Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The demise of greatness

Greatness is spontaneous; simplicity, trust in some one clear instinct, are essential to it; but the spontaneous variation must be in the direction of some possible sort of order; it must exclude and leave behind what is incapable of being moralised. How, then, should there be any great heroes, saints, artists, philosophers, or legislators in an age when nobody trusts himself, or feels any confidence in reason, in an age when the word dogmatic is a term of reproach? Greatness has character and severity, it is deep and sane, it is distinct and perfect. For this reason there is none of it to-day.

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion (1913)

It is not easy to relate Santayana's words to the modern world. For one thing, we no longer look for greatness beyond celebrity greatness. We have no real use for any other kind.

In any event, our secular society cannot exclude and leave behind what is incapable of being moralised because we are no longer able to make the distinction in any consistent sense.

The EU is incapable of being moralised for example, but I can't yet see us leaving that behind. On the other hand, defending our social traditions and national borders; presumably that is capable of being moralised. Maybe we no longer have the greatness to recognise it.

Maybe we'll get by without greatness, but from from Wimbledon to the World Cup, from over-complex taxation to lives wholly dominated by petty bureaucracy, I think there is indeed much we could usefully exclude and leave behind. It is certainly incapable of being moralised. 


Sackerson said...

In our age, we have unbundled greatness: admiration is split off for celbrities, power and influence for people who are contant to be shadowy or so far above as to be unreachable.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - yes, back seat driving seems to be characteristic of modern times. Ours is a furtive age.