Ethics of Democracy

Part 2. Individual Life
Chap. 3, Respecting the Respectable

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 3, Respecting the Respectable

CLOSELY associated with the half truth we have just considered, is the pernicious notion that respectable things should be respected. It is pernicious not because respectable things never deserve respect, for they often do; but because the standard is false. It takes no account of worthiness, no account of truth.

Of all rules of human conduct this is one of the easiest to obey. Young men and women need not be advised, as they so often are, to regulate their lives by it. Most of them do so spontaneously. Men of all conditions and vocations intuitively respect the respectable. The day laborer shrinks from the contempt of his neighbors, and guards his conduct from the scorn of his superiors; wishing to be respected himself, he respects the respectable. Business men are solicitous for the good opinion of the community in which they live ; if from no higher motive than to promote their own business success, they, too, respect the things that are respectable. The lawyer recoils from unprofessional conduct which might bring him into disgrace, and the criminal conceals his crimes from the public as much from dread of contumely as from fear of imprisonment. Both respect what is respectable. Clergymen conform to the same rule. They seldom venture to preach what might disturb the standards of respectability to which they are accustomed. Even devoted reformers, prophets of new truths, are not wholly ree from temptations to respect the things that are respectable. Nor can they be blamed. Physical martyrdom could hardly add to the bitterness of that martyrdom of mind which sensitive men and women undergo in testifying to truths not yet generally respected.

This tendency to respect the respectable is not wholly selfish. It derives a strong impulse from the desire to live righteously a - beneficent influence which loses its way under the treacherous guidance of the idea that whatever is respectable must be right. But whether prompted by that impulse, or only by self-seeking, the tendency is dangerous and the precept pernicious. A precept which teaches us to respect the respectable, makes respectability the test of truth, reputation the test of character, clothing the test of the man. All these standards are false. Though outer form often indicates inner substance, form is not substance. It frequently differs from it so radically as to have suggested the significant simile of "a whited sepulchre full of dead men's bones."

This discord between moral substance and respectable form is almost invariable with reference to the more vital matters of human concern. Probably no elemental moral truth ever has or ever will come into the world in respectable garb. When such a truth becomes clothed on with respectability, its essential character is almost certain to have decayed within the folds of its outer garments, which have taken their shape from its original form but are now all hollow within. To make a point of respecting the respectable is to prefer non-essentials to essentials and to ignore eternal truths. No one who makes it the rule of his life can keep his heart "wide open on the Godward side."

When He whose incarnation is celebrated at Christmas time came into this world of ours, the Living Truth in human shape, men of that generation who respected the respectable had no respect for Him. Of humble birth; as a babe, cradled in a manger; in infancy, hunted for slaughter; in youth, confounding the learned; in manhood, working at a mechanical trade ; during His mature life associating with outcasts ; regarded by the pious as a blasphemer ; and dying the ignominious death of a convict - throughout His whole career, Jesus of Nazareth exhibited none of the qualities of contemporaneous respectability. Even to-day the respect of the respectable is paid, not to Him, but only to his image. So every new manifestation of truth is humbly born; it, also, is cradled in some manger; it, too, is hunted down in infancy; in its youth it, likewise, confounds the learned who respect the things that are respectable; it is nurtured by the lonely and the outcast ; it has its crucifixion and its resurrection ; and at last its images become respectable, and are worshipped by those who respect the respectable. That has been the history of all elemental truths - economic, moral, and religious, as well as political.

<blockquote>"O Truth! O Freedom! how are ye still born
In the rude stable, in the manger nursed!"</blockquote>

Need it be so any longer? May we not reasonably hope that the time is near at hand when mankind will resist the temptation to respect and to inculcate respect for things that are merely respectable, and in place of this image-worship learn to respect and to teach respect for the things that are true?

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