On Conscience

conscience

Eventually, peace was going to be built on the distinction between public and private affairs. Conscience had fought with pope and emperor for control of the world. Both had claimed universal rights. When both realized that victory was out of reach, they agreed to divide the spoils. And in so doing they transformed themselves into the shape in which we have known them ever since: a conscience that makes no claims on politics and a politics that makes no claims on conscience. Conscience was recognized, but only as a private voice that had no right to public force, except indirectly, through peaceful debate. Augsburg‘s abstention [in 1555] from settling questions of religion by force was thus kept intact. But it was also made legitimate by a new distinction between politics and religion that had lain beyond the imagination of the sixteenth century. Sovereigns reciprocated by surrendering the rights claimed by their universal predecessors to govern the consciences of their subjects. Religious faith was abandoned as a foundation of the commonwealth. Its place was taken by a faith in the distinction between public and private matters that helped to restore obedience to law…. By means of the distinction between private and public affairs, church and state, morality and positive law, Europe thus managed to build the institutions that brought back peace and then enabled it to extend its reach across the globe — much as by means of the distinction between spiritual office and temporal fief, pope and emperor had managed at an earlier time in European history to divide the world between themselves and put an end to the Investiture Controversy, that high medieval analog to the early modern wars of religion.

– Constantin Fasolt, The Limits of History (2004: 137-8).

Code Switch at Work?

wemmickIn chapter 25 of Great Expectations, we read the following quote from Mr. John Wemmick, the clerk for Miss Havisham’s lawyer, Mr. Jaggers. In response to Pip’s question of whether his boss knows about his home life, where he gently cares for his aged father, Wemmick says:

No; the office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office behind me. If it’s not in any way disagreeable to you, you’ll oblige me by doing the same. I don’t wish it professionally spoken about. Continue reading “Code Switch at Work?”

The Birth of Irony

pubicPut it down to sloppy reading, perhaps, or more likely early-adolescent titillation that causes one to skip ahead, read every third word, and hope that there’s pictures on the next page, but I admit that when I first got the technical specs on “where babies come from” — yes, from a book that my mom gave me and yes, there were tastefully drawn pictures with, wait for it…, anatomic precision — I was puzzled by why it was called “public hair.” Continue reading “The Birth of Irony”

Don’t Fence Me In

georgereevesNeed more data on how interior states and so-called private dispositions are actually products of prior, social, publicly observable and thus contingent situations that can be manipulated? Then have a listen to this recent radio report on how such a seemingly simple thing as posture is linked to research subjects’ reports of feeling powerful and how the way we stand or sit affects our behavior (i.e., people driving more aggressively when sprawled out in a large automobile). Continue reading “Don’t Fence Me In”