The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 620 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

Hence, in the foregoing account of a possible democratic fulfillment, attention has been concentrated on that indispensable phase of the work which can be attained by conscious means.  Until this work is measurably accomplished no evangelist can do more than convert a few men for a few years.  But it has been admitted throughout that the task of individual and social regeneration must remain incomplete and impoverished, until the conviction and the feeling of human brotherhood enters into possession of the human spirit.  The laborious work of individual and social fulfillment may eventually be transfigured by an outburst of enthusiasm—­one which is not the expression of a mood, but which is substantially the finer flower of an achieved experience and a living tradition.  If such a moment ever arrives, it will be partly the creation of some democratic evangelist—­some imitator of Jesus who will reveal to men the path whereby they may enter into spiritual possession of their individual and social achievements, and immeasurably increase them by virtue of personal regeneration.

Be it understood, however, that no prophecy of any such consummate moment has been made.  Something of the kind may happen, in case the American or any other democracy seeks patiently and intelligently to make good a complete and a coherent democratic ideal.  For better or worse, democracy cannot be disentangled from an aspiration toward human perfectibility, and hence from the adoption of measures looking in the direction of realizing such an aspiration.  It may be that the attempt will not be seriously made, or that, if it is, nothing will come of it.  Mr. George Santayana concludes a chapter on “Democracy” in his “Reason in Society” with the following words:  “For such excellence to grow general mankind must be notably transformed.  If a noble and civilized democracy is to subsist, the common citizen must be something of a saint and something of a hero.  We see, therefore, how justly flattering and profound, and at the same time how ominous, was Montesquieu’s saying that the principle of democracy is virtue.”  The principle of democracy is virtue, and when we consider the condition of contemporary democracies, the saying may seem to be more ominous than flattering.  But if a few hundred years from now it seems less ominous, the threat will be removed in only one way.  The common citizen can become something of a saint and something of a hero, not by growing to heroic proportions in his own person, but by the sincere and enthusiastic imitation of heroes and saints, and whether or not he will ever come to such imitation will depend upon the ability of his exceptional fellow-countrymen to offer him acceptable examples of heroism and saintliness.



Project Gutenberg
The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook