Santayana and the Deep Dread of Belonging

George Santayana was by nature an outsider – a dissenter. He proclaimed that he never truly belonged anywhere.

Image result for Georges Santayana

Yet he spent a considerable amount of time at Harvard where he studied and taught. He left Harvard and the US, concerned tat it had too deeply embraced utilitarianism and pragmatism, leaving little room for imagination.  He left on good terms but did not return.

That was long ago.  And yet, this comment below shows that our preoccupations have not changed all that much

Whereas turn-of-the-century critics (in 1900) worried that business might take over the entire campus, today the typical student distresses that his choice of major will not be accomodating enough to business.

Did I mention pragmatism as a dominant frame of mind? The key word to describe this is “will”. The American will, which, in Santayana’s frame of reference was in conflict with American gentility. The following captures this contrast

“This division may be found symbolized in American architecture: a neat reproduction of the colonial mansion–with some modern comforts introduced surreptitiously–stands beside the skyscraper. The American Will inhabits the skyscraper; the American Intellect inhabits the colonial mansion…The one is all aggressive enterprise; the other is all genteel tradition.

This is not resolved, and perhaps it never will be. The more interesting topic of conversation is how to describe the appropriate balance between the two.

Any thoughts?




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