GOODNESS IS THE VERY HEART OF THE WHOLE REIGN OF MORAL VALUES. It is by no accident that the term “good” means moral value as such, and also the specific moral quality of goodness. Among the different moral values there is none which embodies more completely the entire reign of moral values than goodness; in it we find the purest and most typical expression of the general character of moral goodness as such. It is in the center of all morality, and at the same time, its most sublime fruit.
Its central importance in the moral sphere is, therefore, of a completely different type from that of the fundamental attitudes previously mentioned: reverence, fidelity, awareness of responsibility and veracity. For, apart from their own high moral value, these virtues are accepted as a presupposition for the moral life. Goodness, on the contrary, is not a presupposition, but the fruit of moral life. But not a fruit among others, such as meekness, patience, generosity, but the fruit of fruits, i. e. that in which culminates all morality in a specific way; it is the queen of all virtues.
What is goodness? What do we mean when we say that a man irradiates goodness? We say this of a man when he is disposed to help, when he is kindly, just, when he is ready to make sacrifices for others, when he pardons wrongs done him, when he is generous, when he is full of compassion. All these qualities are specific forms and manifestations of love. This indicates the close connection which exists between love and goodness. Love is, as it were, flowing goodness, and goodness is the breath of love.
We have seen at the beginning that the whole moral life consists in meaningful responses to values which have been grasped, such responses, as enthusiasm, admiration, joy, obedience, love. But love is, among all these responses to values, the most complete and the deepest. First of all, one must realize that love is always a most outspoken response to value. When we love somebody, whether it be a friend, a parent, a child, whether it be conjugal love or neighborly love, the beloved person always stands before us as something precious and noble in himself.
As long as someone is merely agreeable to us or only useful for our purposes, we could not love him. This does not mean that we become blind to the faults of the beloved person. But the person as a whole must stand before us as endowed with a sublime value and filled with intrinsic preciousness; yes, that specific individuality which every man represents as a unique thought of God must reveal itself before our eyes in all its charm and beauty if we are to love him.
Love is always a response to value. In love, one responds not only with a specific word, but with the gift of one’s heart, with oneself. In love, one concerts with value more closely and more deeply than in any other response, such as, for example, reverence or obedience. In love, a man dwells in the values of the beloved in a completely different way. Love, in its fullest and proper meaning, addresses itself always to persons, or at least to non-personal entities which we treat as personal (as, for example, one’s country). These are responses to values which are directed toward things, attitudes, and events, as well as toward persons, as for example, joy, sorrow, enthusiasm.
Other responses to values from their very nature address themselves only to persons, as veneration, gratitude, confidence, obedience and love. In the response of love to the other person two fundamental elements are manifested. The affirmation of the being of the beloved one, the abandoning response to his intrinsic beauty unfolds itself, on the one hand, in a longing to participate in his being, to be united with him; and on the other hand, in the will to bestow happiness on him.
In love, one spiritually hastens toward the other person in order to dwell with him, to partake in him, and, on the other hand, to cover him with a mantle of goodness, to spiritually cherish and protect him. Every love which deserves the name of love possesses these two elements, even though in a specific love, one or the other element will prevail.
The second element, namely, an ultimate interest in the growth and unfoldment of the beloved, in his perfection and his happiness, and in the last account, in his salvation, this envelopment of the beloved in love, is, as we have already said, pure flowing goodness. Here we find goodness in its purest manifestation. Goodness always presupposes a special attitude toward other persons, even to beings of a lower order possessing a certain analogy to persons, such as animals; thus, it is contradistinguished from truthfulness, which responds to the value of being as such.
We say “attitude of response to value toward persons in general,” for the goodness of a man does not limit itself to benevolent intentions toward one particular person whom one loves. When we say someone is good, we mean that he continually manifests this open benevolence, that his attitude toward every man has, a priori, this loving, this generous character. For goodness, like every other virtue, is not limited to a particular momentary attitude, but it is a property of man, a part of his super-actual being, a basic attitude and position. There are three types of men who embody a specific antithesis to goodness: the indifferent or cold man, the hardhearted one, and the wicked one.
The latter is the man who is an enemy of values: the man who is ruled by a basic attitude of pride, and who lives in an impotent revolt against the world of values. He not only bluntly by-passes them, as does the sensual man, but he assails them; he would like to dethrone God, he hates the world of goodness and beauty, and all the world of light, like Alberich in the Nibelungenring of Richard Wagner. He is full of envy and rebellion against the world of values, and against every good and happy man.
He is the man like Cain, who feeds himself upon hatred. His attitude toward other men not only lacks kindliness, but is expressly hostile. He wants to hurt his fellowmen, and to wound them with the poison of his hatred. I do not refer to the misanthrope who, having been disillusioned, is at war with humanity as a whole and every individual person; he has rather turned away from mankind than turned against it; this type is more tragic than wicked. I am thinking of the malicious man who would like to pour out his poison everywhere, like Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, or Pizarro in Beethoven’s Fidelio.
A specific variety of this type is the fundamentally cruel man, who enjoys the sufferings of others. Instead of the luminous harmony of goodness, we find here a somber disharmony; instead of the warm diffusing rays of happiness and life radiated by love, one finds virulent and lacerating hatred; instead of clear, free affirmation, one finds a destroying search for nothingness, a being imprisoned in a spasm of negation.
We find another antithesis to goodness in the hardhearted person… He is the stern, cold man who is never moved by compassion, whose ear is deaf to all petitions, who tramples on everything without consideration, and for whom other men are mere figures placed on the chessboard of his plans. He is not a deliberate enemy of other people, but completely hard and uncharitable. In no way does this type take into account the natures of other men as spiritual persons, as sensitive and vulnerable creatures. He ignores their rights and claims as personal beings; he treats them as if they were mere objects.
He represents a classical type of the pure egoist. He reminds us of certain slave-dealers, or of Landvogt Gessler in Schiller’s William Tell. Instead of the inner freedom of the charitable man, we find in him an inner compression and hardening of the heart. In place of openness and accessibility to his fellowmen, we find him closed in upon himself and impenetrable.
Instead of response to the positive value of the other’s happiness and the negative value of his suffering, we find refusal of any response; instead of solidarity with the other person (i.e. the capacity to transcend oneself in order to suffer and rejoice with others), we find total imprisonment in self, an icy and brutal gaze looking beyond others. Instead of the victorious, selfless superiority of the man who is at the service of all, we find the inferiority of the brutal superman, and instead of generous forgiveness of injustices suffered, we find relentless vengeance.
Finally, the antithesis to the good man is the cold, indifferent man. He is the man who by-passes his fellowmen with a blighting lack of comprehension; the man who lives for his own comforts and enjoyments; he, too, is a typical egoist, but he has a different complexion from the hardhearted man. He is neither hostile toward others, nor brutally and unrelentingly hard, but he is filled with indifference toward his fellowmen. He may be moved by fearful sights, he experiences disgust and horror when facing illness, he cannot bear the sight of blood, but all this is but a nervous reaction to an aesthetically shocking object. For he flees from awful sights and seeks pleasant scenes, while the good man hastens to help.
On the other hand, this type of man is even more cold than the hardhearted man. The hardhearted man, it is true, has an icy coldness, he does not know the voice of the heart; he is heartless. Yet he does know the fire of hatred, the cold burning of vengeance, of rage. He is not indifferent. He is not invulnerable. He is familiar with the irritation caused by offenses and humiliations, but he does not know what it means to be wounded to the heart by lack of charity, injustice, and, above all, by the sufferings of our fellowmen, and other objective negative values.
The indifferent man, on the contrary, has not the sternness and brutality of the hardhearted men; he cannot even be pierced by insults; only that which is disagreeable and uncomfortable bothers him. He is not a superman like the hardhearted man; he may even be an aesthete. He is unable to share other people’s feelings, for he is much too occupied with his own concerns. He is not only selfish, he is above all egocentric, i.e. he is occupied with his own feeling and moods, and his gaze is centered upon himself. The whole world is there only for his satisfaction. He is therefore incapable of deeper inward-emotions; in the end everything leaves him indifferent. Instead of the warmth and ardor of the good man, empty neutrality and cool indifference reign here. We find here no inner riches or inner fecundity, only sterile poverty and fruitless emptiness.- Instead of the awakedness and openness of the good man, we find him circumscribed and blind regarding values, and instead of the all-embracing breadth of the good man we find in him a petty narrowness.
Thus we see the fundamental features of goodness. Luminous harmony, inner freedom and serenity, the victorious superiority of love — which is the secret of eager and ready service — openness to the life of other men, warmth, ardor, meekness and mildness, all-embracing breadth, awakedness, and the capacity to grasp values. It is above all important to understand that goodness, although it is tender and meek, possesses at the same time the greatest strength. Faced with its irresistible power, with its superior security and freedom, the force of the superman is only miserable weakness and childish pretence. One should not mistake goodness for weak surrender, a surrender without resistance. The truly good man can be immovable when one tries to divert him from the right path, and when the salvation of his neighbor calls imperatively for sternness. He unshakably resists every seduction and temptation.
One should beware of confusing goodness with good-nature. The good-natured man is harmless and is an appeaser; because of a certain lassitude and inertia of his nature, he lets himself be badly treated without noticing it. His amiable attitude has its source in a completely unconscious tendency of his nature. Goodness, on the contrary, flows from a conscious response of love; it is “ardent awakedness” and never “harmless lassitude.” It is the most intensive moral life, and not inertia and dullness; it is strength and not weakness. The good man does not allow himself to be made use of because he lacks the strength to resist, but he serves freely and humbles himself willingly.
In goodness there shines a light which bestows on the good person an especial intellectual dignity. The truly good man is never stupid and narrow, even though he may be slow intellectually, and not gifted for intellectual activities. The man who is not good, in any of the fore-mentioned ways, is, in the last account, always limited, even stupid. This is true even if he has produced works of great intellectual power. Goodness, the breath and fragrance of love, is the essence of every truly moral life, yes, of every true life of the soul. Whereas the other fundamental attitudes, such as reverence, faithfulness, awareness of responsibility and veracity respond to the world of values as a whole, goodness not only responds to this world of values, but is, so to speak, the reflection of the whole world of values in the person. Goodness speaks in the voice and in the name of this world.
What has been said of love applies to goodness as well: “He who does not love abides in death.” In its mysterious strength it shakes the world to its very foundations; it bears on its forehead the sign of victory over wickedness and disorder, over all hatred and all unfeeling coarseness.