``How dare we dismiss the authority of the past as if we understood it?" Philip Rieff wrote in 1973.
"Rieff's aphorisms - their eloquent crankiness- have a way of getting under your skin. ``A culture in which everything can be said and shown," he wrote in 1968, ``will produce, as night follows day, a society in which everything, no matter how terrible, can be done."
That sentence might well have appeared in ``Regarding the Torture of Others," Sontag's commentary on the Abu Ghraib photographs. And in 1996, looking back on her first collection of essays, including the one denouncing ``piety without content," she sounded this Rieffian note: ``The time we live in is experienced as the end-more exactly, just past the end-of every ideal....The undermining of standards of seriousness is almost complete.""