This I Believe

Brogan, D. W. (Denis William)


  • Denis Brogan explains that he doesn't share the certainty or types of belief that many adherents of world religions claim, but he does believe that love is better than hate, and that the love of friends gives meaning to life.
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And now, This I Believe. The living philosophies of thoughtful men and women presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow
This I Believe. Professor Dennis Brogan is one of those public figures that some people think of as four people crammed into one. The general public in Britain first heard of him in nineteen-forty-four when he took part in the BBC’s trans-Atlantic quiz with such sardonic characters as Christopher Morley, David Niven and John Mason Brown. Before that however he was well known to students of French history for his book “The Development of Modern France.” He has also earned a reputation as a British authority on American history and Americans. He is now a professor of political science at Cambridge University. Here now is Dennis Brogan.
What do we mean by “believe?” Do we mean,”know?” Do we mean, “feel?” I believe that Washington is the capitol of the United States. I also know it. I believe that the United States is a good thing. But in the same sense, I can’t and don’t know it. When I say “believe” in this talk, I shall be talking of things that I hope and believe to be true, but which I know are guesses, speculations; things hoped for, not things “known.”
The next point that I must make clear is that I don’t know what the universe is about. Millions believe that they do: Christians, Jews, Muslims. All I know is that I don’t belong to them.
The Scottish auto catechism begins by affirming that the chief ends of man are, “to glorify God and enjoin forever.” People who believe that have another term of reference. What I believe is concerned with this world, with my place, duties, possibilities in it.
Well, what in that context do I believe? I have learned to believe that objective life isn’t and can’t be happiness. The young, subject as they are to miseries and emotional shocks and disappointments, still cling to the belief that given certain conditions, happiness—pretty uninterrupted happiness—is at hand. The American young especially believe this. I believe that happiness is a byproduct. You must want the goal or the job for itself, as a good in itself. Happiness may come but only if you want the other things first.
I’ve got in the word, “good,” a dangerous word in modern times.
I believe that is has a meaning that can’t be reduced to other meanings. If we were all taught that, we would have to learn it, as well. And that is a converse, for we, too, can retrieve the knowledge of good and evil, and the older we get, the greater the danger of gliding over the difference. This is what Shelley meant, when he wrote of the “contagion of the world’s slow stain;” what Bernard Shaw meant, when he wrote that, “Every man over forty’s a scoundrel.”
I believe that every man needs watching, and the one who needs watching most is myself. You’re not likely, often, to be too hard on yourself. Even if other people behave worse, you’re not responsible for them.
And I don’t believe that peace of mind is the state to aim at. Idiot’s a peace of mind. People have undergone dichotomy of peace of mind. You ought to be uneasy. I mean, I believe that I ought to be uneasy.
Then I believe that love is more fertile than the most efficient hate. The great sin of the modern world is legitimized hate, legitimized by political passion. It’s an attractive trap. I followed it frequently, but it’s a trap. The other trap is making passion do the work of intelligence. For I believe that you can go as wrong, badly, by intellectual passion as you can by sexual passion, passion for money, and so on.
A zealous Catholic who was a very good poet, Hilaire Belloc, once wrote, “There’s nothing worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends.” There are worse views of life, and I believe that if forced to choose inside that narrow frame, I’d drop the laughter. For life, I believe, is something more and better than the best joke.
That was my old friend Professor Dennis Brogan of Cambridge University, England. His red face and black-rimmed glasses give him a rather gentle owlish appearance but his scotch accent and forth right opinions sting and bristle still.