Ethics of Democracy

Part 2. Individual Life
Chap. 1, The College Graduate

They pass, a mighty army
From every race and age -
The just, who toiled for justice
And asked no other wage.

And though the people's laurels
About my brow I bind -
I know they sought a city
That I shall never find.

They climbed the large, steep pathway,
By saints and heroes trod,
To the home of the ideal,
And to the mount of God.

- May Kendall, in New Age, London.

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, every one who has felt their exaltation knows.

- Henry George in Progress and Poverty

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The Ethics of Democracy

by Louis F. Post

Part 2, Individual Life
Chapter 1, The College Graduate

WHOEVER lives in the future while he is young, cheerily building castles in Spain, is likely as he grows old to live in the past and wander sadly among the tombs. One had better live always in the present, troubled neither by day dreams of opportunities yet to be grasped nor by morbid memories of opportunities missed.

But living in the present is a very different thing from wallowing in it. To live in the present does not mean that the future may be left to look out for itself, nor that the dead past may be cynically told to bury its own dead. No one should become so completely absorbed in to-day as to remember nothing of yesterday and care nothing for to-morrow. The past is a present gone ; it is to be cherished for its lessons. The future is a present to come; it is to be guarded for its fruitions. But while we turn to the past as a faithful monitor and look to the future with rational hope, it is upon the present that our lives should at all times concentrate. Young men just embarking upon the choppy sea of practical affairs, will find this admonition of peculiar value, especially those young men of whom the American college graduate is a type.

The average college graduate, with all his advantages in some respects, is pathetically unfortunate in one particular. He is allowed to imagine - worse yet, he is confirmed in the wretched delusion - that the world is his oyster if he but elect to open it. To him the future is what Santa Claus is to the child, except that children are undeceived in good time. Even while the Santa Claus delusion lasts, they are on the one hand entertained by it and on the other unharmed. Not so with the college graduate. His Santa Claus delusion is not a source of innocent amusement ; it is the cause of years of unwholesome excitement and feverish hope. And no one undeceives him. Until disappointment has succeeded disappointment and deadening failure has at last crowned his middle life with thorns, he struggles blindly and painfully on, confident that the non-existent Santa Claus of his under- graduate days will yet fill his stockings. This is unfair to young men. Those who know the world owe it to them not to kindle false hopes. They owe it to them to tell the truth. No young man of good mettle would be discouraged by knowing the truth, and many might be saved by it from disaster.

When the graduate closes his college career, it is with the expectation, fostered by his elders throughout his youth, that although he may have a hard struggle in the world, he will surely conquer a place for himself if he has taken due advantage of what his college has offered him and shall lead an honorable and industrious life. He may see wrecks of past college commencements scattered all along the shores of business and professional life; but he has been told that these are attributable to individual defects, and with his narrow experience and implicit confidence in his seniors, he believes it. Student of economics though he may have been, the idea that economic conditions prevail which make what is called success impossible for the mass of men as ambitious and capable as himself never enters his mind. Yet the chances are very many to one that he will be sorely disappointed.

If disappointments of this kind were in the nature of things - if, for example, failure in life were like death in battle, an experience that must come inevitably to a certain proportion, and may as likely come to one as to another, regardless of personal merits or defects - it might be unwholesome pessimism to look forward to possible failure. The child-like optimism of most newfledged graduates would then be something to encourage. Better for each of them in that case that he take his own success for granted and be inspired by the thought, than that he risk losing heart in expectation of failure.

But these disappointments are not in the nature of things. They are abnormal. Due to social conditions which are traceable to man-made customs and laws at variance with the laws of nature, they may be and ought to be avoided. For that reason, the sooner college graduates learn to forecast the sickening failures that lie in the path of most of their number, the better for them and for all the rest of the world. While they are yet in their strength, they should be stimulated to turn their attention to the causes of almost universal failure in a world in which there ought to be almost universal success.

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