Merton on social change

Merton on social change December 2, 2011

From Thomas Merton’s autobiographical Seven Storey Mountain:

So now [about to enter Columbia as an undergraduate, after two failed years at Cambridge], when the time came for me to take spiritual stock of myself, it was natural that I should do so by projecting my whole spiritual condition into the sphere of economic history and the class-struggle.  In other words, the conclusion I came to was that it was not so much I myself that was to blame for my unhappiness, but the society in which I lived.

I considered the person that I now was, the person that I had been at Cambridge, and that I had made of myself, and I saw clearly enough that I was the product of my times, my society, and my class.  I was something that had been spawned by the selfishness and irresponsibility of the materialistic century in which I lived.  However, what I did not see was that my own age and class only had an accidental part to play in this.  They gave my egoism and pride and my other sins a peculaiar chatacter of weak and supercilious flippancy proper to this particular century: but that was only on the surface.  Underneath, it was the same old story of greed and lust and self-love, of the three concupiscences bred in the rich, rotted undergrowth of what is technically called ‘the world,’ in every age, in every class. [From part one, chapter four, “Children of the Marketplace,” p. 147 of the Harvest Books edition, 1999]


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