Leave Us the Counter-point

Here, then, at home, by no more storms distrest,
Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,
Here the sun stands and knows not east nor west,
Here no tide runs; we have come, last and best,
From the wide zone through dizzying circles hurled,
To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.

Lay on thy whips, O Love, that we upright,
Poised on the perilous point, in no lax bed
May sleep, as tension at the verberant core
Of music sleeps; for, if thou spare to smite,
Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead,
And, dying so, sleep our sweet sleep no more.

—Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night.

Augustine Said It

Apollo uttered the most elegantly ambiguous oracle: "I tell you that you your enemies will conquer." (III:17, quoting Cicero, De divin., 2,56,116)

By incorporeal embrace alone the intellectual soul is, if one may so put it, filled up and impregnated with true virtues. (X:3)

There are some people who can, at will and without any odor, produce such a variety of sounds from their anus that they seem to be singing in that part. (XIV:25)

—Augustine, City of God.


Human beings are not like that; human problems are not like that; what you really get is two hundred or so people running like rabbits in and out of a college, doing their work, living their lives, and actuated all the time by motives unfathomable even to themselves, and then, in the midst of it all—not a plain, understandable murder, but an unmeaning and inexplicable lunacy.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night, p230.


Are you not aware that there comes a midnight hour when everyone must unmask; do you believe that life will always allow itself to be trifled with; do you believe that one can sneak away just before midnight in order to avoid it? Or are you not dismayed by it? I have seen people in life who have deceived others for such a long time that eventually they are unable to show their true nature. I have seen people who have played hide-and-seek so long that at last in a kind of lunacy they force their secret thoughts on others just as loathsomely as they proudly had concealed them from them earlier. Or can you think of anything more appalling than having it all end with the disintegration of your essence into a multiplicity, so that you actually became several, just as that unhappy demoniac became a legion, and thus you would have lost what is the most inward and holy in a human being, the binding power of the personality?

You really should not be facetious about something that is not only earnest but is also dreadful. In every person there is something that up to a point hinders him from becoming completely transparent to himself, and this can be the case to such a high degree, he can be so inexplicably intertwined in the life-relations that lie beyond him, that he cannot open himself. But the person who can scarcely open himself cannot love, and the person who cannot love is the unhappiest of all. And you flippantly do the same; you practice the art of being mysterious to everybody. My young friend, suppose there was no one who cared to guess your riddle—what joy would you have in it then? But above all for your own sake, for the sake of your salvation—for I know no condition of the soul that can better be described as damnation—halt this wild flight.

—Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Vol. II, Balance between Esthetic and Ethical, p160.

Worldly Felicity

This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed. Let them be worshipped as they wish; let them demand whatever games they please, from or with their own worshippers; only let them secure that such felicity be not imperilled by foe, plague, or disaster of any kind.

—Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Book II Chapter 20, translated by Marcus Dods.


"As we sacrifice a finger to save the body, so we maun sacrifice a man to save the body politic.  I killed him because he was doing evil, and inhumanly preventing what was guid for humanity: the scheme for the slums and the lave.  And I understand that, upon reflection, ye tak the same view."

Angus nodded grimly. "Yes," said Angus, "I take the same view.  Also, I have had the same experience."

"And what's that?" inquired the other.

"I have had daily dealings with a man I thought was doing nothing but evil," answered Angus.  "I still think you were doing evil; even though you were serving truth.  You have convinced me that my beliefs were dreams; but not that dreaming is worse than waking up. You brutally broke the dreams of the humble, sneered at the weak hopes of the bereaved.  You seem cruel and inhuman to me, just as Haggis seemed cruel and inhuman to you.  You are a good man by your own code, but so was Haggis a good man by his code.  He did not pretend to believe in salvation by good works, any more than you pretended to believe in the Ten Commandments.  He was good to individuals, but the crowd suffered; you are good to the crowd and an individual suffered.  But, after all, you also are only an

Something in the last words, that were said very softly, made the old doctor stiffen suddenly and then start backwards towards the steps behind.  Angus sprang like a wildcat and pinned him to his
place with a choking violence; still talking, but now at the top of his voice.

"Day after day, I have itched and tingled to kill you; and been held back only by the superstition you have destroyed tonight.  Day after day, you have been battering down the scruples which alone defended you from death.  You wise thinker; you wary reasoner; you fool!  It would be better for you to-night if I still believed in God and in his Commandment against murder. One thing alone protected you and kept the peace between us: that we disagreed.  Now we agree, now we are at one in thought—and deed, I can do as you would do.  I can do as you have done.  We are at peace."

—G. K. Chesterton, The Paradoxes of Mr Pond.

Legislating Morality

If God preserves them in His laws, they will find out easily enough what legislation is in general necessary. Otherwise, they will spend their whole time making and correcting detailed regulations, always expecting thereby to achieve perfection. That is, they will lead lives like invalids who lack the restraint to give up a vicious way of life, but expect the doctor to cure them with no effort on their part.

The State whose prospective rulers come to their duties with the least enthusiasm is bound to have the best and most tranquil government, and the state whose rulers are eager to rule, the worst. Men whose life is impoverished and destitute of personal satisfaction hope to snatch some compensation for their own inadequacy from a political career. They start fighting for power, and the consequent internal and domestic conflicts ruin both them and society.

—Plato, The Republic.


One of the most striking features of socialist ideology is that quite special sense which it attributes to the concept of equality. We have already pointed this out in connection with the rationale for communality of property, of wives and children proposed by Plato. And later, in the majority of socialist doctrines, we encounter a conception of equality which approaches that of identity. Dwelling lovingly on the details, authors have described the characteristic monotony and unification of life in the state of the future.

It is possible to attempt to formulate the specific concept of equality inherent in socialist ideology. The usual understanding of "equality," when applied to people, entails equality of rights and sometimes equality of opportunity (social welfare, pensions, grants, etc.). What is meant in all these cases is the equalization of external conditions which do not touch the individuality of man. In socialist ideology, however, the understanding of equality is akin to that used in mathematics (when one speaks of equal numbers or equal triangles), i.e., this is in fact identity, the abolition of differences in behavior as well as in the inner world of the individuals constituting society. From this point of view, a puzzling and at first sight contradictory property of socialist doctrines becomes apparent. They proclaim the greatest possible equality, the destruction of hierarchy in society and at the same time (in most cases) a strict regimentation of all of life, which would be impossible without absolute control and an all-powerful bureaucracy which would engender an incomparably greater inequality. The contradiction disappears, however, if we note that the terms "equality" and "inequality" are understood in two different ways. The equality proclaimed in socialist ideology means identity of individualities. The hierarchy against which the doctrine fights is a hierarchy based on individual qualities—origin, wealth, education, talent and authority. But this does not contradict the establishment of a hierarchy of internally identical individuals who only occupy different positions in the social machine, just as identical parts can have different functions in a mechanism.

"Political democracy is Christian in nature because man in it—not man in general but each man separately—is considered a sovereign and supreme being; and this is said of man in his uncultivated, non-social aspect, of man in a haphazard form of existence, man as he is in life, man as he is corrupted by the whole organization of our society, lost and alienated from himself; in a word, man who is not yet a genuine creature." (Karl Marx, Works p. 368)

There is no doubt that if the ideals of Utopia are realized universally, mankind, even in the barracks of the universal City of the Sun, shall have the strength to regain its freedom and to preserve God's image and likeness—human individuality—once it has glanced into the yawning abyss. But will it? For it seems just as certain that the freedom of will granted to man and to mankind is absolute, that it includes the freedom to make the ultimate choice—between life and death.

—Igor Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon.

Experience Not Required

Azalea Adair and I had conversation, a little of which will be repeated to you. She was a product of the old South, gently nurtured in the sheltered life. Her learning was not broad, but was deep and of splendid originality in its somewhat narrow scope. She had been educated at home, and her knowledge of the world was derived from inference and by inspiration. Of such is the precious, small group of essayists made. She was exquisite, she was a valuable discovery. Nearly everybody nowadays knows too much—oh, so much too much—of real life.

—O. Henry, A Municipal Report.


You see, he thinks the whole thing has made him look ridiculous, and it will take him a long time to forgive you for that."

I realised the truth of this. One can pardon any injury to oneself, unless it hurts one's vanity.

—P.G. Wodehouse, Love Among the Chickens.