Moral Imagination

Moral Imagination: Essays

DAVID BROMWICH
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhq7b
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  • Book Info
    Moral Imagination
    Book Description:

    Spanning many historical and literary contexts,Moral Imaginationbrings together a dozen recent essays by one of America's premier cultural critics. David Bromwich explores the importance of imagination and sympathy to suggest how these faculties may illuminate the motives of human action and the reality of justice. These wide-ranging essays address thinkers and topics from Gandhi and Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance, to the dangers of identity politics, to the psychology of the heroes of classic American literature.

    Bromwich demonstrates that moral imagination allows us to judge the right and wrong of actions apart from any benefit to ourselves, and he argues that this ability is an innate individual strength, rather than a socially conditioned habit. Political topics addressed here include Edmund Burke and Richard Price's efforts to define patriotism in the first year of the French Revolution, Abraham Lincoln's principled work of persuasion against slavery in the 1850s, the erosion of privacy in America under the influence of social media, and the use of euphemism to shade and anesthetize reactions to the global war on terror. Throughout, Bromwich considers the relationship between language and power, and the insights language may offer into the corruptions of power.

    Moral Imaginationcaptures the singular voice of one of the most forceful thinkers working in America today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5001-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  4. ONE
    • CHAPTER 1 MORAL IMAGINATION
      (pp. 3-39)

      Morality and imagination have something to do with each other, and both have something to do with the human power of sympathy. Probably most people would grant that much. The difficulty comes when we try to decide how and where to bring morality and imagination together. From the seventeenth century onward,moralsdenotes the realm of duties and obligations, of compulsory and optional approvals and regrets, the rewards and sanctions properly affixed to human action. imagination applies to things or people as they are not now, or are not yet, or are not any more, or to a state of...

    • CHAPTER 2 A DISSENT ON CULTURAL IDENTITY
      (pp. 40-69)

      Hume said that absolute monarchy was “the easiest death, the trueEuthanasia, of the British constitution.” I offer some notes and questions about a line of political apologetics that if pursued far would lead to the euthanasia of liberal society. In the past two decades, an argument first ventured in academic circles, which associates human dignity with cultural identity, has made deep inroads toward acceptance by liberal theorists. The theorists assent to the culturalist argument from a belief that we ought, as a matter of democratic duty or international realism, to widen our support for acts of membership in identity-cultures....

    • CHAPTER 3 THE MEANING OF PATRIOTISM IN 1789
      (pp. 70-88)

      If you look at recent academic discussions about the good and bad energies brought into play by patriotism, you are struck by a certain elusiveness regarding the commitment of the commentators. Patriotism, the love of our country, is sometimes presented as a profound requirement of human nature; yet it is admitted that some people are more urgently moved by patriotism than others, and that the feeling is acquired and not innate. More often, patriotism is treated as a contingent good. The analogy is with religious belief. It is said that good people do not need to believe in God, but...

  5. TWO
    • CHAPTER 4 LINCOLN AND WHITMAN AS REPRESENTATIVE AMERICANS
      (pp. 91-117)

      A way of life like American democracy has no predestined shape, and when we call historical persons representative, because they helped to make us what we are, we generally mean that in their time they were exceptional. Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer, state legislator in illinois, and one-term congressman who became president, and Walter Whitman, a journeyman printer, newspaper editor, and journalist who became a great poet, were extraordinary in what they achieved. They were extraordinary, too, in the marks of personality that they left on their smallest gestures. Yet the thing about both men that strikes an unprejudiced eye on...

    • CHAPTER 5 LINCOLN’S CONSTITUTIONAL NECESSITY
      (pp. 118-159)

      In a time of crisis a political leader may sense that a change is going to happen and say to himself: “It needs someone to make it happen, and I am that person.” The instruments of demography assume that this is a miraculous case, but, well into the twentieth century, it was the normal process by which the mind of a gifted leader worked upon the elusive medium of public life.

      And all sway forward on the dangerous flood

      Of history, that never sleeps or dies,

      And, held one moment, burns the hand.

      When we look at political change in...

    • CHAPTER 6 SHAKESPEARE, LINCOLN, AND AMBITION
      (pp. 160-180)

      To begin with the largest relevant facts: we know that Lincoln as president went often to theater, and we know, from the density of quotations and allusions in his speeches and from the testimony of others, that he had read deeply in the Bible. We might well suppose on similar evidence that his interest in shakespeare had been strong for much of his life. Yet the only hard evidence of any depth about Lincoln and shakespeare comes from a letter he wrote in the middle of the civil War, about six weeks after Gettysburg.

      Lincoln had received the gift of...

  6. THREE
    • CHAPTER 7 THE AMERICAN PSYCHOSIS
      (pp. 183-221)

      If you have ever looked into the psychologists who wrote a generation before Freud, you will know that psychosis did not always mean a state of clinical derangement. In the writings of William James and others, it often denoted an intense or crystallized mood, a mental state that defines a character or that just takes hold of the mind for a time. The quality of this mood or state or moral cocoon is to be impervious and self-contained. That is the connection with our later meaning. I found the phrase “the American psychosis” in Hart crane’s essay “Modern Poetry”: “The...

    • CHAPTER 8 HOW PUBLICITY MAKES PEOPLE REAL
      (pp. 222-249)

      What follows is a reminder of the value of certain experiences, or rather a way of regarding experience. The value sometimes went by the name of privacy, and the destruction of privacy is the great collective project of our time. All the dominant tendencies of mind and society abet this project: the general and unquenchable optimism of American life; the promise that technologies of the self can render us transparent to each other (with the unspoken assumption that this is to be desired); the intuition that the one thing more precious than human thoughts and feelings is the acquired ability...

    • CHAPTER 9 THE SELF-DECEPTIONS OF EMPIRE
      (pp. 250-270)

      “Nations,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “will always find it more difficult than individuals to behold the beam that is in their own eye while they observe the mote that is in their brother’s eye; and individuals find it difficult enough.” The last six words crystallize the thought. Niebuhr’s political writings are an exhortation—part history, part criticism, part sermon—to hold nations as closely as possible to the individual standard; to make them recognize that even when they oppose a great evil, what they themselves embody still includes much evil. All of the good that a nation can do by violence...

  7. FOUR
    • CHAPTER 10 WHAT IS THE WEST?
      (pp. 273-286)

      Civilization was once a popular subject. Will and Ariel Durant’sStory of Civilization, published between 1935 and 1975, told the history of the arts and sciences and the major events of political history from “Our Oriental Heritage” through “The Age of Napoleon.” Sir Kenneth Clark’sCivilisationwas a memorable TV documentary, aired in 1969 in thirteen parts, which guided viewers to monuments of art, architecture, and philosophy from the Dark Ages to the “heroic materialism” of the mid-twentieth century. Clark made a book out of the show, but the appeal of the series lay in the combination of spoken words...

    • CHAPTER 11 HOLY TERROR AND CIVILIZED TERROR
      (pp. 287-303)

      The first and often the only thing one knows about a suicide bomber is that he is someone with more to die for than to live for. That such a person would make use of his own readiness to suffer quickly, horribly, and finally, is not a recent development in the history of nations. Nor does it exhibit a peculiarly modern form of evil. Terrorism, the murder of persons of no political or military status in order to achieve a political end, goes back at least to the Shia assassins of the twelfth century, and probably further back than that....

    • CHAPTER 12 COMMENTS ON PERPETUAL WAR
      (pp. 304-344)

      Midway through theFrontlinedocumentaryCheney’s Law, which aired last Tuesday on PBS, a journalist, Ron Suskind, paraphrases a judgment the vice president in his hiding place conveyed to listeners during the hours after the attacks of September 11.We will probably, Cheney is reported as saying in other words,have to be a country ruled by men rather than laws in this period. The credibility of the report is vouched for by everything we have seen since 2001. “This period” (he implied) would last a long time; so the conclusion had all of the Cheney markings: cool, complete, defying...

  8. INDEX
    (pp. 345-350)