The Intense

We’ve been talking about passion, commitment, feeling, grievance, sincerity – about the whole idea that intensity of feeling is some sort of index of validity. Eve Garrard put it clearly: ‘do you think that one possible reason why Eagleton and (many) others are so impressed by the passion and commitment of suicide bombers, and think it must be in the service of justice and freedom, is some deep underlying moral subjectivism, ie the belief that moral claims just are validated by the sincerity and passion with which they’re held?’ I do think that, along with thinking that most people who hold that belief don’t hold it with full awareness. That it’s perhaps not so much a belief (properly so called) as a vague association, an absent-minded linkage. I’m not at all sure of that. I’m also not at all sure if that’s a charitable reading, or on the contrary an uncharitable reading that rests on the thought that people who believe anything so damn silly are the kind of people who don’t examine their beliefs carefully enough to have beliefs properly so-called.

At any rate, it all reminded me of what Mill said about his father.

For passionate
emotions of all sorts, and for everything which bas been said or
written in exaltation of them, he professed the greatest contempt.
He regarded them as a form of madness. “The intense” was with him a
bye-word of scornful disapprobation. He regarded as an aberration of
the moral standard of modern times, compared with that of the ancients,
the great stress laid upon feeling. Feelings, as such, he considered
to be no proper subjects of praise or blame.

Also of a remark of Hume’s in a letter.

For the purposes of life and conduct, and society, a little good sense is surely better than all this genius, and a little good humour than this extreme sensibility.

And Yeats’ familiar line ‘the worst are full of passionate intensity.’

Arguing (or at least speaking) for the other side, there is Keats’ ‘the excellence of every art is in intensity’. But then he was talking about art, not political thought.

This is also the argument between Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility – the novel, not the fillum. Marianne would be a suicide bomber. And yet – she has her good qualities. Intensity and passion do have their good qualities. But – ah well. Just ‘but,’ that’s all.

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