The seven deadly sins of Christianity represent the abysses of character, whereas Judith Shklar’s “ordinary vices”—cruelty, hypocrisy, snobbery, betrayal, and misanthropy—are merely treacherous shoals, flawing our characters with mean-spiritedness and inhumanity.
Shklar draws from a brilliant array of writers—Molière and Dickens on hypocrisy, Jane Austen on snobbery, Shakespeare and Montesquieu on misanthropy, Hawthorne and Nietzsche on cruelty, Conrad and Faulkner on betrayal—to reveal the nature and effects of the vices. She examines their destructive effects, the ambiguities of the moral problems they pose to the liberal ethos, and their implications for government and citizens: liberalism is a difficult and challenging doctrine that demands a tolerance of contradiction, complexity, and the risks of freedom.
These are civilized excursions, literate and sensitive, and I cherish the book for its effort to move us out of the metalanguage and into the heart of darkness. Once we acknowledge the ordinariness of ordinary vices, the banality of normal badness, we may find ourselves not so distant from the moral monsters of human history, who may simply be us, writ large.
The book is a delight to read. At every turn of the argument it spurs one to think, and gives added pleasure with each new perplexity it raises. Readers who relish thinking for its own sake will be happy to join in the sheer exuberance of it.
A distinguished book, full of wit, humanity, and insight… It is also, and more importantly, a moral psychology for liberals.
- 278 pages
- 6 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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