Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maistre's God, Maistre's Politics

Though Maistre is a dogmatic Catholic, it is not at all clear that his god is a Christian god. Maistre's is a vengeful, punishing god. The revolution is both crime and punishment, all rolled into one.

The Revolution, says Maistre, is a force beyond human control, "an overwhelming force that bends every obstacle...a whirlwind carrying along like light straw everything that human force has opposed to it." To what end? Why has Providence deigned to inflict such a catastrophe on the French people? To punish the guilty,of course. And who are the guilty? Just about everyone, it seems: All those who laboured to free the people from their religious beliefs, all those who opposed the laws of property with metaphysical sophisms, all those who said 'Strike, so long as we win something', all those who counselled, approved, or favoured the use of violent measures against the king, etc., all these willed the Revolution, and all who willed it have very justly, even according to our limited insight, become its victims. These are the crimes for which the French people are being punished: thought crimes.

Toward the end of the St. Petersberg Dialogues, we learn if we have not already guessed, where Maistre is leading us:

Do you realize, gentlemen, the source of this flood of insolent doctrines which unceremoniously judge God and call him to account for his orders? They come to us from that great phalanx we call "intellectuals" and whom we have not been able in this age to keep in their place, which is a secondary one. At other times there were very few intellectuals, and a very small minority of this small minority were ungodly; today one sees nothing but "intellectuals"; it is a profession, a crowd, a nation; and among them the already unfortunate exception has become the rule. On every side they have usurped a limitless influence, and yet if there is one thing certain in this world, it is to my mind that it is not for science to guide men. Nothing necessary for this is entrusted to science. One would have to be out of one's mind to believe that God has charged the academies with teaching what he is and what we owe him. It rests with the prelates, the nobles, the great officers of state to be the depositaries and guardians of the saving truths, to teach nations what is bad and what good, what true and what false in the moral and spiritual order: others have no right to reason on this kind of matter. They have the natural sciences to amuse them, what are they complaining about? As for those who talk or write to deprive a people of a national belief, they should be hung like housebreakers.... What folly it was to grant everyone freedom of speech! This is what has ruined us. The so-called philosophers have all a certain fierce and rebellious pride which does not compromise with anything; they detest without exception every distinction they themselves do not enjoy; they find fault in every authority; they hate anything above them. If they are allowed, they will attack everything, even God, because he is master. See if it is not the same men who have attacked both kings and the God who established them....

So, you may well ask, Why Maistre? Because there was a time in the 19th and early 20th century when he was taken very seriously by those who were violently opposed to what I am calling modernity. Joseph de Maistre is the first reactionary; he virtually defines that word.

One might also ask, Why this interest in the French Revolution? That was more than two hundred years ago; what's it to us or we to it? How could those events of long ago and the controversies they aroused, be of any interest or relevance NOW? And why should we take any interest whatsoever
in a fellow like Maistre, whom nobody reads anymore?

The French Revolution--or Explosion--was touched off when the French government was forced by extreme financial pressures to call a meeting of the French Parliament, the Estates General, for the first time in about 175 years. During that time, a modernizing economy and culture had been blocked by the structures and assumptions of the ancient, feudal world. Unlike England, France had no experience of Parliamentary government to fall back on when the problems and hatreds that had been fermenting for almost two centuries began to thrust themselves upon the attention of inexperienced parliamentarians. Naturally, under the circumstances, those men who had thought about history and politics were listened to. These were men who knew all about The Rights of Man, the state of nature and the origins of political culture in the abstract, having been educated by reading Rousseau, Condorcet and Voltaire. The rest, as we say, is history--an extraordinarily bloody history indeed, as it turned out, that settled nothing and proved nothing, and became therefore a source of further conflict. The First World War and the Russian Revolution are both rooted in the French Revolution. Maistre's reflections became gospel for all those who had been disinherited or marginalized by the Revolution and by the seemingly irresistible pressures of modernity in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

No one reads Maistre anymore, but that could change should it ever become obvious that modernity can no longer deliver the goods. Who do you think the people will blame when or if the balance of nature turns against us?

I should like to turn my attention, now, to Edmund Burke who like Maistre found in the Revolution the occasion that he had, perhaps, been looking for, to set forth his deepest reflections about human nature, politics and history. It will be immediately obvious, to anyone who reads Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France that he is a deeper thinker and writer than Maistre, with a much 'thicker' understanding of human nature and human societies. So Burke's conservatism is still relevant, unlike the reactionary politics of Maistre.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Maistre's god

You could sum up a lot of Maistre by saying that his God has a taste for dramatic irony. He and Maistre delight in the fact that no one ever knows the meaning or consequences of his or her actions, which usually turn out very differently from what one had intended.

Audiences experience dramatic irony when an actor's words and actions have meanings that the character being enacted is unaware of. The equivalent of dramatic irony out in the political world occurs when the words and actions of important people have what we call 'unintended consequences.' It is virtually a law of history for Maistre that god always makes hash of our intentions—and especially the intentions of the men who came to prominence during the Revolution.

The following selections from Considerations on France,which would have been more aptly entitled, Reflections on the Ways of Providence, are strictly intended by me to be illustrative, merely:

It has been correctly pointed out that the French Revolution leads men more than men lead it.... The very rascals who appear to lead the Revolution are involved only as simple instruments, and as soon as they aspire to dominate it they fall ignobly. Those who established the Republic did it without wanting to and without knowing what they were doing....Robespierre, Collot, or Barere never thought to establish the revolutionary government or the Reign of Terror; they were led to it imperceptibly by circumstances... These extremely mediocre men exercised over a guilty nation the most frightfull despotism in history, and surely they were more surprised at their power than anyone else in the kingdom....

All those who laboured to free the people from their religious beliefs, all those who opposed the laws of property with metaphysical sophisms, all those who said 'Strike, so long as we win something', all those who counselled, approved, or favoured the use of violent measures against the king, etc., all these willed the Revolution, and all who willed it have very justly, even according to our limited insight, become its victims.

We groan to see illustrious scholars fall beneath Robespierre's axe. Humanly, we cannot be too sorry for them; but divine justice has not the least respect for geometers or physicists. Too many French scholars were the principal authors of the Revolution, too many approved and gave their support so long as the Revolution...struck down only the tallest heads. Like so many others, they said, 'It is impossible to make a great revolution without incurring misfortunes.' But when a philosopher justifies evil by the end in view, when he says in his heart, 'Let there a hundred thousand murders, provided we are free,' and Providence replies, 'I accept your offer, but you must be included in the number,' where is the injustice? Would we judge otherwise in our own tribunals?

Maistre thinks that his Christian faith gives him unique access to God's intentions and historical truth. He is like a person watching a play, who is in a position to know much more about the world of the play than the characters IN the play, on stage.

So now here's my question: Am I correct in thinking that this is actually a rather modern way of thinking about history? One has only to strip away Maistre's idea of Providence, and of God as the author of the play we call History, to arrive at, say, Henry Adams's insight that history or reality--not Providence--necessarily makes fools of us all; we never understand the larger meaning of our words and actions until later; the law of unintended consequences merely reflects that fact.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Executioner and The Soldier

Why, de Maistre wonders, is the executioner abhorred [Abhorson, is the name of the executioner in Shakespeare's play, Measure For Measure] while the soldier is treated as a hero? "The one brings death to convicted and condemned criminals, and fortunately his executions are so rare that one of these ministers of death is sufficient for each province. As far as soldiers are concerned there are never enough of them, because they kill wihout restraint and their victims are always honest men. Of these two professional killers, one is highly honored and always has been by all the nations who have inhabited up to now this planet... but the other has just as generally been regarded as vile." This for de Maistre--and for me as well--is a puzzler. If you think you've got an answer, let me know.

To which Lao Qiao said:

Soldiers, I would guess, are admired because they risk their lives for others. Executioners don't risk their lives but instead go home after work.
The name Abhorson includes both the word "abhor" and the word "whoreson." He really is abhorred, that son of a bitch—or as we say in Chinese, gouniangyangde (raised by a dog's mother).

And I say: That's the obvious answer isn't it? Why then does de Maistre make a such a fuss about it, implying that it's all a big mystery? (And by the way, Shakespeare's Abhorson is not abhorred; actually he's not a bad fellow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

de Maistre's Executioner

It is pretty clear that De Maistre's Executioner is intended, not only to shock and awe but also to put an end to all talk of reason, progress and human perfectibility. The natural wickedness (or, if you prefer, the inherent sinfulness) of human beings means that no society can long endure in a civilized state without political sovereignty and judicial terror.

de Maistre had the greatest respect for David Hume. He clearly admired his History of England and thought that Hume's account of the English revolution, especially the judicial murder of Charles I, in the previous century, offered an almost exact parallel with the revolution in France. But I think his admiration of Hume went deeper than that: both men had concluded, though for different reasons perhaps, that moral judgments are never the result of reason or reasoning; there is no connection, indeed, between reason and morality. For while our moral judgments may have some slight influence over our passions, reason has none. Reason, indeed, is and could only be the slave of the passions. Believers in original sin had always known this; Hume may have worked it out, as he says, scientifically. Here is how he puts it in A Treatise of Human Nature, at the end of Bk 3 (Of Morals), Section 1 (Of Vice and Virtue):

I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, `tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason.

If reason is morally blind and morally impotent--and if the French Revolution proved anything it proved that--does it follow, as de Maistre thought, that law and order can only be based, finally, on brute force and terror? Fear of Hell and/or the executioner? Don't be in a big hurry to answer this one. The jury is still out.

de Maistre, continued

De Maistre did in fact say quite a lot about the Spanish Inquisition, in a series of Letters, which can be read in translation at this web site: www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/history/links/maistre/maistre.html

Here is de Maistre's extraordinary portrait of the man who, more than anything else it seems, makes civilized life possible, the Executioner:

To come now to detail, let us start with human justice. Wishing men to be governed by men at least in their external actions, God has given sovereigns the supreme prerogative of punishing crimes, in which above all they are his representatives.... This formidable prerogative of which I have just spoken results in the necessary existence of a man destined to inflict on criminals the punishments awarded by human justice; and this man is in fact found everywhere, without there being any means of explaining how; for reason cannot discern in human nature any motive which could lead men to this calling.... Who is then this inexplicable being who has preferred to all the pleasant, lucrative, honest, and even honorable jobs that present themselves in hundreds to human power and dexterity that of torturing and putting to death his fellow creatures? Are this head and this heart made like ours? Do they not hold something peculiar and foreign to our nature? For my own part, I do not doubt this. He is made like us externally; he is born like us but he is an extraordinary being, and for him to exist in the human family a particular decree, a FIAT of the creative power is necessary. He is a species to himself. Look at the place he holds in public opinion and see if you can understand how he can ignore or affront this opinion! Scarcely have the authorities fixed his dwelling place, scarcely has he taken possession of it, than the other houses seem to shrink back until they no longer overlook his. In the midst of this solitude and this kind of vacuum that forms around him, he lives alone with his woman and his offspring who make the human voice known to him, for without them he would know only groans. A dismal signal is given; a minor judicial official comes to his house to warn him that he is needed; he leaves; he arrives at some public place packed with a dense and throbbing crowd. A poisoner, a parricide, or a blasphemera is thrown to him; he seizes him, he stretches him on the ground, he ties him to a horizontal cross, he raises it up: then a dreadful silence falls, and nothing can be heard except the crack of bones breaking under the crossbar and the howls of the victim. He unfastens him; he carries him to a wheel: the shattered limbs interweave with the spokes; the head falls; the hair stands on end, and the mouth open like a furnace gives out spasmodically only a few blood-spattered words calling for death to come. He is finished: his heart flutters, but it is with joy; he congratulates himself, he says sincerely, "No one can break men on the wheel better than I." He steps down; he stretches out his bloodstained hand, and justice throws into it from a distance a few pieces of gold which he carries through a double row of men drawing back with horror. He sits down to a meal and eats; then he goes to bed, where he sleeps. And next day on waking, he thinks of anything but what he did the day before. Is this a man? Yes: God receives him his temple and permits him to pray. He is not a criminal, yet it is impossible to say, for example, that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is estimable and so on. No moral praise can be appropriate for him, since this assumes relationships with men, and he has none. And yet all grandeur, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner: he is the horror and bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and at that very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears. God, who is author of sovereignty, is the author also of chastisement: he has built our world on these two poles...

I have a few things I'd like to say about this passage in relation to various other aspects of de Maistre's thought, but first I should like to direct you to the essay by Isaiah Berlin which forms the introduction to de Maistre's Considerations On France, Richard A. Lebrun ed.(Cambridge, 1994)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lao Giao comments:

"Fascinating. I am not familiar with the writings of de Maistre. Did he know that the Crusades and the Inquisition were as bloody as the French Revolution? Did he believe that there was water above the sky, as Genesis tells us?"

Thank you, Lao Giao. To take your second question first, de Maistre was not only a keen student of the exact sciences of his day, which he perfectly understood, but also believed that the bible was the word of God. So he believed in the Deluge and he refused to accept or even take seriously the idea that the world might be millions, not thousands, of years old.

He would have known all about the crusades and inquisition, though I have not seen them mentioned in his writings. I don't suppose he'd have had any trouble justifying these bloody uses of power. Civilization, he thought--Christian civilization of course--always requires such uses of power.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On First Reading de Maistre

Reading CONSIDERATIONS ON FRANCE (1796) has been a pleasant surprise. This is no 18th century christian Qutb, no narrow-minded, anti-science, fundamentalist. De Maistre is a clear, terse, well informed, wittily ironic and very entertaining writer, a sort of conservative Voltaire.

Later: having read further, however, I want to qualify what I just said.

Maistre is at his best in his remarks about the Revolution which strike me as correct: the end (and no one knew in 1796 how or when the casual slaughter would end) could not justify the means. No one could or ever has been able to agree about the object of all that killing--three million dead according to Maistre, by 1796--all in the name of indefinable abstractions: 'liberty', 'reason', 'virtue.'

Our Civil War, which may have cost us a similar percentage of the population, about 2%, eliminated a tangible evil, slavery. And while the end of slavery did not really liberate the ex-slaves, who remained largely under the thumb of the white ruling class in the South for the next hundred years, we were not forced to re-fight either the civil war or our own revolution, unlike France which was forced to re-fight the Revolution at least twice during the 19th century.

Maistre may be largely correct when he describes the revolutionary leaders as unscrupulous men who only cared about power and were debased by it. Power corrupts. No one caught up in the desperate struggle not only for power but survival was unaffected. That goes, as well, for all those big words, 'liberty', 'reason', etc. that people thought they were fighting for. So many became so disillusioned and so bitter that there had to be a word for it. That, I think, was when the ancient philosophical word 'cynic' reversed its meaning: no longer a believer in virtue as the highest good but a disbeliever, like Shakespeare's Iago--and Maistre himself. Maistre was a product of the Revolution, just as Napoleon was.

Here are a couple of sentences that give you something of the Swiftian flavor of Maistre's prose at this time: "I know very well, that in all these discussions, we are assailed continually with the wearisome picture of the innocents who perish with the guilty. But, without penetrating far into this extremely profound question, it can be considered solely in its relation to the universally held dogma, as old as the world itself, that the innocent suffer for the benefit of the guilty."

I shall have more to say about Maistre's ideas about law, sovereignty, and republican forms of government as set forth in this and the following essays. These ideas are clearly and cogently set forth; Maistre is a brilliantlly logical writer. Nothing he says about sovereignty in these earlier writings should give us pause. The dark side of Maistre--the original of Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor--appears in the ST. PETERSBERG DIALOGUES (1821)

Now, in what could be called Modernity's Golden Age, we take if for granted that while modern science may never give us the last word about nature and the universe, it is on the right track. We know without a doubt about how old the earth is, and the sun and the universe. Maistre knew a lot about "the exact sciences" (his phrase). He knew, for instance, that the new sciences of geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy were beginning to provide evidence that the earth has to be a LOT older than scripture would lead us to believe. But it didn't matter. In THE DIALOGUES, Catholic dogma trumps science from the get-go; he applauds the intellectual integrity of those who defiantly ignore whatever those rascally scientists might have to say. An iron curtain in Maistre's mind separates catholic doctrine and dogma from the vast enterprise of scientific inquiry in the early 19th century. Or, to alter the metaphor, he becomes a man in an iron mask: the Executioner who, as a professional breaker-of-men (literally), becomes for Maistre the image and symbol of sovereign power, and the last defence of a civilization now increasingly surrounded and infested by people who have cast off all the restraints on our natural sinfulness that Christianity had once-upon-a-time taught us to respect.

Though Maistre is his usual urbane and polished self, the imaginative power that goes into his terrifying portrait of the Executioner (with his bloody hands and exemplary home life) as the pillar of civilization and last defence against the barbarians within, shows that Maistre knew he had lost the argument with or about modernity.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

an impossible blog

Since modernity is what just about every poet, economist, philosopher, artist, historian, composer, novelist (have I left anyone out?) has been trying to understand for the last two or three hundred years, trying to understand modernity turns into the problem of understanding understanding, which is sort of like understanding consciousness which is sort of like trying to watch your eyes move by looking in the mirror . . . If you get my drift, and I'm not sure I do.

On the theory that there are some things that are best understood by studying those who hate or fear them, I've begun reading the works of modernity's greatest hater, Joseph de Maistre, in Jack Lively's translation. And here I have to say that, being illiterate in French and German, I am unqualified to say much of anything to the purpose about the romantic reaction to modernity in the 19th century--and particularly in French symbolist poetry and German philosophy. Further, even if I were literate in these languages, I would probably find much of that poetry and philosophy impenetrable. I have tried to read Kant, Hegel, Mallarme and Rimbaud in translation with but indifferent success.

What follows, I hope, will consist of notes and reflections on de Maistre.

Monday, February 4, 2008


When A.E. Housman described himself, in the poem I have just shown you, as being spiritually and emotionally prepared for "trouble," he had no idea how dark or how long the night would be as all the lights in Europe and, indeed, in large parts of the world, were going out. For fifty years, we in the U.S., Canada, Australia, England, observed from afar (mostly) slaughters and exterminations on an unprecedented scale. Maybe I should have left the 20th century out when I called modernity a success in utilitarian terms. Nevertheless, my question still holds: if modernity is about, among other things, the untrammeled pursuit of happiness, as Hobbes defines that word, what if anything can we say about its future?--as, (as seems to be the case) temperatures and oceans keep rising; the era of cheap energy, water and food ends; the balance of nature turns against us; and more and more states begin to fail? And who or what is the cause of these natural disasters? Isn't that obvious? We have met the enemy and it is us. We in the West invented modernity and we in the West got most of the benefits. Or as Swift would say, we are the ones who creamed off nature and left the sour and the dregs for everyone else to lap up.

If modernity is all washed-up, and that too may be the case, what's next? Will those who call themselves "post-modernists" please step forward? And tell us how, exactly, postmodernity will differ, politically and economically, from modernity? Will the arrival of postmodernity mean, for instance, the end of liberal democracy, the secular rule of law, and scientific inquiry? And please, no more hermeneutical chatter. It does not follow from the fact there are no transcendent goods or truths, that there are no goods and no truths. Here is what C. J. Insole has to say in the latest TLS (2-1-08) in his review of Charles Taylor's book about modernity, A SECULAR AGE: "What if truth is true independently of our stories about it? Well it might be. Just like gravity, it is there anyway, although it will emerge in our stories, and stories will be one of the ways that we can access the truth about it. Disagreement about truth is then just that: disagreement about truth, not a discovery that truth contains within itself disagreement."(p.5)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit of Happiness

Jefferson's words, at the beginning of our DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, define not only our American way of life but the way of life that most of the people on this planet now aspire to. And what, for all these billions of people, does that word 'happiness' mean? In the absence of any generally agreed upon concept of the Highest Good, 'happiness' can only mean what Hobbes says it means: continual success in acquiring the goods that the good life requires, whatever they may be.

Those ideas about happiness did not come out of nowhere and were not invented by Hobbes; he was merely calling attention to the fact that for better or worse this was the direction in which the world was already headed.

We have now had approximately 500 years of more or less Hobbesian economics and politics and these have been years of more or less uninterrupted economic growth. Just about any reasonable person would say that, if 'utility'(the greatest good of the greatest number) is our standard--and I have to say for myself that I don't see how there could be any other--modernity has been over-all, despite some horrific disasters, a success. Nevertheless, any reasonable person would also have to say that during all this time, but especially the last hundred years, Swift's definition of 'happiness' as "a perpetual possession of being well-deceived" is also correct; or, as George Eliot would say, the possession of being "well wadded with stupidity." ("If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity." MIDDLEMARCH, 1871)

Please don't get me wrong: I am not, like Swift, being ironic or writing satire, nor do I have a different definition of happiness to offer you.

Now, as the price of happiness is on the rise, it seems reasonable to wonder where its pursuit is likely to lead us in the future. And here, by way of an answer, I'd like to give you a poem to read, written about 100 years ago by A. E. Housman:

I to my perils
Of Cheat and Charmer
Came clad in armour
By stars benign.
Hope lies to mortals
And most believe her,
But man's deceiver
Was never mine.

The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting,
Of lovers' meeting
Or luck or fame.
Mine were of trouble,
And mine were steady,
So I was ready
When trouble came.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Happiness According Hobbes

Swift's definition of 'happiness' (as "a perpetual possession of being well-deceived"--along with the final kicker, "the serence, peaceful state of being a fool among knaves") is a carefully considered and crafted response to the following statements on this subject by Hobbes (Leviathan ch. 11, On Manners):

By MANNERS, I mean not here, Decency of behaviour; as how one man should salute another, or how a man should wash his mouth, or pick
his teeth before company, and such other points of the Small Morals;
But those qualities of man-kind, that concern their living together
in Peace, and Unity. To which end we are to consider, that the Felicity
of this life, consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied.
For there is no such Finis Ultimus, (utmost ayme,) nor Summum
Bonum, (greatest good,) as is spoken of in the Books of the old
Morall Philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose Desires
are at an end, than he, whose Senses and Imaginations are at a stand.
Felicity is a continuall progresse of the desire, from one object
to another; the attaining of the former, being still but the way
to the later. The cause whereof is, That the object of mans desire,
is not to enjoy once onely, and for one instant of time; but to
assure for ever, the way of his future desire. And therefore the
voluntary actions, and inclinations of all men, tend, not only to
the procuring, but also to the assuring of a contented life;
and differ onely in the way: which ariseth partly from the diversity
of passions, in divers men; and partly from the difference of
the knowledge, or opinion each one has of the causes, which produce
the effect desired.

So that in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of
all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power,
that ceaseth onely in Death. And the cause of this, is not alwayes
that a man hopes for a more intensive delight, than he has already
attained to; or that he cannot be content with a moderate power:
but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well,
which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.

We need to understand that Hobbes is talking about the way we live NOW, under the conditions of what I am calling 'modernity'--not in some mythical state of pre- or post- political nature in which the rule of law has not yet been invented, or has collapsed (as in one of the increasing number of failed or semi-failed states that are now beginning to appear in various parts if the world). Once people had been liberated from the various strait-jackets of tradition and religious belief, which is what was occurring during the Renaissance and Reformation centuries, they began to exhibit what Hobbes calls a restless desire of power after power. Shakespeare saw it coming and invented Iago, the man from nowhere (like Cormack McCarthy's Antonin Chigurr). Swift thought that maybe Hobbes might have got it right, and wrote the fourth book of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. But long before he had written that book, he had began to think seriously about Hobbes' definition of happiness (or 'felicity')as "a continuall progresse of the desire, from one object
to another; the attaining of the former, being still but the way to the later." Or, in other words, continual success in the endless competition for the good life i.e. the material honors and goods of this life. Such a life, thought Swift, would be a kind of madness, and could only be tolerable if one essentially closed one's eyes and ignored the brutish struggle for power that human life including one's one depended on. Hence Swift's definition of happiness as the perpetual possession of being well deceived.