Editor's comment

Walter Lippman was a distinguished critic of American political and social life in the first part of the last century. The view he expresses in this excerpt reflect the disillusionment and underlying pessimism many people feel with a modern materialistic civilization. In times of peace and security,
many people drift through life, surrounded and diverted by the goods of society but with the nagging sense that something is missing. He offers a suggestion.

Lippman, Walter A Preface to Morals, The Macmillan Co. 1929, New York [300 words]— modern discontent

In our modern rich culture there are likely to be moments of blank misgiving in which a person finds that the civilization of which one is a part leaves a dusty taste in the mouth.

A person may be very busy with many things, but discovers one day that they may no longer feel to be worth doing… People get involved in an elaborate routine of pleasures that do not seem to amuse very much. Such a person finds it hard to believe that doing any one thing is better than doing any other thing, or, in fact, that it is better than doing nothing at all.

It is possible for multitudes of people in time of peace and security to exist agreeably – somewhat incoherently, perhaps, but without convulsions - to dream a little and not unpleasantly, to have only now and then a nightmare, and only occasionally a rude awakening.

It is possible to drift along not too discontentedly, somewhat nervously, somewhat anxiously, somewhat confusedly, hoping for the best, and believing in nothing very much. It is possible to be a passable citizen.

But it is not possible to be wholly at peace. For serenity of soul requires some better organization of life than a person can attain by pursuing one’s casual ambitions, satisfying one’s hunger and for the rest accepting destiny as an idiot’s tale in which one dumb sensation succeeds another to no known end. But it is not possible for such a person to be wholly alive. For that depends upon one’s sense of being completely engaged with the world, with all one’s passions and all one’s faculties in rich harmonies with one another, and in deep rhythm with the nature of things.