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.
its own self-expression; and the strength of its position and the superiority of its weapons are so decisive that they should gradually force the existing system to give way.  The defenses of that system have vulnerable points; and its defenders are disunited except in one respect.  They would be able to repel any attack delivered along their whole line; but their binding interest is selfish and tends under certain conditions to divide them one from another without bestowing on the divided individuals the energy of independence and self-possession.  Their position can be attacked at its weaker points, not only without meeting with combined resistance, but even with the assistance of some of their theoretical allies.  Many convinced supporters of the existing order are men of superior merit, who are really fighting against their own better individual interests; and they need only to taste the exhilaration of freedom in order better to understand its necessary social and economical conditions.  Others, although men of inferior achievement, are patriotic and well-intentioned in feeling; and they may little by little be brought to believe that patriotism in a democracy demands the sacrifice of selfish interests and the regeneration of individual rights.  Men of this stamp can be made willing prisoners by able and aggressive leaders whose achievements have given them personal authority and whose practical programme is based upon a sound knowledge of the necessary limits of immediate national action.  The disinterested and competent individual is formed for constructive leadership, just as the less competent and independent, but well-intentioned, individual is formed more or less faithfully to follow on behind.  Such leadership, in a country whose traditions and ideals are sincerely democratic, can scarcely go astray.

V

CONSTRUCTIVE INDIVIDUALISM

The preceding section was concluded with a statement, which the majority of its readers will find extremely questionable and which assuredly demands some further explanation.  Suppose it to be admitted that individual Americans do seek the increase of their individuality by competent and disinterested special work.  In what way will such work and the sort of individuality thereby developed exercise a decisive influence on behalf of social amelioration?  We have already expressly denied that a desire to succor their fellow-countrymen or an ideal of social reorganization is at the present time a necessary ingredient in the make-up of these formative individuals.  Their individual excellence has been defined exclusively in terms of high but special technical competence; and the manner in which these varied and frequently antagonistic individual performers are to cooeperate towards socially constructive results must still remain a little hazy.  How are these eminent specialists, each of whom is admittedly pursuing unscrupulously his own special purpose, to be made

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