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Roger’s Rules

Santayana on liberalism and other matters of interest

September 30th, 2013 - 4:49 am

Santayana’s distance from involvement was a leitmotif of his character. By disposition, he was homosexual, though it is not clear that he was ever sexually involved with anyone. Reflecting on a meeting he had with A. E. Housman, Santayana mused to Cory that “I think I must have been that way in my Harvard days — although I was unconscious of it at the time.”

Santayana’s biographer, John McCormick, regarded that as deliberately coy, but supplied no evidence to gainsay it. Santayana regarded sex the way he regarded emotional entanglements generally, as temptations to be avoided. “Carnal pleasures,” he wrote, “are but welcome pains, [they] draw the spirit inwards into primal darkness and indistinction.” Perhaps it was fortunate that Santayana was, or made himself, unsusceptible to such pleasures. “Love has never made me long unhappy, nor sexual impulse uncomfortable,” he wrote in a letter of 1924. Burdens, responsibilities, emotional ties: these sutures of ordinary life are among the chief evils in the Epicurean’s lexicon. Disturbing tranquility, they remind us of our essential poverty, our lack of self-sufficiency. But of course such entanglements are also our most reliable sources of joy. I suspect that this is something that Santayana understood, even if he refrained from indulging it. “It takes patience to appreciate domestic bliss,” he wrote in The Life of Reason; “volatile spirits prefer unhappiness.”

Santayana did not at all prefer unhappiness. But he was reluctant to wager on a bliss burdened with the imperfections of the domestic. In a letter of 1924, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., put his finger on something essential about Santayana. “In a general way,” Holmes wrote, “his thinking more than that of other philosophers coincides with mine. But he has a patronizing tone — as of one who saw through himself but didn’t expect others to.”

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Wonderful essay!


28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Very interesting.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Am most pleased to read this. It confirms my liking for Santayana. you do know that he did not rank his poetry highly. Spanish was his first language, but he came to the States too young to really learn his mother tongue. He was always a bit conscious that his command of English was inadequate for poetry. Reading his prose, one would not grasp this.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"It will take some hammering to drive a coddling socialism into America...In a hearty and sound democracy,” he notes, “all questions at issue must be minor matters; fundamentals must have been silently agreed upon and taken for granted when the democracy arose.”

We've been hammered (intentionally) for a long time and there is no longer agreement on the fundamentals. In fact, substituting a whole new set of fundamentals is what progressivism is.

"Liberalism had been supposed to advocate liberty; but what the advanced parties that still call themselves liberal now advocate is control, control over property, trade, wages, hours of work, meat and drink, amusements... If you refuse to move in the prescribed direction, you are not simply different, you are arrested and perverse...Classic liberty, though only a name for stubborn independence, and obedience to one’s own nature, was too free, in one way, for the modern liberal."

Spot on.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Now look what you have done, Mr. Kimball; made me late for work.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
What a treat. You've made my day, my week, my month. A heartfelt thank you.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent article! You should do more like this one.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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