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Ours is the least tragic age the world has ever known. Of course we have our share of loneliness and disappointment and other familiar human woes, of what Freud called the 'ordinary unhappiness of living.' And as far as wickedness is concerned, the twentieth century, with its holocausts and death camps, has set, perhaps, a record. Isaiah Berlin called it the worst century in European history and said that having seen its horrors, he was now happy to be old. But tragedy is not the same as wickedness or woe. Today we use the word to convey a strictly quantitative judgment. We use it to describe any suffering of a sizable kind. But in its original Greek sense tragedy denotes not just a certain magnitude of suffering but also, and more importantly, an attitude towards it, an attitude that is rooted in a passion which the deepest currents of our modern civilization all oppose.
I shall call this passion the love of fate. I believe the love of fate is a permanent and unique part of our makeup as human beings, a passion which the tragic plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles did not invent but merely gratified in a powerful way, and which remains alive in each of us today. But I also believe that the civilization which has grown up in Europe in the last four hundred years and whose destiny it is, as Max Weber understood, to rule the world, rests upon a moral ideal that denies all legitimacy to our human love of fate and that demands its suppression in every area of life. And I believe, finally, that the suppression of this feeling—which can be denied and discouraged but never destroyed—has left us in a position where we are now able to view only as senseless and stupid two of the greatest discoveries that any human being can ever make: the discovery that one's own individual career in the world is inevitably, to some degree, a piece of fate, and the discovery of the world itself as a fate to which we are delivered by the fact of our existence. The moral ideals of our civilization give us no resources to find comfort or joy in these discoveries. They cause us, instead, to recoil from them with loathing and dread. As inhabitants of the modern world it is, in short, our fate—as Weber himself might have said with his usual irony—to have been born into an age whose ideals deny, more emphatically and systematically than any other, the love of fate from which all tragic pleasure springs.
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