Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/190

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176
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

soul of the controversy; for the whole question is contained in the relative importance of individual rights and social duties—freedom for self-development in such direction as may suit ourselves, or subordinating our personal desires to the general and unindividualized good.

We are in the midst of one of the great revolutions of the world. The old faiths are losing their hold and the new are not yet rooted; the old organization of society is crumbling to pieces and we have not even founded, still less created, the new. In this revolution, naturally one of the most prominent facts is the universal claim for individual freedom, outside the elemental laws which hold the foundations together, made by every one alike. We preach the doctrine of rights everywhere, that of duties straggles in where it can; and the one crying need of the world at this moment is for some wise and powerful organizer who shall recombine these scattered elements and reconstruct the shattered edifice. Women, who always outstrip their leaders, are more disorganized, because at this time they are even more individualized, than are men. Scarcely one among them takes into account the general good. Even in those questions where they have made themselves the leaders, individual victories are of greater value than general policy, and they would always subordinate the practical welfare of the majority to the sentimental rights of the minority. An individual sorrow moves them where the massed results of a general law leave them cold. This characteristic is perfectly sound and righteous in those to whom have been confided the care of the family and the arrangement of details. Women ought to be individual, not for themselves but for others; and in that individualism there ought to be the injustice inseparable from devotion. An altruistic mother who would sacrifice her one child for the sake of her neighbor's two does not exactly fulfill our ideas of maternal care; on the other hand, a mother who would rather her son was disgraced as a coward than that he should run the dangers of courage, or the partisan of her own sex who would sacrifice twenty men to save one woman inconvenience or displeasure, is as little fit to be the leader of large movements involving many and varied interests as is that other to be a mother. In their own persons women carry out to a very remarkable degree this principle of individualism, the general good notwithstanding. Speak to an ordinary woman of the evil economic effects of her actions, and you speak a foreign language. She sees only the individual loss or gain of the transaction, and a public or social duty to creatures unknown and unseen does not count. In the cruel vicissitudes of fashion and the ruin of thousands brought about by simple change of material—in the selfish greed for bargains, no matter at whose cost obtained—in the complete ignoring of and indifference to all the results to others of her own example, a woman of the ordinary type is essentially individual and unsocial. In America—whence, how-