Monday, July 12, 2010

Liberalism, how chic!

I started re-reading Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' to relax after work today, and I came across these two paragraphs which I think properly shows today's political and cultural liberalism; nice to see how much people have truly progressed! Oblonsky is the the brother of Anna. He has been caught having an affair with his children's French nanny and is in hot water with his wife Dolly. He has thus been sleeping in his study, and is now reading his morning paper...

"At the same time he unfolded the still damp paper, and began reading. Oblonsky subscribed to and read a Liberal paper – not an extreme Liberal paper but one that expressed the opinions of the majority. And although neither science, art, nor politics specially interested him, he firmly held to the opinions of the majority and of his paper on those subjects, changing his views when the majority changed theirs, – or rather, not changing them – they changed imperceptibly of their own accord.

Oblonsky’s tendency and opinions were not his by deliberate choice: they came of themselves, just as he did not chose the fashion of his hats or coats but wore those of the current style. Living in a certain social set, and having a desire, such as generally develops with maturity, for some kind of mental activity, he was obliged to hold views, just as he was obliged to have a hat. If he had a reason for preferring Liberalism to the Conservatism of many in his set, it was not that he considered Liberalism more reasonable, but because it suited his manner of life better. The Liberal Party maintained that everything in Russia was bad, and it was a fact that Oblonsky had many debts and decidedly too little money. The Liberal Party said that marriage was an obsolete institution which ought to be reformed; and family life really gave Oblonsky very little pleasure, forcing him to tell lies and dissemble, which was quite contrary to his nature. The Liberal Party said, or rather hinted, that religion was only good as a check on the more barbarous portion of the population; and Oblonsky really could not stand through even a short church service without pain in his feet, nor understand why one should use all that dreadful high-flown language about another world while one can live so merrily in this one. Besides, Oblonsky was fond of a pleasant joke, and sometimes liked to perplex a simple-minded man by observing that if you’re going to be proud of your ancestry, why stop short at Prince Rurik and repudiate your oldest ancestor – the ape?"

Quite telling, I think. Literature is some of the best social commentary and criticism, transcending time and place with the universals even when in the particular.

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