Ethics of Democracy
Part 1. The Democratic Optimist
Chapter 2, Affirmative Negations
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!"
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 2, Affirmative Negations and Negative Affirmations
OPTIMISM of the happy-go-lucky sort has but one test to
distinguish good from bad. It clings to the affirmative; it abhors the
negative. "I believe," said the optimistic sponsor for one of the many
new religious movements, while explaining that his movement aimed to
promote the affirmative instead of the negative principle of life - "I
believe," he said, "that by laying stress on the affirmative, the world
will be improved"; and then he added, by way of exhortation: "The heart
lays stress on the affirmative when it loves, and on the negative when
In its essence, that is good doctrine. But your spurious optimist makes
its truth his falsehood. For he ignores the spirit of the doctrine,
which makes for life, and clings to its letter, which kills. His error
is not in the principle he proclaims. The principle is true. It is in
his application of the principle. For he handily settles the question
of which of two opposing things is affirmative, by adopting the one
that happens, though by the merest accident, to be affirmative in form.
The temptation must be great to such a man to strike from the decalogue
all the prohibitory commandments as pessimistic negations.
In substance, affirmation is indeed life and negation death. We should
therefore prefer the affirmative to the negative - that which is
engendered by love to that which is engendered by hate. But before
doing so, let us be sure that the subject of our choice is substance
regardless of form and not form regardless of substance. Affirmative
negations, which are affirmative in form but negate the substance, must
be distinguished from negative affirmations, which are negative in form
but affirm the substance.
An impressive example of the negative affirmation is to be found in the
political history of the United States. The Republican party at its
birth was in form a party of negation. It held but two leading
doctrines, and both were what at a more recent time would have been
slangily called "anties" - "anti-slavery" and "anti-polygamy." Yet,
essentially, the Republican party was not a party of negation. Though
it held the negative side of the issues of that day, it was
nevertheless then the party of life and progress. Its negation of the
false was equivalent to an affirmation of the true. Anti-slavery and
anti-polygamy, though in form negative, were in substance affirmative.
Anti-wrong is always pro-right.
A very common example of word juggling for the purpose of giving
negations the appearance of affirmations, and thereby misleading
spurious optimists, may often be observed in the proceedings of
deliberative bodies. It is a common trick of parliamentary tactics.
Whenever the tricky tactician's side of a question happens to be in
negative form, he moves an amendment which embodies essentially the
same proposition in affirmative form. For illustration: It is moved
that ten dollars be appropriated to such-and-such a purpose. If this
presents a proposition to which the tactician is opposed, he moves an
amendment to the effect that the purpose named be excluded from all
appropriations. He does this because he knows that the spurious
optimists, and they usually hold the balance of power in assemblies,
will vote "aye" as naturally as leaves wither in the Fall. So, with an
inexperienced opposition, together with an unfair or unsophisticated
chairman, he may succeed in this design, and win on an "aye" vote the
identical point that he would lose on a "nay" vote. A little
intelligent reflection upon this common parliamentary trick should
suggest to spurious optimists that more wholesome affirmation may be
concealed in negative forms than they had suspected.
By some such word juggling all the opposition to falsity and evil that
has given life to the world could be condemned as pessimistic negation.
Error could always be transformed into truth if mere verbal affirmation
were truth. Suppose one should assert that there is a personal devil
superior to God; or that the earth is larger than the sun or that dogs
are men; or that theft is righteous. Would denial be negation?
Obviously not. What here purport to be affirmations are such only in
form. They affirm falsehood, not truth, and are therefore negations of
substance. To deny them is, consequently, not negation. In spite of its
negative form, it is in substance affirmation.
This is true of the whole brood of negations in affirmative form that
embryonic tyranny has hatched for the deception and undoing of mankind.
Whenever power goes wrong, the evil it does assumes affirmative forms.
The forms of righteousness in such cases must consequently of necessity
be negative. Before condemning any negation, then, which consists in
opposing public policies, it is of transcendent importance that those
policies, even though affirmative in form, be thoroughly dissected to
see if they may not nevertheless be negative in substance.
Opposition to wrong things is not negation but affirmation. It is not
pessimism but optimism.
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