CONCLUSIONS—THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE NATIONAL PURPOSES
INDIVIDUAL VS. COLLECTIVE EDUCATION
Hitherto we have been discussing the ways in which existing American economic and political methods and institutions should be modified in order to make towards the realization of the national democratic ideal. In course of this discussion, it has been taken for granted that the American people under competent and responsible leadership could deliberately plan a policy of individual and social improvement, and that with the means at their collective disposal they could make headway towards its realization. These means consisted, of course, precisely in their whole outfit of political, economic, and social institutions; and the implication has been, consequently, that human nature can be raised to a higher level by an improvement in institutions and laws. The majority of my readers will probably have thought many times that such an assumption, whatever its truth, has been overworked. Admitting that some institutions may be better than others, it must also be admitted that human nature is composed of most rebellious material, and that the extent to which it can be modified by social and political institutions of any kind is, at best, extremely small. Such critics may, consequently, have reached the conclusion that the proposed system of reconstruction, even if desirable, would not accomplish anything really effectual or decisive towards the fulfillment of the American national Promise.
It is no doubt true that out of the preceding chapters many sentences could be selected which apparently imply a credulous faith in the possibility of improving human nature by law. It is also true that I have not ventured more than to touch upon a possible institutional reformation, which, in so far as it was successful in its purpose, would improve human nature by the most effectual of all means—that is, by improving the methods whereby men and women are bred. But if I have erred in attaching or appearing to attach too much efficacy to legal and institutional reforms, the error or its appearance was scarcely separable from an analytic reconstruction of a sufficient democratic ideal. Democracy must stand or fall on a platform of possible human perfectibility. If human nature cannot be improved by institutions, democracy is at best a more than usually safe form of political organization; and the only interesting inquiry about its future would be: How long will it continue to work? But if it is to work better as well as merely longer, it must have some leavening effect on human nature; and the sincere democrat is obliged to assume the power of the leaven. For him the practical questions are: How can the improvement best be brought about? and, How much may it amount to?
As a matter of fact, Americans have always had the liveliest and completest faith in the process of individual and social improvement and in accepting the assumption, I am merely adhering to the deepest and most influential of American traditions. The better American has continually been seeking to "uplift" himself, his neighbors, and his compatriots. But he has usually favored means of improvement very different from those suggested hereinbefore. The real vehicle of improvement is education. It is by education that the American is trained for such democracy as he possesses; and it is by better education that he proposes to better his democracy. Men are uplifted by education much more surely than they are by any tinkering with laws and institutions, because the work of education leavens the actual social substance. It helps to give the individual himself those qualities without which no institutions, however excellent, are of any use, and with which even bad institutions and laws can be made vehicles of grace.
The American faith in education has been characterized as a superstition; and superstitious in some respects it unquestionably is. But its superstitious tendency is not exhibited so much in respect to the ordinary process of primary, secondary, and higher education. Not even an American can over-emphasize the importance of proper teaching during youth; and the only wonder is that the money so freely lavished on it does not produce better results. Americans are superstitious in respect to education, rather because of the social "uplift" which they expect to achieve by so-called educational means. The credulity of the socialist in expecting to alter human nature by merely institutional and legal changes is at least equaled by the credulity of the good American in proposing to evangelize the individual by the reading of books and by the expenditure of money and words. Back of it all is the underlying assumption that the American nation by taking thought can add a cubit to its stature,—an absolute confidence in the power of the idea to create its own object and in the efficacy of good intentions.
Do we lack culture? We will "make it hum" by founding a new university in Chicago. Is American art neglected and impoverished? We will enrich it by organizing art departments in our colleges, and popularize it by lectures with lantern slides and associations for the study of its history. Is New York City ugly? Perhaps, but if we could only get the authorities to appropriate a few hundred millions for its beautification, we could make it look like a combination of Athens, Florence, and Paris. Is it desirable for the American citizen to be something of a hero? I will encourage heroes by establishing a fund whereby they shall be rewarded in cash. War is hell, is it? I will work for the abolition of hell by calling a convention and passing a resolution denouncing its iniquities. I will build at the Hague a Palace of Peace which shall be a standing rebuke to the War Lords of Europe. Here, in America, some of us have more money than we need and more good will. We will spend the money in order to establish the reign of the good, the beautiful, and the true.
This faith in a combination of good intentions, organization, words, and money is not confined to women's clubs or to societies of amiable enthusiasts. In the state of mind which it expresses can be detected the powerful influence which American women exert over American men; but its guiding faith and illusion are shared by the most hard-headed and practical of Americans. The very men who have made their personal successes by a rigorous application of the rule that business is business—the very men who in their own careers have exhibited a shrewd and vivid sense of the realities of politics and trade; it is these men who have most faith in the practical, moral, and social power of the Subsidized Word. The most real thing which they carry over from the region of business into the region of moral and intellectual ideals is apparently their bank accounts. The fruits of their hard work and their business ability are to be applied to the purpose of "uplifting" their fellow-countrymen. A certain number of figures written on a check and signed by a familiar name, what may it not accomplish? Some years ago at the opening exercises of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburg, Mr. Andrew Carnegie burst into an impassioned and mystical vision of the miraculously constitutive power of first mortgage steel bonds. From his point of view and from that of the average American there is scarcely anything which the combination of abundant resources and good intentions may not accomplish.
The tradition of seeking to cross the gulf between American practice and the American ideal by means of education or the Subsidized Word is not be dismissed with a sneer. The gulf cannot be crossed without the assistance of some sort of educational discipline; and that discipline depends partly on a new exercise of the "money power" now safely reposing in the strong boxes of professional millionaires. There need be no fundamental objection taken to the national faith in the power of good intentions and re-distributed wealth. That faith is the immediate and necessary issue of the logic of our national moral situation. It should be, as it is, innocent and absolute; and if it does not remain innocent and absolute, the Promise of American Life can scarcely be fulfilled.
A faith may, however, be innocent and absolute without being inexperienced and credulous. The American faith in education is by way of being credulous and superstitious, not because it seeks individual and social amelioration by what may be called an educational process, but because the proposed means of education are too conscious, too direct, and too superficial. Let it be admitted that in any one decade the amount which can be accomplished towards individual and social amelioration by means of economic and political reorganization is comparatively small; but it is certainly as large as that which can be accomplished by subsidizing individual good intentions. Heroism is not to be encouraged by cash prizes any more than is genius; and a man's friends should not be obliged to prove that he is a hero in order that he may reap every appropriate reward. A hero officially conscious of his heroism is a mutilated hero. In the same way art cannot become a power in a community unless many of its members are possessed of a native and innocent love of beautiful things; and the extent to which such a possession can be acquired by any one or two generations of traditionally inartistic people is extremely small. Its acquisition depends not so much upon direct conscious effort, as upon the growing ability to discriminate between what is good and what is bad in their own native art. It is a matter of the training and appreciation of American artists, rather than the cultivation of art. Illustrations to the same effect might be multiplied. The popular interest in the Higher Education has not served to make Americans attach much importance to the advice of the highly educated man. He is less of a practical power in the United States than he is in any European country; and this fact is in itself a sufficient commentary on the reality of the American faith in education. The fact is, of course, that the American tendency to disbelieve in the fulfillment of their national Promise by means of politically, economically, and socially reconstructive work has forced them into the alternative of attaching excessive importance to subsidized good intentions. They want to be "uplifted," and they want to "uplift" other people; but they will not use their social and political institutions for the purpose, because those institutions are assumed to be essentially satisfactory. The "uplifting" must be a matter of individual, or of unofficial associated effort; and the only available means are words and subsidies.
There is, however, a sense in which it is really true that the American national Promise can be fulfilled only by education; and this aspect of our desirable national education can, perhaps, best be understood by seeking its analogue in the training of the individual. An individual's education consists primarily in the discipline which he undergoes to fit him both for fruitful association with his fellows and for his own special work. Important as both the liberal and the technical aspect of this preliminary training is, it constitutes merely the beginning of a man's education. Its object is or should be to prepare him both in his will and in his intelligence to make a thoroughly illuminating use of his experience in life. His experience,—as a man of business, a husband, a father, a citizen, a friend,—has been made real to him, not merely by the zest with which he has sought it and the sincerity with which he has accepted it, but by the disinterested intelligence which he has brought to its understanding. An educational discipline which has contributed in that way to the reality of a man's experience has done as much for him as education can do; and an educational discipline which has failed to make any such contribution has failed of its essential purpose. The experience of other people acquired at second hand has little value,—except, perhaps, as a means of livelihood,—unless it really illuminates a man's personal experience.
Usually a man's ability to profit by his own personal experience depends upon the sincerity and the intelligence which he brings to his own particular occupation. The rule is not universal, because some men are, of course, born with much higher intellectual gifts than others; and to such men may be given an insight which has little foundation in any genuine personal experience. It remains true, none the less, for the great majority of men, that they gather an edifying understanding of men and things just in so far as they patiently and resolutely stick to the performance of some special and (for the most part) congenial task. Their education in life must be grounded in the persistent attempt to realize in action some kind of a purpose—a purpose usually connected with the occupation whereby they live. In the pursuit of that purpose they will be continually making experiments—opening up new lines of work, establishing new relations with other men, and taking more or less serious risks. Each of these experiments offers them an opportunity both for personal discipline and for increasing personal insight. If a man is capable of becoming wise, he will gradually be able to infer from this increasing mass of personal experience, the extent to which or the conditions under which he is capable of realizing his purpose; and his insight into the particular realities of his own life will bring with it some kind of a general philosophy—some sort of a disposition and method of appraisal of men, their actions, and their surroundings. Wherever a man reaches such a level of intelligence, he will be an educated man, even though his particular job has been that of a mechanic. On the other hand, a man who fails to make his particular task in life the substantial support of a genuine experience remains essentially an unenlightened man.
National education in its deeper aspect does not differ from individual education. Its efficiency ultimately depends upon the ability of the national consciousness to draw illuminating inferences from the course of the national experience; and its power to draw such inferences must depend upon the persistent and disinterested sincerity with which the attempt is made to realize the national purpose—the democratic ideal of individual and social improvement. So far as Americans are true to that purpose, all the different aspects of their national experience will assume meaning and momentum; while in so far as they are false thereto, no amount of "education" will ever be really edifying. The fundamental process of American education consists and must continue to consist precisely in the risks and experiments which the American nation will make in the service of its national ideal. If the American people balk at the sacrifices demanded by their experiments, or if they attach finality to any particular experiment in the distribution of political, economic, and social power, they will remain morally and intellectually at the bottom of a well, out of which they will never be "uplifted" by the most extravagant subsidizing of good intentions and noble words.
The sort of institutional and economic reorganization suggested in the preceding chapters is not, consequently, to be conceived merely as a more or less dubious proposal to improve human nature by laws. It is to be conceived as (possibly) the next step in the realization of a necessary collective purpose. Its deeper significance does not consist in the results which it may accomplish by way of immediate improvement. Such results may be worth having; but at best they will create almost as many difficulties as they remove. Far more important than any practical benefits would be the indication it afforded of national good faith. It would mean that the American nation was beginning to educate itself up to its own necessary standards. It would imply a popular realization that our first experiment in democratic political and economic organization was founded partly on temporary conditions and partly on erroneous theories. A new experiment must consequently be made; and the great value of this new experiment would derive from the implied intellectual and moral emancipation. Its trial would demand both the sacrifice of many cherished interests, habits, and traditions for the sake of remaining true to a more fundamental responsibility and a much larger infusion of disinterested motives into the economic and political system. Thus the sincere definite decision that the experiment was necessary, would probably do more for American moral and social amelioration than would the specific measures actually adopted and tried. Public opinion can never be brought to approve any effectual measures, until it is converted to a constructive and consequently to a really educational theory of democracy.
Back of the problem of educating the individual lies the problem of collective education. On the one hand, if the nation is rendered incapable of understanding its own experience by the habit of dealing insincerely with its national purpose, the individual, just in so far as he himself has become highly educated, tends to be divided from his country and his fellow-countrymen. On the other hand, just in so far as a people is sincerely seeking the fulfillment of its national Promise, individuals of all kinds will find their most edifying individual opportunities in serving their country. In aiding the accomplishment of the collective purpose by means of increasingly constructive experiments, they will be increasing the scope and power of their own individual action. The opportunities, which during the past few years the reformers have enjoyed to make their personal lives more interesting, would be nothing compared to the opportunities for all sorts of stirring and responsible work, which would be demanded of individuals under the proposed plan of political and economic reorganization. The American nation would be more disinterestedly and sincerely fulfilling its collective purpose, partly because its more distinguished individuals had been called upon to place at the service of their country a higher degree of energy, ability, and unselfish devotion. If a nation, that is, is recreant to its deeper purpose, individuals, so far as they are well educated, are educated away from the prevailing national habits and traditions; whereas when a nation is sincerely attempting to meet its collective responsibility, the better individuals are inevitably educated into active participation in the collective task.
The reader may now be prepared to understand why the American faith in education has the appearance of being credulous and superstitious. The good average American usually wishes to accomplish exclusively by individual education a result which must be partly accomplished by national education. The nation, like the individual, must go to school; and the national school is not a lecture hall or a library. Its schooling consists chiefly in experimental collective action aimed at the realization of the collective purpose. If the action is not aimed at the collective purpose, a nation will learn little even from its successes. If its action is aimed at the collective purpose, it may learn much even from its mistakes. No process of merely individual education can accomplish the work of collective education, because the nation is so much more than a group of individuals. Individuals can be "uplifted" without "uplifting" the nation, because the nation has an individuality of its own, which cannot be increased without the consciousness of collective responsibilities and the collective official attempt to redeem them. The processes of national and individual education should, of course, parallel and supplement each other. The individual can do much to aid national education by the single-minded and intelligent realization of his own specific purposes; but all individual successes will have little more than an individual interest unless they frequently contribute to the work of national construction. The nation can do much to aid individual education; but the best aid within its power is to offer to the individual a really formative and inspiring opportunity for public service. The whole round of superficial educational machinery—books, subsidies, resolutions, lectures, congresses—may be of the highest value, provided they are used to digest and popularize the results of a genuine individual and national educational experience, but when they are used, as so often at present, merely as a substitute for well-purposed individual and national action, they are precisely equivalent to an attempt to fly in a vacuum.
That the direct practical value of a reform movement may be equaled or surpassed by its indirect educational value is a sufficiently familiar idea—an idea admirably expressed ten years ago by Mr. John Jay Chapman in the chapter on "Education" in his "Causes and Consequences." But the idea in its familiar form is vitiated, because the educational effect of reform is usually conceived as exclusively individual. Its effect must, indeed, be considered wholly as an individual matter, just so long as reform is interpreted merely as a process of purification. From that point of view the collective purpose has already been fulfilled as far as it can be fulfilled by collective organization, and the only remaining method of social amelioration is that of the self-improvement of its constituent members. As President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia says, in his "True and False Democracy": "We must not lose sight of the fact that the corporate or collective responsibility which it (socialism) would substitute for individual initiative is only such corporate or collective responsibility as a group of these very same individuals could exercise. Therefore, socialism is primarily an attempt to overcome man's individual imperfections by adding them together, in the hope that they will cancel each other." But what is all organization but an attempt, not to overcome man's individual imperfections by adding them together, so much as to make use of many men's varying individual abilities by giving each a sufficient sphere of exercise? While all men are imperfect, they are not all imperfect to the same extent. Some have more courage, more ability, more insight, and more training than others; and an efficient organization can accomplish more than can a mere collection of individuals, precisely because it may represent a standard of performance far above that of the average individual. Its merit is simply that of putting the collective power of the group at the service of its ablest members; and the ablest members of the group will never attain to an individual responsibility commensurate with their powers, until they are enabled to work efficiently towards the redemption of the collective responsibility. The nation gives individuality an increased scope and meaning by offering individuals a chance for effective service, such as they could never attain under a system of collective irresponsibility. Thus under a system of collective responsibility the process of social improvement is absolutely identified with that of individual improvement. The antithesis is not between nationalism and individualism, but between an individualism which is indiscriminate, and an individualism which is selective.
CONDITIONS OF INDIVIDUAL EMANCIPATION
It is, then, essential to recognize that the individual American will never obtain a sufficiently complete chance of self-expression, until the American nation has earnestly undertaken and measurably achieved the realization of its collective purpose. As we shall see presently, the cure for this individual sterility lies partly with the individual himself or rather with the man who proposes to become an individual; and under any plan of economic or social organization, the man who proposes to become an individual is a condition of national as well as individual improvement. It is none the less true that any success in the achievement of the national purpose will contribute positively to the liberation of the individual, both by diminishing his temptations, improving his opportunities, and by enveloping him in an invigorating rather than an enervating moral and intellectual atmosphere.
It is the economic individualism of our existing national system which inflicts the most serious damage on American individuality; and American individual achievement in politics and science and the arts will remain partially impoverished as long as our fellow-countrymen neglect or refuse systematically to regulate the distribution of wealth in the national interest. I am aware, of course, that the prevailing American conviction is absolutely contradictory of the foregoing assertion. Americans have always associated individual freedom with the unlimited popular enjoyment of all available economic opportunities. Yet it would be far more true to say that the popular enjoyment of practically unrestricted economic opportunities is precisely the condition which makes for individual bondage. Neither does the bondage which such a system fastens upon the individual exist only in the case of those individuals who are victimized by the pressure of unlimited economic competition. Such victims exist, of course, in large numbers, and they will come to exist in still larger number hereafter; but hitherto, at least, the characteristic vice of the American system has not been the bondage imposed upon its victims. Much more insidious has been the bondage imposed upon the conquerors and their camp-followers. A man's individuality is as much compromised by success under the conditions imposed by such a system as it is by failure. His actual occupation may tend to make his individuality real and fruitful; but the quality of the work is determined by a merely acquisitive motive, and the man himself thereby usually debarred from obtaining any edifying personal independence or any peculiar personal distinction. Different as American business men are one from another in temperament, circumstances, and habits, they have a way of becoming fundamentally very much alike. Their individualities are forced into a common mold, because the ultimate measure of the value of their work is the same, and is nothing but its results in cash.
Consider for a moment what individuality and individual independence really mean. A genuine individual must at least possess some special quality which distinguishes him from other people, which unifies the successive phases and the various aspects of his own life and which results in personal moral freedom. In what way and to what extent does the existing economic system contribute to the creation of such genuine individuals? At its best it asks of every man who engages in a business occupation that he make as much money as he can, and the only conditions it imposes on this pursuit of money are those contained in the law of the land and a certain conventional moral code. The pursuit of money is to arouse a man to individual activity, and law and custom determine the conditions to which the activity must conform. The man does not become an individual merely by obeying the written and unwritten laws. He becomes an individual because the desire to make money releases his energy and intensifies his personal initiative. The kind of individuals created by such an economic system are not distinguished one from another by any special purpose. They are distinguished by the energy and success whereby the common purpose of making money is accompanied and followed. Some men show more enterprise and ingenuity in devising ways of making money than others, or they show more vigor and zeal in taking advantage of the ordinary methods. These men are the kind of individuals which the existing economic system tends to encourage; and critics of the existing system are denounced, because of the disastrous effect upon individual initiative which would result from restricting individual economic freedom.
But why should a man become an individual because he does what everybody else does, only with more energy and success? The individuality so acquired is merely that of one particle in a mass of similar particles. Some particles are bigger than others and livelier; but from a sufficient distance they all look alike; and in substance and meaning they all are alike. Their individual activity and history do not make them less alike. It merely makes them bigger or smaller, livelier or more inert. Their distinction from their fellows is quantitative; the unity of their various phases a matter of repetition; their independence wholly comparative. Such men are associated with their fellows in the pursuit of a common purpose, and they are divided from their fellows by the energy and success with which that purpose is pursued. On the other hand, a condition favorable to genuine individuality would be one in which men were divided from one another by special purposes, and reunited in so far as these individual purposes were excellently and successfully achieved.
The truth is that individuality cannot be dissociated from the pursuit of a disinterested object. It is a moral and intellectual quality, and it must be realized by moral and intellectual means. A man achieves individual distinction, not by the enterprise and vigor with which he accumulates money, but by the zeal and the skill with which he pursues an exclusive interest—an interest usually, but not necessarily, connected with his means of livelihood. The purpose to which he is devoted—such, for instance, as that of painting or of running a railroad—is not exclusive in the sense of being unique. But it becomes exclusive for the individual who adopts it, because of the single-minded and disinterested manner in which it is pursued. A man makes the purpose exclusive for himself by the spirit and method in which the work is done; and just in proportion as the work is thoroughly well done, a man's individuality begins to take substance and form. His individual quality does not depend merely on the display of superior enterprise and energy, although, of course, he may and should be as enterprising and as energetic as he can. It depends upon the actual excellence of the work in every respect,—an excellence which can best be achieved by the absorbing and exclusive pursuit of that alone. A man's individuality is projected into his work. He does not stop when he has earned enough money, and he does not cease his improvements when they cease to bring in an immediate return. He is identified with his job, and by means of that identification his individuality becomes constructive. His achievement, just because of its excellence, has an inevitable and an unequivocal social value. The quality of a man's work reunites him with his fellows. He may have been in appearance just as selfish as a man who spends most of his time in making money, but if his work has been thoroughly well done, he will, in making himself an individual, have made an essential contribution to national fulfillment.
Of course, a great deal of very excellent work is accomplished under the existing economic system; and by means of such work many a man becomes more or less of an individual. But in so far as such is the case, it is the work which individualizes and not the unrestricted competitive pursuit of money. In so far as the economic motive prevails, individuality is not developed; it is stifled. The man whose motive is that of money-making will not make the work any more excellent than is demanded by the largest possible returns; and frequently the largest possible returns are to be obtained by indifferent work or by work which has absolutely no social value. The ordinary mercenary purpose always compels a man to stop at a certain point, and consider something else than the excellence of his achievement. It does not make the individual independent, except in so far as independence is merely a matter of cash in the bank; and for every individual on whom it bestows excessive pecuniary independence, there are many more who are by that very circumstance denied any sort of liberation. Even pecuniary independence is usually purchased at the price of moral and intellectual bondage. Such genuine individuality as can be detected in the existing social system is achieved not because of the prevailing money-making motive, but in spite thereof.
The ordinary answer to such criticisms is that while the existing system may have many faults, it certainly has proved an efficient means of releasing individual energy; whereas the exercise of a positive national responsibility for the wholesome distribution of wealth would tend to deprive the individual of any sufficient initiative. The claim is that the money-making motive is the only one which will really arouse the great majority of men, and to weaken it would be to rob the whole economic system of its momentum. Just what validity this claim may have cannot, with our present experience, be definitely settled. That to deprive individuals suddenly of the opportunities they have so long enjoyed would be disastrous may be fully admitted. It may also be admitted that any immediate and drastic attempt to substitute for the present system a national regulation of the distribution of wealth or a national responsibility for the management even of monopolies or semi-monopolies would break down and would do little to promote either individual or social welfare. But to conclude from any such admissions that a systematic policy of promoting individual and national amelioration should be abandoned in wholly unnecessary. That the existing system has certain practical advantages, and is a fair expression of the average moral standards of to-day is not only its chief merit, but also its chief and inexcusable defect. What a democratic nation must do is not to accept human nature as it is, but to move in the direction of its improvement. The question it must answer is: How can it contribute to the increase of American individuality? The defender of the existing system must be able to show either (1) that it does contribute to the increase of American individuality; or that (2) whatever its limitations, the substitution of some better system is impossible.
Of course, a great many defenders of the existing system will unequivocally declare that it does contribute effectually to the increase of individuality, and it is this defense which is most dangerous, because it is due, not to any candid consideration of the facts, but to unreasoning popular prejudice and personal self-justification. The existing system contributes to the increase of individuality only in case individuality is deprived of all serious moral and intellectual meaning. In order to sustain their assertion they must define individuality, not as a living ideal, but as the psychological condition produced by any individual action. In the light of such a definition every action performed by an individual would contribute to individuality; and, conversely, every action performed by the state, which conceivably could be left to individuals, would diminish individuality. Such a conception derives from the early nineteenth century principles of an essential opposition between the state and the individual; and it is a deduction from the common conception of democracy as nothing but a finished political organization in which the popular will prevails. As applied in the traditional American system this conception of individuality has resulted in the differentiation of an abundance of raw individual material, but the raw material has been systematically encouraged to persist only on condition that it remained undeveloped. Properly speaking, it has not encouraged individualism at all. Individuality is necessarily based on genuine discrimination. It has encouraged particularism. While the particles have been roused into activity, they all remain dominated by substantially the same forces of attraction and repulsion. But in order that one of the particles may fulfill the promise of a really separate existence, he must pursue some special interest of his own. In that way he begins to realize his individuality, and in realizing his individuality he is coming to occupy a special niche in the national structure. A national structure which encourages individuality as opposed to mere particularity is one which creates innumerable special niches, adapted to all degrees and kinds of individual development. The individual becomes a nation in miniature, but devoted to the loyal realization of a purpose peculiar to himself. The nation becomes an enlarged individual whose special purpose is that of human amelioration, and in whose life every individual should find some particular but essential function.
It surely cannot be seriously claimed that the improvement of the existing economic organization for the sake of contributing to the increase of such genuine individuals is impossible. If genuine individuality depends upon the pursuit of an exclusive interest, promoted most certainly and completely by a disinterested motive, it must be encouraged by enabling men so far as possible to work from disinterested motives. Doubtless this is a difficult, but it is not an impossible task. It cannot be completelyachieved until the whole basis of economic competition is changed. At present men compete chiefly for the purpose of securing the most money to spend or to accumulate. They must in the end compete chiefly for the purpose of excelling in the quality of their work that of other men engaged in a similar occupation. And there are assuredly certain ways in which the state can diminish the undesirable competition and encourage the desirable competition.
The several economic reforms suggested in the preceding chapter would, so far as they could be successfully introduced, promote more disinterested economic work. These reforms would not, of course, entirely do away with the influence of selfish acquisitive motives in the economic field, because such motives must remain powerful as long as private property continues to have a public economic function. But they would at least diminish the number of cases in which the influence of the mercenary motive made against rather than for excellence of work. The system which most encourages mere cupidity is one which affords too many opportunities for making "easy money," and our American system has, of course, been peculiarly prolific of such opportunities. As long as individuals are allowed to accumulate money from mines, urban real estate, municipal franchises, or semi-monopolies of any kind, just to that extent will the economic system of the country be poisoned, and its general efficiency impaired. Men will inevitably seek to make money in the easiest possible way, and as long as such easy ways exist fewer individuals will accept cordially the necessity of earning their living by the sheer excellence of achievement. On the other hand, in case such opportunities of making money without earning it can be eliminated, there will be a much closer correspondence than there is at present between the excellence of the work and the reward it would bring. Such a correspondence would, of course, be far from exact. In all petty kinds of business innumerable opportunities would still exist of earning more money either by disregarding the quality of the work or sometimes by actually lowering it. But at any rate it would be work which would earn money, and not speculation or assiduous repose in an easy chair.
In the same way, just in so far as industry became organized under national control for the public benefit, there would be a much closer correspondence between the quality of the work and the amount of the reward. In a well-managed corporation a man is promoted because he does good work, and has shown himself capable of assuming larger responsibilities and exercising more power. His promotion brings with it a larger salary, and the chance of obtaining a larger salary doubtless has much to do with the excellence of the work; but at all events a man is not rewarded for doing bad work or for doing no work at all. The successful employee of a corporation has not become disinterested in his motives. Presumably he will not do any more work than will contribute to his personal advancement; and if the standard of achievement in his office is at all relaxed, he will not be kept up to the mark by an exclusive and disinterested devotion to the work itself. Still, under such conditions a man might well become better than his own motives. Whenever the work itself was really interesting, he might become absorbed in it by the very momentum of his habitual occupation, and this would be particularly the case provided his work assumed a technical character. In that case he would have to live up to the standard, not merely of an office, but of a trade, a profession, a craft, an art, or a science; and if those technical standards were properly exacting, he would be kept up to the level of his best work by a motive which had almost become disinterested. He could not fall below the standard, even though he derived no personal profit from striving to live up to it, because the traditions and the honor of his craft would not let him.
The proposed economic policy of reform, in so far as it were successful, would also tend to stimulate labor to more efficiency, and to diminish its grievances. The state would be lending assistance to the effort of the workingman to raise his standard of living, and to restrict the demoralizing effect of competition among laborers who cannot afford to make a stand on behalf of their own interest. It should, consequently, increase the amount of economic independence enjoyed by the average laborer, diminish his "class consciousness" by doing away with his class grievances, and intensify his importance to himself as an individual. It would in every way help to make the individual workingman more of an individual. His class interest would be promoted by the nation in so far as such promotion was possible, and could be adjusted to a general policy of national economic construction. His individual interest would be left in his own charge; but he would have much more favorable opportunities of redeeming the charge by the excellence of his individual work than he has under the existing system. His condition would doubtless still remain in certain respects unsatisfactory, for the purpose of a democratic nation must remain unfulfilled just in so far as the national organization of labor does not enable all men to compete on approximately equal terms for all careers. But a substantial step would be made towards its improvement, and the road marked, perhaps, for still further advance.
Again, however, must the reader be warned that the important thing is the constructive purpose, and not the means proposed for its realization. Whenever the attempt at its realization is made, it is probable that other and unforeseen measures will be found necessary; and even if a specific policy proposed were successfully tried, this would constitute merely an advance towards the ultimate end. The ultimate end is the complete emancipation of the individual, and that result depends upon his complete disinterestedness. He must become interested exclusively in the excellence of his work; and he can never become disinterestedly interested in his work as long as heavy responsibilities and high achievements are supposed to be rewarded by increased pay. The effort equitably to adjust compensation to earnings is ultimately not only impossible, but undesirable, because it necessarily would foul the whole economic organization—so far as its efficiency depended on a generous rivalry among individuals. The only way in which work can be made entirely disinterested is to adjust its compensation to the needs of a normal and wholesome human life.
Any substantial progress towards the attainment of complete individual disinterestedness is far beyond the reach of contemporary collective effort, but such disinterestedness should be clearly recognized as the economic condition both of the highest fulfillment which democracy can bestow upon the individual and of a thoroughly wholesome democratic organization. Says Mr. John Jay Chapman in the chapter on "Democracy," in his "Causes and Consequences": "It is thought that the peculiar merit of democracy lies in this: that it gives every man a chance to pursue his own ends. The reverse is true. The merit lies in the assumption imposed upon every man that he shall serve his fellow-men.... The concentration of every man on his own interests has been the danger and not the safety of democracy, for democracy contemplates that every man shall think first of the state and next of himself.... Democracy assumes perfection in human nature." But men will always continue chiefly to pursue their own private ends as long as those ends are recognized by the official national ideal as worthy of perpetuation and encouragement. If it be true that democracy is based upon the assumption that every man shall serve his fellow-men, the organization of democracy should be gradually adapted to that assumption. The majority of men cannot be made disinterested for life by exhortation, by religious services, by any expenditure of subsidized words, or even by a grave and manifest public need. They can be made permanently unselfish only by being helped to become disinterested in their individual purposes, and how can they be disinterested except in a few little spots as long as their daily occupation consists of money seeking and spending in conformity with a few written and unwritten rules? In the complete democracy a man must in some way be made to serve the nation in the very act of contributing to his own individual fulfillment. Not until his personal action is dictated by disinterested motives can there be any such harmony between private and public interests. To ask an individual citizen continually to sacrifice his recognized private interest to the welfare of his countrymen is to make an impossible demand, and yet just such a continual sacrifice is apparently required of an individual in a democratic state. The only entirely satisfactory solution of the difficulty is offered by the systematic authoritative transformation of the private interest of the individual into a disinterested devotion to a special object.
American public opinion has not as yet begun to understand the relation between the process of national education by means of a patient attempt to realize the national purpose and the corresponding process of individual emancipation and growth. It still believes that democracy is a happy device for evading collective responsibilities by passing them on to the individual; and as long as this belief continues to prevail, the first necessity of American educational advance is the arousing of the American intellectual conscience. Behind the tradition of national irresponsibility is the still deeper tradition of intellectual insincerity in political matters. Americans are almost as much afraid of consistent and radical political thinking as are the English, and with nothing like as much justification. Jefferson offered them a seductive example of triumphant intellectual dishonesty, and of the sacrifice of theory to practice, whenever such a sacrifice was convenient. Jefferson's example has been warmly approved by many subsequent intellectual leaders. Before Emerson and after, mere consistency has been stigmatized as the preoccupation of petty minds; and our American superiority to the necessity of making ideas square with practice, or one idea with another, has been considered as an exhibition of remarkable political common sense. The light-headed Frenchmen really believed in their ideas, and fell thereby into a shocking abyss of anarchy and fratricidal bloodshed, whereas we have avoided any similar fate by preaching a "noble national theory" and then practicing it just as far as it suited our interests or was not too costly in time and money. No doubt, we also have had our domestic difficulties, and were obliged to shed a good deal of American blood, because we resolutely refused to believe that human servitude was not entirely compatible with the loftiest type of democracy; but then, the Civil War might have been avoided if the Abolitionists had not erroneously insisted on being consistent. The way to escape similar trouble in the future is to go on preaching ideality, and to leave its realization wholly to the individual. We can then be "uplifted" by the words, while the resulting deeds cannot do us, as individuals, any harm. We can continue to celebrate our "noble national theory" and preserve our perfect democratic system until the end of time without making any of the individual sacrifices or taking any of the collective risks, inseparable from a systematic attempt to make our words good.
The foregoing state of mind is the great obstacle to the American national advance; and its exposure and uprooting is the primary need of American education. In agitating against the traditional disregard of our full national responsibility, a critic will do well to dispense with the caution proper to the consideration of specific practical problems. A radical theory does not demand in the interest of consistency an equally radical action. It only demands a sincere attempt to push the application of the theory as far as conditions will permit, and the employment of means sufficient probably to accomplish the immediate purpose. But in the endeavor to establish and popularize his theory, a radical critic cannot afford any similar concessions. His own opinions can become established only by the displacement of the traditional opinions; and the way to displace a traditional error is not to be compromising and conciliatory, but to be as uncompromising and as irritating as one's abilities and one's vision of the truth will permit. The critic in his capacity as agitator is living in a state of war with his opponents; and the ethics of warfare are not the ethics of statesmanship. Public opinion can be reconciled to a constructive national programme only by the agitation of what is from the traditional standpoint a body of revolutionary ideas.
In vigorously agitating such a body of revolutionary ideas, the critic would be doing more than performing a desirable public service. He would be vindicating his own individual intellectual interest. The integrity and energy of American intellectual life has been impaired for generations by the tradition of national irresponsibility. Such irresponsibility necessarily implies a sacrifice of individual intellectual and moral interests to individual and popular economic interests. It could not persist except by virtue of intellectual and moral conformity. The American intellectual habit has on the whole been just about as vigorous and independent as that of the domestic animals. The freedom of opinion of which we boast has consisted for the most part in uttering acceptable commonplaces with as much defiant conviction as if we were uttering the most daring and sublimest heresies. In making this parade of the uniform of intellectual independence, the American is not consciously insincere. He is prepared to do battle for his convictions, but his really fundamental convictions he shares with everybody else. His differences with his fellow-countrymen are those of interest and detail. When he breaks into a vehement proclamation of his faith, he is much like a bull, who has broken out of his stall, and goes snorting around the barnyard, tossing everybody within reach of his horns. A bull so employed might well consider that he was offering the world a fine display of aggressive individuality, whereas he had in truth been behaving after the manner of all bulls from the dawn of domestication. No doubt he is quite capable of being a dangerous customer, in case he can reach anybody with his horns; but on the other hand how meekly can he be led back into the stall by the simple device of attaching a ring to his nose. His individuality always has a tender spot, situated in much the same neighborhood as his personal economic interests. If this tender spot is merely irritated, it will make him rage; but when seized with a firm grip he loses all his defiance and becomes as aggressive an individual as a good milch cow.
The American intellectual interest demands, consequently, a different sort of assertion from the American economic or political interest. Economically and politically the need is for constructive regulation, implying the imposition of certain fruitful limitations upon traditional individual freedom. But the national intellectual development demands above all individual emancipation. American intelligence has still to issue its Declaration of Independence. It has still to proclaim that in a democratic system the intelligence has a discipline, an interest, and a will of its own, and that this special discipline and interest call for a new conception both of individual and of national development. For the time being the freedom which Americans need is the freedom of thought. The energy they need is the energy of thought. The moral unity they need cannot be obtained without intensity and integrity of thought.
ATTEMPTS AT INDIVIDUAL EMANCIPATION
Americans believe, of course, that they enjoy perfect freedom of opinion, and so they do in form. There is no legal encouragement of any one set of opinions. There is no legal discouragement of another set of opinions. They have denied intellectual freedom to themselves by methods very much more insidious than those employed by a despotic government. A national tradition has been established which prevents individuals from desiring freedom; and if they should desire and obtain it, they are prevented from using it. The freedom of American speech and thought has not been essentially different from the freedom of speech which a group of prisoners might enjoy during the term of their imprisonment. The prisoners could, of course, think and talk much as they pleased, but there was nobody but themselves to hear; and in the absence both of an adequate material, discipline, and audience, both the words and thoughts were without avail. The truth is, of course, that intellectual individuality and independence were sacrificed for the benefit of social homogeneity and the quickest possible development of American economic opportunities; and in this way a vital relation has been established for Americans between the assertion of intellectual independence or moral individuality and the adoption of a nationalized economic and political system.
During the Middle Period American individual intelligence did, indeed, struggle gallantly to attain freedom. The intellectual ferment at that time was more active and more general than it is to-day. During the three decades before the war, a remarkable outbreak of heresy occurred all over the East and middle West. Every convention of American life was questioned, except those unconscious conventions of feeling and thought which pervaded the intellectual and moral atmosphere. The Abolitionist agitation was the one practical political result of this ferment, but many of these free-thinkers wished to emancipate the whites as well as the blacks. They fearlessly challenged substantially all the established institutions of society. The institutions of marriage and the state fared frequently as ill as did property and the church. Radical, however, as they were in thought, they were by no means revolutionary in action. The several brands of heresy differed too completely one from another to be melted into a single political agitation and programme. The need for action spent itself in the formation of socialistic communities of the most varied kind, the great majority of which were soon either disbanded or transformed. But whatever its limitations the ferment was symptomatic of a genuine revolt of the American spirit against the oppressive servitude of the individual intelligence to the social will, demanded by the popular democratic system and tradition.
The revolt, however, with all the sincere enthusiasm it inspired, was condemned to sterility. It accomplished nothing and could accomplish nothing for society, because it sought by individual or unofficial associated action results which demanded official collective action; and it accomplished little even for the individual, because it was not the outcome of any fruitful individual discipline. The emancipated idea was usually defined by seeking the opposite of the conventional idea. Individuality was considered to be a matter of being somehow and anyhow different from other people. There was no authentic intellectual discipline behind the agitation. The pioneer democrat with all his limitations embodied the only living national body of opinion, and he remained untainted by this outburst of heresy. He deprived it of all vitality by depriving its separate explosions, Abolitionism excepted, of all serious attention. He crushed it far more effectually by indifference than he would have by persecution. When the shock of the Civil War aroused Americans to a realization of the unpleasant political realities sometimes associated with the neglect of a "noble national theory," the ferment subsided without leaving behind so much as a loaf of good white bread.
For practical political purposes it exhausted itself, as I have said, in Abolitionism, and in that movement both its strength and weakness are writ plain. Its revolt on behalf of emancipation was courageous and sincere. The patriotism which inspired it recognized the need of justifying its protestantism by a better conception of democracy. But the heresy was as incoherent and as credulous as the antithetic orthodoxy. It sought to accomplish an intellectual revolution without organizing either an army or an armament—just as the pioneer democrat expected to convert untutored enthusiasm into acceptable technical work, and a popular political and economic atomism into a substantially socialized community. In its meaning and effect, consequently, the revolt was merely negative and anti-national. It served a constructive democratic purpose only by the expensive and dubious means of instigating a Civil War. If any of the other heresies of the period, as well as Abolitionism, had developed into an effective popular agitation, they could have obtained a similar success only by means of incurring a similar danger. The intellectual ideals of the movement were not educational, and its declaration of intellectual independence issued in as sterile a programme for the Republic of American thought as did the Declaration of Political Independence for the American national democracy.
In truth all these mid-century American heretics were not heretics at all in relation to really stupefying and perverting American tradition. They were sturdily rebellious against all manner of respectable methods, ideas, and institutions, but none of them dreamed of protesting against the real enemy of American intellectual independence. They never dreamed of associating the moral and intellectual emancipation of the individual with the conscious fulfillment of the American national purpose and with the patient and open-eyed individual and social discipline thereby demanded. They all shared the illusion of the pioneers that somehow a special Providential design was effective on behalf of the American people, which permitted them as individuals and as a society to achieve their purposes by virtue of good intentions, exuberant enthusiasm, and enlightened selfishness. The New World and the new American idea had released them from the bonds in which less fortunate Europeans were entangled. Those bonds were not to be considered as the terms under which excellent individual and social purposes were necessarily to be achieved. They were bad habits, which the dead past had imposed upon the inhabitants of the Old World, and from which Americans could be emancipated by virtue of their abundant faith in human nature and the boundless natural opportunities of the new continent.
Thus the American national ideal of the Middle Period was essentially geographical. The popular thinkers of that day were hypnotized by the reiterated suggestion of a new American world. Their fellow-countrymen had obtained and were apparently making good use of a wholly unprecedented amount of political and economic freedom; and they jumped to the conclusion that the different disciplinary methods which limited both individual and social action in Europe were unnecessary. Just as the Jacksonian Democracy had finally vindicated American political independence by doing away with the remnants of our earlier political colonialism, so American moral and intellectual independence demanded a similar vindication. This geographical protestantism was in a measure provoked, if not justified, by the habit of colonial dependence upon Europe in matters of opinion, which so many well-educated Americans of that period continued to cherish. But it was based upon the illusion that the economic and social conditions of the Middle Period, which favored temporarily a mixture of faith and irresponsibility, freedom and formlessness, would persist and could be translated into terms of individual intellectual and moral discipline. In truth, it was, of course, a great mistake to conceive Americanism as intellectually and morally a species of Newer-Worldliness. A national intellectual ideal did not divide us from Europe any more than did a national political ideal. In both cases national independence had no meaning except in a system of international, intellectual, moral, and political relations. American national independence was to be won, not by means of a perverse opposition to European intellectual and moral influence, but by a positive and a thorough-going devotion to our own national democratic ideal.
The national intellectual ideal could afford to be as indifferent to the sources of American intellectual life as the American political ideal was to the sources of American citizenship. The important thing was and is, not where our citizens or our special disciplinary ideals come from, but what use we make of them. Just as economic and political Americanism has been broad enough and vital enough to make a place in the American social economy for the hordes of European immigrants with their many diverse national characteristics, so the intellectual basis of Americanism must be broad enough to include and vigorous enough to assimilate the special ideals and means of discipline necessary to every kind of intellectual or moral excellence. The technical ideals and standards which the typical American of the Middle Period instinctively under-valued are neither American nor European. They are merely the special forms whereby the several kinds of intellectual eminence are to be obtained. They belong to the nature of the craft. Those forms and standards were never sufficiently naturalized in America during the Colonial Period, because the economic and social conditions of the time did not justify such naturalization. The appropriate occasion for the transfer was postponed until after American political independence had been secured; and when occasion did not arise, the naturalness of the transfer was perverted and obscured by political preconceptions.
The foregoing considerations throw a new light upon the mistake made by the American heretics of the Middle Period. In so far as their assertion of American intellectual independence was negative, it should not have been a protest against "feudalism," social classification, social and individual discipline, approved technical methods, or any of those social forms and intellectual standards which so many Americans vaguely believed to be exclusively European. It should have been a protest against a sterile and demoralizing Americanism—the Americanism of national irresponsibility and indiscriminate individualism. The bondage from which Americans needed, and still need, emancipation is not from Europe, but from the evasions, the incoherence, the impatience, and the easy-going conformity of their own intellectual and moral traditions. We do not have to cross the Atlantic in order to hunt for the enemies of American national independence and fulfillment. They sit at our political fireside and toast their feet on its coals. They poison American patriotic feeling until it becomes, not a leaven, but a kind of national gelatine. They enshrine this American democratic ideal in a temple of canting words which serves merely as a cover for a religion of personal profit. American moral and intellectual emancipation can be achieved only by a victory over the ideas, the conditions, and the standards which make Americanism tantamount to collective irresponsibility and to the moral and intellectual subordination of the individual to a commonplace popular average.
The heretics of the Middle Period were not cowardly, but they were intellectually irresponsible, undisciplined, and inexperienced. Sharing, as they did, most of the deeper illusions of their time, they did not vindicate their own individual intellectual independence, and they contributed little or nothing to American national intellectual independence. With the exception of a few of the men of letters who had inherited a formative local tradition, their own personal careers were examples not of gradual individual fulfillment, but at best of repetition and at worst of degeneracy. Like the most brilliant contemporary Whig politicians, such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, their intellectual individuality was gradually cheapened by the manner in which it was expressed; and it is this fact which makes the case of Lincoln, both as a politician and a thinker, so unique and so extraordinary. The one public man of this period who did impose upon himself a patient and a severe intellectual and moral discipline, who really did seek the excellent use of his own proper tools, is the man who preëminently attained national intellectual and moral stature. The difference in social value between Lincoln and, say, William Lloyd Garrison can be measured by the difference in moral and intellectual discipline to which each of these men submitted. Lincoln sedulously turned to account every intellectual and moral opportunity which his life afforded. Garrison's impatient temper and unbalanced mind made him the enthusiastic advocate of a few distorted and limited ideas. The consequence was that Garrison, although apparently an arch-heretic, was in reality the victim of the sterile American convention which makes willful enthusiasm, energy, and good intentions a sufficient substitute for necessary individual and collective training. Lincoln, on the other hand, was in his whole moral and intellectual make-up a living protest against the aggressive, irresponsible, and merely practical Americanism of his day; while at the same time in the greatness of his love and understanding he never allowed his distinction to divide him from his fellow-countrymen. His was the unconscious and constructive heresy which looked in the direction of national intellectual independence and national moral union and good faith.
MEANS OF INDIVIDUAL EMANCIPATION
We are now in a position to define more clearly just how the American individual can assert his independence, and how in asserting his independence he can contribute to American national fulfillment. He cannot make any effective advance towards national fulfillment merely by educating himself and his fellow-countrymen as individuals to a higher intellectual and moral level, because an essential condition of really edifying individual education is the gradual process of collective education by means of collective action and formative collective discipline. On the other hand, this task of collective education is far from being complete in itself. It necessarily makes far greater demands upon the individual than does a system of comparative collective irresponsibility. It implies the selection of peculiarly competent, energetic, and responsible individuals to perform the peculiarly difficult and exacting parts in a socially constructive drama; and it implies, as a necessary condition of such leadership, a progressively higher standard of individual training and achievement, unofficial as well as official, throughout the whole community. The process of educating men of moral and intellectual stature sufficient for the performance of important constructive work cannot be disentangled from the process of national fulfillment by means of intelligent collective action. American nationality will never be fulfilled except under the leadership of such men; and the American nation will never obtain the necessary leadership unless it seeks seriously the redemption of its national responsibility.
Such being the situation in general, how can the duty and the opportunity of the individual at the present time best be defined? Is he obliged to sit down and wait until the edifying, economic, political, and social transformation has taken place? Or can he by his own immediate behavior do something effectual both to obtain individual emancipation and to accelerate the desirable process of social reconstruction? This question has already been partially answered by the better American individual; and it is, I believe, being answered in the right way. The means which he is taking to reach a more desirable condition of individual independence, and inferentially to add a little something to the process of national fulfillment, consist primarily and chiefly in a thoroughly zealous and competent performance of his own particular job; and in taking this means of emancipation and fulfillment he is both building better and destroying better than he knows.
The last generation of Americans has taken a better method of asserting their individual independence than that practiced by the heretics of the Middle Period. Those who were able to gain leadership in business and politics sought to justify their success by building up elaborate industrial and political organizations which gave themselves and their successors peculiar individual opportunities. On the other hand, the men of more specifically intellectual interests tacitly abandoned the Newer-Worldliness of their predecessors and began unconsciously but intelligently to seek the attainment of some excellence in the performance of their own special work. In almost every case they discovered that the first step in the acquisition of the better standards of achievement was to go abroad. If their interests were scholarly or scientific, they were likely to matriculate at one of the German universities for the sake of studying under some eminent specialist. If they were painters, sculptors, or architects, they flocked to Paris, as the best available source of technical instruction in the arts. Wherever the better schools were supposed to be, there the American pupils gathered; and the consequence was during the last quarter of the nineteenth century a steady and considerable improvement in the standard of special work and the American schools of special discipline. In this way there was domesticated a necessary condition and vehicle of the liberation and assertion of American individuality.
A similar transformation has been taking place in the technical aspects of American industry. In this field the individual has not been obliged to make his own opportunities to the same extent as in business, politics, and the arts. The opportunities were made for him by the industrial development of the country. Efficient special work soon became absolutely necessary in the various branches of manufacture, in mining, and in the business of transportation; and in the beginning it was frequently necessary to import from abroad expert specialists. The technical schools of the country were wholly inadequate to supply the demand either for the quantity or the quality of special work needed. When, for instance, the construction of railroads first began, the only good engineering school in the country was West Point, and the consequence was that many army officers became railroad engineers. But little by little the amount and the standard of technical instruction improved; while at the same time the greater industrial organizations themselves trained their younger employees with ever increasing efficiency. Of late years even farming has become an occupation in which special knowledge is supposed to have certain advantages. In every kind of practical work specialization, founded on a more or less arduous course of preparation, is coming to prevail; and in this way individuals, possessing the advantages of the necessary gifts and discipline, are obtaining definite and stimulating opportunities for personal efficiency and independence.
It would be a grave mistake to conclude, however, that the battle is already won—that the individual has already obtained in any department of practical or intellectual work sufficient personal independence or sufficiently edifying opportunities. The comparatively zealous and competent individual performer does not, of course, feel so much of an alien in his social surroundings as he did a generation or two ago. He can usually obtain a certain independence of position, a certain amount of intelligent and formative appreciation, and a sufficiently substantial measure of reward. But he has still much to contend against in his social, economic, and intellectual environment. His independence is precarious. In some cases it is won with too little effort. In other cases it can be maintained only at too great a cost. His rewards, if substantial, can be obtained as readily by sacrificing the integrity of his work as by remaining faithful thereto. The society in which he lives, and which gives him his encouragement and support, has the limitations of a clique. Its encouragement is too conscious; its support too willful. Beyond a certain point its encouragement becomes indeed relaxing rather than stimulating, and the aspiring individual is placed in the situation of having most to fear from the inhabitants of his own household. His intellectual and moral environment is lukewarm. He is encouraged to be an individual, but not too much of an individual. He is encouraged to do good work, but not to do always and uncompromisingly his best work. He is trusted, but he is not trusted enough. He believes in himself, but he does not believe as much in himself and in his mission as his own highest achievement demands. He is not sufficiently empowered by the idea that just in so far as he does his best work, and only his best work, he is contributing most to national as well as personal fulfillment.
What the better American individual particularly needs, then, is a completer faith in his own individual purpose and power—a clearer understanding of his own individual opportunities. He needs to do what he has been doing, only more so, and with the conviction that thereby he is becoming not less but more of an American. His patriotism, instead of being something apart from his special work, should be absolutely identified therewith, because no matter how much the eminence of his personal achievement may temporarily divide him from his fellow-countrymen, he is, by attaining to such an eminence, helping in the most effectual possible way to build the only fitting habitation for a sincere democracy. He is to make his contribution to individual improvement primarily by making himself more of an individual. The individual as well as the nation must be educated and "uplifted" chiefly by what the individual can do for himself. Education, like charity, should begin at home.
An individual can, then, best serve the cause of American individuality by effectually accomplishing his own individual emancipation—that is, by doing his own special work with ability, energy, disinterestedness, and excellence. The scope of the individual's opportunities at any one time will depend largely upon society, but whatever they amount to, the individual has no excuse for not making the most of them. Before he can be of any service to his fellows, he must mold himself into the condition and habit of being a good instrument. On this point there can be no compromise. Every American who has the opportunity of doing faithful and fearless work, and who proves faithless to it, belongs to the perfect type of the individual anti-democrat. By cheapening his own personality he has cheapened the one constituent of the national life over which he can exercise most effectual control; and thereafter, no matter how superficially patriotic and well-intentioned he may be, his words and his actions are tainted and are in some measure corrupting in their social effect.
A question will, however, immediately arise as to the nature of this desirable individual excellence. It is all very well to say that a man should do his work competently, faithfully, and fearlessly, but how are we to define the standard of excellence? When a man is seeking to do his best, how shall he go about it? Success in any one of these individual pursuits demands that the individual make some sort of a personal impression. He must seek according to the nature of the occupation a more or less numerous popular following. The excellence of a painter's work does not count unless he can find at least a small group of patrons who will admire and buy it. The most competent architect can do nothing for himself or for other people unless he attracts clients who will build his paper houses. The playwright needs even a larger following. If his plays are to be produced, he must manage to amuse and to interest thousands of people. And the politician most of all depends upon a numerous and faithful body of admirers. Of what avail would his independence and competence be in case there were nobody to accept his leadership? It is not enough, consequently, to assert that the individual must emancipate himself by means of excellent and disinterested work. His emancipation has no meaning, his career as an individual no power, except with the support of a larger or smaller following. Admitting the desirability of excellent work, what kind of workmanlike excellence will make the individual not merely independent and incorruptible, but powerful? In what way and to what end shall he use the instrument, which he is to forge and temper, for his own individual benefit and hence for that of society?
These questions involve a real difficulty, and before we are through they must assuredly be answered; but they are raised at the present stage of the discussion for the purpose of explicitly putting them aside rather than for the purpose of answering them. The individual instruments must assuredly be forged and tempered to some good use, but before we discuss their employment let us be certain of the instruments themselves. Whatever that employment may be and however much of a following its attainment may demand, the instrument must at any rate be thoroughly well made, and in the beginning it is necessary to insist upon merely instrumental excellence, because the American habit and tradition is to estimate excellence almost entirely by results. If the individual will only obtain his following, there need be no close scrutiny as to his methods. The admirable architect is he who designs an admirably large number of buildings. The admirable playwright is he who by whatever means makes the hearts of his numerous audiences palpitate. The admirable politician is he who succeeds somehow or anyhow in gaining the largest area of popular confidence. This tradition is the most insidious enemy of American individual independence and fulfillment. Instead of declaring, as most Americans do, that a man may, if he can, do good work, but that he must create a following, we should declare that a man may, if he can, obtain a following, but that he must do good work. When he has done good work, he may not have done all that is required of him; but if he fails to do good work, nothing else counts. The individual democrat who has had the chance and who has failed in that essential respect is an individual sham, no matter how much of a shadow his figure casts upon the social landscape.
The good work which for his own benefit the individual is required to do, means primarily technically competent work. The man who has thoroughly mastered the knowledge and the craft essential to his own special occupation is by way of being the well-forged and well-tempered instrument. Little by little there have been developed in relation to all the liberal arts and occupations certain tested and approved technical methods. The individual who proposes to occupy himself with any one of these arts must first master the foundation of knowledge, of formal traditions, and of manual practice upon which the superstructure is based. The danger that a part of this fund of technical knowledge and practice may at any particular time be superannuated must be admitted; but the validity of the general rule is not affected thereby. The most useful and effective dissenters are those who were in the beginning children of the Faith. The individual who is too weak to assert himself with the help of an established technical tradition is assuredly too weak to assert himself without it. The authoritative technical tradition associated with any one of the arts of civilization is merely the net result of the accumulated experience of mankind in a given region. That experience may or may not have been exhaustive or adequately defined; but in any event its mastery by the individual is merely a matter of personal and social economy. It helps to prevent the individual from identifying his whole personal career with unnecessary mistakes. It provides him with the most natural and serviceable vehicle for self-expression. It supplies him with a language which reduces to the lowest possible terms the inevitable chances of misunderstanding. It is society's nearest approach to an authentic standard in relation to the liberal arts and occupations; and just so far as it is authentic society is justified in imposing it on the individual.
The perfect type of authoritative technical methods are those which prevail among scientific men in respect to scientific work. No scientist as such has anything to gain by the use of inferior methods or by the production of inferior work. There is only one standard for all scientific investigators—the highest standard; and so far as a man falls below that standard his inferiority is immediately reflected in his reputation. Some scientists make, of course, small contributions to the increase of knowledge, and some make comparatively large contributions; but just in so far as a man makes any contribution at all, it is a real contribution, and nothing makes it real but the fact that it is recognized. In the Hall of Science exhibitors do not get their work hung upon the line because it tickles the public taste, or because it is "uplifting," or because the jury is kindly and wishes to give the exhibitor a chance to earn a little second-rate reputation. The same standard is applied to everybody, and the jury is incorruptible. The exhibit is nothing if not true, or by way of becoming or being recognized as true.
A technical standard in any one of the liberal or practical arts cannot be applied as rigorously as can the standard of scientific truth, because the standard itself is not so authentic. In all these arts many differences of opinion exist among masters as to the methods and forms which should be authoritative; and in so far as such is the case, the individual must be allowed to make many apparently arbitrary personal choices. The fact that a man has such choices to make is the circumstance which most clearly distinguishes the practice of an art from that of a science, but this circumstance, instead of being an excuse for technical irresponsibility or mere eclecticism, should, on the contrary, stimulate the individual more completely to justify his choice. In his work he is fighting the battle not merely of his own personal career, but of a method, of a style, of an idea, or of an ideal. The practice of the several arts need not suffer from diversity of standard, provided the several separate standards are themselves incorruptible. In all the arts—and by the arts I mean all disinterested and liberal practical occupations—the difficulty is not that sufficiently authoritative standards do not exist, but that they are not applied. The standard which is applied is merely that of the good-enough. The juries are either too kindly or too lax or too much corrupted by the nature of their own work. They are prevented from being incorruptible about the work of other people by a sub-conscious apprehension of the fate of their own performances—in case similar standards were applied to themselves. Just in so far as the second-rate performer is allowed to acquire any standing, he inevitably enters into a conspiracy with his fellows to discourage exhibitions of genuine and considerable excellence, and, of course, to a certain extent he succeeds. By the waste which he encourages of good human appreciation, by the confusion which he introduces into the popular critical standards, he helps to effect a popular discrimination against any genuine superiority of achievement.
Individual independence and fulfillment is conditioned on the technical excellence of the individual's work, because the most authentic standard is for the time being constituted by excellence of this kind. An authentic standard must be based either upon acquired knowledge or an accepted ideal. Americans have no popularly accepted ideals which are anything but an embarrassment to the aspiring individual. In the course of time some such ideals may be domesticated—in which case the conditions of individual excellence would be changed; but we are dealing with the present and not with the future. Under current conditions the only authentic standard must be based, not upon the social influence of the work, but upon its quality; and a standard of this kind, while it falls short of being complete, must always persist as one indispensable condition of final excellence. The whole body of acquired technical experience and practice has precisely the same authority as any other body of knowledge. The respect it demands is similar to the respect demanded by science in all its forms. In this particular case the science is neither complete nor entirely trustworthy, but it is sufficiently complete and trustworthy for the individual's purpose, and can be ignored only at the price of waste, misunderstanding, and partial inefficiency and sterility.
A standard of uncompromising technical excellence contains, however, for the purpose of this argument, a larger meaning than that which is usually attached to the phrase. A technically competent performance is ordinarily supposed to mean one which displays a high degree of manual dexterity; and a man who has acquired such a degree of dexterity is also supposed to be the victim of his own mastery. No doubt such is frequently the case; but in the present meaning the thoroughly competent individual workman becomes necessarily very much more of an individual than any man can be who is merely the creature of his own technical facility and preoccupation. I have used the word art not in the sense merely of fine art, but in the sense of all liberal and disinterested practical work; and the excellent performance of that work demands certain qualifications which are common to all the arts as well as peculiar to the methods and materials of certain particular arts and crafts. These qualifications are both moral and intellectual. They require that no one shall be admitted to the ranks of thoroughly competent performers until he is morally and intellectually, as well as scientifically and manually, equipped for excellent work, and these appropriate moral and intellectual standards should be applied as incorruptibly as those born of specific technical practices.
A craftsman whose merits do not go beyond technical facility is probably deficient in both the intellectual and moral qualities essential to good work. The rule cannot be rigorously applied, because the boundaries between high technical proficiency and some very special examples of genuine mastery are often very indistinct. Still, the majority of craftsmen who are nothing more than, manually dexterous are rarely either sincere or disinterested in their personal attitude towards their occupation. They have not made themselves the sort of moral instrument which is capable of eminent achievement, and whenever unmistakable examples of such a lack of sincerity and conviction are distinguished, they should in the interest of a complete standard of special excellence meet with the same reprobation as would manual incompetence. It must not be inferred, however, that the standard of moral judgment applied to the individual in the performance of his particular work is identical with a comprehensive standard of moral practice. A man may be an acceptable individual instrument in the service of certain of the arts, even though he be in some other respects a tolerably objectionable person. A single-minded and disinterested attempt to obtain mastery of any particular occupation may in specific instances force a man to neglect certain admirable and in other relations essential qualities. He may be a faithless husband, a treacherous friend, a sturdy liar, or a professional bankrupt, without necessarily interfering with the excellent performance of his special job. A man who breaks a road to individual distinction by such questionable means may always be tainted; but he is a better public servant than would be some comparatively impeccable nonentity. It all depends on the nature and the requirements of the particular task, and the extent to which a man has really made sacrifices in order to accomplish it. There are many special jobs which absolutely demand scrupulous veracity, loyalty in a man's personal relations, or financial integrity. The politician who ruins his career in climbing down a waterspout, or the engineer who prevents his employers from trusting his judgment and conscience in money matters, cannot plead in extenuation any other sort of instrumental excellence. They have deserved to fail, because they have trifled with their job; and it may be added that serious moral delinquencies are usually grave hindrances to a man's individual efficiency.
From the intellectual point of view also technical competence means something more than manual proficiency. Just as the master must possess those moral qualities essential to the integrity of his work, so he must possess the corresponding intellectual qualities. All the liberal arts require, as a condition of mastery, a certain specific and considerable power of intelligence; and this power of intelligence is to be sharply distinguished from all-round intellectual ability. From our present point of view its only necessary application concerns the problems of a man's special occupation. Every special performer needs the power of criticising the quality and the subject-matter of his own work. Unless he has great gifts or happens to be brought up and trained under peculiarly propitious conditions, his first attempts to practice his art will necessarily be experimental. He will be sure to commit many mistakes, not merely in the choice of alternative methods and the selection of his subject-matter, but in the extent to which he personally can approve or disapprove of his own achievements. The thoroughly competent performer must at least possess the intellectual power of profiting from this experience. A candid consideration of his own experiments must guide him in the selection of the better methods, in the discrimination of the more appropriate subject-matter, in the avoidance of his own peculiar failings, and in the cultivation of his own peculiar strength. The technical career of the master is up to a certain point always a matter of growth. The technical career of the second-rate man is always a matter of degeneration or at best of repetition. The former brings with it its own salient and special form of enlightenment based upon the intellectual power to criticise his own experience and the moral power to act on his own acquired insight. To this extent he becomes more of a man by the very process of becoming more of a master.
The intellectual power required to criticise one's own experience with a formative result will of course vary considerably in different occupations. Technical mastery of the occupation of playwriting, criticism, or statesmanship, will require more specifically intellectual qualities than will be demanded by the competent musician or painter. But no matter how much intelligence may be needed, the way in which it should be used remains the same. Mere industry, aspiration, or a fluid run of ideas make as meager an equipment for a politician, a philanthropist, or a critic as they would for an architect; and absolutely the most dangerous mistake which an individual can make is that of confusing admirable intentions expressed in some inferior manner with genuine excellence of achievement. If such men succeed, they are corrupting in their influence. If they fail, they learn nothing from their failure, because they are always charging up to the public, instead of to themselves, the responsibility for their inferiority.
The conclusion is that at the present time an individual American's intentions and opinions are of less importance than his power of giving them excellent and efficient expression. What the individual can do is to make himself a better instrument for the practice of some serviceable art; and by so doing he can scarcely avoid becoming also a better instrument for the fulfillment of the American national Promise. To be sure, the American national Promise demands for its fulfillment something more than efficient and excellent individual instruments. It demands, or will eventually demand, that these individuals shall love and wish to serve their fellow-countrymen, and it will demand specifically that in the service of their fellow-countrymen, they shall reorganize their country's economic, political, and social institutions and ideas. Just how the making of competent individual instruments will of its own force assist the process of national reconstruction, we shall consider presently; but the first truth to drive home is that all political and social reorganization is a delusion, unless certain individuals, capable of edifying practical leadership, have been disciplined and trained; and such individuals must always and in some measure be a product of self-discipline. While not only admitting but proclaiming that the processes of individual and social improvement are mutually dependent, it is equally true that the initiative cannot be left to collective action. The individual must begin and carry as far as he can the work of his own emancipation; and for the present he has an excuse for being tolerably unscrupulous in so doing. By the successful assertion of his own claim to individual distinction and eminence, he is doing more to revolutionize and reconstruct the American democracy than can a regiment of professional revolutionists and reformers.
Professional socialists may cherish the notion that their battle is won as soon as they can secure a permanent popular majority in favor of a socialistic policy; but the constructive national democrat cannot logically accept such a comfortable illusion. The action of a majority composed of the ordinary type of convinced socialists could and would in a few years do more to make socialism impossible than could be accomplished by the best and most prolonged efforts of a majority of malignant anti-socialists. The first French republicans made by their behavior another republic out of the question in France for almost sixty years; and the second republican majority did not do so very much better. When the republic came in France it was founded by men who were not theoretical democrats, but who understood that a republic was for the time being the kind of government best adapted to the national French interest. These theoretical monarchists, but practical republicans, were for the most part more able, more patriotic, and higher-minded men than the convinced republicans; and in all probability a third republic, started without their coöperation, would also have ended in a dictatorship. Any substantial advance toward social reorganization will in the same way be forced by considerations of public welfare on a majority of theoretical anti-socialists, because it is among this class that the most competent and best disciplined individuals are usually to be found. The intellectual and moral ability required, not merely to conceive, but to realize a policy of social reorganization, is far higher than the ability to carry on an ordinary democratic government. When such a standard of individual competence has been attained by a sufficient number of individuals and is applied to economic and social questions, some attempt at social reorganization is bound to be the result,—assuming, of course, the constructive relation already admitted between democracy and the social problem.
The strength and the weakness of the existing economic and social system consist, as we have observed, in the fact that it is based upon the realities of contemporary human nature. It is the issue of a time-honored tradition, an intense personal interest, and a method of life so habitual that it has become almost instinctive. It cannot be successfully attacked by any body of hostile opinion, unless such a body of opinion is based upon a more salient individual and social interest and a more intense and vital method of life. The only alternative interest capable of putting up a sufficiently vigorous attack and pushing home an occasional victory is the interest of the individual in his own personal independence and fulfillment—an interest which, as we have seen, can only issue from integrity and excellence of individual achievement. An interest of this kind is bound in its social influence to make for social reorganization, because such reorganization is in some measure a condition and accompaniment of its own self-expression; and the strength of its position and the superiority of its weapons are so decisive that they should gradually force the existing system to give way. The defenses of that system have vulnerable points; and its defenders are disunited except in one respect. They would be able to repel any attack delivered along their whole line; but their binding interest is selfish and tends under certain conditions to divide them one from another without bestowing on the divided individuals the energy of independence and self-possession. Their position can be attacked at its weaker points, not only without meeting with combined resistance, but even with the assistance of some of their theoretical allies. Many convinced supporters of the existing order are men of superior merit, who are really fighting against their own better individual interests; and they need only to taste the exhilaration of freedom in order better to understand its necessary social and economical conditions. Others, although men of inferior achievement, are patriotic and well-intentioned in feeling; and they may little by little be brought to believe that patriotism in a democracy demands the sacrifice of selfish interests and the regeneration of individual rights. Men of this stamp can be made willing prisoners by able and aggressive leaders whose achievements have given them personal authority and whose practical programme is based upon a sound knowledge of the necessary limits of immediate national action. The disinterested and competent individual is formed for constructive leadership, just as the less competent and independent, but well-intentioned, individual is formed more or less faithfully to follow on behind. Such leadership, in a country whose traditions and ideals are sincerely democratic, can scarcely go astray.
The preceding section was concluded with a statement, which the majority of its readers will find extremely questionable and which assuredly demands some further explanation. Suppose it to be admitted that individual Americans do seek the increase of their individuality by competent and disinterested special work. In what way will such work and the sort of individuality thereby developed exercise a decisive influence on behalf of social amelioration? We have already expressly denied that a desire to succor their fellow-countrymen or an ideal of social reorganization is at the present time a necessary ingredient in the make-up of these formative individuals. Their individual excellence has been defined exclusively in terms of high but special technical competence; and the manner in which these varied and frequently antagonistic individual performers are to coöperate towards socially constructive results must still remain a little hazy. How are these eminent specialists, each of whom is admittedly pursuing unscrupulously his own special purpose, to be made serviceable in a coherent national democratic organization? How, indeed, are these specialists to get at the public whom they are supposed to lead? Many very competent contemporary Americans might claim that the real difficulty in relation to the social influence of the expert specialist has been sedulously evaded. The admirably competent individual cannot exercise any constructive social influence, unless he becomes popular; and the current American standards being what they are, how can an individual become popular without more or less insidious and baleful compromises? The gulf between individual excellence and effective popular influence still remains to be bridged; and until it is bridged, an essential stage is lacking in the transition from an individually formative result to one that is also socially formative.
Undoubtedly, a gulf does exist in the country between individual excellence and effective popular influence. Many excellent specialists exercise a very small amount of influence, and many individuals who exercise apparently a great deal of influence are conspicuously lacking in any kind of excellence. The responsibility for this condition is usually fastened upon the Philistine American public, which refuses to recognize genuine eminence and which showers rewards upon any second-rate performer who tickles its tastes and prejudices. But it is at least worth inquiring whether the responsibility should not be fastened, not upon the followers, but upon the supposed leaders. The American people are what the circumstances, the traditional leadership, and the interests of American life have made them. They cannot be expected to be any better than they are, until they have been sufficiently shown the way; and they cannot be blamed for being as bad as they are, until it is proved that they have deliberately rejected better leadership. No such proof has ever been offered.
Some disgruntled Americans talk as if in a democracy the path of the aspiring individual should be made peculiarly safe and easy. As soon as any young man appears whose ideals are perched a little higher than those of his neighbors, and who has acquired some knack of performance, he should apparently be immediately taken at his own valuation and loaded with rewards and opportunities. The public should take off its hat and ask him humbly to step into the limelight and show himself off for the popular edification. He should not be obliged to make himself interesting to the public. They should immediately make themselves interested in him, and bolt whatever he chooses to offer them as the very meat and wine of the mind. But surely one does not need to urge very emphatically that popularity won upon such easy terms would be demoralizing to any but very highly gifted and very cool-headed men. The American people are absolutely right in insisting that an aspirant for popular eminence shall be compelled to make himself interesting to them, and shall not be welcomed as a fountain of excellence and enlightenment until he has found some means of forcing his meat and his wine down their reluctant throats. And if the aspiring individual accepts this condition as tantamount to an order that he must haul down the flag of his own individual purpose in order to obtain popular appreciation and reward, it is he who is unworthy to lead, not they who are unworthy of being led. The problem and business of his life is precisely that of keeping his flag flying at any personal cost or sacrifice; and if his own particular purpose demands that his flying flag shall be loyally saluted, it is his own business also to see that his flag is well worthy of a popular salutation. In occasional instances these two aspects of a special performer's business may prove to be incompatible. Every real adventure must be attended by risks. Every real battle involves a certain number of casualties. But better the risk and the wounded and the dead than sham battles and unearned victories.
There is only one way in which popular standards and preferences can be improved. The men whose standards are higher must learn to express their better message in a popularly interesting manner. The people will never be converted to the appreciation of excellent special performances by argumentation, reproaches, lectures, associations, or persuasion. They will rally to the good thing, only because the good thing has been made to look good to them; and so far as individual Americans are not capable of making their good things look good to a sufficient number of their fellow-countrymen, they will on the whole deserve any neglect from which they may suffer. They themselves constitute the only efficient source of really formative education. In so far as a public is lacking, a public must be created. They must mold their followers after their own likeness—as all aspirants after the higher individual eminence have always been obliged to do.
The manner in which the result is to be brought about may be traced by considering the case of the contemporary American architect—a case which is typical because, while popular architectural preferences are inferior, the very existence of the architect depends upon his ability to please a considerable number of clients. The average well-trained architect in good standing meets this situation by designing as well as he can, consistent with the building-up an abundant and lucrative practice. There are doubtless certain things which he would not do even to get or keep a job; but on the whole it is not unfair to say that his first object is to get and to keep the job, and his second to do good work. The consequence is that, in compromising the integrity of his work, he necessarily builds his own practice upon a shifting foundation. His work belongs to the well-populated class of the good-enough. It can have little distinctive excellence; and it cannot, by its peculiar force and quality, attract a clientele. Presumably, it has the merit of satisfying prevailing tastes; but the architect, who is designing only as well as popular tastes will permit, suffers under one serious disadvantage. There are hundreds of his associates who can do it just as well; and he is necessarily obliged to face demoralizing competition. Inasmuch as it is not his work itself that counts, he is obliged to build up his clientele by other means. He is obliged to make himself personally popular, to seek social influence and private "pulls"; and his whole life becomes that of a man who is selling his personality instead of fulfilling it. His relations with his clients suffer from the same general condition. They have come to him, not because they are particularly attracted by his work and believe in it, but, as a rule, because of some accidental and arbitrary reason. His position, consequently, is lacking in independence and authority. He has not enough personal prestige as a designer to insist upon having his own way in all essential matters. He tends to become too much of an agent, employed for the purpose of carrying out another man's wishes, instead of a professional expert, whose employer trusts his judgment and leans loyally on his advice.
Take, on the other hand, the case of the exceptional architect who insists upon doing his very best. Assuming sufficient ability and training, the work of the man who does his very best is much more likely to possess some quality of individual merit, which more or less sharply distinguishes it from that of other architects. He has a monopoly of his own peculiar qualities. Such merit may not be noticed by many people; but it will probably be noticed by a few. The few who are attracted will receive a more than usually vivid impression. They will talk, and begin to create a little current of public opinion favorable to the designer. The new clients who come to him will be influenced either by their appreciation of the actual merit of the work or by this approving body of opinion. They will come, that is, because they want him and believe in his work. His own personal position, consequently, becomes much more independent and authoritative than is usually the case. He is much less likely to be embarrassed by ignorant and irrelevant interference. He can continue to turn out designs genuinely expressive of his own individual purpose. If he be an intelligent as well as a sincere and gifted designer, his work will, up to a certain point, grow in distinction and individuality; and as good or better examples of it become more numerous, it will attract and hold an increasing body of approving opinion. The designer will in this way have gradually created his own special public. He will be molding and informing the architectural taste and preference of his admirers. Without in any way compromising his own standards, he will have brought himself into a constructive relation with a part at least of the public, and the effect of his work will soon extend beyond the sphere of his own personal clientele. In so far as he has succeeded in popularizing a better quality of architectural work, he would be by way of strengthening the hands of all of his associates who were standing for similar ideals and methods.
It would be absurd to claim that every excellent and competent special performer who sticks incorruptibly to his individual purpose and standard can succeed in creating a special public, molded somewhat by his personal influence. The ability to succeed is not given to everybody. It cannot always be obtained by sincere industry and able and single-minded work. The qualities needed in addition to those mentioned will vary in different occupations and according to the accidental circumstances of different cases; but they are not always the qualities which a man can acquire. Men will fail who have deserved to succeed and who might have succeeded with a little more tenacity or under slightly more favorable conditions. Men who have deserved to fail will succeed because of certain collateral but partly irrelevant merits—just as an architect may succeed who is ingenious about making his clients' houses comfortable and building them cheap. In a thousand different ways an individual enterprise, conceived and conducted with faith and ability, may prove to be abortive. Moreover, the sacrifices necessary to success are usually genuine sacrifices. The architect who wishes to build up a really loyal following by really good work must deliberately reject many possible jobs; and he must frequently spend upon the accepted jobs more money than is profitable. But the foregoing is merely tantamount to saying, as we have said, that the adventure involves a real risk. A resolute, intelligent man undertakes a doubtful and difficult enterprise, not because it is sure to succeed, but because if it succeeds, it is worth the risk and the cost, and such is the case with the contemporary American adventurer. The individual independence, appreciation, and fulfillment which he secures in the event of success are assuredly worth a harder and a more dangerous fight than the one by which frequently he is confronted. In any particular case a man, as we have admitted, may put up a good fight without securing the fruits of victory, and his adventure may end, not merely in defeat, but in self-humiliation. But if any general tendency exists to shirk, or to back down, or to place the responsibility for personal ineptitude on the public, it means, not that the fight was hopeless, but that the warriors were lacking in the necessary will and ability.
The case of the statesman, the man of letters, the philanthropist, or the reformer does not differ essentially from that of the architect. They may need for their particular purposes a larger or a smaller popular following, a larger or smaller amount of moral courage, and a more or less peculiar kind of intellectual efficiency; but wherever there is any bridge to be built between their own purposes and standards and those of the public, they must depend chiefly upon their own resources for its construction. The best that society can do to assist them at present is to establish good schools of preliminary instruction. For the rest it is the particular business of the exceptional individual to impose himself on the public; and the necessity he is under of creating his own following may prove to be helpful to him as his own exceptional achievements are to his followers. The fact that he is obliged to make a public instead of finding one ready-made, or instead of being able by the subsidy of a prince to dispense with one—this necessity will in the long run tend to keep his work vital and human. The danger which every peculiarly able individual specialist runs is that of overestimating the value of his own purpose and achievements, and so of establishing a false and delusive relation between his own world and the larger world of human affairs and interests. Such a danger cannot be properly checked by the conscious moral and intellectual education of the individual, because when he is filled too full of amiable intentions and ideas, he is by way of attenuating his individual impulse and power. But the individual who is forced to create his own public is forced also to make his own special work attractive to a public; and when he succeeds in accomplishing this result without hauling down his personal flag, his work tends to take on a more normal and human character.
It tends, that is, to be socially as well as individually formative. The peculiarly competent individual is obliged to accept the responsibilities of leadership with its privileges and fruits. There is no escape from the circle by which he finds himself surrounded. He cannot obtain the opportunities, the authority, and the independence which he needs for his own individual fulfillment, unless he builds up a following; and he cannot build up a secure personal following without making his peculiar performances appeal to some general human interest. The larger and more general the interest he can arouse, the more secure and the more remunerative his personal independence becomes. It by no means necessarily follows that he will increase his following by increasing the excellence of his work, or that he will not frequently find it difficult to keep his following without allowing his work to deteriorate. No formula, reconciling the individual and the popular interest, can be devised which will work automatically. The reconciliation must always remain a matter of victorious individual or national contrivance. But it is none the less true that the chance of fruitful reconciliation always exists, and in a democracy it should exist under peculiarly wholesome conditions. The essential nature of a democracy compels it to insist that individual power of all kinds, political, economic, or intellectual, shall not be perversely and irresponsibly exercised. The individual democrat is obliged no less to insist in his own interest that the responsible exercise of power shall not be considered equivalent to individual mediocrity and dependence. These two demands will often conflict; but the vitality of a democracy hangs upon its ability to keep both of them vigorous and assertive. Just in so far as individual democrats find ways of asserting their independence in the very act of redeeming their responsibility, the social body of which they form a part is marching toward the goal of human betterment.
It cannot be claimed, however, that the foregoing account of the relation between the individual and a nationalized democracy is even yet entirely satisfactory. No relation can be satisfactory which implies such a vast amount of individual suffering and defeat and such a huge waste of social and individual effort. The relation is only as satisfactory as it can be made under the circumstances. The individual cannot be immediately transformed by individual purpose and action into a consummate social type, any more than society can be immediately transformed by purposive national action into a consummate residence for the individual. In both cases amelioration is a matter of intelligent experimental contrivance based upon the nature of immediate conditions and equipped with every available resource and weapon. In both cases these experiments must be indefinitely continued, their lessons candidly learned, and the succeeding experiments based upon past failures and achievements. Throughout the whole task of experimental educational advance the different processes of individual and social amelioration will be partly opposed, partly supplementary, and partly parallel; but in so far as any genuine advance is made, the opposition should be less costly, and coöperation, if not easier, at least more remunerative.
The peculiar kind of individual self-assertion which has been outlined in the foregoing sections of this chapter has been adapted, not to perfect, but to actual moral, social, and intellectual conditions. For the present Americans must cultivate competent individual independence somewhat unscrupulously, because their peculiar democratic tradition has hitherto discouraged and under-valued a genuinely individualistic practice and ideal. In order to restore the balance, the individual must emancipate himself at a considerable sacrifice and by somewhat forcible means; and to a certain extent he must continue those sacrifices throughout the whole of his career. He must proclaim and, if able, he must assert his own leadership, but he must be always somewhat on his guard against his followers. He must always keep in mind that the very leadership which is the fruit of his mastery and the condition of his independence is also, considering the nature and disposition of his average follower, a dangerous temptation; and while he must not for that reason scorn popular success, he must always conscientiously reckon its actual cost. And just because a leader cannot wholly trust himself to his following, so the followers must always keep a sharp lookout lest their leaders be leading them astray. For the kind of leadership which we have postulated above is by its very definition and nature liable to become perverse and distracting.
But just in so far as the work of social and individual amelioration advances, the condition will be gradually created necessary to completer mutual confidence between the few exceptional leaders and the many "plain people." At present the burden of establishing any genuine means of communication rests very heavily upon the exceptionally able individual. But after a number of exceptionally able individuals have imposed their own purposes and standards and created a following, they will have made the task of their successors easier. Higher technical standards and more adequate forms of expression will have become better established. The "public" will have learned to expect and to appreciate more simple and appropriate architectural forms, more sincere and better-formed translations of life in books and on the stage, and more independent and better equipped political leadership. The "public," that is, instead of being as much satisfied as it is at present with cheap forms and standards, will be prepared to assume part of the expense of establishing better forms and methods of social intercourse. In this way a future generation of leaders may be enabled to conquer a following with a smaller individual expenditure of painful sacrifices and wasted effort. They can take for granted a generally higher technical and formal tradition, and they themselves will be freed from an over-conscious preoccupation with the methods and the mechanism of their work. Their attention will naturally be more than ever concentrated on the proper discrimination of their subject-matter; and just in so far as they are competent to create an impression or a following, that impression should be more profound and the following more loyal and more worthy of loyalty.
Above all, a substantial improvement in the purposes and standards of individual self-expression should create a more bracing intellectual atmosphere. Better standards will serve not only as guides but as weapons. In so far as they are embodied in competent performances, they are bound also to be applied in the critical condemnation of inferior work; and the critic himself will assume a much more important practical job than he now has. Criticism is a comparatively neglected art among Americans, because a sufficient number of people do not care whether and when the current practices are really good or bad. The practice of better standards and their appreciation will give the critic both a more substantial material for his work and a larger public. It will be his duty to make the American public conscious of the extent of the individual successes or failures and the reasons therefor; and in case his practice improves with that of the other arts, he should become a more important performer, not only because of his better opportunities and public, but because of his increase of individual prowess. He should not only be better equipped for the performance of his work and the creation of a public following, but he should have a more definite and resolute conviction of the importance of his own job. It is the business of the competent individual as a type to force society to recognize the meaning and the power of his own special purposes. It is the special business of the critic to make an ever larger portion of the public conscious of these expressions of individual purpose, of their relations one to another, of their limitations, and of their promises. He not only popularizes and explains for the benefit of a larger public the substance and significance of admirable special performance, but he should in a sense become the standard bearer of the whole movement.
The function of the critic hereafter will consist in part of carrying on an incessant and relentless warfare on the prevailing American intellectual insincerity. He can make little headway unless he is sustained by a large volume of less expressly controversial individual intellectual self-expression; but on the other hand, there are many serious obstructions to any advancing intellectual movement, which he should and must overthrow. In so doing he has every reason to be more unscrupulous and aggressive even than his brethren-in-arms. He must stab away at the gelatinous mass of popular indifference, sentimentality, and complacency, even though he seems quite unable to penetrate to the quick and draw blood. For the time the possibility of immediate constructive achievement in his own special field is comparatively small, and he is the less responsible for the production of any substantial effect, or the building up of any following except a handful of free lances like himself. He need only assure himself of his own competence with his own peculiar tools, his own good-humored sincerity, and his disinterestedness in the pursuit of his legitimate purposes, in order to feel fully justified in pushing his strokes home. In all serious warfare, people have to be really wounded for some good purpose; and in this particular fight there may be some chance that not only a good cause, but the very victim of the blow, may possibly be benefited by its delivery. The stabbing of a mass of public opinion into some consciousness of its active torpor, particularly when many particles of the mass are actively torpid because of admirable patriotic intentions,—that is a job which needs sharp weapons, intense personal devotion, and a positive indifference to consequences.
Yet if the American national Promise is ever to be fulfilled, a more congenial and a more interesting task will also await the critic—meaning by the word "critic" the voice of the specific intellectual interest, the lover of wisdom, the seeker of the truth. Every important human enterprise has its meaning, even though the conduct of the affair demands more than anything else a hard and inextinguishable faith. Such a faith will imply a creed; and its realizations will go astray unless the faithful are made conscious of the meaning of their performances or failures. The most essential and edifying business of the critic will always consist in building up "a pile of better thoughts," based for the most part upon the truth resident in the lives of their predecessors and contemporaries, but not without its outlook toward an immediate and even remote future. There can be nothing final about the creed unless there be something final about the action and purposes of which it is the expression. It must be constantly modified in order to define new experiences and renewed in order to meet unforeseen emergencies. But it should grow, just in so far as the enterprise itself makes new conquests and unfolds new aspects of truth. Democracy is an enterprise of this kind. It may prove to be the most important moral and social enterprise as yet undertaken by mankind; but it is still a very young enterprise, whose meaning and promise is by no means clearly understood. It is continually meeting unforeseen emergencies and gathering an increasing experience. The fundamental duty of a critic in a democracy is to see that the results of these experiences are not misinterpreted and that the best interpretation is embodied in popular doctrinal form. The critic consequently is not so much the guide as the lantern which illuminates the path. He may not pretend to know the only way or all the ways; but he should know as much as can be known about the traveled road.
Men endowed with high moral gifts and capable of exceptional moral achievements have also their special part to play in the building of an enduring democratic structure. In the account which has been given of the means and conditions of democratic fulfillment, the importance of this part has been under-estimated; but the under-estimate has been deliberate. It is very easy and in a sense perfectly true to declare that democracy needs for its fulfillment a peculiarly high standard of moral behavior; and it is even more true to declare that a democratic scheme of moral values reaches its consummate expression in the religion of human brotherhood. Such a religion can be realized only through the loving-kindness which individuals feel toward their fellow-men and particularly toward their fellow-countrymen; and it is through such feelings that the network of mutual loyalties and responsibilities woven in a democratic nation become radiant and expansive. Whenever an individual democrat, like Abraham Lincoln, emerges, who succeeds in offering an example of specific efficiency united with supreme kindliness of feeling, he qualifies as a national hero of consummate value. But—at present—a profound sense of human brotherhood is no substitute for specific efficiency. The men most possessed by intense brotherly feelings usually fall into an error, as Tolstoy has done, as to the way in which those feelings can be realized. Consummate faith itself is no substitute for good work. Back of any work of moral conversion must come a long and slow process of social reorganization and individual emancipation; and not until the reorganization has been partly accomplished, and the individual released, disciplined and purified, will the soil be prepared for the crowning work of some democratic Saint Francis.
Hence, in the foregoing account of a possible democratic fulfillment, attention has been concentrated on that indispensable phase of the work which can be attained by conscious means. Until this work is measurably accomplished no evangelist can do more than convert a few men for a few years. But it has been admitted throughout that the task of individual and social regeneration must remain incomplete and impoverished, until the conviction and the feeling of human brotherhood enters into possession of the human spirit. The laborious work of individual and social fulfillment may eventually be transfigured by an outburst of enthusiasm—one which is not the expression of a mood, but which is substantially the finer flower of an achieved experience and a living tradition. If such a moment ever arrives, it will be partly the creation of some democratic evangelist—some imitator of Jesus who will reveal to men the path whereby they may enter into spiritual possession of their individual and social achievements, and immeasurably increase them by virtue of personal regeneration.
Be it understood, however, that no prophecy of any such consummate moment has been made. Something of the kind may happen, in case the American or any other democracy seeks patiently and intelligently to make good a complete and a coherent democratic ideal. For better or worse, democracy cannot be disentangled from an aspiration toward human perfectibility, and hence from the adoption of measures looking in the direction of realizing such an aspiration. It may be that the attempt will not be seriously made, or that, if it is, nothing will come of it. Mr. George Santayana concludes a chapter on "Democracy" in his "Reason in Society" with the following words: "For such excellence to grow general mankind must be notably transformed. If a noble and civilized democracy is to subsist, the common citizen must be something of a saint and something of a hero. We see, therefore, how justly flattering and profound, and at the same time how ominous, was Montesquieu's saying that the principle of democracy is virtue." The principle of democracy is virtue, and when we consider the condition of contemporary democracies, the saying may seem to be more ominous than flattering. But if a few hundred years from now it seems less ominous, the threat will be removed in only one way. The common citizen can become something of a saint and something of a hero, not by growing to heroic proportions in his own person, but by the sincere and enthusiastic imitation of heroes and saints, and whether or not he will ever come to such imitation will depend upon the ability of his exceptional fellow-countrymen to offer him acceptable examples of heroism and saintliness.