By refusing to claim moral or personal authority, Auden placed himself firmly on one side of an argument...
On one side are those who, like Auden, sense the furies hidden in themselves, evils they hope never to unleash, but which, they sometimes perceive, add force to their ordinary angers and resentments, especially those angers they prefer to think are righteous. On the other side are those who can say of themselves without irony, “I am a good person,” who perceive great evils only in other, evil people.
The reaction to Mr Pardew's headbutt - an endless stream of denunciations on 6-0-6, for example - seemed to come solely from the "good persons", people who seem to have never given into the temptation to twat someone.
This reaction, I suspect, is indicative of our wider culture. A couple of years ago, MPs' expenses triggered a moral panic which made one think that politicians were the only people who had ever put their hand in the till or inflated their expenses. And everyone seems to call footballers and bankers "greedy", as if they would turn down a pay rise themselves.
Auden's moral self-awareness seems a small minority position today. And few people seem to try to put themselves into another's shoes before condemning him. Instead, popular culture is dominated by the self-righteous brothers. Like those 20-stone lard-buckets who call Frank Lampard "fat", many of us are swift to condemn others when we have greater faults ourselves.
I suspect hostility to immigration fits into this category. Often, the "debate" is framed in terms of how we feel "uncomfortable" about immigration, which ignores the question: what would you do if the only chance you had to make a decent life for yourself meant you had to move hundreds of miles from home?
Why, then, is public discourse dominated by "good persons"?
It could be just a selection effect; those of passionate intensity make the most noise, whilst the morally conflicted or nuanced stay quiet.
But something else might be a work - a constellation of cultural changes.
One piece of this puzzle might be the decline of religion, or at least of a respectable face of it - the face that says we all have original sin and that only he who is without sin should cast the first stone. More broadly - as Alasdair Macintyre has described - we have lost the tradition of moral inquiry with the result that moral judgments have become mere emotivist spasms. This manifests itself in the absence of serious ethical debates; the Moral Maze is more like the Jeremy Kyle show than the Brains Trust.
Perhaps, also, there's an element of neoliberal performativity here too. A culture of consumer sovereignty, in which the customer or voter is king, can become one in which everyone feels entitled to judge others, without self-reflection.
Whatever the cause - or perhaps it was ever thus - there seems to me a big element of narcissism in what passes for moral judgments. I'm tempted to deprecate this. But then, if I were free of narcissism myself, I wouldn't have a blog would I?