I found this passage that seems relevant in Suzy Anger’s Victorian Interpretation, in which she quotes George Eliot in The Mill on the Floss:
All people of broad, strong sense have an instinctive repugnance to the men of maxims because such people early discern that the mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims and that to lace ourselves up in formulas of that sort is to repress all the divine promptings and inspirations that spring from growing insight and sympathy. And the men of maxims are the popular representative of the minds that are guided in their moral judgments solely by general rules, thinking that these will lead them to justice by ready-made patent method, without the trouble of exerting patience, discrimination, impartiality, without any care to assure themselves whether they have the insight that comes from a hardly-earned estimate of temptation or from a life vivid and intense enough to have created a wide, fellow feeling with all that is human.
I’ll have to keep thinking about this one as I continue reading, but certainly there is much that resonates here with the “morality” of The Circle–even its forced “sympathy” among Circlers–and the ways that it turns that morality, that life philosophy, into pithy phrases that can be turned to as concrete laws, and determinants of action and thought.
Perhaps Mercer, poor, fat Mercer, would agree with Eliot. He seems to be a bit Victorian.