where the extremes meet

The German optimist believes that God created the actual world as the best of all possible worlds. The German pessimist is certain that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds.

The Russian pessimist believes that the world is so bad that it couldn’t get any worse. The Russian optimist is certain that everything can — and will — get worse.

The American optimist invests in the world-wide march of democracy. The American pessimist arms against democracy poised to trample his inalienable rights. They are both right.

exalter l’individu si rabaissé par la démocrasserie


Flaubert par Nadar, 1865, Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen
Page 191, « Plus tard les peintres feront mieux, mais ils seront moins originaux ! » En êtes-vous sûr ? — « Ils iront plus loin. » Eh bien, alors, qu’importe le reste ! Le principal, il me semble, c’est d’aller loin. Je vous sais gré d’exalter l’individu si rabaissé de nos jours par la démocrasserie. Mais il y a quelque chose au-dessus de lui. C’est l’idée qu’il se fait de l’ensemble des choses et la manière de l’exprimer, laquelle est une Création égale, sinon supérieure, à celle de la nature. Encore une fois (et c’est là mon sujet de dissentiment entre nous) vous ne tenez pas assez compte de l’Art en soi, qui est, cependant.
Page 191, “Later on painters will do better, but they will be less original!” Are you sure of that? — “They will go further.” Well then, what matters the rest! The key, it seems to me, is to go further. I am grateful to you for exalting the individual so degraded today by democrassery. But there is something above him. That’s the conception that he forms of things in their entirety and the way of expressing it, which is a Creation equal, if not superior, to that of nature. Once again (and here is the crux of disagreement between us) you do not pay enough attention to Art in itself, which exists, nonetheless.

— Gustave Flaubert, lettre à Hippolyte Taine, 5? November 1866,
Correspondance, Vol. III, Gallimard, 1991, p. 548

aristotle and montesquieu on virtue in a democracy

Adam Smith introduces the key term in our study in style:[1]

Virtue, according to Aristotle, consists in the habit of mediocrity according to right reason. Every particular virtue, according to him, lies in a kind of middle between two opposite vices, of which the one offends from being too much, the other from being too little affected by a particular species of objects. Thus the virtue of fortitude or courage lies in the middle between the opposite vices of cowardice and of presumptuous rashness, of which the one offends from being too much, and the other from being too little affected by the objects of fear. Thus too the virtue of frugality lies in a middle between avarice and profusion, of which the one consists in an excess, the other in a defect of the proper attention to the objects of self-interest. Magnanimity, in the same manner, lies in a middle between the excess of arrogance and the defect of pusillanimity, of which the one consists in too extravagant, the other in too weak a sentiment of our own worth and dignity.

Today, we explain the ethical doctrines of Aristotle in different terms. Continue reading aristotle and montesquieu on virtue in a democracy