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.
Columbia says, in his “True and False Democracy”:  “We must not lose sight of the fact that the corporate or collective responsibility which it (socialism) would substitute for individual initiative is only such corporate or collective responsibility as a group of these very same individuals could exercise.  Therefore, socialism is primarily an attempt to overcome man’s individual imperfections by adding them together, in the hope that they will cancel each other.”  But what is all organization but an attempt, not to overcome man’s individual imperfections by adding them together, so much as to make use of many men’s varying individual abilities by giving each a sufficient sphere of exercise?  While all men are imperfect, they are not all imperfect to the same extent.  Some have more courage, more ability, more insight, and more training than others; and an efficient organization can accomplish more than can a mere collection of individuals, precisely because it may represent a standard of performance far above that of the average individual.  Its merit is simply that of putting the collective power of the group at the service of its ablest members; and the ablest members of the group will never attain to an individual responsibility commensurate with their powers, until they are enabled to work efficiently towards the redemption of the collective responsibility.  The nation gives individuality an increased scope and meaning by offering individuals a chance for effective service, such as they could never attain under a system of collective irresponsibility.  Thus under a system of collective responsibility the process of social improvement is absolutely identified with that of individual improvement.  The antithesis is not between nationalism and individualism, but between an individualism which is indiscriminate, and an individualism which is selective.

II

CONDITIONS OF INDIVIDUAL EMANCIPATION

It is, then, essential to recognize that the individual American will never obtain a sufficiently complete chance of self-expression, until the American nation has earnestly undertaken and measurably achieved the realization of its collective purpose.  As we shall see presently, the cure for this individual sterility lies partly with the individual himself or rather with the man who proposes to become an individual; and under any plan of economic or social organization, the man who proposes to become an individual is a condition of national as well as individual improvement.  It is none the less true that any success in the achievement of the national purpose will contribute positively to the liberation of the individual, both by diminishing his temptations, improving his opportunities, and by enveloping him in an invigorating rather than an enervating moral and intellectual atmosphere.

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