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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Monday, September 19, 2005

   The Power of Myth and the Strength of Morality

(from Port McClellan - Some Monday Morning Wisdom)

From C.S. Lewis's essay "Men Without Chests" in The Abolition of Man:

Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that 'a gentleman does not cheat', than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest -- the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment--these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by hisintellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.


Blogger Jay Cline said...

Last week, while googling for progressive conservative responses to Bush's speech in New Orleans Thursday, I stumbled on the World Socialist Web Site. Earlier this month, David North, chairman of the editorial board of that web site and national secretary for the Socialist Equality Party, wrote a Greek Apology on the apparent failure of Marxist theory in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Briefly, North asserts that the collapse of the Soviet Union is not an indictment on Marxism because the Soviet Union lost its Marxist way long ago in 1924, shortly after the October Revolution. He does make some good points, but North attempts a very "objective" and intellectual rationalization, rejecting anything that cannot be quantified. With respect to the C.S. Lewis quote, I find the following quotation from one of North's recent lectures most revealing,


"Seeking to revive the pre-Marxian and utopian stages of socialist thought, the neo-Utopians lament and denounce the efforts of Marx and Engels to place socialism on a scientific basis."

"For the neo-Utopians, classical Marxism absorbed too much of the nineteenth century’s preoccupation with the discovery of objective forces. This outlook underlay the socialist movement’s preoccupation with the working class and its political education. The Marxists, claim the neo-Utopians, placed exaggerated and unwarranted confidence in the objective force of capitalist contradictions, not to mention the revolutionary potential of the working class. Moreover, they [the Marxists - jc] failed to appreciate the power and persuasive force of the irrational."

"The way out of this dilemma, claim the neo-Utopians, is by embracing and propagating “myths” that can inspire and excite. Whether or not such myths correspond to any objective reality is of no real importance. A leading exponent of neo-Utopian mythologizing, Vincent Geoghegan, criticizes Marx and Engels for having “failed to develop a psychology. They left a very poor legacy on the complexities of human motivation and most of their immediate successors felt little need to overcome this deficiency.” Unlike the socialists, complains Geoghegan, it was the extreme right, especially the Nazis, who understood the power of myths and their imagery. “It was the National Socialists who managed to create a vision of a thousand-year reich out of romantic conceptions of Teutonic Knights, Saxon kings, and the mysterious promptings of ‘the Blood.’ The left all too often abandoned the field, muttering about reaction appealing to reaction."

"This flagrant appeal to irrationalism, with its deeply reactionary political implications, flows with a sort of perverse logic from the demoralized view that there exists no objective basis for socialist revolution."


I was flabbergasted the instant I read this. Being a big fan of Joseph Campbell, I see great power in myths. To say something is irrelevant, merely because it is irrational, or because your archenemy used it, denies so much of what and who we are. My own personal beliefs grew out of the seething outrage and dead calm I experienced when I visited Dachau, so long ago. My reaction to 9/11 was not much different.

What Lewis alludes to, at least for me, is that the realism of realpolitik takes a back seat to political ideology founded on moral values. I do what is right, not because of a measure of likely success, but because it is right.

Besides, I am not ready for a computerized George Jetson jurisprudence.

9/19/2005 11:22 AM  

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