THE PUBLIC HAPPINESS by August Heckscher


Email this review


August Heckscher, a historical scholar with a deep strain of broadview philosophy in his makeup, now serves the Kennedy Administration as a special cultural attache. The ambiguity of such a position might make a lesser man look ridiculous, but to Heckscher the very paradox has served as a challenge to enquire why things are as we find them in the world today. Realizing that the basic dilemma faced by modern liberalism is ""the contradiction between happiness and welfare"", he posits that welfare should ideally ""be made subservient to other aims and purposes; it should be accomplished with simple expertness"". Means, however, are often mistaken for ends. In this analysis of what contemporary life actually is, he has sought to describe also what it might be, and how types of cooperation may yet be employed to serve the goal of a new form of happiness in the public sphere - somewhat comparable to the private happiness of which men have long been in pursuit. His survey of the relationship of science, education, architecture, and government pinpoints the difference between these public sectors and the intimacy, the privacy of the individual and the family. Each time men relinquish some element or individual privacy, he warns, they must compensate for it by some real enrichment of life in the public sector, or stand in mortal danger of falling into a universal sameness in which mediocrity will be reinforced by the outpourings of ""the post television set"". Without some meaningful reappraisal, he cries, mass standards and the passion to consume because we have produced will continue to disrupt the security and tranquillity of the nation. He has struck a chord that is not new in the repertoire, that with a force and freshness that may cause his audience to listen with more attentive ear.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1962
Publisher: Atheneum