Saturday, October 21, 2023

A limitless contempt

I'm finding John Buchan's memoir both interesting and relevant. Here he describes the attitudes of many after World War I. It seemed familiar, rather like today:
It was a difficult time for those who called themselves intellectuals. They found themselves living among the fears and uncertainties of the Middle Ages, without the support of the mediaeval faith. The belief in the perfectibility of man, the omnipotence of reason, and the certainty of progress, which began with the French Encyclopaedists and flourished among the brisk dogmatists of the nineteenth century, had more or less ended with the War. ....

One section of this class, very vocal in speech and writing, cherished modernity as its peculiar grace, regarding the word as descriptive of quality, and not merely as denoting a stage in time. These people, who were usually young, had few of the genial characteristics of youth, and their extravagances were not Plato's agreeable impertinences of juniors to seniors. They were a haunted race, who seemed to labour under perpetual fear. Like a tenth-century monk who expected the world soon to end, they had ruled out of their lives many normal human interests on the ground that the times were too precarious for trifling. They seemed to be eager to get rid of personal responsibility, and therefore in politics—and in religion if they had any—were inclined to extremes, and readily surrendered their souls to an ancient church or a new prophet, an International or a dictator. They were owlishly in earnest and wholly humourless; and, lacking moral and intellectual balance, they were prone to violent changes. It was the old story of the debauchee turned flagellant, and a man who had made a name by raking in the garbage heaps would suddenly become a precisian in manners and morals. They had a limitless contempt for whatever did not conform to their creed of the moment and expressed it loudly, but their voices would suddenly crack, and what began as a sneer would end as a sob. ....

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