Mores and the Battle for Tomorrow, Part V

Part I of this essay can be found here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, and Part VI here.

IT IS COMMON to think of hypocrisy in the pedestrian sense of “saying one thing and doing another”; but a man who demonstrates such a trait is in fact merely incoherent. The deepest and truest form of hypocrisy, the root meaning of the word, is being an actor: which is to say, being in one way—and believing in another. We mean something similar when we comment that a certain person “does not have the courage of his convictions.” Hypocrisy does not refer to the conflict between word and deed, but between inner worldview and outward existence.
      Now, in most cases and in most normal situations this contradiction is in a way simply presupposed. One knows that the truly integral and coherent individuals are few and far between, but that most people will everywhere display a degree of inconsistency. And that is well and good, and must of course be true also of us. Only that we can afford to countenance laxity here so much less than any other group living today.
      The reasons for this, our necessary strictness, can be most clearly traced back to the desperateness of our plight. We are surrounded by a hostile world which—and this is really a terrible misfortune—likes to posture as our friend. We adhere to a worldview which is not only unpopular, but even and in some cases illicit and anathema to the powers that be, whether one intends by this term the political, the financial, or the social powers governing the present world. Every inch of our lives that we grant to these powers is subtracted from the world we would bring about; every portion of our soul we permit to exist slavishly in the modern fashion makes us that much more uncertain in ourselves, that much meaner, that much more contradictory—that much weaker and less able to frame our own vision into a real and viable form. So many are the forces arrayed against us, that by any true economy we perceive that we can ill afford to grant them, nor subtract from ourselves, the least fragment of power.
      Now, no man of reason should be condemned to adopt to his action all that pertains to his thought, for ideas come and go, and any man who truly thinks with his head, rather than with his reading or his sentiment, will protect as a holy right his power to change his mind even tomorrow, if valid reasons present themselves for such transformation. Truly has it been said that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” But as little as he must insist on consistency between what he might happen to think on a given matter, and what he might happen to do with regard to the same, yet he ought to be constrained by his same conscience, by his very will to such liberty, to live with unity between his spirit and his act. And it is one of the finer aspects of intellectual conscience, that it is able to discriminate between what pertains to a man’s theory, and what pertains instead to his principle, his root, his rock-bottom fundaments.
      The cement by which our worldview is wed to act is called manners.
      By worldview we mean, not the mere sum total of a man’s thought—which is but the aggregate mass of both his unalterable and also his transient opinions—but rather those principles of being which form the deepest underpinnings of a human soul, and which determine, not the specific features of his thought, but rather its general phenotype. Or, to employ a different analogy, a man’s worldview does not establish the details, the furnishings, the flora and fauna of the terrain of his inner thought, but rather its climate, its elevation, its general environment. Because we are not fatalists, nor petty determinists—because, in short, we are adherents to the doctrine of human freedom, and do not know what definition might be given to human life if not that it, as opposed to animal, vegetal, and material, is capable of becoming free—we do not say that this worldview is given inexorably to a man; but it is at least clear that it is that which is most resistant to change, particularly to transient and frivolous change; and in the deepest and the noblest case, it is also that which a man must embrace, if he is to “become what he is.” It is that which is least accidental to a human being, that which can only be altered by conversion. We stand so far from the common beliefs and ways of being in our societies are already well “converted,” and though we might change our minds again, it is unlikely indeed we shall ever go back. It is already well commented on that though many come our way, yet few or none return.
      All this to say that we have adopted a worldview that has about it, in our times, the feeling of “destiny,” also in the minor sense of a destination toward which we are moving. There is something already fatalistic about anyone who holds to a perspective which is generally loathed in his time. Our worldview is aristocratic, elitist; it acknowledges differences in the specific qualities of human beings and holds that what is most becoming to any human society is its elevation and empowerment of quality human beings to such heights as it may lift them. We live however in a day which subscribes to the contrary vision of human life—that worldview according to which all human beings are equal, so that the role of society ought be that of enforcing and protecting baseline human equality, either in a legal sense, or in a material, economic, political sense.
      We cannot pretend that we shall attain our vision of society by adhering everywhere to the standards of theirs.
      The form and contour of a society is produced and protected, not first by its laws, but first by its customs, its ways of living, speaking, thinking, believing—in short, by its mores and its mythoi. Mores are as the delineations which distinguish one society from another; they are like the specific features of its regime—regime here understood in the classic sense of the fundamental and specific character of a given society. Mores give quality, consistency, distinction to a given society; they are as it were the “feeling” about a society, by which one recognizes it as being itself and not another. Mores culminate in manners. Manners would thus appear to be the most trivial or contingent part of mores. But in truth, manners provide the atmosphere within which a given set of mores is permitted to exist according to its nature. If a society exists outwardly in one way, and inwardly in another—if its manners do not reflect its mores, or its mores exist in contradiction to its manners—the society can be said to be hypocritical, and it is certain that it is doomed either to perish or to transform. And the same thing holds true for the individual.
      We, who would alter the society in which we live, are but impotent as insects before it if we do not adopt to ourselves ways of being, ways of acting, ways of interacting, which stand in evident contradiction to those of our society, and in equally evident coherency with those which we hold to. Our mores are aristocratic; but our manners too often are yet democratic. We attempt to fight against a social order we despise, even while wearing its merest garb, speaking its merest speech, abiding ritually by its merest etiquette. The mores within us starve, while in our everyday comportment we feed those of the society we would supplant. And worst of all, not one in a hundred of us realizes the danger of this, our own hypocrisy. For we have not yet perceived that the careless disregard for manners, the underestimation of their importance, the contempt for their finer elements—all of this is itself nothing but the conclusion of the democratic ethos. All of this pertains to that ethos; it represents nothing other “democratic manners,” which are nothing but inverted manners, designed precisely to house and to abet democratic mores.
      Our ideas might be as radical as you please; so long as they are not expressed vividly and concretely in the outward wear of our day to day lives, they will remain but so many roots cut off from the sun, and destined to wither and perish in the lightless deep.


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