive law in the modern sense but rather essential law within which alone there arises the tension between physei dikaion and a possible derailment into the making of laws by arbitrary human will. Of course, the law of the polis is also legislated and obligatory in this capacity, but this attribute takes second rank behind the question whether the content of the statue is physei or rather the product of human hybris. This Aristotelian conception of nomos does not seem to differ in principle from the older one of Heraclitus or Sophocles. In Heraclitus we find the sentence (B 114) that all human laws (anthropeoi nomoi) are nourished by one that is divine (theios nomos), which governs as far as it will and is sufficient for all and more than enough. And Sophocles’ Antigone speaks of the unwritten and irremovable commands (nomima) of the gods, of which nobody has seen how they arise; and she does not want to become guilty before the gods by conforming to ordinances that have sprung from the self-willed thought (phronema) of a man (Ant. 450-70). In Aristotle the place of the theios nomos has been taken by the physei dikaion, so nomos is subject no longer to the divine but to nature. Whether or what has changed through this mutation of the criterion can be ascertained only through a close examination of the concept of nature.

The second reason for lack of clarity is the changing meanings of the term physis. Now, after the first reason has been removed, we can go through the text with a view to the different meanings of physis.

Political justice is either physikon or nomikon. While physikon everywhere has the same validity (dynamis) and is independent of what men are thinking, nomikon concerns things that could be ordered one way or another, since from the point of view of essence they obviously are indifferent. After these definitions, Aristotle interrupts his train of thoughts and introduces a widespread opinion: Many people think that all law is nomikon; for while that which by nature is the same always and everywhere—as, for example, fire burns both here and in Persia—the law seems indeed to be subject to changes. Against this view, he argues that the sentence, that law is changeable, does not seem to apply to gods, while among men, even though there is something that is right by nature, it is indeed changeable. He adds that it is easy to recognize which dikaia are according to nature and which are not.

The difficulties of this text resolve themselves if one understands that the word physis has the three meanings of physical, divine, and human, without Aristotle indicating which of the three meanings he uses in each case. Furthermore, the hasty language of this passage does not distinguish carefully enough between the arbitrary making of laws characterizing the nomika and the not arbitrary but rather strictly limited legislation concerning the physica. Thus misunderstandings easily arise, when Aristotle talks of the physikon dikaion now as that which is valid everywhere (meaning in its divine essence), now as that which is changeable (meaning its realization of men in a concrete situation). When he now even begins to talk of ta me physika all’ anthropina dikaia (“what is just not by nature but by human enactment”), one can indeed not make up one’s mind whether by physika he means nature in the physical sense or the divine essence. The only thing that is certain is that the anthropina are not nomika as opposed to physika but rather the physika in the third sense of the human realization of what is by nature.

The physei dikaion, we may say by way of summary, is what is right by nature in its tension between divine immutable essence and human existentially conditioned mutability.

At the passage in which the physika is opposed to the anthropina (NE 1135a3), there begins a sentence which has got little attention because of the confusing context, even though it is of fundamental importance for Aristotalian ethics and politics. Aristotle has made a comparison (NE 1 134b35 ss). The nomika are based on convenience and utility, as, e.g., one creates various standard measures for wholesale and retail commerce. Similar to the measures that are adapted to the market situation are also the dikaia, which are not physika but anthropina, for even the constitutions (politeia) are not everywhere the same, even though only one politeia is according to nature (kata physin), namely, the best one. In this passage, as we already mentioned, the anthropina must be understood as the natural in its human realization and, thus, are not equated with nomika but only compared with them, the tertium comparationis being the adaptation to the situation.

This passage is important, first of all, because it winds up the text about politikon dikaion by referring the reader, for his information, to the best constitution, the model of which Aristotle has worked out in Politics VII-VIII. Quite unlike the later ideas about natural law as the quintessence of eternal, immutable rules, the right by nature here is identical with the paradigm of the ariste politeia. The investigation about the physei dikaion, therefore, must not be understood as an autonomous set of teachings that could be further developed into a “doctrine of natural law”, rather, it leads directly to the core problem of political science, the question of the right order of society. In as much as this passage points in this direction, it is therefore, secondly, important for the overall structure of Aristotle’s episteme politike: While the construction of the model only tries to get hold of the right by nature in its immutable aspect, the description of the different constitutions in the Politics survey the entire width of variations in the human attempts to realize the model. Both investigations together, in their relation toward each other, only make up the whole of political science.

The tensions between the immutable right of nature and the changing modes of its realization occur within the polis, the problems of which we have recognized as the dominant motive of the conceptualization. Since the polis is the community best by nature, justice as a whole has a fourfold determination as natural. First, it is right by nature insofar as the historical type of community of the polis is best by nature; second, it is natural insofar as it concerns the human essence, as contrasted with the adiaphora; third, within the tension it is the preeminently natural that is valid everywhere, akin to Heraclitus’ theios nomos; fourth, it is the mutable natural, the anthropinon, in the concrete constitutions of the polis, in this sense akin to Heraclitus’ anthropeioi nomoi.

This much for the commentary on the text about the physei dikaion.

II. Phronesis

What is right by nature is not given as an object about which one could state correct propositions once and for all. Rather, it has its being in man’s concrete experience of a justice which is everywhere the same and yet, in its realization, changeable and everywhere different. There is, thus, an existential tension that cannot be resolved theoretically but only in the practice of the man who experiences it. Mediation between its poles is not an easy task. We know Solon’s complaint on the occasion of his reform: “It is very hard to recognize the invisible measures of right judgment; and yet this measure alone contains the right limits [peirata] of all things” (Solon 4, 17). It is very easy to lose this invisible, divine measure, and then its place will be taken by a legislator’s arbitrariness pursuing his special interest. In order to deal somewhat adequately with this task, man needs an existential power, a special quality, if his action is to mediate between the poles of the tension. This power Aristotle calls phronesis.

The problems of phronesis as the power of mediation run parallel to those of the tension between right and effective order in the polis. In dealing with what is right by nature, Aristotle permitted the politikon to dominate his conceptualization; similarly, when dealing not only with phronesis but with virtue in general, he puts his conceptualization under the idea of adjustment of the existential tension. This overall notion has not received much attention, as far as I know, and yet it is this that gives weight to any undertaking of ethics, not only Aristotle’s. For purposes of characterizing its philosophical locus, it is advisable to speak on an ontology of ethics.

Aristotle’s ontological interest manifests itself when he attributes to concrete action a higher degree of truth than to general principles of ethics. In (NE 1107a28 ss), he follows up a definition of virtue as the mean between extremes with an observation about the value of general concepts in ethics. We must not dwell on the generalities, says Aristotle, but we must look at the hekasta, the concrete facts or cases. In the science of human action, the general principles may have a wider application (or: are more widely accepted; the koinoteroi is not unambiguous), but the specifics are alethinoteroi, i.e., have more truth, for in action we are dealing with concrete things (hekasta) and must adjust to them. While other sciences endeavor to attain general principles with the widest possible area of application, in ethics the generalities are relatively uninteresting (possibly because they are already universally known). It is only on a lower level of abstraction, in the doctrine of particular virtues and in casuistics, that we get to the important things, and to these lower levels Aristotle attributes the greater amount of truth.

Now it does not go without saying that the lower levels deserve the attribute of more truth. Even if concrete action is more important, why should general principles and definitions be “less true” than decisions in particular cases? In this identification of truth with the concrete, there emerges the almost forgotten knowledge of the philosopher, that ethics is not a matter of moral principles, nor a retreat from the complexities of the world, nor a contraction of existence into eschatological expectation or readiness, but a matter of the truth of existence in the reality of action in concrete situations. What matters is not correct principles about what is right by nature in an immutable generality, nor the acute consciousness of the tension between the immutable truth and its mutable application (possibly even with tragic overtones), but the changeability, the kineton itself, and the methods to lift it to the reality of truth. The truth of existence is attained where it becomes concrete, i.e., in action.

The kineton of action is the locus where man attains his truth. That does not mean that ethics on the higher levels of abstraction would be superfluous for the truth of action, for correct action in concrete situations requires the deliberation of pro and contra in the tension of what is immutably right, and the premise for rational deliberation is ethical knowledge. Precisely in this question, however, Aristotle is willing, on the basis of his experiences, to allow for other possibilities, inasmuch as he recognizes right action, which attains truth without the mediation of ethical knowledge. In the Eudemian Ethics, he speaks of tyche, the luck of right action. There would be no end of deliberation, he thinks, if reasons after reasons were to be considered and the deliberating reason (nous) did not have an absolute origin and beginning (arche) of its reasoning—the beginning of God. The reasoning about concrete action is part of a movement in being, which issues from God and ends in human action. Just as God moves (kinei) everything in the universe, the divine also moves all things in us (EE 1248a27). To be sure, the divine in us moves usually through knowledge (episteme), mind (nous), and virtue (arete), but it also can do without these instruments and move us without them, directly through enthousiasmos. Side by side with the capacity for correct action of the wise men there is, therefore, the capacity of the unwise (alogoi) to hit on a correct decision by divination (mantike). Such accuracy of true action without the instrumentary (organon) of knowledge and experience shows its possessor to be a fortune-favored one, a eutyches.

These reflections about the fortune-favored man reveal the connection between ethics and ontology, an ontology that still has a decidedly cosmological character. From the unmoved mover, as the first cause, the movement of being goes on through the cosmos down to the last thing that is moved, in the realm of humanity to human action. If what is right by nature is characterized as kineton, the translation of this term as “changeable” is correct but must be supplemented by the meaning of “being moved cosmically by the cause of all movement.” The cosmological overtones should also keep us from understanding the content of particular cases as historical singularities in the modern sense. The constitution of the polis, which Aristotle uses as examples of the changeable right by nature, do indeed belong to the area that today we call history, but to the Hellenic thinker they appeared as belonging to an ahistorical realm of being. Let us not forget Aristotle’s comparison with the market situation, to which one or another measure might be adequate. More about this question cannot be said at this time,  we are touching on a theoretical problem of the limits of history, which has hardly even been raised today.

Whatever these limits may be, for Aristotle the historical and ahistorical changeables merge into the one movement issuing from the Divine. The movement may take a shortcut from the divine arche in man to his action, or it can use the instrumentalities of reason, knowledge, and habits of virtue. The normal case is not that of the fortune-favored unwise, but rather that of the wise man. The wise man, however, deliberates on the basis of his knowledge; and this knowledge may be ordered and expressed in the lasting form of propositions of various degrees of generality, which are called ethics. Insofar as this constant knowledge is the instrument used by the divine to attain truth in the reality of action, ethics itself is a phase in the movement of being that ends in the kineton, and its creation is a labor of serving the unmoved mover. The philosophical achievement of ethics has its dignity as a part of the divine movement that leads to the truth of action.

The ground for an ontology of ethics is the insight that ethical knowledge and deliberation are parts of the movement of being. Between the mover and the moved, however, there is man who either is, or is not, permeable for the movement of being. By no means all men are either wise or fortunate; rather most of them allow their action to be determined by their lusts (hedone) (NE 113a35). The next step, therefore, is the conception of the man in whom knowledge and deliberation occur.

The degree of permeability for the movement of being determines the rank of human beings, the highest of whom is the spoudaios. The spoudaios is the mature man who desires what is in truth desirable, and who judges everything right. All men desire what is good, but their judgment of what is good in truth is obscured by lust. If we tried to find out what is truly good by taking a poll in any given collectivity of men, we would get as many answers as the characters of those we have asked (1113a32), for each character considers that good what he desires. Hence, we must ask the spoudaios, who differs from other men in that he sees “truth in concrete things” (hekastois), for he is, as it were, their measure (kanon kai metron) (111 3a34)—a principle of the method to which our “empirical” social scientists should pay attention.

The passages concerning the spoudaios show very clearly that, for Aristotle, what is right by nature cannot become a set of eternal, immutable propositions, for the truth of a concrete action cannot be determined by its subsumption under a general principle but only by asking the spoudaios. Appeal is made, therefore, not from the action to an immutably correct principle but to the existentially right order of man. The criterion of rightly ordered human existence, however, is the permeability for the movement of being, i.e., the openness of man for the divine; the openness in its turn is not a proposition about something given but an event, and ethics is, therefore, not a body of propositions but an event of being that provides the word for a statement about itself.

The ontology of ethics is completed by the theory of phronesis, that virtue that for Aristotle is the locus at which the movement of being in man becomes reality and simultaneous becomes articulate. Phronesis is the virtue of correct action and, at the same time, the virtue of right speech about action. More about the general characterization cannot be said on the basis of the text. Some Platonic premises, however, are implied but cannot be made explicit because of the dominance of cosmological thinking. Before we turn to details, a word is required about the doctrine of virtue in the Politeia and the relation to it of Aristotle’s doctrine of virtue.

Plato distinguishes the three virtues of sophia, andreia, and sophrosyne, which by their respective dominance in the soul determine three types of characters, while the fourth virtue, dikaiosyne, guards the right relation of subordination and superordination of the others—in other words, the overall order of the soul. By virtue of this role, Plato’s dikaiosyne is first cousin to, although not identical with, Aristotle’s justice “in the general sense.” Outside of the closed system of the four cardinal virtues in the Politeia, there is phronesis as that virtue that is activated in man when he attains the opsis, the vision of the good. Resulting from the opening of the soul, it is a virtue thoroughly forming all of existence, within which formation only the system of the cardinal virtues operates. In order to distinguish it from the virtues with special functions, we call it an existential virtue. Aristotle’s phronesis, too, is an existential virtue, but this character does not become sufficiently clear in the climate of cosmological thinking, for its activation through an experience of transcendence does not come up for discussion. Furthermore, its character is somewhat obscured by classifying phronesis among the intellectual virtues in Aristotle’s bipartition of virtues into ethical and dianoetic virtues. The bipartition itself stems from Aristotle’s difference from Plato, for whom the relation of action to the polis was still relatively beyond question and who, therefore, had no interest in such a bipartition. Aristotle, by contrast, places the bios theoreticos at the highest point of human existence, a form of existence that ambiguously oscillates between the primary experience of the cosmos, transcendental orientation, and immanent purposes. The equation of virtues in their bipartition between ethical and dianoetic virtues, however, does not work, as is demonstrated by the treatise on philia (NE VIII-IX), a treatise about a broadly conceived and many-layered phenomenon, the core of which is the love to the divine nous. The Platonic legacy of the experience of transcendence asserts itself and compels Aristotle to recognize the virtue he calls philia, which as noetic love comprises the love to God as well as the love to what is divine in us and in one’s fellow man. This part of the encompassing investigation must be seen as the specifically philosophical version of the imago Dei problem. Further, one notes the reemergence in the philia treatise of Plato’s direct relation between the experience of transcendence and the order of community. For the noetic philia, as love of the divine nous, which lives in all men and is common to them (here is an echo of Heraclitus’ nous as the xynon), becomes the philia politike, the central virtue of the political community. Aristotle even makes the attempt to derive types of community, and particularly types of constitution, from types of philia (the relevant chapters, VIII, 9-11, are a little “Politics”, the relation of which to the great Politics has unfortunately been hardly noted). Thus Aristotle, too, knows existential virtues but does not clearly characterize them as such or differentiate them from the other virtues. Of the three that can with certainty be recognized as existential virtues, he deals with “justice in the general sense” among the ethical virtues in NE V, with phronesis among the dianoetical virtues in NE VI, and with philia, without further characterization, in VT VIII-IX.

Let us now examine the main points of Aristotle’s investigation of phronesis. They are the following:

(1) Phronesis is a virtue of deliberation about that which is good and useful for man. Not every deliberation of ends and means, however, comes under phronesis, but only the deliberation concerning the good life (eu zen) (1140a26 ss). Through the limitation to the “eu zen as a whole,” the possessor of the virtue is identified with the spoudaios, the mature man; as the possessor of phronesis, however, he is called phronimos.

(2) Deliberation with a view to possible action can neither concern things that are not capable of being changed nor goals that cannot be realized (1140a32 s). Phronesis is not knowledge about the unchangeable order of the world; it concerns only human affairs (anthropina) and, among them, only those which can be objects of meaningful deliberation (1141 b3 ss). The “changeability” in these passages must not be confused with the kineton. What is right by nature is changeable in the sense that in each case its realization is different. In the passages concerning phronesis, however, Aristotle does not speak of a kineton but rather of the possibility of action, i.e., of something capable of being different from what it is, so action can, or can not, have a changing effect.

(3) Phronesis thus must be distinguished from the dianoetic virtues of science (episteme), which enables us to draw conclusions from principles; the intellect (nous), which enables us to recognize first principles; and wisdom (sophia), which in a combination of science and intellect refers to things divine (VI, 6-7). Finally, phronesis must be distinguished from art (techne),which does refer to things that can be changed but which produces artifacts and is not action that carries its end in itself (VI, 4)’

(4) Phronesis possesses the same character (hexis) as political science. The two are identical as virtues, even though in general language there is differentiation between action in private affairs (phronesis in a narrow sense) and political questions (VI, 8). The identification is important for the understanding of the following point, in which phronesis is to be understood as always including political science.

(5) Phronesis is not identical with wisdom (sophia), for wisdom is a knowledge about the most eminent things (timiotata). It would be absurd to assert that political science, or phronesis, is the highest type of knowledge, for man is not the best thing (ariston) in the cosmos (kosmos). Phronesis, rather, is knowledge about what is salutory and good for each kind of living being respectively, and salutory and good for men is other than what it is for different kind of animals. There is no more one kind of phronesis for different living things than there is one medical art. Nor could one claim the term sophia for human phronesis, possibly by pointing to man’s higher rank than the animals, for there are things that by nature are much more divine than man, e.g., the Highest Visibles (phanerotata), of which the cosmos is composed (VI, 7).

Combining the positive and negative determinations of these points, one may say: Aristotle’s thinking is dominated by the experience of the cosmos, in which there are different kinds of things, among them also men. Man is not the highest being in a world become immanent, in which he might be thought to rank above all cosmic things and subject only to the transcendent God; rather, he is a “thing” above which there are higher things in the cosmos, namely, the star divinities (phanerotata). Phronesis thus becomes a knowledge with the help of which man realizes his eu zen, the specifically human mode of permeability for the order of the cosmos. Insofar as man optimally realizes the permeability in his existence, he is a phronimos; he is a spoudaios only insofar as he in that respect holds the highest rank in his kind of thing. A higher rank of being, among the zoa, is held by the star gods of whom we know through the virtue of wisdom, and for that reason phronesis is not the highest (spoudaiotate) kind of knowledge. Furthermore, it is not knowledge at all, in the strict sense of a knowledge of principles and derived propositions, but only episteme in the sense of a kind of knowledge. These limitations, stemming from the pressure of the cosmos – experience, give rise within the Nicomachean Ethics, with its Platonic legacy, to certain difficulties. Phronesis, identical with political science, is supposed for that reason to be the episteme kyriotate and arckitectonike, the highest and master science of man, which alone assigns all other sciences their due places in the polis (1094a27 ss). This science, scarcely elevated to highest rank, is immediately afterwards characterized as a science of inferior precision (akribia), in which we cannot achieve more than a rough sketch of truth (1094b 12 ss). There is thus a conflict, the denigrating aspect of which is determined by Aristotle’s insistence on preserving, at all costs, phronesis as a knowledge that has its truth not in general principles but in concrete action. His investigation therefore returns to this question again and again. In NE 1141 b 14 ss phronesis is knowledge not only of general principles but of concrete things, of hekasta, and for this reason it is possible that men who are ignorant of general principles are sometimes more effective in practice (praktikoteroi) than others who do have such knowledge. Still more pointedly Aristotle insists, 1142a24 s, that phronesis regards the last concrete thing, for the praktikon, the truly effective thing, is the eschaton, the last one. (To be noted here is the meaning of praktikon: it is not a matter of the ethical but rather of the effective aspects of action, right down to effective magic.)

Aristotle’s insistence on this point elicits the final question whether phronesis can be adequately characterized at all as knowledge of right action, for this mode of expression puts between knowledge and action the subject-object of which Aristotle precisely wanted to eliminate. For him, this knowledge merges into concrete action, and action is the truth of the knowledge; what separates the two is not the distance of subject and object but a noetic tension in the movement of being. That this is indeed the philosophical intention of Aristotle is confirmed by his distinction of phronesis from synesis and eusynesia, the virtue of right understanding and judgments (NE VI, 10). Synesis has the same scope as phronesis but is not identical with it, for phronesis issues into command (epitaktike) about what is to be done and what not, while synesis is the virtue of right judgment and understanding (kritike). The synetos, the man of good judgment, knows how to assess action correctly, but he does not thereby become a phronimos, who acts correctly with effectiveness. Since synesis indeed puts the subject-object distance between knowledge and action and precisely in this is distinct from phronesis, this distance must be understood ontologically. The virtue that Aristotle calls phronesis, or political science, is an existential virtue; it is the movement of being, in which the divine order of the cosmos attains its truth in the human realm.

Sex in Literature by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

I am told that one of the causes which led to the abandonment of our older penal code was the fact that as juries grew more humane they simply refused to convict. The evidence showed beyond doubt that the famished girl in the dock had stolen a handkerchief. But they didn’t want her to be hanged for that, so they returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

That people were no longer hanged for trivial offences was obviously a change for the better. But patently false verdicts were not the best way of bringing that change about. It is a bad thing that the results of trials should depend on the personal moral philosophy of a particular jury rather than on what has been proved in court. For one thing, that procedure, though it may lead to mercy in one case, may have the opposite effect in another.

The moral seems to me to be clear. When the prevalent morality of a nation comes to differ unduly from that presupposed in its laws, the laws must sooner or later change and conform to it. And the sooner they do so the better. For till they do we inevitably have humbug, perjury, and confusion.

This applies equally whether prevalent morality is departing from that embodied in the laws for the better or for the worse. The law must rise to our standards when we improve and sink to them when we decay. It is a lesser evil that the laws should sink than that all judicial procedure should become a travesty.

If we ceased to disapprove of murder, we should, no doubt, be fools and villains. But it would be better to admit the fact and alter the law accordingly than to go on acquitting of murder those who had certainly committed it.

But this, I believe, is the actual situation as regards “obscene” or “corrupting” literature. The older law—for compromise has now begun—embodied a morality for which masturbation, perversion, fornication and adultery were great evils. It therefore, not illogically, discountenanced the publication of books which seemed likely to encourage these modes of behaviour.

The morality of the modern intelligentsia—who supply “expert witnesses”—is different. If it were fully and frankly stated it would, I believe, run as follows: “We are not sure that these things are evils at all, and we are quite sure that they are not the sort of evils the law ought to be concerned with.”

My own view—just to get it out of the way—is that they are evils, but that the law should be concerned with none of them except adultery. Adultery is an affair for law because it offends the Hobbesian principle “that men perform their covenants”. The fact that this particular breach of covenant involves the sexual act is (in the logical sense) an accident.

But I am not here arguing my own view. What I want is a straight fight between the new morality and that of the law. Do not be alarmed, my fellow authors; your side will almost certainly win.

In the meantime the situation is most unsatisfactory. Behind much discussion, and even behind the recent modification of the law, there hover two propositions that I think far less admissible than the new morality:

  1. That if a book is real “literature” it cannot corrupt. But there is no evidence for this, and some against it. No one can predict what may inflame adolescents, any more than what may frighten children; I have heard of the most improbable results as regards both. This is a stock argument against forbidding certain books. But it is equally an argument against this particular plea for tolerating them.
  2. That if a book is a great “work of art” it doesn’t matter whether it corrupts or not, because art matters more than behaviour. In other words, art matters more than life; comment on life, or the mirroring of life, more than life itself. This sounds very like nonsense.

Whatever happens we don’t want anything like the Lady Chatterley case again.1 Now that the (strangely savage) yells of triumph are dying down, it may be suggested that this was not an affair to feel very proud of. I don’t mean because of the verdict. I think it mattered very little either to our literature or to our morals how it was decided. It is the conduct of the case that disquiets me.

What was really at issue? The jury were told from the bench that “we are not sitting here as judges of taste” (p. 27 in Mr Rolph’s account). They were told later by counsel that they were “not concerned with a question of personal good taste” (p. 35). Yet in fact nearly all the witnesses were examined at great length on the literary merits of the book. How would you define taste so as to make literary merits not a question of taste?

Again, these witnesses are summoned as “experts”. The implication is that there are “experts” in literature in the same sense in which there are experts in engineering or medicine.

Now I am not at all suggesting that literature is a realm in which anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Most undoubtedly the judgements of ripe critics should be heard with great respect. The point is that they are judgements, not statements about matters of fact. They are all reversible.

Anyone familiar with literary history knows that an almost unanimous critical opinion may prove transient. Think where Scott and Byron were once placed. I should’s like some assurance that the distinction between literary “experts” and expert witnesses ordinarily so called was clear in the minds of the jury.

The Bishop of Woolwich appears to have been cited as an expert in the general nature of good and evil.2 It maybe, for all I know, that his wisdom and sanctity qualify him for this prophetic role. But the qualification mentioned in court was that he had read ethics.

So have I and a good many others. I don’t think that discipline qualifies us to say what is or is not “sacred” more than other men. A witness put forward to tell the jury, as an expert, what is right or wrong strikes at the roots of trial by jury. Its presupposition is that twelve good men and true know that already.

The lesser of the evils now before us is to abandon all moral censorship. We have either sunk beneath or risen above it. If we do, there will be reams of filth. But we need not read it. Nor, probably, will the fashion last for ever. Four-letter words may soon be as dated as antimacassars.

Notes
  1. The publication of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Penguin Books in 1960 was the subject of the case Regina v. Penguin Book Limited at the Old Bailey during 20 October–2 November 1960. The case resulted in the acquittal of Penguin Books. A transcript of what was said at the trial was published under the tide The Trial of Lady Chatterley, ed. C. H. Rolph (Penguin Books, 1961).
  2. The Bishop of Woolwich was the Rt Rev. J. A. T. Robinson. Bishop Robinson said of the adulterous “sex relationship” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. “I think Lawrence tried to portray this relation as in a real sense something sacred, as in a real sense an act of holy communion”, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, p. 71.

Is History Bunk? by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

The historical impulse—curiosity about what men thought, did, and suffered in the past—though not universal, seems to be permanent. Different justifications have been found for the works which gratify it. A very simple one is that offered in Barbour’s Bruce;1 exciting stories are in any case “delitabill” and if they happen to be true as well then we shall get a “doubill pleasance”. More often graver motives are put forward. History is defended as instructive or exemplary: either ethically (the lasting fame or infamy which historians confer upon the dead will teach us to mind our morals) or politically (by seeing how national disasters were brought on in the past we may learn how to avoid them in the future).

As the study of history develops and becomes more like a science these justifications are less confidently advanced. Modern historians are not so ready to classify kings as “good” and “bad”. The lessons to be learned by statesmen from past errors become less obvious the more we know. The uniqueness of every historical situation stands out more clearly. In the end most of those who care about history find it safer and franker to admit that they are seeking knowledge of the past (as other men seek knowledge of the nebulae) for its own sake; that they are gratifying a “liberal” curiosity.

The conception of a “liberal” curiosity and of the “liberal” studies which exist to satisfy it is one we owe to Aristotle. “We call a man free whose life is lived for his own sake, not for that of others. In the same way philosophy is of all studies the only free one: because it alone exists for its own sake” (Metaphysics 982b). Of course philosophy does not here mean, as now, the rump or residuum left by the specialization of the various sciences. And perhaps Aristotle would not, in any case, have allowed the word to cover history (cf. Poetics 1451b). That hardly matters. In his conception of a study pursued not for some end beyond itself but for its own sake he has provided most of the activities we carry on at universities with their charter.

Of course this conception (Aristotle meant it only for freemen) has always been baffling and repellent to certain minds. There will always be people who think that any more astronomy than a ship’s officer needs for navigation is a waste of time. There will always be those who, on discovering that history cannot really be turned to much practical account, will pronounce history to be Bunk. Aristotle would have called this servile or banausic; we, more civilly, may christen it Fordism.

As the study of history progresses it is almost inevitable, and surely not unreasonable, that partial or departmental histories should arise. The whole past, even within a limited period, becomes too large. Thus we get histories of particular human activities—of law, of shipbuilding, of clothes, of cookery, architecture, or literature. Their justification is the same as that of history simpliciter (which, after all, usually meant in effect the history of war and politics). They exist to gratify a liberal curiosity. The knowledge of how men dressed or built or wrote in the past, and why, and why they liked doing it that way, and what it felt like to like that sort of thing, is being sought for its own sake.

Clearly a Fordist view might be taken of these partial histories. It might be maintained that the history of law was legitimate in so far as it yielded practical results: that it studied, or ought to study, “the valuable” and therefore should notice bad laws and unjust modes of trial only because, and in so far as, those taught us to appreciate more fully the practice of the Nineteenth Century and therefore to resist more obstinately what seems likely to come upon us in the latter part of the Twentieth. This of course is a worthy object. But the claim that legal history depends for its whole right to exist on the performance of such a corvee will be granted only by a thorough-going Fordist. We others feel that we should like to know and understand the legal behaviour and legal thought of our ancestors even if no practical gains follow from it.

The departmental history which seems most liable to such attack just at present is the history of literature. Mr Mason said recently in the Review, “it is the study of what is valuable; study of minor figures is only justified if it contributes to the understanding of what is meant by major.1 Now of course, if we grant that the discipline of literary history is, or can be, or ought to be, merely ancillary to the art of literary criticism, we shall agree with Mr Mason. But why should we grant this?

Let us be quite clear what the question is. If a man says, “I have no interest in the history of literature simply as history”, one would have no controversy with him. One would reply, “Well, I dare say not; don’t let me detain you.” If he says, “I think criticism twenty times more important than arty knowledge of the past”, one would say, “No doubt that is quite a reasonable view.” If he said, “Literary history is not criticism”, I should heartily agree. That indeed is my point The study of the forms and styles and sentiments of past literature, the attempt to understand how and why they evolved as they did, and (if possible) by a sort of instructed empathy to re-live momentarily in ourselves the tastes for which they catered, seems to me as legitimate and liberal as any other discipline; even to be one without which our knowledge of man will be very defective. Of course it is not a department of criticism; it is a department of a department of history (Kulturgeschichte). As such it has its own standing. It is not to be judged by the use it may or may not happen to have for those whose interests are purely critical.

Of course I would grant (and so, I expect, would Mr Mason) that literary history and criticism can overlap. They usually do. Literary historians nearly always allow themselves some valuations, and literary critics nearly always commit themselves to some historical propositions. (To describe an element in Donne’s poetry as new commits you to the historical proposition that it is not to be found in previous poetry.) And I would agree (if that is part of what he means) that this overlap creates a danger of confusions. Literary (like constitutional) historians can be betrayed into thinking that when they have traced the evolution of a thing they have somehow proved its worth; literary critics may be unaware of the historical implications (often risky) which lurk in their evaluative criticism.

But if Mr Mason is denying literary history’s right to exist, if he is saying that no one must study the past of literature except as a means of criticism, I think his position is far from self-evident and ought to be supported. And I think he is denying that. For if one values literary history as history, it is of course very clear why we study bad work as well as good. To the literary historian a bad, though once popular, poem is a challenge; just as some apparently irrational institution is a challenge to the political historian. We want to know how such stuff came to be written and why it was applauded; we want to understand the whole ethos which made it attractive. We are, you see, interested in men. We do not demand that everyone should share our interests.

The whole question invites further discussion. But I think that discussion will have to begin further back. Aristotle’s (or Newman’s) whole conception of the liberal may have to be questioned. Fordism may admit of some brilliant defence. We may have to ask whether literary criticism is itself an end or a means and, if a means, to what. But till all this has been canvassed I was unwilling that the case for literary history should go by default. We cannot, pending a real discussion, let pass the assumption that this species of history, any more than others, is to be condemned unless it can deliver some sort of “goods” for present use.

Notes
  1. H. A. Mason, “Churchill’s Satire”, a review of The Poetical Work of Charles Churchill, ed. Douglas Grant (1956) in The Cambridge Review, vol. LXXVIII (11 May 1957), p. 571.

Prudery and Philology by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

We have had a good deal of discussion lately about what is called obscenity in literature, and this discussion has (very naturally) dealt with it chiefly from a legal or moral point of view. But the subject also gives rise to a specifically literary problem.

There have been very few societies, though there have been some, in which it was considered shameful to make a drawing of the naked human body: a detailed, unexpurgated drawing which omits nothing that the eye can see. On the other hand, there have been very few societies in which it would have been permissible to give an equally detailed description of the same subject in words. What is the cause of this seemingly arbitrary discrimination?

Before attempting to answer that question, let us note that the mere existence of the discrimination disposes of one widely accepted error. It proves that the objection to much that is called “obscenity” in literature is not exclusive^ moral. If it were, if the objectors were concerned merely to forbid what is likely to inflame appetite, the depicted nude should be as widely prohibited as the described nude. It might, indeed, be regarded as the more objectionable: segnius irritant, things seen move men more than things reported. No doubt, some books, and some pictures, have been censured on purely moral grounds, censured as “inflammatory”. But I am not speaking of such special cases: I am speaking of the quite general concession to the artist of that which is denied to the writer. Something other than a care for chastity seems to be involved.

And fortunately there is a very easy way of finding out why the distinction exists. It is by experiment. Sit down and draw your nude. When you have finished it, take your pen and attempt the written description. Before you have finished you will be faced with a problem which simply did not exist while you were working at the picture. When you come to those parts of the body which are not usually mentioned, you will have to make a choice of vocabulary. And you will find that you have only four alternatives: a nursery word, an archaism, a word from the gutter, or a scientific word. You will not find any ordinary, neutral word, comparable to “hand” or “nose”. And this is going to be very troublesome. Whichever of the four words you choose is going to give a particular tone to your composition: willy-nilly you must produce baby-talk, or Wardour Street, or coarseness, or technical jargon. And each of these will force you to imply a particular attitude (which is not what you intended to imply) towards your material. The words will force you to write as if you thought it either childish, or quaint, or contemptible, or of purely scientific interest. In fact, mere description is impossible. Language forces you to an implicit comment. In the drawing you did not need to comment: you left the lines to speak for themselves. I am talking, of course, about mere draughtsmanship at its simplest level. A completed work by a real artist will certainly contain a comment about something. The point is that, when we use words instead of lines, there is really nothing that corresponds to mere draughtsmanship. The pen always does both less and more than the pencil.

This, by the by, is the most important of all facts about literature. There never was a falser maxim than ut pictura poesis. We are sometimes told that everything in the word can come into literature. This is perhaps true in some sense. But it is a dangerous truth unless we balance it with the statement that nothing can go into literature except words, or (if you prefer) that nothing can go in except by becoming words. And words, like every other medium, have their own proper powers and limitations. (They are, for instance, all but impotent when it comes to describing even the simplest machines. Who could, in words, explain what a screw, or a pair of scissors, is like?)

One of these limitations is that the common names (as distinct from the childish, archaic, or scientific names) for certain things are “obscene” words. It is the words, not the things, that are obscene. That is, they are words long consecrated (or desecrated) to insult, derision, and buffoonery. You cannot use them without bringing in the whole atmosphere of the slum, the barrack-room, and the public school.

It may of course be said that this state of affairs—this lack of any neutral and straightforward words for certain things—is itself the result of precious prudery. Not, to be sure, of “Victorian” or “Puritan” prudery, as the ignorant say, but of a prudery certainly pre-Christian and probably primeval. (Quintilian on the “indecencies” which his contemporaries found in Virgil is an eye-opener; no Victorian was ever so pruriently proper.) The modern writer, if he wishes to introduce into serious writing (comic works are a different matter) a total liberty for the pen such as has nearly always been allowed to the pencil, is in fact taking on a much more formidable adversary than a local (and, we may hope, temporary) state of English law. He is attempting to rip up the whole fabric of the mind. I do not say that success is impossible, still less that the attempt is perverse. But before we commit ourselves to so gigantic an enterprise, two questions seem to be worth asking.

First, is it worth it? Have good writers not better things to do? For of course the present state of the law, and (what is less easily utterable) of taste, cannot really prevent any writer worth his salt from saying, in effect, whatever he wants to say. I should insult the technical proficiency of our contemporaries if I supposed them so little masters of the medium as to be unable, whatever their theme, to evade the law. Many perhaps would feel such evasion to be disgraceful. Yet why? The contemporary state of sensibility is surely, like the language, part of the author’s raw material. Evasion (I admit the word has a shabby sound) need not really be less creditable than the “turning” of any other difficulty which one’s medium presents. Great work can be done in a difficult metre; why not also under difficult restraints of another kind? When authors rail too much (we may allow them to rail a little) against public taste, do they perhaps betray some insufficiency? They denigrate what they ought rather to use and finally transform by first obeying.

Secondly, do we not stand to lose more than we gain? For of course to remove all “prudery” is to remove one area of vivid sensibility, to expunge a human feeling. There are quite enough etiolated, inert, neutral words knocking about already: do we want to increase their number? A strict moralist might possibly argue that the old human reticence about some of our bodily functions has bred such mystery and prurience (“It is impossible”, said the girl in Shaw, “to explain decency without being indecent”) that it cannot be abolished too soon. But would the strict moralist be right? Has nothing good come out of it? It is the parent of three-quarters of the world’s jokes. Remove the standard of decency in the written word, and one of two results must follow. Either you can never laugh again at most of Aristophanes, Chaucer or Rabelais, the joke having partly depended on the fact that what is mentioned is unmentionable, or, horrid thought, the oral fableau as we have all heard it in taproom (not by any means always vile or prurient, but often full of true humour and traditional art) will be replaced and killed by written, professional fableaux: just as the parlour games we played for ourselves fifty years ago are now played for us by professionals “on the air”. The smoking-room story is, I grant, the last and least of the folk-arts. But it is the only one we have left. Should not writers be willing to preserve it at the cost of a slight restraint on their own vocabulary?

Empty Universe by C. S. Lewis

This book1 is, I believe, the first attempt to reverse a movement of thought which has been going on since the beginning of philosophy.

The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance of knowledge gradually empties this rich and genial universe: first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account: classified as our sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed “souls”, or “selves” or “minds” to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a “ghost”, an abbreviated symbol for all the facts we know about the tree foolishly mistaken for a mysterious entity over and above the facts, so the man’s “mind” or “consciousness” is an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our bad habit of personifying men: a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Object had lost. There is no “consciousness” to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is “not the sort of noun that can be used that way”.

For we are given to understand that our mistake was a linguistic one. All our previous theologies, metaphysics, and psychologies were a by-product of our bad grammar. Max Midler’s formula (Mythology is a disease of language)2 thus returns with a wider scope than he ever dreamed of. We were not even imagining these things, we were only talking confusedly. All the questions which humanity has hitherto asked with deepest concern for the answer turn out to be unanswerable; not because the answers are hidden from us like “goddes privitee”,3 but because they are nonsense questions like “How far is it from London Bridge to Christmas Day?” What we thought we were loving when we loved a woman or a friend was not even a phantom like the phantom sail which starving sailors think they see on the horizon. It was something more like a pun or a sophisma per figuram dictionis.4 It is as though a man, deceived by the linguistic similarity between “myself” and “my spectacles”, should start looking round for his “self” to put in his pocket before he left his bedroom in the morning: he might want it during the course of the day. If we lament the discovery that our friends have no “selves” in the old sense, we shall be behaving like a man who shed bitter tears at being unable to find his “self” anywhere on the dressing-table or even underneath it.

And thus we arrive at a result uncommonly like zero. While we were reducing the world to almost nothing we deceived ourselves with the fancy that all its lost qualities were being kept safe (if in a somewhat humbled condition) as “things in our own mind”. Apparently we had no mind of the sort required. The Subject is as empty as the Object. Almost nobody has been making linguistic mistakes about almost nothing. By and large, this is the only thing that has ever happened.

Now the trouble about this conclusion is not simply that it is unwelcome to our emotions. It is not unwelcome to them at all times or in all people. This philosophy, like every other, has its pleasures. And it will, I fancy, prove very congenial to government. The old “liberty-talk” was very much mixed up with the idea that, as inside the ruler, so inside the subject, there was a whole world, to him the centre of all worlds, capacious of endless suffering and delight. But now, of course, he has no “inside”, except the sort you can find by cutting him open. If I had to burn a man alive, I think I should find this doctrine comfortable. The real difficulty for most of us is more like a physical difficulty: we find it impossible to keep our minds, even for ten seconds at a stretch, twisted into the shape that this philosophy demands. And, to do him justice, Hume (who is its great ancestor) warned us not to try. He recommended backgammon instead; and freely admitted that when, after a suitable dose, we returned to our theory, we should find it “cold and strained and ridiculous”.5 And obviously, if we really must accept nihilism, that is how we shall have to live: just as, if we have diabetes, we must take insulin. But one would rather not have diabetes and do without the insulin. If there should, after all, turn out to be any alternative to a philosophy that can be supported only by repeated (and presumably increasing) doses of backgammon, I suppose that most people would be glad to hear of it.

There is indeed (or so I am told) one way of living under this philosophy without the backgammon, but it is not one a man would like to try. I have heard that there are states of insanity in which such a nihilistic doctrine becomes really credible: that is, as Dr I. A. Richards would say, “belief feelings” are attached to it.6 The patient has the experience of being nobody in a world of nobodies and nothings. Those who return from this condition describe it as highly disagreeable.

Now there is of course nothing new in the attempt to arrest the process that has led us from the living universe where man meets the gods to the final void where almost-nobody discovers his mistakes about almost-nothing. Every step in that process has been contested. Many rearguard actions have been fought: some are being fought at the moment. But it has only been a question of arresting, not of reversing, the movement. That is what makes Mr Harding’s book so important. If it “works”, then we shall have seen the beginning of a reversal: not a stand here, or a stand there, but a kind of thought which attempts to reopen the whole question. And we feel sure in advance that only thought of this type can help. The fatal slip which has led us to nihilism must have occurred at the very beginning.

There is of course no question of returning to Animism as Animism was before the “rot” began. No one supposes that the beliefs of pre-philosophic humanity, just as they stood before they were criticized, can or should be restored. The question is whether the first thinkers in modifying (and rightly modifying) them under the criticism, did not make some rash and unnecessary concession. It was certainly not their intention to commit us to the absurd consequences that have actually followed. This sort of error is of course very common in debate or even in our solitary thought. We start with a view which contains a good deal of truth, though in a confused or exaggerated form. Objections are then suggested and we withdraw it. But hours later we discover that we have emptied the baby out with the bath water and that the original view must have contained certain truths for lack of which we are now entangled in absurdities. So here. In emptying out the dryads and the gods (which, admittedly, “would not do” just as they stood) we appear to have thrown out the whole universe, ourselves included. We must go back and begin over again: this time with a better chance of success, for of course we can now use all particular truths and all improvements of method which our argument may have thrown up as by-products in its otherwise ruinous course.

It would be affectation to pretend that I know whether Mr Harding’s attempt, in its present form, will work. Very possibly not. One hardly expects the first, or the twenty-first, rocket to the Moon to make a good landing. But it is a beginning. If it should turn out to have been even the remote ancestor of some system which will give us again a credible universe inhabited by credible agents and observers, this will still have been a very important book indeed.

It has also given me that bracing and satisfying experience which, in certain books of theory, seems to be partially independent of our final agreement or disagreement. It is an experience most easily disengaged by remembering what has happened to us whenever we turned from the inferior exponents of a system, even a system we reject, to its great doctors. I have had it on turning from common “Existentialists” to M. Sartre himself, from Calvinists to the Institutio, from “Transcendentalists” to Emerson, from books about “Renaissance Platonism” to Ficino. One may still disagree (I disagree heartily with all the authors I have just named) but one now sees for the first time why anyone ever did agree. One has breathed a new air, become free of a new country. It may be a country you cannot live in, but you now know why the natives love it. You will henceforward see all systems a little differently because you have been inside that one. From this point of view philosophies have some of the same qualities as works of art. I am not referring at all to the literary art with which they may or may not be expressed. It is the ipseitas, the peculiar unity of effect produced by a special balancing and patterning of thoughts and classes of thoughts: a delight very like that which would be given by Hesse’s Glasperlenspiel (in the book of that name) if it could really exist.7 I owe a new experience of that kind to Mr Harding.

Notes
  1. This essay was first published as a Preface to D. E. Harding’s The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth: A New Diagram of Man in the Universe (London, 1952).
  2. Friedrich Max Müller, The Science of Language (1864), Second Series, Lecture viii on “Metaphor”.
  3. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tola, The Miller’s Prologue, line 3164.
  4. “Sophism disguised as language.”
  5. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), Book I, Part iv, section vii.
  6. I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), chapter XXXV.
  7. Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel (1943) has been translated into English as The Glass Bead Game by R. and C. Winston (London, 1970).

Modern Man and his Categories of Thought by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Though we ought always to imitate the procedure of Christ and His saints this pattern has to be adapted to the changing conditions of history. We are not to preach in Aramaic because the Baptist did so nor to recline at table because the Lord reclined. One of the most difficult adaptations we have to make is in our methods of approaching the unconverted.

The earliest missionaries, the Apostles, preached to three sorts of men: to Jews, to those Judaizing Gentiles who were technically called metuentes, and to Pagans. In all three classes they could count on certain predispositions which we cannot count on in our audience. All three classes believed in the supernatural (even the Epicureans, though they thought the gods inoperative). All were conscious of sin and feared divine judgement. Epicureanism, by the very fact that it promised liberation from that fear, proves its prevalence—a patent medicine can succeed only by claiming to cure a widespread disease. The mystery religions offered purification and release and in all three classes most men believed that the world had once been better than it now was. The Jewish doctrine of the Fall, the Stoic conception of the Golden Age, and the common Pagan reverence for heroes, ancestors, and ancient lawgivers, were in this respect more or less agreed.

The world which we must try to convert shares none of those predispositions. In the last hundred years the public mind has been radically altered. In producing that alteration the following causes seem to me to have been at work.

  1. A revolution in the education of the most highly educated classes. This education was formerly based throughout Europe on the Ancients. If only the learned were Platonists or Aristotelians, the ordinary aristocrat was a Virgilian or, at the very least, a Horatian. Thus in Christian and sceptic alike there was a strong infusion of the better elements of Paganism. Even those who lacked piety had some sympathetic understanding of pietas. It was natural to men so trained to believe that valuable truth could still be found in an ancient book. It was natural to them to reverence tradition. Values quite different from those of modern industrial civilization were constantly present to their minds. Even where Christian belief was rejected there was still a standard against which contemporary ideals could be judged. The effect of removing this education has been to isolate the mind in its own age; to give it, in relation to time, that disease which, in relation to space, we call Provincialism. The mere fact that St Paul wrote so long ago is, to a modern man, presumptive evidence against his having uttered important truths. The tactics of the enemy in this matter are simple and can be found in any military text book. Before attacking a regiment you try, if you can, to cut it off from the regiments on each side.
  2. The Emancipation of Women. (I am not of course saying that this is a bad thing in itself, I am only considering one effect it has had in fact.) One of the determining factors in social life is that in general (there are numerous individual exceptions) men like men better than women like women. Hence, the freer women become, the fewer exclusively male assemblies there are. Most men, if free, retire frequently into the society of their own sex: women, if free, do this less often. In modern social life the sexes are more continuously mixed than they were in earlier periods. This probably has many good results: but it has one bad result. Among young people, obviously, it reduces the amount of serious argument about ideas. When the young male bird is in the presence of the young female it must (Nature insists) display its plumage. Any mixed society thus becomes the scene of wit, banter, persiflage, anecdote—of everything in the world rather than prolonged and rigorous discussion on ultimate issues, or of those serious masculine friendships in which such discussion arises. Hence, in our student population, a lowering of metaphysical energy. The only serious questions now discussed are those which seem to have a “practical” importance (i.e. the psychological and sociological problems), for these satisfy the intense practicality and concreteness of the female. That is, no doubt, her glory and her proper contribution to the common wisdom of the race. But the proper glory of the masculine mind, its disinterested concern with truth for truth’s own sake, with the cosmic and the metaphysical, is being impaired. Thus again, as the previous change cuts us off from the past, this cuts us off from the eternal. We are being further isolated; forced down to the immediate and the quotidian.
  3. Developmentalism or Historicism. (I distinguish sharply between the noble discipline called History and the fatal pseudo-philosophy called Historicism.) The chief origin of this is Darwinianism. With Darwinianism as a theorem in Biology I do not think a Christian need have any quarrel. But what I call Developmentalism is the extension of the evolutionary idea far beyond the biological realm: in fact, its adoption as the key principle of reality. To the modern man it seems simply natural that an ordered cosmos should emerge from chaos, that life should come out of the inanimate, reason out of instinct, civilization out of savagery, virtue out of animalism. This idea is supported in his mind by a number of false analogies: the oak coming from the acorn, the man from the spermatozoon, the modern steamship from the primitive coracle. The supplementary truth that every acorn was dropped by an oak, every spermatozoon derived from a man, and the first boat by something so much more complex than itself as a man of genius, is simply ignored. The modern mind accepts as a formula for the universe in general the principle “Almost nothing may be expected to turn into almost everything” without noticing that the parts of the universe under our direct observation tell a quite different story. This Developmentalism, in the field of human history, becomes Historicism: the belief that the scanty and haphazard selection of facts we know about History contains an almost mystical revelation of reality, and that to grasp the Worden and go wherever it is going is our prime duty. It will be seen that this view is not incompatible with all religion: indeed it goes very well with certain types of Pantheism. But it is wholly inimical to Christianity, for it denies both creation and the Fall. Where, for Christianity, the Best creates the good and the good is corrupted by sin, for Developmentalism the very standard of good is itself in a state of flux.
  4. What we may call Proletarianism, in its various forms ranging from strict Marxism to vague “democracy”. A strong anti-clericalism has of course been a feature of continental Proletarianism almost from its beginnings. This element is generally said (and, I think, correctly) to be less present in the English forms. But what is common to all forms of it is the fact that the Proletariat in all countries (even those with “Right” governments) has been consistently flattered for a great many years. The natural result has now followed. They are self-satisfied to a degree perhaps beyond the self-satisfaction of any recorded aristocracy. They are convinced that whatever may be wrong with the world it cannot be themselves. Someone else must be to blame for every evil. Hence, when the existence of God is discussed, they by no means think of Him as their Judge. On the contrary, they are His judges. If He puts up a reasonable defence they will consider it and perhaps acquit Him. They have no feelings of fear, guilt, or awe. They think, from the very outset, of God’s duties to them, not their duties to Him. And God’s duties to them are conceived not in terms of salvation but in purely secular terms—social security, prevention of war, a higher standard of life. “Religion” is judged exclusively by its contribution to these ends. This overlaps with the next heading.
  5. Practicality. Man is becoming as narrowly “practical” as the irrational animals. In lecturing to popular audiences I have repeatedly found it almost impossible to make them understand that I recommended Christianity because I thought its affirmations to be objectively true. They are simply not interested in the question of truth or falsehood. They only want to know if it will be comforting, or “inspiring”, or socially useful. (In English we have a peculiar difficulty here because in popular speech “believe in” has two meanings, (a) To accept as true, (b) To approve of—e.g., “I believe in free trade”. Hence when an Englishman says he “believes in” or “does not believe in” Christianity, he may not be thinking about truth at all. Very often he is only telling us whether he approves or disapproves of the Church as a social institution.) Closely connected with this unhuman Practicality is an indifference to, and contempt of, dogma. The popular point of view is unconsciously syncretistic: it is widely believed that “all religions really mean the same thing”.
  6. Scepticism about Reason. Practicality, combined with vague notions of what Freud, or Einstein, said, has produced a general, and quite unalarmed, belief that reasoning proves nothing and that all thought is conditioned by irrational processes. More than once in argument with an intelligent man (not a member of the Intelligentsia) I have pointed out that the position he took up would logically involve a denial of the validity of thought, and he has understood, and agreed with me, but has not regarded this as any objection to his original position. He accepts without dismay the conclusion that all our thoughts are invalid.

Such, in my opinion, are the main characteristics of the mental climate in which a modern evangelist has to work. One way of summarizing it would be to say that I sometimes wonder whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity. If they were Stoics, Orphics, Mithraists, or (better still) peasants worshipping the Earth, our task might be easier. That is why I do not regard contemporary Paganisms (Theosophy, Anthroposophy, etc.) as a wholly bad symptom.

There are, of course, also good elements in the present situation. There is, perhaps, more social conscience than there has ever been before: and though chastity in conduct is probably low I think modern young people are perhaps less prurient and less obsessed with lascivious thought than more modest and decorous ages have been. (This is only an impression, and may be mistaken.) I also think that the very fact of our isolation, the fact that we are coming to be almost the only people who appeal to the buried (but not dead) human appetite for the objective truth, may be a source of strength as well as of difficulty. Before closing, I must add that the limitation of my own gifts has compelled me always to use a predominantly intellectual approach. But I have also been present when an appeal of a much more emotional and also more “pneumatic”, kind has worked wonders on a modern audience. Where God gives the gift, the “foolishness of preaching”1 is still mighty. But best of all is a team of two: one to deliver the preliminary intellectual barrage, and the other to follow up with a direct attack on the heart.

Notes
  1. Corinthians 1:21.
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