Sunday, December 28, 2014

Parting Words

"It is obvious to the whole world that a service is better than an injury, that gentleness is preferable to anger.  It only remains, therefore, to use our reason to discern the shades of goodness and badness." So wrote Voltaire in the eighteenth century.

In his television series and book, Civilization, Kenneth Clark elaborated on this theme: "I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction, I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable the ideology . . . I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people's feelings by satisfying our own egos . . . Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible."

Clark, nevertheless, concluded his beliefs on a note of pessimism: "One may be optimistic, but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us." This was in the 1960s.

And  three decades or so later, historian Eric Hobsbawm writing of the family, social and political institutions as the foundations of civilization: "Their future is obscure. That is why, at the end of the [twentieth] century, I cannot look to the future with great optimism."

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