Greatness versus Hedonism: The Fundamental Alternatives? Email exchange
On Fri, Feb 11, 2022 Peter Schultz wrote:
We seem to keep running into hedonism as we read. Here’s another thought on that: Isn’t that what Jane Austen’s magic, romance is about? Romantic or passionate relationships are hedonistic and, hence, superior to and supplement what are basically utilitarian or socially approved/socially useful relationships, which as utilitarian or socially useful are not pleasurable or hedonistic. Romantic relationships are, unlike their utilitarian alternatives, pleasant or pleasurable and justified on those grounds. [Tom Robbins: a key question: How to make love stay? Over time, some marriages move from being romantic to being utilitarian, perhaps influenced in part by the birth of children, the progress of careers, or the buying of houses, etc., etc., etc.]
And isn’t that the justification for Pangle’s defense of the superiority of the arts, of music, of poetry [and perhaps of Aristotle’s focus on music in his educational scheme]? That is, certain activities are pleasurable without being socially useful, which would explain why play is superior to business [or why we say “we play music” but we don’t say “we play business”]. [Tom Robbins: No one ever ran off to join McDonalds, although many have run off to join the circus. Graeber: the sadomasochism that is built into the corporate world is savagary, unlike staged or playful sadomasochism.]
Further, politics is a threat to and threatened by hedonism, even or especially thoughtful hedonism because the thumotic is the enemy of the erotic, because erotic activities are pleasurable, whereas thumotic activities are not. Not even tyrants, or perhaps not especially tyrants live pleasurable lives - hence, the need for bodyguards. Tyranny and the life of tyrants reveal the true character of the political life.
The Crown is illustrating the same thing about monarchies and monarchs. The monarchy requires that the queen give up most of her pleasures and her erotic relationships, that is, those with her husband, her sister, and even her son. And Charles’s erotic relationship with Diana didn’t stand a chance of continuing. And insofar as Diana was erotic, she didn’t stand a chance of surviving either. [Also, I just remembered, one monarch had to give up the throne to marry his love, Mrs. Simpson.]
In "The Heredity Principle," Princess Margaret confronts Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother with her discovery of the appalling secret of the institutional abuse, neglect, and trauma of estranged relatives of the Royal Family. As Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother justifies the abuse, the neglect, and the trauma, she cites the abdication of David, Duke Of Windsor, causing Princess Margaret to exclaim: "No! Not everything that is wrong with this family can be explained away by the abdication."
What makes your thought really interesting is that Princess Margaret may be wrong, that everything that is wrong with the Royal Family may be explainable by the abdication.
I thank you for this thought.
Princess Margaret: Five. Five, Mummy! Five members
of our close family locked up and neglected!
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: What do you expect us to do?
Princess Margaret: Behave like human beings.
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: Don't be so naive. We had no choice.
Princess Margaret: They're your nieces. Daughters of your favorite brother!
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: They were unwell. Aunt Fenella was overwhelmed. And then the way things suddenly changed for all of us, none of us could have foreseen it.
Princess Margaret: It? What's it?
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: Well, the abdication-
Princess Margaret: No! Not everything that is wrong with this family can be explained away by the abdication.
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: Well, the abdication did change everything. You were too young to understand. Everything. It's complicated.
Princess Margaret: No, it's not! It's wicked, and it's cold-hearted, and it's cruel. And it's entirely in keeping with the ruthlessness I myself have experienced in this family. If you're not first in line, if you're an individual character with individual needs, and God forbid an irregular temperament...If you don't fit the perfect mold of...silent, dutiful supplication, then you'll be spat out, or you'll be hidden away, or, worse, declared dead! Darwin had nothing on you lot. Shame on all of you.
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: Margaret-
Princess Margaret: No.
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: Margaret!
I wrote in response:
Well, it’s not just the abdication that explains things. It’s what explains the abdication that is crucial. The issue is hedonism. When Margaret says she expects her relatives to “behave like human beings,” she’s equating acting like human beings with being hedonistic. The best human beings are hedonistic. It is in the pursuit of pleasure that human beings become fully human, when playing, when loving, when caring, when enjoying the arts and its creations. Everything else is, ultimately, “wicked, cold-hearted, cruel, and ruthless.” Even moral virtue.
Margaret is right: The abdication didn’t change everything or anything, actually. It merely reflected the inhumanity of the monarchy and its monarchs, which is to say it reflected the inhumanity of the political life, in all its forms, whether democratic, aristocratic, oligarchic, and even republican [as Pangle argues Montesquieu knew and even Aristotle knew as his best regime includes slavery, not natural slavery but unjustified slavery]. The political life is “wicked, cold-hearted, cruel, and ruthless,” which Machiavelli thought needed to be made clear in order to make it less wicked, cold-hearted, cruel, and ruthless because its wickedness, its cold-heartedness, its cruelty, its ruthlessness was disguised in his day as the revealed will of God via Christianity. And, if so, this means that the regime Machiavelli was facing was even more wicked, more cold-hearted, more cruel, more ruthless than what existed during the ancient Roman republic. But “the glory that was Rome” was, for Machiavelli, really just wickedness, cold-heartedness, cruelty, and ruthlessness - you know, like American greatness itself. In reality, that’s what greatness is, wickedness, cold-heartedness, cruelty, and ruthlessness.
The alternative to greatness isn’t goodness. It’s hedonism.