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.

Hence it is that continued loyalty to a contradictory principle is destructive of a wholesome public sentiment and opinion.  A wholesome public opinion in a democracy is one which keeps a democracy sound and whole; and it cannot prevail unless the individuals composing it recognize mutual ties and responsibilities which lie deeper than any differences of interest and idea.  No formula whose effect on public opinion is not binding and healing and unifying has any substantial claim to consideration as the essential and formative democratic idea.  Belief in the principle of equal rights does not bind, heal, and unify public opinion.  Its effect rather is confusing, distracting, and at worst, disintegrating.  A democratic political organization has no immunity from grievances.  They are a necessary result of a complicated and changing industrial and social organism.  What is good for one generation will often be followed by consequences that spell deprivation for the next.  What is good for one man or one class of men will bring ills to other men or classes of men.  What is good for the community as a whole may mean temporary loss and a sense of injustice to a minority.  All grievances from any cause should receive full expression in a democracy, but, inasmuch as the righteously discontented must be always with us, the fundamental democratic principle should, above all, counsel mutual forbearance and loyalty.  The principle of equal rights encourages mutual suspicion and disloyalty.  It tends to attribute individual and social ills, for which general moral, economic, and social causes are usually in large measure responsible, to individual wrong-doing; and in this way it arouses and intensifies that personal and class hatred, which never in any society lies far below the surface.  Men who have grievances are inflamed into anger and resentment.  In claiming what they believe to be their rights, they are in their own opinion acting on behalf not merely of their interests, but of an absolute democratic principle.  Their angry resentment becomes transformed in their own minds into righteous indignation; and there may be turned loose upon the community a horde of self-seeking fanatics—­like unto those soldiers in the religious wars who robbed and slaughtered their opponents in the service of God.

II

DEMOCRACY AND DISCRIMINATION

The principle of equal rights has always appealed to its more patriotic and sensible adherents as essentially an impartial rule of political action—­one that held a perfectly fair balance between the individual and society, and between different and hostile individual and class interests.  But as a fundamental principle of democratic policy it is as ambiguous in this respect as it is in other respects.  In its traditional form and expression it has concealed an extremely partial interest under a formal proclamation of impartiality.  The political thinker who popularized it in this country

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