Reflections on the Death of Doris Day

By | 22nd May 2019

The recent death of Doris Day severed one of the last links with a Golden Age of Hollywood. Many tributes have been paid to a woman whose talent was rarely fully used in her screen roles. In the course of these obituaries and memorials, it is interesting to note the songs that are picked out as enduring representations of her vocal gifts. One of these is Que Sera, Sera from a deservedly forgotten movie called The Barefoot Contessa….The popularity of the sentiments is a nice index of the continuing influence of Stoic thought on contemporary culture. Stoicism is very much a philosophy of the present, of the questions about what it takes to do the right thing here and now rather than looking to some distant Utopia. Within the constraints of this moment of living, what would count as a morally correct action?…

…Que sera, sera is a reminder of a time before greed and self-interest had been elevated by neo-classical economics into the main guiding principles for human action. A more innocent world, perhaps, but one that was certainly truer to the founders of that discipline, and to a great deal of classical sociology. Remember that Adam Smith made his international reputation with his Theory of Moral Sentiments, a profoundly Stoic book, and saw Wealth of Nations as an extension of that approach. Markets could only function if the self-interest of participants was tempered by Stoic morality. The institutional accomplishment of that restraint was a central theme for sociology until the 1940s. It remains a vital, if unfashionable question.

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