Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/782

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Dr. Van Buren Denslow, the author of "Modern Thinkers," is one of the Americans who, sometimes with more of mother-wit than of erudition, are grappling vigorously, and in a practical spirit, with the great problems of the age. His work is introduced with a preface by Mr. Robert Ingersoll, the foremost teacher of agnosticism on that continent. The doctor is a profound admirer of Mr. Spencer, whom he depicts, in grandiose language, as assisting in the majesty of science at the birth of worlds. But he wants to push the agnostic principle to its logical conclusion, which, according to him, is, that there is no such thing as a moral law, irrespectively of the will of the strongest:

It is generally believed to be moral to tell the truth, and immoral to lie. And yet it would be difficult to prove that Nature prefers the true to the false. Everywhere she makes the false impression first, and only after years, or thousands of years, do we become able to detect her in her lies. . . . Nature endows almost every animal with the faculty of deceit in order to aid it in escaping from the brute force of its superiors. Why, then, should not man be endowed with the faculty of lying, when it is to his interest to appear wise concerning matters of which he is ignorant? Lying is often a refuge to the weak, a stepping-stone to power, a ground of reverence toward those who live by getting credit for knowing what they do not know. No one doubts that it is right for the maternal partridge to feign lameness, a broken wing or leg, in order to conceal her young in flight, by causing the pursuer to suppose he can more easily catch her than her offspring. From whence, then, in nature, do we derive the fact that a human being may not properly tell an untruth with the same motive? Our early histories, sciences, poetries, and theologies are all false, yet they comprehend by far the major part of human thought. Priesthoods have ruled the world by deceiving our tender souls, and yet they command our most enduring reverence. Where, then, do we discover that any law of universal nature prefers truth to falsehood, any more than oxygen to nitrogen, or alkalies to salts? So habituated have we become to assume that truth-telling is a virtue, that nothing is more difficult than to tell how we came to assume it; nor is it easy of proof that it is a virtue in an unrestricted sense. What would be thought of the military strategist who made no feints, of the advertisement that contained no lie, of the business-man whose polite suavity covered no falsehood?

Inasmuch as all moral rules are in the first instance impressed by the strong, the dominant, the matured, and the successful upon the weak, the crouching, the infantile, and the servile, it would not be strange if a close analysis and a minute historical research should concur in proving that all moral rules are doctrines established by the strong for the government of the weak. It is invariably the strong who require the weak to tell the truth, and always to promote some interest of the strong. . . .

"Thou shalt not steal," is a moral precept invented by the strong, the matured, the successful, and by them impressed upon the weak, the infantile, and the failures in life's struggle, as all criminals are. For nowhere in the world has the sign ever been blazoned on the shop-doors of a successful business-man, "Closed, because the proprietor prefers crime to industry." Universal society might be pictured, for the illustration of this feature of the moral code, as consisting of two sets of swine, one of which is in the clover, and the other is out. The swine that are in the clover grunt, "Thou shalt not steal—put up the bars." The swine that are out of the clover grunt, "Did you make the clover?—let