The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

In this country the solution of the social problem demands the substitution of a conscious social ideal for the earlier instinctive homogeneity of the American nation.  That homogeneity has disappeared never to return.  We should not want it to return, because it was dependent upon too many sacrifices of individual purpose and achievement.  But a democracy cannot dispense with the solidarity which it imparted to American life, and in one way or another such solidarity must be restored.  There is only one way in which it can be restored, and that is by means of a democratic social ideal, which shall give consistency to American social life, without entailing any essential sacrifice of desirable individual and class distinctions.  I have used the word “restoration” to describe this binding and healing process; but the consistency which would result from the loyal realization of a comprehensive coherent democratic social ideal would differ radically from the earlier American homogeneity of feeling.  The solidarity which it would impart to American society would have its basis in feeling and its results in good fellowship; but it must always remain a promise and constructive ideal rather than a finished performance.  The social problem must, as long as societies continue to endure, be solved afresh by almost every generation; and the one chance of progress depends both upon an invincible loyalty to a constructive social ideal and upon a current understanding by the new generation of the actual experience of its predecessors.




Sensible and patriotic Americans have not, of course, tamely and ignobly submitted to the obvious evils of their political and economic condition.  There was, indeed, a season when the average good American refused to take these evils seriously.  He was possessed by the idea that American life was a stream, which purified itself in the running, and that reformers and critics were merely men who prevented the stream from running free.  He looked upon the first spasmodic and ineffective protests with something like contempt.  Reformers he appraised as busybodies, who were protesting against the conditions of success in business and politics.  He nicknamed them “mugwumps” and continued to vote the regular tickets of his party.  There succeeded to this phase of contemptuous dislike a few years, in which he was somewhat bewildered by the increasing evidences of corruption in American politics and lawlessness in American business methods, and during which he occasionally supported some favorite among the several reforming movements.  Then a habit of criticism and reform increased with the sense that the evils were both more flagrant and more stubborn than he imagined, until at the present time average well-intentioned Americans are likely to be reformers

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.