A malevolence we must defend against is the false argument that mind and property have too much authority, are too valued. Smart, wealthy people must be derogated by force for the greater good, so the argument goes – it’s a philosophy of resentment, envy and theft. Our War Chest contains financial wealth, which protects capital and personal autonomy. It should also contain awareness of an ideational enemy that threatens both the preeminence of mind and security of wealth. Section 3 of Lionel Trilling’s essay, Mind in the Modern World (1972), has particular relevance to the subject.
The case against mind (and private property) continues to be litigated in our culture today. Our evil egalitarian opponent wants to level everyone, undercut mind and wealth in a never ending pursuit of social justice and quest for some yet unknown, undefined, future socialist utopia.
William Morris (1834-1896) wanted “neither the aggressivity of comprehension and control which a highly developed mind directs upon the world nor the competiveness and self-aggrandizement which obtain among those [who are smart]. He wanted no geniuses to distress their less notable fellows by their pre-eminent ability to tell the truth or be interesting, and to shine brighter than the general run of mankind, requiring our submission to the authority of their brilliance, disturbing us with novel ideas and difficult tastes, perhaps tempting some few to emulate them… to incur the pains of mental flight.” News from Nowhere (1890)
The attack on mind is analogous to the attack on wealth. Trilling writes: “At a certain point in history money began to play a part in society which can be thought of as ideational.” Shakespeare said money has the power to bring into question every certitude and every piety. Good ideas, like money, are a mobile and mobilizing form of property. As they come to have power in the world, it is plain that a peculiar power or status accrues to the individuals who conceive and organize them….. And it all comes down to power – those who have it, want to keep it, some who don’t have it, want to seize power using any manner available, no matter how immoral, via specious political argument or voting their way towards it rather than earning it, or otherwise acquiring it legitimately (inheritance for example).
Trilling writes: “The resentful view of mind cannot be wholly new, else the word “docile”, which originally meant only teachable, would not have long ago come to mean submissive.
[Think about that. Being docile used to mean being inquisitive, smart, teachable – now it means being meekly obedient.…uhm….that’s not as good as teachable – what a dramatic linguistic devaluation]
Trilling wrote that in our time, mind has been drastically devalued, and, as a consequence, resentment of the authority of mind has grown to the point of becoming a virtually political emotion. It’s been happening a long time and is getting worse.
The armaments used to defend attacks on our weapons of mind and wealth are the weapons themselves. Wealth can be deployed to protect itself (by buying insurance and professional advice – attorneys, accountants, investment advisors). Good, intelligent ideas easily thwart attempts to derogate their obvious value. The ongoing attacks force an adoption of either an aristocratic-military world view of mind – Nietzsche’s will to power (fu#k off and die you lowly, unworthy, easily conquerable malevolent minds), or, what I prefer, the ethos of early capitalism worldview of mind – with the defining virtues of patience, the taking of pains, and the denial of spontaneous impulse. The Sprit of Capitalism* includes a strong work ethic deployed to noble ends (family and charity). Either way, heads we win, tails they lose. We get to keep and enjoy our wealth and mind. Government cannot steal them at gunpoint.
* I wrote here one year ago today 7/16/18 (which would have been my brother’s 50th birthday) that we are realizing a gradual return to the spiritual, moral roots of capitalism. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904) by sociologist Max Weber laid out the good, moral foundational ethos of capitalism, which is why it is so successful. These moral underpinnings (bourgeois values) are still embraced by many of us. The spirit of capitalism is not greed and consumption but rather the creation of wealth and order, increased productivity and the best use of resources. Capitalism was born of religious faith, in Weber’s view, because some people developed an ethic that gives true meaning to their work.
This ethic includes a love of hard work for its own sake, orderliness, punctuality, honesty and a hatred of wasting time. Viewing our work as a “calling” (see my 4/11/17 post) results in the self-limitation of consumption and an ascetic compulsion to save. We value personal discipline, gratitude and a sense being fortunate stewards of wealth, morality and knowledge – entrusted to preserve them for future generations.