Vol. 8 No. 2 1941 - page 132

human tragedy or dignity, and their importance to their contem–
poraries. It was exactly this tension that spurred writers like Dos
Passos, Hemingway, Barbusse, and Remarque to look into the
shams and subterfuges of their age-its rabid nationalisms, its
political violence, its fake gospels and calculated stupidities-in
order to determine how much truth these represented, how far they
were victimizing human lives and class rights through false prom–
ises of democratic salvation and abstract utopian ideals, and how
far they were drugging the public intelligence into accepting politi·
cal wars and the bait of sublime destinies as a substitute for real·
istic thinking and humane justice. The strain induced, true enough,
a great deal of raw egotism and reckless disillusionment in the
post-War generation; it led to some derangement and a great moral
_blight. But it also stimulated what is absolutely necessary to a
period like ours; more necessary than ever at the present moment,
when stupefying feats of mass-perversion and gospel-mongering in
Europe seem to call for counterblasts of equal frenzy. It stimu–
lated a profound critical alertness to public values and supra-per–
sonal standards, and an extreme suspicion of their professional
the present moment in history is to be saved beyond the
desperate necessities of its immediate peril, it will be saved exactly
through the operation of such a critical faculty in men, classes, and
nations. The moment is primed, however, for the opposite kind of
salvation-through appeals to race, blood, and religious hatred,
through contempt for intellect and thought as symptoms of the effete
and decadent evils of the human species. Europe is smoking with
the fires of this salvation. But to Mr. MacLeish the critical sense
has always been suspect. He has railed against its use in literature;
he has scoffed at "the pomposities of the critical canon" ;'
he has
said that "there is more hope for poetry in the ignorance of the
newspaper notices than in most of the criticism which comes out of
the high-brow reviews" ;'
and now, in his defense of the mystic
"Word," he implies that the critical skepticism of the young gen·
eration, who have fed on the perversions of truth supplied in the
novels of their elders, has gone so far in resisting spellbinding
slogans and rabble-rousings that they are made impotent by "dis–
trust not only of all slogans and all tags, but even of all words ...
all statements of principle and conviction, all declarations of moral
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