Monday, March 14, 2011


The Apocalyptic Style

John Buchan, The Apocalyptic Style, in Some Eighteenth Century Byways and Other Essays (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1908), pp. 321-345 (at 330):
The apocalyptic style means the habitual use of the most solemn appeals on behalf of trivial, or at any rate inadequate, causes. Its favourite counters are conscience, honour, patriotism, morality, righteousness, and religion. It seeks to raise every question to that exalted plane where the ultimate battles of humanity are fought. It cannot discriminate between pedestrian matters which belong properly to the sphere of opportunism and common-sense and those grave problems which are in their essence spiritual, and to which no consideration of expediency or practical wisdom can ever apply. It is a misplaced seriousness, which stales by foolish use the weightiest sanctions of life.
Id. (at 332):
There is a danger, in a word, of our forgetting commonsense—which we may define as a wise appreciation of the working rules of human society. To drag those alien immensities into a prosaic argument is to be guilty not only of silliness but of impiety.
Id. (at 334-335):
To call a man unpatriotic when you mean that he is stupid, is to be guilty of the central fault of the apocalyptic style. It is to use a solemn appeal on an inadequate occasion.
Id. (at 335):
The humblest of the questions of the day is turned into a case of conscience. By a strange and most shortsighted intolerance, difference of opinion is assumed to involve a difference of moral code.
Id. (at 336-337):
In it all there is the same prostitution of sacred things to trivial purposes. It is not the ordinary rhetoric of politics. That may be often vulgar, but it is never impious. That confines itself to mundane things, and does not paw the ultimate verities. The apocalyptic manner declines to deal with questions on the plane to which they naturally belong. It declines to give them, therefore, their logical and legitimate consideration. It insists on elevating them to a moral or religious plane with which they have, for the practical purposes of life, no earthly connection.

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