28 July 2009

Heroism, the Contempt for Happiness

Kenneth Clark on heroism in "Civilisation" (1969):

Seen by itself, the David's body might be an unusually taut and vivid work of antiquity. It is only when we come to the head that we are aware of a spiritual force the ancient world never knew. I suppose that this quality, which I may call heroic, is not a part of most people's idea of civilisation. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilised life. It is the enemy of happiness. And yet we recognise that to despise material obstacles, and even to defy the blind forces of fate, is man's supreme achievement. And since, in the end, civilisation depends on man extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michelangelo as one of the great events in the history of Western man.

22 July 2009

Hindu Conservatism: Dharma or Moral Order

From Russell Kirk's "Ten Conservative Principles":

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it. Human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

This word 'order' signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. 25 centuries ago Plato taught this doctrine. But even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since 'conservative' became a term of politics.

Our 20th century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the 5th century BC, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which societies fall that mistake clever self interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an old-fangled moral order.

It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honour, will be a good society – whatever political machinery it may utilise. While a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society – no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.

This is one of the similarities between Hindu conservatism and Western conservatism. In Hindu thought, of course, we know this moral order as Dharma.