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- Mankind in the Making - 3/49 -


the last hundred years that any considerable number of thoughtful people have come to look at life steadily and consistently as being shaped to this form, to the form of a series of births, growths and births. The most general truths are those last apprehended. The universal fact of gravitation, for example, which pervades all being, received its complete recognition scarcely two hundred years ago. And again children and savages live in air, breathe air, are saturated with air, die for five minutes' need of it, and never definitely realize there is such a thing as air at all. The vast mass of human expression in act and art and literature takes a narrower view than we have here formulated; it presents each man not only as isolated from and antagonized with the world about him, but as cut off sharply and definitely from the past before he lived and the future after he is dead; it puts what is, in relation to the view we have taken, a disproportionate amount of stress upon his egotism, upon the pursuit of his self-interest and his personal virtue and his personal fancies, and it ignores the fact, the familiar rediscovery which the nineteenth century has achieved, that he is after all only the transitory custodian of an undying gift of life, an inheritor under conditions, the momentary voice and interpreter of a being that springs from the dawn of time and lives in offspring and thought and material consequence, for ever.

This over-accentuation in the past of man's egoistic individuality, or, if one puts it in another way, this unsuspicious ignorance of the real nature of life, becomes glaringly conspicuous in such weighed and deliberate utterances as _The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius_. Throughout these frank and fundamental discourses one traces a predominant desire for a perfected inconsequent egotism. Body is repudiated as a garment, position is an accident, the past that made us exists not since it is past, the future exists not for we shall never see it; at last nothing but the abstracted ego remains,--a sort of complimentary Nirvana. One citation will serve to show the colour of all his thought. "A man," he remarks, "is very devout to prevent the loss of his son. But I would have you pray rather against the fear of losing him. Let this be the rule for your devotions." [Footnote: _The Meditations of M. A. Antoninus_, ix. 40.] That indeed is the rule for all the devotions of that departing generation of wisdom. Rather serenity and dignity than good ensuing. Rather a virtuous man than any resultant whatever from his lifetime, for the future of the world. It points this disregard of the sequence of life and birth in favour of an abstract and fruitless virtue, it points it indeed with a barbed point that the son of Marcus Aurelius was the unspeakable Commodus, and that the Roman Empire fell from the temporizing detachment of his rule into a century of disorder and misery.

To the thoughtful reader to whom these papers appeal, to the reader whose mind is of the modern cast, who has surveyed the vistas of the geological record and grasped the secular unfolding of the scheme of life, who has found with microscope and scalpel that the same rhythm of birth and re-birth is woven into the minutest texture of things that has covered the earth with verdure and shaped the massifs of the Alps, to such a man the whole literature the world produced until the nineteenth century had well progressed, must needs be lacking in any definite and pervading sense of the cardinal importance in the world of this central reproductive aspect, of births and of the training and preparation for future births. All that literature, great and imposing as we are bound to admit it is, has an outlook less ample than quite common men may have to-day. It is a literature, as we see it in the newer view, of abstracted personalities and of disconnected passions and impressions.

To one extraordinary and powerful mind in the earlier half of the nineteenth century this realization of the true form of life came with quite overwhelming force, and that was to Schopenhauer, surely at once the most acute and the most biassed of mortal men. It came to him as a most detestable fact, because it happened he was an intensely egotistical man. But his intellect was of that noble and exceptional sort that aversion may tint indeed but cannot blind, and we owe to him a series of philosophical writings, written with an instinctive skill and a clearness and a vigour uncommon in philosophers, in which a very complete statement of the new view is presented to the reader in terms of passionate protest. [Footnote: _Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung._] "Why," he asked, "must we be for ever tortured by this passion and desire to reproduce our kind, why are all our pursuits tainted with this application, all our needs deferred to the needs of the new generation that tramples on our heels?" and he found the answer in the presence of an overwhelming Will to Live manifesting itself throughout the universe of Matter, thrusting us ruthlessly before it, as a strong swimmer thrusts a wave before him as he swims. That the personal egotism should be subordinated to and overwhelmed by a pervading Will to Live filled his soul with passionate rebellion and coloured his exposition with the hues of despair. But to minds temperamentally different from his, minds whose egotism is qualified by a more unselfish humour, it is possible to avail one's self of Schopenhauer's vision, without submitting one's self to his conclusions, to see our wills only as temporary manifestations of an ampler will, our lives as passing phases of a greater Life, and to accept these facts even joyfully, to take our places in that larger scheme with a sense of relief and discovery, to go with that larger being, to serve that larger being, as a soldier marches, a mere unit in the larger being of his army, and serving his army, joyfully into battle.

However, it is not to Schopenhauer and his writings, at least among the English-speaking peoples, that this increasing realization of life as essentially a succession of births, is chiefly ascribed. It is mainly, as I have already suggested, the result of that great expansion of our sense of time and causation that has ensued from the idea of organic Evolution. In the course of one brief century, the human outlook upon the order of the world has been profoundly changed. It is not simply that it has become much more spacious, it is not only that it has opened out from the little history of a few thousand years to a stupendous vista of ages, but, in addition to its expanded dimensions, it has experienced a change in character. That wonderful and continually more elaborate and penetrating analysis of the evolutionary process by Darwin and his followers and successors and antagonists, the entire subordination of the individual lot to the specific destiny that these criticisms and researches have emphasized, has warped and altered the aspect of a thousand human affairs. It has made reasonable and in order what Schopenhauer found so suggestively perplexing, it has dispelled problems that have seemed insoluble mysteries to many generations of men. I do not say it has solved them, but it has dispelled them and made them irrelevant and uninteresting. So long as one believed that life span unprogressively from generation to generation, that generation followed generation unchangingly for ever, the enormous preponderance of sexual needs and emotions in life was a distressing and inexplicable fact--it was a mystery, it was sin, it was the work of the devil. One asked, why does man build houses that others may live therein; plant trees whose fruit he will never see? And all the toil and ambition, the stress and hope of existence, seemed, so far as this life went, and before these new lights came, a mere sacrifice to this pointless reiteration of lives, this cosmic _crambe repetita_. To perceive this aspect, and to profess an entire detachment from the whole vacuous business was considered by a large proportion of the more thoughtful people of the world the supreme achievement of philosophy. The acme of old-world wisdom, the ultimate mystery of Oriental philosophy is to contemn women and offspring, to abandon costume, cleanliness, and all the decencies and dignities of life, and to crawl, as scornfully as possible, but at any rate to crawl out of all these earthly shows and snares (which so obviously lead to nothing), into the nearest tub.

And the amazing revelation of our days is that they do not lead to nothing! Directly the discovery is made clear--and it is, I firmly believe, the crowning glory of the nineteenth century to have established this discovery for all time--that one generation does not follow another in _fac simile_, directly we come within sight of the reasonable persuasion that each generation is a step, a definite measurable step, and each birth an unprecedented experiment, directly it grows clear that instead of being in an eddy merely, we are for all our eddying moving forward upon a wide voluminous current, then all these things are changed.

That change alters the perspective of every human affair. Things that seemed permanent and final, become unsettled and provisional. Social and political effort are seen from a new view-point. Everywhere the old direction posts, the old guiding marks, have got out of line and askew. And it is out of the conflict of the new view with the old institutions and formulae, that there arises the discontent and the need, and the attempt at a wider answer, which this phrase and suggestion of the "New Republic" is intended to express.

Every part contributes to the nature of the whole, and if the whole of life is an evolving succession of births, then not only must a man in his individual capacity (_physically_ as parent, doctor, food dealer, food carrier, home builder, protector, or _mentally_ as teacher, news dealer, author, preacher) contribute to births and growths and the future of mankind, but the collective aspects of man, his social and political organizations must also be, in the essence, organizations that more or less profitably and more or less intentionally, set themselves towards this end. They are finally concerned with the birth and with the sound development towards still better births, of human lives, just as every implement in the toolshed of a seedsman's nursery, even the hoe and the roller, is concerned finally with the seeding and with the sound development towards still better seeding of plants. The private and personal motive of the seedsman in procuring and using these tools may be avarice, ambition, a religious belief in the saving efficacy of nursery keeping or a simple passion for bettering flowers, that does not affect the definite final purpose of his outfit of tools.

And just as we might judge completely and criticise and improve that outfit from an attentive study of the welfare of plants and with an entire disregard of his remoter motives, so we may judge all collective human enterprises from the standpoint of an attentive study of human births and development. _Any collective human enterprise, institution, movement, party or state, is to be judged as a whole and completely, as it conduces more or less to wholesome and hopeful births, and according to the qualitative and quantitative advance due to its influence made by each generation of citizens born under its influence towards a higher and ampler standard of life_.

Or putting the thing in a slightly different phrasing, the New Republican idea amounts to this: the serious aspect of our private lives, the general aspect of all our social and co-operative undertakings, is to prepare as well as we possibly can a succeeding generation, which shall prepare still more capably for still better generations to follow. We are passing as a race out of a state of affairs when the unconscious building of the future was attained by individualistic self-seeking (altogether unenlightened or enlightened only by the indirect moralizing influence of the patriotic instinct and religion) into a clear consciousness of our co-operative share in that process. That is the essential idea my New Republic would personify and embody. In the past man was made, generation after generation, by forces beyond his knowledge and control. Now a certain number of men are coming to a provisional understanding of some at least of these forces that go to the Making of Man. To some of us there is being given the privilege and responsibility of knowledge. We may plead lack of will or lack of moral impetus, but we can no longer plead ignorance.


Mankind in the Making - 3/49

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