Sunday 29 March 2020

'Where meaning has been found before'

In the current Spectator Douglas Murray ponders a question that he sees hovering, in wait of an answer, behind the lockdown crisis – the question of where we can find purpose and meaning in life, now that we've been thrown back on our own resources.
'I suppose my own answer,' he writes, 'is a doctrine of a kind. Which is that we are most likely to find meaning in the places where meaning has been found before. That what has seen our forebears through, and nourished them, will see us through and nourish us in turn. I don't listen to the news much. If the church is open I will sit in it. I remake my acquaintance with great music. In the evening I read Anna Karenina.'
Yes, it is a doctrine of a kind – a decidedly conservative kind, as delineated by, among others, Michael Oakeshott ('using the resources of a traditional manner of behaviour in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion'). And of course, being truly conservative, it is only 'a doctrine of a kind', not fully fledged dogma or ideology (true conservatism is the least political of political philosophies).
'The places where meaning has been found before' calls to mind the closing stanzas of Larkin's Church Going, which predict that, even after churches have crumbled into ruin and disuse,
                                      '... someone will forever be surprising
                                      A hunger in himself to be more serious,
                                      And gravitating with it to this ground,
                                      Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
                                       If only that so many dead lie round.'