“penned at the peak of WWII”


 

Our task

as [humans] is to find

the few principles that will calm the

infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend

what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable

again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness

a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by

the misery of the century. Naturally, it is

a superhuman task. But superhuman

is the term for tasks [we] take

a long time to accomplish,

that’s all.

 

Let us

know our aims then,

holding fast to the mind, even if

force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable

face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to

despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim

that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily,

and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have

been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic

times. But too many people confuse tragedy with

despair. “Tragedy,” [D.H.] Lawrence said,

“ought to be a great kick at misery.”

This is a healthy and immediately

applicable thought. There are

many things today

deserving such

a kick.

 

If we are

to save the mind we must

ignore its gloomy virtues and celebrate

its strength and wonder. Our world is poisoned

by its misery, and seems to wallow in it. It has utterly

surrendered to that evil which Nietzsche called

the spirit of heaviness. Let us not add to this.

It is futile to weep over the mind,

it is enough to labor

for it. 

 

But where

are the conquering virtues

of the mind? The same Nietzsche listed

them as mortal enemies to heaviness of the spirit.

For him, they are strength of character, taste, the “world,”

classical happiness, severe pride, the cold frugality of

the wise. More than ever, these virtues are

necessary today, and each of us can

choose the one that suits

him best.

 

Before the

vastness of the undertaking,

let no one forget strength of character.

I don’t mean the theatrical kind on political

platforms, complete with frowns and threatening

gestures. But the kind that through the virtue of its purity

and its sap, stands up to all the winds that blow in

from the sea. Such is the strength of character

that in the winter of the world

will prepare the

fruit.

 

Albert Camus