Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/37

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33
OF PROGRESS

unworthiness of our ideals, and to the confused manner in which we have set them before our minds. The best men and women do not seem to be subject to this confusion. So far as they can make their environment, it is a society immensely in advance of anything which has been realized among mankind generally.

If any social amelioration is to be hoped for, and I can see few favourable signs at present, its main characteristic will probably be simplification rather than further complexity. This, however, is not a question which can be handled at the end of a lecture.

Plato says of his ideal State that it does not much matter whether it is ever realized on earth or not. The type is laid up in heaven, and approximations to it will be made from time to time, since all living creatures are drawn upwards towards the source of their being. It does not matter very much, if he was right in believing—as we too believe—in human immortality. And yet it does matter; for unless our communing with the eternal Ideas endows us with some creative virtue, some power which makes itself felt upon our immediate environment, it cannot be that we have made those Ideas in any sense our own. There is no alchemy by which we may get golden conduct out of leaden instincts—so Herbert Spencer told us very truly; but if our ideals are of gold, there is an alchemy which will transmute our external activities, so that our contributions to the spiritual temple may be no longer 'wood, hay, and stubble', to be destroyed in the next conflagration, but precious and durable material.

For individuals, then, the path of progress is always open; but, as Hesiod told us long before the Sermon on the Mount, it is a narrow path, steep and difficult, especially at first. There will never be a crowd