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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.
has consisted for the most part in uttering acceptable commonplaces with as much defiant conviction as if we were uttering the most daring and sublimest heresies.  In making this parade of the uniform of intellectual independence, the American is not consciously insincere.  He is prepared to do battle for his convictions, but his really fundamental convictions he shares with everybody else.  His differences with his fellow-countrymen are those of interest and detail.  When he breaks into a vehement proclamation of his faith, he is much like a bull, who has broken out of his stall, and goes snorting around the barnyard, tossing everybody within reach of his horns.  A bull so employed might well consider that he was offering the world a fine display of aggressive individuality, whereas he had in truth been behaving after the manner of all bulls from the dawn of domestication.  No doubt he is quite capable of being a dangerous customer, in case he can reach anybody with his horns; but on the other hand how meekly can he be led back into the stall by the simple device of attaching a ring to his nose.  His individuality always has a tender spot, situated in much the same neighborhood as his personal economic interests.  If this tender spot is merely irritated, it will make him rage; but when seized with a firm grip he loses all his defiance and becomes as aggressive an individual as a good milch cow.

The American intellectual interest demands, consequently, a different sort of assertion from the American economic or political interest.  Economically and politically the need is for constructive regulation, implying the imposition of certain fruitful limitations upon traditional individual freedom.  But the national intellectual development demands above all individual emancipation.  American intelligence has still to issue its Declaration of Independence.  It has still to proclaim that in a democratic system the intelligence has a discipline, an interest, and a will of its own, and that this special discipline and interest call for a new conception both of individual and of national development.  For the time being the freedom which Americans need is the freedom of thought.  The energy they need is the energy of thought.  The moral unity they need cannot be obtained without intensity and integrity of thought.

III

ATTEMPTS AT INDIVIDUAL EMANCIPATION

Americans believe, of course, that they enjoy perfect freedom of opinion, and so they do in form.  There is no legal encouragement of any one set of opinions.  There is no legal discouragement of another set of opinions.  They have denied intellectual freedom to themselves by methods very much more insidious than those employed by a despotic government.  A national tradition has been established which prevents individuals from desiring freedom; and if they should desire and obtain it, they are prevented from using

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