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The bargain ratified: An anonymous illustration from “The Life and Horrible Adventures of the Celebrated Dr Faustus”, c.1825, shows Faust meeting Mephistopheles (Wellcome Collection)


Culture is inherently hostile to innovation. T.S. Eliot famously defined English culture as the regatta, the Glorious Twelfth, Wensleydale cheese, beetroot in vinegar, vestments, bishops, the music of Elgar — the minutiae of daily life accreted over generations. Culture is what does not change. There are rare exceptions, that is, cultures that foster innovation, or cultures that during brief time spans favour innovation.

Oswald Spengler called the great epoch of 19th-century innovation “Faustian,” in the literal sense of Goethe’s masterpiece: Faust will lose his pact with the devil if he is shown a single moment that satisfies him. His dying words, “Only he deserves freedom as well as life who must conquer them every day!” could have served as the century’s motto.

That was Europe once. When Goethe published his drama in 1807, he had God tell the Devil that human beings wanted unconditional rest, and that Faust was the only exception. By the end of the 19th century everyone wanted to be Faust. Faust bet the Devil that he could resist the temptation to hold on to the present moment (in Coleridge’s rendering):

FAUSTUS
Could you, by
Flattery or spells, seduce me to the feeling
Of one short throb of pleasure; let the hour
That brings it be my last. Take you my offer?

MEPHISTOPHELES
I do accept it.

FAUST
Be the bargain ratified!
And if at any moment I exclaim:
“Linger, still linger, beautiful illusions,”
Then throw me into fetters; then I’ll sink,
And willingly, to ruin. Ring my death-knell;
Thy service then is o’er; the clock may pause,
And the hand fall, and time be mine no longer.

What Oswald Spengler called the Faustian spirit of the 19th century gave us all the great inventions that inform our daily lives: electricity, the automobile, the aeroplane, and so forth. The latter part of the 19th century was the most fecund period of human history, and Continental Europe contributed disproportionately.

That is true no longer. Consider the 24 employees of France Telecom who committed suicide in 2009 and 2010 after reassignment to new jobs. One employee in Marseilles left a suicide note stating, “Overwork, stress, absence of training and total disorganisation in the company. I’m a wreck, it’s better to end it all.” He was healthy, ran marathons, had enough money, and had no family problems, but was evidently terrified of change. For some, sameness and security are so precious that life is too frightening to bear without them.

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John Galt III
July 7th, 2016
11:07 AM
Europe lost its soul years ago, creating a vacuum and both creating and allowing in Cultural/Economic Marxism. The gap is being filled by true believing Muslims who will convert the Europeans or kill them. End of story.

Arnie Ward
June 17th, 2016
11:06 AM
Playing classical music is essentially playing 18th and 19th century covers. Not a true measure of cultural innovation or success.

ed
June 8th, 2016
5:06 PM
Culture is not "inherently hostile to innovation." Unless you allow that it is also inherently open to innovation, which is to say, inherently neutral. For vast periods of history much of culture in the world was hostile to innovation (see Eliade's book Cosmos and History), but that is different from "inherently." Culture is science, art, religion, education, media, language. It is inherently both conservative and progressive. Cultures hostile to innovation are either too conservative or too progressive (since extreme progressiveness turns into just another kind of theocracy).

Franz Ferdinand
June 8th, 2016
1:06 PM
Madness. This cavalier attitude towards going to war echoes the views European elites in the early 20th Century--war plays a necessary Darwinian function, and shouldn't be shunned. Those views, along with millions of lives, died in the trenches of the Great War. Let them rest in peace, together with this barbaric, callous approach to the human condition.

David Goldman
June 7th, 2016
2:06 AM
The 30 million figure refers only to pianists; it does not include a much larger number of children studying orchestral instruments, for which I have not yet found data. It is also a novelty for China, which did not have mass access to classical music until quite recently.

Rami
May 30th, 2016
12:05 PM
In response to Mark's question, the Lavi development effort has often been credited with unleashing a wave of trained engineers into Israeli society, although its cancellation also left a gapping hole in Israel's Air Force procurement options. As the recent book on the Lavi made clear, the Lavi was more closely aligned to Israel's military needs than its U.S. alternatives: http://www.amazon.com/Lavi-United-States-Controversial-Fighter/dp/161234... An Israeli developed, fifth generation fighter would no doubt have a similar advantage today.

Uncle Dan
May 27th, 2016
1:05 AM
"In 2008, only 3.1 per cent of Americans reported playing classical music in the preceding 12 months. By contrast, there are about 35 million piano students in China." Well, those 35 million Chinese piano students represent about 2.6% of the population of China.

Mark Sharefkin
May 26th, 2016
11:05 PM
I've been told by Swedish industrial economists that even had no Grippen fighters been sold (or even built), the project was worth it for the engineers it trained. Any idea about the Israeli Lavi fighter project?

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