wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Cesar Grana

Bohemian Versus Bourgeois

Romantic literature glorified strong passions, unique emotions, and special deeds. It despised normalcy, foresight, concern with customary affairs, and attention to feasible goals—everything of which the middle class was a daily example. Marx praised the bourgeoisie for its power to objectify the world. Literary men decried it for the same reason, seeing in this power a chill, analytical obsessiveness which would destroy the integrity of human experience, not only intellectually but psychologically. Romantic philosophers warned against the spirit of measurement because of what it did to human knowledge, splitting it into isolated parts.

The aesthetic rebels pointed to what it did to the human personality by draining it of stature and vitality for the sake of quantitative gain. The bourgeoisie represented ambition without passion, possessiveness without depth of desire, power without grandeur, everything that was spiritually paltry and anti-vital, everything that was inadequate and pettily self-protective, in a psychological and even a biological way. Greed was bourgeois, but so were carpet slippers and head colds.

From different moral and intellectual beginnings the two streams of anti-bourgeois agitation naturally came to different views of social action. The political writers—Marxists, Proudhonians, Saint-Simonians, Fourierists—concerned themselves with a social response to bourgeois rule which was conceived as a power counterthrust to power. These men applauded the material benefits made possible by bourgeois economic enterprise, but demanded an end to the new forms of injustice inaugurated by it. The literary rebels, on the other hand, were interested in the rights of the few. Their claims were made in the name of obeisance to taste, beauty, and the sovereignty of special intelligence and creative power. They did not, as we shall see, criticize the bourgeoisie so much for its heartlessness as for its vulgarity and the insignificance of its life aims. From such a 'spiritual' point of view it often appeared to literary men that the only important difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was the capacity of the first to exploit the second. Aside from this the two seemed one in their common devotion to material gratifications. In other words, the literary rebels were individualistic without being democratic, just as they tended to be esoteric and pessimistic; socialists and reformists, of course, tended to be progressive, scientific, and optimistic. Seeing themselves as a small, embattled company of select spirits in the midst of a massive onslaught of materialistic grasping, the literary men became self-conscious, easily threatened, and almost unappeasable in their intellectual fastidiousness. But it would be wrong to say that they had no view of the social order or the proper society. They did. It was that of a hierarchical world resting on the discipline established by reverence to intelligence and to the spiritual poise and aesthetic and moral superiority of a new aristocracy—themselves.