Progress and Poverty (George)/Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVII Conclusion
The truth that I have tried to make clear will not find easy acceptance. If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago. If that could be, it would never have been obscured. But it will find friends - those who will toil for it; suffer for it; if need be, die for it. This is the power of Truth. Will it at length prevail? Ultimately, yes. But in our own times, or in times of which any memory of us remains, who shall say?
For a man who, seeing the want and misery, the ignorance and brutishness caused by unjust social institutions, sets himself to right them in so far as he has strength, there is disappointment and bitterness. So it has been of old time. So is it even now. But the bitterest thought - and it sometimes comes to the best and bravest - is that of the hopelessness of the effort, the futility of the sacrifice. To how few of those who sow the seed is it given to see it grow, or even with certainty to know that it will grow.
Let us not disguise it. Over and over again has the standard of Truth and Justice been raised in this world. Over and over again has it been trampled down - oftentimes in blood. If justice has but to raise her head to have injustice flee before her, how should the wail of the oppressed so long go up? But for those who see Truth and would follow her, for those who recognize justice and would stand for her, success is not the only thing. Success! Why, falsehood has often that to give; and injustice often has that to give. Must not Truth and justice have something to give that is their own by proper right - theirs in essence, and not by accident?
That they have, and that here and now, everyone who has felt their exaltation knows. But sometimes the clouds sweep down. It is sad, sad reading, the lives of the men who would have done something for their fellows. To Socrates they gave the hemlock; Gracchus they killed with sticks and stones; and One, greatest and purest of all, they crucified.
I have in this inquiry followed the course of my own thought. When, in mind, I set out on it I had no theory to support, no conclusions to prove. Only, when I first realized the squalid misery of a great city, it appalled and tormented me, and would not let me rest, for thinking of what caused it and how it could be cured.
But out of this inquiry has come to me something I did not think to find and a faith that was dead revives.
The yearning for a further life is natural and deep. It grows with intellectual growth, and perhaps none really feel it more than those who have begun to see how great is the universe and how infinite are the vistas that every advance in knowledge opens before us - vistas that would require nothing short of eternity to explore. But in the mental atmosphere of our times, to the great majority of men on whom mere creeds have lost their hold, it seems impossible to look on this yearning save as a vain and childish hope that arises from man's egotism, having not the slightest ground or warrant but on the contrary seeming inconsistent with positive knowledge.
When we come to trace and to analyse the ideas that thus destroy the hope of a future life, we shall I think find that they have their source, not in any revelations of physical science, but in certain teachings of political and social science that have deeply permeated thought in all directions. They have their root in the doctrines that there is a tendency to the production of more human beings than can be provided for, that vice and misery are the result of natural laws and the means by which advance goes on, and that human progress is by a slow race development. These doctrines, which have been generally accepted as approved truth, do what (except as scientific interpretations have been coloured by them) the extensions of physical science do not do - they reduce the individual to insignificance; they destroy the idea that there can be in the ordering of the universe any regard for his existence, or any recognition of what we call moral qualities.
It is difficult to reconcile the idea of human immortality with the idea that nature wastes men by constantly bringing them into being where there is no room for them. It is impossible to reconcile the idea of an intelligent and beneficent Creator with the belief that the wretchedness and degradation that are the lot of such a large proportion of human kind result from His enactments. And the idea that man mentally and physically is the result of slow modifications perpetuated by heredity irresistibly suggests the idea that it is the race life and not the individual life that is the object of human existence. Thus has vanished with many of us, and is still vanishing with more of us, that belief which in the battles and ills of life affords the strongest support and deepest consolation.
In the inquiry through which we have passed we have met these doctrines and seen their fallacy. We have seen that population does not tend to outrun subsistence. We have seen that the waste of human powers and the prodigality of human suffering do not spring from natural laws, but from the ignorance and selfishness of men in refusing to conform to natural laws. We have seen that human progress is not by altering the nature of men but that, on the contrary, the nature of men seems, generally speaking, always the same.
Thus the nightmare which is banishing from the modern world the belief in a future life is destroyed. It is not that all difficulties are removed - for turn which way we may, we come to what we cannot comprehend; it is that difficulties are removed which seemed conclusive and insuperable. And thus hope springs up.
But this is not all.
Political Economy has been called the dismal science and, as currently taught, it is hopeless and despairing. But this, as we have seen, is solely because she has been degraded and shackled, her truths dislocated, her harmonies ignored, the word she would utter gagged in her mouth, and her protest against wrong turned into an endorsement of injustice. Freed, as I have tried to free her - in her own proper symmetry, Political Economy is radiant with hope.
For properly understood, the laws that govern the production and distribution of wealth show that the want and injustice of the present social state are not necessary. On the contrary, they show that a social state is possible in which poverty would be unknown and all the better qualities and higher powers of human nature would have opportunity for full development.
And further than this, when we see that social development is governed neither by a special providence nor by a merciless fate, but by law at once unchangeable and beneficent; when we see that human will is the great factor, and that taking men in the aggregate their condition is as they make it; when we see that economic law and moral law are essentially one, and that the truth that the intellect grasps after toilsome effort is but that which the moral reaches by a quick intuition; then a flood of light breaks in upon the problem of individual life. Those countless millions like ourselves, who on this earth of ours have passed and still are passing, with their joys and sorrows, their toil and their striving, their aspirations and their fears, their strong perceptions of things deeper than sense, their common feelings that form the basis even of the most divergent creeds - their little lives do not seem so much like meaningless waste.
The great fact that science in all its branches shows is the universality of law. Wherever he can trace it, whether in the fall of an apple or in the revolution of binary suns, the astronomer sees the working of the same law, operating in the minutest divisions in which we may distinguish space as it operates in the immeasurable distances with which his science deals. Out of that which lies beyond his telescope comes a moving body and again it disappears. So far as he can trace its course the law is ignored. Does he say that this is an exception? On the contrary, he says that this is merely a part of its orbit that he has seen; that beyond the reach of his telescope the law holds good. He makes his calculations, and after centuries they are proved.
If we trace out the laws that govern human life in society, we find that in the largest as in the smallest community they are the same. We find that what seem at first sight like divergences and exceptions are but manifestations of the same principles. And we find that everywhere we can trace the social law, it runs into and conforms with the moral law; that in the life of a community, justice infallibly brings its reward and injustice its punishment.
The laws that Political Economy discovers, like the facts and relations of physical nature, harmonize with what seems to be the law of mental development - not a necessary and involuntary progress, but a progress in which the human will is an initiatory force. But in life, as we are cognizant of it, mental development can go but a little way. The mind hardly begins to awake ere the bodily powers decline. It becomes only dimly conscious of the vast fields before it, and only begins to learn and use its strength, to recognize relations and extend its sympathies, when, with the death of the body, it passes away. Unless there is something more, there seems here a break, a failure. Whether it be a Humboldt or a Herschel, a Moses who looks from Pisgah, a Joshua who leads the host, or one of those sweet and patient souls who in narrow circles live radiant lives, there seems, if mind and character here developed can go no farther, a purposelessness inconsistent with what we can see of the linked sequence of the universe.
By a fundamental law of our minds - the law, in fact, upon which Political Economy relies in all her deductions - we cannot conceive of a means without an end, a contrivance without an object. Unless man himself may rise to or bring forth something higher, his existence is unintelligible. So strong is this metaphysical necessity that those who deny to the individual anything more than this life are compelled to transfer the idea of perfectibility to the race. But as we have seen (and the argument could have been made much more complete) there is nothing whatever to show any essential race improvement. Human progress is not the improvement of human nature. The advances in which civilization consists are not secured in the constitution of man, but in the constitution of society. They are thus not fixed and permanent, but may at any time be lost - nay, are constantly tending to be lost.
What then is the meaning of life - of life absolutely and inevitably bounded by death? To me it seems only intelligible as the avenue and vestibule to another life. Out of the chain of thought we have been following there seems to rise vaguely a glimpse, a shadowy gleam, of ultimate relations, the endeavour to express which inevitably falls into type and allegory. Look around today.
Lo! here, now, in our civilized society, the old allegories yet have a meaning, the old myths are still true. Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death yet often leads the path of duty, through the streets of Vanity Fair walk Christian and Faithful, and on Greatheart's armour ring the clanging blows. Ormuzd still fights with Ahriman - the Prince of Light with the Powers of Darkness. He who will hear, to him the clarions of the battle call.
How they call, and call, and call, till the heart swells that hears them! Strong soul and high endeavour, the world needs them now. Beauty still lies imprisoned, and iron wheels go over the good and true and beautiful that might spring from human lives.
And they who fight with Ormuzd, though they may not know each other - somewhere, sometime, will the muster roll be called.