Temporizing on the Thames

It is one of the chief distinguishing features of the philistine that he thinks himself, above all things, "openminded." While the converse of this proposition is untrue, modern culture having witnessed an explosion in the doctrinaire varieties of philistinism, it is nevertheless a fact that the trueblue, classic philistine, of the kind described by the Russian word obyvatel', who has passed, without mutation, from the world of Chekhov's short stories into real life on the front pages of the New York Times, has "an open mind." It is his open-mindedness that allows the philistine to mention, with a disarming sincerity, that his club is open to "anyone" ("except, you know, those pushy types"). He cannot be confused with the bigot, whose mind is closed, because the philistine never hears himself; put another way, the bigot is an intellectually superior being, harmless in the overall scheme of cultural existence, because, unlike the philistine, he has the capacity for self-examination. The bigot may be seen as an introspective loner, whose gloomy, rude, or cynical outlook sets him apart from his philistine contemporaries. By contrast, the agenda for the philistine's friendly, chatty openmindedness is set by the fellow members of his club, that is to say, by his milieu.

As in all social and cultural matters, in the domain of literature (our present' concern) the...

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