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FREEDOM AND CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT w. R. TAYLOR CONFRONTED with another world war in its most terrible phases, we must feel ourselves compelled at times to turn from the stark madness and the bloody agony of current events, and fix our attention on what may lie beyond this latest Armageddon. We know that our age has been profoundly affected by the nature and the consequences of the last war; and whether or not this second one was necessarily bred by the first, it seems indisputable t hat, even with the most desirable results through the triumph of the democracies, the effects will bring us face to face with conditions and problems-social, political, intellectual, and religious-that must be aggravated because we are still in arrears in dealing with those which emerged after 1914. Our ability to salvage what is left to us and to set in order our confusions will depend on the measure of our will to meet the issues with courage, p~rpose, and balance. It is conceivable that through sheer exhaustion our generation might conclude that "all is vanity" or at best only the rolling of a Sisyphean stone; we might, like the Graeco-Roman culture at the beginning of the present era, suffer paralysis through loss of nerve, looking for help in one of two directions, either in some form of obscurantism or in some false eschatology whereby the travail of society is left to wait on a providential interposition or a Carlylean god-man hero. We might, with no less hesitance than others who have liv:ed before us, reconcile ourselves to a philosophy of history, based on a thre~point-creed: the youth of the world is past; the strength of the creation is exhausted; the advent of the times is very short. -(Apocalypu of Baruch, 85:10) The potentialities out of which such attitudes of mind come into being and proceed to function, are latent in every period of history but become manifest at those points in history when culture, halted for whatever reason in its development, seems to experience a measure of frustration. There are not a few evidences t!lat even before the outbreak of this war our generation was showing signs of loss of confidence in its powers to deliver itself, and was ready to barter freedom, intellectual, cultural and spiritual, for what 397. 398 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY seemed to be political and economic freedom. This cringing to circumstance which is the mark of the caitiff-soul, as Plato claimed, brings as its nemesis a long train of evil. It is surely not necessary to remind ourselves that social and political freedom does not rise or fall except in relation to what happens in other fields of culture. Decay of political freedom is concomitant with decay in Art, Drama, Literature, Philosophy, and Theology. The end of the surrender of the will to think, to speak, and to create freely, is the dehumanization of the age that makes the capitulation. We need to beware that in fighting against the malady which has overtaken most of Europe we do not succumb to its subtle contagious influence. The reasons for the present menace to this essential freedom are to be sought in the accidents of contemporary history. At the end of the year 1918 we found that more than armies had been checked and brought to a halt; that we, ourselves, both victors and vanquished, had come to a dead stop in our habitual thinking about man, God, and the world. For more than a century our political, social and religious theories had been under the spell of one or another school of Romantic Idealism. The common axioms of this faith in things and in ourselves seemed never more incontrovertible than in that age of general peace, prosperity, and expansive opportunity, whose collapse we witnessed. Every triumph of science and invention seemed to demonstrate the rationality of the universe and the power of the human mind to enter into and to share its purposes. The world appeared to be responsive to our aims and efforts by moving for the time being in the direction we wanted, and so promoted the illusion...


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pp. 397-406
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