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strong, but it is even worse to fail to take into account the strength of the forces that tell for good. Hysterical sensationalism is the very poorest weapon wherewith to fight for lasting righteousness. The men who with stern sobriety and truth assail the many evils of our time, whether in the public press, or in magazines, or in books, are the leaders and allies of all engaged in the work for social and political betterment. But if they give good reason for distrust of what they say, if they chill the ardor of those who demand truth as a primary virtue, they thereby betray the good cause, and play into the hands of the very men against whom they are nominally at war.
It is absolutely essential, if we are to have the proper standard of public life, that promise shall be square with performance. A lie is no more to be excused in politics than out of politics.
A promise is as binding on the stump as off the stump, and there are two facets to that crystal. In the first place, the man who makes a promise which he does not intend to keep, and does not try to keep, should rightly be adjudged to have forfeited in some degree what should be every man's most precious possession - his honor. On the other hand, the public that exacts a promise which ought not to be kept, or which cannot be kept, is by just so much forfeiting its rights to self-government. There is no surer way of destroying the capacity for self-government in a people than to
1 Address at the Laying of the Corner-stone of the Office Building of the House of Representatives, Saturday, April 14, 1906.
accustom that people to demanding the impossible or the improper from its public men. No man fit to be a public man will promise either the impossible or the improper; and if the demand is made that he shall do so, it means putting a premium upon the unfit in public life.
There is the same sound reason for distrusting the man who promises too much in public that there is for distrusting the man who promises too much in private business. If you meet a doctor who asserts that he has a specific remedy that will cure all the ills to which human flesh is heir, distrust him. He has n't got it. If you meet the business man who vociferates that he is always selling everything to you at a loss, and you continue to deal with him, I am glad if you suffer for it. Any man who promises, as a result of legislation or administration, the millennium is making a promise which he will find difficulty in keeping. Any man who asserts that by any law it will be possible, out of hand, to make all humanity good and wise, is again promising what he cannot perform. It is indispensable that we should have good laws and upright and honest and fearless administration of the laws; and we are not to be excused if we fail to hold our public men to a rigid accountability if they fail, in their turn, to see that we have proper legislation and proper administration. No public man worth his salt will be other than glad to be held accountable in that fashion.
1 Address at the Union League Club of San Francisco, California, May 14, 1903.
IV. REALIZABLE IDEALS
I ONE of the besetting sins of many of our public servants (and of not a few of our professional moralists, lay and clerical) is to cloak weakness or baseness of action behind insincere oratory on behalf of impractical ideals. The true servant of the people is the man who preaches realizable ideals; and who then practices what he has preached.
I REGARD the study of ethics pursued merely as an intellectual recreation as being about as worthless as any form of mental amusement can be. In the course of my life I have had to deliver a good many lay sermons my enemies being divided as to whether the sentiments that I utter are incitements to revolution or platitudes, and usually compromising by saying that they are both
- I have had to deliver a good many sermons, and the more often I have had either to speak, or to listen to others speak, the more clearly and deeply I realize that it is not only no good to preach, or to listen to, a sermon which is not put into practical effect, but that it is a positive damage. The man who utters moral sentiments to which he does not try to live up,
and the other man who listens and applauds the utterance of those sentiments and yet himself does not try to live up to
1 From Fear God and Take Your Own Part. Copyright, 1916. George H. Doran Company, publishers.
them - both those men not only gain no good from what they have said and listened to, but have done themselves positive harm, because they have weakened just a little the spring of conscience within them.
I believe, to the last degree, in the duty of the man who preaches to preach realizable ideals. Of course, when I say realizable, I do not mean that we can completely realize any ideal. When in battle you spur your men on to perform some deed of valor and prowess, it is impossible that all of them shall live up to what your words call them to do. But what you have said in battle to your men is absolutely worthless, no matter how high and exalted the sentiment, unless it does make a reasonable proportion of the soldiers to whom it is addressed move forward into the battle and do their duty reasonably well. The word of command is useless in the fight unless a reasonable number of those to whom it is uttered not only listen to it but act upon it; and the man who utters it will not find that the other men to whom he utters it will pay much heed to it unless they know he is prepared himself to show them the way.
Now, friends, that is rather elementary. The word of command, you understand, is a "platitude." Every adjuration to men in a great crisis to bear themselves well is such a “platitude"; but it is a mighty useful platitude to translate into action. It is rather elementary, but after all it gives the exact analogue to what I mean should be our attitude in civil life. The preacher, whether he is in the pulpit or whether he is a lay preacher, whether he is a professor, an adviser, or a lecturer - the preacher is really trying to give the word of command, the word of direction and encouragement, to the men whom he is
addressing; and if he gives that word simply to get himself a sense of intellectual satisfaction at having given it, and if his hearers listen to it only as they would to any other form of entertainment, then it is not worth while for him to have spoken and it is not worth while for them to have listened. The only value in a speech comes from there being the effort made with measurable success to translate the words into deeds. Of course, the man who preaches decency and straight dealing occupies a peculiarly contemptible position if he does not try himself to practice what he preaches; and, on the other hand, the men who listen to him — you here – should realize that if they treat listening to a lecture about their duties as a substitute for performing their duties they would better have stayed at home. The value of what is said arises solely from the effort measurably to realize it in action.
III It is a misfortune for any people when the paths of the practical and the theoretical politicians diverge so widely that they have no common standing-ground. When the Greek thinkers began to devote their attention to purely visionary politics of the kind found in Plato's Republic, while the Greek practical politicians simply exploited the quarrelsome little commonwealths in their own interests, then the end of Greek liberty was at hand. No government that cannot command the respectful support of the best thinkers is in an entirely sound condition; but it is well to keep in mind the re
1 From Applied Ethics. Copyright, 1911. Harvard University Press, publishers.