Self Reliance and Other Essays Nature Summary and …
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And again, men see another evil, which arises where the use of force is admitted. So long as we remain in the region of discussion and persuasion, so long there is a sure guarantee that the truest view will gradually prevail. The truest view necessarily commands the best arguments, just as it gradually attracts to its side the higher class of minds; and therefore having the best arguments and the best fighters on its side must win in the free open field, sooner or later. But when we abandon the free open field, in which reason and persuasion, the appeal to reason and the appeal to conscience, are the only admitted weapons, and allow force to be recognized as an equally righteous method, then this certainty of ultimate victory for the truest view entirely disappears. Why? Because force enlarges and degrades the issues. It adds inducements of an effective, if of a very coarse kind, in order to win men over to its side. As long as we are only seeking to persuade, we can only offer the fruits of persuasion. We can promise men that they shall be better, happier, more prosperous, by certain changes in their conduct, but we cannot promise that they shall find tomorrow or the next day five shillings or five pounds, magically placed in their pocket, without any effort of their own. But this is exactly the kind of promise that force can make; indeed, not only can make, but must make. From the nature of things, force cannot fight a pure battle, or appeal simply to pure motives. There is nobody amongst us who can become possessed of force, unless he can first of all induce a very large number of persons to fight on his side. To be the possessor of force you must possess a force army; and your force army must be larger than the force army of any of your rivals. How are you to collect together and keep together such a force army? You cannot do it by appeals to reason and conscience, for that is a slow affair, which wins its way by influencing individuals, and these individuals, who are influenced, are influenced by the same appeal in very different degree and fashion. To obtain a force army, capable of defeating another highly organized force army, you must bring in the recruits in shoals and masses, you must bring them in on a given day, at a given spot, you must bring them in in such a state of discipline, that they will all keep step together and follow their leader like one man. But if appeals to reason and conscience, being, as I have said, essentially individualistic in their action, cannot produce disciplined masses on the given spot and at the given moment, force has a store of arguments exactly, suited for the purpose. Give me force enough, and I can promise you almost any material prize for which your heart lusts. If you are a poor man, I can promise you three acres and a cow, gratuitous education, state pensions, and state insurance, novels provided at the public expense, and taxes thrown upon your richer fellow citizen; or better still, all private wealth converted at a touch of my wand into public wealth; if you are a rich man, I can promise you bigger armies and fleets, more territory, more glory, and many noble opportunities of making a splash before the eyes of the world; and if you are nervous about the safety of your possessions in these socialistic days, I can turn the nation into an army for your convenience, and submit it to military discipline—an excellent way, as some persons think, of conjuring away, at all events for some twenty-four hours, all socialistic dangers. Give me force enough, and I can offer every kind of glittering ware for every class of customer. In this way, if I am only a skillful buyer of men, I can recruit my force army; and when I have recruited them, I can pay them out of the prize money which I employ them to win.
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This, then, is the first point to notice—that no literary phrases about social organisms are potent enough to evaporate the individual. He is the prime, the indispensable, the irreducible element in the whole business. The individual has a far too solid and matter-of-fact existence to be eliminated by any arts of literary conjuring. Now take the second point. Is there a resemblance, on the one side, between the individual and certain social wholes, in which he is included, and on the other side, between an organism and its component parts? The answer must be: yes. All parts included in wholes have a generic likeness to each other of a certain kind. A brick in a house, a muscle in a body, have each of them relations to their own whole (the house and the body) which may be compared to the relations existing between an individual and the various social bodies in which he is included. But if there is a certain resemblance, there are also striking differences. The life of the muscle exists simply for the sake of the organism. Taken out of the organism it dies, and has no further use. So with a brick. Like the muscle, it does not exist (excluding, perhaps, the case of a certain town in the Midlands on election days in the old times) for its own sake. It has no use or purpose apart from the building in which it is to form part. It is not an end in itself. In these cases the organism is greater than the part; but with the individual it is not so. He is included in many wholes—his school, his college, his club, his profession, his town or county, his church, his political party, his nation; he forms part of many organisms, but he is always greater than them all. They exist for him; not he for them. The child does not exist for his family, the boy does not exist for his school, the undergraduate for his college, the member of a church or club, or trades union, or cooperative society, or joint-stock company, for his church, club, society, trades union, cooperative society, or joint-stock company, the member of a village or town does not exist for his village or town, or the member of a nation for his nation. All these various wholes, without any exception, in which an individual is included—these so-called organisms of which he forms part—exist for the sake of the individual. They exist to do his service; they exist for his profit and use. If they did not minister to his use, if they did not profit him, they would have no plea to exist. The doom of any one of them would be spoken, if it were found to injure, not to benefit, the individual. He, the individual, joins himself to them for the sake of the good they bring him, not in order that he may be used by them, and be lost to himself, as the brick is lost in the house, or the muscle in the organism. The individual is king, and all these other things exist for the service of the king. It is a mere superstition to worship any institution, as an institution, and not to judge it by its effects upon the character and the interests of men. It is here that socialist and Catholic make the same grand mistake. They exalt the organization, which is in truth as mere dust under our feet; they debase the man, for whose sake the organization and all other earthly things exist. They posit the claims of the external organization as supreme and transcending all profit and loss account, and they call upon men to sacrifice a large part of their higher nature for the sake of this organization. They both of them sacrifice man, the king, to the mere dead instrument that exists for man's service. But why is a man to be sacrificed to any organization? How can any organization stand in front of, stand higher than, man? Test the matter by mere common sense. Could we go to a man and say: “You will be so much worse off materially, mentally, morally, by joining such and such an association, but for the sake of the association itself I entreat you to join it.” Does not every person, who pleads for an association, take pains to show that in some way, materially or morally, the individual will be profited by joining it; and in so speaking he bears evidence to the simple truth that the association—whatever it be, church, nation, or penny club—exists for the individual, and not the individual for the association.