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in the right sense of the word, civic greatness is at an end when civic righteousness is no longer its foundation.
But, of course, every one knows that a soldier must be more than merely honorable before he is fit to do credit to the country; and just the same thing is true of a statesman. He must have high ideals, and the leader of public opinion in the pulpit, in the press, on the platform, or on the stump must preach high ideals. But the possession or preaching of these high ideals may not only be useless, but a source of positive harm, if unaccompanied by practical good sense, if they do not lead to the effort to get the best possible when the perfect best is not attainable—and in this life the perfect best rarely is attainable. Every leader of a great reform has to contend, on the one hand, with the open, avowed enemies of the reform, and, on the other hand, with its extreme advocates, who wish the impossible, and who join hands with their extreme opponents to defeat the rational friends of the reform. Of course the typical instance of this kind of conduct was afforded by Wendell Phillips when in 1864 he added his weight, slight though it was, to the copperhead opposition to the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.
The alliance between Blifil and Black George is world-old. Blifil always acts in the name of morality. Often, of course, he is not moral at all. It is must be content with no less, yet that we do only harm if, by intemperate championship of the impossible good, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to work a real abatement of existing and menacing evil.
PROMISE AND PERFORMANCE
PUBLISHED IN THE "OUTLOOK,” JULY 28, 1900
IT is customary to express wonder and horror at I the cynical baseness of the doctrines of Machiavelli. Both the wonder and the horror are justified,—though it would perhaps be wiser to keep them for the society which the Italian described rather than for the describer himself,—but it is somewhat astonishing that there should be so little insistence upon the fact that Machiavelli rests his whole system upon his contemptuous belief in the folly and low civic morality of the multitude, and their demand for fine promises and their indifference to performance. Thus he says: “It is necessary to be a great deceiver and hypocrite; for men are so simple and yield so readily to the wants of the moment that he who will trick shall always find another who will suffer himself to be tricked. ... Therefore a ruler must take great care that no word shall slip from his mouth that shall not be full of piety, trust, humanity, religion, and simple faith, and he must appear to eye and ear all compact of these, . . . because the vulgar are always caught by appearance and by the event, and in this world there are none but the vulgar."
It therefore appears that Machiavelli's system is predicated partly on the entire indifference to performance of promise by the prince and partly upon a greedy demand for impossible promises among the people. The infamy of the conduct championed by Machiavelli as proper for public men is usually what rivets the attention, but the folly which alone makes such infamy possible is quite as well worthy of study. Hypocrisy is a peculiarly revolting vice alike in public and private life; and in public lifeat least in high position—it can only be practiced on a large scale for any length of time in those places where the people in mass really warrant Machiavelli's description, and are content with a complete divorce between promise and performance.
It would be difficult to say which is the surest way of bringing about such a complete divorce: on the one hand, the tolerance in a public man of the nonperformance of promises which can be kept; or, on the other hand, the insistence by the public upon promises which they either know or ought to know can not be kept. When in public speech or in a party platform a policy is outlined which it is known can not or will not be pursued, the fact is a reflection not only upon the speaker and the platformmaker, but upon the public feeling to which they appeal. When a section of the people demand from a candidate promises which he can not believe that he will be able to fulfil and, on his refusal, support some man who cheerfully guarantees an immediate millennium, why, under such circumstances the people are striving to bring about in America some of the conditions of public life which produced the profligacy and tyranny of mediæval Italy. Such conduct means that the capacity for self-government has atrophied; and the hard-headed common-sense with which the American people, as a whole, refuse to sanction such conduct is the best possible proof and guarantee of their capacity to perform the high and difficult task of administering the greatest Republic upon which the sun has ever shone.
There are always politicians willing, on the one hand, to promise everything to the people, and, on the other, to perform everything for the machine or the boss, with chuckling delight in the success of their efforts to hoodwink the former and serve the latter. Now, not only should such politicians be regarded as infamous, but the people who are hoodwinked by them should share the blame. The man: who is taken in by, or demands, impossible promises is not much less culpable than the politician who deliberately makes such promises and then breaks faith. Thus when any public man says that he "will never compromise under any conditions,” he is cer