An American Critic. An unsigned review of Aristocracy and Justice, by Paul Elmer More
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406 ] An American Critic An unsigned review of Aristocracy and Justice, by Paul Elmer More. Shelburne Essays, 9th ser. London: Constable, 1915. Pp. x + 244.1 The New Statesman, 7 (24 June 1916) 284 The Shelburne Essays, of which this book is the ninth volume, stand for much more than the scattered criticisms which most of them contain. Mr. More is not, strictly speaking, a political thinker, nor is he, in the strictest sense,aliterarycritic.Histasteistoocomprehensive,hislearningtooimpartial ; his praise expresses approval rather than sympathy. One does not find those flashes of insight which arise in the comments of one creative artist uponanother.Pureaestheticappreciationoneneverfinds.Nor,ontheother hand, is Mr. More a “psychologist”; he seldom evinces that passionate curiosity in individual men which, together with a complete detachment from all theory, all faith, all moral judgment, go to make the peculiar talent of Ste. Beuve;2 nor the patient, minute analysis of another American–Mr. W. C. Brownell.3 If he possessed these qualities: a special interest in economies and politics, an overpowering aesthetic appreciation, or a detached curiosity in the individual, Mr. More would not be what he is–one of the most interesting moralists of the present time. The book consists largely of an indictment of Socialism, and of the general tendency of which Mr. More conceives Socialism to be one manifestation . To those readers who are not already familiar with the Shelburne Essays, the eight essays in this volume will appear to have their connection only in Mr. More’s mind, and not in the subject matter. They will find that what Mr. More really stands for is not a particular political creed, but a view of life, and they will find perhaps their own political views pilloried alongside of views on subjects with which they have never meddled. These subjects have their relation, however, from the point of view of the moralist. If one wishes to grasp Mr. More’s point of view, one can omit, on a first reading, his chapter on “Property and Law” and his chapter on “The Paradox of Oxford.” One should read “Natural Aristocracy,” “Justice,” and, less carefully, “Disraeli and Conservatism” and “The New Morality,” the latter especially for American [ 407 An American Critic readers, though it deals with a tendency which the author holds to be world-wide. Mr. More develops the thesis of his last book–The Drift of Romanticism.4 The present age is a period of drift, license, and irresponsible emotionality. SincethetimeofRousseau,men’sattitudetowardlifehasvacillatedbetween two points of view which are really complementary and which flourish in the same soil; on the one hand materialism and utilitarianism, tending toward brutality; on the other hand sentimentalism, humanitarianism. In art, these two tendencies find their expression in realism and romanticism; in refusing to refine upon Nature, or in refusing to handle it at all. In politics , the complementary tendencies are despotism and democracy. Both sides of the contrast–in art, in philosophy, in politics, in morals–are the expression of impatience against all restraint, against the unavoidable limitations of life and the necessary limitations of civilisation, are expressions of belief in the undisciplined imagination and emotions. The view of the world which Mr. More sets up in opposition is not one to flatter the overbold or hearten the over-timid. His humanism is based upon the belief that Nature is generally unfavourable to man; that nothing is more fragile than civilisation, nothing harder to mend after the slightest fracture. At the bottomofman ’sheartthereisalwaysthebeast,resentfulofrestraintsofcivilised society, ready to spring out at the instant this restraint relaxes. Nature, even human nature, is impatient of civilisation–which is something more precious than comfort, or physical health, or popular education, or even life and liberty. As a matter of fact, the human soul–l’anima semplicetta–is neither good nor bad; but in order to be good, in order to be human, requires discipline: Onde convenne legge per fren porre . . .5 The fundamental beliefs of an intellectual conservatism, that man requires an askesis, a formula to be imposed upon him from above; that society must develop out of itself a class of leaders who shall discipline it; distrust of the promises of the future and conviction that the future, if there is to be any, must be built upon the wisdom of the past–this is what we find in all of Mr. More’s writings. The two essays particularly mentioned are concerned with the expression of this intellectual conservatism in politics. What he maintains to...