"Philosophical autonomy is the answer"

I loved this gorgeous essay by Theodore Dalrymple on Ibsen’s principles and how he created poetry, plays that supported them in a way that has stood the test of time.

Here is an excerpt:

A family, Dr. Johnson once wrote, is a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed to revolutions. This is a less than ringing endorsement of family life, of course; and the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, whose childhood had been as unhappy as Johnson’s, would have agreed with this assessment. But Johnson, unlike Ibsen, went on to remark that all judgment is comparative: that to judge an institution or convention rightly, one must compare it with its alternatives. Marriage has many pains, says Johnson in Rasselas, but celibacy has no pleasures.

What are [Ibsen’s] moral teachings, at least in the three plays that have forged his enduring image? He was as rabidly hostile to conventional family life as Marx or Engels, but he was a much more effective and powerful critic, because his criticism did not remain on the level of philosophical abstraction. On the contrary, he laid bare the factions and revolutions of family life, its lies and miseries, in compelling and believable dramas; and while it has always been open to the reader or viewer to ascribe the moral pathology exhibited in these plays to the particular characters or neuroses of their dramatis personae alone, clearly this was not Ibsen’s intention. He was not a forerunner of Jerry Springer; his aim was not titillation or a mere display of the grotesque. He intends us to regard the morbidity his plays anatomize as typical and quintessential (to use Shaw’s word), the inevitable consequence of certain social conventions and institutions. He invites us implicitly, and explicitly in A Doll’s House and Ghosts, to consider alternative ways of living in order to eliminate what he considers the avoidable misery of the pathology he brings to light.

You know you’re hooked. Go read the whole thing.

link via A&L Daily

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