The Present Moment
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By Way of Introduction
Plato says somewhere in his "Republic" that things will go well only when those men shall govern the state who do not desire to govern. The idea is probably that, assuming the necessary capability, a man's reluctance to govern affords a good guarantee that he will govern well and efficiently; whereas a man desirous of governing may very easily either abuse his power and become a tyrant, or by his desire to govern be brought into an unforeseen situation of dependence on the people he is to rule, so that his government really becomes an illusion.
This observation applies also to other relations where much depends on taking things seriously: assuming there is ability in a man, it is best that he show reluctance to meddle with them. To be sure, as the proverb has it: "where there is a will there is a way"; but true seriousness appears only when a man fully equal to his task is forced, against his will, to undertake it against his will, but fully equal to the task.
In this sense I may say of myself that I bear a correct relation to the task in hand: to work in the present moment; for God knows that nothing is more distasteful to me.
Authorship well, I confess that I find it pleasant; and I may as well admit that I have dearly loved to write¾in the manner, to be sure, which suits me. And what I have loved to do is precisely the opposite of working in the present moment. What I have loved is precisely remoteness from the present moment that remoteness in which, like a lover, I may dwell on my thoughts and, like an artist in love with his instrument, entertain myself with language and lure from it the expressions demanded by my thoughts, ah blissful entertainment! In an eternity I should not weary of this occupation.
To contend with men well, I do like it in a certain sense; for I have by nature a temperament so polemic that I feel in my element only when surrounded by men's mediocrity and meanness. But only on one condition, viz., that I be permitted to scorn them in silence and to satisfy the master passion of my soul: scorn, opportunity for which my career as an author has often enough given me.
I am therefore a man of whom it may be said truthfully that he is not in the least desirous to work in the present moment¾very probably I have been called to do so for that very reason.
Now that I am to work in the present moment I must, alas! say farewell to thee, beloved remoteness, where there was no necessity to hurry, but always plenty of time, where I could wait for hours and days and weeks for the proper expression to occur to me; whereas now I must break with all such regards of tender love . And now that I am to work in the present moment I find that there will be not a few persons whom I must oblige by paying my respects to all the insignificant things which mediocrity with great self‑importance will lecture about; to all the nonsense which mediocre people, by interpreting into my words their own mediocrity, will find in all I shall write; and to all the lies and calumnies to which a man is exposed against whom those two great powers in society: envy and stupidity, must of necessity conspire.
Why, then, do I wish to work in the present moment? Because I should forever repent of not having done so, and forever repent of having been discouraged by the consideration that the generation now living would find a representation of the essential truths of Christianity interesting and curious reading, at most; having accomplished which they will calmly remain where they are; that is, in the illusion that they are Christians and that the clergy's toying with Christianity really is Christianity.
- (No. II, 5)
- (No. II, 8)
- (No. IV, 1)
- (No. V, 4)
- (No. V, 8)
- (No. VI, 5)
- (No. VII, 6)
- (No. VIII, 3)
- (No. IX, 3)