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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 144-145 of the late Shirley Robin Letwin’s 1976 Hillsdale College address, “The Morality of the Free Man,” as it appears in Champions of Freedom (Vol. 3, 1976); here, Letwin means by “gentleman” anyone who is guided in his or her personal conduct and outlook by what Deirdre McCloskey describes as the bourgeois virtues:

His diffidence prevents the gentleman from supposing that everything is or ought to be subject to his manipulation….  The gentleman is skeptical of benevolence because he is so concerned about giving others – as individuals – their due.  His awareness of the uniqueness and ultimate mystery of each person makes him cautious about the dangers of misunderstanding others.  Of course it is unthinkable for him to help people in order to improve the species, or to serve humanity, or exercise his own virtue – to his way of thinking, all such efforts most flagrantly deny the humanity of his fellows.  He also feels obliged to remember that treating another man as if he were incapable of running his own life may be the greatest of humiliations.  Talk of human rights as a guide to benevolence strikes him as the rhetoric of tyranny that sacrifices real human beings to abstract illusions.  He recognizes how easily acting for others may do harm by mistaking or ignoring their peculiar characters or circumstances.  In all these ways, the gentleman’s diffidence inhibits him from imposing on others by a reckless indulgence in the pleasures of charity.  He thinks that true benevolence must be highly discriminating.


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