The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 17, 2018

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Transformative Love and the Recovery of Tradition in Mr. Sammler’s Planet
Lee Trepanier - 03/30/09

This conversation has rekindled in Sammler a renewed and genuine interest in other people: an inward spiritual acceptance of the mystery of God and his creation, as opposed to fulfilling one’s outward obligations. When Lal asks to hear Sammler’s views:

A strange thing happened. He felt that he was about to speak his full mind. Aloud! That was the most striking part of it. Not the usual self-communing of an aged and peculiar person. He was about to say what he thought, and viva voce.

After the conversation, the house begins to flood due to Wallace’s stupidity and symbolizes a renewal of Sammler’s spiritual and emotional psyche. Because he was able to speak about the highest and permanent things with another civilized person, who had no motives other than the conversation itself, Sammler becomes transformed into a person who takes an active role in human affairs. Not only does he later come to the aid of Feffer, who is being attacked by the African-American thief, but Sammler also encourages Angela to ask for forgiveness from her father, even though this may result in a loss of future financial support for him and his daughter, Shula. Although both attempts to help Feffer and Angela ultimately turn out to be futile, Sammler slowly recognizes his own spiritual obligation to fulfill God’s contract by helping out his fellow human beings.

Mr. Sammler’s planet therefore is neither the decaying city of New York nor the horrors of the Holocaust. His planet is one filled with confusion, inevitable disappointment, and reoccurring pain but where the possibility of love and transcendence still persist. The aspiration of Lal’s secular, scientific, and superior lunar civilization certainly represents one possibility for the planet, but so does Sammler’s in its recognition of the force of human depravity but one which can be checked by the human need for civilization, religion, and virtue. But these higher and permanent things—such as love and transcendence—can only be understood after tradition has been recovered. Change and hope are admirable qualities, perhaps even virtuous in certain instances, but the question remains change and hope for what? Mr. Sammler’s Planet seems to suggest that before we can move forward—whether as individuals, a movement, or even as a species—we need to look backwards first in order to recover tradition and transcendence. It is there hopefully we will be able to find love in order to orientate ourselves and our communities towards a better future.

To learn more, visit our short course on Western Civilization.

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