Trilling’s own teachers, Erskine (a serious Anglican), Mark Van Doren (later a colleague), and Arnold, had conveyed to him a sense that language and literature must be suffused with or at least oriented toward ethics, and his dissent from the exaltation of literary and artistic modernism was not simplistic, hasty, petulant, or merely temperamental: It was the fruit of a lifetime disposition to virtue. He loved to recount how pleased he was with a student who called George Orwell “a virtuous man,” and the fact is that in a madly extreme “age of enormity” he tried to be such a man himself, without much help from the traditional props and sources of monotheistic religion or the philosophical idealism of Plato, Spinoza, or Kant. If his faith in Freud was misplaced, as I believe it was, his steady decency and intellectual discrimination were no less real. Many a believer has been better than his god.
Since mention is made in this piece of "Sam Tanenhaus’s great biography of [Whittaker] Chambers," I thought I would link to my review of it.