Page images


from the influence of a modifying environment until it is finally insulated from those very forces upon which life draws at every moment for energy as well as direction.

In this philosophy human association is endured rather than welcomed; for though it recognizes the necessity of social organization in some form and of a mutual adjustment of conduct among men, contact is still felt to be contamination and limitation the principle of individual death. It is this wild flavor of humanity which socialism fears, or rather the unregulated growth which it is supposed to betray. Where spontaneity of thought or action is claimed, a repudiation of social community is suspected; and the free motion of the individual spirit is looked upon as an uncoordinated and destructive force. To adopt the conception of spontaneity as a guiding principle of existence implies an arrest of development at a presocial stage or its criminal perversion into an antisocial direction, either of which justifies that forcible discipline which society imposes in its educational and penal institutions.

A wholesome dread of the spiritual effects of that repression and enforced conformity which are inseparable from social control is voiced in the protest of the individualist against renunciation and the procrustean authority of conventions. This energetic reaction appears as a note of almost dominant power in modern life. It is the vital breath of philosophical reflection in all its aspects. Like an endemic social ferment it stimulates the unending struggle for political liberty. In art it has broken the shackles of formalism and enriched human culture by individualizing taste in both appreciative and creative activities. It has become the ground of self-direction in morals and an inspiration to personal religion.

The centrality of self-determination, in individual reflection and action alike, cannot be questioned. It is a fundamental constituent of rational life and ideal striving. It is not, indeed, this logical aspect of the matter with which social criticism and moral reform are immediately concerned. The whole system of factors which any practical situation involves need not be passed in review, since in such cases a specific feature of the social organization necessarily becomes the point of attack. Some form of tyranny is to be uprooted, some concrete liberation to be achieved; upon these objects attention must be concentrated until, through iterated denunciation or advocacy, public opinion is aroused and the change effected. But though action is thus single-eyed and therefore of limited vision, reflection should be circumspect in its review and consider, not the isolated value of an individual social force, but the plexuş of relations in which it exists and the conditions under which it becomes effective.

The general problem which every social propaganda suggests is the relation of individual to society. These are the logical constituents, the polar terms, of human association. All change in social theory is based either upon a revaluation of the unit of society or a fresh interpretation of the place of organization in human life; and every practical movement, whether of reform or revolution, may be described as a specific disturbance of the traditional equilibrium between these two forces.

The problem of the relation of individual to society presents three general phases: philosophical, psychological, and sociological. Philosophically, the general conditions of self-realization are to be found in an objective determinant which limits, defines, and supports the original momentum of self-activity. All objective existence which comes within cognizance is part of this determinant, but its characteristic embodiment is the system of human wills with which the ego sustains relationship. Society is thus a logical ground of self-existence in the individual, the material condition of its actualization in a concrete personal character. Psychologically the form of development in the individual self consists in reaction to a system of social stimuli which are presented as objective types of ideal excellence of skill, power, learning, culture, etc.—and assimilated by the self through an imitative act which is both receptive and assertive in its nature. The continuous reciprocal activity of self and society, therefore, in alternative accommodation and aggression, affords the psychological mechanism of development in the individual subject. Sociologically, the sum of culture possessed by any individual is a social inheritance derived from the system of specific forms of organization and use, of stimulation and productivity-marking the human group of which he is a member. As this organized culture varies in character or extent, so will the content and richness of individual life be limited and determined in its nature. Society is thus the general storehouse of cultural materials and personal attitudes the combinations of which give rise to the individual varieties of self-existence. Each of these three aspects must be considered in any general review of the problem.


[ocr errors]

Philosophically the individualistic reaction of modern thought is sharp and aggressive. The cry for autonomous selfhood has been a shibboleth in many literatures of social prophecy. The ego, it is said, must both be free and consciously realize its freedom. The realization of personal freedom is expressed in the consciousness of liberation from restraint and foreign oppression. In its primary aspect the self is a force, not a resistance-a form to be impressed, not a material to receive the die. To be subject, to imitate or obey, is slavery. Freedom is to be found only in selfexpression, that is, in the unhampered exercise of natural activities. The self is incarnate will, which manifests itself in affirmation. Its realization therefore consists of the positive development of all those tendencies which are congenitally possessed by the individual.

Believe in yourself, the prophet cries, and obey only the inner voice. The man of destiny is he who has a positive message to bring to men and gives himself unreservedly to its utterancewho will not be stayed by any consideration for others, but has set his mind singly and steadfastly on the realization of his purpose. It is the weak-minded, the intellectually dependent and defective selves who acknowledge external limitations and submit to them. Dependence upon institutions, like appeal to law, is a mark of insufficiency in the self, which, because of its own weakness, hungers for the expression of an authoritative will. The virile ego is a law unto itself. It affords the only conditions under which there can truly exist a personal life presenting a consistent whole. The dependent will is a thing of shreds and patches without any essential belief in which to ground its actions; it looks for direction and support to something beyond itself and is consequently swept hither and thither as the currents of suggestion and of custom veer. The world is given to each one as a theater for the working out of his will. Its materials are plastic physical substances and modifiable human attitudes. The measure of reality in any self is its effective force in the realization of an ideal purpose through the control of this system of materials. The objective datum is presented, not for acceptance and submission, but to be wrought into conformity with the inner system of purposes which the individual will represents. To deny oneself, therefore, to suppress an impulse which is clamoring for expression, is self-mutilation and stultifies the very meaning of existence. Away, then, with law and control, away with convention and restraint, away with custom and habit themselves! For this liberty of the self is to be essential spontaneity. It must no more be hampered by a subjective incubus than by a fear of external domination. The former, indeed, is the more terrible slavery of the two. In abject minds the dead past rises up against the self to accuse it, and when conditions call for a repudiation of principles, a flinging aside of habitual modes of behavior, the dread of inconsistency, like a disembodied terror, presses upon the self and inhibits all freedom of action.

The necessity of this principle is forcibly urged by egoism. The mind that does not change is dead, for life is growth and variation. Each moment of experience should be treated as a unique situation, to be responded to solely as the present conditions demand. Every problem renews its pristine novelty before the mind at each successive phase of its evolution, and must be solved afresh at whatever stage has been reached. To stand by what has been said when it no longer represents our personal attitude is not merely slavery, it is falsehood. The self of the past should have no more authority for the ego that now exists than the expectation or opinion of other men. Break with your past, says the advocate of this philosophy, spiritual freedom necessitates the renewal of the will in every moment of experience. Growth is the bursting of all the bonds imposed by habit as the ego rouses and stretches itself. Free self-realization must triumph over repression and repudiate fealty, for the incessant sloughing of the past is fundamental to the process of spiritual evolution.

Even when action is irrational and destructive, let it have way! It is part of the ego's will that such anarchical and iconoclastic impulses should exist and have freedom to work themselves out. Better a lack of harmony among the many aspects of the will's activity than any suppression of its powers and emotions. Out of the former comes accomplishment, though irregular, and the sense of reality; out of the latter can arise only stagnation and nihilism of the spirit.

Now it may at once be granted that in these positive movements of the will lie certain materials necessary to all forms of synthesis, whether they concern our understanding of the world or the rational development of our own activities. The turbulent will needs to be known in order to be interpreted and controlled. The rebellious mood, the antisocial tendency, must exist in the individual's own subjective world or it can neither be sympathized with nor modified as it appears in other wills. The very impulse to be irrational, to defy or deny the self's ideals, has its place in the ultimate attainment of wisdom and personal power. A rich, full stream of experience, fervid with conviction and imperious in its action, is the necessary basis of all high self-development.

Upon a content of positive self-assertion synthesis and controlsubjection itself if it find place in the world of the ego-must proceed. The old command should be reversed, for in psychological truth we may say: He who would obey must first learn to command. Self-expression precedes self-repression. Energetic reaction upon

the world in an aggressive way must, in the cycle of individual history, fore-run the subjection of the self to external authority, or the very basis of a strong and consistent personality will be imperiled. The will of the individual must never, in the absolute sense, be given up; it may only be subordinated, in its lower phases, to a higher and ideal form of self-realization which is incarnated in an external, but not foreign, authority or type of organization. In this process of ideal development through a system of social institutions to which he submits as the condition of action the individual must pass from lower to higher stage, from individual aggression to social submission, in a series of logical steps. Anger and personal resentment-aggressive wrongdoing itself-precede toleration and just dealing. The ego must assert itself roughly

« PreviousContinue »