But His Father Has Qualities

His father began as a tutor to the aristocracy and rose to prominence as a lawyer by carefully maintaining those connections he had made early on.

So his son was aware, from boyhood on, of the aristocratic knack for meting out almost unconsciously and with unfailing condescension the exact degree of affability called for, and Ulrich had always been irritated by the subservience of a man who was after all, a member of the intellectual aristocracy toward the owners of horses, fields, and traditions. (I,9)

Ulrich’s father is upset that his son has bought a château, no matter how modest.

The basic premise of his life was affronted. As with many men who achieve distinction, this feeling was far from self-serving but consisted in a deep love of the general good above personal advantage–in other words, he sincerely venerated the state of affairs that had served him so well, not because it was to his advantage, but because he was in harmony and coexistent with it, and on general principles. This is a point of great importance: even a pedigreed dog searches out his place under the dining table, regardless of kicks, not because of canine abjection but out of loyalty and faith; and even coldly calculating people do not succeed half so well in life as those with properly blended temperaments who are capable of deep feelings for those persons and conditions that happen to serve their own interests. (I,10)

 The son differs from the father in that he is not so much a realist as he is a “possibilist.”

Whoever has it does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but he invents: Here this or that might, could, or ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well, it could probably just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not. The consequences of so creative a disposition can be remarkable, and may, regrettably, often make what people admire seem wrong, and what is taboo permissible, or, also, make both a matter of indifference. Such possibilists are said to inhabit a more delicate medium, a hazy medium of mist, fantasy, daydreams, and the subjunctive mood. Children who show this tendency are dealt with firmly and warned that such persons are cranks, dreamers, weaklings, know-it-alls, or troublemakers. (I,11)

 For the possibilist, reality may always be redefined, if not dispensed with.

Today he is still far from being consistent. He is quite capable of regarding a crime that brings harm to another person merely as a lapse to be blamed not on the criminal but on the society that produced the criminal. But it remains doubtful whether he would accept a slap in the face with the same detachment, or take it impersonally as one takes the bite of a dog. The chances are that he would first hit back and then on reflection decide that he shouldn’t have. (I,12)

And since the possession of qualities assumes a certain pleasure in their reality, we can see how a man who cannot summon up a sense of reality even in relation to himself may suddenly, one day, come to see himself as a man without qualities. (I,13)


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