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The Unsafe Feminist: Rebecca West and the ‘Bitter Rapture’ of Truth

In an era when indulgent university administrators and professors treat students like spoiled children, one longs for intellectuals who address their audience as adults. The British novelist, biographer, literary critic, travel writer and political commentator Rebecca West (1892-1983) is the tonic we need. Like other great authors of the 20th century—including George Orwell and Doris Lessing—West never received a university education. That may help explain her intellectual non-conformism and free-wheeling spirit.

West brushed against orthodoxy like barbed wire against chiffon. She was a suffragist who rejected pacifism in the First World War (and the Second); a leftist who fought communism; an internationalist who spoke up for small nations; an individualist who valued authority and tradition. West never crouched in one position. She was unflinchingly realistic. Human conflict, she said, is inescapable. It is as much a feature of art as it is of states. Eros, too, creates antagonism, for sex is dangerous. Yet human co-operation is ubiquitous. Women and men need each other, and can and do love each other. A feminism that treats women as if they were vulnerable children, and that blames a man for a woman’s own irresponsibility, was seen by West as absurd. Needless to say, her attitude to life is as far from the nursery-school feminism of today’s university—smothering, alarmist, bureaucratic—as it is possible to be.

Freedom carries obligations, West believed—the first of which is to grow up. “I believe in liberty,” she declared in a 1952 credo, particularly the liberty of a person to “be able to say and do what he wishes and what is within his power.” Because every individual is unique, each person “must know some things which are known to nobody else.” The transmission of such knowledge, which “could not be learned from any other source,” requires a space in which people are able to speak their minds.

The contrast between a state of innocence and a mature comprehension of life’s intractable demands (the “hard task of being adult,” as she put it in her 1931 book Ending in Earnest) is central to Rebecca West’s philosophy. We do not expect children to be active in politics; we protect children from politics. Nor do we consider adults who behave like children to be competent human agents. Maturity is the sine qua non of liberty because a pluralist society, unlike an authoritarian one, requires actors of independent mind who can draw a distinction between their civic responsibilities and private sentiments, who are sufficiently restrained to care for the world even as they pursue their own pleasures, and who are willing to take on onerous public burdens. Like great art, the liberal pursuit of freedom demands intelligence and discernment—a readiness “to test the veracity” of fantasies that all of us harbor to some degree and to evaluate “their importance in the light of the intellect.”

Maturity is evidenced, in short, where individuals embrace the “bitter rapture which attends the discovery of any truth,” and where they would rather be disconsolate in “communion with reality” than comforted by orthodoxy. West’s thesis is reminiscent of German social scientist Max Weber’s belief that a politics of responsibility requires “realistic passion.” What marks a mature person (ein reifer Mensch), Weber wrote in Politics as a Vocation (1919), is an attitude of principled realism enabling one to bear the perversity of the world without succumbing to cynicism.

The threat of regression to a childlike state was a recurring topic in West’s work. We see its first appearance in her 1918 novel, The Return of the Soldier , which centered on a shell-shocked infantryman’s retreat into bygone comforts, at the expense of those around him. Infantilism is a more apt term than “immaturity” here, because it implies not just a lack of emotional development, but a stubborn longing to remain childlike or return to a childlike state. While immaturity is merely pathetic, infantilism is twisted. During West’s lifetime, it encompassed several distinct forms.

The first was a male mode of dependency brought about by economic ruin. Mass unemployment during the Depression years pushed many families to the edge of destitution, but some were fortunate to contain women—wives and mothers—whose talents equipped them to work in industries less affected by the general collapse (a situation that some may recognize in today’s economy). Reason alone would suggest that men fortunate to live with provident women would have cause to be happy. But many such men were not happy at all: “Some fell into infantilism and wanted to remain in a permanent state of dependence.” Others “formed a deep feeling of resentment against their wives, which was sometimes so intense that it led to divorce.” Where a man loses his sense of virility, he will either renounce it forever and regress to the state of a child; or he will affirm virility in a twisted form, and insist that men are harmed when their superiority over women is impaired.

If the first form of infantilism postulated by West is reactive, being occasioned by economic breakdown, the second form is purposive—a deliberate, antinomian and transgressive assault on moral decency. The phenomenon was epitomized by novelist André Gide, author of such works as Isabelle, The Immoralist and The Counterfeiters. Gide’s contempt for women, deemed the cause of much of men’s wretchedness (and his interest in violent children) reflects the displacement of an infantile neurosis by which pleasure and joy are conceived as objects of guilt: If women bring pleasure, they must be hateful. West construes this unspoken connection as the root of Gide’s homosexuality

Gide’s infantilism reveals itself in a morbid attraction to cruelty—l’acte gratuit—as in Les Caves du Vatican, in which the hero brutalizes an old man on a train for no real reason. Dostoevsky also dwelled on such depravity. But whereas the Russian moralist saw it as a troubling form of modern behavior, Gide luxuriated in its nihilism. Such glee, West says, reflects “the child’s sense that in making this discovery it is breaking a command laid on it by an adult world.” This was but a component of Gide’s larger cachet in literary circles, which was based on his expression of a deep-seated desire “to stay infantile instead of becoming an adult.”

By West’s analysis, this is not only perverse; it is also sinister. For l’acte gatuit over which Gide “licks his lips” is “the very converse of goodness, which must be stable, since it is a response to the fundamental needs of mankind, which themselves are stable.”

As an act of rebellion against the adult world, l’acte gratuit has one evident limit: The gratification of such impulses must be haphazard, because each individual will find cruelty enjoyable in his own way. For rebellion to become a collective act, it must be animated by something more than idiosyncratic forms of lashing out. It needs an ideology, and a cohesive justification for rebellion. Among Western intellectuals, communism provided that cohesive justification. West’s theory about communism’s allure to the Western literati is too large a topic to be examined here in detail. But she traced one element of communism to the dissatisfaction felt by children toward their parents.

West found a useful case study in Britain, where communism took root within the socialist gradualism associated with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the Fabian Society they championed, the London School of Economics (Fabianism’s intellectual nerve center), and the debunking satire of (among others) H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. This group aimed at social improvement and the betterment of the working class. Its message appealed to civil servants, teachers, doctors and lawyers who sought to reform local government along democratic socialist lines, upgrade working standards, improve housing, education and the prison system, and, in tandem with the trade-union movement, provide British workers with a decent standard of living.

West’s appraisal of the Fabian movement is double edged. Fabian policies often struck her as sensible, humane, overdue and, especially in regard to local government and penal policy, effective. (The National Health Service, established in 1948, is due in no small part to earlier Fabian efforts.) But as Fabianism evolved, its authoritarian and bureaucratic overtones became more evident. The Webbs, in particular, were early enthusiasts of Bolshevism. The circle they assembled around them, being well off and well known, produced a sort of aristocratic socialism that was corrosive of all authority besides its own.

Fabian children received an education in contempt. As West observed in a 1945 article for Time and Tide: “The foundation of their [Fabian parents’] creed was the assumption that there was nothing in the existing structure of society which did not deserve to be razed to the ground, and that all would be well if it were replaced by something as different as possible. They were to do it quietly, of course; but the replacement was to be absolute. To them the past was of value only in so far as it gave indications of how to annul the present and create a future which had no relation to it.”

In volumes lying around the houses of the privileged socialist set, “the values of our [British] traditional culture made their last stand and bled and died, all except altruism and truthfulness and austerity” (on which Bernard Shaw and his close associates claimed a monopoly). The idea of loyalty to the Crown or of fighting for one’s country was laughable to these aristocratic intellectuals because Britain was, after all, a ridiculous country when it was not simply malignant. West would be appalled, but not particularly surprised, at the current predilection among intellectuals to expand this antipathy to Western civilization in general.

Afforded ample material comfort and an expensive education, West noted, the offspring of these celebrity socialists rebelled in a curiously conformist way. They had been taught to be dissenters, and so they would remain. They had been taught to enjoy being in opposition as distinct from being in power; and “nothing is easier than being in opposition,” West wrote in The New Meaning of Treason (1964). But as the welfare-state vision of their parents became a reality, the fantasy of opposition became more difficult to sustain. The election of the Labour Party to government in the British general election of 1945 meant that reformist socialists now had the means to put forward a socialist program of mass industrial nationalization. If rebellion was to continue, it must find a new vehicle where “the glorious drunkenness of permanent opposition” could continue.

The children found this intoxication in communism—which West described as “a haven to the infantilist,” because it exists both in and outside of government simultaneously: the Soviet Union was a state that opposed the state in which the younger generation lived. Communism enabled a loyal disloyalty, a rejection of one’s own country while affirming obedience to another that is far more radical. The make-believe to which communists subscribed was that the Soviet Union portended a world of peace, plenty and justice, even as its leaders liquidated millions and revealed themselves willing to form a pact of convenience with Nazi Germany.

Moreover, the communism club was not without its privileges; and this was an important factor for a group fearful of becoming déclassé and unable to repeat the material success of its parents. Soviet communism bestowed esteem on visiting scientists; it feted foreign tourists and commentators; and it showered honors on those who spied for the proletariat. In short, communist intellectuals were men and women resolved to trump their parents’ radicalism where it had become all too conventional, while also creating a new self-serving moral hierarchy soldered to a collective cause.

* * *

The ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers quipped that Rebecca West was “a socialist by habit of mind, and a conservative by cell structure.” He forgot to mention her feminism and her liberalism. In any event, political admixtures are common in many fine minds. Was Alexis de Tocqueville a conservative or a liberal? He was both and more besides, depending on the matter at hand. Alexander Pope, confirming his own political latitude, joked: “Tories call me Whig, and Whigs a Tory.” And Pope’s friend and confidant Jonathan Swift was equally hard to peg, prompting George Orwell, in Politics vs. Literature (1946), to dub him a “Tory anarchist, despising authority while disbelieving in liberty, and preserving the aristocratic outlook while seeing clearly that the existing aristocracy is degenerate and contemptible.”

A writer who draws on multiple traditions can never sink into the dogmas of any one of them. Or indulge their extremes. But while West’s politics were multiform, her liberalism stands out, today, as her most admirable quality. This is not just because those committed to free expression must keep speaking to and against those who would hear only one voice, and because today’s most popular forms of feminist expression promote censorship and victimhood. West’s liberalism also feels morally urgent because liberals are engaged in an ongoing fight with themselves. In that fight, the priority should not be compassion or conciliation but truthfulness. As West observed, “it is never possible to serve the interests of liberalism by believing that which is false to be true…The fact-finding powers of liberals have, therefore, always to be at work.”

Infantilism goes along with illiberalism, because while a liberal society requires a baseline of human freedom and responsibility, the infantilized citizen is dependent on a person, group, or identity. One need look no further than our colleges and grievance-saturated social media to see how this works. The basic cause of such malaise may lie more in ideology than psychology, but the psychological consequences are plain enough.

Rebecca West remarked that Freud “gave sadists a new weapon by enabling them to disguise themselves as children.” Social media adds masochism to the mix, as when some reckless accusation tempts the unfortunate target to engage in self-abasement. Yet the accused have responsibilities, too, and unthinking contrition is its own kind of infantilism. Those unwilling to defend their opinions, and who self-flagellate in public on the basis of non-existent crimes, invite their tormentors to apply an extra dose of humiliation. The invitation is rarely declined.

If we have no right to be comforted as adults, we can still take comfort in exemplars of independence and individuality. Rebecca West is not as well-known as many other great writers of the 20th Century. But perhaps that will change in an era when infantilism and ideology are renewing their assault on that “bitter rapture” called truth.


Peter Baehr teaches social and political theory at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He can be reached at pbaehr@LN.edu.hk. This article draws on research supported by Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council.

Featured Photo: Rebecca West, photographed by Yevonde Middleton



  1. X. Citoyen says

    Great piece. I’d like a separate piece developing West’s ideas around infantilism because, well, we seem to suffering from mass infantilism and our elites no longer seem capable of distinguishing the personal from the political.

  2. “Infantilism goes along with illiberalism, because while a liberal society requires a baseline of human freedom and responsibility, the infantilized citizen is dependent on a person, group, or identity. One need look no further than our colleges and grievance-saturated social media to see how this works. The basic cause of such malaise may lie more in ideology than psychology, but the psychological consequences are plain enough.”

    That’s it ladies and gentleman. Thank you and goodnight.

  3. Bubblecar says

    “West construes this unspoken connection as the root of Gide’s homosexuality”

    She was in fact a notorious homophobe who couldn’t tolerate the idea that there were men who didn’t regard her as the natural centre of their attention. She also treated her son appallingly.

    Whatever her talents as a writer, her general worldview was a confused mess that relied heavily on religious mumbo-jumbo. Hardly a laudable role model for modern feminism.

    • 南沢山 says

      “Hardly a laudable role model for modern feminism.”

      Because modern feminism has what standards?

    • Peter from Oz says

      ”Hardly a laudable role model for modern feminism.”
      Modern feminism needs to disappear up it’s own fundament and emerge as humanism

      • X. Citoyen says

        That almost sounds Hegelian, Peter. You could call it arseian dialectic, where in anal ingress followed by anal egress results in a rectalized thesis.

    • Andrew Mcguiness says

      Ah, that makes sense – it was certainly a surprise to me to find Andre Gide characterised as a misogynist. Also, that analysis of l’acte gratuit is a trivialisation of Gide’s work. I love West’s The Fountain Overflows, though.

  4. peterschaeffer says

    Perhaps by coincidence, I have one or her books on my desk “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”. Perhaps not a coincidence.

    • Morgan Foster says


      If you don’t think it impertinent, may I ask how long it’s been on your desk, and how far along are you? I’ll admit I’m struggling.

      • Kelli R. says

        I have had the book on my shelf for many years (I am Serbian by descent), but I, too, have struggled. Maybe I need to skip the first bit.

      • peterschaeffer says

        MF, That is a good question. I have read about 100 pages of the book and have had it for about a year. She (Rebecca West) was a great writer. Actually, my wife bought the book for me in preparation for a trip to Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Montenegro. I did finish ‘The Bridge on the Drina’ which I strongly recommend.

        Like a lot of people, I loved the Balkans.

  5. I completely disagree with the framing in the opener—professors don’t treat students like ‘spoiled children.’ I say this as a professional college advisor; I’ve heard dozens and dozens of stories by now, all eerily similar: Professors treat students (particularly in the non-hard-science classes) like captive blank slates they need to propagandize.

    This isn’t all professors, but it is a sizable proportion of them. And if the students dare to disagree, they risk getting a poor grade in their tests. Propaganda can range from “Kanye West is a self-hating Negro” from a white professor in a political science class; to “you may not use the term ‘illegal immigrant because no human being is illegal,” from a wealthy visiting professor from overseas; to casual and ubiquitous and non-negotiable assertions about the male hegemony, white privilege, toxic masculinity, Trump being a racist evil etc., and so on.

    Administrators don’t treat them like spoiled children either. They treat them like gigantic piggy banks that they have to cater to.

    It’s important to frame this correctly. IT’s true that some students are infantilized. But a far larger proportion of students pay $200,000 for the ‘privilege’ of being propagandized with minimal guidance in landing a career.

    Yes, there are some very loud very immature students. But the vast majority resent the whole set up and would love some actual adults in the house who care about their education and careers.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Treating students like “captive blank slates” in need of indoctrination, instead of young adults in need of persuading, is infantilization.

    • Grant says

      Well said, D. The fact that students fear offending their professors for fear of a poor grade, and professors fear that golden student who can destroy their careers shows what a farce a liberal education has become. How prescient Bloom’s ‘The Closing of America’s Mind’ has become.

    • Ray Andrews says

      “They treat them like gigantic piggy banks that they have to cater to. ”

      Perhaps all the grand theories boil down to that one simple fact. The modern university is a business peddling whatever seems to sell.

      • X. Citoyen says

        Ray Andrews,

        Russell Kirk predicted this would happen back in the 50s or 60s when the universities began expanding. A few books have taken this thesis recently too.

        I remember it taking about a year for “edutainment” to go from referring to the debasement of university education to a description of the cutting-edge approach adopted by some very popular professors.

    • Coffee Klatch says

      Part of learning how to be an adult and scholar is NOT using the terms “self-hating Negro” and “illegal immigrant.” It includes learning how those words are loaded and coded and analyzing who is served by those terms. The professor seeks to erase this obvious bias. Scholars do not talk or write like this in the academic space. This type of dialog is sensational, plebeian. The concept of borders, rule of law, diaspora, who belongs where, etc., would never be assumed by the true scholar — all of it would be questioned.

      The reason colleges seem so reactionary in favor of the left is because they critique power — it’s part of the job of the scholar to take apart conventional wisdom, status quo hierarchies, dominant/submissive relationships, etc. No matter how much the “winners” of the system don duplicitous costume (trad right, right-libertarian, alt-right, alt-light, IDW, etc.), and flail in ever-increasing, ever-word-count-expanding, ever-more-redefined, ever-more-bad faith and ever-more-truthclaiming demonstration, nothing will change this fact.

      It’s obvious in this nation and this world who is in power, who are the losers, who are the outcasts, who are human capital, who are the good and valuable — the narrative is fairly clear. The most fastidious and bright scholars among us would do well to reserve the lowest threshold of suspicion for anyone telling them to ignore power relationships, to not use power as a lens, and those who tell them they’re being propagandized and brainwashed if they are taught to analyze the world in this way.

      • Bob Forrester says

        I guess it’s nice to have one lens through which to view the world. But I guess a lot of Joe Schmoes are simply trying to engage the homely aspects of life which, I think, involve more than power. And if you’re a loser, then I guess you’re a helpless victim so you can justify being infantile.

      • Anthony says

        Coffee, I hope you were being sarcastic, and you don’t actually believe in this form of postmodernism a.k.a. neo-sophism.

        No matter who is “in power, who are the losers” etc., facts are facts, and the truth won’t change simply because an ideology finds it inconvenient for its power grab.

    • Clyde E. Wilson IV says

      Problem is when an adult walks in the room a very vocal minority chase them away while “vast majority” who would love some adults in the house do nothing. If they resent it so they need to take action.

  6. Daniel says

    West’s book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of the most intriguing books ever written. One thing that stands out about her is how she describes people. She loves them. The most positive, uplifting, generous, gracious account of the wide diversity of the people she encountered in the Balkans — wow.
    And towards the end she runs into a misanthrope named Gerta. Gerta is a budding Nazi, a big fan of the emerging movement in Germany at that time. Gerta’s relentlessly ugly behavior is truly appalling, and a source of bafflement for West and her husband. Her husband finally is able to put his finger on what Gerta’s problem is, and not to spoil it for everybody, but he delivers the most articulate, exactly correct description of today’s Left that I’ve ever come across. Fascinating.

    • Bubblecar says

      “the wide diversity of the people she encountered in the Balkans”

      Apparently she encountered no homosexuals, and claimed there were simply “none there”, a situation she much preferred to Britain.

      She wasn’t actually a fan of “diversity”, truth be told.

      • Ray B says

        Bubblecar, why do you think the social attitudes of West, or anyone else matters?

        If she was intelligent enough to view the world around her, & come to clear, succinct, conclusions about the state of humanity, then that is enough to earn her an elevated position in history.

        I don’t know what Thomas Edison did in his spare time, but even if he was an axe murderer, no one is going to stop using electricity to light their homes – would you?

  7. Jezza says

    I have not read anything by Rebecca West but now I shall seek her out. She sounds like my kind of gal.

  8. Nate D. says

    Kudos to the author and Quillette for an excellent article. Informative, and pertinent. I will be keeping an eye out for Rebecca West’s books in the future.

    I especially liked this line: “We do not expect children to be active in politics; we protect children from politics. Nor do we consider adults who behave like children to be competent human agents. Maturity is the “sine qua non” of liberty because a pluralist society, unlike an authoritarian one, requires actors of independent mind who can draw a distinction between their civic responsibilities and private sentiments…”

    Please, more articles on Rebecca West (even with her flaws)!.. and less on Amanda Knox.

  9. Fred Dobbs says

    Rebecca West is a fucking paragon and should be mandatory reading for all aspring Quilette article contributors who want us to listen to their complaints about how their precious play/novel/essay wasn’t published because of some dark liberal conspiracy in the halls of academia.

    • Heike says

      Leftist, not liberal. Liberals believe in free speech. They might not agree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

      It is Leftists who happily censor badthink and refuse to publish essays because they perceive it will have a harmful effect. This is because they have a single-axis moral compass, see Johnathan Haidt’s research for more:

      In any effort to help liberals and conservatives see the world from the other’s perspective he notes that nature provides an initial draft for our mind which experience then revises (Gary Marcus, 2004). He shows fascinating graphs from 23,000 people who indicated their ideology and answered some questions on The Morality Foundations Questionnaire at http://www.yourmorals.org concerning their beliefs. He categorizes individuals along 5 fundamental moral dimensions, the first three of which are heavily entwined with social capital. He says the 5 core dimensions for the moral mind (abstracting from anthropology, neurology, psychology, etc.) are:

      1. Harm/care – as a species care a lot about others

      2. Fairness/reciprocity

      3. In group/out group – only among humans are there large groups that are united together for common purposes, and as a species we self-consciously produce or reinforce tribes (for wars, sports team loyalty, etc.)

      4. Authority/respect – often based out of love

      5. Purity/sanctity (either with regard to things like sex, or the foods we put in our body)

      What’s fascinating is that if you chart individuals across parts of the world you find that in all societies, conservatives treat all these five factors as moderately important; liberals however focus almost exclusively on the harm/caring or fairness/reciprocity principles. In most societies, the increase in attention given by Conservatives to factors like Respect, Authority, Order, Purity rises much more sharply than the attention to Caring and Reciprocity falls. Haidt describes conservatives as having a 5-channel moral equalizer.

  10. R Henry says

    The concept “infantilsm” strikes a chord with me. Observers of very young children have long seen infants gazing for long periods at their hands and fingers, held in front of their faces. The child moves fingers and observes with great attention. The act has the effect of connecting the child’s thought to physical reality—establishing a very basic understanding of cause and effect. This has become known as Primary Narcissism.

    I see infantilism as primary narcissism expressed among young adults who have failed to attain reasonable emotional maturity. While babies move their fingers to confirm their control over their own bodies, contemporary college students flirt with outrageous forms of stigma and censorship….it is as if posting inanities on twitter somehow connects them to reality…twitter as primary narcissism.

    Trouble is, twitter is NOT reality. It is contrived, artificial, and divorced from the reality or actual human interaction. The lessons learned from infantile gesturing on twitter does NOT result in connecting thought to physical reality. Instead, such gesturing confuses the 20 year old infant into a false sense of superiority or omnipresence.

  11. Interesting piece about a very interesting woman. I agree with an earlier commenter: More of this, less Amanda Knox, please!

    One thing I was surprised not to see, given that the article discusses her views on the Fabians and mentions HG Wells: Rebecca West had a famous decade-long affair with Wells. Salacious tidbit if nothing else.

  12. Leah The Cow Who Jumps Oever The Moon says

    There is nothing at all bitter about the real discovery of Truth.

    The happening of Truth is not through the mind – it is at the heart. Truth is not a proposition argued over against other propositions. Truth is self-evident because the hear authenticates it in the moment of reception.
    Truth is an embrace, just as love is. You do not get argued into love, It is self-evidently right.
    One responds to truth as one does to love, simply through recognizing it. It is not about argument, not about the domain of mind, or of opposites.

    You will not find anything remotely like the above description/definition of Truth in any of the usual right-wing so called conservative bloviators. And especially in any of the tweets of the current infantile incumbent of the White House.
    Never mind too that what may be broadly defined as the “left” has no real political power in today’s world.
    Remember too that the Latin word for left is sinister, and that there has always been much prejudice against left-handers (with oft times much effort being put into “curing” them of their “disorder”)

    • Anthonius says

      Sometimes one’s heart is so darkened that truth is not easily ascertained – sometimes it is even rejected.

      That’s why we have to use reason too…

    • Heike says

      Scientific facts are the outcome of social processes and reflects the biases of the winners, not actual truth.

      There are no intrinsically superior, universal values, like love or dignity or general human goodwill – and no such thing as ‘objective’ truth in the scientific sense. It’s all relative. There are just multiple and sometimes overlapping groups that compete for power, and their values, even their idea of what constitutes a ‘fact’, are determined by the relative status of their group. The most powerful group in society – in all societies – are men, and men, therefore, are collectively guilty for the oppression of every less powerful group.

      In virtually every class, I was told that all scientific knowledge, and even science itself was founded on Western cultural constructions and was to be regarded as hegemonic. And since each of the world’s various cultural viewpoints were enmeshed in their own historicity, each respective one (especially the Western one) could only be understood in terms relative to all the others. Accordingly, objective truths did not exist. We were all taught that “reality” was the exact equivalent of how you perceive it.


      • Charlie says

        Heike, facts are the result of reality. The Romans learnt that the ideal gradient for free flowing water was 1 in 200 and hence their aqueducts and sewers were built accordingly and this slope is used today. The winner and ultimate Power are the Laws of the Universe . When the builder or creator fails to understand them that which built either collapse or does not work. If Engineers designed in the same manner as most arts graduates think, then little would work.

        West lived during two World Wars. Men such as Albert Ball VC were leaders of men in combat and by the time they died at 21 years of age had won the VC, DSO and 2 bars, MC , while nurses at The Front helped to amputate limbs and hold the hands of the dying.

        In WW2 men such as Wing Commander Paddy Finucane DSO, DFC and 2 Bars was dead at 22 years. In WW2 women such as Hallows GC, Khan GC and Szabo GC endured torture and the concentration camps and never broke.

        By the 1960s, West probably though much of the middle class were nothing more than a bunch of weak effete degenerate milksops and spoilt brats : she was probably correct.

  13. Coffee Klatch says

    You had me until the part at the end where you tacked on some bullshit thesis about today’s colleges. This is really getting old — it’s grievance v. grievance, locked in some reactionary bear hug, while looking at a mirror reflect a mirror ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

  14. Richard says

    Rebecca West is prescient today…”the infantilized citizen is dependent on a person, group, or identity. One need look no further than our colleges and grievance-saturated social media to see how this works. The basic cause of such malaise may lie more in ideology than psychology, but the psychological consequences are plain enough.”

  15. markbul says

    This is one of the best articles I’ve seen in Quillette so far. And I’m off to my library (or online catalog) for new reading material. Thanks.

  16. Excellent! If Whittaker Chambers took the time to review her, that’s enough for me to read her. Just kidding although he is one of my hero’s. This is a piece I will mine again for nuggets.

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