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Warren on Goodness from Badness


“Goodness. Yeah, just plain, simple goodness. Well you can’t inherit that from anybody. You got to make it, Doc. If you want it. And you got to make it out of badness. Badness. And you know why, Doc?” He raised his bulk up in the broken-down wreck of an overstuffed chair he was in, and learned forward, his hands on his knees, his elbows cocked out, his head out-thrust and the hair coming down to his eyes, and stared into Adam’s face. “Out of badness,” he repeated. “And you know why? Because there isn’t anything else to make it out of.” Then, sinking back into the wreck, he asked softly, “Did you know that, Doc?”

Adam wet his lips and said, “There is only one question I should like to ask you. It is this. If, as you say, there is only the bad to start with, and the good must be made from the bad, then how do you recognize the good? Assuming you have made it from the bad. Answer me that.”

“Easy, Doc, easy,” the Boss said. . . “You just make it up as you go along. . . What the hell else do you think folks been doing for a million years, Doc? . . . Now an individual, one fellow, he will stop doing business because he’s got a notion of what is right, and he is a hero. But folks in general, which is society, Doc, is never going to stop doing business. Society is just going to cook up a new notion of what is right. Society is sure not ever going to commit suicide. At least, not that way and of a purpose. And that this a fact. Now ain’t it?”

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men, pp. 386-87 (1946)(Willie Stark to Adam Stanton)

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