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Title: A Preface to Politics
Author: Lippmann, Walter, 1889-1974
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Preface to Politics" ***




"A God wilt thou create for thyself
out of thy seven devils."

Mitchell Kennerley
New York and London
Copyright, 1913, by
Mitchell Kennerley


CHAPTER                                                    PAGE


   I.  Routineer and Inventor                                 1

  II. The Taboo                                              34

 III.  The Changing Focus                                    53

  IV.  The Golden Rule and After                             86

   V. Well Meaning but Unmeaning: the Chicago Vice Report   122

  VI. Some Necessary Iconoclasm                             159

 VII. The Making of Creeds                                  204

VIII. The Red Herring                                       247

  IX.  Revolution and Culture                               273


The most incisive comment on politics to-day is indifference. When men
and women begin to feel that elections and legislatures do not matter
very much, that politics is a rather distant and unimportant exercise,
the reformer might as well put to himself a few searching doubts.
Indifference is a criticism that cuts beneath oppositions and wranglings
by calling the political method itself into question. Leaders in public
affairs recognize this. They know that no attack is so disastrous as
silence, that no invective is so blasting as the wise and indulgent smile
of the people who do not care. Eager to believe that all the world is as
interested as they are, there comes a time when even the reformer is
compelled to face the fairly widespread suspicion of the average man that
politics is an exhibition in which there is much ado about nothing. But
such moments of illumination are rare. They appear in writers who realize
how large is the public that doesn't read their books, in reformers who
venture to compare the membership list of their league with the census of
the United States. Whoever has been granted such a moment of insight
knows how exquisitely painful it is. To conquer it men turn generally to
their ancient comforter, self-deception: they complain about the stolid,
inert masses and the apathy of the people. In a more confidential tone
they will tell you that the ordinary citizen is a "hopelessly private

The reformer is himself not lacking in stolidity if he can believe such a
fiction of a people that crowds about tickers and demands the news of the
day before it happens, that trembles on the verge of a panic over the
unguarded utterance of a financier, and founds a new religion every month
or so. But after a while self-deception ceases to be a comfort. This is
when the reformer notices how indifference to politics is settling upon
some of the most alert minds of our generation, entering into the
attitude of men as capable as any reformer of large and imaginative
interests. For among the keenest minds, among artists, scientists and
philosophers, there is a remarkable inclination to make a virtue of
political indifference. Too passionate an absorption in public affairs is
felt to be a somewhat shallow performance, and the reformer is patronized
as a well-meaning but rather dull fellow. This is the criticism of men
engaged in some genuinely creative labor. Often it is unexpressed, often
as not the artist or scientist will join in a political movement. But in
the depths of his soul there is, I suspect, some feeling which says to
the politician, "Why so hot, my little sir?"

Nothing, too, is more illuminating than the painful way in which many
people cultivate a knowledge of public affairs because they have a
conscience and wish to do a citizen's duty. Having read a number of
articles on the tariff and ploughed through the metaphysics of the
currency question, what do they do? They turn with all the more zest to
some spontaneous human interest. Perhaps they follow, follow, follow
Roosevelt everywhere, and live with him through the emotions of a great
battle. But for the affairs of statecraft, for the very policies that a
Roosevelt advocates, the interest is largely perfunctory, maintained out
of a sense of duty and dropped with a sigh of relief.

That reaction may not be as deplorable as it seems. Pick up your
newspaper, read the Congressional Record, run over in your mind the
"issues" of a campaign, and then ask yourself whether the average man is
entirely to blame because he smiles a bit at Armageddon and refuses to
take the politician at his own rhetorical valuation. If men find
statecraft uninteresting, may it not be that statecraft _is_
uninteresting? I have a more or less professional interest in public
affairs; that is to say, I have had opportunity to look at politics from
the point of view of the man who is trying to get the attention of people
in order to carry through some reform. At first it was a hard confession
to make, but the more I saw of politics at first-hand, the more I
respected the indifference of the public. There was something
monotonously trivial and irrelevant about our reformist enthusiasm, and
an appalling justice in that half-conscious criticism which refuses to
place politics among the genuine, creative activities of men. Science was
valid, art was valid, the poorest grubber in a laboratory was engaged in
a real labor, anyone who had found expression in some beautiful object
was truly centered. But politics was a personal drama without meaning or
a vague abstraction without substance.

Yet there was the fact, just as indisputable as ever, that public affairs
do have an enormous and intimate effect upon our lives. They make or
unmake us. They are the foundation of that national vigor through which
civilizations mature. City and countryside, factories and play, schools
and the family are powerful influences in every life, and politics is
directly concerned with them. If politics is irrelevant, it is certainly
not because its subject matter is unimportant. Public affairs govern our
thinking and doing with subtlety and persistence.

The trouble, I figured, must be in the way politics is concerned with the
nation's interests. If public business seems to drift aimlessly, its
results are, nevertheless, of the highest consequence. In statecraft the
penalties and rewards are tremendous. Perhaps the approach is distorted.
Perhaps uncriticised assumptions have obscured the real uses of politics.
Perhaps an attitude can be worked out which will engage a fresher
attention. For there are, I believe, blunders in our political thinking
which confuse fictitious activity with genuine achievement, and make it
difficult for men to know where they should enlist. Perhaps if we can see
politics in a different light, it will rivet our creative interests.

These essays, then, are an attempt to sketch an attitude towards
statecraft. I have tried to suggest an approach, to illustrate it
concretely, to prepare a point of view. In selecting for the title "A
Preface to Politics," I have wished to stamp upon the whole book my own
sense that it is a beginning and not a conclusion. I have wished to
emphasize that there is nothing in this book which can be drafted into a
legislative proposal and presented to the legislature the day after
to-morrow. It was not written with the notion that these pages would
contain an adequate exposition of modern political method. Much less was
it written to further a concrete program. There are, I hope, no
assumptions put forward as dogmas.

It is a preliminary sketch for a theory of politics, a preface to
thinking. Like all speculation about human affairs, it is the result of a
grapple with problems as they appear in the experience of one man. For
though a personal vision may at times assume an eloquent and universal
language, it is well never to forget that all philosophies are the
language of particular men.

                                                  W. L.

46 East 80th Street, NEW YORK CITY, January 1913.




Politics does not exist for the sake of demonstrating the superior
righteousness of anybody. It is not a competition in deportment. In fact,
before you can begin to think about politics at all you have to abandon
the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men. That is one
of the great American superstitions. More than any other fetish it has
ruined our sense of political values by glorifying the pharisee with his
vain cruelty to individuals and his unfounded approval of himself. You
have only to look at the Senate of the United States, to see how that
body is capable of turning itself into a court of preliminary hearings
for the Last Judgment, wasting its time and our time and absorbing public
enthusiasm and newspaper scareheads. For a hundred needs of the nation it
has no thought, but about the precise morality of an historical
transaction eight years old there is a meticulous interest. Whether in
the Presidential Campaign of 1904 Roosevelt was aware that the ancient
tradition of corporate subscriptions had or had not been followed, and
the exact and ultimate measure of the guilt that knowledge would have
implied--this in the year 1912 is enough to start the Senate on a
protracted man-hunt.

Now if one half of the people is bent upon proving how wicked a man is
and the other half is determined to show how good he is, neither half
will think very much about the nation. An innocent paragraph in the New
York Evening Post for August 27, 1912, gives the whole performance away.
It shows as clearly as words could how disastrous the good-and-bad-man
theory is to political thinking:

"Provided the first hearing takes place on September 30, it is expected
that the developments will be made with a view to keeping the Colonel on
the defensive. After the beginning of October, it is pointed out, the
evidence before the Committee should keep him so busy explaining and
denying that the country will not hear much Bull Moose doctrine."

Whether you like the Roosevelt doctrines or not, there can be no two
opinions about such an abuse of morality. It is a flat public loss,
another attempt to befuddle our thinking. For if politics is merely a
guerilla war between the bribed and the unbribed, then statecraft is not
a human service but a moral testing ground. It is a public amusement, a
melodrama of real life, in which a few conspicuous characters are tried,
and it resembles nothing so much as schoolboy hazing which we are told
exists for the high purpose of detecting a "yellow streak." But even
though we desired it there would be no way of establishing any clear-cut
difference in politics between the angels and the imps. The angels are
largely self-appointed, being somewhat more sensitive to other people's
tar than their own.

But if the issue is not between honesty and dishonesty, where is it?

If you stare at a checkerboard you can see it as black on red, or red on
black, as series of horizontal, vertical or diagonal steps which recede
or protrude. The longer you look the more patterns you can trace, and the
more certain it becomes that there is no single way of looking at the
board. So with political issues. There is no obvious cleavage which
everyone recognizes. Many patterns appear in the national life. The
"progressives" say the issue is between "Privilege" and the "People"; the
Socialists, that it is between the "working class" and the "master
class." An apologist for dynamite told me once that society was divided
into the weak and the strong, and there are people who draw a line
between Philistia and Bohemia.

When you rise up and announce that the conflict is between this and that,
you mean that this particular conflict interests you. The issue of
good-and-bad-men interests this nation to the exclusion of almost all
others. But experience shows, I believe, that it is a fruitless conflict
and a wasting enthusiasm. Yet some distinction must be drawn if we are to
act at all in politics. With nothing we are for and nothing to oppose, we
are merely neutral. This cleavage in public affairs is the most important
choice we are called upon to make. In large measure it determines the
rest of our thinking. Now some issues are fertile; some are not. Some
lead to spacious results; others are blind alleys. With this in mind I
wish to suggest that the distinction most worth emphasizing to-day is
between those who regard government as a routine to be administered and
those who regard it as a problem to be solved.

The class of routineers is larger than the conservatives. The man who
will follow precedent, but never create one, is merely an obvious example
of the routineer. You find him desperately numerous in the civil service,
in the official bureaus. To him government is something given as
unconditionally, as absolutely as ocean or hill. He goes on winding the
tape that he finds. His imagination has rarely extricated itself from
under the administrative machine to gain any sense of what a human,
temporary contraption the whole affair is. What he thinks is the heavens
above him is nothing but the roof.

He is the slave of routine. He can boast of somewhat more spiritual
cousins in the men who reverence their ancestors' independence, who feel,
as it were, that a disreputable great-grandfather is necessary to a
family's respectability. These are the routineers gifted with historical
sense. They take their forefathers with enormous solemnity. But one
mistake is rarely avoided: they imitate the old-fashioned thing their
grandfather did, and ignore the originality which enabled him to do it.

If tradition were a reverent record of those crucial moments when men
burst through their habits, a love of the past would not be the butt on
which every sophomoric radical can practice his wit. But almost always
tradition is nothing but a record and a machine-made imitation of the
habits that our ancestors created. The average conservative is a slave to
the most incidental and trivial part of his forefathers' glory--to the
archaic formula which happened to express their genius or the eighteenth
century contrivance by which for a time it was served. To reverence
Washington they wear a powdered wig; they do honor to Lincoln by
cultivating awkward hands and ungainly feet.

It is fascinating to watch this kind of conservative in action. From
Senator Lodge, for example, we do not expect any new perception of
popular need. We know that probably his deepest sincerity is an attempt
to reproduce the atmosphere of the Senate a hundred years ago. The
manners of Mr. Lodge have that immobility which comes from too much
gazing at bad statues of dead statesmen.

Yet just because a man is in opposition to Senator Lodge there is no
guarantee that he has freed himself from the routineer's habit of mind. A
prejudice against some mannerism or a dislike of pretensions may merely
cloak some other kind of routine. Take the "good government" attitude. No
fresh insight is behind that. It does not promise anything; it does not
offer to contribute new values to human life. The machine which exists is
accepted in all its essentials: the "goo-goo" yearns for a somewhat
smoother rotation.

Often as not the very effort to make the existing machine run more
perfectly merely makes matters worse. For the tinkering reformer is
frequently one of the worst of the routineers. Even machines are not
altogether inflexible, and sometimes what the reformer regards as a sad
deviation from the original plans is a poor rickety attempt to adapt the
machine to changing conditions. Think what would have happened had we
actually remained stolidly faithful to every intention of the Fathers.
Think what would happen if every statute were enforced. By the sheer
force of circumstances we have twisted constitutions and laws to some
approximation of our needs. A changing country has managed to live in
spite of a static government machine. Perhaps Bernard Shaw was right when
he said that "the famous Constitution survives only because whenever any
corner of it gets into the way of the accumulating dollar it is pettishly
knocked off and thrown away. Every social development, however beneficial
and inevitable from the public point of view, is met, not by an
intelligent adaptation of the social structure to its novelties but by a
panic and a cry of Go Back."

I am tempted to go further and put into the same class all those radicals
who wish simply to substitute some other kind of machine for the one we
have. Though not all of them would accept the name, these reformers are
simply utopia-makers in action. Their perceptions are more critical than
the ordinary conservatives'. They do see that humanity is badly squeezed
in the existing mould. They have enough imagination to conceive a
different one. But they have an infinite faith in moulds. This routine
they don't believe in, but they believe in their own: if you could put
the country under a new "system," then human affairs would run
automatically for the welfare of all. Some improvement there might be,
but as almost all men are held in an iron devotion to their own
creations, the routine reformers are simply working for another
conservatism, and not for any continuing liberation.

The type of statesman we must oppose to the routineer is one who regards
all social organization as an instrument. Systems, institutions and
mechanical contrivances have for him no virtue of their own: they are
valuable only when they serve the purposes of men. He uses them, of
course, but with a constant sense that men have made them, that new ones
can be devised, that only an effort of the will can keep machinery in its
place. He has no faith whatever in automatic governments. While the
routineers see machinery and precedents revolving with mankind as
puppets, he puts the deliberate, conscious, willing individual at the
center of his philosophy. This reversal is pregnant with a new outlook
for statecraft. I hope to show that it alone can keep step with life; it
alone is humanly relevant; and it alone achieves valuable results.

Call this man a political creator or a political inventor. The essential
quality of him is that he makes that part of existence which has
experience the master of it. He serves the ideals of human feelings, not
the tendencies of mechanical things.

The difference between a phonograph and the human voice is that the
phonograph must sing the song which is stamped upon it. Now there are
days--I suspect the vast majority of them in most of our lives--when we
grind out the thing that is stamped upon us. It may be the governing of a
city, or teaching school, or running a business. We do not get out of bed
in the morning because we are eager for the day; something external--we
often call it our duty--throws off the bed-clothes, complains that the
shaving water isn't hot, puts us into the subway and lands us at our
office in season for punching the time-check. We revolve with the
business for three or four hours, signing letters, answering telephones,
checking up lists, and perhaps towards twelve o'clock the prospect of
lunch puts a touch of romance upon life. Then because our days are so
unutterably the same, we turn to the newspapers, we go to the magazines
and read only the "stuff with punch," we seek out a "show" and drive
serious playwrights into the poorhouse. "You can go through contemporary
life," writes Wells, "fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never
really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest
moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with
primary and elementary necessities the sweat of your death-bed."

The world grinds on: we are a fly on the wheel. That sense of an
impersonal machine going on with endless reiteration is an experience
that imaginative politicians face. Often as not they disguise it under
heroic phrases and still louder affirmation, just as most of us hide our
cowardly submission to monotony under some word like duty, loyalty,
conscience. If you have ever been an office-holder or been close to
officials, you must surely have been appalled by the grim way in which
committee-meetings, verbose reports, flamboyant speeches, requests, and
delegations hold the statesman in a mind-destroying grasp. Perhaps this
is the reason why it has been necessary to retire Theodore Roosevelt from
public life every now and then in order to give him a chance to learn
something new. Every statesman like every professor should have his
sabbatical year.

The revolt against the service of our own mechanical habits is well known
to anyone who has followed modern thought. As a sharp example one might
point to Thomas Davidson, whom William James called "individualist à
outrance".... "Reprehending (mildly) a certain chapter of my own on
'Habit,' he said that it was a fixed rule with him to form no regular
habits. When he found himself in danger of settling into even a good one,
he made a point of interrupting it."

Such men are the sparkling streams that flow through the dusty stretches
of a nation. They invigorate and emphasize those times in your own life
when each day is new. Then you are alive, then you drive the world before
you. The business, however difficult, shapes itself to your effort; you
seem to manage detail with an inferior part of yourself, while the real
soul of you is active, planning, light. "I wanted thought like an edge of
steel and desire like a flame." Eager with sympathy, you and your work
are reflected from many angles. You have become luminous.

Some people are predominantly eager and wilful. The world does not huddle
and bend them to a task. They are not, as we say, creatures of
environment, but creators of it. Of other people's environment they
become the most active part--the part which sets the fashion. What they
initiate, others imitate. Theirs is a kind of intrinsic prestige. These
are the natural leaders of men, whether it be as head of the gang or as
founder of a religion.

It is, I believe, this power of being aggressively active towards the
world which gives man a miraculous assurance that the world is something
he can make. In creative moments men always draw upon "some secret spring
of certainty, some fundamental well into which no disturbing glimmers
penetrate." But this is no slack philosophy, for the chance is denied by
which we can lie back upon the perfection of some mechanical contrivance.
Yet in the light of it government becomes alert to a process of continual
creation, an unceasing invention of forms to meet constantly changing

This philosophy is not only difficult to practice: it is elusive when you
come to state it. For our political language was made to express a
routine conception of government. It comes to us from the Eighteenth
Century. And no matter how much we talk about the infusion of the
"evolutionary" point of view into all of modern thought, when the test is
made political practice shows itself almost virgin to the idea. Our
theories assume, and our language is fitted to thinking of government as
a frame--Massachusetts, I believe, actually calls her fundamental law the
Frame of Government. We picture political institutions as mechanically
constructed contrivances within which the nation's life is contained and
compelled to approximate some abstract idea of justice or liberty. These
frames have very little elasticity, and we take it as an historical
commonplace that sooner or later a revolution must come to burst the
frame apart. Then a new one is constructed.

Our own Federal Constitution is a striking example of this machine
conception of government. It is probably the most important instance we
have of the deliberate application of a mechanical philosophy to human
affairs. Leaving out all question of the Fathers' ideals, looking simply
at the bias which directed their thinking, is there in all the world a
more plain-spoken attempt to contrive an automatic governor--a machine
which would preserve its balance without the need of taking human nature
into account? What other explanation is there for the naïve faith of the
Fathers in the "symmetry" of executive, legislature, and judiciary; in
the fantastic attempts to circumvent human folly by balancing it with
vetoes and checks? No insight into the evident fact that power upsets all
mechanical foresight and gravitates toward the natural leaders seems to
have illuminated those historic deliberations. The Fathers had a rather
pale god, they had only a speaking acquaintance with humanity, so they
put their faith in a scaffold, and it has been part of our national piety
to pretend that they succeeded.

They worked with the philosophy of their age. Living in the Eighteenth
Century, they thought in the images of Newton and Montesquieu. "The
Government of the United States," writes Woodrow Wilson, "was constructed
upon the Whig theory of political dynamics, which was a sort of
unconscious copy of the Newtonian theory of the universe.... As
Montesquieu pointed out to them (the English Whigs) in his lucid way,
they had sought to balance executive, legislative and judiciary off
against one another by a series of checks and counterpoises, which Newton
might readily have recognized as suggestive of the mechanism of the
heavens." No doubt this automatic and balanced theory of government
suited admirably that distrust of the people which seems to have been a
dominant feeling among the Fathers. For they were the conservatives of
their day: between '76 and '89 they had gone the usual way of opportunist
radicals. But had they written the Constitution in the fire of their
youth, they might have made it more democratic,--I doubt whether they
would have made it less mechanical. The rebellious spirit of Tom Paine
expressed itself in logical formulæ as inflexible to the pace of life as
did the more contented Hamilton's. This is a determinant which burrows
beneath our ordinary classification of progressive and reactionary to the
spiritual habits of a period.

If you look into the early utopias of Fourier and Saint-Simon, or better
still into the early trade unions, this same faith that a government can
be made to work mechanically is predominant everywhere. All the devices
of rotation in office, short terms, undelegated authority are simply
attempts to defeat the half-perceived fact that power will not long stay
diffused. It is characteristic of these primitive democracies that they
worship Man and distrust men. They cling to some arrangement, hoping
against experience that a government freed from human nature will
automatically produce human benefits. To-day within the Socialist Party
there is perhaps the greatest surviving example of the desire to offset
natural leadership by artificial contrivance. It is an article of faith
among orthodox socialists that personalities do not count, and I
sincerely believe I am not exaggerating the case when I say that their
ideal of government is like Gordon Craig's ideal of the theater--the
acting is to be done by a row of supermarionettes. There is a myth among
socialists to which all are expected to subscribe, that initiative
springs anonymously out of the mass of the people,--that there are no
"leaders," that the conspicuous figures are no more influential than the
figurehead on the prow of a ship.

This is one of the paradoxes of the democratic movement--that it loves a
crowd and fears the individuals who compose it--that the religion of
humanity should have had no faith in human beings. Jealous of all
individuals, democracies have turned to machines. They have tried to blot
out human prestige, to minimize the influence of personality. That there
is historical justification for this fear is plain enough. To put it
briefly, democracy is afraid of the tyrant. That explains, but does not
justify. Governments have to be carried on by men, however much we
distrust them. Nobody has yet invented a mechanically beneficent

Democracy has put an unfounded faith in automatic contrivances. Because
it left personality out of its speculation, it rested in the empty faith
that it had excluded it from reality. But in the actual stress of life
these frictions do not survive ten minutes. Public officials do not
become political marionettes, though people pretend that they are. When
theory runs against the grain of living forces, the result is a deceptive
theory of politics. If the real government of the United States "had, in
fact," as Woodrow Wilson says, "been a machine governed by mechanically
automatic balances, it would have had no history; but it was not, and its
history has been rich with the influence and personalities of the men who
have conducted it and made it a living reality." Only by violating the
very spirit of the constitution have we been able to preserve the letter
of it. For behind that balanced plan there grew up what Senator Beveridge
has called so brilliantly the "invisible government," an empire of
natural groups about natural leaders. Parties are such groups: they have
had a power out of all proportion to the intentions of the Fathers.
Behind the parties has grown up the "political machine"--falsely called a
machine, the very opposite of one in fact, a natural sovereignty, I
believe. The really rigid and mechanical thing is the charter behind
which Tammany works. For Tammany is the real government that has defeated
a mechanical foresight. Tammany is not a freak, a strange and monstrous
excrescence. Its structure and the laws of its life are, I believe,
typical of all real sovereignties. You can find Tammany duplicated
wherever there is a social group to be governed--in trade unions, in
clubs, in boys' gangs, in the Four Hundred, in the Socialist Party. It is
an accretion of power around a center of influence, cemented by
patronage, graft, favors, friendship, loyalties, habits,--a human
grouping, a natural pyramid.

Only recently have we begun to see that the "political ring" is not
something confined to public life. It was Lincoln Steffens, I believe,
who first perceived that fact. For a time it was my privilege to work
under him on an investigation of the "Money Power." The leading idea was
different from customary "muckraking." We were looking not for the evils
of Big Business, but for its anatomy. Mr. Steffens came to the subject
with a first-hand knowledge of politics. He knew the "invisible
government" of cities, states, and the nation. He knew how the boss
worked, how he organized his power. When Mr. Steffens approached the vast
confusion and complication of big business, he needed some hypothesis to
guide him through that maze of facts. He made a bold and brilliant guess,
an hypothesis. To govern a life insurance company, Mr. Steffens argued,
was just as much "government" as to run a city. What if political methods
existed in the realm of business? The investigation was never carried
through completely, but we did study the methods by which several life
and fire insurance companies, banks, two or three railroads, and several
industrials are controlled. We found that the anatomy of Big Business was
strikingly like that of Tammany Hall: the same pyramiding of influence,
the same tendency of power to center on individuals who did not
necessarily sit in the official seats, the same effort of human
organization to grow independently of legal arrangements. Thus in the
life insurance companies, and the Hughes investigation supports this, the
real power was held not by the president, not by the voters or
policy-holders, but by men who were not even directors. After a while we
took it as a matter of course that the head of a company was an
administrative dummy, with a dependence on unofficial power similar to
that of Governor Dix on Boss Murphy. That seems to be typical of the
whole economic life of this country. It is controlled by groups of men
whose influence extends like a web to smaller, tributary groups, cutting
across all official boundaries and designations, making short work of all
legal formulæ, and exercising sovereignty regardless of the little fences
we erect to keep it in bounds.

A glimpse into the labor world revealed very much the same condition. The
boss, and the bosslet, the heeler--the men who are "it"--all are there
exercising the real power, the power that independently of charters and
elections decides what shall happen. I don't wish to have this regarded
as necessarily malign. It seems so now because we put our faith in the
ideal arrangements which it disturbs. But if we could come to face it
squarely--to see that that is what sovereignty is--that if we are to use
human power for human purposes we must turn to the realities of it, then
we shall have gone far towards leaving behind us the futile hopes of
mechanical perfection so constantly blasted by natural facts.

The invisible government is malign. But the evil doesn't come from the
fact that it plays horse with the Newtonian theory of the constitution.
What is dangerous about it is that we do not see it, cannot use it, and
are compelled to submit to it. The nature of political power we shall not
change. If that is the way human societies organize sovereignty, the
sooner we face that fact the better. For the object of democracy is not
to imitate the rhythm of the stars but to harness political power to the
nation's need. If corporations and governments have indeed gone on a joy
ride the business of reform is not to set up fences, Sherman Acts and
injunctions into which they can bump, but to take the wheel and to steer.

The corruption of which we hear so much is certainly not accounted for
when you have called it dishonesty. It is too widespread for any such
glib explanation. When you see how business controls politics, it
certainly is not very illuminating to call the successful business men of
a nation criminals. Yet I suppose that all of them violate the law. May
not this constant dodging or hurdling of statutes be a sign that there is
something the matter with the statutes? Is it not possible that graft is
the cracking and bursting of the receptacles in which we have tried to
constrain the business of this country? It seems possible that business
has had to control politics because its laws were so stupidly
obstructive. In the trust agitation this is especially plausible. For
there is every reason to believe that concentration is a world-wide
tendency, made possible at first by mechanical inventions, fostered by
the disastrous experiences of competition, and accepted by business men
through contagion and imitation. Certainly the trusts increase. Wherever
politics is rigid and hostile to that tendency, there is irritation and
struggle, but the agglomeration goes on. Hindered by political
conditions, the process becomes secretive and morbid. The trust is not
checked, but it is perverted. In 1910 the "American Banker" estimated
that there were 1,198 corporations with 8,110 subsidiaries liable to all
the penalties of the Sherman Act. Now this concentration must represent a
profound impetus in the business world--an impetus which certainly cannot
be obliterated, even if anyone were foolish enough to wish it. I venture
to suggest that much of what is called "corruption" is the odor of a
decaying political system done to death by an economic growth.

It is our desperate adherence to an old method that has produced the
confusion of political life. Because we have insisted upon looking at
government as a frame and governing as a routine, because in short we
have been static in our theories, politics has such an unreal relation to
actual conditions. Feckless--that is what our politics is. It is
literally eccentric: it has been centered mechanically instead of
vitally. We have, it seems, been seduced by a fictitious analogy: we have
hoped for machine regularity when we needed human initiative and
leadership, when life was crying that its inventive abilities should be

Roosevelt in his term did much to center government truly. For a time
natural leadership and nominal position coincided, and the administration
became in a measure a real sovereignty. The routine conception dwindled,
and the Roosevelt appointees went at issues as problems to be solved.
They may have been mistaken: Roosevelt may be uncritical in his
judgments. But the fact remains that the Roosevelt régime gave a new
prestige to the Presidency by effecting through it the greatest release
of political invention in a generation. Contrast it with the Taft
administration, and the quality is set in relief. Taft was the perfect
routineer trying to run government as automatically as possible. His
sincerity consisted in utter respect for form: he denied himself whatever
leadership he was capable of, and outwardly at least he tried to
"balance" the government. His greatest passions seem to be purely
administrative and legal. The people did not like it. They said it was
dead. They were right. They had grown accustomed to a humanly liberating
atmosphere in which formality was an instrument instead of an idol. They
had seen the Roosevelt influence adding to the resources of
life--irrigation, and waterways, conservation, the Panama Canal, the
"country life" movement. They knew these things were achieved through
initiative that burst through formal restrictions, and they applauded
wildly. It was only a taste, but it was a taste, a taste of what
government might be like.

The opposition was instructive. Apart from those who feared Roosevelt for
selfish reasons, his enemies were men who loved an orderly adherence to
traditional methods. They shivered in the emotional gale; they obstructed
and the gale became destructive. They felt that, along with obviously
good things, this sudden national fertility might breed a monster--that a
leadership like Roosevelt's might indeed prove dangerous, as giving birth
may lead to death.

What the methodically-minded do not see is that the sterility of a
routine is far more appalling. Not everyone may feel that to push out
into the untried, and take risks for big prizes, is worth while. Men will
tell you that government has no business to undertake an adventure, to
make experiments. They think that safety lies in repetition, that if you
do nothing, nothing will be done to you. It's a mistake due to poverty of
imagination and inability to learn from experience. Even the timidest
soul dare not "stand pat." The indictment against mere routine in
government is a staggering one.

For while statesmen are pottering along doing the same thing year in,
year out, putting up the tariff one year and down the next, passing
appropriation bills and recodifying laws, the real forces in the country
do not stand still. Vast changes, economic and psychological, take place,
and these changes demand new guidance. But the routineers are always
unprepared. It has become one of the grim trade jokes of innovators that
the one thing you can count upon is that the rulers will come to think
that they are the apex of human development. For a queer effect of
responsibility on men is that it makes them try to be as much like
machines as possible. Tammany itself becomes rigid when it is too
successful, and only defeat seems to give it new life. Success makes men
rigid and they tend to exalt stability over all the other virtues; tired
of the effort of willing they become fanatics about conservatism. But
conditions change whether statesmen wish them to or not; society must
have new institutions to fit new wants, and all that rigid conservatism
can do is to make the transitions difficult. Violent revolutions may be
charged up to the unreadiness of statesmen. It is because they will not
see, or cannot see, that feudalism is dead, that chattel slavery is
antiquated; it is because they have not the wisdom and the audacity to
anticipate these great social changes; it is because they insist upon
standing pat that we have French Revolutions and Civil Wars.

But statesmen who had decided that at last men were to be the masters of
their own history, instead of its victims, would face politics in a truly
revolutionary manner. It would give a new outlook to statesmanship,
turning it from the mere preservation of order, the administration of
political machinery and the guarding of ancient privilege to the
invention of new political forms, the prevision of social wants, and the
preparation for new economic growths.

Such a statesmanship would in the '80's have prepared for the trust
movement. There would have been nothing miraculous in such foresight.
Standard Oil was dominant by the beginning of the '80's, and
concentration had begun in sugar, steel and other basic industries. Here
was an economic tendency of revolutionary significance--the organization
of business in a way that was bound to change the outlook of a whole
nation. It had vast potentialities for good and evil--all it wanted was
harnessing and directing. But the new thing did not fit into the little
outlines and verbosities which served as a philosophy for our political
hacks. So they gaped at it and let it run wild, called it names, and
threw stones at it. And by that time the force was too big for them. An
alert statesmanship would have facilitated the process of concentration;
would have made provision for those who were cast aside; would have been
an ally of trust building, and by that very fact it would have had an
internal grip on the trust--it would have kept the trust's inner workings
public; it could have bent the trust to social uses.

This is not mere wisdom after the event. In the '80's there were hundreds
of thousands of people in the world who understood that the trust was a
natural economic growth. Karl Marx had proclaimed it some thirty years
before, and it was a widely circulated idea. Is it asking too much of a
statesman if we expect him to know political theory and to balance it
with the facts he sees? By the '90's surely, the egregious folly of a
Sherman Anti-Trust Law should have been evident to any man who pretended
to political leadership. Yet here it is the year 1912 and that monument
of economic ignorance and superstition is still worshiped with the lips
by two out of the three big national parties.

Another movement--like that of the trust--is gathering strength to-day.
It is the unification of wage-workers. We stand in relation to it as the
men of the '80's did to the trusts. It is the complement of that problem.
It also has vast potentialities for good and evil. It, too, demands
understanding and direction. It, too, will not be stopped by hard names
or injunctions.

What we loosely call "syndicalism" is a tendency that no statesman can
overlook to-day without earning the jeers of his children. This labor
movement has a destructive and constructive energy within it. On its
beneficent side it promises a new professional interest in work,
self-education, and the co-operative management of industry. But this
creative power is constantly choked off because the unions are compelled
to fight for their lives--the more opposition they meet the more you are
likely to see of sabotage, direct action, the grève perlée--the less
chance there is for the educative forces to show themselves. Then, the
more violent syndicalism proves itself to be, the more hysterically we
bait it in the usual vicious circle of ignorance.

But who amongst us is optimistic enough to hope that the men who sit in
the mighty positions are going to make a better show of themselves than
their predecessors did over the trust problem? It strains hope a little
too much. Those men in Washington, most of them lawyers, are so educated
that they are practically incapable of meeting a new condition. All their
training plus all their natural ossification of mind is hostile to
invention. You cannot endow even the best machine with initiative; the
jolliest steam-roller will not plant flowers.

The thought-processes in Washington are too lumbering for the needs of
this nation. Against that evil muckraking ought to be directed. Those
senators and representatives are largely irrelevant; they are not
concerned with realities. Their dishonesties are comparatively
insignificant. The scorn of the public should be turned upon the
emptiness of political thought, upon the fact that those men seem without
even a conception of the nation's needs. And while they maunder along
they stifle the forces of life which are trying to break through. It was
nothing but the insolence of the routineer that forced Gifford Pinchot
out of the Forest Service. Pinchot in respect to his subject was a fine
political inventor. But routine forced him out--into what?--into the moil
and toil of fighting for offices, and there he has cut a poor figure
indeed. You may say that he has had to spend his energy trying to find a
chance to use his power. What a wanton waste of talent is that for a
civilized nation! Wiley is another case of the creative mind harassed by
the routineers. Judge Lindsey is another--a fine, constructive children's
judge compelled to be a politician. And of our misuse of the Rockefellers
and Carnegies--the retrospect is appalling. Here was industrial genius
unquestionably beyond the ordinary. What did this nation do with it? It
found no public use for talent. It left that to operate in darkness--then
opinion rose in an empty fury, made an outlaw of one and a platitudinous
philanthropist of the other. It could lynch one as a moral monster, when
as a matter of fact his ideals were commonplace; it could proclaim one a
great benefactor when in truth he was a rather dull old gentleman. Abused
out of all reason or praised irrelevantly--the one thing this nation has
not been able to do with these men is to use their genius. It is this
life-sapping quality of our politics that should be fought--its wanton
waste of the initiatives we have--its stupid indifference.

We need a new sense of political values. These times require a different
order of thinking. We cannot expect to meet our problems with a few
inherited ideas, uncriticised assumptions, a foggy vocabulary, and a
machine philosophy. Our political thinking needs the infusion of
contemporary insights. The enormous vitality that is regenerating other
interests can be brought into the service of politics. Our primary care
must be to keep the habits of the mind flexible and adapted to the
movement of real life. The only way to control our destiny is to work
with it. In politics, at least, we stoop to conquer. There is no use, no
heroism, in butting against the inevitable, yet nothing is entirely
inevitable. There is always some choice, some opportunity for human

It is not easy. It is far easier to treat life as if it were dead, men as
if they were dolls. It is everlastingly difficult to keep the mind
flexible and alert. The rule of thumb is not here. To follow the pace of
living requires enormous vigilance and sympathy. No one can write
conclusively about it. Compared with this creative statesmanship, the
administering of a routine or the battle for a platitude is a very simple
affair. But genuine politics is not an inhuman task. Part of the
genuineness is its unpretentious humanity. I am not creating the figure
of an ideal statesman out of some inner fancy. That is just the deepest
error of our political thinking--to talk of politics without reference to
human beings. The creative men appear in public life in spite of the cold
blanket the politicians throw over them. Really statesmanlike things are
done, inventions are made. But this real achievement comes to us
confused, mixed with much that is contradictory. Political inventors are
to-day largely unconscious of their purpose, and, so, defenceless against
the distraction of their routineer enemies.

Lacking a philosophy they are defenceless against their own inner
tendency to sink into repetition. As a witty Frenchman remarked, many
geniuses become their own disciples. This is true when the attention is
slack, and effort has lost its direction. We have elaborate governmental
mechanisms--like the tariff, for example, which we go on making more
"scientific" year in, year out--having long since lost sight of their
human purpose. They may be defeating the very ends they were meant to
serve. We cling to constitutions out of "loyalty." We trudge in the
treadmill and call it love of our ancient institutions. We emulate the
mule, that greatest of all routineers.



Our government has certainly not measured up to expectations. Even
chronic admirers of the "balance" and "symmetry" of the Constitution
admit either by word or deed that it did not foresee the whole history of
the American people. Poor bewildered statesmen, unused to any notion of
change, have seen the national life grow to a monstrous confusion and
sprout monstrous evils by the way. Men and women clamored for remedies,
vowed, shouted and insisted that their "official servants" do
something--something statesmanlike--to abate so much evident wrong. But
their representatives had very little more than a frock coat and a slogan
as equipment for the task. Trained to interpret a constitution instead of
life, these statesmen faced with historic helplessness the vociferations
of ministers, muckrakers, labor leaders, women's clubs, granges and
reformers' leagues. Out of a tumultuous medley appeared the common theme
of public opinion--that the leaders should lead, that the governors
should govern.

The trusts had appeared, labor was restless, vice seemed to be corrupting
the vitality of the nation. Statesmen had to do something. Their training
was legal and therefore utterly inadequate, but it was all they had. They
became panicky and reverted to an ancient superstition. They forbade the
existence of evil by law. They made it anathema. They pronounced it
damnable. They threatened to club it. They issued a legislative curse,
and called upon the district attorney to do the rest. They started out to
abolish human instincts, check economic tendencies and repress social
changes by laws prohibiting them. They turned to this sanctified
ignorance which is rampant in almost any nursery, which presides at
family councils, flourishes among "reformers"; which from time immemorial
has haunted legislatures and courts. Under the spell of it men try to
stop drunkenness by closing the saloons; when poolrooms shock them they
call a policeman; if Haywood becomes annoying, they procure an
injunction. They meet the evils of dance halls by barricading them; they
go forth to battle against vice by raiding brothels and fining
prostitutes. For trusts there is a Sherman Act. In spite of all
experience they cling desperately to these superstitions.

It is the method of the taboo, as naïve as barbarism, as ancient as human

There is a law against suicide. It is illegal for a man to kill himself.
What it means in practice, of course, is that there is punishment waiting
for a man who doesn't succeed in killing himself. We say to the man who
is tired of life that if he bungles we propose to make this world still
less attractive by clapping him into jail. I know an economist who has a
scheme for keeping down the population by refusing very poor people a
marriage license. He used to teach Sunday school and deplore promiscuity.
In the annual report of the president of a distilling company I once saw
the statement that business had increased in the "dry" states. In a
prohibition town where I lived you could drink all you wanted by
belonging to a "club" or winking at the druggist. And in another city
where Sunday closing was strictly enforced, a minister told me with
painful surprise that the Monday police blotter showed less drunks and
more wife-beaters.

We pass a law against race-track gambling and add to the profits from
faro. We raid the faro joints, and drive gambling into the home, where
poker and bridge whist are taught to children who follow their parents'
example. We deprive anarchists of free speech by the heavy hand of a
police magistrate, and furnish them with a practical instead of a
theoretical argument against government. We answer strikes with bayonets,
and make treason one of the rights of man.

Everybody knows that when you close the dance halls you fill the parks.
Men who in their youth took part in "crusades" against the Tenderloin now
admit in a crestfallen way that they succeeded merely in sprinkling the
Tenderloin through the whole city. Over twenty years ago we formulated a
sweeping taboo against trusts. Those same twenty years mark the
centralization of industry.

The routineer in a panic turns to the taboo. Whatever does not fit into
his rigid little scheme of things must have its head chopped off. Now
human nature and the changing social forces it generates are the very
material which fit least well into most little schemes of things. A man
cannot sleep in his cradle: whatever is useful must in the nature of life
become useless. We employ our instruments and abandon them. But nothing
so simply true as that prevails in politics. When a government routine
conflicts with the nation's purposes--the statesman actually makes a
virtue of his loyalty to the routine. His practice is to ignore human
character and pay no attention to social forces. The shallow presumption
is that undomesticated impulses can be obliterated; that world-wide
economic inventions can be stamped out by jailing millionaires--and
acting in the spirit of Mr. Chesterton's man Fipps "who went mad and ran
about the country with an axe, hacking branches off the trees whenever
there were not the same number on both sides." The routineer is, of
course, the first to decry every radical proposal as "against human
nature." But the stand-pat mind has forfeited all right to speak for
human nature. It has devoted the centuries to torturing men's instincts,
stamping on them, passing laws against them, lifting its eyebrows at the
thought of them--doing everything but trying to understand them. The same
people who with daily insistence say that innovators ignore facts are in
the absurd predicament of trying to still human wants with petty taboos.
Social systems like ours, which do not even feed and house men and women,
which deny pleasure, cramp play, ban adventure, propose celibacy and
grind out monotony, are a clear confession of sterility in statesmanship.
And politics, however pretentiously rhetorical about ideals, is
irrelevant if the only method it knows is to ostracize the desires it
cannot manage.

Suppose that statesmen transferred their reverence from the precedents
and mistakes of their ancestors to the human material which they have set
out to govern. Suppose they looked mankind in the face and asked
themselves what was the result of answering evil with a prohibition. Such
an exercise would, I fear, involve a considerable strain on what
reformers call their moral sensibilities. For human nature is a rather
shocking affair if you come to it with ordinary romantic optimism.
Certainly the human nature that figures in most political thinking is a
wraith that never was--not even in the souls of politicians. "Idealism"
creates an abstraction and then shudders at a reality which does not
answer to it. Now statesmen who have set out to deal with actual life
must deal with actual people. They cannot afford an inclusive pessimism
about mankind. Let them have the consistency and good sense to cease
bothering about men if men's desires seem intrinsically evil. Moral
judgment about the ultimate quality of character is dangerous to a
politician. He is too constantly tempted to call a policeman when he

We must study our failures. Gambling and drink, for example, produce much
misery. But what reformers have to learn is that men don't gamble just
for the sake of violating the law. They do so because something within
them is satisfied by betting or drinking. To erect a ban doesn't stop the
want. It merely prevents its satisfaction. And since this desire for
stimulants or taking a chance at a prize is older and far more deeply
rooted in the nature of men than love of the Prohibition Party or
reverence for laws made at Albany, people will contrive to drink and
gamble in spite of the acts of a legislature.

A man may take liquor for a variety of reasons: he may be thirsty; or
depressed; or unusually happy; he may want the companionship of a saloon,
or he may hope to forget a scolding wife. Perhaps he needs a "bracer" in
a weary hunt for a job. Perhaps he has a terrible craving for alcohol. He
does not take a drink so that he may become an habitual drunkard, or be
locked up in jail, or get into a brawl, or lose his job, or go insane.
These are what he might call the unfortunate by-products of his desire.
If once he could find something which would do for him what liquor does,
without hurting him as liquor does, there would be no problem of drink.
Bernard Shaw says he has found that substitute in going to church when
there's no service. Goethe wrote "The Sorrows of Werther" in order to get
rid of his own. Many an unhappy lover has found peace by expressing his
misery in sonnet form. The problem is to find something for the common
man who is not interested in contemporary churches and who can't write

When the socialists in Milwaukee began to experiment with municipal
dances they were greeted with indignant protests from the "anti-vice"
element and with amused contempt by the newspaper paragraphers. The
dances were discontinued, and so the belief in their failure is complete.
I think, though, that Mayor Seidel's defense would by itself make this
experiment memorable. He admitted freely the worst that can be said
against the ordinary dance hall. So far he was with the petty reformers.
Then he pointed out with considerable vehemence that dance halls were an
urgent social necessity. At that point he had transcended the mind of the
petty reformer completely. "We propose," said Seidel, "to go into
competition with the devil."

Nothing deeper has come from an American mayor in a long, long time. It
is the point that Jane Addams makes in the opening pages of that wisely
sweet book, "The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets." She calls
attention to the fact that the modern state has failed to provide for
pleasure. "This stupid experiment," she writes, "of organizing work and
failing to organize play has, of course, brought about a fine revenge.
The love of pleasure will not be denied, and when it has turned into all
sorts of malignant and vicious appetites, then we, the middle-aged, grow
quite distracted and resort to all sorts of restrictive measures."

For human nature seems to have wants that must be filled. If nobody else
supplies them, the devil will. The demand for pleasure, adventure,
romance has been left to the devil's catering for so long a time that
most people think he inspires the demand. He doesn't. Our neglect is the
devil's opportunity. What we should use, we let him abuse, and the
corruption of the best things, as Hume remarked, produces the worst.
Pleasure in our cities has become tied to lobster palaces, adventure to
exalted murderers, romance to silly, mooning novels. Like the flower girl
in Galsworthy's play, we have made a very considerable confusion of the
life of joy and the joy of life. The first impulse is to abolish all
lobster palaces, melodramas, yellow newspapers, and sentimentally erotic
novels. Why not abolish all the devil's works? the reformer wonders. The
answer is in history. It can't be done that way. It is impossible to
abolish either with a law or an axe the desires of men. It is dangerous,
explosively dangerous, to thwart them for any length of time. The
Puritans tried to choke the craving for pleasure in early New England.
They had no theaters, no dances, no festivals. They burned witches

We rail a good deal against Tammany Hall. Reform tickets make periodic
sallies against it, crying economy, efficiency, and a business
administration. And we all pretend to be enormously surprised when the
"ignorant foreign vote" prefers a corrupt political ring to a party of
well-dressed, grammatical, and high-minded gentlemen. Some of us are even
rather downcast about democracy because the Bowery doesn't take to heart
the admonitions of the Evening Post.

We forget completely the important wants supplied by Tammany Hall. We
forget that this is a lonely country for an immigrant and that the Statue
of Liberty doesn't shed her light with too much warmth. Possessing
nothing but a statistical, inhuman conception of government, the average
municipal reformer looks down contemptuously upon a man like Tim Sullivan
with his clambakes and his dances; his warm and friendly saloons, his
handshaking and funeral-going and baby-christening; his readiness to get
coal for the family, and a job for the husband. But a Tim Sullivan is
closer to the heart of statesmanship than five City Clubs full of people
who want low taxes and orderly bookkeeping. He does things which have to
be done. He humanizes a strange country; he is a friend at court; he
represents the legitimate kindliness of government, standing between the
poor and the impersonal, uninviting majesty of the law. Let no man wonder
that Lorimer's people do not prefer an efficiency expert, that a Tim
Sullivan has power, or that men are loyal to Hinky Dink. The cry raised
against these men by the average reformer is a piece of cold, unreal,
preposterous idealism compared to the solid warm facts of kindliness,
clothes, food and fun.

You cannot beat the bosses with the reformer's taboo. You will not get
far on the Bowery with the cost unit system and low taxes. And I don't
blame the Bowery. You can beat Tammany Hall permanently in one way--by
making the government of a city as human, as kindly, as jolly as Tammany
Hall. I am aware of the contract-grafts, the franchise-steals, the dirty
streets, the bribing and the blackmail, the vice-and-crime partnerships,
the Big Business alliances of Tammany Hall. And yet it seems to me that
Tammany has a better perception of human need, and comes nearer to being
what a government should be, than any scheme yet proposed by a group of
"uptown good government" enthusiasts. Tammany is not a satanic instrument
of deception, cleverly devised to thwart "the will of the people." It is
a crude and largely unconscious answer to certain immediate needs, and
without those needs its power would crumble. That is why I ventured in
the preceding chapter to describe it as a natural sovereignty which had
grown up behind a mechanical form of government. It is a poor weed
compared to what government might be. But it is a real government that
has power and serves a want, and not a frame imposed upon men from on

The taboo--the merely negative law--is the emptiest of all the
impositions from on top. In its long record of failure, in the
comparative success of Tammany, those who are aiming at social changes
can see a profound lesson; the impulses, cravings and wants of men must
be employed. You can employ them well or ill, but you must employ them. A
group of reformers lounging at a club cannot, dare not, decide to close
up another man's club because it is called a saloon. Unless the reformer
can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive
vices, he will fail. He will fail because human nature abhors the vacuum
created by the taboo.

An incident in the international peace propaganda illuminates this point.
Not long ago a meeting in Carnegie Hall, New York, to forward peace among
nations broke up in great disorder. Thousands of people who hate the
waste and futility of war as much as any of the orators of that evening
were filled with an unholy glee. They chuckled with delight at the idea
of a riot in a peace meeting. Though it would have seemed perverse to the
ordinary pacificist, this sentiment sprang from a respectable source. It
had the same ground as the instinctive feeling of nine men in ten that
Roosevelt has more right to talk about peace than William Howard Taft.
James made it articulate in his essay on "The Moral Equivalent of War."
James was a great advocate of peace, but he understood Theodore Roosevelt
and he spoke for the military man when he wrote of war that: "Its
'horrors' are a cheap price to pay for rescue from the only alternative
supposed, of a world of clerks and teachers, of co-education and
zo-ophily, of 'consumers' leagues' and 'associated charities,' of
industrialism unlimited, and feminism unabashed. No scorn, no hardness,
no valor any more! Fie upon such a cattleyard of a planet!"

And he added: "So far as the central essence of this feeling goes, no
healthy minded person, it seems to me, can help to some degree partaking
of it. Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals of hardihood, and
human life with no use for hardihood would be contemptible. Without risks
or prizes for the darer, history would be insipid indeed; and there is a
type of military character which everyone feels that the race should
never cease to breed, for everyone is sensitive to its superiority."

So William James proposed not the abolition of war, but a moral
equivalent for it. He dreamed of "a conscription of the whole youthful
population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army
enlisted against _Nature_.... The military ideals of hardihood and
discipline would be wrought into the growing fibre of the people; no one
would remain blind, as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man's
relations to the globe he lives on, and to the permanently sour and hard
foundations of his higher life." Now we are not concerned here over the
question of this particular proposal. The telling point in my opinion is
this: that when a wise man, a student of human nature, and a reformer met
in the same person, the taboo was abandoned. James has given us a lasting
phrase when he speaks of the "moral equivalent" of evil. We can use it, I
believe, as a guide post to statesmanship. Rightly understood, the idea
behind the words contains all that is valuable in conservatism, and, for
the first time, gives a reputable meaning to that tortured epithet

"The military feelings," says James, "are too deeply grounded to abdicate
their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered ...
such a conscription, with the state of public opinion that would have
required it, and the many moral fruits it would bear, would preserve in
the midst of a pacific civilization the manly virtues which the military
party is so afraid of seeing disappear in peace.... So far, war has been
the only force that can discipline a whole community, and until an
equivalent discipline is organized I believe that war must have its way.
But I have no serious doubt that the ordinary prides and shames of social
man, once developed to a certain intensity, are capable of organizing
such a moral equivalent as I have sketched, or some other just as
effective for preserving manliness of type. It is but a question of time,
of skilful propagandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic
opportunities. The martial type of character can be bred without war."

To find for evil its moral equivalent is to be conservative about values
and radical about forms, to turn to the establishment of positively good
things instead of trying simply to check bad ones, to emphasize the
additions to life, instead of the restrictions upon it, to substitute, if
you like, the love of heaven for the fear of hell. Such a program means
the dignified utilization of the whole nature of man. It will recognize
as the first test of all political systems and moral codes whether or not
they are "against human nature." It will insist that they be cut to fit
the whole man, not merely a part of him. For there are utopian proposals
made every day which cover about as much of a human being as a beautiful
hat does.

Instead of tabooing our impulses, we must redirect them. Instead of
trying to crush badness we must turn the power behind it to good account.
The assumption is that every lust is capable of some civilized

We say, in effect, that evil is a way by which desire expresses itself.
The older moralists, the taboo philosophers believed that the desires
themselves were inherently evil. To us they are the energies of the soul,
neither good nor bad in themselves. Like dynamite, they are capable of
all sorts of uses, and it is the business of civilization, through the
family and the school, religion, art, science, and all institutions, to
transmute these energies into fine values. Behind evil there is power,
and it is folly,--wasting and disappointing folly,--to ignore this power
because it has found an evil issue. All that is dynamic in human
character is in these rooted lusts. The great error of the taboo has been
just this: that it believed each desire had only one expression, that if
that expression was evil the desire itself was evil. We know a little
better to-day. We know that it is possible to harness desire to many
interests, that evil is one form of a desire, and not the nature of it.

This supplies us with a standard for judging reforms, and so makes clear
what "constructive" action really is. When it was discovered recently
that the boys' gang was not an unmitigated nuisance to be chased by a
policeman, but a force that could be made valuable to civilization
through the Boy Scouts, a really constructive reform was given to the
world. The effervescence of boys on the street, wasted and perverted
through neglect or persecution, was drained and applied to fine uses.
When Percy MacKaye pleads for pageants in which the people themselves
participate, he offers an opportunity for expressing some of the lusts of
the city in the form of an art. The Freudian school of psychologists
calls this "sublimation." They have brought forward a wealth of material
which gives us every reason to believe that the theory of "moral
equivalents" is soundly based, that much the same energies produce crime
and civilization, art, vice, insanity, love, lust, and religion. In each
individual the original differences are small. Training and opportunity
decide in the main how men's lust shall emerge. Left to themselves, or
ignorantly tabooed, they break forth in some barbaric or morbid form.
Only by supplying our passions with civilized interests can we escape
their destructive force.

I have put it negatively, as a counsel of prudence. But he who has the
courage of existence will put it triumphantly, crying "yea" as Nietzsche
did, and recognizing that all the passions of men are the motive powers
of a fine life.

For the roads that lead to heaven and hell are one until they part.



The taboo, however useless, is at least concrete. Although it achieves
little besides mischief, it has all the appearance of practical action,
and consequently enlists the enthusiasm of those people whom Wells
describes as rushing about the country shouting: "For Gawd's sake let's
_do_ something _now_." There are weight and solidity in a policeman's
club, while a "moral equivalent" happens to be pale like the stuff of
which dreams are made. To the politician whose daily life consists in
dodging the thousand and one conflicting prejudices of his constituents,
in bickering with committees, intriguing and playing for the vote; to the
business man harassed on four sides by the trust, the union, the law, and
public opinion,--distrustful of any wide scheme because the stupidity of
his shipping clerk is the most vivid item in his mind, all this
discussion about politics and the inner life will sound like so much
fine-spun nonsense.

I, for one, am not disposed to blame the politicians and the business
men. They govern the nation, it is true, but they do it in a rather
absentminded fashion. Those revolutionists who see the misery of the
country as a deliberate and fiendish plot overestimate the bad will, the
intelligence and the singleness of purpose in the ruling classes.
Business and political leaders don't mean badly; the trouble with them is
that most of the time they don't mean anything. They picture themselves
as very "practical," which in practice amounts to saying that nothing
makes them feel so spiritually homeless as the discussion of values and
an invitation to examine first principles. Ideas, most of the time, cause
them genuine distress, and are as disconcerting as an idle office boy, or
a squeaky telephone.

I do not underestimate the troubles of the man of affairs. I have lived
with politicians,--with socialist politicians whose good-will was
abundant and intentions constructive. The petty vexations pile up into
mountains; the distracting details scatter the attention and break up
thinking, while the mere problem of exercising power crowds out
speculation about what to do with it. Personal jealousies interrupt
co-ordinated effort; committee sessions wear out nerves by their aimless
drifting; constant speech-making turns a man back upon a convenient
little store of platitudes--misunderstanding and distortion dry up the
imagination, make thought timid and expression flat, the atmosphere of
publicity requires a mask which soon becomes the reality. Politicians
tend to live "in character," and many a public figure has come to imitate
the journalism which describes him. You cannot blame politicians if their
perceptions are few and their thinking crude.

Football strategy does not originate in a scrimmage: it is useless to
expect solutions in a political campaign. Woodrow Wilson brought to
public life an exceedingly flexible mind,--many of us when he first
emerged rejoiced at the clean and athletic quality of his thinking. But
even he under the stress of a campaign slackened into commonplace
reiteration, accepting a futile and intellectually dishonest platform,
closing his eyes to facts, misrepresenting his opponents, abandoning, in
short, the very qualities which distinguished him. It is understandable.
When a National Committee puts a megaphone to a man's mouth and tells him
to yell, it is difficult for him to hear anything.

If a nation's destiny were really bound up with the politics reported in
newspapers, the impasse would be discouraging. If the important
sovereignty of a country were in what is called its parliamentary life,
then the day of Plato's philosopher-kings would be far off indeed.
Certainly nobody expects our politicians to become philosophers. When
they do they hide the fact. And when philosophers try to be politicians
they generally cease to be philosophers. But the truth is that we
overestimate enormously the importance of nominations, campaigns, and
office-holding. If we are discouraged it is because we tend to identify
statecraft with that official government which is merely one of its
instruments. Vastly over-advertised, we have mistaken an inflated fragment
for the real political life of the country.

For if you think of men and their welfare, government appears at once as
nothing but an agent among many others. The task of civilizing our
impulses by creating fine opportunities for their expression cannot be
accomplished through the City Hall alone. All the influences of social
life are needed. The eggs do not lie in one basket. Thus the issues in
the trade unions may be far more directly important to statecraft than
the destiny of the Republican Party. The power that workingmen generate
when they unite--the demands they will make and the tactics they will
pursue--how they are educating themselves and the nation--these are
genuine issues which bear upon the future. So with the policies of
business men. Whether financiers are to be sullen and stupid like
Archbold, defiant like Morgan, or well-intentioned like Perkins is a
question that enters deeply into the industrial issues. The whole
business problem takes on a new complexion if the representatives of
capital are to be men with the temper of Louis Brandeis or William C.
Redfield. For when business careers are made professional, new motives
enter into the situation; it will make a world of difference if the
leadership of industry is in the hands of men interested in production as
a creative art instead of as a brute exploitation. The economic conflicts
are at once raised to a plane of research, experiment and honest
deliberation. For on the level of hate and mean-seeking no solution is
possible. That subtle fact,--the change of business motives, the
demonstration that industry can be conducted as medicine is,--may
civilize the whole class conflict.

Obviously statecraft is concerned with such a change, extra-political
though it is. And wherever the politician through his prestige or the
government through its universities can stimulate a revolution in
business motives, it should do so. That is genuinely constructive work,
and will do more to a humane solution of the class struggle than all the
jails and state constabularies that ever betrayed the barbarism of the
Twentieth Century. It is no wonder that business is such a sordid affair.
We have done our best to exclude from it every passionate interest that
is capable of lighting up activity with eagerness and joy.
"Unbusinesslike" we have called the devotion of craftsmen and scientists.
We have actually pretended that the work of extracting a living from
nature could be done most successfully by short-sighted money-makers
encouraged by their money-spending wives. We are learning better to-day.
We are beginning to know that this nation for all its boasts has not
touched the real possibilities of business success, that nature and good
luck have done most of our work, that our achievements come in spite of
our ignorance. And so no man can gauge the civilizing possibilities of a
new set of motives in business. That it will add to the dignity and value
of millions of careers is only one of its blessings. Given a nation of
men trained to think scientifically about their work and feel about it as
craftsmen, and you have a people released from a stupid fixation upon the
silly little ideals of accumulating dollars and filling their neighbor's
eye. We preach against commercialism but without great result. And the
reason for our failure is: that we merely say "you ought not" instead of
offering a new interest. Instead of telling business men not to be
greedy, we should tell them to be industrial statesmen, applied
scientists, and members of a craft. Politics can aid that revolution in a
hundred Ways: by advocating it, by furnishing schools that teach,
laboratories that demonstrate, by putting business on the same plane of
interest as the Health Service.

The indictment against politics to-day is not its corruption, but its
lack of insight. I believe it is a fact which experience will sustain
that men steal because they haven't anything better to do. You don't have
to preach honesty to men with a creative purpose. Let a human being throw
the energies of his soul into the making of something, and the instinct
of workmanship will take care of his honesty. The writers who have
nothing to say are the ones that you can buy: the others have too high a
price. A genuine craftsman will not adulterate his product: the reason
isn't because duty says he shouldn't, but because passion says he
couldn't. I suggested in an earlier chapter that the issue of honesty and
dishonesty was a futile one, and I placed faith in the creative men. They
hate shams and the watering of goods on a more trustworthy basis than the
mere routine moralist. To them dishonesty is a contradiction of their own
lusts, and they ask no credit, need none, for being true. Creation is an
emotional ascent, which makes the standard vices trivial, and turns all
that is valuable in virtue to the service of desire.

When politics revolves mechanically it ceases to use the real energies of
a nation. Government is then at once irrelevant and mischievous--a mere
obstructive nuisance. Not long ago a prominent senator remarked that he
didn't know much about the country, because he had spent the last few
months in Washington. It was a profound utterance as anyone can testify
who reads, let us say, the Congressional Record. For that document,
though replete with language, is singularly unacquainted with the forces
that agitate the nation. Politics, as the contributors to the
Congressional Record seem to understand it, is a very limited selection
of well-worn debates on a few arbitrarily chosen "problems." Those
questions have developed a technique and an interest in them for their
own sake. They are handled with a dull solemnity quite out of proportion
to their real interest. Labor receives only a perfunctory and largely
disingenuous attention; even commerce is handled in a way that expresses
neither its direction nor its public use. Congress has been ready enough
to grant favors to corporations, but where in its wrangling from the
Sherman Act to the Commerce Court has it shown any sympathetic
understanding of the constructive purposes in the trust movement? It has
either presented the business man with money or harassed him with
bungling enthusiasm in the pretended interests of the consumer. The one
thing Congress has not done is to use the talents of business men for the
nation's advantage.

If "politics" has been indifferent to forces like the union and the
trust, it is no exaggeration to say that it has displayed a modest
ignorance of women's problems, of educational conflicts and racial
aspirations; of the control of newspapers and magazines, the book
publishing world, socialist conventions and unofficial political groups
like the single-taxers.

Such genuine powers do not absorb our political interest because we are
fooled by the regalia of office. But statesmanship, if it is to be
relevant, would obtain a new perspective on these dynamic currents, would
find out the wants they express and the energies they contain, would
shape and direct and guide them. For unions and trusts, sects, clubs and
voluntary associations stand for actual needs. The size of their
following, the intensity of their demands are a fair index of what the
statesman must think about. No lawyer created a trust though he drew up
its charter; no logician made the labor movement or the feminist
agitation. If you ask what for political purposes a nation is, a
practical answer would be: it is its "movements." They are the social
_life_. So far as the future is man-made it is made of them. They show
their real vitality by a relentless growth in spite of all the little
fences and obstacles that foolish politicians devise.

There is, of course, much that is dead within the movements. Each one
carries along a quantity of inert and outworn ideas,--not infrequently
there is an internally contradictory current. Thus the very workingmen
who agitate for a better diffusion of wealth display a marked hostility
to improvements in the production of it. The feminists too have their
atavisms: not a few who object to the patriarchal family seem inclined to
cure it by going back still more--to the matriarchal. Constructive
business has no end of reactionary moments----the most striking, perhaps,
is when it buys up patents in order to suppress them. Yet these
inversions, though discouraging, are not essential in the life of
movements. They need to be expurgated by an unceasing criticism; yet in
bulk the forces I have mentioned, and many others less important, carry
with them the creative powers of our times.

It is not surprising that so many political inventions have been made
within these movements, fostered by them, and brought to a general public
notice through their efforts. When some constructive proposal is being
agitated before a legislative committee, it is customary to unite the
"movements" in support of it. Trade unions and women's clubs have joined
hands in many an agitation. There are proposals to-day, like the minimum
wage, which seem sure of support from consumers' leagues, women's
federations, trade unions and those far-sighted business men who may be
called "State Socialists."

In fact, unless a political invention is woven into a social movement it
has no importance. Only when that is done is it imbued with life. But how
among countless suggestions is a "cause" to know the difference between a
true invention and a pipe-dream? There is, of course, no infallible
touchstone by which we can tell offhand. No one need hope for an easy
certainty either here or anywhere else in human affairs. No one is
absolved from experiment and constant revision. Yet there are some
hypotheses that prima facie deserve more attention than others.

Those are the suggestions which come out of a recognized human need. If a
man proposed that the judges of the Supreme Court be reduced from nine to
seven because the number seven has mystical power, we could ignore him.
But if he suggested that the number be reduced because seven men can
deliberate more effectively than nine he ought to be given a hearing. Or
let us suppose that the argument is about granting votes to women. The
suffragist who bases a claim on the so-called "logic of democracy" is
making the poorest possible showing for a good cause. I have heard people
maintain that: "it makes no difference whether women want the ballot, or
are fit for it, or can do any good with it,--this country is a democracy.
Democracy means government by the votes of the people. Women are people.
Therefore women should vote." That in a very simple form is the
mechanical conception of government. For notice how it ignores human
wants and human powers--how it subordinates people to a rigid formula. I
use this crude example because it shows that even the most genuine and
deeply grounded demands are as yet unable to free themselves entirely
from a superficial manner of thinking. We are only partially emancipated
from the mechanical and merely logical tradition of the Eighteenth
Century. No end of illustrations could be adduced. In the Socialist party
it has been the custom to denounce the "short ballot." Why? Because it
reduces the number of elective offices. This is regarded as undemocratic
for the reason that democracy has come to mean a series of elections.
According to a logic, the more elections the more democratic. But
experience has shown that a seven-foot ballot with a regiment of names is
so bewildering that a real choice is impossible. So it is proposed to cut
down the number of elective offices, focus the attention on a few
alternatives, and turn voting into a fairly intelligent performance. Here
is an attempt to fit political devices to the actual powers of the voter.
The old, crude form of ballot forgot that finite beings had to operate
it. But the "democrats" adhere to the multitude of choices because
"logic" requires them to.

This incident of the "short ballot" illustrates the cleavage between
invention and routine. The socialists oppose it not because their
intentions are bad but because on this issue their thinking is
mechanical. Instead of applying the test of human need, they apply a
verbal and logical consistency. The "short ballot" in itself is a slight
affair, but the insight behind it seems to me capable of revolutionary
development. It is one symptom of the effort to found institutions on
human nature. There are many others. We might point to the first
experiments aimed at remedying the helter-skelter of careers by
vocational guidance. Carried through successfully, this invention of
Prof. Parsons' is one whose significance in happiness can hardly be
exaggerated. When you think of the misfits among your acquaintances--the
lawyers who should be mechanics, the doctors who should be business men,
the teachers who should have been clerks, and the executives who should
be doing research in a laboratory--when you think of the talent that
would be released by proper use, the imagination takes wing at the
possibilities. What could we not make of the world if we employed its

Whoever is working to express special energies is part of a constructive
revolution. Whoever is removing the stunting environments of our
occupations is doing the fundamentals of reform. The studies of Miss
Goldmark of industrial fatigue, recuperative power and maximum
productivity are contributions toward that distant and desirable period
when labor shall be a free and joyous activity. Every suggestion which
turns work from a drudgery to a craft is worth our deepest interest. For
until then the labor problem will never be solved. The socialist demand
for a better distribution of wealth is of great consequence, but without
a change in the very nature of labor society will not have achieved the
happiness it expects. That is why imaginative socialists have shown so
great an interest in "syndicalism." There at least in some of its forms,
we can catch sight of a desire to make all labor a self-governing craft.

The handling of crime has been touched by the modern impetus. The
ancient, abstract and wholesale "justice" is breaking up into detailed
and carefully adapted treatment of individual offenders. What this means
for the child has become common knowledge in late years. Criminology (to
use an awkward word) is finding a human center. So is education. Everyone
knows how child study is revolutionizing the school room and the
curriculum. Why, it seems that Mme. Montessori has had the audacity to
sacrifice the sacred bench to the interests of the pupil! The traditional
school seems to be vanishing--that place in which an ill-assorted band of
youngsters was for a certain number of hours each day placed in the
vicinity of a text-book and a maiden lady.

I mention these experiments at random. It is not the specific reforms
that I wish to emphasize but the great possibilities they foreshadow.
Whether or not we adopt certain special bills, high tariff or low tariff,
one banking system or another, this trust control or that, is a slight
gain compared to a change of attitude toward all political problems. The
reformer bound up in his special propaganda will, of course, object that
"to get something done is worth more than any amount of talk about new
ways of looking at political problems." What matters the method, he will
cry, provided the reform be good? Well, the method matters more than any
particular reform. A man who couldn't think straight might get the right
answer to one problem, but how much faith would you have in his capacity
to solve the next one? If you wanted to educate a child, would you teach
him to read one play of Shakespeare, or would you teach him to _read_? If
the world were going to remain frigidly set after next year, we might
well thank our stars if we blundered into a few decent solutions right
away. But as there is no prospect of a time when our life will be
immutably fixed, as we shall, therefore, have to go on inventing, it is
fair to say that what the world is aching for is not a special reform
embodied in a particular statute, but a way of going at all problems. The
lasting value of Darwin, for example, is not in any concrete conclusion
he reached. His importance to the world lies in the new twist he gave to
science. He lent it fruitful direction, a different impetus, and the
results are beyond his imagining.

In that spiritual autobiography of a searching mind, "The New
Machiavelli," Wells describes his progress from a reformer of concrete
abuses to a revolutionist in method. "You see," he says, "I began in my
teens by wanting to plan and build cities and harbors for mankind; I
ended in the middle thirties by desiring only to serve and increase a
general process of thought, a process fearless, critical, real-spirited,
that would in its own time give cities, harbors, air, happiness,
everything at a scale and quality and in a light altogether beyond the
match-striking imaginations of a contemporary mind...."

This same veering of interest may be seen in the career of another
Englishman. I refer to Mr. Graham Wallas. Back in the '80's he was
working with the Webbs, Bernard Shaw, Sidney Olivier, Annie Besant and
others in socialist propaganda. Readers of the Fabian Essays know Mr.
Wallas and appreciate the work of his group. Perhaps more than anyone
else, the Fabians are responsible for turning English socialist thought
from the verbalism of the Marxian disciples to the actualities of English
political life. Their appetite for the concrete was enormous; their
knowledge of facts overpowering, as the tomes produced by Mr. and Mrs.
Webb can testify. The socialism of the Fabians soon became a definite
legislative program which the various political parties were to be
bulldozed, cajoled and tricked into enacting. It was effective work, and
few can question the value of it. Yet many admirers have been left with a
sense of inadequacy.

Unlike the orthodox socialists, the Fabians took an active part in
immediate politics. "We permeated the party organizations," writes Shaw,
"and pulled all the wires we could lay our hands on with our utmost
adroitness and energy.... The generalship of this movement was undertaken
chiefly by Sidney Webb, who played such bewildering conjuring tricks with
the Liberal thimbles and the Fabian peas that to this day both the
Liberals and the sectarian Socialists stand aghast at him." Few Americans
know how great has been this influence on English political history for
the last twenty years. The well-known Minority Report of the Poor Law
Commission bears the Webb signature most conspicuously. Fabianism began
to achieve a reputation for getting things done--for taking part in
"practical affairs." Bernard Shaw has found time to do no end of
campaigning and even the parochial politics of a vestryman has not seemed
too insignificant for his Fabian enthusiasm. Graham Wallas was a
candidate in five municipal elections, and has held an important office
as member of the London County Council.

But the original Fabian enthusiasm has slackened. One might ascribe it to
a growing sense that concrete programs by themselves will not insure any
profound regeneration of society. H. G. Wells has been savage and often
unfair about the Fabian Society, but in "The New Machiavelli" he touched,
I believe, the real disillusionment. Remington's history is in a way
symbolic. Here was a successful political reformer, coming more and more
to a disturbing recognition of his helplessness, perceiving the
aimlessness and the unreality of political life, and announcing his
contempt for the "crudification" of all issues. What Remington missed was
what so many reformers are beginning to miss--an underlying philosophical

Mr. Wallas seems to have had much the same experience. In the midst of a
bustle of activity, politics appeared to have no center to which its
thinking and doing could be referred. The truth was driven home upon him
that political science is a science of human relationship with the human
beings left out. So he writes that "the thinkers of the past, from Plato
to Bentham and Mill, had each his own view of human nature, and they made
these views the basis of their speculations on government." But to-day
"nearly all students of politics analyze institutions and avoid the
analysis of man." Whoever has read the typical book on politics by a
professor or a reformer will agree, I think, when he adds: "One feels
that many of the more systematic books on politics by American University
professors are useless, just because the writers dealt with abstract men,
formed on assumptions of which they were unaware and which they have
never tested either by experience or by study."

An extreme example could be made of Nicholas Murray Butler, President of
Columbia University. In the space of six months he wrote an impassioned
defense of "constitutional government," beginning with the question, "Why
is it that in the United States the words politics and politician have
associations that are chiefly of evil omen," and then, to make irony
complete, proceeded at the New York State Republican Convention to do the
jobbery of Boss Barnes. What is there left but to gasp and wonder whether
the words of the intellect have anything to do with the facts of life?
What insight into reality can a man possess who is capable of discussing
politics and ignoring politicians? What kind of naïveté was it that led
this educator into asking such a question?

President Butler is, I grant, a caricature of the typical professor. Yet
what shall we say of the annual harvest of treatises on "labor problems"
which make no analysis of the mental condition of laboring men; of the
treatises on marriage and prostitution which gloss over the sexual life
of the individual? "In the other sciences which deal with human affairs,"
writes Mr. Wallas, referring to pedagogy and criminology, "this division
between the study of the thing done and the study of the being who does
it is not found."

I have in my hands a text-book of six hundred pages which is used in the
largest universities as a groundwork of political economy. This
remarkable sentence strikes the eye: "The motives to business activity
are too familiar to require analysis." But some sense that perhaps the
"economic man" is not a self-evident creature seems to have touched our
author. So we are treated to these sapient remarks: "To avoid this
criticism we will begin with a characterization of the typical business
man to be found to-day in the United States and other countries in the
same stage of industrial development. _He has four traits which show
themselves more or less clearly in all of his acts._" They are first
"self-interest," but "this does not mean that he is steeped in
selfishness ..."; secondly, "the larger self," the family, union, club,
and "in times of emergency his country"; thirdly, "love of independence,"
for "his ambition is to stand on his own feet"; fourthly, "business
ethics" which "are not usually as high as the standards professed in
churches, but they are much higher than current criticisms of business
would lead one to think." Three-quarters of a page is sufficient for this
penetrating analysis of motive and is followed by the remark that "these
four characteristics of the economic man are readily explained by
reference to the evolutionary process which has brought industrial
society to its present stage of development."

If those were the generalizations of a tired business man after a heavy
dinner and a big cigar, they would still seem rather muddled and useless.
But as the basis of an economic treatise in which "laws" are announced,
"principles" laid down, reforms criticized as "impracticable," all for
the benefit of thousands of college students, it is hardly possible to
exaggerate the folly of such an exhibition. I have taken a book written
by one eminent professor and evidently approved by others, for they use
it as a text-book. It is no queer freak. I myself was supposed to read
that book pretty nearly every week for a year. With hundreds of others I
was supposed to found my economic understanding upon it. We were actually
punished for not reading that book. It was given to us as wisdom, as
modern political economy.

But what goes by the name to-day is a potpourri in which one can
distinguish descriptions of legal forms, charters and institutions;
comparative studies of governmental and social machinery; the history of
institutions, a few "principles" like the law of rent, some moral
admonitions, a good deal of class feeling, not a little timidity--but
almost no attempt to cut beneath these manifestations of social life to
the creative impulses which produce them. The Economic Man--that lazy
abstraction--is still paraded in the lecture room; the study of human
nature has not advanced beyond the gossip of old wives.

Graham Wallas touched the cause of the trouble when he pointed out that
political science to-day discusses institutions and ignores the nature of
the men who make and live under them. I have heard professors reply that
it wasn't their business to discuss human nature but to record and
interpret economic and political facts. Yet if you probe those
"interpretations" there is no escaping the conclusion that they rest upon
some notion of what man is like. "The student of politics," writes Mr.
Wallas, "must, consciously or unconsciously, form a conception of human
nature, and the less conscious he is of his conception the more likely he
is to be dominated by it." For politics is an interest of men--a tool
which they fabricate and use--and no comment has much value if it tries
to get along without mankind. You might as well try to describe food by
ignoring the digestion.

Mr. Wallas has called a halt. I think we may say that his is the
distinction of having turned the study of politics back to the humane
tradition of Plato and Machiavelli--of having made man the center of
political investigation. The very title of his book--"Human Nature in
Politics"--is significant. Now in making that statement, I am aware that
it is a sweeping one, and I do not mean to imply that Mr. Wallas is the
only modern man who has tried to think about politics psychologically.
Here in America alone we have two splendid critics, a man and a woman,
whose thought flows from an interpretation of human character. Thorstein
Veblen's brilliant descriptions penetrate deeply into our mental life,
and Jane Addams has given new hope to many of us by her capacity for
making ideals the goal of natural desire.

Nor is it just to pass by such a suggestive thinker as Gabriel Tarde,
even though we may feel that his psychology is too simple and his
conclusions somewhat overdriven by a favorite theory. The work of Gustav
Le Bon on "crowds" has, of course, passed into current thought, but I
doubt whether anyone could say that he had even prepared a basis for a
new political psychology. His own aversion to reform, his fondness for
vast epochs and his contempt for current effort have left most of his
"psychological laws" in the region of interesting literary comment. There
are, too, any number of "social psychologies," such as those of Ross and
McDougall. But the trouble with them is that the "psychology" is weak and
uninformed, distorted by moral enthusiasms, and put out without any
particular reference to the task of statesmanship. When you come to
special problems, the literature of the subject picks up. Crime is
receiving valuable attention, education is profoundly affected,
alcoholism and sex have been handled for a good while on a psychological

But it remained for Mr. Wallas to state the philosophy of the matter--to
say why the study of human nature must serve politics, and to point out
how. He has not produced a political psychology, but he has written the
manifesto for it. As a result, fragmentary investigations can be brought
together and applied to the work of statecraft. Merely by making these
researches self-conscious, he has made clearer their goal, given them
direction, and kindled them to practical action. How necessary this work
is can be seen in the writing of Miss Addams. Owing to keen insight and
fine sympathy her thinking has generally been on a human basis. Yet Miss
Addams is a reformer, and sympathy without an explicit philosophy may
lead to a distorted enthusiasm. Her book on prostitution seems rather the
product of her moral fervor than her human insight. Compare it with "The
Spirit of Youth" or "Newer Ideals of Peace" or "Democracy and Social
Ethics" and I think you will notice a very considerable willingness to
gloss over human need in the interests of an unanalyzed reform. To put it
bluntly, Miss Addams let her impatience get the better of her wisdom. She
had written brilliantly about sex and its "sublimation," she had
suggested notable "moral equivalents" for vice, but when she touched the
white slave traffic its horrors were so great that she also put her faith
in the policeman and the district attorney. "A New Conscience and an
Ancient Evil" is an hysterical book, just because the real philosophical
basis of Miss Addams' thinking was not deliberate enough to withstand the
shock of a poignant horror.

It is this weakness that Mr. Wallas comes to remedy. He has described
what political science must be like, and anyone who has absorbed his
insight has an intellectual groundwork for political observation. No one,
least of all Mr. Wallas, would claim anything like finality for the
essay. These labors are not done in a day. But he has deliberately
brought the study of politics to the only focus which has any rational
interest for mankind. He has made a plea, and sketched a plan which
hundreds of investigators the world over must help to realize. If
political science could travel in the direction suggested, its criticism
would be relevant, its proposals practical. There would, for the first
time, be a concerted effort to build a civilization around mankind, to
use its talent and to satisfy its needs. There would be no more empty
taboos, no erecting of institutions upon abstract and mechanical
analogies. Politics would be like education--an effort to develop, train
and nurture men's impulses. As Montessori is building the school around
the child, so politics would build all of social life around the human

That practical issues hang upon these investigations can be shown by an
example from Mr. Wallas's book. Take the quarrel over socialism. You hear
it said that without the private ownership of capital people will lose
ambition and sink into sloth. Many men, just as well aware of present-day
evils as the socialists, are unwilling to accept the collectivist remedy.
G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc speak of the "magic of property" as
the real obstacle to socialism. Now obviously this is a question of
first-rate importance. If socialism will destroy initiative then only a
doctrinaire would desire it. But how is the question to be solved? You
cannot reason it out. Economics, as we know it to-day, is quite incapable
of answering such a problem, for it is a matter that depends upon
psychological investigation. When a professor says that socialism is
impracticable he begs the question, for that amounts to assuming that the
point at issue is already settled. If he tells you that socialism is
against human nature, we have a perfect right to ask where he proved the
possibilities of human nature.

But note how Mr. Wallas approaches the debate: "Children quarrel
furiously at a very early age over apparently worthless things, and
collect and hide them long before they can have any clear notion of the
advantages to be derived from individual possession. Those children who
in certain charity schools are brought up entirely without personal
property, even in their clothes or pocket handkerchiefs, show every sign
of the bad effect on health and character which results from complete
inability to satisfy a strong inherited instinct.... Some economist ought
therefore to give us a treatise in which this property instinct is
carefully and quantitatively examined.... How far can it be eliminated or
modified by education? Is it satisfied by a leasehold or a life-interest,
or by such an arrangement of corporate property as is offered by a
collegiate foundation, or by the provision of a public park? Does it
require for its satisfaction material and visible things such as land or
houses, or is the holding, say, of colonial railway shares sufficient? Is
the absence of unlimited proprietary rights felt more strongly in the
case of personal chattels (such as furniture and ornaments) than in the
case of land or machinery? Does the degree and direction of the instinct
markedly differ among different individuals or races, or between the two

This puts the argument upon a plane where discussion is relevant. This is
no trumped-up issue: it is asked by a politician and a socialist seeking
for a real solution. We need to know whether the "magic of property"
extends from a man's garden to Standard Oil stocks as anti-socialists
say, and, conversely, we need to know what is happening to that mass of
proletarians who own no property and cannot satisfy their instincts even
with personal chattels.

For if ownership is a human need, we certainly cannot taboo it as the
extreme communists so dogmatically urge. "Pending ... an inquiry," writes
Mr. Wallas, "my own provisional opinion is that, like a good many
instincts of very early evolutionary origin, it can be satisfied by an
avowed pretense; just as a kitten which is fed regularly on milk can be
kept in good health if it is allowed to indulge its hunting instinct by
playing with a bobbin, and a peaceful civil servant satisfies his
instinct of combat and adventure at golf."

Mr. Wallas takes exactly the same position as William James did when he
planned a "moral equivalent" for war. Both men illustrate the changing
focus of political thought. Both try to found statesmanship on human
need. Both see that there are good and bad satisfactions of the same
impulse. The routineer with his taboo does not see this, so he attempts
the impossible task of obliterating the impulse. He differs fundamentally
from the creative politician who devotes himself to inventing fine
expressions for human needs, who recognizes that the work of
statesmanship is in large measure the finding of good substitutes for the
bad things we want.

This is the heart of a political revolution. When we recognize that the
focus of politics is shifting from a mechanical to a human center we
shall have reached what is, I believe, the most essential idea in modern
politics. More than any other generalization it illuminates the currents
of our national life and explains the altering tasks of statesmanship.

The old effort was to harness mankind to abstract principles--liberty,
justice or equality--and to deduce institutions from these high-sounding
words. It did not succeed because human nature was contrary and restive.
The new effort proposes to fit creeds and institutions to the wants of
men, to satisfy their impulses as fully and beneficially as possible.

And yet we do not begin to know our desires or the art of their
satisfaction. Mr. Wallas's book and the special literature of the subject
leave no doubt that a precise political psychology is far off indeed. The
human nature we must put at the center of our statesmanship is only
partially understood. True, Mr. Wallas works with a psychology that is
fairly well superseded. But not even the advance-guard to-day, what we
may call the Freudian school, would claim that it had brought knowledge
to a point where politics could use it in any very deep or comprehensive
way. The subject is crude and fragmentary, though we are entitled to call
it promising.

Yet the fact had better be faced: psychology has not gone far enough, its
results are still too vague for our purposes. We know very little, and
what we know has hardly been applied to political problems. That the last
few years have witnessed a revolution in the study of mental life is
plain: the effects are felt not only in psychotherapy, but in education,
morals, religion, and no end of cultural interests. The impetus of Freud
is perhaps the greatest advance ever made towards the understanding and
control of human character. But for the complexities of politics it is
not yet ready. It will take time and endless labor for a detailed study
of social problems in the light of this growing knowledge.

What then shall we do now? Must we continue to muddle along in the old
ruts, gazing rapturously at an impotent ideal, until the works of the
scientists are matured?



It would indeed be an intolerably pedantic performance for a nation to
sit still and wait for its scientists to report on their labors. The
notion is typical of the pitfalls in the path of any theorist who does
not correct his logic by a constant reference to the movement of life. It
is true that statecraft must make human nature its basis. It is true that
its chief task is the invention of forms and institutions which satisfy
the inner needs of mankind. And it is true that our knowledge of those
needs and the technique of their satisfaction is hazy, unorganized and

But to suppose that the remedy lies in waiting for monographs from the
research of the laboratory is to have lost a sense of the rhythm of
actual affairs. That is not the way things come about: we grow into a new
point of view: only afterwards, in looking back, do we see the landmarks
of our progress. Thus it is customary to say that Adam Smith dates the
change from the old mercantilist economy to the capitalistic economics of
the nineteenth century. But that is a manner of speech. The old
mercantilist policy was giving way to early industrialism: a thousand
unconscious economic and social forces were compelling the change. Adam
Smith expressed the process, named it, idealized it and made it
self-conscious. Then because men were clearer about what they were doing,
they could in a measure direct their destiny.

That is but another way of saying that great revolutionary changes do not
spring full-armed from anybody's brow. A genius usually becomes the
luminous center of a nation's crisis,--men see better by the light of
him. His bias deflects their actions. Unquestionably the doctrine-driven
men who made the economics of the last century had much to do with the
halo which encircled the smutted head of industrialism. They put the
stamp of their genius on certain inhuman practices, and of course it has
been the part of the academic mind to imitate them ever since. The
orthodox economists are in the unenviable position of having taken their
morals from the exploiter and of having translated them into the
grandiloquent language of high public policy. They gave capitalism the
sanction of the intellect. When later, Carlyle and Ruskin battered the
economists into silence with invective and irony they were voicing the
dumb protest of the humane people of England. They helped to organize a
formless resentment by endowing it with intelligence and will.

So it is to-day. If this nation did not show an unmistakable tendency to
put men at the center of politics instead of machinery and things; if
there were not evidence to prove that we are turning from the sterile
taboo to the creation of finer environments; if the impetus for shaping
our destiny were not present in our politics and our life, then essays
like these would be so much baying at the moon, fantastic and unworthy
pleas for some irrelevant paradise. But the gropings are there,--vastly
confused in the tangled strains of the nation's interests. Clogged by the
confusion, half-choked by stupid blockades, largely unaware of their own
purposes, it is for criticism, organized research, and artistic
expression to free and to use these creative energies. They are to be
found in the aspirations of labor, among the awakened women, in the
development of business, the diffusion of art and science, in the racial
mixtures, and many lesser interests which cluster about these greater

The desire for a human politics is all about us. It rises to the surface
in slogans like "human rights above property rights," "the man above the
dollar." Some measure of its strength is given by the widespread
imitation these expressions have compelled: politicians who haven't the
slightest intention of putting men above the dollar, who if they had
wouldn't know how, take off their hats to the sentiment because it seems
a key to popular enthusiasm. It must be bewildering to men brought up,
let us say, in the Hanna school of politics. For here is this nation
which sixteen years ago vibrated ecstatically to that magic word
"Prosperity"; to-day statistical rhetoric about size induces little but
excessive boredom. If you wish to drive an audience out of the hall tell
it how rich America is; if you wish to stamp yourself an echo of the past
talk to us young men about the Republican Party's understanding with God
in respect to bumper crops. But talk to us about "human rights," and
though you talk rubbish, we'll listen. For our desire is bent that way,
and anything which has the flavor of this new interest will rivet our
attention. We are still uncritical. It is only a few years since we began
to center our politics upon human beings. We have no training in that
kind of thought. Our schools and colleges have helped us hardly at all.
We still talk about "humanity" as if it were some strange and mystical
creature which could not possibly be composed of the grocer, the
street-car conductor and our aunts.

That the opinion-making people of America are more interested in human
welfare than in empire or abstract prosperity is an item that no
statesman can disregard in his thinking. To-day it is no longer necessary
to run against the grain of the deepest movements of our time. There is
an ascendant feeling among the people that all achievement should be
measured in human happiness. This feeling has not always existed.
Historians tell us that the very idea of progress in well-being is not
much older than, say, Shakespeare's plays. As a general belief it is
still more recent. The nineteenth century may perhaps be said to mark its
popularization. But as a fact of immediate politics, as a touchstone
applied quickly to all the acts of statecraft in America it belongs to
the Twentieth Century. There were any number of people who long before
1900 saw that dollars and men could clash. But their insight had not won
any general acceptance. It is only within the last few years that the
human test has ceased to be the property of a small group and become the
convention of a large majority. A study of magazines and newspapers would
confirm this rather broad generalization. It would show, I believe, how
the whole quality of our most impromptu thinking is being influenced by
human values.

The statesman must look to this largely unorganized drift of desire. He
will find it clustering about certain big revolts--the unrest of women,
for example, or the increasing demands of industrial workers. Rightly
understood, these social currents would, I believe, lead to the central
issues of life, the vital points upon which happiness depends. They come
out of necessities. They express desire. They are power.

Thus feminism, arising out of a crisis in sexual conditions, has
liberated energies that are themselves the motors of any reform. In
England and America voting has become the symbol of an aspiration as yet
half-conscious and undefined. What women want is surely something a great
deal deeper than the privilege of taking part in elections. They are
looking for a readjustment of their relations to the home, to work, to
children, to men, to the interests of civilized life. The vote has become
a convenient peg upon which to hang aspirations that are not at all sure
of their own meaning. In no insignificant number of cases the vote is a
cover by which revolutionary demands can be given a conventional front.
The ballot is at the utmost a beginning, as far-sighted conservatives
have guessed. Certainly the elimination of "male" from the suffrage
qualifications will not end the feminist agitation. From the angle of
statecraft the future of the movement may be said to depend upon the wise
use of this raw and scattered power. I do not pretend to know in detail
how this can be done. But I am certain that the task of leadership is to
organize aspiration in the service of the real interests of life. To-day
women want--what? They are ready to want something: that describes fairly
the condition of most suffragettes. Those who like Ellen Key and Olive
Shreiner and Mrs. Gilman give them real problems to think about are
drafting that energy into use. By real problems I mean problems of love,
work, home, children. They are the real interests of feminism because
they have produced it.

The yearnings of to-day are the symptoms of needs, they point the course
of invention, they are the energies which animate a social program. The
most ideally conceived plan of the human mind has only a slight interest
if it does not harness these instinctive forces. That is the great lesson
which the utopias teach by their failure--that schemes, however nicely
arranged, cannot be imposed upon human beings who are interested in other
things. What ailed Don Quixote was that he and his contemporaries wanted
different things; the only ideals that count are those which express the
possible development of an existing force. Reformers must never forget
that three legs are a Quixotic ideal; two good legs a genuine one.

In actual life, yes, in the moil and toil of propaganda, "movements,"
"causes" and agitations the statesman-inventor and the political
psychologist find the raw material for their work. It is not the business
of the politician to preserve an Olympian indifference to what stupid
people call "popular whim." Being lofty about the "passing fad" and the
ephemeral outcry is all very well in the biographies of dead men, but
rank nonsense in the rulers of real ones. Oscar Wilde once remarked that
only superficial people disliked the superficial. Nothing, for example,
could on the surface be more trivial than an interest in baseball scores.
Yet during the campaign of 1912 the excitement was so great that Woodrow
Wilson said on the stump he felt like apologizing to the American people
for daring to be a presidential candidate while the Giants and the Red
Sox were playing for the championship. Baseball (not so much for those
who play it), is a colossal phenomenon in American life. Watch the crowds
in front of a bulletin board, finding a vicarious excitement and an
abstract relief from the monotony of their own lives. What a second-hand
civilization it is that grows passionate over a scoreboard with little
electric lights! What a civilization it is that has learned to enjoy its
sport without even seeing it! If ever there was a symptom that this
nation needed leisure and direct participation in games, it is that poor
scrawny substitute for joy--the baseball extra.

It is as symptomatic as the labor union. It expresses need. And
statesmanship would find an answer. It would not let that passion and
loyalty be frittered away to drift like scum through the nation. It would
see in it the opportunity of art, play, and religion. So with what looks
very different--the "syndicalist movement." Perhaps it seems preposterous
to discuss baseball and syndicalism in the same paragraph. But that is
only because we have not accustomed ourselves to thinking of social
events as answers to human needs. The statesman would ask, Why are there
syndicalists? What are they driving at? What gift to civilization is in
the impetus behind them? They are human beings, and they want human
things. There is no reason to become terror-stricken about them. They
seem to want things badly. Then ostriches disguised as judges cannot deal
with them. Anarchism--men die for that, they undergo intolerable insults.
They are tarred and feathered and spat upon. Is it possible that
Republicans, Democrats and Socialists clip the wings more than free
spirits can allow? Is civilization perhaps too tightly organized? Have
the irreconcilables a soul audacious and less blunted than our
domesticated ones? To put it mildly, is it ever safe to ignore them
entirely in our thinking?

We shall come, I think, to a different appraisal of agitations. Our
present method is to discuss whether the proposals are right and
feasible. We do this hastily and with prejudice. Generally we decide that
any agitation foreign to our settled habits is wrong. And we bolster up
our satisfaction by pointing to some mistake of logic or some puerility
of statement. That done, we feel the agitation is deplorable and can be
ignored unless it becomes so obstreperous that we have to put it in jail.
But a genuine statecraft would go deeper. It would know that even God has
been defended with nonsense. So it could be sympathetic to agitations. I
use the word sympathetic literally. For it would try to understand the
inner feeling which had generated what looks like a silly demand. To-day
it is as if a hungry man asked for an indigestible food, and we let him
go hungry because he was unwise. He isn't any the less hungry because he
asks for the wrong food. So with agitations. Their specific plans may be
silly, but their demands are real. The hungers and lusts of mankind have
produced some stupendous follies, but the desires themselves are no less
real and insistent.

The important thing about a social movement is not its stated platform
but the source from which it flows. The task of politics is to understand
those deeper demands and to find civilized satisfactions for them. The
meaning of this is that the statesman must be more than the leader of a
party. Thus the socialist statesman is not complete if he is a good
socialist. Only the delusion that his truth is the whole truth, his party
the human race, and his program a panacea, will produce that singleness
of vision.

The moment a man takes office he has no right to be the representative of
one group alone. He has assumed the burden of harmonizing particular
agitations with the general welfare. That is why great agitators should
not accept office. Men like Debs understand that. Their business is to
make social demands so concrete and pressing that statesmen are forced to
deal with them. Agitators who accept government positions are a
disappointment to their followers. They can no longer be severely
partisan. They have to look at affairs nationally. Now the agitator and
the statesman are both needed. But they have different functions, and it
is unjust to damn one because he hasn't the virtues of the other.

The statesman to-day needs a large equipment. The man who comes forward
to shape a country's policy has truly no end of things to consider. He
must be aware of the condition of the people: no statesman must fall into
the sincere but thoroughly upper class blunder that President Taft
committed when he advised a three months' vacation. Realizing how men and
women feel at all levels and at different places, he must speak their
discontent and project their hopes. Through this he will get power.
Standing upon the prestige which that gives he must guide and purify the
social demands he finds at work. He is the translator of agitations. For
this task he must be keenly sensitive to public opinion and capable of
understanding the dynamics of it. Then, in order to fuse it into a
civilized achievement, he will require much expert knowledge. Yet he need
not be a specialist himself, if only he is expert in choosing experts. It
is better indeed that the statesman should have a lay, and not a
professional view. For the bogs of technical stupidity and empty
formalism are always near and always dangerous. The real political genius
stands between the actual life of men, their wishes and their needs, and
all the windings of official caste and professional snobbery. It is his
supreme business to see that the servants of life stay in their
place--that government, industry, "causes," science, all the creatures of
man do not succeed in their perpetual effort to become the masters.

I have Roosevelt in mind. He haunts political thinking. And indeed, why
shouldn't he? What reality could there be in comments upon American
politics which ignored the colossal phenomenon of Roosevelt? If he is
wholly evil, as many say he is, then the American democracy is
preponderantly evil. For in the first years of the Twentieth Century,
Roosevelt spoke for this nation, as few presidents have spoken in our
history. And that he has spoken well, who in the perspective of time will
deny? Sensitive to the original forces of public opinion, no man has had
the same power of rounding up the laggards. Government under him was a
throbbing human purpose. He succeeded, where Taft failed, in preventing
that drought of invention which officialism brings. Many people say he
has tried to be all things to all men--that his speeches are an attempt
to corral all sorts of votes. That is a left-handed way of stating a
truth. A more generous interpretation would be to say that he had tried
to be inclusive, to attach a hundred sectional agitations to a national
program. Crude: of course he was crude; he had a hemisphere for his
canvas. Inconsistent: yes, he tried to be the leader of factions at war
with one another. A late convert: he is a statesman and not an
agitator--his business was to meet demands when they had grown to
national proportions. No end of possibilities have slipped through the
large meshes of his net. He has said some silly things. He has not been
subtle, and he has been far from perfect. But his success should be
judged by the size of his task, by the fierceness of the opposition, by
the intellectual qualities of the nation he represented. When we remember
that he was trained in the Republican politics of Hanna and Platt, that
he was the first President who shared a new social vision, then I believe
we need offer no apologies for making Mr. Roosevelt stand as the working
model for a possible American statesman at the beginning of the Twentieth

Critics have often suggested that Roosevelt stole Bryan's clothes. That
is perhaps true, and it suggests a comparison which illuminates both men.
It would not be unfair to say that it is always the function of the
Roosevelts to take from the Bryans. But it is a little silly for an
agitator to cry thief when the success of his agitation has led to the
adoption of his ideas. It is like the chagrin of the socialists because
the National Progressive Party had "stolen twenty-three planks," and it
makes a person wonder whether some agitators haven't an overdeveloped
sense of private property.

I do not see the statesman in Bryan. He has been something of a voice
crying in the wilderness, but a voice that did not understand its own
message. Many people talk of him as a prophet. There is a great deal of
literal truth in that remark, for it has been the peculiar work of Bryan
to express in politics some of that emotion which has made America the
home of new religions. What we know as the scientific habit of mind is
entirely lacking in his intellectual equipment. There is a vein of
mysticism in American life, and Mr. Bryan is its uncritical prophet. His
insights are those of the gifted evangelist, often profound and always
narrow. It is absurd to debate his sincerity. Mr. Bryan talks with the
intoxication of the man who has had a revelation: to skeptics that always
seems theatrical. But far from being the scheming hypocrite his enemies
say he is, Mr. Bryan is too simple for the task of statesmanship. No
bracing critical atmosphere plays about his mind: there are no cleansing
doubts and fruitful alternatives. The work of Bryan has been to express a
certain feeling of unrest--to embody it in the traditional language of
prophecy. But it is a shrewd turn of the American people that has kept
him out of office. I say this not in disrespect of his qualities, but in
definition of them. Bryan does not happen to have the naturalistic
outlook, the complete humanity, or the deliberative habit which modern
statecraft requires. He is the voice of a confused emotion.

Woodrow Wilson has a talent which is Bryan's chief defect--the scientific
habit of holding facts in solution. His mind is lucid and flexible, and
he has the faculty of taking advice quickly, of stating something he has
borrowed with more ease and subtlety than the specialist from whom he got
it. Woodrow Wilson's is an elegant and highly refined intellect, nicely
balanced and capable of fine adjustment. An urbane civilization produced
it, leisure has given it spaciousness, ease has made it generous. A mind
without tension, its roots are not in the somewhat barbarous
under-currents of the nation. Woodrow Wilson understands easily, but he
does not incarnate: he has never been a part of the protest he speaks.
You think of him as a good counsellor, as an excellent presiding officer.
Whether his imagination is fibrous enough to catch the inwardness of the
mutterings of our age is something experience alone can show. Wilson has
class feeling in the least offensive sense of that term: he likes a world
of gentlemen. Occasionally he has exhibited a rather amateurish effort to
be grimy and shirt-sleeved. But without much success: his contact with
American life is not direct, and so he is capable of purely theoretical
affirmations. Like all essentially contemplative men, the world has to be
reflected in the medium of his intellect before he can grapple with it.

Yet Wilson belongs among the statesmen, and it is fine that he should be
in public life. The weakness I have suggested is one that all statesmen
share in some degree: an inability to interpret adequately the world they
govern. This is a difficulty which is common to conservative and radical,
and if I have used three living men to illustrate the problem it is only
because they seem to illuminate it. They have faced the task and we can
take their measurement. It is no part of my purpose to make any judgment
as to the value of particular policies they have advocated. I am
attempting to suggest some of the essentials of a statesman's equipment
for the work of a humanly centered politics. Roosevelt has seemed to me
the most effective, the most nearly complete; Bryan I have ventured to
class with the men who though important to politics should never hold
high executive office; Wilson, less complete than Roosevelt, is worthy of
our deepest interest because his judgment is subtle where Roosevelt's is
crude. He is a foretaste of a more advanced statesmanship.

Because he is self-conscious, Wilson has been able to see the problem
that any finely adapted statecraft must meet. It is a problem that would
hardly occur to an old-fashioned politician: "Though he (the statesman)
cannot himself keep the life of the nation as a whole in his mind, he can
at least make sure that he is taking counsel with those who know...." It
is not important that Wilson in stating the difficulty should put it as
if he had in a measure solved it. He hasn't, because taking counsel is a
means to understanding the nation as a whole, and that understanding
remains almost as arduous and requires just as fibrous an imagination, if
it is gleaned from advisers.

To think of the whole nation: surely the task of statesmanship is more
difficult to-day than ever before in history. In the face of a clotted
intricacy in the subject-matter of politics, improvements in knowledge
seem meager indeed. The distance between what we know and what we need to
know appears to be greater than ever. Plato and Aristotle thought in
terms of ten thousand homogeneous villagers; we have to think in terms of
a hundred million people of all races and all traditions, crossbred and
inbred, subject to climates they have never lived in before, plumped down
on a continent in the midst of a strange civilization. We have to deal
with all grades of life from the frontier to the metropolis, with men who
differ in sense of fact, in ideal, in the very groundwork of morals. And
we have to take into account not the simple opposition of two classes,
but the hostility of many,--the farmers and the factory workers and all
the castes within their ranks, the small merchants, and the feudal
organization of business. Ours is a problem in which deception has become
organized and strong; where truth is poisoned at its source; one in which
the skill of the shrewdest brains is devoted to misleading a bewildered
people. Nor can we keep to the problem within our borders. Whether we
wish it or not we are involved in the world's problems, and all the winds
of heaven blow through our land.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a great question whether our intellects can grasp the subject. Are
we perhaps like a child whose hand is too small to span an octave on the
piano? Not only are the facts inhumanly complicated, but the natural
ideals of people are so varied and contradictory that action halts in
despair. We are putting a tremendous strain upon the mind, and the
results are all about us: everyone has known the neutral thinkers who
stand forever undecided before the complications of life, who have, as it
were, caught a glimpse of the possibilities of knowledge. The sight has
paralyzed them. Unless they can act with certainty, they dare not act at

That is merely one of the temptations of theory. In the real world,
action and thought are so closely related that one cannot wait upon the
other. We cannot wait in politics for any completed theoretical
discussion of its method: it is a monstrous demand. There is no pausing
until political psychology is more certain. We have to act on what we
believe, on half-knowledge, illusion and error. Experience itself will
reveal our mistakes; research and criticism may convert them into wisdom.
But act we must, and act as if we knew the nature of man and proposed to
satisfy his needs.

In other words, we must put man at the center of politics, even though we
are densely ignorant both of man and of politics. This has always been
the method of great political thinkers from Plato to Bentham. But one
difference we in this age must note: they made their political man a
dogma--we must leave him an hypothesis. That is to say that our task is
to temper speculation with scientific humility.

A paradox there is here, but a paradox of language, and not of fact. Men
made bridges before there was a science of bridge-building; they cured
disease before they knew medicine. Art came before æsthetics, and
righteousness before ethics. Conduct and theory react upon each other.
Hypothesis is confirmed and modified by action, and action is guided by
hypothesis. If it is a paradox to ask for a human politics before we
understand humanity or politics, it is what Mr. Chesterton describes as
one of those paradoxes that sit beside the wells of truth.

       *       *       *       *       *

We make our picture of man, knowing that, though it is crude and unjust,
we have to work with it. If we are wise we shall become experimental
towards life: then every mistake will contribute towards knowledge. Let
the exploration of human need and desire become a deliberate purpose of
statecraft, and there is no present measure of its possibilities.

In this work there are many guides. A vague common tradition is in the
air about us--it expresses itself in journalism, in cheap novels, in the
uncritical theater. Every merchant has his stock of assumptions about the
mental habits of his customers and competitors; the prostitute hers; the
newspaperman his; P. T. Barnum had a few; the vaudeville stage has a
number. We test these notions by their results, and even "practical
people" find that there is more variety in human nature than they had

We forge gradually our greatest instrument for understanding the
world--introspection. We discover that humanity may resemble us very
considerably--that the best way of knowing the inwardness of our
neighbors is to know ourselves. For after all, the only experience we
really understand is our own. And that, in the least of us, is so rich
that no one has yet exhausted its possibilities. It has been said that
every genuine character an artist produces is one of the characters he
might have been. By re-creating our own suppressed possibilities we
multiply the number of lives that we can really know. That as I
understand it is the psychology of the Golden Rule. For note that Jesus
did not set up some external fetich: he did not say, make your neighbor
righteous, or chaste, or respectable. He said do as you would be done by.
Assume that you and he are alike, and you can found morals on humanity.

But experience has enlarged our knowledge of differences. We realize now
that our neighbor is not always like ourselves. Knowing how unjust other
people's inferences are when they concern us, we have begun to guess that
ours may be unjust to them. Any uniformity of conduct becomes at once an
impossible ideal, and the willingness to live and let live assumes high
place among the virtues. A puzzled wisdom remarks that "it takes all
sorts of people to make a world," and half-protestingly men accept
Bernard Shaw's amendment, "Do not do unto others as you would that they
should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same."

We learn perhaps that there is no contradiction in speaking of "human
nature" while admitting that men are unique. For all deepening of our
knowledge gives a greater sense of common likeness and individual
variation. It is folly to ignore either insight. But it is done
constantly, with no end of confusion as a result. Some men have got
themselves into a state where the only view that interests them is the
common humanity of us all. Their world is not populated by men and women,
but by a Unity that is Permanent. You might as well refuse to see any
differences between steam, water and ice because they have common
elements. And I have seen some of these people trying to skate on steam.
Their brothers, blind in the other eye, go about the world so sure that
each person is entirely unique, that society becomes like a row of
packing cases, each painted on the inside, and each containing one ego
and its own.

Art enlarges experience by admitting us to the inner life of others. That
is not the only use of art, for its function is surely greater and more
ultimate than to furnish us with a better knowledge of human nature. Nor
is that its only use even to statecraft. I suggested earlier that art
enters politics as a "moral equivalent" for evil, a medium by which
barbarous lusts find civilized expression. It is, too, an ideal for
labor. But my purpose here is not to attempt any adequate description of
the services of art. It is enough to note that literature in particular
elaborates our insight into human life, and, therefore, enables us to
center our institutions more truly.

Ibsen discovers a soul in Nora: the discovery is absorbed into the common
knowledge of the age. Other Noras discover their own souls; the Helmers
all about us begin to see the person in the doll. Plays and novels have
indeed an overwhelming political importance, as the "moderns" have
maintained. But it lies not in the preaching of a doctrine or the
insistence on some particular change in conduct. That is a shallow and
wasteful use of the resources of art. For art can open up the springs
from which conduct flows. Its genuine influence is on what Wells calls
the "hinterland," in a quickening of the sense of life.

Art can really penetrate where most of us can only observe. "I look and I
think I see," writes Bergson, "I listen and I think I hear, I examine
myself and I think I am reading the very depths of my heart.... (But) my
senses and my consciousness ... give me no more than a practical
simplification of reality ... in short, we do not see the actual things
themselves; in most cases we confine ourselves to reading the labels
affixed to them." Who has not known this in thinking of politics? We talk
of poverty and forget poor people; we make rules for vagrancy--we forget
the vagrant. Some of our best-intentioned political schemes, like reform
colonies and scientific jails, turn out to be inhuman tyrannies just
because our imagination does not penetrate the sociological label. "We
move amidst generalities and symbols ... we live in a zone midway between
things and ourselves, external to things, external also to ourselves."
This is what works of art help to correct: "Behind the commonplace,
conventional expression that both reveals and conceals an individual
mental state, it is the emotion, the original mood, to which they attain
in its undefiled essence."

This directness of vision fertilizes thought. Without a strong artistic
tradition, the life and so the politics of a nation sink into a barren
routine. A country populated by pure logicians and mathematical
scientists would, I believe, produce few inventions. For creation, even
of scientific truth, is no automatic product of logical thought or
scientific method, and it has been well said that the greatest
discoveries in science are brilliant guesses on insufficient evidence. A
nation must, so to speak, live close to its own life, be intimate and
sympathetic with natural events. That is what gives understanding, and
justifies the observation that the intuitions of scientific discovery and
the artist's perceptions are closely related. It is perhaps not
altogether without significance for us that primitive science and poetry
were indistinguishable. Nor is it strange that latter-day research should
confirm so many sayings of the poets. In all great ages art and science
have enriched each other. It is only eccentric poets and narrow
specialists who lock the doors. The human spirit doesn't grow in

I shall not press the point for it would lead us far afield. It is enough
that we remember the close alliance of art, science and politics in
Athens, in Florence and Venice at their zenith. We in America have
divorced them completely: both art and politics exist in a condition of
unnatural celibacy. Is this not a contributing factor to the futility and
opacity of our political thinking? We have handed over the government of
a nation of people to a set of lawyers, to a class of men who deal in the
most verbal and unreal of all human attainments.

A lively artistic tradition is essential to the humanizing of politics.
It is the soil in which invention flourishes and the organized knowledge
of science attains its greatest reality. Let me illustrate from another
field of interests. The religious investigations of William James were a
study, not of ecclesiastical institutions or the history of creeds. They
were concerned with religious experience, of which churches and rituals
are nothing but the external satisfaction. As Graham Wallas is
endeavoring to make human nature the center of politics, so James made it
the center of religions. It was a work of genius, yet no one would claim
that it is a mature psychology of the "Varieties of Religious
Experience." It is rather a survey and a description, done with the eye
of an artist and the method of a scientist. We know from it more of what
religious feeling is like, even though we remain ignorant of its sources.
And this intimacy humanizes religious controversy and brings
ecclesiasticism back to men.

Like most of James's psychology, it opens up investigation instead of
concluding it. In the light even of our present knowledge we can see how
primitive his treatment was. But James's services cannot be
overestimated: if he did not lay even the foundations of a science, he
did lay some of the foundations for research. It was an immense
illumination and a warming of interest. It threw open the gates to the
whole landscape of possibilities. It was a ventilation of thought.
Something similar will have to be done for political psychology. We know
how far off is the profound and precise knowledge we desire. But we know
too that we have a right to hope for an increasing acquaintance with the
varieties of political experience. It would, of course, be drawn from
biography, from the human aspect of history and daily observation. We
should begin to know what it is that we ought to know. Such a work would
be stimulating to politician and psychologist. The statesman's
imagination would be guided and organized; it would give him a
starting-point for his own understanding of human beings in politics. To
the scientists it would be a challenge--to bring these facts under the
light of their researches, to extend these researches to the borders of
those facts.

The statesman has another way of strengthening his grip upon the
complexity of life. Statistics help. This method is neither so conclusive
as the devotees say, nor so bad as the people who are awed by it would
like to believe. Voting, as Gabriel Tarde points out, is our most
conspicuous use of statistics. Mystical democrats believe that an
election expresses the will of the people, and that that will is wise.
Mystical democrats are rare. Looked at closely an election shows the
quantitative division of the people on several alternatives. That choice
is not necessarily wise, but it is wise to heed that choice. For it is a
rough estimate of an important part of the community's sentiment, and no
statecraft can succeed that violates it. It is often immensely suggestive
of what a large number of people are in the future going to wish.
Democracy, because it registers popular feeling, is at least trying to
build truly, and is for that reason an enlightened form of government. So
we who are democrats need not believe that the people are necessarily
right in their choice: some of us are always in the minority, and not a
little proud of the distinction. Voting does not extract wisdom from
multitudes: its real value is to furnish wisdom about multitudes. Our
faith in democracy has this very solid foundation: that no leader's
wisdom can be applied unless the democracy comes to approve of it. To
govern a democracy you have to educate it: that contact with great masses
of men reciprocates by educating the leader. "The consent of the
governed" is more than a safeguard against ignorant tyrants: it is an
insurance against benevolent despots as well. In a rough way and with
many exceptions, democracy compels law to approximate human need. It is a
little difficult to see this when you live right in the midst of one. But
in perspective there can be little question that of all governments
democracy is the most relevant. Only humane laws can be successfully
enforced; and they are the only ones really worth enforcing. Voting is a
formal method of registering consent.

But all statistical devices are open to abuse and require constant
correction. Bribery, false counting, disfranchisement are the cruder
deceptions; they correspond to those enrolment statistics of a large
university which are artificially fed by counting the same student
several times if his courses happen to span two or three of the
departments. Just as deceptive as plain fraud is the deceptive ballot. We
all know how when the political tricksters were compelled to frame a
direct primary law in New York they fixed the ballot so that it botched
the election. Corporations have been known to do just that to their
reports. Did not E. H. Harriman say of a well-known statistician that he
could make an annual report tell any story you pleased? Still subtler is
the seven-foot ballot of stupid, good intentions--the hyperdemocratic
ballot in which you are asked to vote for the State Printer, and succeed
only in voting under the party emblem.

Statistics then is no automatic device for measuring facts. You and I are
forever at the mercy of the census-taker and the census-maker. That
impertinent fellow who goes from house to house is one of the real
masters of the statistical situation. The other is the man who organizes
the results. For all the conclusions in the end rest upon their accuracy,
honesty, energy and insight. Of course, in an obvious census like that of
the number of people personal bias counts for so little that it is lost
in the grand total. But the moment you begin inquiries into subjects
which people prefer to conceal, the weakness of statistics becomes
obvious. All figures which touch upon sexual subjects are nothing but the
roughest guesses. No one would take a census of prostitution,
illegitimacy, adultery, or venereal disease for a statement of reliable
facts. There are religious statistics, but who that has traveled among
men would regard the number of professing Christians as any index of the
strength of Christianity, or the church attendance as a measure of
devotion? In the supremely important subject of literacy, what
classification yet devised can weigh the culture of masses of people? We
say that such a percentage of the population cannot read or write. But
the test of reading and writing is crude and clumsy. It is often
administered by men who are themselves half-educated, and it is shot
through with racial and class prejudice.

The statistical method is of use only to those who have found it out.
This is achieved principally by absorbing into your thinking a lively
doubt about all classifications and general terms, for they are the basis
of statistical measurement. That done you are fairly proof against
seduction. No better popular statement of this is to be found than H. G.
Wells' little essay: "Skepticism of the Instrument." Wells has, of
course, made no new discovery. The history of philosophy is crowded with
quarrels as to how seriously we ought to take our classifications: a
large part of the battle about Nominalism turns on this, the Empirical
and Rational traditions divide on it; in our day the attacks of James,
Bergson, and the "anti-intellectualists" are largely a continuation of
this old struggle. Wells takes his stand very definitely with those who
regard classification "as serviceable for the practical purposes of life"
but nevertheless "a departure from the objective truth of things."

"Take the word chair," he writes. "When one says chair, one thinks
vaguely of an average chair. But collect individual instances, think of
armchairs and reading-chairs, and dining-room chairs and kitchen chairs,
chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become
settees, dentists' chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts,
those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and
Crafts Exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is
this simple straightforward term. In co-operation with an intelligent
joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or
chairishness that you gave me." Think then of the glib way in which we
speak of "the unemployed," "the unfit," "the criminal," "the
unemployable," and how easily we forget that behind these general terms
are unique individuals with personal histories and varying needs.

Even the most refined statistics are nothing but an abstraction. But if
that truth is held clearly before the mind, the polygons and curves of
the statisticians can be used as a skeleton to which the imagination and
our general sense of life give some flesh and blood reality. Human
statistics are illuminating to those who know humanity. I would not trust
a hermit's inferences about the statistics of anything.

It is then no simple formula which answers our question. The problem of a
human politics is not solved by a catch phrase. Criticism, of which these
essays are a piece, can give the direction we must travel. But for the
rest there is no smooth road built, no swift and sure conveyance at the
door. We set out as if we knew; we act on the notions of man that we
possess. Literature refines, science deepens, various devices extend it.
Those who act on the knowledge at hand are the men of affairs. And all
the while, research studies their results, artists express subtler
perceptions, critics refine and adapt the general culture of the times.
There is no other way but through this vast collaboration.

There is no short cut to civilization. We say that the truth will make us
free. Yes, but that truth is a thousand truths which grow and change. Nor
do I see a final state of blessedness. The world's end will surely find
us still engaged in answering riddles. This changing focus in politics is
a tendency at work all through our lives. There are many experiments. But
the effort is half-conscious; only here and there does it rise to a
deliberate purpose. To make it an avowed ideal--a thing of will and
intelligence--is to hasten its coming, to illumine its blunders, and, by
giving it self-criticism, to convert mistakes into wisdom.



In casting about for a concrete example to illustrate some of the points
under discussion I hesitated a long time before the wealth of material.
No age has produced such a multitude of elaborate studies, and any
selection was, of course, a limiting one. The Minority Report of the
English Poor Law Commission has striking merits and defects, but for our
purposes it inheres too deeply in British conditions. American tariff and
trust investigations are massive enough in all conscience, but they are
so partisan in their origin and so pathetically unattached to any
recognized ideal of public policy that it seemed better to look
elsewhere. Conservation had the virtue of arising out of a provident
statesmanship, but its problems were largely technical.

The real choice narrowed itself finally to the Pittsburgh Survey and the
Chicago Vice Report. Had I been looking for an example of the finest
expert inquiry, there would have been little question that the vivid and
intensive study of Pittsburgh's industrialism was the example to use. But
I was looking for something more representative, and, therefore, more
revealing. I did not want a detached study of some specially selected
cross-section of what is after all not the typical economic life of
America. The case demanded was one in which you could see representative
American citizens trying to handle a problem which had touched their

Vice is such a problem. You can always get a hearing about it; there is
no end of interest in the question. Rare indeed is that community which
has not been "Lexowed," in which a district attorney or a minister has
not led a crusade. Muckraking began with the exposure of vice; men like
Heney, Lindsey, Folk founded their reputations on the fight against it.
It would be interesting to know how much of the social conscience of our
time had as its first insight the prostitute on the city pavement.

We do not have to force an interest, as we do about the trusts, or even
about the poor. For this problem lies close indeed to the dynamics of our
own natures. Research is stimulated, actively aroused, and a passionate
zeal suffuses what is perhaps the most spontaneous reform enthusiasm of
our time. Looked at externally it is a curious focusing of attention. Nor
is it explained by words like "chivalry," "conscience," "social
compassion." Magazines that will condone a thousand cruelties to women
gladly publish series of articles on the girl who goes wrong; merchants
who sweat and rack their women employees serve gallantly on these
commissions. These men are not conscious hypocrites. Perhaps like the
rest of us they are impelled by forces they are not eager to examine. I
do not press the point. It belongs to the analyst of motive.

We need only note the vast interest in the subject--that it extends
across class lines, and expresses itself as an immense good-will. Perhaps
a largely unconscious absorption in a subject is itself a sign of great
importance. Surely vice has a thousand implications that touch all of us
directly. It is closely related to most of the interests of
life--ramifying into industry, into the family, health, play, art,
religion. The miseries it entails are genuine miseries--not points of
etiquette or infringements of convention. Vice issues in pain. The world
suffers for it. To attack it is to attack as far-reaching and real a
problem as any that we human beings face.

The Chicago Commission had no simple, easily measured problem before it.
At the very outset the report confesses that an accurate count of the
number of prostitutes in Chicago could not be reached. The police lists
are obviously incomplete and perhaps corrupt. The whole amorphous field
of clandestine vice will, of course, defeat any census. But even public
prostitution is so varied that nobody can do better than estimate it
roughly. This point is worth keeping in mind, for it lights up the
remedies proposed. What the Commission advocates is the constant
repression and the ultimate annihilation of a mode of life which refuses
discovery and measurement.

The report estimates that there are five thousand women in Chicago who
devote their whole time to the traffic; that the annual profits in that
one city alone are between fifteen and sixteen million dollars a year.
These figures are admittedly low for they leave out all consideration of
occasional, or seasonal, or hidden prostitution. It is only the nucleus
that can be guessed at; the fringe which shades out into various degrees
of respectability remains entirely unmeasured. Yet these suburbs of the
Tenderloin must always be kept in mind; their population is shifting and
very elastic; it includes the unsuspected; and I am inclined to believe
that it is the natural refuge of the "suppressed" prostitute. Moreover it
defies control.

The 1012 women recognized on the police lists are of course the most
easily studied. From them we can gather some hint of the enormous
bewildering demand that prostitution answers. The Commission informs us
that this small group alone receives over fifteen thousand visits a
day--five million and a half in the year. Yet these 1012 women are only
about one-fifth of the professional prostitutes in Chicago. If the
average continues, then the figures mount to something over 27,000,000.
The five thousand professionals do not begin to represent the whole
illicit traffic of a city like Chicago. Clandestine and occasional vice
is beyond all measurement.

The figures I have given are taken from the report. They are said to be
conservative. For the purposes of this discussion we could well lower the
27,000,000 by half. All I am concerned about is in arriving at a sense of
the enormity of the impulse behind the "social evil." For it is this that
the Commission proposes to repress, and ultimately to annihilate.

Lust has a thousand avenues. The brothel, the flat, the assignation
house, the tenement, saloons, dance halls, steamers, ice-cream parlors,
Turkish baths, massage parlors, street-walking--the thing has woven
itself into the texture of city life. Like the hydra, it grows new heads,
everywhere. It draws into its service the pleasures of the city.
Entangled with the love of gaiety, organized as commerce, it is literally
impossible to follow the myriad expressions it assumes.

The Commission gives a very fair picture of these manifestations. A mass
of material is offered which does in a way show where and how and to what
extent lust finds its illicit expression. Deeper than this the report
does not go. The human impulses which create these social conditions, the
human needs to which they are a sad and degraded answer--this human
center of the problem the commission passes by with a platitude.

"So long as there is lust in the hearts of men," we are told, "it will
seek out some method of expression. Until the hearts of men are changed
we can hope for no absolute annihilation of the Social Evil." But at the
head of the report in black-faced type we read:

"Constant and persistent repression of prostitution the immediate method;
absolute annihilation the ultimate ideal."

I am not trying to catch the Commissioners in a verbal inconsistency. The
inconsistency is real, out of a deep-seated confusion of mind. Lust will
seek an expression, they say, until "the hearts of men are changed." All
particular expressions are evil and must be constantly repressed. Yet
though you repress one form of lust, it will seek some other. Now, says
the Commission, in order to change the hearts of men, religion and
education must step in. It is their business to eradicate an impulse
which is constantly changing form by being "suppressed."

There is only one meaning in this: the Commission realized vaguely that
repression is not even the first step to a cure. For reasons worth
analyzing later, these representative American citizens desired both the
immediate taboo and an ultimate annihilation of vice. So they fell into
the confusion of making immediate and detailed proposals that have
nothing to do with the attainment of their ideal.

What the commission saw and described were the particular forms which a
great human impulse had assumed at a specific date in a certain city. The
dynamic force which created these conditions, which will continue to
create them--lust--they refer to in a few pious sentences. Their
thinking, in short, is perfectly static and literally superficial. In
outlining a ripple they have forgotten the tides.

Had they faced the human sources of their problem, had they tried to
think of the social evil as an answer to a human need, their researches
would have been different, their remedies fruitful. Suppose they had kept
in mind their own statement: "so long as there is lust in the hearts of
men it will seek out some method of expression." Had they held fast to
that, it would have ceased to be a platitude and have become a fertile
idea. For a platitude is generally inert wisdom.

In the sentence I quote the Commissioners had an idea which might have
animated all their labors. But they left it in limbo, they reverenced it,
and they passed by. Perhaps we can raise it again and follow the hints it

If lust will seek an expression, are all expressions of it necessarily
evil? That the kind of expression which the Commission describes is evil
no one will deny. But is it the only possible expression?

If it is, then the taboo enforced by a Morals Police is, perhaps, as good
a way as any of gaining a fictitious sense of activity. But the ideal of
"annihilation" becomes an irrelevant and meaningless phrase. If lust is
deeply rooted in men and its only expression is evil, I for one should
recommend a faith in the millennium. You can put this Paradise at the
beginning of the world or the end of it. Practical difference there is

No one can read the report without coming to a definite conviction that
the Commission regards lust itself as inherently evil. The members
assumed without criticism the traditional dogma of Christianity that sex
in any manifestation outside of marriage is sinful. But practical sense
told them that sex cannot be confined within marriage. It will find
expression--"some method of expression" they say. What never occurred to
them was that it might find a good, a positively beneficent method. The
utterly uncriticised assumption that all expressions not legalized are
sinful shut them off from any constructive answer to their problem.
Seeing prostitution or something equally bad as the only way sex can find
an expression they really set before religion and education the
impossible task of removing lust "from the hearts of men." So when their
report puts at its head that absolute annihilation of prostitution is the
ultimate ideal, we may well translate it into the real intent of the
Commission. What is to be absolutely annihilated is not alone
prostitution, not alone all the methods of expression which lust seeks
out, but lust itself.

That this is what the Commission had in mind is supported by plenty of
"internal evidence." For example: one of the most curious recommendations
made is about divorce--"The Commission condemns the ease with which
divorces may be obtained in certain States, and recommends a stringent,
uniform divorce law for all States."

What did the Commission have in mind? I transcribe the paragraph which
deals with divorce: "The Vice Commission, after exhaustive consideration
of the vice question, records itself of the opinion that divorce to a
large extent is a contributory factor to sexual vice. No study of this
blight upon the social and moral life of the country would be
comprehensive without consideration of the causes which lead to the
application for divorce. These are too numerous to mention at length in
such a report as this, but the Commission does wish to emphasize the
great need of more safeguards against the marrying of persons physically,
mentally and morally unfit to take up the responsibilities of family
life, including the bearing of children."

Now to be sure that paragraph leaves much to be desired so far as
clearness goes. But I think the meaning can be extracted. Divorce is a
contributory factor to sexual vice. One way presumably is that divorced
women often become prostitutes. That is an evil contribution,
unquestionably. The second sentence says that no study of the social evil
is complete which leaves out the _causes_ of divorce. One of those causes
is, I suppose, adultery with a prostitute. This evil is totally different
from the first: in one case divorce contributes to prostitution, in the
other, prostitution leads to divorce. The third sentence urges greater
safeguards against undesirable marriages. This prudence would obviously
reduce the need of divorce.

How does the recommendation of a stringent and uniform law fit in with
these three statements? A strict divorce law might be like New York's: it
would recognize few grounds for a decree. One of those grounds, perhaps
the chief one, would be adultery. I say this unhesitatingly for in
another place the Commission informs us that marriage has in it "the
elements of vested rights."

A strict divorce law would, of course, diminish the number of "divorced
women," and perhaps keep them out of prostitution. It does fit the first
statement--in a helpless sort of way. But where does the difficulty of
divorce affect the causes of it? If you bind a man tightly to a woman he
does not love, and, possibly prevent him from marrying one he does love,
how do you add to his virtue? And if the only way he can free himself is
by adultery, does not your stringent divorce law put a premium upon vice?
The third sentence would make it difficult for the unfit to marry. Better
marriages would among other blessings require fewer divorces. But what of
those who are forbidden to marry? They are unprovided for. And yet who
more than they are likely to find desire uncontrollable and seek some
other "method of expression"? With marriage prohibited and prostitution
tabooed, the Commission has a choice between sterilization and--let us
say--other methods of expression.

Make marriage difficult, divorce stringent, prostitution impossible--is
there any doubt that the leading idea is to confine the sex impulse
within the marriage of healthy, intelligent, "moral," and monogamous
couples? For all the other seekings of that impulse what has the
Commission to offer? Nothing. That can be asserted flatly. The Commission
hopes to wipe out prostitution. But it never hints that the success of
its plan means vast alterations in our social life. The members give the
impression that they think of prostitution as something that can be
subtracted from our civilization without changing the essential character
of its institutions. Yet who that has read the report itself and put
himself into any imaginative understanding of conditions can escape
seeing that prostitution to-day is organic to our industrial life, our
marriage sanctions, and our social customs? Low wages, fatigue, and the
wretched monotony of the factory--these must go before prostitution can
go. And behind these stand the facts of woman's entrance into
industry--facts that have one source at least in the general poverty of
the family. And that poverty is deeply bound up with the economic system
under which we live. In the man's problem, the growing impossibility of
early marriages is directly related to the business situation. Nor can we
speak of the degradation of religion and the arts, of amusement, of the
general morale of the people without referring that degradation to
industrial conditions.

You cannot look at civilization as a row of institutions each external to
the other. They interpenetrate and a change in one affects all the
others. To abolish prostitution would involve a radical alteration of
society. Vice in our cities is a form of the sexual impulse--one of the
forms it has taken under prevailing social conditions. It is, if you
please, like the crops of a rude and forbidding soil--a coarse, distorted
thing though living.

The Commission studied a human problem and left humanity out. I do not
mean that the members weren't deeply touched by the misery of these
thousands of women. You can pity the poor without understanding them; you
can have compassion without insight. The Commissioners had a good deal of
sympathy for the prostitute's condition, but for that "lust in the hearts
of men," and women we may add, for that, they had no sympathetic
understanding. They did not place themselves within the impulse.
Officially they remained external to human desires. For what might be
called the _élan vital_ of the problem they had no patience. Certain sad
results of the particular "method of expression" it had sought out in
Chicago called forth their pity and their horror.

In short, the Commission did not face the sexual impulse squarely. The
report is an attempt to deal with a sexual problem by disregarding its
source. There are almost a hundred recommendations to various
authorities--Federal, State, county, city, police, educational and
others. I have attempted to classify these proposals under four headings.
There are those which mean forcible repression of particular
manifestations--the taboos; there are the recommendations which are
purely palliative, which aim to abate some of the horrors of existing
conditions; there are a few suggestions for further investigation; and,
finally, there are the inventions, the plans which show some desire to
find moral equivalents for evil--the really statesmanlike offerings.

The palliative measures we may pass by quickly. So long as they do not
blind people to the necessity for radical treatment, only a doctrinaire
would object to them. Like all intelligent charities they are still a
necessary evil. But nothing must be staked upon them, so let us turn at
once to the constructive suggestions: The Commission proposes that the
county establish a "Permanent Committee on Child Protection." It makes no
attempt to say what that protection shall be, but I think it is only fair
to let the wish father the thought, and regard this as an effort to give
children a better start in life. The separation of delinquent from
semi-delinquent girls is a somewhat similar attempt to guard the weak.
Another is the recommendation to the city and the nation that it should
protect arriving immigrants, and if necessary escort them to their homes.
This surely is a constructive plan which might well be enlarged from mere
protection to positive hospitality. How great a part the desolating
loneliness of a city plays in seductions the individual histories in the
report show. Municipal dance halls are a splendid proposal. Freed from a
cold and over-chaperoned respectability they compete with the devil.
There, at least, is one method of sexual expression which may have
positively beneficent results. A municipal lodging house for women is
something of a substitute for the wretched rented room. A little
suggestion to the police that they send home children found on the
streets after nine o'clock has varied possibilities. But there is the
seed of an invention in it which might convert the police from mere
agents of repression to kindly helpers in the mazes of a city. The
educational proposals are all constructive: the teaching of sex hygiene
is guardedly recommended for consideration. That is entirely justified,
for no one can quarrel with a set of men for leaving a question open.
That girls from fourteen to sixteen should receive vocational training in
continuation schools; that social centers should be established in the
public schools and that the grounds should be open for children--all of
these are clearly additions to the positive resource of the community. So
is the suggestion that church buildings be used for recreation. The call
for greater parental responsibility is, I fear, a rather empty platitude,
for it is not re-enforced with anything but an ancient fervor.

How much of this really seeks to create a fine expression of the sexual
impulse? How many of these recommendations see sex as an instinct which
can be transmuted, and turned into one of the values of life? The dance
halls, the social centers, the playgrounds, the reception of
strangers--these can become instruments for civilizing sexual need. The
educational proposals could become ways of directing it. They could, but
will they? Without the habit of mind which sees substitution as the
essence of statecraft, without a philosophy which makes the invention of
moral equivalents its goal, I for one refuse to see in these
recommendations anything more than a haphazard shooting which has
accidentally hit the mark. Moreover, I have a deep suspicion that I have
tried to read into the proposals more than the Commission intended.
Certainly these constructions occupy an insignificant amount of space in
the body of the report. On all sides of them is a mass of taboos. No
emotional appeal is made for them as there is for the repressions. They
stand largely unnoticed, and very much undefined--poor ghosts of the
truth among the gibbets.

An inadvertent platitude--that lust will seek an expression--and a few
diffident proposals for a finer environment--the need and its
satisfaction: had the Commission seen the relation of these incipient
ideas, animated it, and made it the nerve center of the study, a genuine
program might have resulted. But the two ideas never met and fertilized
each other. Nothing dynamic holds the recommendations together--the mass
of them are taboos, an attempt to kill each mosquito and ignore the
marsh. The evils of prostitution are seen as a series of episodes, each
of which must be clubbed, forbidden, raided and jailed.

There is a special whack for each mosquito: the laws about excursion
boats should be enforced; the owners should help to enforce them; there
should be more officers with police power on these boats; the sale of
liquor to minors should be forbidden; gambling devices should be
suppressed; the midwives, doctors and maternity hospitals practicing
abortions should be investigated; employment agencies should be watched
and investigated; publishers should be warned against printing suspicious
advertisements; the law against infamous crimes should be made more
specific; any citizen should have the right to bring equity proceedings
against a brothel as a public nuisance; there should be relentless
prosecution of professional procurers; there should be constant
prosecution of the keepers, inmates, and owners of bawdy houses; there
should be prosecution of druggists who sells drugs and "certain
appliances" illegally; there should be an identification system for
prostitutes in the state courts; instead of fines, prostitutes should be
visited with imprisonment or adult probation; there should be a penalty
for sending messenger boys under twenty-one to a disorderly house or an
unlicensed saloon; the law against prostitutes in saloons, against
wine-rooms and stalls in saloons, against communication between saloons
and brothels, against dancing in saloons--should be strictly enforced;
the police who enforce these laws should be carefully watched, grafters
amongst them should be discharged; complaints should be investigated at
once by a man stationed outside the district; the pressure of publicity
should be brought against the brewers to prevent them from doing business
with saloons that violate the law; the Retail Liquor Association should
discipline law-breaking saloon-keepers: licenses should be permanently
revoked for violations; no women should be allowed in a saloon without a
male escort; no professional or paid escorts should be permitted; no
soliciting should be allowed in saloons; no immoral or vulgar dances
should be permitted in saloons; no intoxicating liquor should be allowed
at any public dance; there should be a municipal detention home for
women, with probation officers; police inspectors who fail to report
law-violations should be dismissed; assignation houses should be
suppressed as soon as they are reported; there should be a "special
morals police squad"; recommendation IX "to the Police" says they "should
wage a relentless warfare against houses of prostitution, immoral flats,
assignation rooms, call houses, and disorderly saloons in all sections of
the city"; parks and playgrounds should be more thoroughly policed;
dancing pavilions should exclude professional prostitutes; soliciting in
parks should be suppressed; parks should be lighted with a search-light;
there should be no seats in the shadows....

To perform that staggering list of things that "should" be done you
find--what?--the police power, federal, state, municipal. Note how vague
and general are the chance constructive suggestions; how precise and
definite the taboos. Surely I am not misstating its position when I say
that forcible suppression was the creed of this Commission. Nor is there
any need of insisting again that the ultimate ideal of annihilating
prostitution has nothing to expect from the concrete proposals that were
made. The millennial goal was one thing; the immediate method quite
another. For ideals, a pious phrase; in practice, the police.

Are we not told that "if the citizens cannot depend upon the men
appointed to protect their property, and to maintain order, then chaos
and disorganization resulting in vice and crime must follow?" Yet of all
the reeds that civilization leans upon, surely the police is the
frailest. Anyone who has had the smallest experience of municipal
politics knows that the corruption of the police is directly
proportionate to the severity of the taboos it is asked to enforce. Tom
Johnson saw this as Mayor of Cleveland; he knew that strict law
enforcement against saloons, brothels, and gambling houses would not stop
vice, but would corrupt the police. I recommend the recent spectacle in
New York where the most sensational raider of gambling houses has turned
out to be in crooked alliance with the gamblers. And I suggest as a hint
that the Commission's recommendations enforced for one year will lay the
foundation of an organized system of blackmail and "protection," secrecy
and underground chicanery, the like of which Chicago has not yet seen.
But the Commission need only have read its own report, have studied its
own cases. There is an illuminating chapter on "The Social Evil and the
Police." In the summary, the Commission says that "officers on the beat
are bold and open in their neglect of duty, drinking in saloons while in
uniform, ignoring the solicitations by prostitutes in rear rooms and on
the streets, selling tickets at dances frequented by professional and
semi-professional prostitutes; protecting 'cadets,' prostitutes and
saloon-keepers of disorderly places."

Some suspicion that the police could not carry the burden of suppressing
the social evil must have dawned on the Commission.

It felt the need of re-enforcement. Hence the special morals police
squad; hence the investigation of the police of one district by the
police from another; and hence, in type as black as that of the ideal
itself and directly beneath it, the call for "the appointment of a morals
commission" and "the establishment of a morals court." Now this
commission consists of the Health Officer, a physician and three citizens
who serve without pay. It is appointed by the Mayor and approved by the
City Council. Its business is to prosecute vice and to help enforce the

Just what would happen if the Morals Commission didn't prosecute hard
enough I do not know. Conceivably the Governor might be induced to
appoint a Commission on Moral Commissions in Cities. But why the men and
women who framed the report made this particular recommendation is an
interesting question. With federal, state, and municipal authorities in
existence, with courts, district attorneys, police all operating, they
create another arm of prosecution. Possibly they were somewhat
disillusioned about the present instruments of the taboo; perhaps
they imagined that a new broom would sweep clean. But I suspect an
inner reason. The Commission may have imagined that the four
appointees--unpaid--would be four men like themselves--who knows, perhaps
four men from among themselves? The whole tenor of their thinking is to
set somebody watching everybody and somebody else to watching him. What
is more natural than that they should be the Ultimate Watchers?

Spying, informing, constant investigations of everybody and everything
must become the rule where there is a forcible attempt to moralize
society from the top. Nobody's heart is in the work very long; nobody's
but those fanatical and morbid guardians of morality who make it a life's
specialty. The aroused public opinion which the Commission asks for
cannot be held if all it has to fix upon is an elaborate series of
taboos. Sensational disclosures will often make the public flare up
spasmodically; but the mass of men is soon bored by intricate rules and
tangles of red tape; the "crusade" is looked upon as a melodrama of real
life--interesting, but easily forgotten.

The method proposed ignores the human source: by a kind of poetic justice
the great crowd of men will ignore the method. If you want to impose a
taboo upon a whole community, you must do it autocratically, you must
make it part of the prevailing superstitions. You must never let it reach
any public analysis. For it will fail, it will receive only a shallow
support from what we call an "enlightened public opinion." That opinion
is largely determined by the real impulses of men; and genuine character
rejects or at least rebels against foreign, unnatural impositions. This
is one of the great virtues of democracy--that it makes alien laws more
and more difficult to enforce. The tyrant can use the taboo a thousand
times more effectively than the citizens of a republic. When he speaks,
it is with a prestige that dumbs questioning and makes obedience a habit.
Let that infallibility come to be doubted, as in Russia to-day, and
natural impulses reassert themselves, the great impositions begin to
weaken. The methods of the Chicago Commission would require a tyranny, a
powerful, centralized sovereignty which could command with majesty and
silence the rebel. In our shirt-sleeved republic no such power exists.
The strongest force we have is that of organized money, and that
sovereignty is too closely connected with the social evil, too dependent
upon it in a hundred different ways, to undertake the task of

For the purposes of the Commission democracy is an inefficient weapon.
Nothing but disappointment is in store for men who expect a people to
outrage its own character. A large part of the unfaith in democracy, of
the desire to ignore "the mob," limit the franchise, and confine power to
the few is the result of an unsuccessful attempt to make republics act
like old-fashioned monarchies. Almost every "crusade" leaves behind it a
trail of yearning royalists; many "good-government" clubs are little
would-be oligarchies.

When the mass of men emerged from slavish obedience and made democracy
inevitable, the taboo entered upon its final illness. For the more
self-governing a people becomes, the less possible it is to prescribe
external restrictions. The gap between want and ought, between nature and
ideals cannot be maintained. The only practical ideals in a democracy are
a fine expression of natural wants. This happens to be a thoroughly Greek
attitude. But I learned it first from the Bowery. Chuck Connors is
reported to have said that "a gentleman is a bloke as can do whatever he
wants to do." If Chuck said that, he went straight to the heart of that
democratic morality on which a new statecraft must ultimately rest. His
gentleman is not the battlefield of wants and prohibitions; in him
impulses flow freely through beneficent channels.

The same notion lies imbedded in the phrase: "government must serve the
people." That means a good deal more than that elected officials must
rule for the majority. For the majority in these semi-democratic times is
often as not a cloak for the ruling oligarchy. Representatives who
"serve" some majorities may in reality order the nation about. To serve
the people means to provide it with services--with clean streets and
water, with education, with opportunity, with beneficent channels for its
desires, with moral equivalents for evil. The task is turned from the
damming and restricting of wants to the creation of fine environments for
them. And the environment of an impulse extends all the way from the
human body, through family life and education out into the streets of the

Had the Commission worked along democratic lines, we should have had
recommendations about the hygiene and early training of children, their
education, the houses they live in and the streets in which they play;
changes would have been suggested in the industrial conditions they face;
plans would have been drawn for recreation; hints would have been
collected for transmuting the sex impulse into art, into social endeavor,
into religion. That is the constructive approach to the problem. I note
that the Commission calls upon the churches for help. Its obvious
intention was to down sex with religion. What was not realized, it seems,
is that this very sex impulse, so largely degraded into vice, is the
dynamic force in religious feeling. One need not call in the testimony of
the psychologists, the students of religion, the æstheticians or even of
Plato, who in the "Symposium" traced out the hierarchy of love from the
body to the "whole sea of beauty." Jane Addams in Chicago has tested the
truth by her own wide experience, and she has written what the Commission
might easily have read,--that "in failing to diffuse and utilize this
fundamental instinct of sex through the imagination, we not only
inadvertently foster vice and enervation, but we throw away one of the
most precious implements for ministering to life's highest needs. There
is no doubt that this ill-adjusted function consumes quite unnecessarily
vast stores of vital energy, even when we contemplate it in its immature
manifestations which are infinitely more wholesome than the dumb swamping
process. All high school boys and girls know the difference between the
concentration and the diffusion of this impulse, although they would be
hopelessly bewildered by the use of terms. They will declare one of their
companions to be 'in love' if his fancy is occupied by the image of a
single person about whom all the new-found values gather, and without
whom his solitude is an eternal melancholy. But if the stimulus does not
appear as a definite image, and the values evoked are dispensed over the
world, the young person suddenly seems to have discovered a beauty and
significance in many things--he responds to poetry, he becomes a lover of
nature, he is filled with religious devotion or with philanthropic zeal.
Experience, with young people, easily illustrates the possibility and
value of diffusion."

It is then not only impossible to confine sex to mere reproduction; it
would be a stupid denial of the finest values of civilization. Having
seen that the impulse is a necessary part of character, we must not hold
to it grudgingly as a necessary evil. It is, on the contrary, the very
source of good. Whoever has visited Hull House can see for himself the
earnest effort Miss Addams has made to treat sex with dignity and joy.
For Hull House differs from most settlements in that it is full of
pictures, of color, and of curios. The atmosphere is light; you feel none
of that moral oppression which hangs over the usual settlement as over a
gathering of missionaries. Miss Addams has not only made Hull House a
beautiful place; she has stocked it with curious and interesting objects.
The theater, the museum, the crafts and the arts, games and dances--they
are some of those "other methods of expression which lust can seek." It
is no accident that Hull House is the most successful settlement in

Yet who does not feel its isolation in that brutal city? A little Athens
in a vast barbarism--you wonder how much of Chicago Hull House can
civilize. As you walk those grim streets and look into the stifling
houses, or picture the relentless stockyards, the conviction that vice
and its misery cannot be transmuted by policemen and Morals Commissions,
the feeling that spying and inspecting and prosecuting will not drain the
marsh becomes a certainty. You want to shout at the forcible moralizer:
"so long as you acquiesce in the degradation of your city, so long as
work remains nothing but ill-paid drudgery and every instinct of joy is
mocked by dirt and cheapness and brutality,--just so long will your
efforts be fruitless, yes even though you raid and prosecute, even though
you make Comstock the Czar of Chicago."

But Hull House cannot remake Chicago. A few hundred lives can be changed,
and for the rest it is a guide to the imagination. Like all utopias, it
cannot succeed, but it may point the way to success. If Hull House is
unable to civilize Chicago, it at least shows Chicago and America what a
civilization might be like. Friendly, where our cities are friendless,
beautiful, where they are ugly; sociable and open, where our daily life
is furtive; work a craft; art a participation--it is in miniature the
goal of statesmanship. If Chicago were like Hull House, we say to
ourselves, then vice would be no problem--it would dwindle, what was left
would be the Falstaff in us all, and only a spiritual anemia could worry
over that jolly and redeeming coarseness.

What stands between Chicago and civilization? No one can doubt that to
abolish prostitution means to abolish the slum and the dirty alley, to
stop overwork, underpay, the sweating and the torturing monotony of
business, to breathe a new life into education, ventilate society with
frankness, and fill life with play and art, with games, with passions
which hold and suffuse the imagination.

It is a revolutionary task, and like all real revolutions it will not be
done in a day or a decade because someone orders it to be done. A change
in the whole quality of life is something that neither the policeman's
club nor an insurrectionary raid can achieve. If you want a revolution
that shall really matter in human life--and what sane man can help
desiring it?--you must look to the infinitely complicated results of the
dynamic movements in society. These revolutions require a rare
combination of personal audacity and social patience. The best agents of
such a revolution are men who are bold in their plans because they
realize how deep and enormous is the task.

Many people have sought an analogy in our Civil War. They have said that
as "black slavery" went, so must "white slavery." In the various
agitations of vigilance committees and alliances for the suppression of
the traffic they profess to see continued a work which the abolitionists

In A. M. Simons' brilliant book on "Social Forces in American History"
much help can be found. For example: "Massachusetts abolished slavery at
an early date, and we have it on the authority of John Adams
that:--'argument might have had some weight in the abolition of slavery
in Massachusetts, but the real cause was the multiplication of laboring
white people, who would not longer suffer the rich to employ these sable
rivals so much to their injury.'" No one to-day doubts that white labor
in the North and slavery in the South were not due to the moral
superiority of the North. Yet just in the North we find the abolition
sentiment strongest. That the Civil War was not a clash of good men and
bad men is admitted by every reputable historian. The war did not come
when moral fervor had risen to the exploding point; the moral fervor came
rather when the economic interests of the South collided with those of
the North. That the abolitionists clarified the economic interests of the
North and gave them an ideal sanction is true enough. But the fact
remains that by 1860 some of the aspirations of Phillips and Garrison had
become the economic destiny of this country.

You can have a Hull House established by private initiative and
maintained by individual genius, just as you had planters who freed their
slaves or as you have employers to-day who humanize their factories. But
the fine example is not readily imitated when industrial forces fight
against it. So even if the Commission had drawn splendid plans for
housing, work conditions, education, and play it would have done only
part of the task of statesmanship. We should then know what to do, but
not how to get it done.

An ideal suspended in a vacuum is ineffective: it must point a dynamic
current. Only then does it gather power, only then does it enter into
life. That forces exist to-day which carry with them solutions is evident
to anyone who has watched the labor movement and the woman's awakening.
Even the interests of business give power to the cause. The discovery of
manufacturers that degradation spoils industrial efficiency must not be
cast aside by the radical because the motive is larger profits. The
discovery, whatever the motive, will inevitably humanize industry a good
deal. For it happens that in this case the interests of capitalism and of
humanity coincide. A propaganda like the single-tax will undoubtedly find
increasing support among business men. They see in it a relief from the
burden of rent imposed by that older tyrant--the landlord. But the
taxation of unimproved property happens at the same time to be a splendid
weapon against the slum.

Only when the abolition of "white slavery" becomes part of the social
currents of the time will it bear any interesting analogy to the
so-called freeing of the slaves. Even then for many enthusiasts the
comparison is misleading. They are likely to regard the Emancipation
Proclamation as the end of chattel slavery. It wasn't. That historic
document broke a legal bond but not a social one. The process of negro
emancipation is infinitely slower and it is not accomplished yet.
Likewise no statute can end "white slavery." Only vast and complicated
changes in the whole texture of social life will achieve such an end. If
by some magic every taboo of the commission could be enforced the
abolition of sex slavery would not have come one step nearer to reality.
Cities and factories, schools and homes, theaters and games, manners and
thought will have to be transformed before sex can find a better
expression. Living forces, not statutes or clubs, must work that change.
The power of emancipation is in the social movements which alone can
effect any deep reform in a nation. So it is and has been with the negro.
I do not think the Abolitionists saw facts truly when they disbanded
their organization a few years after the civil war. They found too much
comfort in a change of legal status. Profound economic forces brought
about the beginning of the end of chattel slavery. But the reality of
freedom was not achieved by proclamation. For that the revolution had to
go on: the industrial life of the nation had to change its character,
social customs had to be replaced, the whole outlook of men had to be
transformed. And whether it is negro slavery or a vicious sexual bondage,
the actual advance comes from substitutions injected into society by
dynamic social forces.

I do not wish to press the analogy or over-emphasize the particular
problems. I am not engaged in drawing up the plans for a reconstruction
or in telling just what should be done. Only the co-operation of expert
minds can do that. The place for a special propaganda is elsewhere. If
these essays succeed in suggesting a method of looking at politics, if
they draw attention to what is real in social reforms and make somewhat
more evident the traps and the blind-alleys of an uncritical approach,
they will have done their work. That the report of the Chicago Vice
Commission figures so prominently in this chapter is not due to any
preoccupation with Chicago, the Commission or with vice. It is a text and
nothing else. The report happens to embody what I conceive to be most of
the faults of a political method now decadent. Its failure to put human
impulses at the center of thought produced remedies valueless to human
nature; its false interest in a particular expression of
sex--vice--caused it to taboo the civilizing power of sex; its inability
to see that wants require fine satisfactions and not prohibitions drove
it into an undemocratic tyranny; its blindness to the social forces of
our age shut off the motive power for any reform.

The Commission's method was poor, not its intentions. It was an average
body of American citizens aroused to action by an obvious evil. But
something slipped in to falsify vision. It was, I believe, an array of
idols disguised as ideals. They are typical American idols, and they
deserve some study.



     The Commission "has kept constantly in mind that to offer a
     contribution of any value such an offering must be, first, moral;
     second, reasonable and practical; third, possible under the
     Constitutional powers of our Courts; fourth, that which will square
     with the public conscience of the American people."--The Vice
     Commission of Chicago--Introduction to Report on the Social Evil.

Having adjusted such spectacles the Commission proceeded to look at "this
curse which is more blasting than any plague or epidemic," at an evil
"which spells only ruin to the race." In dealing with what it regards as
the greatest calamity in the world, a calamity as old as civilization,
the Commission lays it down beforehand that the remedy must be "moral,"
constitutional, and satisfactory to the public conscience. I wonder in
all seriousness what the Commission would have done had it discovered a
genuine cure for prostitution which happened, let us say, to conflict
with the constitutional powers of our courts. I wonder how the Commission
would have acted if a humble following of the facts had led them to a
conviction out of tune with the existing public conscience of America.
Such a conflict is not only possible; it is highly probable. When you
come to think of it, the conflict appears a certainty. For the
Constitution is a legal expression of the conditions under which
prostitution has flourished; the social evil is rooted in institutions
and manners which have promoted it, in property relations and business
practice which have gathered about them a halo of reason and
practicality, of morality and conscience. Any change so vast as the
abolition of vice is of necessity a change in morals, practice, law and

A scientist who began an investigation by saying that his results must be
moral or constitutional would be a joke. We have had scientists like
that, men who insisted that research must confirm the Biblical theory of
creation. We have had economists who set out with the preconceived idea
of justifying the factory system. The world has recently begun to see
through this kind of intellectual fraud. If a doctor should appear who
offered a cure for tuberculosis on the ground that it was justified by
the Bible and that it conformed to the opinions of that great mass of the
American people who believe that fresh air is the devil, we should
promptly lock up that doctor as a dangerous quack. When the negroes of
Kansas were said to be taking pink pills to guard themselves against
Halley's Comet, they were doing something which appeared to them as
eminently practical and entirely reasonable. Not long ago we read of the
savage way in which a leper was treated out West; his leprosy was not
regarded as a disease, but as the curse of God, and, if I remember
correctly, the Bible was quoted in court as an authority on leprosy. The
treatment seemed entirely moral and squared very well with the conscience
of that community.

I have heard reputable physicians condemn a certain method of
psychotherapy because it was "immoral." A woman once told me that she had
let her son grow up ignorant of his sexual life because "a mother should
never mention anything 'embarrassing' to her child." Many of us are still
blushing for the way America treated Gorki when it found that Russian
morals did not square with the public conscience of America. And the time
is not yet passed when we punish the offspring of illicit love, and visit
vengeance unto the third and fourth generations. One reads in the report
of the Vice Commission that many public hospitals in Chicago refuse to
care for venereal diseases. The examples are endless. They run from the
absurd to the monstrous. But always the source is the same. Idols are set
up to which all the living must bow; we decide beforehand that things
must fit a few preconceived ideas. And when they don't, which is most of
the time, we deny truth, falsify facts, and prefer the coddling of our
theory to any deeper understanding of the real problem before us.

It seems as if a theory were never so active as when the reality behind
it has disappeared. The empty name, the ghostly phrase, exercise an
authority that is appalling. When you think of the blood that has been
shed in the name of Jesus, when you think of the Holy Roman Empire,
"neither holy nor Roman nor imperial," of the constitutional phrases that
cloak all sorts of thievery, of the common law precedents that tyrannize
over us, history begins to look almost like the struggle of man to
emancipate himself from phrase-worship. The devil can quote Scripture,
and law, and morality and reason and practicality. The devil can use the
public conscience of his time. He does in wars, in racial and religious
persecutions; he did in the Spain of the Inquisition; he does in the
American lynching.

For there is nothing so bad but it can masquerade as moral. Conquerors
have gone forth with the blessing of popes; a nation invokes its God
before beginning a campaign of murder, rape and pillage. The ruthless
exploitation of India becomes the civilizing fulfilment of the "white
man's burden"; not infrequently the missionary, drummer, and prospector
are embodied in one man. In the nineteenth century church, press and
university devoted no inconsiderable part of their time to proving the
high moral and scientific justice of child labor and human sweating. It
is a matter of record that chattel slavery in this country was deduced
from Biblical injunction, that the universities furnished brains for its
defense. Surely Bernard Shaw was not describing the Englishman alone when
he said in "The Man of Destiny" that "... you will never find an
Englishman in the wrong. He does everything on principle. He fights you
on patriotic principles; he robs you on business principles...."

Liberty, equality, fraternity--what a grotesque career those words have
had. Almost every attempt to mitigate the hardships of industrialism has
had to deal with the bogey of liberty. Labor organization, factory laws,
health regulations are still fought as infringements of liberty. And in
the name of equality what fantasies of taxation have we not woven? what
travesties of justice set up? "The law in its majestic equality," writes
Anatole France, "forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep in the
streets and to steal bread." Fraternity becomes the hypocritical slogan
by which we refuse to enact what is called "class legislation"--a policy
which in theory denies the existence of classes, in practice legislates
in favor of the rich. The laws which go unchallenged are laws friendly to
business; class legislation means working-class legislation.

You have to go among lawyers to see this idolatrous process in its most
perfect form. When a judge sets out to "interpret" the Constitution, what
is it that he does? He takes a sentence written by a group of men more
than a hundred years ago. That sentence expressed their policy about
certain conditions which they had to deal with. In it was summed up what
they intended to do about the problems they saw. That is all the sentence
means. But in the course of a century new problems arise--problems the
Fathers could no more have foreseen than we can foresee the problems of
the year two thousand. Yet that sentence which contained their wisdom
about particular events has acquired an emotional force which persists
long after the events have passed away. Legends gather about the men who
wrote it: those legends are absorbed by us almost with our mothers' milk.
We never again read that sentence straight. It has a gravity out of all
proportion to its use, and we call it a fundamental principle of
government. Whatever we want to do is hallowed and justified, if it can
be made to appear as a deduction from that sentence. To put new wine in
old bottles is one of the aims of legal casuistry.

Reformers practice it. You hear it said that the initiative and
referendum are a return to the New England town meeting. That is supposed
to be an argument for direct legislation. But surely the analogy is
superficial; the difference profound. The infinitely greater complexity
of legislation to-day, the vast confusion in the aims of the voting
population, produce a difference of so great a degree that it amounts to
a difference in kind. The naturalist may classify the dog and the fox,
the house-cat and the tiger together for certain purposes. The historian
of political forms may see in the town meeting a forerunner of direct
legislation. But no housewife dare classify the cat and the tiger, the
dog and the fox, as the same kind of animal. And no statesman can argue
the virtues of the referendum from the successes of the town meeting.

But the propagandists do it nevertheless, and their propaganda thrives
upon it. The reason is simple. The town meeting is an obviously
respectable institution, glorified by all the reverence men give to the
dead. It has acquired the seal of an admired past, and any proposal that
can borrow that seal can borrow that reverence too. A name trails behind
it an army of associations. That army will fight in any cause that bears
the name. So the reformers of California, the Lorimerites of Chicago, and
the Barnes Republicans of Albany all use the name of Lincoln for their
political associations. In the struggle that preceded the Republican
Convention of 1912 it was rumored that the Taft reactionaries would put
forward Lincoln's son as chairman of the convention in order to
counteract Roosevelt's claim that he stood in Lincoln's shoes.

Casuistry is nothing but the injection of your own meaning into an old
name. At school when the teacher asked us whether we had studied the
lesson, the invariable answer was Yes. We had indeed stared at the page
for a few minutes, and that could be called studying. Sometimes the
head-master would break into the room just in time to see the conclusion
of a scuffle. Jimmy's clothes are white with dust. "Johnny, did you throw
chalk at Jimmy?" "No, sir," says Johnny, and then under his breath to
placate God's penchant for truth, "I threw the chalk-eraser." Once in
Portland, Maine, I ordered iced tea at an hotel. The waitress brought me
a glass of yellowish liquid with a two-inch collar of foam at the top. No
tea I had ever seen outside of a prohibition state looked like that.
Though it was tea, it might have been beer. Perhaps if I had smiled or
winked in ordering the tea, it would have been beer. The two looked alike
in Portland; they were interchangeable. You could drink tea and fool
yourself into thinking it was beer. You could drink beer and pass for a

It is rare, I think, that the fraud is so genial and so deliberate. The
openness cleanses it. Advertising, for example, would be nothing but
gigantic and systematic lying if almost everybody didn't know that it
was. Yet it runs into the sinister all the time. The pure food agitation
is largely an effort to make the label and the contents tell the same
story. It was noteworthy that, following the discovery of salvarsan or
"606" by Dr. Ehrlich, the quack doctors began to call their treatments
"606." But the deliberate casuistry of lawyers, quacks, or politicians is
not so difficult to deal with. The very deliberation makes it easier to
detect, for it is generally awkward. What one man can consciously devise,
other men can understand.

But unconscious casuistry deceives us all. No one escapes it entirely. A
wealth of evidence could be adduced to support this from the studies of
dreams and fantasies made by the Freudian school of psychologists. They
have shown how constantly the mind cloaks a deep meaning in a shallow
incident--how the superficial is all the time being shoved into the light
of consciousness in order to conceal a buried intention; how inveterate
is our use of symbols.

Between ourselves and our real natures we interpose that wax figure of
idealizations and selections which we call our character. We extend this
into all our thinking. Between us and the realities of social life we
build up a mass of generalizations, abstract ideas, ancient glories, and
personal wishes. They simplify and soften experience. It is so much
easier to talk of poverty than to think of the poor, to argue the rights
of capital than to see its results. Pretty soon we come to think of the
theories and abstract ideas as things in themselves. We worry about their
fate and forget their original content.

For words, theories, symbols, slogans, abstractions of all kinds are
nothing but the porous vessels into which life flows, is contained for a
time, and then passes through. But our reverence clings to the vessels.
The old meaning may have disappeared, a new one come in--no matter, we
try to believe there has been no change. And when life's expansion
demands some new container, nothing is more difficult than the
realization that the old vessels cannot be stretched to the present need.

It is interesting to notice how in the very act of analyzing it I have
fallen into this curious and ancient habit. My point is that the metaphor
is taken for the reality: I have used at least six metaphors to state it.
Abstractions are not cloaks, nor wax figures, nor walls, nor vessels, and
life doesn't flow like water. What they really are you and I know
inwardly by using abstractions and living our lives. But once I attempt
to give that inwardness expression, I must use the only weapons I
have--abstractions, theories, phrases. By an effort of the sympathetic
imagination you can revive within yourself something of my inward sense.
As I have had to abstract from life in order to communicate, so you are
compelled to animate my abstractions, in order to understand.

I know of no other method of communication between two people. Language
is always grossly inadequate. It is inadequate if the listener is merely
passive, if he falls into the mistake of the literal-minded who expect
words to contain a precise image of reality. They never do. All language
can achieve is to act as a guidepost to the imagination enabling the
reader to recreate the author's insight. The artist does that: he
controls his medium so that we come most readily to the heart of his
intention. In the lyric poet the control is often so delicate that the
hearer lives over again the finely shaded mood of the poet. Take the
words of a lyric for what they say, and they say nothing most of the
time. And that is true of philosophers. You must penetrate the ponderous
vocabulary, the professional cant to the insight beneath or you scoff at
the mountain ranges of words and phrases. It is this that Bergson means
when he tells us that a philosopher's intuition always outlasts his
system. Unless you get at that you remain forever foreign to the thinker.

That too is why debating is such a wretched amusement and most
partisanship, most controversy, so degrading. The trick here is to argue
from the opponent's language, never from his insight. You take him
literally, you pick up his sentences, and you show what nonsense they
are. You do not try to weigh what you see against what he sees; you
contrast what you see with what he says. So debating becomes a way of
confirming your own prejudices; it is never, never in any debate I have
suffered through, a search for understanding from the angles of two
differing insights.

And, of course, in those more sinister forms of debating, court trials,
where the stakes are so much bigger, the skill of a successful lawyer is
to make the atmosphere as opaque as possible to the other lawyer's
contention. Men have been hanged as a result. How often in a political
campaign does a candidate suggest that behind the platforms and speeches
of his opponents there might be some new and valuable understanding of
the country's need?

The fact is that we argue and quarrel an enormous lot over words. Our
prevailing habit is to think about phrases, "ideals," theories, not about
the realities they express. In controversy we do not try to find our
opponent's meaning: we examine his vocabulary. And in our own efforts to
shape policies we do not seek out what is worth doing: we seek out what
will pass for moral, practical, popular or constitutional.

In this the Vice Commission reflected our national habits. For those
earnest men and women in Chicago did not set out to find a way of
abolishing prostitution; they set out to find a way that would conform to
four idols they worshiped. The only cure for prostitution might prove to
be "immoral," "impractical," unconstitutional, and unpopular. I suspect
that it is. But the honest thing to do would have been to look for that
cure without preconceived notions. Having found it, the Commission could
then have said to the public: "This is what will cure the social evil. It
means these changes in industry, sex relations, law and public opinion.
If you think it is worth the cost you can begin to deal with the problem.
If you don't, then confess that you will not abolish prostitution, and
turn your compassion to softening its effects."

That would have left the issues clear and wholesome. But the procedure of
the Commission is a blow to honest thinking. Its conclusions may "square
with the public conscience of the American people" but they will not
square with the intellectual conscience of anybody. To tell you at the
top of the page that absolute annihilation of prostitution is the
ultimate ideal and twenty lines further on that the method must be
constitutional is nothing less than an insult to the intelligence.
Calf-worship was never more idolatrous than this. Truth would have slept
more comfortably in Procrustes' bed.

Let no one imagine that I take the four preconceived ideas of the
Commission too seriously. On the first reading of the report they aroused
no more interest in me than the ordinary lip-honor we all do to
conventionality--I had heard of the great fearlessness of this report,
and I supposed that this bending of the knee was nothing but the innocent
hypocrisy of the reformer who wants to make his proposal not too
shocking. But it was a mistake. Those four idols really dominated the
minds of the Commission, and without them the report cannot be
understood. They are typical idols of the American people. This report
offers an opportunity to see the concrete results of worshiping them.

A valuable contribution, then, must be _moral_. There is no doubt that
the Commission means sexually moral. We Americans always use the word in
that limited sense. If you say that Jones is a moral man you mean that he
is faithful to his wife. He may support her by selling pink pills; he is
nevertheless moral if he is monogamous. The average American rarely
speaks of industrial piracy as immoral. He may condemn it, but not with
that word. If he extends the meaning of immoral at all, it is to the
vices most closely allied to sex--drink and gambling.

Now sexual morality is pretty clearly defined for the Commission. As we
have seen, it means that sex must be confined to procreation by a
healthy, intelligent and strictly monogamous couple. All other sexual
expression would come under the ban of disapproval. I am sure I do the
Commission no injustice. Now this limited conception of sex has had a
disastrous effect: it has forced the Commission to ignore the sexual
impulse in discussing a sexual problem. Any modification of the
relationship of men and women was immediately put out of consideration.
Such suggestions as Forel, Ellen Key, or Havelock Ellis make could, of
course, not even get a hearing.

With this moral ideal in mind, not only vice, but sex itself, becomes an
evil thing. Hence the hysterical and minute application of the taboo
wherever sex shows itself. Barred from any reform which would reabsorb
the impulse into civilized life, the Commissioners had no other course
but to hunt it, as an outlaw. And in doing this they were compelled to
discard the precious values of art, religion and social life of which
this superfluous energy is the creator. Driven to think of it as bad,
except for certain particular functions, they could, of course, not see
its possibilities. Hence the poverty of their suggestions along
educational and artistic lines.

A valuable contribution, we are told, must be _reasonable_ and
_practical_. Here is a case where words cannot be taken literally.
"Reasonable" in America certainly never even pretended to mean in
accordance with a rational ideal, and "practical,"--well one thinks of
"practical politics," "practical business men," and "unpractical
reformers." Boiled down these words amount to something like this: the
proposals must not be new or startling; must not involve any radical
disturbance of any respectable person's selfishness; must not call forth
any great opposition; must look definite and immediate; must be tangible
like a raid, or a jail, or the paper of an ordinance, or a policeman's
club. Above all a "reasonable and practical" proposal must not require
any imaginative patience. The actual proposals have all these qualities:
if they are "reasonable and practical" then we know by a good
demonstration what these terms meant to that average body of citizens.

To see that is to see exposed an important facet of the American
temperament. Our dislike of "talk"; the frantic desire to "do something"
without inquiring whether it is worth doing; the dollar standard; the
unwillingness to cast any bread upon the waters; our preference for a
sparrow in the hand to a forest of song-birds; the naïve inability to
understand the inner satisfactions of bankrupt poets and the
unworldliness of eccentric thinkers; success-mania; philistinism--they
are pieces of the same cloth. They come from failure or unwillingness to
project the mind beyond the daily routine of things, to play over the
whole horizon of possibilities, and to recognize that all is not said
when we have spoken. In those words "reasonable and practical" is the
Chinese Wall of America, that narrow boundary which contracts our vision
to the moment, cuts us off from the culture of the world, and makes us
such provincial, unimaginative blunderers over our own problems. Fixation
upon the immediate has made a rich country poor in leisure, has in a land
meant for liberal living incited an insane struggle for existence. One
suspects at times that our national cult of optimism is no real feeling
that the world is good, but a fear that pessimism will produce panics.

How this fascination of the obvious has balked the work of the Commission
I need not elaborate. That the long process of civilizing sex received
perfunctory attention; that the imaginative value of sex was lost in a
dogma; that the implied changes in social life were dodged--all that has
been pointed out. It was the inability to rise above the immediate that
makes the report read as if the policeman were the only agent of

For where in the report is any thorough discussion by sociologists of the
relations of business and marriage to vice? Why is there no testimony by
psychologists to show how sex can be affected by environment, by
educators to show how it can be trained, by industrial experts to show
how monotony and fatigue affect it? Where are the detailed proposals by
specialists, for decent housing and working conditions, for educational
reform, for play facilities? The Commission wasn't afraid of details:
didn't it recommend searchlights in the parks as a weapon against vice?
Why then isn't there a budget, a large, comprehensive budget, precise and
informing, in which provision is made for beginning to civilize Chicago?
That wouldn't have been "reasonable and practical," I presume, for it
would have cost millions and millions of dollars. And where would the
money have come from? Were the single-taxers, the Socialists consulted?
But their proposals would require big changes in property interests, and
would that be "reasonable and practical"? Evidently not: it is more
reasonable and practical to keep park benches out of the shadows and to
plague unescorted prostitutes.

And where are the open questions: the issues that everybody should
consider, the problems that scientists should study? I see almost no
trace of them. Why are the sexual problems not even stated? Where are the
doubts that should have honored these investigations, the frank statement
of all the gaps in knowledge, and the obscurities in morals? Knowing
perfectly well that vice will not be repressed within a year or
prostitution absolutely annihilated in ten, it might, I should think,
have seemed more important that the issues be made clear and the thought
of the people fertilized than that the report should look very definite
and precise. There are all sorts of things we do not understand about
this problem. The opportunities for study which the Commissioners had
must have made these empty spaces evident. Why then were we not taken
into their confidence? Along what lines is investigation most needed? To
what problems, what issues, shall we give our attention? What is the
debatable ground in this territory? The Commission does not say, and I
for one, ascribe the silence to the American preoccupation with
immediate, definite, tangible interests.

Wells has written penetratingly about this in "The New Machiavelli." I
have called this fixation on the nearest object at hand an American
habit. Perhaps as Mr. Wells shows it is an English one too. But in this
country we have a philosophy to express it--the philosophy of the
Reasonable and the Practical, and so I do not hesitate to import Mr.
Wells's observations: "It has been the chronic mistake of statecraft and
all organizing spirits to attempt immediately to scheme and arrange and
achieve. Priests, schools of thought, political schemers, leaders of men,
have always slipped into the error of assuming that they can think out
the whole--or at any rate completely think out definite parts--of the
purpose and future of man, clearly and finally; they have set themselves
to legislate and construct on that assumption, and, experiencing the
perplexing obduracy and evasions of reality, they have taken to dogma,
persecution, training, pruning, secretive education; and all the
stupidities of self-sufficient energy. In the passion of their good
intentions they have not hesitated to conceal facts, suppress thought,
crush disturbing initiatives and apparently detrimental desires. And so
it is blunderingly and wastefully, destroying with the making, that any
extension of social organization is at present achieved. Directly,
however, this idea of an emancipation from immediacy is grasped, directly
the dominating importance of this critical, less personal, mental
hinterland in the individual and of the collective mind in the race is
understood, the whole problem of the statesman and his attitude toward
politics gains a new significance, and becomes accessible to a new series
of solutions...."

Let no one suppose that the unwillingness to cultivate what Mr. Wells
calls the "mental hinterland" is a vice peculiar to the business man. The
colleges submit to it whenever they concentrate their attention on the
details of the student's vocation before they have built up some cultural
background. The whole drift towards industrial training in schools has
the germs of disaster within it--a preoccupation with the technique of a
career. I am not a lover of the "cultural" activities of our schools and
colleges, still less am I a lover of shallow specialists. The
unquestioned need for experts in politics is full of the very real danger
that detailed preparation may give us a bureaucracy--a government by men
divorced from human tradition. The churches submit to the demand for
immediacy with great alacrity. Look at the so-called "liberal" churches.
Reacting against an empty formalism they are tumbling over themselves to
prove how directly they touch daily life. You read glowing articles in
magazines about preachers who devote their time to housing reforms, milk
supplies, the purging of the civil service. If you lament the ugliness of
their churches, the poverty of the ritual, and the political absorption
of their sermons, you are told that the church must abandon forms and
serve the common life of men. There are many ways of serving everyday
needs,--turning churches into social reform organs and political rostra
is, it seems to me, an obvious but shallow way of performing that
service. When churches cease to paint the background of our lives, to
nourish a Weltanschaung, strengthen men's ultimate purposes and reaffirm
the deepest values of life, then churches have ceased to meet the needs
for which they exist. That "hinterland" affects daily life, and the
church which cannot get a leverage on it by any other method than
entering into immediate political controversy is simply a church that is
dead. It may be an admirable agent of reform, but it has ceased to be a

A large wing of the Socialist Party is the slave of obvious success. It
boasts that it has ceased to be "visionary" and has become "practical."
Votes, winning campaigns, putting through reform measures seem a great
achievement. It forgets the difference between voting the Socialist
ticket and understanding Socialism. The vote is the tangible thing, and
for that these Socialist politicians work. They get the votes, enough to
elect them to office. In the City of Schenectady that happened as a
result of the mayoralty campaign of 1911. I had an opportunity to observe
the results. A few Socialists were in office set to govern a city with no
Socialist "hinterland." It was a pathetic situation, for any reform
proposal had to pass the judgment of men and women who did not see life
as the officials did. On no important measure could the administration
expect popular understanding. What was the result? In crucial issues,
like taxation, the Socialists had to submit to the ideas,--the general
state of mind of the community. They had to reverse their own theories
and accept those that prevailed in that unconverted city. I wondered over
our helplessness, for I was during a period one of those officials. The
other members of the administration used to say at every opportunity that
we were fighting "The Beast" or "Special Privilege." But to me it always
seemed that we were like Peer Gynt struggling against the formless
Boyg--invisible yet everywhere--we were struggling with the unwatered
hinterland of the citizens of Schenectady. I understood then, I think,
what Wells meant when he said that he wanted "no longer to 'fix up,' as
people say, human affairs, but to devote his forces to the development of
that needed intellectual life without which all his shallow attempts at
fixing up are futile." For in the last analysis the practical and the
reasonable are little idols of clay that thwart our efforts.

The third requirement of a valuable contribution, says the Chicago
Commission, is the constitutional sanction. This idol carries its own
criticism with it. The worship of the constitution amounts, of course, to
saying that men exist for the sake of the constitution. The person who
holds fast to that idea is forever incapable of understanding either men
or constitutions. It is a prime way of making laws ridiculous; if you
want to cultivate _lèse-majesté_ in Germany get the Kaiser to proclaim
his divine origin; if you want to promote disrespect of the courts,
announce their infallibility.

But in this case, the Commission is not representative of the dominant
thought of our times. The vital part of the population has pretty well
emerged from any dumb acquiescence in constitutions. Theodore Roosevelt,
who reflects so much of America, has very definitely cast down this idol.
Now since he stands generally some twenty years behind the pioneer and
about six months ahead of the majority, we may rest assured that this
much-needed iconoclasm is in process of achievement.

Closely related to the constitution and just as decadent to-day are the
Sanctity of Private Property, Vested Rights, Competition the Life of
Trade, Prosperity (at any cost). Each one of these ideas was born of an
original need, served its historical function and survived beyond its
allotted time. Nowadays you still come across some of these ancient
notions, especially in courts, where they do no little damage in
perverting justice, but they are ghost-like and disreputable, gibbering
and largely helpless. He who is watching the ascendant ideas of American
life can afford to feel that the early maxims of capitalism are doomed.

But the habit of mind which would turn an instrument of life into an
immutable law of its existence--that habit is always with us. We may
outgrow our adoration of the Constitution or Private Property only to
establish some new totem pole. In the arts we call this inveterate
tendency classicalism. It is, of course, a habit by no means confined to
the arts. Politics, religion, science are subject to it,--in politics we
call it conservative, in religion orthodox, in science we describe it as
academic. Its manifestations are multiform but they have a common source.
An original creative impulse of the mind expresses itself in a certain
formula; posterity mistakes the formula for the impulse. A genius will
use his medium in a particular way because it serves his need; this way
becomes a fixed rule which the classicalist serves. It has been pointed
out that because the first steam trains were run on roads built for carts
and coaches, the railway gauge almost everywhere in the world became
fixed at four feet eight and one-half inches.

You might say that genius works inductively and finds a method; the
conservative works deductively from the method and defeats whatever
genius he may have. A friend of mine had written a very brilliant article
on a play which had puzzled New York. Some time later I was discussing
the article with another friend of a decidedly classicalist bent. "What
is it?" he protested, "it isn't criticism for it's half rhapsody; it
isn't rhapsody because it is analytical.... What is it? That's what I
want to know." "But isn't it fine, and worth having, and aren't you glad
it was written?" I pleaded. "Well, if I knew what it was...." And so the
argument ran for hours. Until he had subsumed the article under certain
categories he had come to accept, appreciation was impossible for him. I
have many arguments with my classicalist friend. This time it was about
George Moore's "Ave." I was trying to express my delight. "It isn't a
novel, or an essay, or a real confession--it's nothing," said he. His
well-ordered mind was compelled to throw out of doors any work for which
he had no carefully prepared pocket. I thought of Aristotle, who denied
the existence of a mule because it was neither a horse nor an ass.

Dramatic critics follow Aristotle in more ways than one. A play is
produced which fascinates an audience for weeks. It is published and read
all over the world. Then you are treated to endless discussions by the
critics trying to prove that "it is not a play." So-and-so-and-so
constitute a play, they affirm,--this thing doesn't meet the
requirements, so away with it. They forget that nobody would have had the
slightest idea what a play was if plays hadn't been written; that the
rules deduced from the plays that have already been written are no
eternal law for the plays that will be.

Classicalism and invention are irreconcilable enemies. Let it be
understood that I am not decrying the great nourishment which a living
tradition offers. The criticism I am making is of those who try to feed
upon the husks alone. Without the slightest paradox one may say that the
classicalist is most foreign to the classics. He does not put himself
within the creative impulses of the past: he is blinded by their
manifestations. It is perhaps no accident that two of the greatest
classical scholars in England--Gilbert Murray and Alfred Zimmern--are
political radicals. The man whom I call here the classicalist cannot
possibly be creative, for the essence of his creed is that there must be
nothing new under the sun.

The United States, you imagine, would of all nations be the freest from
classicalism. Settled as a great adventure and dedicated to an experiment
in republicanism, the tradition of the country is of extending
boundaries, obstacles overcome, and pioneering exploits in which a
wilderness was subdued to human uses. The very air of America would seem
to be a guarantee against formalism. You would think that self-government
finds its surest footing here--that real autonomy of the spirit which
makes human uses the goal of effort, denies all inhuman ideals, seeks out
what men want, and proceeds to create it. With such a history how could a
nation fail to see in its constitution anything but a tool of life, like
the axe, the spade or the plough?

The West has in a measure carried its freedom over into politics and
social life generally. Formalism sets in as you move east and south into
the older and more settled communities. There the pioneering impulse has
passed out of life into stupid history books, and the inevitable
classicalism, the fear of adventure, the superstition before social
invention, have reasserted themselves. If I may turn for a moment from
description to prophecy, it is to say that this equilibrium will not hold
for very long. There are signs that the West after achieving the reforms
which it needs to-day--reforms which will free its economic life from the
credit monopolies of the East, and give it a greater fluidity in the
marketing of its products--will follow the way of all agricultural
communities to a rural and placid conservatism. The spirit of the pioneer
does not survive forever: it is kept alive to-day, I believe, by certain
unnatural irritants which may be summed up as absentee ownership. The
West is suffering from foreignly owned railroads, power-resources, and an
alien credit control. But once it recaptures these essentials of its
economic life, once the "progressive" movement is victorious, I venture
to predict that the agricultural West will become the heart of American
complacency. The East, on the other hand, with its industrial problem
must go to far more revolutionary measures for a solution. And the East
is fertilized continually by European traditions: that stream of
immigration brings with it a thousand unforeseeable possibilities. The
great social adventure of America is no longer the conquest of the
wilderness but the absorption of fifty different peoples. To-day perhaps,
it is still predominantly a question for the East. But it means that
America is turning from the contrast between her courage and nature's
obstacles to a comparison of her civilization with Europe's. Immigration
more than anything else is drawing us into world problems. Many people
profess to see horrible dangers in the foreign invasion. Certainly no man
is sure of its conclusion. It may swamp us, it may, if we seize the
opportunity, mean the impregnation of our national life with a new

I have said that the West is still moved by the tapering impulse of the
pioneer, and I have ventured to predict that this would soon dwindle into
an agricultural toryism. That prediction may very easily be upset.
Far-reaching mechanical inventions already threaten to transform farming
into an industry. I refer to those applications of power to agriculture
which will inevitably divorce the farmer from the ownership of his tools.
An industrial revolution analogous to that in manufacture during the
nineteenth century is distinctly probable, and capitalistic agriculture
may soon cease to be a contradiction in terms. Like all inventions it
will disturb deeply the classicalist tendency, and this disturbance may
generate a new impulse to replace the decadent one of the pioneer.

Without some new dynamic force America, for all her tradition, is not
immune to a hardening formalism. The psychological descent into
classicalism is always a strong possibility. That is why we, the children
of frontiersmen, city builders and immigrants, surprise Europe constantly
with our worship of constitutions, our social and political timidity. In
many ways we are more defenceless against these deadening habits than the
people of Europe. Our geographical isolation preserves us from any vivid
sense of national contrast: our imaginations are not stirred by different
civilizations. We have almost no spiritual weapons against classicalism:
universities, churches, newspapers are by-products of a commercial
success; we have no tradition of intellectual revolt. The American
college student has the gravity and mental habits of a Supreme Court
judge; his "wild oats" are rarely spiritual; the critical, analytical
habit of mind is distrusted. We say that "knocking" is a sign of the
"sorehead" and we sublimate criticism by saying that "every knock is a
boost." America does not play with ideas; generous speculation is
regarded as insincere, and shunned as if it might endanger the optimism
which underlies success. All this becomes such an insulation against new
ideas that when the Yankee goes abroad he takes his environment with him.

It seems at times as if our capacity for appreciating originality were
absorbed in the trivial eccentricities of fads and fashions. The obvious
novelties of machinery and locomotion, phonographs and yellow journalism
slake the American thirst for creation pretty thoroughly. In serious
matters we follow the Vice Commission's fourth essential of a valuable
contribution--_that which will square with the public conscience of the
American people_.

I do not care to dilate upon the exploded pretensions of Mr. and Mrs.
Grundy. They are a fairly disreputable couple by this time because we are
beginning to know how much morbidity they represent. The Vice Commission,
for example, bowed to what might be called the "instinctive conscience"
of America when it balked at tracing vice to its source in the
over-respected institutions of American life and the over-respected
natures of American men and women. It bowed to the prevailing conscience
when it proposed taboos instead of radical changes. It bowed to a
traditional conscience when it confused the sins of sex with the
possibilities of sex; and it paid tribute to a verbal conscience, to a
lip morality, when, with extreme irrelevance to its beloved police, it
proclaimed "absolute annihilation" the ultimate ideal. In brief, the
commission failed to see that the working conscience of America is to-day
bound up with the very evil it is supposed to eradicate by a relentless

It was to be expected. Our conscience is not the vessel of eternal
verities. It grows with our social life, and a new social condition means
a radical change in conscience. In order to do away with vice America
must live and think and feel differently. This is an old story. Because
of it all innovators have been at war with the public conscience of their
time. Yet there is nothing strange or particularly disheartening about
this commonplace observation: to expect anything else is to hope that a
nation will lift itself by its own bootstraps. Yet there is danger the
moment leaders of the people make a virtue of homage to the unregenerate,
public conscience.

In La Follette's Magazine (Feb. 17, 1912) there is a leading article
called "The Great Issue." You can read there that "the composite judgment
is always safer and wiser and stronger and more unselfish than the
judgment of any one individual mind. The people have been betrayed by
their representatives again and again. The real danger to democracy lies
not in the ignorance or want of patriotism of the people, but in the
corrupting influence of powerful business organizations upon the
representatives of the people...."

I have only one quarrel with that philosophy--its negativity. With the
belief that government is futile and mischievous unless supported by the
mass of the people; with the undeniable fact that business has corrupted
public officials--I have no complaint. What I object to is the emphasis
which shifts the blame for our troubles from the shoulders of the people
to those of the "corrupting interests." For this seems to me nothing but
the resuscitation of the devil: when things go wrong it is somebody
else's fault. We are peculiarly open to this kind of vanity in America.
If some wise law is passed we say it is the will of the people showing
its power of self-government. But if that will is so weak and timid that
a great evil like child labor persists to our shame we turn the
responsibility over to the devil personified as a "special interest." It
is an old habit of the race which seems to have begun with the serpent in
the Garden of Eden.

The word demagogue has been frightfully maltreated in late years, but
surely here is its real meaning--to flatter the people by telling them
that their failures are somebody else's fault. For if a nation declares
it has reached its majority by instituting self-government, then it
cannot shirk responsibility.

These "special interests"--big business, a corrupt press, crooked
politics--grew up within the country, were promoted by American citizens,
admired by millions of them, and acquiesced in by almost all of them.
Whoever thinks that business corruption is the work of a few inhumanly
cunning individuals with monstrous morals is self-righteous without
excuse. Capitalists did not violate the public conscience of America;
they expressed it. That conscience was inadequate and unintelligent. We
are being pinched by the acts it nourished. A great outcry has arisen and
a number of perfectly conventional men like Lorimer suffer an undeserved
humiliation. We say it is a "moral awakening." That is another dodge by
which we pretend that we were always wise and just, though a trifle
sleepy. In reality we are witnessing a change of conscience, initiated by
cranks and fanatics, sustained for a long time by minorities, which has
at last infected the mass of the people.

The danger I spoke of arises just here: the desire to infect at once the
whole mass crowds out the courage of the innovator. No man can do his
best work if he bows at every step to the public conscience of his age.
The real service to democracy is the fullest, freest expression of
talent. The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must
whisper unpleasant truths in the master's ear. It is the court fool, not
the foolish courtier, whom the king can least afford to lose.

Hostile critics of democracy have long pointed out that mediocrity
becomes the rule. They have not been without facts for their support. And
I do not see why we who believe in democracy should not recognize this
danger and trace it to its source. Certainly it is not answered with a
sneer. I have worked in the editorial office of a popular magazine, a
magazine that is known widely as a champion of popular rights. By
personal experience, by intimate conversations, and by looking about, I
think I am pretty well aware of what the influence of business upon
journalism amounts to. I have seen the inside working of business
pressure; articles of my own have been suppressed after they were in
type; friends of mine have told me stories of expurgation, of the
"morganization" of their editorial policy. And in the face of that I
should like to record it as my sincere conviction that no financial power
is one-tenth so corrupting, so insidious, so hostile to originality and
frank statement as the fear of the public which reads the magazine. For
one item suppressed out of respect for a railroad or a bank, nine are
rejected because of the prejudices of the public. This will anger the
farmers, that will arouse the Catholics, another will shock the summer
girl. Anybody can take a fling at poor old Mr. Rockefeller, but the great
mass of average citizens (to which none of us belongs) must be left in
undisturbed possession of its prejudices. In that subservience, and not
in the meddling of Mr. Morgan, is the reason why American journalism is
so flaccid, so repetitious and so dull.

The people should be supreme, yes, its will should be the law of the
land. But it is a caricature of democracy to make it also the law of
individual initiative. One thing it is to say that all proposals must
ultimately win the acceptance of the majority; it is quite another to
propose nothing which is not immediately acceptable. It is as true of the
nation as of the body that one leg cannot go forward very far unless the
whole body follows. That is a different thing from trying to move both
legs forward at the same time. The one is democracy; the other

It is better to catch the idol-maker than to smash each idol. It would be
an endless task to hunt down all the masks, the will-o'-the-wisps and the
shadows which divert us from our real purpose. Each man carries within
himself the cause of his own mirages. Whenever we accept an idea as
authority instead of as instrument, an idol is set up. We worship the
plough, and not the fruit. And from this habit there is no permanent
escape. Only effort can keep the mind centered truly. Whenever criticism
slackens, whenever we sink into acquiescence, the mind swerves aside and
clings with the gratitude of the weary to some fixed idea. It is so much
easier to follow a rule of thumb, and obey the constitution, than to find
out what we really want and to do it.

       *       *       *       *       *

A great deal of political theory has been devoted to asking: what is the
aim of government? Many readers may have wondered why that question has
not figured in these pages. For the logical method would be to decide
upon the ultimate ideal of statecraft and then elaborate the technique of
its realization. I have not done that because this rational procedure
inverts the natural order of things and develops all kinds of theoretical
tangles and pseudo-problems. They come from an effort to state abstractly
in intellectual terms qualities that can be known only by direct
experience. You achieve nothing but confusion if you begin by announcing
that politics must achieve "justice" or "liberty" or "happiness." Even
though you are perfectly sure that you know exactly what these words mean
translated into concrete experiences, it is very doubtful whether you can
really convey your meaning to anyone else. "Plaisante justice qu'une
rivière borne. Vérité, au deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au de là," says
Pascal. If what is good in the world depended on our ability to define it
we should be hopeless indeed.

This is an old difficulty in ethics. Many men have remarked that we
quarrel over the "problem of evil," never over the "problem of good."
That comes from the fact that good is a quality of experience which does
not demand an explanation. When we are thwarted we begin to ask why. It
was the evil in the world that set Leibniz the task of justifying the
ways of God to man. Nor is it an accident that in daily life misfortune
turns men to philosophy. One might generalize and say that as soon as we
begin to explain, it is because we have been made to complain.

No moral judgment can decide the value of life. No ethical theory can
announce any intrinsic good. The whole speculation about morality is an
effort to find a way of living which men who live it will instinctively
feel is good. No formula can express an ultimate experience; no axiom can
ever be a substitute for what really makes life worth living. Plato may
describe the objects which man rejoices over, he may guide them to good
experiences, but each man in his inward life is a last judgment on all
his values.

This amounts to saying that the goal of action is in its final analysis
æsthetic and not moral--a quality of feeling instead of conformity to
rule. Words like justice, harmony, power, democracy are simply empirical
suggestions which may produce the good life. If the practice of them does
not produce it then we are under no obligation to follow them, we should
be idolatrous fools to do so. Every abstraction, every rule of conduct,
every constitution, every law and social arrangement, is an instrument
that has no value in itself. Whatever credit it receives, whatever
reverence we give it, is derived from its utility in ministering to those
concrete experiences which are as obvious and as undefinable as color or
sound. We can celebrate the positively good things, we can live them, we
can create them, but we cannot philosophize about them. To the anæsthetic
intellect we could not convey the meaning of joy. A creature that could
reason but not feel would never know the value of life, for what is
ultimate is in itself inexplicable.

Politics is not concerned with prescribing the ultimate qualities of
life. When it tries to do so by sumptuary legislation, nothing but
mischief is invoked. Its business is to provide opportunities, not to
announce ultimate values; to remove oppressive evil and to invent new
resources for enjoyment. With the enjoyment itself it can have no
concern. That must be lived by each individual. In a sense the politician
can never know his own success, for it is registered in men's inner
lives, and is largely incommunicable. An increasing harvest of rich
personalities is the social reward for a fine statesmanship, but such
personalities are free growths in a cordial environment. They cannot be
cast in moulds or shaped by law. There is no need, therefore, to generate
dialectical disputes about the final goal of politics. No definition can
be just--too precise a one can only deceive us into thinking that our
definition is true. Call ultimate values by any convenient name, it is of
slight importance which you choose. If only men can keep their minds
freed from formalism, idol worship, fixed ideas, and exalted
abstractions, politicians need not worry about the language in which the
end of our striving is expressed. For with the removal of distracting
idols, man's experience becomes the center of thought. And if we think in
terms of men, find out what really bothers them, seek to supply what they
really want, hold only their experience sacred, we shall find our
sanction obvious and unchallenged.



My first course in philosophy was nothing less than a summary of the
important systems of thought put forward in Western Europe during the
last twenty-six hundred years. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration--we
did gloss over a few centuries in the Middle Ages. For the rest we
touched upon all the historic names from Thales to Nietzsche. After about
nine weeks of this bewildering transit a friend approached me with a sour
look on his face. "You know," he said, "I can't make head or tail out of
this business. I agree with each philosopher as we study him. But when we
get to the next one, I agree with him too. Yet he generally says the
other one was wrong. They can't all be right. Can they now?" I was too
much puzzled with the same difficulty to help him.

Somewhat later I began to read the history of political theories. It was
a less disinterested study than those sophomore speculations, for I had
jumped into a profession which carried me through some of the underground
passages of "practical politics" and reformist groups. The tangle of
motives and facts and ideas was incredible. I began to feel the force of
Mr. John Hobson's remark that "if practical workers for social and
industrial reforms continue to ignore principles ... they will have to
pay the price which short-sighted empiricism always pays; with slow,
hesitant, and staggering steps, with innumerable false starts and
backslidings, they will move in the dark along an unseen track toward an
unseen goal." The political theorists laid some claim to lighting up both
the track and the goal, and so I turned to them for help.

Now whoever has followed political theory will have derived perhaps two
convictions as a reward. Almost all the thinkers seem to regard their
systems as true and binding, and none of these systems are. No matter
which one you examine, it is inadequate. You cannot be a Platonist or a
Benthamite in politics to-day. You cannot go to any of the great
philosophers even for the outlines of a statecraft which shall be fairly
complete, and relevant to American life. I returned to the sophomore
mood: "Each of these thinkers has contributed something, has had some
wisdom about events. Looked at in bulk the philosophers can't all be
right or all wrong."

But like so many theoretical riddles, this one rested on a very simple
piece of ignorance. The trouble was that without realizing it I too had
been in search of the philosopher's stone. I too was looking for
something that could not be found. That happened in this case to be
nothing less than an absolutely true philosophy of politics. It was the
old indolence of hoping that somebody had done the world's thinking once
and for all. I had conjured up the fantasy of a system which would
contain the whole of life, be as reliable as a table of logarithms,
foresee all possible emergencies and offer entirely trustworthy rules of
action. When it seemed that no such system had ever been produced, I was
on the point of damning the entire tribe of theorists from Plato to Marx.

This is what one may call the naïveté of the intellect. Its hope is that
some man living at one place on the globe in a particular epoch will,
through the miracle of genius, be able to generalize his experience for
all time and all space. It says in effect that there is never anything
essentially new under the sun, that any moment of experience sufficiently
understood would be seen to contain all history and all destiny--that the
intellect reasoning on one piece of experience could know what all the
rest of experience was like. Looked at more closely this philosophy means
that novelty is an illusion of ignorance, that life is an endless
repetition, that when you know one revolution of it, you know all the
rest. In a very real sense the world has no history and no future, the
race has no career. At any moment everything is given: our reason could
know that moment so thoroughly that all the rest of life would be like
the commuter's who travels back and forth on the same line every day.
There would be no inventions and no discoveries, for in the instant that
reason had found the key of experience everything would be unfolded. The
present would not be the womb of the future: nothing would be embryonic,
nothing would _grow_. Experience would cease to be an adventure in order
to become the monotonous fulfilment of a perfect prophecy.

This omniscience of the human intellect is one of the commonest
assumptions in the world. Although when you state the belief as I have,
it sounds absurdly pretentious, yet the boastfulness is closer to the
child's who stretches out its hand for the moon than the romantic
egotist's who thinks he has created the moon and all the stars. Whole
systems of philosophy have claimed such an eternal and absolute validity;
the nineteenth century produced a bumper crop of so-called atheists,
materialists and determinists who believed in all sincerity that
"Science" was capable of a complete truth and unfailing prediction. If
you want to see this faith in all its naïveté go into those quaint
rationalist circles where Herbert Spencer's ghost announces the "laws of
life," with only a few inessential details omitted.

Now, of course, no philosophy of this sort has ever realized such hopes.
Mankind has certainly come nearer to justifying Mr. Chesterton's
observation that one of its favorite games is called "Cheat the
Prophet."... "The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all
that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next
generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and
bury them nicely. They then go and do something else." Now this weakness
is not, as Mr. Chesterton would like to believe, confined to the clever
men. But it is a weakness, and many people have speculated about it. Why
in the face of hundreds of philosophies wrecked on the rocks of the
unexpected do men continue to believe that the intellect can transcend
the vicissitudes of experience?

For they certainly do believe it, and generally the more parochial their
outlook, the more cosmic their pretensions. All of us at times yearn for
the comfort of an absolute philosophy. We try to believe that, however
finite we may be, our intellect is something apart from the cycle of our
life, capable by an Olympian detachment from human interests of a divine
thoroughness. Even our evolutionist philosophy, as Bergson shows, "begins
by showing us in the intellect a local effect of evolution, a flame,
perhaps accidental, which lights up the coming and going of living things
in the narrow passage open to their action; and lo! forgetting what it
has just told us, makes of this lantern glimmering in a tunnel a Sun
which can illuminate the world."

This is what most of us do in our search for a philosophy of politics. We
forget that the big systems of theory are much more like village
lamp-posts than they are like the sun, that they were made to light up a
particular path, obviate certain dangers, and aid a peculiar mode of
life. The understanding of the place of theory in life is a comparatively
new one. We are just beginning to see how creeds are made. And the
insight is enormously fertile. Thus Mr. Alfred Zimmern in his fine study
of "The Greek Commonwealth" says of Plato and Aristotle that no
interpretation can be satisfactory which does not take into account the
impression left upon their minds by the social development which made the
age of these philosophers a period of Athenian decline. Mr. Zimmern's
approach is common enough in modern scholarship, but the full
significance of it for the creeds we ourselves are making is still
something of a novelty. When we are asked to think of the "Republic" as
the reaction of decadent Greece upon the conservative temperament of
Plato, the function of theory is given a new illumination. Political
philosophy at once appears as a human invention in a particular
crisis--an instrument to fit a need. The pretension to finality falls

This is a great emancipation. Instead of clinging to the naïve belief
that Plato was legislating for all mankind, you can discuss his plans as
a temporary superstructure made for an historical purpose. You are free
then to appreciate the more enduring portions of his work, to understand
Santayana when he says of the Platonists, "their theories are so
extravagant, yet their wisdom seems so great. Platonism is a very refined
and beautiful expression of our natural instincts, it embodies conscience
and utters our inmost hopes." This insight into the values of human life,
partial though it be, is what constitutes the abiding monument of Plato's
genius. His constructions, his formal creeds, his law-making and social
arrangements are local and temporary--for us they can have only an
antiquarian interest.

In some such way as this the sophomoric riddle is answered: no thinker
can lay down a course of action for all mankind--programs if they are
useful at all are useful for some particular historical period. But if
the thinker sees at all deeply into the life of his own time, his
theoretical system will rest upon observation of human nature. That
remains as a residue of wisdom long after his reasoning and his concrete
program have passed into limbo. For human nature in all its profounder
aspects changes very little in the few generations since our Western
wisdom has come to be recorded. These _aperçus_ left over from the great
speculations are the golden threads which successive thinkers weave into
the pattern of their thought. Wisdom remains; theory passes.

If that is true of Plato with his ample vision how much truer is it of
the theories of the littler men--politicians, courtiers and propagandists
who make up the academy of politics. Machiavelli will, of course, be
remembered at once as a man, whose speculations were fitted to an
historical crisis. His advice to the Prince was real advice, not a
sermon. A boss was telling a governor how to extend his power. The wealth
of Machiavelli's learning and the splendid penetration of his mind are
used to interpret experience for a particular purpose. I have always
thought that Machiavelli derives his bad name from a too transparent
honesty. Less direct minds would have found high-sounding ethical
sanctions in which to conceal the real intent. That was the nauseating
method of nineteenth century economists when they tried to identify the
brutal practices of capitalism with the beneficence of nature and the
Will of God. Not so Machiavelli. He could write without a blush that "a
prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which
men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to
act contrary to fidelity, friendship, humanity, and religion." The
apologists of business also justified a rupture with human decencies.
They too fitted their theory to particular purposes, but they had not the
courage to avow it even to themselves.

The rare value of Machiavelli is just this lack of self-deception. You
may think his morals devilish, but you cannot accuse him of quoting
scripture. I certainly do not admire the end he serves: the extension of
an autocrat's power is a frivolous perversion of government. His ideal
happens, however, to be the aim of most foreign offices, politicians and
"princes of finance." Machiavelli's morals are not one bit worse than the
practices of the men who rule the world to-day. An American Senate tore
up the Hay-Pauncefote treaty, and with the approval of the President
acted "contrary to fidelity" and friendship too; Austria violated the
Treaty of Berlin by annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Machiavelli's ethics
are commonplace enough. His head is clearer than the average. He let the
cat out of the bag and showed in the boldest terms how theory becomes an
instrument of practice. You may take him as a symbol of the political
theorist. You may say that all the thinkers of influence have been
writing advice to the Prince. Machiavelli recognized Lorenzo the
Magnificent; Marx, the proletariat of Europe.

At first this sounds like standing the world on its head, denying reason
and morality, and exalting practice over righteousness. That is neither
here nor there. I am simply trying to point out an illuminating fact
whose essential truth can hardly be disputed. The important social
philosophies are consciously or otherwise the servants of men's purposes.
Good or bad, that it seems to me is the way we work. We find reasons for
what we want to do. The big men from Machiavelli through Rousseau to Karl
Marx brought history, logic, science and philosophy to prop up and
strengthen their deepest desires. The followers, the epigones, may accept
the reasons of Rousseau and Marx and deduce rules of action from them.
But the original genius sees the dynamic purpose first, finds reasons
afterward. This amounts to saying that man when he is most creative is
not a rational, but a wilful animal.

The political thinker who to-day exercises the greatest influence on the
Western World is, I suppose, Karl Marx. The socialist movement calls him
its prophet, and, while many socialists say he is superseded, no one
disputes his historical importance. Now Marx embalmed his thinking in the
language of the Hegelian school. He founded it on a general philosophy of
society which is known as the materialistic conception of history.
Moreover, Marx put forth the claim that he had made socialism
"scientific"--had shown that it was woven into the texture of natural
phenomena. The Marxian paraphernalia crowds three heavy volumes, so
elaborate and difficult that socialists rarely read them. I have known
one socialist who lived leisurely on his country estate and claimed to
have "looked" at every page of Marx. Most socialists, including the
leaders, study selected passages and let it go at that. This is a wise
economy based on a good instinct. For all the parade of learning and
dialectic is an after-thought--an accident from the fact that the
prophetic genius of Marx appeared in Germany under the incubus of Hegel.
Marx saw what he wanted to do long before he wrote three volumes to
justify it. Did not the Communist Manifesto appear many years before "Das

Nothing is more instructive than a socialist "experience" meeting at
which everyone tries to tell how he came to be converted. These
gatherings are notoriously untruthful--in fact, there is a genial
pleasure in not telling the truth about one's salad days in the socialist
movement. The prevalent lie is to explain how the new convert, standing
upon a mountain of facts, began to trace out the highways that led from
hell to heaven. Everybody knows that no such process was actually lived
through, and almost without exception the real story can be discerned: a
man was dissatisfied, he wanted a new condition of life, he embraced a
theory that would justify his hopes and his discontent. For once you
touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs
are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon. In the
language of philosophers, socialism as a living force is a product of the
will--a will to beauty, order, neighborliness, not infrequently a will to
health. Men desire first, then they reason; fascinated by the future,
they invent a "scientific socialism" to get there.

Many people don't like to admit this. Or if they admit it, they do so
with a sigh. Their minds construct a utopia--one in which all judgments
are based on logical inference from syllogisms built on the law of
mathematical probabilities. If you quote David Hume at them, and say that
reason itself is an irrational impulse they think you are indulging in a
silly paradox. I shall not pursue this point very far, but I believe it
could be shown without too much difficulty that the rationalists are
fascinated by a certain kind of thinking--logical and orderly
thinking--and that it is their will to impose that method upon other men.

For fear that somebody may regard this as a play on words drawn from some
ultra-modern "anti-intellectualist" source, let me quote Santayana. This
is what the author of that masterly series "The Life of Reason" wrote in
one of his earlier books: "The ideal of rationality is itself as
arbitrary, as much dependent on the needs of a finite organization, as
any other ideal. Only as ultimately securing tranquillity of mind, which
the philosopher instinctively pursues, has it for him any necessity. In
spite of the verbal propriety of saying that reason demands rationality,
what really demands rationality, what makes it a good and indispensable
thing and gives it all its authority, is not its own nature, but our need
of it both in safe and economical action and in the pleasures of
comprehension." Because rationality itself is a wilful exercise one hears
Hymns to Reason and sees it personified as an extremely dignified
goddess. For all the light and shadow of sentiment and passion play even
about the syllogism.

The attempts of theorists to explain man's successes as rational acts and
his failures as lapses of reason have always ended in a dismal and misty
unreality. No genuine politician ever treats his constituents as
reasoning animals. This is as true of the high politics of Isaiah as it
is of the ward boss. Only the pathetic amateur deludes himself into
thinking that, if he presents the major and minor premise, the voter will
automatically draw the conclusion on election day. The successful
politician--good or bad--deals with the dynamics--with the will, the
hopes, the needs and the visions of men.

It isn't sentimentality which says that where there is no vision the
people perisheth. Every time Tammany Hall sets off fireworks and oratory
on the Fourth of July; every time the picture of Lincoln is displayed at
a political convention; every red bandanna of the Progressives and red
flag of the socialists; every song from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
to the "International"; every metrical conclusion to a great
speech--whether we stand at Armageddon, refuse to press upon the brow of
labor another crown of thorns, or call upon the workers of the world to
unite--every one of these slogans is an incitement of the will--an effort
to energize politics. They are attempts to harness blind impulses to
particular purposes. They are tributes to the sound practical sense of a
vision in politics. No cause can succeed without them: so long as you
rely on the efficacy of "scientific" demonstration and logical proof you
can hold your conventions in anybody's back parlor and have room to

I remember an observation that Lincoln Steffens made in a speech about
Mayor Tom Johnson. "Tom failed," said Mr. Steffens, "because he was too
practical." Coming from a man who had seen as much of actual politics as
Mr. Steffens, it puzzled me a great deal. I taxed him with it later and
he explained somewhat as follows: "Tom Johnson had a vision of Cleveland
which he called The City on the Hill. He pictured the town emancipated
from its ugliness and its cruelty--a beautiful city for free men and
women. He used to talk of that vision to the 'cabinet' of political
lieutenants which met every Sunday night at his house. He had all his
appointees working for the City on the Hill. But when he went out
campaigning before the people he talked only of three-cent fares and the
tax outrages. Tom Johnson didn't show the people the City on the Hill. He
didn't take them into his confidence. They never really saw what it was
all about. And they went back on Tom Johnson."

That is one of Mr. Steffens's most acute observations. What makes it
doubly interesting is that Tom Johnson confirmed it a few months before
he died. His friends were telling him that his defeat was temporary, that
the work he had begun was unchecked. It was plain that in the midst of
his suffering, with death close by, he found great comfort in that
assurance. But his mind was so realistic, his integrity so great that he
could not blink the fact that there had been a defeat. Steffens was
pointing out the explanation: "you did not show the people what you saw,
you gave them the details, you fought their battles, you started to
build, but you left them in darkness as to the final goal."

I wish I could recall the exact words in which Tom Johnson replied. For
in them the greatest of the piecemeal reformers admitted the practical
weakness of opportunist politics.

There is a type of radical who has an idea that he can insinuate advanced
ideas into legislation without being caught. His plan of action is to
keep his real program well concealed and to dole out sections of it to
the public from time to time. John A. Hobson in "The Crisis of
Liberalism" describes the "practical reformer" so that anybody can
recognize him: "This revolt against ideas is carried so far that able men
have come seriously to look upon progress as a matter for the
manipulation of wire-pullers, something to be 'jobbed' in committee by
sophistical notions or other clever trickery." Lincoln Steffens calls
these people "our damned rascals." Mr. Hobson continues, "The attraction
of some obvious gain, the suppression of some scandalous abuse of
monopolist power by a private company, some needed enlargement of
existing Municipal or State enterprise by lateral expansion--such are the
sole springs of action." Well may Mr. Hobson inquire, _"Now, what
provision is made for generating the motor power of progress in

No amount of architect's plans, bricks and mortar will build a house.
Someone must have the wish to build it. So with the modern democratic
state. Statesmanship cannot rest upon the good sense of its program. It
must find popular feeling, organize it, and make that the motive power of
government. If you study the success of Roosevelt the point is
re-enforced. He is a man of will in whom millions of people have felt the
embodiment of their own will. For a time Roosevelt was a man of destiny
in the truest sense. He wanted what a nation wanted: his own power
radiated power; he embodied a vision; Tom, Dick and Harry moved with his

No use to deplore the fact. You cannot stop a living body with nothing at
all. I think we may picture society as a compound of forces that are
always changing. Put a vision in front of one of these currents and you
can magnetize it in that direction. For visions alone organize popular
passions. Try to ignore them or box them up, and they will burst forth
destructively. When Haywood dramatizes the class struggle he uses class
resentment for a social purpose. You may not like his purpose, but unless
you can gather proletarian power into some better vision, you have no
grounds for resenting Haywood. I fancy that the demonstration of King
Canute settled once and for all the stupid attempt to ignore a moving

A dynamic conception of society always frightens a great number of
people. It gives politics a restless and intractable quality. Pure reason
is so gentlemanly, but will and the visions of a people--these are
adventurous and incalculable forces. Most politicians living for the day
prefer to ignore them. If only society will stand fairly still while
their career is in the making they are content to avoid the actualities.
But a politician with some imaginative interest in genuine affairs need
not be seduced into the learned folly of pretending that reality is
something else than it is. If he is to influence life he must deal with
it. A deep respect is due the Schopenhauerian philosopher who looks upon
the world, finds that its essence is evil, and turns towards insensitive
calm. But no respect is due to anyone who sets out to reform the world by
ignoring its quality. Whoever is bent upon shaping politics to better
human uses must accept freely as his starting point the impulses that
agitate human beings. If observation shows that reason is an instrument
of will, then only confusion can result from pretending that it isn't.

I have called this misplaced "rationality" a piece of learned folly,
because it shows itself most dangerously among those thinkers about
politics who are divorced from action. In the Universities political
movements are generally regarded as essentially static, cut and dried
solids to be judged by their logical consistency. It is as if the stream
of life had to be frozen before it could be studied. The socialist
movement was given a certain amount of attention when I was an
undergraduate. The discussion turned principally on two points: were
rent, interest and dividends _earned_? Was collective ownership of
capital a feasible scheme? And when the professor, who was a good
dialectician, had proved that interest was a payment for service
("saving") and that public ownership was not practicable, it was assumed
that socialism was disposed of. The passions, the needs, the hopes that
generate this world-wide phenomenon were, I believe, pocketed and ignored
under the pat saying: "Of course, socialism is not an economic policy,
it's a religion." That was the end of the matter for the students of
politics. It was then a matter for the divinity schools. If the same
scholastic method is in force there, all that would be needed to crush
socialism is to show its dogmatic inconsistencies.

The theorist is incompetent when he deals with socialism just because he
assumes that men are determined by logic and that a false conclusion will
stop a moving, creative force. Occasionally he recognizes the wilful
character of politics: then he shakes his head, climbs into an ivory
tower and deplores the moonshine, the religious manias and the passions
of the mob. Real life is beyond his control and influence because real
life is largely agitated by impulses and habits, unconscious needs,
faith, hope and desire. With all his learning he is ineffective because,
instead of trying to use the energies of men, he deplores them.

Suppose we recognize that creeds are instruments of the will, how would
it alter the character of our thinking? Take an ancient quarrel like that
over determinism. Whatever your philosophy, when you come to the test of
actual facts you find, I think, all grades of freedom and determinism.
For certain purposes you believe in free will, for others you do not.
Thus, as Mr. Chesterton suggests, no determinist is prevented from saying
"if you please" to the housemaid. In love, in your career, you have no
doubt that "if" is a reality. But when you are engaged in scientific
investigation, you try to reduce the spontaneous in life to a minimum.
Mr. Arnold Bennett puts forth a rather curious hybrid when he advises us
to treat ourselves as free agents and everyone else as an automaton. On
the other hand Prof. Münsterberg has always insisted that in social
relations we must always treat everyone as a purposeful, integrated

Your doctrine, in short, depends on your purpose: a theory by itself is
neither moral nor immoral, its value is conditioned by the purpose it
serves. In any accurate sense theory is to be judged only as an effective
or ineffective instrument of a desire: the discussion of doctrines is
technical and not moral. A theory has no intrinsic value: that is why the
devil can talk theology.

No creed possesses any final sanction. Human beings have desires that are
far more important than the tools and toys and churches they make to
satisfy them. It is more penetrating, in my opinion, to ask of a creed
whether it served than whether it was "true." Try to judge the great
beliefs that have swayed mankind by their inner logic or their empirical
solidity and you stand forever, a dull pedant, apart from the interests
of men. The Christian tradition did not survive because of Aquinas or
fall before the Higher Criticism, nor will it be revived because someone
proves the scientific plausibility of its doctrine. What we need to know
about the Christian epic is the effect it had on men--true or false, they
have believed in it for nineteen centuries. Where has it helped them,
where hindered? What needs did it answer? What energies did it transmute?
And what part of mankind did it neglect? Where did it begin to do
violence to human nature?

Political creeds must receive the same treatment. The doctrine of the
"social contract" formulated by Hobbes and made current by Rousseau can
no longer be accepted as a true account of the origin of society.
Jean-Jacques is in fact a supreme case--perhaps even a slight
caricature--of the way in which formal creeds bolster up passionate
wants. I quote from Prof. Walter's introduction in which he says that
"The Social Contract _showed to those who were eager to be convinced_
that no power was legitimate which was guilty of abuses. It is no wonder
that its author was buried in the Pantheon with pompous procession, that
the framers of the new Constitution, Thouret and Lièyes and La Fayette,
did not forget and dared not forget its doctrines, that it was the
text-book and the delight of Camille Desmoulins and Danton and St. Just,
that Robespierre read it through once every day." In the perspective of
history, no one feels that he has said the last word about a philosophy
like Rousseau's after demonstrating its "untruth." Good or bad, it has
meant too much for any such easy disposal. What shall we call an idea,
objectively untrue, but practically of the highest importance?

The thinker who has faced this difficulty most radically is Georges Sorel
in the "Reflexions sur la Violence." His doctrine of the "social myth"
has seemed to many commentators one of those silly paradoxes that only a
revolutionary syndicalist and Frenchman could have put forward. M. Sorel
is engaged in presenting the General Strike as the decisive battle of the
class struggle and the core of the socialist movement. Now whatever else
he may be, M. Sorel is not naïve: the sharp criticism of other socialists
was something he could not peacefully ignore. They told him that the
General Strike was an idle dream, that it could never take place, that,
even if it could, the results would not be very significant. Sidney Webb,
in the customary Fabian fashion, had dismissed the General Strike as a
sign of socialist immaturity. There is no doubt that M. Sorel felt the
force of these attacks. But he was not ready to abandon his favorite idea
because it had been shown to be unreasonable and impossible. Just the
opposite effect showed itself and he seized the opportunity of turning an
intellectual defeat into a spiritual triumph. This performance must have
delighted him to the very bottom of his soul, for he has boasted that his
task in life is to aid in ruining "le prestige de la culture bourgeoise."

M. Sorel's defence of the General Strike is very startling. He admits
that it may never take place, that it is not a true picture of the goal
of the socialist movement. Without a blush he informs us that this
central gospel of the working class is simply a "myth." The admission
frightens M. Sorel not at all. "It doesn't matter much," he remarks,
"whether myths contain details actually destined to realization _in the
scheme_ of an historical future; they are not astrological almanacks; it
may even be that nothing of what they express will actually happen--as in
the case of that catastrophe which the early Christians expected. Are we
not accustomed in daily life to recognizing that the reality differs very
greatly from the ideas of it that we made before we acted? Yet that
doesn't hinder us from making resolutions.... Myths must be judged as
instruments for acting upon present conditions; all discussion about the
manner of applying them concretely to the course of history is senseless.
_The entire myth is what counts...._ There is no use then in reasoning
about details which might arise in the midst of the class struggle ...
even though the revolutionists should be deceiving themselves through and
through in making a fantastic picture of the general strike, this picture
would still have been a power of the highest order in preparing for
revolution, so long as it expressed completely all the aspirations of
socialism and bound together revolutionary ideas with a precision and
firmness that no other methods of thought could have given."

It may well be imagined that this highly sophisticated doctrine was
regarded as perverse. All the ordinary prejudices of thought are
irritated by a thinker who frankly advises masses of his fellow-men to
hold fast to a belief which by all the canons of common sense is nothing
but an illusion. M. Sorel must have felt the need of closer statement,
for in a letter to Daniel Halèvy, published in the second edition, he
makes his position much clearer. "Revolutionary myths ..." we read,
"enable us to understand the activity, the feelings, and the ideas of a
populace preparing to enter into a decisive struggle; _they are not
descriptions of things, but expressions of will_." The italics are mine:
they set in relief the insight that makes M. Sorel so important to our
discussion. I do not know whether a quotation torn from its context can
possibly do justice to its author. I do know that for any real grasp of
this point it is necessary to read M. Sorel with great sympathy.

One must grant at least that he has made an accurate observation. The
history of the world is full of great myths which have had the most
concrete results. M. Sorel cites primitive Christianity, the Reformation,
the French Revolution and the Mazzini campaign. The men who took part in
those great social movements summed up their aspiration in pictures of
decisive battles resulting in the ultimate triumph of their cause. We in
America might add an example from our own political life. For it is
Theodore Roosevelt who is actually attempting to make himself and his
admirers the heroes of a new social myth. Did he not announce from the
platform at Chicago--"we stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord"?

Let no one dismiss M. Sorel then as an empty paradoxer. The myth is not
one of the outgrown crudities of our pagan ancestors. We, in the midst of
our science and our rationalism, are still making myths, and their force
is felt in the actual affairs of life. They convey an impulse, not a
program, nor a plan of reconstruction. Their practical value cannot be
ignored, for they embody the motor currents in social life.

Myths are to be judged, as M. Sorel says, by their ability to express
aspiration. They stand or fall by that. In such a test the Christian
myth, for example, would be valued for its power of incarnating human
desire. That it did not do so completely is the cause of its decline.
From Aucassin to Nietzsche men have resented it as a partial and stunting
dream. It had too little room for profane love, and only by turning the
Church of Christ into the Church Militant could the essential Christian
passivity obtain the assent of aggressive and masculine races. To-day
traditional Christianity has weakened in the face of man's interest in
the conquest of this world. The liberal and advanced churches recognize
this fact by exhibiting a great preoccupation with everyday affairs. Now
they may be doing important service--I have no wish to deny that--but
when the Christian Churches turn to civics, to reformism or socialism,
they are in fact announcing that the Christian dream is dead. They may
continue to practice some of its moral teachings and hold to some of its
creed, but the Christian impulse is for them no longer active. A new
dream, which they reverently call Christian, has sprung from their

During their life these social myths contain a nation's finest energy. It
is just because they are "not descriptions of things, but expressions of
will" that their influence is so great. Ignore what a man desires and you
ignore the very source of his power; run against the grain of a nation's
genius and see where you get with your laws. Robert Burns was right when
he preferred poetry to charters. The recognition of this truth by Sorel
is one of the most impressive events in the revolutionary movement.
Standing as a spokesman of an actual social revolt, he has not lost his
vision because he understands its function. If Machiavelli is a symbol of
the political theorist making reason an instrument of purpose, we may
take Sorel as a self-conscious representative of the impulses which
generate purpose.

It must not be supposed that respect for the myth is a discovery of
Sorel's. He is but one of a number of contemporary thinkers who have
reacted against a very stupid prejudice of nineteenth century science to
the effect that the mental habits of human beings were not "facts."
Unless ideas mirrored external nature they were regarded as beneath the
notice of the scientific mind. But in more recent years we have come to
realize that, in a world so full of ignorance and mistake, error itself
is worthy of study. Our untrue ideas are significant because they
influence our lives enormously. They are "facts" to be investigated. One
might point to the great illumination that has resulted from Freud's
analysis of the abracadabra of our dreams. No one can any longer dismiss
the fantasy because it is logically inconsistent, superficially absurd,
or objectively untrue. William James might also be cited for his defense
of those beliefs that are beyond the realm of proof. His essay, "The Will
to Believe," is a declaration of independence, which says in effect that
scientific demonstration is not the only test of ideas. He stated the
case for those beliefs which influence life so deeply, though they fail
to describe it. James himself was very disconcerting to many scientists
because he insisted on expressing his aspirations about the universe in
what his colleague Santayana calls a "romantic cosmology": "I am far from
wishing to suggest that such a view seems to me more probable than
conventional idealism or the Christian Orthodoxy. All three are in the
region of dramatic system-making and myth, to which probabilities are

It is impossible to leave this point without quoting Nietzsche, who had
this insight and stated it most provocatively. In "Beyond Good and Evil"
Nietzsche says flatly that "the falseness of an opinion is not for us any
objection to it: it is here, perhaps, that our new language sounds most
strangely. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering,
life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing...." Then he
comments on the philosophers. "They all pose as though their real
opinions had been discovered and attained through the self-evolving of a
cold, pure, divinely indifferent dialectic...; whereas, in fact, a
prejudiced proposition, idea, or 'suggestion,' which is generally their
heart's desire abstracted and refined, is defended by them with arguments
sought out after the event. They are all advocates who do not wish to be
regarded as such, generally astute defenders, also, of their prejudices,
which they dub 'truths'--and _very_ far from having the conscience which
bravely admits this to itself; very far from having the good taste or the
courage which goes so far as to let this be understood, perhaps to warn
friend or foe, or in cheerful confidence and self-ridicule.... It has
gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has
consisted of--namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of
involuntary and unconscious autobiography, and, moreover, that the moral
(or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital
germ out of which the entire plant has always grown.... Whoever considers
the fundamental impulses of man with a view to determining how far they
may have acted as _inspiring_ genii (or as demons and cobolds) will find
that they have all practiced philosophy at one time or another, and that
each one of them would have been only too glad to look upon itself as the
ultimate end of existence and the legitimate _lord_ over all the other
impulses. For every impulse is imperious, and, as _such_, attempts to

What Nietzsche has done here is, in his swashbuckling fashion, to cut
under the abstract and final pretensions of creeds. Difficulties arise
when we try to apply this wisdom in the present. That dogmas _were_
instruments of human purposes is not so incredible; that they still _are_
instruments is not so clear to everyone; and that they will be, that they
should be--this seems a monstrous attack on the citadel of truth. It is
possible to believe that other men's theories were temporary and merely
useful; we like to believe that ours will have a greater authority.

It seems like topsy-turvyland to make reason serve the irrational. Yet
that is just what it has always done, and ought always to do. Many of us
are ready to grant that in the past men's motives were deeper than their
intellects: we forgive them with a kind of self-righteousness which says
that they knew not what they did. But to follow the great tradition of
human wisdom deliberately, with our eyes open in the manner of Sorel,
that seems a crazy procedure. A notion of intellectual honor fights
against it: we think we must aim at final truth, and not allow
autobiography to creep into speculation.

Now the trouble with such an idol is that autobiography creeps in anyway.
The more we censor it, the more likely it is to appear disguised, to fool
us subtly and perhaps dangerously. The men like Nietzsche and James who
show the wilful origin of creeds are in reality the best watchers of the
citadel of truth. For there is nothing disastrous in the temporary nature
of our ideas. They are always that. But there may very easily be a train
of evil in the self-deception which regards them as final. I think God
will forgive us our skepticism sooner than our Inquisitions.

From the political point of view, another observation is necessary. The
creed of a Rousseau, for example, is active in politics, not for what it
says, but for what people think it says. I have urged that Marx found
scientific reasons for what he wanted to do. It is important to add that
the people who adopted his reasons for what they wanted to do were not
any too respectful of Marx's reasons. Thus the so-called materialistic
philosophy of Karl Marx is not by any means identical with the theories
one hears among Marxian socialists. There is a big distortion in the
transmitting of ideas. A common purpose, far more than common ideas,
binds Marx to his followers. And when a man comes to write about his
philosophy he is confronted with a choice: shall the creed described be
that of Marx or of the Marxians?

For the study of politics I should say unhesitatingly that it is more
important to know what socialist leaders, stump speakers, pamphleteers,
think Marx meant, than to know what he said. For then you are dealing
with living ideas: to search his text has its uses, but compared with the
actual tradition of Marx it is the work of pedantry. I say this here for
two reasons--because I hope to avoid the critical attack of the genuine
Marxian specialist, and because the observation is, I believe, relevant
to our subject.

Relevant it is in that it suggests the importance of style, of
propaganda, the popularization of ideas. The host of men who stand
between a great thinker and the average man are not automatic
transmitters. They work on the ideas; perhaps that is why a genius
usually hates his disciples. It is interesting to notice the explanation
given by Frau Förster-Nietzsche for her brother's quarrel with Wagner.
She dates it from the time when Nietzsche, under the guise of Wagnerian
propaganda, began to expound himself. The critics and interpreters are
themselves creative. It is really unfair to speak of the Marxian
philosophy as a political force. It is juster to speak of the Marxian

So when I write of Marx's influence I have in mind what men and women in
socialist meetings, in daily life here in America, hold as a faith and
attribute to Marx. There is no pretension whatever to any critical study
of "Das Kapital" itself. I am thinking rather of stuffy halls in which an
earnest voice is expounding "the evolution of capitalism," of little
groups, curious and bewildered, listening in the streets of New York to
the story of the battle between the "master class" and the "working
class," of little red pamphlets, of newspapers, and cartoons--awkward,
badly printed and not very genial, a great stream of spellbinding and
controversy through which the aspirations of millions are becoming

The tradition is saying that "the system" and not the individual is at
fault. It describes that system as one in which a small class owns the
means of production and holds the rest of mankind in bondage. Arts,
religions, laws, as well as vice and crime and degradation, have their
source in this central economic condition. If you want to understand our
life you must see that it is determined by the massing of capital in the
hands of a few. All epochs are determined by economic arrangements. But a
system of property always contains within itself "the seeds of its own
destruction." Mechanical inventions suggest a change: a dispossessed
class compels it. So mankind has progressed through savagery, chattel
slavery, serfdom, to "wage slavery" or the capitalism of to-day. This age
is pregnant with the socialism of to-morrow.

So roughly the tradition is handed on. Two sets of idea seem to dominate
it: we are creatures of economic conditions; a war of classes is being
fought everywhere in which the proletariat will ultimately capture the
industrial machinery and produce a sound economic life as the basis of
peace and happiness for all. The emphasis on environment is insistent.
Facts are marshaled, the news of the day is interpreted to show that men
are determined by economic conditions. This fixation has brought down
upon the socialists a torrent of abuse in which "atheism" and
"materialism" are prevailing epithets. But the propaganda continues and
the philosophy spreads, penetrating reform groups, social workers,
historians, and sociologists.

It has served the socialist purpose well. To the workingmen it has
brought home the importance of capturing the control of industry.
Economic determinism has been an antidote to mere preaching of goodness,
to hero-worship and political quackery. Socialism to succeed had to
concentrate attention on the ownership of capital: whenever any other
interest like religion or patriotism threatened to diffuse that
attention, socialist leaders have always been ready to show that the
economic fact is more central. Dignity and prestige were supplied by
making economics the key of history; passion was chained by building
paradise upon it.

In all the political philosophies there is none so adapted to its end.
Every sanction that mankind respects has been grouped about this one
purpose--the control of capital. It is as if all history converged upon
the issue, and the workers in the cause feel that they carry within them
the destiny of the race. Start anywhere, with an orthodox socialist and
he will lead you to this supreme economic situation. Tyrannies and race
hatred, national rivalries, sex problems, the difficulties of artistic
endeavor, all failures, crimes, vices--there is not one which he will not
relate to private capitalism. Nor is there anything disingenuous about
this focusing of the attention: a real belief is there. Of course you
will find plenty of socialists who see other issues and who smile a bit
at the rigors of economic determinism. In these later days there is in
fact, a decided loosening in the creed. But it is fair to say that the
mass of socialists hold this philosophy with as much solemnity as a
reformer held his when he wrote to me that the cure for obscenity was the
taxation of land values and absolute free trade.

Singlemindedness has done good service. It has bound the world together
and has helped men to think socially. Turning their attention away from
the romanticism of history, the materialistic philosophy has helped them
to look at realities. It has engendered a fine concern about average
people, about the voiceless multitudes who have been left to pass
unnoticed. Not least among the blessings is a shattering of the
good-and-bad-man theory: the assassination of tyrants or the adoration of
saviors. A shallow and specious other-worldliness has been driven out: an
other-worldliness which is really nothing but laziness about this one.
And if from a speculative angle the Marxian tradition has shaded too
heavily the economic facts, it was at least a plausible and practical

But the drawbacks are becoming more and more evident as socialism
approaches nearer to power and responsibility. The feeling that man is a
creature and not a creator is disastrous as a personal creed when you
come to act. If you insist upon being "determined by conditions" you do
hesitate about saying "I shall." You are likely to wait for something to
determine you. Personal initiative and individual genius are poorly
regarded: many socialists are suspicious of originality. This philosophy,
so useful in propaganda, is becoming a burden in action. That is another
way of saying that the instrument has turned into an idol.

For while it is illuminating to see how environment moulds men, it is
absolutely essential that men regard themselves as moulders of their
environment. A new philosophical basis is becoming increasingly necessary
to socialism--one that may not be "truer" than the old materialism but
that shall simply be more useful. Having learned for a long time what is
done to us, we are now faced with the task of doing. With this changed
purpose goes a change of instruments. All over the world socialists are
breaking away from the stultifying influence of the outworn determinism.
For the time is at hand when they must cease to look upon socialism as
inevitable in order to make it so.

Nor will the philosophy of class warfare serve this new need. That can be
effective only so long as the working-class is without sovereignty. But
no sooner has it achieved power than a new outlook is needed in order to
know what to do with it. The tactics of the battlefield are of no use
when the battle is won.

I picture this philosophy as one of deliberate choices. The underlying
tone of it is that society is made by man for man's uses, that reforms
are inventions to be applied when by experiment they show their
civilizing value. Emphasis is placed upon the devising, adapting,
constructing faculties. There is no reason to believe that this view is
any colder than that of the war of class against class. It will generate
no less energy. Men to-day can feel almost as much zest in the building
of the Panama Canal as they did in a military victory. Their domineering
impulses find satisfaction in conquering things, in subjecting brute
forces to human purposes. This sense of mastery in a winning battle
against the conditions of our life is, I believe, the social myth that
will inspire our reconstructions. We shall feel free to choose among
alternatives--to take this much of socialism, insert so much syndicalism,
leave standing what of capitalism seems worth conserving. We shall be
making our own house for our own needs, cities to suit ourselves, and we
shall believe ourselves capable of moving mountains, as engineers do,
when mountains stand in their way.

And history, science, philosophy will support our hopes. What will
fascinate us in the past will be the records of inventions, of great
choices, of those alternatives on which destiny seems to hang. The
splendid epochs will be interpreted as monuments of man's creation, not
of his propulsion. We shall be interested primarily in the way nations
established their civilization in spite of hostile conditions. Admiration
will go out to the men who did not submit, who bent things to human use.
We may see the entire tragedy of life in being driven.

Half-truths and illusions, if you like, but tonic. This view will suit
our mood. For we shall be making and the makers of history will become
more real to us. Instead of urging that issues are inevitable, instead of
being swamped by problems that are unavoidable, we may stand up and
affirm the issues we propose to handle. Perhaps we shall say with

     "Let the value of everything be determined afresh by you."



At the beginning of every campaign the newspapers tell about secret
conferences in which the candidate and his managers decide upon "the line
of attack." The approach to issues, the way in which they shall be
stressed, what shall be put forward in one part of the country and what
in another, are discussed at these meetings. Here is where the real
program of a party is worked out. The document produced at the convention
is at its best nothing but a suggestive formality. It is not until the
speakers and the publicity agents have actually begun to animate it that
the country sees what the party is about. It is as if the convention
adopted the Decalogue, while these secret conferences decided which of
the Commandments was to be made the issue. Almost always, of course, the
decision is entirely a "practical" one, which means that each section of
people is exhorted to practice the commandment it likes the most. Thus
for the burglars is selected, not the eighth tablet, but the one on which
is recommended a day of rest from labor; to the happily married is
preached the seventh commandment.

These conferences are decisive. On them depends the educational value of
a campaign, and the men who participate in them, being in a position to
state the issues and point them, determine the political interests of the
people for a considerable period of time. To-day in America, for example,
no candidate can escape entirely that underlying irritation which
socialists call poverty and some call the high cost of living. But the
conspicuous candidates do decide what direction thought shall take about
this condition. They can center it upon the tariff or the trusts or even
the currency.

Thus Mr. Roosevelt has always had a remarkable power of diverting the
country from the tariff to the control of the trusts. His Democratic
opponents, especially Woodrow Wilson, are, as I write, in the midst of
the Presidential campaign of 1912, trying to focus attention on the
tariff. In a way the battle resembles a tug-of-war in which each of the
two leading candidates is trying to pull the nation over to his favorite
issue. On the side you can see the Prohibitionists endeavoring to make
the country see drink as a central problem; the emerging socialists
insisting that not the tariff, or liquor, or the control of trusts, but
the ownership of capital should be the heart of the discussion. Electoral
campaigns do not resemble debates so much as they do competing amusement
shows where, with bright lights, gaudy posters and persuasive, insistent
voices, each booth is trying to collect a crowd; The victory in a
campaign is far more likely to go to the most plausible diagnosis than to
the most convincing method of cure. Once a party can induce the country
to see its issue as supreme the greater part of its task is done.

The clever choice of issues influences all politics from the petty
manoeuvers of a ward leader to the most brilliant creative
statesmanship. I remember an instance that happened at the beginning of
the first socialist administration in Schenectady: The officials had out
of the goodness of their hearts suspended a city ordinance which forbade
coasting with bob-sleds on the hills of the city. A few days later one of
the sleds ran into a wagon and a little girl was killed. The opposition
papers put the accident into scareheads with the result that public
opinion became very bitter. It looked like a bad crisis at the very
beginning and the old ring politicians made the most of it. But they had
reckoned without the political shrewdness of the socialists. For in the
second day of excitement, the mayor made public a plan by which the main
business street of the town was to be lighted with high-power lamps and
turned into a "brilliant white way of Schenectady." The swiftness with
which the papers displaced the gruesome details of the little girl's
death by exultation over the business future of the city was a caution.
Public attention was shifted and a political crisis avoided. I tell this
story simply as a suggestive fact. The ethical considerations do not
concern us here.

There is nothing exceptional about the case. Whenever governments enter
upon foreign invasions in order to avoid civil wars, the same trick is
practiced. In the Southern States the race issue has been thrust forward
persistently to prevent an economic alignment. Thus you hear from
Southerners that unless socialism gives up its demand for racial
equality, the propaganda cannot go forward. How often in great strikes
have riots been started in order to prevent the public from listening to
the workers' demands! It is an old story--the red herring dragged across
the path in order to destroy the scent.

Having seen the evil results we have come to detest a conscious choice of
issues, to feel that it smacks of sinister plotting. The vile practice of
yellow newspapers and chauvinistic politicians is almost the only
experience of it we have. Religion, patriotism, race, and sex are the
favorite red herrings of foul political method--they are the most
successful because they explode so easily and flood the mind with those
unconscious prejudices which make critical thinking difficult. Yet for
all its abuse the deliberate choice of issues is one of the high
selective arts of the statesman. In the debased form we know it there is
little encouragement. But the devil is merely a fallen angel, and when
God lost Satan he lost one of his best lieutenants. It is always a pretty
good working rule that whatever is a great power of evil may become a
great power for good. Certainly nothing so effective in the art of
politics can be left out of the equipment of the statesman.

Looked at closely, the deliberate making of issues is very nearly the
core of the statesman's task. His greatest wisdom is required to select a
policy that will fertilize the public mind. He fails when the issue he
sets is sterile; he is incompetent if the issue does not lead to the
human center of a problem; whenever the statesman allows the voters to
trifle with taboos and by-products, to wander into blind alleys like "16
to 1," his leadership is a public calamity. The newspaper or politician
which tries to make an issue out of a supposed "prosperity" or out of
admiration for the mere successes of our ancestors is doing its best to
choke off the creative energies in politics. All the stultification of
the stand-pat mind may be described as inability, and perhaps
unwillingness, to nourish a fruitful choice of issues.

That choice is altogether too limited in America, anyway. Political
discussion, whether reactionary or radical, is monotonously confined to
very few issues. It is as if social life were prevented from irrigating
political thought. A subject like the tariff, for example, has absorbed
an amount of attention which would justify an historian in calling it the
incubus of American politics. Now the exaltation of one issue like that
is obviously out of all proportion to its significance. A contributory
factor it certainly is, but the country's destiny is not bound up finally
with its solution. The everlasting reiterations about the tariff take up
altogether too much time. To any government that was clear about values,
that saw all problems in their relation to human life, the tariff would
be an incident, a mechanical device and little else. High protectionist
and free trader alike fall under the indictment--for a tariff wall is
neither so high as heaven nor so broad as the earth. It may be necessary
to have dykes on portions of the seashore; they may be superfluous
elsewhere. But to concentrate nine-tenths of your attention on the
subject of dykes is to forget the civilization they are supposed to
protect. A wall is a wall: the presence of it will not do the work of
civilization--the absence of it does not absolve anyone from the tasks of
social life. That a statecraft might deal with the tariff as an aid to
its purposes is evident. But anyone who makes the tariff the principal
concern of statecraft is, I believe, mistaking the hedge for the house.

The tariff controversy is almost as old as the nation. A more recent one
is what Senator La Follette calls "The great issue before the American
people to-day, ... the control of their own government." It has taken the
form of an attack on corruption, on what is vaguely called "special
privilege" and of a demand for a certain amount of political machinery
such as direct primaries, the initiative, referendum, and recall. The
agitation has a curious sterility: the people are exhorted to control
their own government, but they are given very little advice as to what
they are to do with it when they control it. Of course, the leaders who
spend so much time demanding these mechanical changes undoubtedly see
them as a safeguard against corrupt politicians and what Roosevelt calls
"their respectable allies and figureheads, who have ruled and legislated
and decided as if in some way the vested rights of privilege had a first
mortgage on the whole United States." But look at the _way_ these
innovations are presented and I think the feeling is unavoidable that the
control of government is emphasized as an end in itself. Now an
observation of this kind is immediately open to dispute: it is not a
clear-cut distinction but a rather subtle matter of stress--an impression
rather than a definite conviction.

Yet when you look at the career of Judge Lindsey in Denver the impression
is sharpened by contrast. What gave his exposure of corruption a peculiar
vitality was that it rested on a very positive human ideal: the happiness
of children in a big city. Lindsey's attack on vice and financial jobbery
was perhaps the most convincing piece of muckraking ever done in this
country for the very reason that it sprang from a concern about real
human beings instead of abstractions about democracy or righteousness.
From the point of view of the political hack, Judge Lindsey made a most
distressing use of the red herring. He brought the happiness of childhood
into political discussion, and this opened up a new source of political
power. By touching something deeply instinctive in millions of people,
Judge Lindsey animated dull proposals with human interest. The
pettifogging objections to some social plan had very little chance of
survival owing to the dynamic power of the reformers. It was an excellent
example of the creative results that come from centering a political
problem on human nature.

If you move only from legality to legality, you halt and hesitate, each
step is a monstrous task. If the reformer is a pure opportunist, and lays
out only "the next step," that step will be very difficult. But if he
aims at some real human end, at the genuine concerns of men, women, and
children, if he can make the democracy see and feel that end, the little
mechanical devices of suffrage and primaries and tariffs will be dealt
with as a craftsman deals with his tools. But to say that we must make
tools first, and then begin, is to invert the process of life. Men did
not agree to refrain from travel until a railroad was built. To make the
manufacture of instruments an ideal is to lose much of their ideal value.
A nation bent upon a policy of social invention would make its tools an
incident. But just this perception is lacking in many propagandists. That
is why their issues are so sterile; that is why the absorption in "next
steps" is a diversion from statesmanship.

The narrowness of American political issues is a fixation upon
instruments. Tradition has centered upon the tariff, the trusts, the
currency, and electoral machinery as the items of consideration. It is
the failure to go behind them--to see them as the pale servants of a
vivid social life--that keeps our politics in bondage to a few problems.
It is a common experience repeated in you and me. Once our profession
becomes all absorbing it hardens into pedantry. "A human being," says
Wells, "who is a philosopher in the first place, a teacher in the first
place, or a statesman in the first place is thereby and inevitably,
though he bring God-like gifts to the pretense--a quack."

Reformers particularly resent the enlargement of political issues. I have
heard socialists denounce other socialists for occupying themselves with
the problems of sex. The claim was that these questions should be put
aside so as not to disturb the immediate program. The socialists knew
from experience that sex views cut across economic ones--that a new
interest breaks up the alignment. Woodrow Wilson expressed this same fear
in his views on the liquor question: after declaring for local option he
went on to say that "the questions involved are social and moral and are
not susceptible of being made part of a party program. Whenever they have
been made the subject matter of party contests they have cut the lines of
party organization and party action athwart, to the utter confusion of
political action in every other field.... I do not believe party programs
of the highest consequence to the political life of the State and of the
nation ought to be thrust on one side and hopelessly embarrassed for long
periods together by making a political issue of a great question which is
essentially non-political, non-partisan, moral and social in its nature."

That statement was issued at the beginning of a campaign in which Woodrow
Wilson was the nominee of a party that has always been closely associated
with the liquor interests. The bogey of the saloon had presented itself
early: it was very clear that an affirmative position by the candidate
was sure to alienate either the temperance or the "liquor vote." No doubt
a sense of this dilemma is partly responsible for Wilson's earnest plea
that the question of liquor be left out of the campaign. He saw the
confusion and embarrassment he speaks of as an immediate danger. Like his
views on immigration and Chinese labor it was a red herring across his
path. It would, if brought into prominence, cut the lines of party action

His theoretical grounds for ignoring the question in politics are very
interesting just because they are vitalized by this practical difficulty
which he faced. Like all party men Woodrow Wilson had thrust upon him
here a danger that haunts every political program. The more issues a
party meets the less votes it is likely to poll. And for a very simple
reason: you cannot keep the citizenship of a nation like this bound in
its allegiance to two large parties unless you make the grounds of
allegiance very simple and very obvious. If you are to hold five or six
million voters enlisted under one emblem the less specific you are and
the fewer issues you raise the more probable it is that you can stop this
host from quarreling within the ranks.

No doubt this is a partial explanation of the bareness of American
politics. The two big parties have had to preserve a superficial
homogeneity; and a platitude is more potent than an issue. The minor
parties--Populist, Prohibition, Independence League and Socialist--have
shown a much greater willingness to face new problems. Their view of
national policy has always been more inclusive, perhaps for the very
reason that their membership is so much more exclusive. But if anyone
wishes a smashing illustration of this paradox let him consider the rapid
progress of Roosevelt's philosophy in the very short time between the
Republican Convention in June to the Progressive Convention in August,
1912. As soon as Roosevelt had thrown off the burden of preserving a
false harmony among irreconcilable Republicans, he issued a platform full
of definiteness and square dealing with many issues. He was talking to a
minority party. But Roosevelt's genius is not that of group leadership.
He longs for majorities. He set out to make the campaign a battle between
the Progressives and the Democrats--the old discredited Republicans fell
back into a rather dead conservative minority. No sooner did Roosevelt
take the stump than the paradox loomed up before him. His speeches began
to turn on platitudes--on the vague idealism and indisputable moralities
of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount. The fearlessness of the
Chicago confession was melted down into a featureless alloy.

The embarrassment from the liquor question which Woodrow Wilson feared
does not arise because teetotaler and drunkard both become intoxicated
when they discuss the saloon. It would come just as much from a radical
program of land taxation, factory reform, or trust control. Let anyone of
these issues be injected into his campaign and the lines of party action
would be cut "athwart." For Woodrow Wilson was dealing with the
inevitable embarrassment of a party system dependent on an inexpressive
homogeneity. The grouping of the voters into two large herds costs a
large price: it means that issues must be so simplified and selected that
the real demands of the nation rise only now and then to the level of
political discussion. The more people a party contains the less it
expresses their needs.

Woodrow Wilson's diagnosis of the red herring in politics is obviously
correct. A new issue does embarrass a wholesale organization of the
voters. His desire to avoid it in the midst of a campaign is
understandable. His urgent plea that the liquor question be kept a local
issue may be wise. But the general philosophy which says that the party
system should not be cut athwart is at least open to serious dispute.
Instead of an evil, it looks to me like progress towards greater
responsiveness of parties to popular need. It is good to disturb
alignments: to break up a superficial unanimity. The masses of people
held together under the name Democratic are bound in an enervating
communion. The real groups dare not speak their convictions for fear the
crust will break. It is as if you had thrown a large sheet over a mass of
men and made them anonymous.

The man who raises new issues has always been distasteful to politicians.
He musses up what had been so tidily arranged. I remember once speaking
to a local boss about woman suffrage. His objections were very simple:
"We've got the organization in fine shape now--we know where every voter
in the district stands. But you let all the women vote and we'll be
confused as the devil. It'll be an awful job keeping track of them." He
felt what many a manufacturer feels when somebody has the impertinence to
invent a process which disturbs the routine of business.

Hard as it is upon the immediate plans of the politician, it is a
national blessing when the lines of party action are cut athwart by new
issues. I recognize that the red herring is more often frivolous and
personal--a matter of misrepresentation and spite--than an honest attempt
to enlarge the scope of politics. However, a fine thing must not be
deplored because it is open to vicious caricature. To the party worker
the petty and the honest issue are equally disturbing. The break-up of
the parties into expressive groups would be a ventilation of our national
life. No use to cry peace when there is no peace. The false bonds are
best broken: with their collapse would come a release of social energy
into political discussion. For every country is a mass of minorities
which should find a voice in public affairs. Any device like proportional
representation and preferential voting which facilitates the political
expression of group interests is worth having. The objection that popular
government cannot be conducted without the two party system is, I
believe, refuted by the experience of Europe. If I had to choose between
a Congressional caucus and a coalition ministry, I should not have to
hesitate very long. But no one need go abroad for actual experience: in
the United States Senate during the Taft administration there were really
three parties--Republicans, Insurgents and Democrats. Public business
went ahead with at least as much effectiveness as under the old Aldrich

There are deeper reasons for urging a break-up of herd-politics. It is
not only desirable that groups should be able to contribute to public
discussion: it is absolutely essential if the parliamentary method is not
to be superseded by direct and violent action. The two party system
chokes off the cry of a minority--perhaps the best way there is of
precipitating an explosion. An Englishman once told me that the utter
freedom of speech in Hyde Park was the best safeguard England had against
the doctrines that were propounded there. An anarchist who was invited to
address Congress would be a mild person compared to the man forbidden to
speak in the streets of San Diego. For many a bomb has exploded into

The rigidity of the two-party system is, I believe, disastrous: it
ignores issues without settling them, dulls and wastes the energies of
active groups, and chokes off the protests which should find a civilized
expression in public life. A recognition of what an incubus it is should
make us hospitable to all those devices which aim at making politics
responsive by disturbing the alignments of habit. The initiative and
referendum will help: they are a method of voting on definite issues
instead of electing an administration in bulk. If cleverly handled these
electoral devices should act as a check on a wholesale attitude toward
politics. Men could agree on a candidate and disagree on a measure.
Another device is the separation of municipal, state and national
elections: to hold them all at the same time is an inducement to prevent
the voter from splitting his allegiance. Proportional representation and
preferential voting I have mentioned. The short ballot is a psychological
principle which must be taken into account wherever there is voting: it
will help the differentiation of political groups by concentrating the
attention on essential choices. The recall of public officials is in part
a policeman's club, in part a clumsy way of getting around the American
prejudice for a fixed term of office. That rigidity which by the mere
movement of the calendar throws an official out of office in the midst of
his work or compels him to go campaigning is merely the crude method of a
democracy without confidence in itself. The recall is a half-hearted and
negative way of dealing with this difficulty. It does enable us to rid
ourselves of an officer we don't like instead of having to wait until the
earth has revolved to a certain place about the sun. But we still have to
vote on a fixed date whether we have anything to vote upon or not. If a
recall election is held when the people petition for it, why not all

In ways like these we shall go on inventing methods by which the
fictitious party alignments can be dissolved. There is one device
suggested now and then, tried, I believe, in a few places, and vaguely
championed by some socialists. It is called in German an
"Interessenvertrag"--a political representation by trade interests as
well as by geographical districts. Perhaps this is the direction towards
which the bi-cameral legislature will develop. One chamber would then
represent a man's sectional interests as a consumer: the other his
professional interests as a producer. The railway workers, the miners,
the doctors, the teachers, the retail merchants would have direct
representation in the "Interessenvertrag." You might call it a Chamber of
Special Interests. I know how that phrase "Special Interests" hurts. In
popular usage we apply it only to corrupting businesses. But our feeling
against them should not blind us to the fact that every group in the
community has its special interests. They will always exist until mankind
becomes a homogeneous jelly. The problem is to find some social
adjustment for all the special interests of a nation. That is best
achieved by open recognition and clear representation. Let no one then
confuse the "Interessenvertrag" with those existing legislatures which
are secret Chambers of Special Privilege.

The scheme is worth looking at for it does do away with the present
dilemma of the citizen in which he wonders helplessly whether he ought to
vote as a consumer or as a producer. I believe he should have both votes,
and the "Interessenvertrag" is a way.

These devices are mentioned here as illustrations and not as conclusions.
You can think of them as arrangements by which the red herring is turned
from a pest into a benefit. I grant that in the rigid political
conditions prevailing to-day a new issue is an embarrassment, perhaps a
hindrance to the procedure of political life. But instead of narrowing
the scope of politics, to avoid it, the only sensible thing to do is to
invent methods which will allow needs and problems and group interests
avenues into politics.

But a suggestion like this is sure to be met with the argument which
Woodrow Wilson has in mind when he says that the "questions involved are
social and moral and are not susceptible of being made parts of a party
program." He voices a common belief when he insists that there are moral
and social problems, "essentially non-political." Innocent as it looks at
first sight this plea by Woodrow Wilson is weighted with the tradition of
a century and a half. To my mind it symbolizes a view of the state which
we are outgrowing, and throws into relief the view towards which we are
struggling. Its implications are well worth tracing, for through them I
think we can come to understand better the method of Twentieth Century

It is perfectly true that that government is best which governs least. It
is equally true that that government is best which provides most. The
first truth belongs to the Eighteenth Century: the second to the
Twentieth. Neither of them can be neglected in our attitude towards the
state. Without the Jeffersonian distrust of the police we might easily
grow into an impertinent and tyrannous collectivism: without a vivid
sense of the possibilities of the state we abandon the supreme instrument
of civilization. The two theories need to be held together, yet clearly

Government has been an exalted policeman: it was there to guard property
and to prevent us from quarreling too violently. That was about all it
was good for. Yet society found problems on its hands--problems which
Woodrow Wilson calls moral and social in their nature. Vice and crime,
disease, and grinding poverty forced themselves on the attention of the
community. A typical example is the way the social evil compelled the
city of Chicago to begin an investigation. Yet when government was asked
to handle the question it had for wisdom an ancient conception of itself
as a policeman. Its only method was to forbid, to prosecute, to jail--in
short, to use the taboo. But experience has shown that the taboo will not
solve "moral and social questions"--that nine times out of ten it
aggravates the disease. Political action becomes a petty, futile, mean
little intrusion when its only method is prosecution.

No wonder then that conservatively-minded men pray that moral and social
questions be kept out of politics; no wonder that more daring souls begin
to hate the whole idea of government and take to anarchism. So long as
the state is conceived merely as an agent of repression, the less it
interferes with our lives, the better. Much of the horror of socialism
comes from a belief that by increasing the functions of government its
regulating power over our daily lives will grow into a tyranny. I share
this horror when certain socialists begin to propound their schemes.
There is a dreadful amount of forcible scrubbing and arranging and
pocketing implied in some socialisms. There is a wish to have the state
use its position as general employer to become a censor of morals and
arbiter of elegance, like the benevolent employers of the day who take an
impertinent interest in the private lives of their workers. Without any
doubt socialism has within it the germs of that great bureaucratic
tyranny which Chesterton and Belloc have named the Servile State.

So it is a wise instinct that makes men jealous of the policeman's power.
Far better we may say that moral and social problems be left to private
solution than that they be subjected to the clumsy method of the taboo.
When Woodrow Wilson argues that social problems are not susceptible to
treatment in a party program, he must mean only one thing: that they
cannot be handled by the state as he conceives it. He is right. His
attitude is far better than that of the Vice Commission: it too had only
a policeman's view of government, but it proceeded to apply it to
problems that are not susceptible to such treatment. Wilson, at least,
knows the limitations of his philosophy.

But once you see the state as a provider of civilizing opportunities, his
whole objection collapses. As soon as government begins to supply
services, it is turning away from the sterile tyranny of the taboo. The
provision of schools, streets, plumbing, highways, libraries, parks,
universities, medical attention, post-offices, a Panama Canal,
agricultural information, fire protection--is a use of government totally
different from the ideal of Jefferson. To furnish these opportunities is
to add to the resources of life, and only a doctrinaire adherence to a
misunderstood ideal will raise any objection to them.

When an anarchist says that the state must be abolished he does not mean
what he says. What he wants to abolish is the repressive, not the
productive state. He cannot possibly object to being furnished with the
opportunity of writing to his comrade three thousand miles away, of
drinking pure water, or taking a walk in the park. Of course when he
finds the post-office opening his mail, or a law saying that he must
drink nothing but water, he begins to object even to the services of the
government. But that is a confusion of thought, for these tyrannies are
merely intrusions of the eighteenth century upon the twentieth. The
postmaster is still something of a policeman.

Once you realize that moral and social problems must be treated to fine
opportunities, that the method of the future is to compete with the devil
rather than to curse him; that the furnishing of civilized environments
is the goal of statecraft, then there is no longer any reason for keeping
social and moral questions out of politics. They are what politics must
deal with essentially, now that it has found a way. The policeman with
his taboo did make moral and social questions insusceptible to treatment
in party platforms. He kept the issues of politics narrow and irrelevant,
and just because these really interesting questions could not be handled,
politics was an over-advertised hubbub. But the vision of the new
statecraft in centering politics upon human interests becomes a creator
of opportunities instead of a censor of morals, and deserves a fresh and
heightened regard.

The party platform will grow ever more and more into a program of
services. In the past it has been an armory of platitudes or a forecast
of punishments. It promised that it would stop this evil practice, drive
out corruption here, and prosecute this-and-that offense. All that
belongs to a moribund tradition. Abuse and disuse characterize the older
view of the state: guardian and censor it has been, provider but
grudgingly. The proclamations of so-called progressives that they will
jail financiers, or "wage relentless warfare" upon social evils, are
simply the reiterations of men who do not understand the uses of the

A political revolution is in progress: the state as policeman is giving
place to the state as producer.



There is a legend of a peasant who lived near Paris through the whole
Napoleonic era without ever having heard of the name of Bonaparte. A
story of that kind is enough to make a man hesitate before he indulges in
a flamboyant description of social changes. That peasant is more than a
symbol of the privacy of human interest: he is a warning against the
incurable romanticism which clings about the idea of a revolution.
Popular history is deceptive if it is used to furnish a picture for
coming events. Like drama which compresses the tragedy of a lifetime into
a unity of time, place, and action, history foreshortens an epoch into an
episode. It gains in poignancy, but loses reality. Men grew from infancy
to old age, their children's children had married and loved and worked
while the social change we speak of as the industrial revolution was
being consummated. That is why it is so difficult for living people to
believe that they too are in the midst of great transformations. What
looks to us like an incredible rush of events sloping towards a great
historical crisis was to our ancestors little else than the occasional
punctuation of daily life with an exciting incident. Even to-day when we
have begun to speak of our age as a transition, there are millions of
people who live in an undisturbed routine. Even those of us who regard
ourselves as active in mothering the process and alert in detecting its
growth are by no means constantly aware of any great change. For even the
fondest mother cannot watch her child grow.

I remember how tremendously surprised I was in visiting Russia several
years ago to find that in Moscow or St. Petersburg men were interested in
all sorts of things besides the revolution. I had expected every Russian
to be absorbed in the struggle. It seemed at first as if my notions of
what a revolution ought to be were contradicted everywhere. And I assure
you it wrenched the imagination to see tidy nursemaids wheeling
perambulators and children playing diavolo on the very square where
Bloody Sunday had gone into history. It takes a long perspective and no
very vivid acquaintance with revolution to be melodramatic about it. So
much is left out of history and biography which would spoil the effect.
The anti-climax is almost always omitted.

Perhaps that is the reason why Arnold Bennett's description of the siege
of Paris in "The Old Wives' Tale" is so disconcerting to many people. It
is hard to believe that daily life continues with its stretches of
boredom and its personal interests even while the enemy is bombarding a
city. How much more difficult is it to imagine a revolution that is to
come--to space it properly through a long period of time, to conceive
what it will be like to the people who live through it. Almost all social
prediction is catastrophic and absurdly simplified. Even those who talk
of the slow "evolution" of society are likely to think of it as a series
of definite changes easily marked and well known to everybody. It is what
Bernard Shaw calls the reformer's habit of mistaking his private emotions
for a public movement.

Even though the next century is full of dramatic episodes--the collapse
of governments and labor wars--these events will be to the social
revolution what the smashing of machines in Lancashire was to the
industrial revolution. The reality that is worthy of attention is a
change in the very texture and quality of millions of lives--a change
that will be vividly perceptible only in the retrospect of history.

The conservative often has a sharp sense of the complexity of revolution:
not desiring change, he prefers to emphasize its difficulties, whereas
the reformer is enticed into a faith that the intensity of desire is a
measure of its social effect. Yet just because no reform is in itself a
revolution, we must not jump to the assurance that no revolution can be
accomplished. True as it is that great changes are imperceptible, it is
no less true that they are constantly taking place. Moreover, for the
very reason that human life changes its quality so slowly, the panic over
political proposals is childish.

It is obvious, for instance, that the recall of judges will not
revolutionize the national life. That is why the opposition generated
will seem superstitious to the next generation. As I write, a convention
of the Populist Party has just taken place. Eight delegates attended the
meeting, which was held in a parlor. Even the reactionary press speaks in
a kindly way about these men. Twenty years ago the Populists were hated
and feared as if they practiced black magic. What they wanted is on the
point of realization. To some of us it looks like a drop in the bucket--a
slight part of vastly greater plans. But how stupid was the fear of
Populism, what unimaginative nonsense it was to suppose twenty years ago
that the program was the road to the end of the world.

One good deed or one bad one is no measure of a man's character: the Last
Judgment let us hope will be no series of decisions as simple as that.
"The soul survives its adventures," says Chesterton with a splendid sense
of justice. A country survives its legislation. That truth should not
comfort the conservative nor depress the radical. For it means that
public policy can enlarge its scope and increase its audacity, can try
big experiments without trembling too much over the result. This nation
could enter upon the most radical experiments and could afford to fail in
them. Mistakes do not affect us so deeply as we imagine. Our prophecies
of change are subjective wishes or fears that never come to full

Those socialists are confused who think that a new era can begin by a
general strike or an electoral victory. Their critics are just a bit more
confused when they become hysterical over the prospect. Both of them
over-emphasize the importance of single events. Yet I do not wish to
furnish the impression that crises are negligible. They are extremely
important as symptoms, as milestones, and as instruments. It is simply
that the reality of a revolution is not in a political decree or the
scarehead of a newspaper, but in the experiences, feelings, habits of
myriads of men.

No one who watched the textile strike at Lawrence, Massachusetts, in the
winter of 1912 can forget the astounding effect it had on the complacency
of the public. Very little was revealed that any well-informed social
worker does not know as a commonplace about the mill population. The
wretchedness and brutality of Lawrence conditions had been described in
books and magazines and speeches until radicals had begun to wonder at
times whether the power of language wasn't exhausted. The response was
discouragingly weak--an occasional government investigation, an
impassioned protest from a few individuals, a placid charity, were about
all that the middle-class public had to say about factory life. The
cynical indifference of legislatures and the hypocrisy of the dominant
parties were all that politics had to offer. The Lawrence strike touched
the most impervious: story after story came to our ears of hardened
reporters who suddenly refused to misrepresent the strikers, of
politicians aroused to action, of social workers become revolutionary.
Daily conversation was shocked into some contact with realities--the
newspapers actually printed facts about the situation of a working class

And why? The reason is not far to seek. The Lawrence strikers did
something more than insist upon their wrongs; they showed a disposition
to right them. That is what scared public opinion into some kind of
truth-telling. So long as the poor are docile in their poverty, the rest
of us are only too willing to satisfy our consciences by pitying them.
But when the downtrodden gather into a threat as they did at Lawrence,
when they show that they have no stake in civilization and consequently
no respect for its institutions, when the object of pity becomes the
avenger of its own miseries, then the middle-class public begins to look
at the problem more intelligently.

We are not civilized enough to meet an issue before it becomes acute. We
were not intelligent enough to free the slaves peacefully--we are not
intelligent enough to-day to meet the industrial problem before it
develops a crisis. That is the hard truth of the matter. And that is why
no honest student of politics can plead that social movements should
confine themselves to argument and debate, abandoning the militancy of
the strike, the insurrection, the strategy of social conflict.

Those who deplore the use of force in the labor struggle should ask
themselves whether the ruling classes of a country could be depended upon
to inaugurate a program of reconstruction which would abolish the
barbarism that prevails in industry. Does anyone seriously believe that
the business leaders, the makers of opinion and the politicians will, on
their own initiative, bring social questions to a solution? If they do it
will be for the first time in history. The trivial plans they are
introducing to-day--profit-sharing and welfare work--are on their own
admission an attempt to quiet the unrest and ward off the menace of

No, paternalism is not dependable, granting that it is desirable. It will
do very little more than it feels compelled to do. Those who to-day bear
the brunt of our evils dare not throw themselves upon the mercy of their
masters, not though there are bread and circuses as a reward. From the
groups upon whom the pressure is most direct must come the power to deal
with it. We are not all immediately interested in all problems: our
attention wanders unless the people who are interested compel us to

Social movements are at once the symptoms and the instruments of
progress. Ignore them and statesmanship is irrelevant; fail to use them
and it is weak. Often in the course of these essays I have quoted from H.
G. Wells. I must do so again: "Every party stands essentially for the
interests and mental usages of some definite class or group of classes in
the exciting community, and every party has its scientific minded and
constructive leading section, with well defined hinterlands formulating
its social functions in a public spirited form, and its
superficial-minded following confessing its meannesses and vanities and
prejudices. No class will abolish itself, materially alter its way of
living, or drastically reconstruct itself, albeit no class is indisposed
to co-operate in the unlimited socialization of any other class. In that
capacity for aggression upon other classes lies the essential driving
force of modern affairs."

The truth of this can be tested in the socialist movement. There is a
section among the socialists which regards the class movement of labor as
a driving force in the socialization of industry. This group sees clearly
that without the threat of aggression no settlement of the issues is
possible. Ordinarily such socialists say that the class struggle is a
movement which will end classes. They mean that the self-interest of
labor is identical with the interests of a community--that it is a kind
of social selfishness. But there are other socialists who speak
constantly of "working-class government" and they mean just what they
say. It is their intention to have the community ruled in the interests
of labor. Probe their minds to find out what they mean by labor and in
all honesty you cannot escape the admission that they mean industrial
labor alone. These socialists think entirely in terms of the factory
population of cities: the farmers, the small shop-keepers, the
professional classes have only a perfunctory interest for them. I know
that no end of phrases could be adduced to show the inclusiveness of the
word labor. But their intention is what I have tried to describe: they
are thinking of government by a factory population.

They appeal to history for confirmation: have not all social changes,
they ask, meant the emergence of a new economic class until it dominated
society? Did not the French Revolution mean the conquest of the feudal
landlord by the middle-class merchant? Why should not the Social
Revolution mean the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie? That
may be true, but it is no reason for being bullied by it into a tame
admission that what has always been must always be. I see no reason for
exalting the unconscious failures of other revolutions into deliberate
models for the next one. Just because the capacity of aggression in the
middle class ran away with things, and failed to fuse into any decent
social ideal, is not ground for trying as earnestly as possible to repeat
the mistake.

The lesson of it all, it seems to me, is this: that class interests are
the driving forces which keep public life centered upon essentials. They
become dangerous to a nation when it denies them, thwarts them and
represses them so long that they burst out and become dominant. Then
there is no limit to their aggression until another class appears with
contrary interests. The situation might be compared to those hysterias in
which a suppressed impulse flares up and rules the whole mental life.

Social life has nothing whatever to fear from group interests so long as
it doesn't try to play the ostrich in regard to them. So the burden of
national crises is squarely upon the dominant classes who fight so
foolishly against the emergent ones. That is what precipitates violence,
that is what renders social co-operation impossible, that is what makes
catastrophes the method of change.

The wisest rulers see this. They know that the responsibility for
insurrections rests in the last analysis upon the unimaginative greed and
endless stupidity of the dominant classes. There is something pathetic in
the blindness of powerful people when they face a social crisis. Fighting
viciously every readjustment which a nation demands, they make their own
overthrow inevitable. It is they who turn opposing interests into a class
war. Confronted with the deep insurgency of labor what do capitalists and
their spokesmen do? They resist every demand, submit only after a
struggle, and prepare a condition of war to the death. When far-sighted
men appear in the ruling classes--men who recognize the need of a
civilized answer to this increasing restlessness, the rich and the
powerful treat them to a scorn and a hatred that are incredibly bitter.
The hostility against men like Roosevelt, La Follette, Bryan,
Lloyd-George is enough to make an observer believe that the rich of
to-day are as stupid as the nobles of France before the Revolution.

It seems to me that Roosevelt never spoke more wisely or as a better
friend of civilization than the time when he said at New York City on
March 20, 1912, that "the woes of France for a century and a quarter have
been due to the folly of her people in splitting into the two camps of
unreasonable conservatism and unreasonable radicalism. Had
pre-Revolutionary France listened to men like Turgot and backed them up
all would have gone well. But the beneficiaries of privilege, the Bourbon
reactionaries, the short-sighted ultra-conservatives, turned down Turgot;
and then found that instead of him they had obtained Robespierre. They
gained twenty years' freedom from all restraint and reform at the cost of
the whirlwind of the red terror; and in their turn the unbridled
extremists of the terror induced a blind reaction; and so, with
convulsion and oscillation from one extreme to another, with alterations
of violent radicalism and violent Bourbonism, the French people went
through misery to a shattered goal."

Profound changes are not only necessary, but highly desirable. Even if
this country were comfortably well-off, healthy, prosperous, and
educated, men would go on inventing and creating opportunities to amplify
the possibilities of life. These inventions would mean radical
transformations. For we are bent upon establishing more in this nation
than a minimum of comfort. A liberal people would welcome social
inventions as gladly as we do mechanical ones. What it would fear is a
hard-shell resistance to change which brings it about explosively.

Catastrophes are disastrous to radical and conservative alike: they do
not preserve what was worth maintaining; they allow a deformed and often
monstrous perversion of the original plan. The emancipation of the slaves
might teach us the lesson that an explosion followed by reconstruction is
satisfactory to nobody.

Statesmanship would go out to meet a crisis before it had become acute.
The thing it would emphatically not do is to dam up an insurgent current
until it overflowed the countryside. Fight labor's demands to the last
ditch and there will come a time when it seizes the whole of power, makes
itself sovereign, and takes what it used to ask. That is a poor way for a
nation to proceed. For the insurgent become master is a fanatic from the
struggle, and as George Santayana says, he is only too likely to redouble
his effort after he has forgotten his aim.

Nobody need waste his time debating whether or not there are to be great
changes. That is settled for us whether we like it or not. What is worth
debating is the method by which change is to come about. Our choice, it
seems to me, lies between a blind push and a deliberate leadership,
between thwarting movements until they master us, and domesticating them
until they are answered.

When Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party on a platform of social
reform he crystallized a deep unrest, brought it out of the cellars of
resentment into the agora of political discussion. He performed the real
task of a leader--a task which has essentially two dimensions. By
becoming part of the dynamics of unrest he gathered a power of
effectiveness: by formulating a program for insurgency he translated it
into terms of public service.

What Roosevelt did at the middle-class level, the socialists have done at
the proletarian. The world has been slow to recognize the work of the
Socialist Party in transmuting a dumb muttering into a civilized program.
It has found an intelligent outlet for forces that would otherwise be
purely cataclysmic. The truth of this has been tested recently in the
appearance of the "direct actionists."

They are men who have lost faith in political socialism. Why? Because,
like all other groups, the socialists tend to become routineers, to slip
into an easy reiteration. The direct actionists are a warning to the
Socialist Party that its tactics and its program are not adequate to
domesticating the deepest unrest of labor. Within that party, therefore,
a leadership is required which will ride the forces of "syndicalism" and
use them for a constructive purpose. The brilliant writer of the "Notes
of the Week" in the English New Age has shown how this might be done. He
has fused the insight of the syndicalist with the plans of the
collectivists under the name of Guild Socialism.

His plan calls for co-management of industry by the state and the labor
union. It steers a course between exploitation by a bureaucracy in the
interests of the consumer--the socialist danger--and oppressive
monopolies by industrial unions--the syndicalist danger. I shall not
attempt to argue here either for or against the scheme. My concern is
with method rather than with special pleadings. The Guild Socialism of
the "New Age" is merely an instance of statesmanlike dealing with a new
social force. Instead of throwing up its hands in horror at one
over-advertised tactical incident like sabotage, the "New Age" went
straight to the creative impulse of the syndicalist movement.

Every true craftsman, artist or professional man knows and sympathizes
with that impulse: you may call it a desire for self-direction in labor.
The deepest revolt implied in the term syndicalism is against the
impersonal, driven quality of modern industry--against the destruction of
that pride which alone distinguishes work from slavery. Some such impulse
as that is what marks off syndicalism from the other revolts of labor.
Our suspicion of the collectivist arrangement is aroused by the picture
of a vast state machine so horribly well-regulated that human impulse is
utterly subordinated. I believe too that the fighting qualities of
syndicalism are kept at the boiling point by a greater sense of outraged
human dignity than can be found among mere socialists or unionists. The
imagination is more vivid: the horror of capitalism is not alone in the
poverty and suffering it entails, but in its ruthless denial of life to
millions of men. The most cruel of all denials is to deprive a human
being of joyous activity. Syndicalism is shot through with the assertion
that an imposed drudgery is intolerable--that labor at a subsistence wage
as a cog in a meaningless machine is no condition upon which to found
civilization. That is a new kind of revolt--more dangerous to capitalism
than the demand for higher wages. You can not treat the syndicalists like
cattle because forsooth they have ceased to be cattle. "The damned
wantlessness of the poor," about which Oscar Wilde complained, the cry
for a little more fodder, gives way to an insistence upon the chance to
be interested in life.

To shut the door in the face of such a current of feeling because it is
occasionally exasperated into violence would be as futile as locking up
children because they get into mischief. The mind which rejects
syndicalism entirely because of the by-products of its despair has had
pearls cast before it in vain. I know that syndicalism means a revision
of some of our plans--that it is an intrusion upon many a glib prejudice.
But a human impulse is more important than any existing theory. We must
not throw an unexpected guest out of the window because no place is set
for him at table. For we lose not only the charm of his company: he may
in anger wreck the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet the whole nation can't sit at one table: the politician will object
that all human interests can't be embodied in a party program. That is
true, truer than most politicians would admit in public. No party can
represent a whole nation, although, with the exception of the socialists,
all of them pretend to do just that. The reason is very simple: a
platform is a list of performances that are possible within a few years.
It is concerned with more or less immediate proposals, and in a nation
split up by class, sectional and racial interests, these proposals are
sure to arouse hostility. No definite industrial and political platform,
for example, can satisfy rich and poor, black and white, Eastern creditor
and Western farmer. A party that tried to answer every conflicting
interest would stand still because people were pulling in so many
different directions. It would arouse the anger of every group and the
approval of its framers. It would have no dynamic power because the
forces would neutralize each other.

One comprehensive party platform fusing every interest is impossible and
undesirable. What is both possible and desirable is that every group
interest should be represented in public life--that it should have
spokesmen and influence in public affairs. This is almost impossible
to-day. Our blundering political system is pachydermic in its
irresponsiveness. The methods of securing representation are unfit
instruments for any flexible use. But the United States is evidently not
exceptional in this respect. England seems to suffer in the same way. In
May, 1912, the "Daily Mail" published a series of articles by H. G. Wells
on "The Labour Unrest." Is he not describing almost any session of
Congress when he says that "to go into the House of Commons is to go
aside out of the general stream of the community's vitality into a corner
where little is learnt and much is concocted, into a specialized Assembly
which is at once inattentive to and monstrously influential in our
affairs?" Further on Wells remarks that "this diminishing actuality of
our political life is a matter of almost universal comment to-day.... In
Great Britain we do not have Elections any more; we have Rejections.
What really happens at a general election is that the party
organizations--obscure and secretive conclaves with entirely mysterious
funds--appoint about 1200 men to be our rulers, and all that we, we
so-called self-governing people, are permitted to do is, in a muddled
angry way, to strike off the names of about half these selected

A cynic might say that the people can't go far wrong in politics because
they can't be very right. Our so-called representative system is
unrepresentative in a deeper way than the reformers who talk about the
money power imagine. It is empty and thin: a stifling of living currents
in the interest of a mediocre regularity.

But suppose that politics were made responsive--suppose that the forces
of the community found avenues of expression into public life. Would not
our legislatures be cut up into antagonistic parties, would not the
conflicts of the nation be concentrated into one heated hall? If you
really represented the country in its government, would you not get its
partisanship in a quintessential form? After all group interests in the
nation are diluted by space and time: the mere separation in cities and
country prevents them from falling into the psychology of the crowd. But
let them all be represented in one room by men who are professionally
interested in their constituency's prejudices and what would you
accomplish but a deepening of the cleavages? Would the session not become
an interminable wrangle?

Nobody can answer these questions with any certainty. Most prophecies are
simply the masquerades of prejudice, and the people who love stability
and prefer to let their own well-being alone will see in a sensitive
political system little but an invitation to chaos. They will choose
facts to adorn their fears. History can be all things to all men: nothing
is easier than to summon the Terror, the Commune, lynchings in the
Southern States, as witnesses to the excesses and hysterias of the mob.
Those facts will prove the case conclusively to anyone who has already
made up his mind on the subject. Absolute democrats can also line up
their witnesses: the conservatism of the Swiss, Wisconsin's successful
experiments, the patience and judgment of the Danes. Both sides are
remarkably sure that the right is with them, whereas the only truth about
which an observer can be entirely certain is that in some places and in
certain instances democracy is admittedly successful.

There is no absolute case one way or the other. It would be silly from
the experience we have to make a simple judgment about the value of
direct expression. You cannot lump such a mass of events together and
come to a single conclusion about them. It is a crude habit of mind that
would attempt it. You might as well talk abstractly about the goodness or
badness of this universe which contains happiness, pain, exhilaration and
indifference in a thousand varying grades and quantities. There is no
such thing as Democracy; there are a number of more or less democratic
experiments which are not subject to wholesale eulogy or condemnation.

The questions about the success of a truly representative system are
pseudo-questions. And for this reason: success is not due to the system;
it does not flow from it automatically. The source of success is in the
people who use the system: as an instrument it may help or hinder them,
but they must operate it. Government is not a machine running on straight
tracks to a desired goal. It is a human work which may be facilitated by
good tools.

That is why the achievements of the Swiss may mean nothing whatever when
you come to prophesy about the people of New York. Because Wisconsin has
made good use of the direct primary it does not follow that it will
benefit the Filipino. It always seems curious to watch the satisfaction
of some reform magazines when China or Turkey or Persia imitates the
constitutional forms of Western democracies. Such enthusiasts postulate a
uniformity of human ability which every fact of life contradicts.

Present-day reform lays a great emphasis upon instruments and very little
on the skilful use of them. It says that human nature is all right, that
what is wrong is the "system." Now the effect of this has been to
concentrate attention on institutions and to slight men. A small step
further, institutions become an end in themselves. They may violate human
nature as the taboo does. That does not disturb the interest in them very
much, for by common consent reformers are to fix their minds upon the

A machine should be run by men for human uses. The preoccupation with the
"system" lays altogether too little stress on the men who operate it and
the men for whom it is run. It is as if you put all your effort into the
working of a plough and forgot the farmer and the consumer. I state the
case baldly and contradiction would be easy. The reformer might point to
phrases like "human welfare" which appear in his writings. And yet the
point stands, I believe. The emphasis which directs his thinking bears
most heavily upon the mechanics of life--only perfunctorily upon the
ability of the men who are to use them.

Even an able reformer like Mr. Frederic C. Howe does not escape entirely.
A recent book is devoted to a glowing eulogy of "Wisconsin, an Experiment
in Democracy." In a concluding chapter Mr. Howe states the philosophy of
the experiment. "What is the explanation of Wisconsin?" he asks. "Why has
it been able to eliminate corruption, machine politics, and rid itself of
the boss? What is the cause of the efficiency, the thoroughness, the
desire to serve which animate the state? Why has Wisconsin succeeded
where other states have uniformly failed? I think the explanation is
simple. It is also perfectly natural. It is traceable to democracy, to
the political freedom which had its beginning in the direct primary law,
and which has been continuously strengthened by later laws"; some pages
later, "Wisconsin assumed that the trouble with our politics is not with
our people, but with the machinery with which the people work.... It has
established a line of vision as direct as possible between the people and
the expression of their will." The impression Mr. Howe evidently wishes
to leave with his readers is that the success of the experiment is due to
the instruments rather than to the talent of the people of Wisconsin.
That would be a valuable and comforting assurance to propagandists, for
it means that other states with the same instruments can achieve the same
success. But the conclusion seems to me utterly unfounded. The reasoning
is perilously like that of the gifted lady amateur who expects to achieve
greatness by imitating the paint box and palette, oils and canvases of an

Mr. Howe's own book undermines his conclusions. He begins with an account
of La Follette--of a man with initiative and a constructive bent. The
forces La Follette set in motion are commented upon. The work of Van Hise
is shown. What Wisconsin had was leadership and a people that responded,
inventors, and constructive minds. They forged the direct primary and the
State University out of the impetus within themselves. No doubt they were
fortunate in their choice of instruments. They made the expression of the
people's will direct, yet that will surely is the more primary thing. It
makes and uses representative systems: but you cannot reverse the
process. A man can manufacture a plough and operate it, but no amount of
ploughs will create a man and endow him with skill.

All sorts of observers have pointed out that the Western States adopt
reform legislation more quickly than the Eastern. Yet no one would
seriously maintain that the West is more progressive because it has
progressive laws. The laws are a symptom and an aid but certainly not the
cause. Constitutions do not make people; people make constitutions. So
the task of reform consists not in presenting a state with progressive
laws, but in getting the people to want them.

The practical difference is extraordinary. I insist upon it so much
because the tendency of political discussion is to regard government as
automatic: a device that is sure to fail or sure to succeed. It is sure
of nothing. Effort moves it, intelligence directs it; its fate is in
human hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

The politics I have urged in these chapters cannot be learned by rote.
What can be taught by rule of thumb is the administration of precedents.
That is at once the easiest and the most fruitless form of public
activity. Only a low degree of intelligence is required and of effort
merely a persistent repetition. Men fall into a routine when they are
tired and slack: it has all the appearance of activity with few of its
burdens. It was a profound observation when Bernard Shaw said that men
dread liberty because of the bewildering responsibility it imposes and
the uncommon alertness it demands. To do what has always been done, to
think in well-cut channels, to give up "the intolerable disease of
thought," is an almost constant demand of our natures. That is perhaps
why so many of the romantic rebels of the Nineteenth Century sank at last
into the comforting arms of Mother Church. That is perhaps the reason why
most oldish men acquire information, but learn very little. The
conservative who loves his routine is in nine cases out of ten a creature
too lazy to change its habits.

Confronted with a novelty, the first impulse is to snub it, and send it
into exile. When it becomes too persistent to be ignored a taboo is
erected and threats of fines and condign punishment are made if it
doesn't cease to appear. This is the level of culture at which Sherman
Anti-Trust acts are passed, brothels are raided, and labor agitators are
thrown into jail. If the taboo is effective it drives the evil under
cover, where it festers and emits a slow poison. This is the price we pay
for the appearance of suppression. But if the problem is more heavily
charged with power, the taboo irritates the force until it explodes. Not
infrequently what was once simply a factor of life becomes the dominating
part of it. At this point the whole routineer scheme of things collapses,
there is a period of convulsion and Cæsarean births, and men weary of
excitement sink back into a newer routine. Thus the cycle of futility is

The process bears as much resemblance to statecraft as sitting backward
on a runaway horse does to horsemanship. The ordinary politician has no
real control, no direction, no insight into the power he rides. What he
has is an elevated, though temporary seat. Real statesmanship has a
different ambition. It begins by accepting human nature. No routine has
ever done that in spite of the conservative patter about "human nature";
mechanical politics has usually begun by ignoring and ended by violating
the nature of men.

To accept that nature does not mean that we accept its present character.
It is probably true that the impulses of men have changed very little
within recorded history. What has changed enormously from epoch to epoch
is the character in which these impulses appear. The impulses that at one
period work themselves out into cruelty and lust may at another produce
the richest values of civilized life. The statesman can affect that
choice. His business is to provide fine opportunities for the expression
of human impulses--to surround childhood, youth and age with homes and
schools, cities and countryside that shall be stocked with interest and
the chance for generous activity.

Government can play a leading part in this work, for with the decadence
of the church it has become the only truly catholic organization in the
land. Its task is essentially to carry out programs of service, to add
and build and increase the facilities of life. Repression is an
insignificant part of its work; the use of the club can never be
applauded, though it may be tolerated _faute de mieux_. Its use is a
confession of ignorance.

A sensitively representative machinery will probably serve such
statesmanship best. For the easy expression of public opinion in
government is a clue to what services are needed and a test of their
success. It keeps the processes of politics well ventilated and reminds
politicians of their excuse for existence.

In that kind of statesmanship there will be a premium on inventiveness,
on the ingenuity to devise and plan. There will be much less use for
lawyers and a great deal more for scientists. The work requires
industrial organizers, engineers, architects, educators, sanitists to
achieve what leadership brings into the program of politics.

This leadership is the distinctive fact about politics. The statesman
acts in part as an intermediary between the experts and his constituency.
He makes social movements conscious of themselves, expresses their needs,
gathers their power and then thrusts them behind the inventor and the
technician in the task of actual achievement. What Roosevelt did in the
conservation movement was typical of the statesman's work. He recognized
the need of attention to natural resources, made it public, crystallized
its force and delegated the technical accomplishment to Pinchot and his

       *       *       *       *       *

But creative statesmanship requires a culture to support it. It can
neither be taught by rule nor produced out of a vacuum. A community that
clatters along with its rusty habits of thought unquestioned, making no
distinction between instruments and idols, with a dull consumption of
machine-made romantic fiction, no criticism, an empty pulpit and an
unreliable press, will find itself faithfully mirrored in public affairs.
The one thing that no democrat may assume is that the people are dear
good souls, fully competent for their task. The most valuable leaders
never assume that. No one, for example, would accuse Karl Marx of
disloyalty to workingmen. Yet in 1850 he could write at the demagogues
among his friends: "While we draw the attention of the German workman to
the _undeveloped state_ of the proletariat in Germany, you flatter the
national spirit and the guild prejudices of the German artisans in the
grossest manner, a method of procedure without doubt the more popular of
the two. Just as the democrats made a sort of fetich of the words, 'the
people,' so you make one of the word 'proletariat.'" John Spargo quotes
this statement in his "Life." Marx, we are told, could use phrases like
"democratic miasma." He never seems to have made the mistake of confusing
democracy with demolatry. Spargo is perfectly clear about this
characteristic of Marx: "He admired most of all, perhaps, that fine
devotion to truth as he understood it, and disregard of popularity which
marked Owen's life. Contempt for popular opinion was one of his most
strongly developed characteristics. He was fond, says Liebknecht, of
quoting as his motto the defiant line of Dante, with which he afterwards
concluded his preface to 'Das Kapital':

'Segui il tuo corso e lascia dir le genti.'"

It is to Marx's everlasting credit that he set the intellectual standard
of socialism on the most vigorous intellectual basis he could find. He
knew better than to be satisfied with loose thinking and fairly good
intentions. He knew that the vast change he contemplated needed every
ounce of intellectual power that the world possessed. A fine boast it was
that socialism was equipped with all the culture of the age. I wonder
what he would have thought of an enthusiastic socialist candidate for
Governor of New York who could write that "until men are free the world
has no need of any more literary efforts, of any more paintings, of any
more poems. It is better to have said one word for the emancipation of
the race than to have written the greatest novel of the times.... The
world doesn't need any more literature."

I will not venture a guess as to what Marx would have said, but I know
what we must say: "Without a literature the people is dumb, without
novels and poems, plays and criticism, without books of philosophy, there
is neither the intelligence to plan, the imagination to conceive, nor the
understanding of a common purpose. Without culture you can knock down
governments, overturn property relations, you can create excitement, but
you cannot create a genuine revolution in the lives of men." The reply of
the workingmen in 1847 to Cabet's proposal that they found Icaria, "a new
terrestrial Paradise," in Texas if you please, contains this interesting
objection: "Because although those comrades who intend to emigrate with
Cabet may be eager Communists, yet they still possess too many of the
faults and prejudices of present-day society by reason of their past
education to be able to get rid of them at once by joining Icaria."

That simple statement might be taken to heart by all the reformers and
socialists who insist that the people are all right, that only
institutions are wrong. The politics of reconstruction require a nation
vastly better educated, a nation freed from its slovenly ways of
thinking, stimulated by wider interests, and jacked up constantly by the
sharpest kind of criticism. It is puerile to say that institutions must
be changed from top to bottom and then assume that their victims are
prepared to make the change. No amount of charters, direct primaries, or
short ballots make a democracy out of an illiterate people. Those
portions of America where there are voting booths but no schools cannot
possibly be described as democracies. Nor can the person who reads one
corrupt newspaper and then goes out to vote make any claim to having
registered his will. He may have a will, but he has not used it.

For politics whose only ideal is the routine, it is just as well that men
shouldn't know what they want or how to express it. Education has always
been a considerable nuisance to the conservative intellect. In the
Southern States, culture among the negroes is openly deplored, and I do
not blame any patriarch for dreading the education of women. It is out of
culture that the substance of real revolutions is made. If by some magic
force you could grant women the vote and then keep them from schools and
colleges, newspapers and lectures, the suffrage would be no more
effective than a Blue Law against kissing your wife on Sunday. It is
democratic machinery with an educated citizenship behind it that embodies
all the fears of the conservative and the hopes of the radical.

Culture is the name for what people are interested in, their thoughts,
their models, the books they read and the speeches they hear, their
table-talk, gossip, controversies, historical sense and scientific
training, the values they appreciate, the quality of life they admire.
All communities have a culture. It is the climate of their civilization.
Without a favorable culture political schemes are a mere imposition. They
will not work without a people to work them.

The real preparation for a creative statesmanship lies deeper than
parties and legislatures. It is the work of publicists and educators,
scientists, preachers and artists. Through all the agents that make and
popularize thought must come a bent of mind interested in invention and
freed from the authority of ideas. The democratic culture must, with
critical persistence, make man the measure of all things. I have tried
again and again to point out the iconoclasm that is constantly necessary
to avoid the distraction that comes of idolizing our own methods of
thought. Without an unrelaxing effort to center the mind upon human uses,
human purposes, and human results, it drops into idolatry and becomes
hostile to creation.

The democratic experiment is the only one that requires this wilful
humanistic culture. An absolutism like Russia's is served better when the
people accept their ideas as authoritative and piously sacrifice humanity
to a non-human purpose. An aristocracy flourishes where the people find a
vicarious enjoyment in admiring the successes of the ruling class. That
prevents men from developing their own interests and looking for their
own successes. No doubt Napoleon was well content with the philosophy of
those guardsmen who drank his health before he executed them.

But those excellent soldiers would make dismal citizens. A view of life
in which man obediently allows himself to be made grist for somebody
else's mill is the poorest kind of preparation for the work of
self-government. You cannot long deny external authorities in government
and hold to them for the rest of life, and it is no accident that the
nineteenth century questioned a great deal more than the sovereignty of
kings. The revolt went deeper and democracy in politics was only an
aspect of it. The age might be compared to those years of a boy's life
when he becomes an atheist and quarrels with his family. The nineteenth
century was a bad time not only for kings, but for priests, the classics,
parental autocrats, indissoluble marriage, Shakespeare, the Aristotelian
Poetics and the validity of logic. If disobedience is man's original
virtue, as Oscar Wilde suggested, it was an extraordinarily virtuous
century. Not a little of the revolt was an exuberant rebellion for its
own sake. There were also counter-revolutions, deliberate returns to
orthodoxy, as in the case of Chesterton. The transvaluation of values was
performed by many hands into all sorts of combinations.

There have been other periods of revolution. Heresy is just a few hours
younger than orthodoxy. Disobedience is certainly not the discovery of
the nineteenth century. But the quality of it is. I believe Chesterton
has hold of an essential truth when he says that this is the first time
men have boasted of their heresy. The older rebels claimed to be more
orthodox than the Church, to have gone back to the true authorities. The
radicals of recent times proclaim that there is no orthodoxy, no doctrine
that men must accept without question.

Without doubt they deceive themselves mightily. They have their invisible
popes, called Art, Nature, Science, with regalia and ritual and a
catechism. But they don't mean to have them. They mean to be
self-governing in their spiritual lives. And this intention is the
half-perceived current which runs through our age and galvanizes so many
queer revolts. It would be interesting to trace out the forms it has
taken, the abortive cults it has tried and abandoned. In another
connection I pointed to autonomy as the hope of syndicalism. It would not
be difficult to find a similar assertion in the feminist agitation. From
Mrs. Gilman's profound objections against a "man-made" world to the lady
who would like to vote about her taxes, there is a feeling that woman
must be something more than a passive creature. Walter Pater might be
quoted in his conclusion to the effect that "the theory or idea or system
which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of experience, in
consideration of some interest into which we cannot enter, or some
abstract theory we have not identified with ourselves, or what is only
conventional, has no real claim upon us." The desire for self-direction
has made a thousand philosophies as contradictory as the temperaments of
the thinkers. A storehouse of illustration is at hand: Nietzsche advising
the creative man to bite off the head of the serpent which is choking him
and become "a transfigured being, a light-surrounded being, that
_laughed_!" One might point to Stirner's absolute individualism or turn
to Whitman's wholehearted acceptance of every man with his catalogue of
defects and virtues. Some of these men have cursed each other roundly:
Georges Sorel, for example, who urges workingmen to accept none of the
bourgeois morality, and becomes most eloquent when he attacks other

I do not wish to suggest too much unanimity in the hundreds of artists
and thinkers that are making the thought of our times. There is a kind of
"professional reconciler" of opposites who likes to lump all the
prominent rebels together and refer to them affectionately as "us
radicals." Yet that there is a common impulse in modern thought which
strives towards autonomy is true and worth remarking. In some men it is
half-conscious, in others a minor influence, but almost no one of weight
escapes the contagion of it entirely. It is a new culture that is being
prepared. Without it there would to-day be no demand for a creative
statesmanship which turns its back upon the routine and the taboo, kings
and idols, and non-human purposes. It does more. It is making the
atmosphere in which a humanly centered politics can flourish. The fact
that this culture is multiform and often contradictory is a sign that
more and more of the interests of life are finding expression. We should
rejoice at that, for profusion means fertility; where a dead uniformity
ceases, invention and ingenuity flourish.

Perhaps the insistence on the need of a culture in statecraft will seem
to many people an old-fashioned delusion. Among the more rigid socialists
and reformers it is not customary to spend much time discussing mental
habits. That, they think, was made unnecessary by the discovery of an
economic basis of civilization. The destinies of society are felt to be
too solidly set in industrial conditions to allow any cultural direction.
Where there is no choice, of what importance is opinion?

All propaganda is, of course, a practical tribute to the value of
culture. However inevitable the process may seem, all socialists agree
that its inevitability should be fully realized. They teach at one time
that men act from class interests: but they devote an enormous amount of
energy to making men conscious of their class. It evidently matters to
that supposedly inevitable progress whether men are aware of it. In
short, the most hardened socialist admits choice and deliberation,
culture and ideals into his working faith. He may talk as if there were
an iron determinism, but his practice is better than his preachment.

Yet there are necessities in social life. To all the purposes of politics
it is settled, for instance, that the trust will never be "unscrambled"
into small competing businesses. We say in our argument that a return to
the days of the stage-coach is impossible or that "you cannot turn back
the hands of the clock." Now man might return to the stage-coach if that
seemed to him the supreme goal of all his effort, just as anyone can
follow Chesterton's advice to turn back the hands of the clock if he
pleases. But nobody can recover his yesterdays no matter how much he
abuses the clock, and no man can expunge the memory of railroads though
all the stations and engines were dismantled.

"From this survival of the past," says Bergson, "it follows that
consciousness cannot go through the same state twice." This is the real
necessity that makes any return to the imagined glories of other days an
idle dream. Graham Wallas remarks that those who have eaten of the tree
of knowledge cannot forget--"Mr. Chesterton cries out, like the Cyclops
in the play, against those who complicate the life of man, and tells us
to eat 'caviare on impulse,' instead of 'grapenuts on principle.' But
since we cannot unlearn our knowledge, Mr. Chesterton is only telling us
to eat caviare on principle." The binding fact we must face in all our
calculations, and so in politics too, is that you cannot recover what is
passed. That is why educated people are not to be pressed into the
customs of their ignorance, why women who have reached out for more than
"Kirche, Kinder und Küche" can never again be entirely domestic and
private in their lives. Once people have questioned an authority their
faith has lost its naïveté. Once men have tasted inventions like the
trust they have learned something which cannot be annihilated. I know of
one reformer who devotes a good deal of his time to intimate talks with
powerful conservatives. He explains them to themselves: never after do
they exercise their power with the same unquestioning ruthlessness.

Life is an irreversible process and for that reason its future can never
be a repetition of the past. This insight we owe to Bergson. The
application of it to politics is not difficult because politics is one of
the interests of life. We can learn from him in what sense we are bound.
"The finished portrait is explained by the features of the model, by the
nature of the artist, by colors spread out on the palette; but even with
the knowledge of what explains it, no one, not even the artist, could
have foreseen exactly what the portrait would be, for to predict it would
have been to produce it before it was produced...." The future is
explained by the economic and social institutions which were present at
its birth: the trust and the labor union, all the "movements" and
institutions, will condition it. "Just as the talent of the painter is
formed or deformed--in any case, is modified--under the very influence of
the work he produces, so each of our states, at the moment of its issue,
modifies our personality, being indeed the new form we are just assuming.
It is then right to say that what we do depends on what we are; but it is
necessary to add also, that we are, to a certain extent, what we do, and
that we are creating ourselves continually."

What I have called culture enters into political life as a very powerful
condition. It is a way of creating ourselves. Make a blind struggle
luminous, drag an unconscious impulse into the open day, see that men are
aware of their necessities, and the future is in a measure controlled.
The culture of to-day is for the future an historical condition. That is
its political importance. The mental habits we are forming, our
philosophies and magazines, theaters, debates, schools, pulpits and
newspapers become part of an active past which as Bergson says "follows
us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought, and willed from our
earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present which is about to
join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness that would fain
leave it outside."

Socialists claim that because the McNamara brothers had no
"class-consciousness," because they were without a philosophy of society
and an understanding of the labor movement their sense of wrong was bound
to seek out dynamite. That is a profound truth backed by abundant
evidence. If you turn, for example, to Spargo's Life of Karl Marx you see
that all through his career Marx struggled with the mere
insurrectionists. It was the men without the Marxian vision of growth and
discipline who were forever trying to lead little marauding bands against
the governments of Europe. The fact is worth pondering: the Marxian
socialists, openly declaring that all authority is a temporary
manifestation of social conditions, have waged what we must call a war of
culture against the powers of the world. They have tried to arouse in
workingmen the consciousness of an historical mission--the patience of
that labor is one of the wonders of the age. But the McNamaras had a
culture that could help them not at all. They were Catholics, Democrats
and old-fashioned trade-unionists. Religion told them that authority was
absolute and eternal, politics that Jefferson had said about all there
was to say, economics insisted that the struggle between labor and
capital was an everlasting see-saw. But life told them that society was
brutal: an episode like the shirtwaist factory fire drove them to
blasphemy and dynamite.

Those bombs at Los Angeles, assassination and terrorism, are compounded
of courage, indignation and ignorance. Civilization has much to fear from
the blind class antagonisms it fosters; but the preaching of "class
consciousness," far from being a fomenter of violence, must be recognized
as the civilizing influence of culture upon economic interests.

Thoughts and feelings count. We live in a revolutionary period and
nothing is so important as to be aware of it. The measure of our
self-consciousness will more or less determine whether we are to be the
victims or the masters of change. Without philosophy we stumble along.
The old routines and the old taboos are breaking up anyway, social forces
are emerging which seek autonomy and struggle against slavery to
non-human purposes. We seem to be moving towards some such statecraft as
I have tried to suggest. But without knowledge of it that progress will
be checkered and perhaps futile. The dynamics for a splendid human
civilization are all about us. They need to be used. For that there must
be a culture practiced in seeking the inwardness of impulses, competent
to ward off the idols of its own thought, hospitable to novelty and
sufficiently inventive to harness power.

Why this age should have come to be what it is, why at this particular
time the whole drift of thought should be from authority to autonomy
would be an interesting speculation. It is one of the ultimate questions
of politics. It is like asking why Athens in the Fifth Century B. C. was
singled out as the luminous point of the Western World. We do not know
enough to cut under such mysteries. We can only begin to guess why there
was a Renaissance, why in certain centuries man seems extraordinarily
creative. Perhaps the Modern Period with its flexibility, sense of
change, and desire for self-direction is a liberation due to the great
surplus of wealth. Perhaps the ease of travel, the popularizing of
knowledge, the break-down of frontiers have given us a new interest in
human life by showing how temporary are all its instruments. Certainly
placid or morose acceptance is undermined. If men remain slaves either to
ideas or to other men, it will be because they do not know they are
slaves. Their intention is to be free. Their desire is for a full and
expressive life and they do not relish a lop-sided and lamed humanity.
For the age is rich with varied and generous passions.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Preface to Politics" ***

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