This astonishing volume shows how the potential beauty latent in all sorts of worldly artifacts and events are rooted in differing forms of power and dominion. The work is divided into three major parts: the generative order of society, which covers growth in the jungle, economic arts, and the liberal arts; the militant order of society, which examines factions and enterprise; and the rational order of society, which contains one of the most sustained critiques of democratic systems and liberal ideologies extant.
Written at a midpoint in the century, but at the close of his career, Santayana's volume offers an ominous account of the weakness of the West and its similarities in substance, if not always in form, with totalitarian systems of the East. Few analyses of concepts, such as government by the people, the price of peace and the suppression of warfare, the nature of elites and limits of egalitarianism, and the nature of authority in free societies, are more comprehensive or compelling. This is a carefully rendered statement on tasks of leadership for free societies that take on added meaning after the fall of communism.
The author of a definitive biography of Santayana, John McCormick provides the sort of deep background that makes possible an assessment of "Dominations and Powers. "He permits us to better appreciate the place of this work at the start no less than conclusion of Santayana's long career. For the author of "The Life of Reason "himself admits to having led a life in unreason--deeply impacted by the war of 1914-1918, DEGREESand then again, 1939-1945.
McCormick provides in his opening essay a careful story of Santayana's exile from his Anglo-American homeland, a deeply embittered figure in search of options to annihilation at the military level and an alternative to false and fatuous ideologies at the spiritual level. We know better now how to cope with this profound, yet disturbing classic in political thought.
Santayana derives this practical philosophy from a wide and fascinating variety of sources. He considers critically the positions of such philosophers as Descartes, Euclid, Hume, Kant, Parmenides, Plato, Pythagoras, Schopenhauer, and the Buddhist school as well as the assumptions made by the ordinary man in everyday situations. Such matters as the nature of belief, the rejection of classical idealism, the nature of intuition and memory, symbols and myth, mathematical reality, literary psychology, the discovery of essence, sublimation of animal faith, the implied being of truth, and many others are given detailed analyses in individual chapters.
This unabridged reproduction of the 1896 edition of lectures delivered at Harvard College is a study of "why, when, and how beauty appears, what conditions an object must fulfill to be beautiful, what elements of our nature make us sensible of beauty, and what the relation is between the constitution of the object and the excitement of our susceptibility."
Santayana first analyzes the nature of beauty, finding it irrational, "pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing." He then proceeds to the materials of beauty, showing what all human functions can contribute: love, social instincts, senses, etc. Beauty of form is then analyzed, and finally the author discusses the expression of beauty. Literature, religion, values, evil, wit, humor, and the possibility of finite perfection are all examined. Presentation throughout the work is concrete and easy to follow, with examples drawn from art, history, anthropology, psychology, and similar areas.
The editor of this new edition, John McGormick, reminds us that "The Sense of Beauty is "the first work in aesthetics written in the United States. Santayana was versed in the history of his subject, from Plato and Aristotle to Schopenhauer and Taine in the nineteenth century. Santayana took as his task a complete rethinking of the idea that beauty is embedded in objects. Rather beauty is an emotion, a value, and a sense of the good. In this, aesthetics was unlike ethics: not a correction of evil or pursuit of the virtuous. Rather it is a pleasure that resides in the sense of self. The work is divided into chapters on the materials of beauty, form and expression. A good many of Santayana's later works are presaged by this early effort. And this volume also anticipates the development of art as a movement as well as a value apart from other aspects of life.
The work is written without posturing, without hectoring. Santayana is nonetheless able to give expression to strong views. His preferences are made perfectly plain. Perhaps the key is a powerful belief that beauty is an adornment not a material necessity. But that does mean art is trivial. Quite the contrary, the good life is precisely the extent to which such "adornments" as painting, poetry or music come to define the lives of individuals and civilizations alike. This is, in short, a major work that can still inform and move us a century after its first composition.