‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Youthful radical, elderly conservative

I have a genuine question: we're all familiar with this ideological trajectory (youthful radical, elderly conservative). It strikes me as having two main iterations. One: the Saul-on-the-road-to-Tarsus version, where something happens, externally or internally, and Person A switches their ideological affiliation about recto-verso. Two: the My-Principles-Have-Remained-Consistent version. This latter interests me more, actually, because my proximate motivation for asking my question (yes, yes, I'll come to the question in a moment) is Coleridge, who was a youthful radical and became a Church-and-State Tory, yet who insisted repeatedly that his principles had not altered one jot. (A related version, though without the youthful radicalism, is Tim Rice's Genghis-gallop rightwards and consequent disaffection with the Tory party, of which he famously said: 'I didn't leave the Conservative Party; the Conservative Party left me').

So, my question: this is so common a feature of ideological life it must have been theorised, analysed, discussed and critiqued. But I can't think by whom, or in which books, essays or blogs. Do you know?


  1. Hmm, I've been reading up on Aristotle about his views on characters being agents of the action recently in drama and how similar it seems in SF in terms of characterisation. I also found out that he mentioned ageing in terms of how in old age people become jaded by experience and distrustful of what they believed in youth. Youth, on the other side of the coin, seems to be related to hotheadedness; being fickle and incapable of self control.

    Here's a googlebooks link:


  2. There's an article forthcoming in Electoral Studies on the intergenerational differences in political attitude that confirms the "common sense" notion that people get more conservative with age (reference below). That's a finding which has been regularly supported by other research (I remember reading an article in a psychology journal by Feather when I was doing my MA).

    The simple picture of people moving steadily rightward is complicated first by the fact that (as the Tilly & Evans essay suggests) not all generations start in the same place or move consistently rightward. The Cutler and Kaufman article (ref below, from 1991) argues that these specific influences may be more important than the general impact of aging on attitude.

    The other problem, of course, the experience is not universal. Hobsbawm didn't join UKIP and Tony Benn is significantly to the left today of the position he occupied in the 60s (despite his assiduous attempts to rewrite his own history). Since it doesn't seem to be a biological imperative, the explanation must have something to with lived experience.

    My own take on it would be that it is linked to increasing vulnerability due to age, and that vulnerability leads to fear - of loss of accumulated capital, of physical threat, of reduced influence and position and fear of obsolesence. Thus vulnerability makes it harder for older people to embrace or advocate radical change. They have both more to lose and are at greater risk of being unable to adapt successfully to the consequences. You might argue, therefore, that being an old radical requires either greater courage or less awareness of risk. In other words, Yoda was almost right: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to the Daily Mail, the Daily Mail leads to UKIP".

    On the other hand Michael Oakeshott writes about conservatism being tied to the maturity to live without extreme expectations and to focus on the present rather than imagined futures.

    Tilley, J., Evans, G., Ageing and generational effects on vote choice: Combining cross-sectional and panel data to estimate APC effects, Electoral Studies (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2013.06.007

    Cutler, S.J., and Kaufman, R.L., Cohort Changes in Political Attitudes: Tolerance of Ideological Nonconformity, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 04/1975, Volume 39, Issue 1

    (There's a comment longer than your post by some margin - bet you're sorry you asked).

  3. Martin: that's fantastically useful -- thank you. I take the force of what you say about fear; although (datum of one, useless statistically, I know) I'd say I'm considerably less fearful than I was as a teenager and youngster. By the same token I haven;t swung to the Right.

    Susan: thanks -- I could see an argument that youth is a time of change (they are changing all the time as they grow), ergo young people are conditioned to think of change as the natural state of things. They look around and see traditional political structures as not having changed in a long time and that looks calcified and weird to them. By the same token, old people have stopped growing, settled into unchanging habits, and so come to think of non-change as natural and normal. This, perhaps, is a rather convoluted explanation ...

  4. I agree with that - especially how people usually reflect externally what happens to them internally, change just being one of them. I guess it's also to do with the circumstances around which they were growing up, which of course would vary from person to person but is a much needed extra dimension to consider :)

  5. Adam, you're still a young man. Give it time? ;-)