On taking ourselves seriously
says, in ‘Anna Karenina
,’ that no nation will ever come to anything unless it attaches some importance to itself.
(Les seules nations qui agent de l'avenir, les seules qu'on puisse nommer historiques, sont celles qui sentent l'importance et le valeur de leur institutions.) It is curious that ours seems to be the only contemporary nation which is denied this simple privilege of taking itself seriously.
What is criticised in us is not so much that our social life is inadequate, as that we find it worth studying; not so much that our literature is insufficient, as that we think it, in Matthew Arnold
's disdainful phrase, ‘important.’
In short, we are denied not merely the pleasure of being attractive to other people, which can easily be spared, but the privilege that is usually conceded to the humblest, of being of some interest to ourselves.
The bad results of this are very plain.