No Comment, Quotation — January 19, 2008, 12:00 am

Forster’s Aristocracy

georg_friedrich_kersting_002

I believe in aristocracy. . . — if that is the right word, and
if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon
rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all
nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret
understanding between them when they meet. They represent
the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer
race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in
obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others
as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being
fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and
they can take a joke. I give no examples — it is risky to do that —
but the reader may as well consider whether this is the type of
person he would like to meet and to be, and whether (going
further with me) he would prefer that this type should not be an
ascetic one. I am against asceticism myself. I am with the old
Scotsman who wanted less chastity and more delicacy. I do not
feel that my aristocrats are a real aristocracy if they thwart their
bodies, since bodies are the instruments through which we
register and enjoy the world. Still, I do not insist. This is not a
major point. It is clearly possible to be sensitive, considerate and
plucky and yet be an ascetic too, and if anyone possesses the first
three qualities I will let him in! On they go — an invincible army,
yet not a victorious one. The aristocrats, the elect, the chosen,
the Best People — all the words that describe them are false, and
all attempts to organize them fail. Again and again Authority,
seeing their value, has tried to net them and to utilize them as the
Egyptian Priesthood or the Christian Church or the Chinese
Civil Service or the Group Movement, or some other worthy
stunt. But they slip through the net and are gone; when the door
is shut, they are no longer in the room; their temple, as one of
them remarked, is the holiness of the Heart’s affections, and their
kingdom, though they never possess it, is the wide-open world.

Edward Morgan Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, “What I Believe” (1951)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer
Article
The Test of Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“One by one his books dismantle the idea that art consoles, that art contains truths, that art expresses the soul. He insists on the artificiality and createdness of his narratives.”
Article
Saving the Whale, Again·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“While the other Wall Street behemoths are currently tapering their derivatives trading, Citi has been expanding its own.”
Illustration by Ross MacDonald
[Browsings]
On Broadway·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph by the author

Chance that an American would give up at least one week of life to avoid taking a pill every day:

1 in 3

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A pair of Russian film directors asked President Vladimir Putin to invest $18 million in a new restaurant chain intended to drive McDonald’s out of the Russian market. “Every project these days,” a Russian television personality said of the proposal, “must be smothered in patriotic sauce.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today