Friday, August 24, 2007

Lift Not the Painted Veil


The excellent blog "Hémicycle" reports today that there has been a discussion of the eminent American political philosopher, the late John Rawls, in the National Assembly. His name was first evoked by the perennial Pierre Méhaignerie, only to be answered by Christine Lagarde, who delivered herself of this observation:

M. Méhaignerie, you've cited the name of John Rawls. I for my part would call your attention to his theory of justice and his principle of the veil of ignorance, in order to lift it ...

(italics added)
As any reader of Rawls will know, the "veil of ignorance" in A Theory of Justice is there to ensure equity; lifting it confronts you straightaway with the warts and blemishes of the real beneath the gossamer ideal. I am reminded of Shelley's poem:

Lift not the painted veil which those who live

Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,

And it but mimic all we would believe

With colours idly spread, --- behind, lurk Fear

And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave

Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.

I knew one who had lifted it --- he sought,

For his lost heart was tender, things to love,

But found them not, alas ! nor was there aught

The world contains, the which he could approve.

Through the unheeding many he did move,

A splendour among shadows, a bright blot

Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove

For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

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