Speak the Word Only

Modern man often seems ill at ease. It is as if the world has been broken and the human community shattered into millions of charged particles, attracting or repelling each other in their chance meetings. Some such notion has threatened many of the best (and second best) minds of the past two centuries. For Hegelians, Marxians, and Freudians (among others), the operative concept has been some version of "alienation," estrangement from others and the world and even one's self to the point that a man looks upon his very life as only a means to an end that has little to do with himself. Enemies of our civilization, like Fromm and Marcuse, have used "alienation" as weapons in their war against bourgeois society, but the sense of horror is not confined to the radical leadership of the Frankfurt school. Robert Nisbet, both in The Sociological Tradition and in The Quest for Community, has identified something very similar as one of the recurrent themes of conservative thought. Social and spiritual estrangement is touched upon in the most moving passages of T.S. Eliot—I think especially of Ash Wednesday. Hart Crane, in one of his most perplexing and ecstatic poems ("The Broken Tower") interrupts his celebration of bells to say.

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know...

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