Thursday, 13 October 2011

Caps Off!

I just saw a reference to R G Collingwood on  the 'Permanent Style' blogspot and it provoked thought.

R G Collingwood was Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University between 1935 and 1941 and wrote a number of books; most famously, The Idea of History; on the premise that history is real knowledge, as much as natural science, because from history we may deduce man's inclinations and capabilities. On dress, he said:

"Dress is a kind of language; but when it is rigidly uniform the only emotions which it can express are emotions common to those who wear it. The habit of wearing it focuses the attention of the wearer on emotions of the kind, and at once generates and expresses a permanent 'set' or habit of consciously feeling in the corresponding way.

Dropping a uniform carries with it a curious breach in the emotional habit. The consciousness of sharing uniform dress with a circle of others is thus a consciousness of emotional solidarity with them; and this, on its negative side, takes a form of emotional hostility towards persons outside the circle. To illustrate this from the history of parties and classes is superfluous."

Collingwood says, in fact, that his statement is an axiom. I agree. The abandonment of uniform styles of dress accounts for much confusion and conflict in modern society. I am also instantly reminded of Soames Forsyte having his topper knocked off by a rabble in the street, just after the First World War, and then swapping it for a Homburg - as disguise, out of the necessity of self-preservation!

Surely, though, emotional hostility exists in all classes and groups, towards others who are actually inimical to them and their interests and a 'uniform' is simply one way in which we express our allegiances and, in fact, avoid actual conflict; at least in those cases where the members of the conflicting parties are civilized?

The picture is of R G Collingwood in the typical garb of an Oxford academic of his time.

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