gall and gumption

Friday, February 11, 2011

If You Invite the Vampire Into Your House...

Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, advisor to King Charles I, on the character of Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, subject of Ben Jonson's great Ode:

...two things he could never bring himself to whilst he continued in that office [Secretary to the King], that was, to his death; for which he was contented to be reproached, as for omissions in a most necessary part of his place. The one, employing of spies, or giving any countenance or entertainment to them; I do not mean such emissaries as with danger would venture to view the enemy's camp, and bring intelligence of their number or quartering, or such generals as such an observation can comprehend, but those who by communication of guilt or dissimulation of manners wound themselves into such trusts and secrets as enabled them to make discoveries for the benefit of the State. The other, the liberty of opening letters upon a suspicion that they might contain matter of dangerous consequence. For the first, he would say, such instruments must be void of all ingenuity and common honesty before they could be of use, and afterwards they could never be fit to be credited, and that no single preservation could be worth so general a wound and corruption of human society as the cherishing such persons would carry with it....
[italics added--k]

Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion

The theory of interest as the exclusive master is false, but that does not prevent it from being very widespread. It even had a partisan of some stature--Napoleon himself. According to Constant, the Emperor's philosophy was reduced to that principle. Napoleon was "calculation personified" ("Appendice," 2, 159). "He did not look on men as moral beings, but as things" (Les Cent-Jours, II, 1, 206). "The conviction that mankind is devoted only to his interest, obeys only force, deserves only contempt," that was, according to Constant, Napoleon's judgment on men (I, 6, 130). And Napoleon's politics were founded on this concept of mankind: "If there is only interest in the heart of man, tyranny needs only to frighten him or to seduce him in order to dominate him." But Napoleon alone is not responsible for this deleterious doctrine. It was already practiced and promoted during the 18th century by the absolute monarchy, follower of a naive "Epicureanism;" in addition, it was professed by the materialist thinkers of the Enlightenment, who gravely affirmed that "man is motivated only by his interest." Finally, Napoleon was encouraged by the population itself, which liked to flatter those in power while expecting to be rewarded for doing so. The multitude "eagerly sought to be enslaved" (Conquete, "Appendice," 2, 260) and Constant was keenly aware that for twelve years he saw "only outstretched hands begging for chains" (Les Cent-Jours, II, "Huitieme note," 303).


In the final analysis, the falseness of the theory brought about Napoleon's downfall; at the same time, his downfall illustrates the falseness of the theory. "To know men, it is not enough to scorn them," Constant declared in a strong statement. He goes against the mainstream of Western thought that would suggest that the truth is necessarily alarming; politics based only on self-interest breaks down, even if this ruin comes about only over time. Here we see hints of the role reserved for scholars and thinkers--that of criticizing and improving the common representations of man and society. Napoleonic tyranny is at least partially due to the success of the philosophical theories reducing man to a being subject to the reign of self-interest.
Tzvetan Todorov, A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant

A specialist is a man trained to perform a profession conscientiously but not necessarily honestly. Conscientiousness is a conventional way to escape the responsibility of an all-encompassing honesty. Honesty implies the responsibility of choice. Conscientiousness is the easy way to abide by certain conventional prohibitions. Conscientiousness is the opposite of art."
(italics in original)
John Graham, System and Dialectics of Art

You may view Exhibit A here. And yes, you must read Greenwald's piece.

Update: Fixed one spelling error.

9 Comments:

At 3:03 PM, Blogger roy edroso said...

I'm pretty dim, so I only saw where you were going halfway down. Beautifully done.

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger roy edroso said...

I will add that the delay in my comprehension only made the resolution sweeter.

 
At 7:24 AM, Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

" the success of the philosophical theories reducing man to a being subject to the reign of self-interest."

Nice to learn of someone that thinks this success is open to challenge.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger Kia said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger Kia said...

Thanks, Roy! I still have to read all the way to the end to get what I was trying to do. If you got there at the halfway point, then I think I did what I was trying to do.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Kia said...

Tom,

There are at least two.

 
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