Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Chesterton on bubbles and the red/blue divide

From Heretics:

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing that is really narrow is the clique....The men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment like that which exists in hell.
Modern man "says he is fleeing from his street because it is dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing from his street because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting; it is exacting because it is alive. He can visit Venice because to him the Venetians are only Venetians; the people in his own street are men. He can stare at the Chinese because for him the Chinese are a passive thing to be stared at; he he stares at the old lady in the next garden, she becomes active. he is forced to flee, in short, from the too stimulating society of his equals-- of free men, perverse, personal, deliberately different from himself.
He has to soothe and quiet himself among tigers and vultures, camels and crocodiles. These creatures are indeed very different from himself. But they do not put their shape or colour or custom into a decisive competition with his own. They do not seek to destroy his principles and assert their own; the stranger monsters of the suburban street do seek to do this....The vulture will not roar with laughter because a man does not fly; but the major at No. 9 will roar with laughter because a man does not smoke.
Of course, this shrinking from the brutal vivacity and brutal variety of common men is a perfectly reasonable thing as long as it does not pretend to any point of of superiority. It is when it calls itself aristocracy or aestheticism or a superiority to the bourgeoisie that its inherenct weakness has in justice to be pointed out. Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of of vices; but it is the most unpardonable of virtues. Nietzsche, who represents most prominently this pretentious claim of the fastidious, has a description somewhere-- a very powerful description in a purely literary sense-- of the disgust and disdain which consume him at the sight of the common people with their common faces, common voices, and their common minds. As I have said, this attitude is almost beautiful if we may regard it as pathetic. Nietzsche's aristocracy has about it all the sacredness that belongs to the weak. When he makes us feel that he cannot endure the innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the overpowering omnipresence which belongs to the mob, he will have the sympathy of anybody who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a crowded omnibus. Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a man. Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog, humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell. But when Nietzsche has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.

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