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The Cold Death of Society

The following is excerpted from a paper written by Dorothy L. Sayers about Dante’s Divine Comedy. The paper was written 60 years ago, but her description of the decay of Western Civilization is very poignant.

That the Inferno is a picture of human society in a state of sin and corruption, everybody will readily agree. And since we are to-day fairly well convinced that society is in a bad way and not necessarily evolving in the direction of perfectibility, we find it easy enough to recognise the various stages by which the deep of corruption is reached. Futility; lack of a living faith; the drift into loose morality, greedy consumption, financial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility, and lack of reverence for life and property including one’s own; the exploitation of sex, the debasing of language by advertisement and propaganda, the commercialising of religion, the pandering to superstition and the conditioning of people’s minds by mass-hysteria and “spell-binding” of all kinds, venality and string-pulling in public affairs, hypocrisy, dishonesty in material things, intellectual dishonesty, the fomenting of discord (class against class, nation against nation) for what one can get out of it, the falsification and destruction of all the means of communication; the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest mass-emotions; treachery even to the fundamentals of kinship, country, the chosen friend, and the sworn allegiance: these are the all-too recognisable stages that lead to the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilised relations.


1 Gail { 09.03.14 at 7:59 am }

Where are our farsighted people of today? Or have we become so inured to those who are saying the same things today as Sayer (apropo name) did 60 years ago that we do not hear? Or do we feel that any action we take will be futile? What a bleak picture she painted but it looks like a mirror facing us.


Martin Reply:

To have farsighted people today, we need to have raised children who cared about more than the almighty dollar and who were smart enough not to fall into the “do whatever you like as long as it doesn’t affect me.”

Culture – or lack thereof – has consequences. I am beginning to grasp what C.S. Lewis was talking about in The Abolition of Man. Some things are inherently worthy of praise and appreciation and other things aren’t.


2 Gail { 09.03.14 at 8:14 am }
3 Jeff Edelman { 09.03.14 at 8:17 pm }

Unfortunately, the conditions Sayer describes 60 years ago weren’t new then.


4 Gail { 09.04.14 at 8:16 am }

You are correct Jeff. If we keep going back historically we see the same sorts of actions and conditions, no matter when or where. Perhaps it is a condition of being human. But at least we can aspire to something better. It just does not seem, at least now, that most have no such aspirations. We must be in a trough rather than a crest.


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