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Sunday, 15 May 2016

An absolute subjection of the individual

Just over a century ago, George Santayana wrote about a growing illiberal trend among those who claim to be politically liberal. To my mind this is what Brexit is all about - finding some way to reverse the trend Santayana describes so elegantly.

Liberalism had been supposed to advocate liberty; but what the advanced parties that still call themselves liberal now advocate is control, control over property, trade, wages, hours of work, meat and drink, amusements, and in a truly advanced country like France control over education and religion; and it is only on the subject of marriage (if we ignore eugenics) that liberalism is growing more and more liberal. 

Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality; how many people read and write, or how many people there are, or what is the annual value of their trade; whereas true progress would rather lie in reading or writing fewer and better things, and being fewer and better men, and enjoying life more. 

But the philanthropists are now preparing an absolute subjection of the individual, in soul and body, to the instincts of the majority—the most cruel and unprogressive of masters; and I am not sure that the liberal maxim, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," has not lost whatever was just or generous in its intent and come to mean the greatest idleness of the largest possible population.

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

5 comments:

Henry Kaye said...

It's hard to believe that what we see today had its roots so long ago! Maybe I'm wrong to think that the villainy that I see around me today is a fairly recent development. I suppose that in my younger years I didn't recognise so easily the evil happenings of the day or have any real understanding of the levels of dishonesty that ambitious men and women would stoop to.

Sackerson said...

Must start to read Santayana.

A K Haart said...

Henry - the roots were in socialism which would have been a fashionable political philosophy in Santayana's time - strongly tinged with philanthropy through social control.

Sackers - he's worth reading. He wrote a novel which I've not yet read, but one day I'll get hold of a copy.

James Higham said...

Invoking the Santayana on Brexit - now that's a classic move.

A K Haart said...

James - it's all part of an old trend.