Friday, September 16, 2016

The middle class: "this patient ass"

In February 1942, the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Rev. William Inge -- nicknamed "the gloomy Dean"  -- stressed both the depth of the contemporary European crisis (which was not so unusual at that time) and advocated a resurgence in new forms of monasticsm as one part of a response to it (which was rather more original).

“The suicide of European civilisation—we cannot use any milder phrase—makes it necessary to consider whether any plan can be devised to do for us, under modern conditions, what the monasteries did in the Dark Ages, that is to say, to provide a refuge for the gentler spirits, from the welter of anarchy and barbarism, and to save what could be saved of the cultural tradition of the shattered Empire.”

Interestingly, he here brought together his vision of a modern monastic revivial with some fulsome words for the middle classes.

“But on public grounds the most serious danger [to society as a result of the war] will be the virtual extinction of the highly educated and financially comfortable middle class, to which the greater part of our progress in all the arts of civilised life has been due. Now that the inverted snobbery of Bloomsbury and the brutal militarism of the Nazis unite in pouring scorn on ‘bourgeois liberalism,’ a member of the abused class may be forgiven for quoting the words of Euripides: ‘Of the three classes it is the middle which saves the country’. This patient ass, bowed between two burdens, must find some way of escape from a state of society which might make it impossible for him to devote himself to his higher interests.” 

I'm far from d'accord with a lot of Dean Inge's views (he was an ardent advocate of eugenics and, before the war, rather too sympathetic to the right-wing variants of totalitarianism); still, I find myself with advancing years -- much to my own surprise -- having a soft spot for kind words about "bourgeois liberalism" (or at least its "higher interests").

And a "refuge" from "anarchy and barbarism": oh yes, I'll have one of those please. Preferably with an ocean view, if possible.  

Rev. W.R. Inge, "Community Life After the War", The Church of England Newspaper, 6 February 1942, 1.  

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