Ethics of Democracy
Part 1. The Democratic Optimist
Chap. 1, Spurious
do evil; learn to do well.
- Isaiah, Ch. 1.,
for spirit when striving is old?
for heart with a hearthstone a-cold?
What joy-hope for
birth while a birth-right is sold?
- E. J. Salisbury,
in The Public,
February 3, 1900.
See how the passing age toils on its way
Down Time's long thoroughfare. Erect by day,
In painful show of pride, by night it creeps
Toward Babylon along the sombre steeps
That bound Oblivion. Huge, weary, old,
The passing, dying age, grown rich, grows cold.
But once this age was lithe, once strong and young,
Once leaped its heart, once rang the song it sung,
Once Freedom was its queen, and from her throne
Men heard the wonder-words: "Ye are your own 1"
Then eager Hope looked forth to halcyon days
Of earth all beautiful and life all praise.
But now the watchers stand, and now they peer,
And those of fainter heart grow sick with fear
To see the old, weak age draw near the line
Where reckoning History waits to whisper: "Mine!"
But down from other heights a gladder cry,
Swift-winged of joy "A dawning age!" sweeps by.
And Hope shall find an endless halcyon day,
And Freedom, crowned again, shall reign for aye,
While Music sings the mother-song of earth
To men made men again, where highest worth
Leads on to Love; when once again is blown
The clarion-call of Truth: "Ye are your own!"
- E. J. Salisbury, in The
Public, December 2, 1899.
For though the laws of Justice seem to sleep,
They never sleep; but like the ocean's flood
They creep up to the water mark of God,
And when they ebb there is but silent slime.
- C. E. S. Wood, in The Public, April
"They have turned earth upside down,"
Says the foe;
"They have come to bring our town
Wreck and woe."
To this never-ending cry
Boldly here we make reply:
Yea and no.
Upside down the world has lain
Many a year;
We to turn it back again
Will ye, nill ye, we will do
What at last no man shall rue;
Have no fear.
- Stephen T. Byington
prosperity through freedom, equality, local
autonomy and respect for the commons.
The Ethics of Democracy
by Louis F. Post
The Democratic Optimist
Chapter 1, Spurious Optimism
THERE is no allusion here to the schools of philosophy known
respectively as "optimistic" and "pessimistic." The reference is
altogether to those colloquial habits of speech which stigmatize
fault-finders indiscriminately as pessimists, and commend mere
applause-makers as optimists. While pessimism as a philosophy has been
correctly characterized as a species of atheism, that characterization
is certainly not true of all fault-finding; and when fault-finding is
called pessimism and then indiscriminately denounced as atheism, which
is quite a usual thing, the characterization is so unjust as to warrant
the retort in kind that the optimism which consists in applause-making
is devil worship. Indeed, what but devil worship can it be to make
applause for wrong-doing?
Optimism, as too commonly understood and boastfully inculcated, is a
spurious thing. So far from being a living protest against atheism, as
genuine optimism is, it is nothing better than a manifestation of
mental and spiritual indolence. "Things have always come out right, and
they always will!" laughs the spurious optimist. And then he turns his
back upon the task his Lord proffers him. He thinks of God as a
miracle-worker, who makes the world progress as He originally created
it, by omnipotent fiat, and wants no human co-operation but only human
Of this type of optimist was the lazy farmer who said, one beautiful
spring day, while standing upon his front stoop and looking out over a
fallow field: If God wants a crop of corn in that field, He will grow
one; if He doesn't, He won't; whatever is to be will be, and where's
the use of my tearing up the smooth hard ground with a plow? Nay, I
have faith in the goodness of God. I will go to the circus and enjoy
myself, while He makes a corn crop for me if He wants me to have
It did not occur to this happy-go-lucky optimist that God is rational
and works in human affairs through human channels and by means of human
implements. He did not realize that although God gives the increase,
some Paul must plant and some Apollos water. Instead of resting his
faith upon a rational God, as he in his pagan ignorance supposed, he
was resting it upon an irrational and impossible miracle-working
fetich. But our lazy farmer truly types the spurious optimist in whose
philosophy of life everything is for the best and will come out all
right in the end. This species of optimist seems to imagine that God in
His goodness will bring the increase, no matter whether a Paul plants
and an Apollos waters or not. Too lazy mentally to think, too lazy
spiritually to desire to act, they hail contentment as a virtue, and
denounce as a pessimist whoever disturbs their indolent
Think for a moment of the attitude of these spurious optimists. It is
not for them to consider indications of social stagnation or decadence,
nor to work for social improvement. Leave all that to God! To doubt the
certainty of progress is to doubt Him. Are we as a nation breaking away
from our democratic moorings and drifting as the republic of Rome did,
into a whirlpool of imperialism? "Never fear! God will take care of us.
Don't blaspheme Him by urging that the prow of the ship of state be
turned in another direction. He will do that Himself if it is for the
best. Let us enjoy the exciting voyage. Don't be a pessimist!" Are our
institutions making classes of very rich and very poor, of luxurious
idlers and impoverished workers? "Impossible. God is too good to allow
that, and He is too wise and powerful to need advice or help from us.
Let us laugh at these idle fears and enjoy the unparalleled progress we
are making. Don't be a pessimist!"
That is not genuine optimism. It is only the pathetic optimism of the
child in a boat, gliding swifter and swifter down Niagara River on
toward the brink of the thundering cataract, that claps its hands in
baby glee at the flowers along the banks as they rush by, until the
boat topples on the very edge of the abyss. It is too late then for
Optimists of that spurious sort, who are really the most dangerous of
pessimists, never tire of cheerfully assuring everybody that "the world
moves onward and upward in spite of grumblers and fault-finders." They
seldom reflect that it is those they call grumblers and fault-finders,
the people who "rail," as they would put it, at community evils - the
anti-monarchy Sam Adamses and Patrick Henrys, the anti-slavery
Garrisons and Beechers, the antimonopoly agitators of our own time -
who compel the world to move onward and upward. Yet evils must be
rejected if progress is to be made. No community any more than an
individual soul ever learned to do well without first ceasing to do
evil. It is contrary to the natural order. "Cease to do evil; learn to
do well," expresses the universal sequence of human progress. And as no
imperfect individual would ever cease to do evil if the grumblings and
fault-findings of his conscience did not spur him to it, so no
community evils would ever be put aside if it were not for the
grumblers and fault-finders who disturb the social calm by demanding
that society cease to do evil in order that it may learn to do
What happy-go-lucky optimists have ever contributed to the onward and
upward movement of the world? None. They seem to suppose that the world
moves on and up, not in consequence of impulses from so-called
"pessimists" who agonize for it, dying daily upon ten thousand crosses
for the remission of its sins, but through some divinely miraculous
influence if they belong to a church, or some atheistically
evolutionary process if their affiliations are "scientific."
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