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Criticism and Culture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 September 2018

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The urgency of our times has engendered demands for action, and action has followed: economic, political, diplomatic. We are concerned for the technical competence of those who are acting. But surely there are other and even more fundamental concerns. Action too easily distracts from the assumptions on which action is based. Many of those assumptions are born in that dark region of the popular imagination where nations define themselves in terms of basic myths of national mission and national identity. We are tempted by, and too easily succumb to, oversimple versions of those myths. Urgent as is our need for action, we need reflection more.

The basic instrument of reflection on national identity and mission is literature, and ours is incredibly rich, Literature has helped both to shape and to reveal that obscure popular imagination and has criticized the ways it has shaped itself.

Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 1982

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