Perspectives on the Good Society

"Perspectives on the Good Society," Criterion, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Summer 1963).  Reprinted in Liberalism Ancient and Modern.


Not a few people who have come to despair of the possibility of a decent secularist society, without having been induced by their despair to question secularism as such, escape into the self and into art.  The “self” is obviously a descendant of the soul; that is, it is not the soul.  The soul may be responsible for its being good or bad, but it is not responsible for its being a soul; of the self, on the other hand, it is not certain whether it is not a self by virtue of its own effort.  The soul is a part of an order which does not originate in the soul; of the self it is not certain whether it is a part of an order which does not originate in the self.  Surely the self as understood by the people in question is sovereign or does not defer to anything higher than itself; yet it is no longer exhilarated by the sense of it sovereignty, but rather oppressed by it, not to say in a sate of despair.  One may say that the self putting its trust in itself and therefore in man is cursed (Jer. 17:5-8).  It is an unwilling witness to the biblical faith.  Mr. Scott was right in rejecting the view that our world is “irredeemably post-Christian” on the ground that “the Holy Spirit bloweth where it listeth,” but I believe that one should admit the fact that the unbelief in question is in no sense pagan, but shows at every point that it is the unbelief of men who or whose parents were Christians or Jews.  They are haunted men.  Deferring to nothing higher than their selves, they lack guidance.  They lack thought and discipline.  Instead they have what they call sincerity.  Whether sincerity as they understand it is necessary must be left open until one knows whether sincerity is inseparable from shamelessness; sincerity is surely not sufficient; it fulfills itself in shrill and ugly screams, and such screams are not works of art.

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