The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government - Vol. 2

By Nathaniel Southgate Shaler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV.
THE PLACE OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN AMERICAN SOCIETY.

THE supreme test of any country and its institutions is the effect which they produce on individual character. If men make the nation, the nation also makes men. Not chiefly by its cathedrals, museums, and palaces, but by its homes and those that dwell therein, is any land to be measured. What kind of Americans is America making? is, therefore, the fundamental question to be asked and answered by every patriot. And this that he may ask and answer another question, What changes ought to be made in America that she may produce better men and women?

The most enthusiastic advocate of democracy may be willing to admit that if government is to be measured by immediate results, democracy is not always the best government. "Not toward the impossible self-government of a multitude by a multitude, but toward some possible government by the wisest, does bewildered Europe struggle," cries Carlyle. The advocate of democracy may believe that government by the wisest will give a wiser government than government by the all. He may concede that conflicting blunders do not always neutralize each other; that the ignorance of the many is as great a foe to universal well- being as the selfishness of the few; that the interests of the multitude are safer in the hands of an educated class than in their own hands--and still he may be a democrat. For he may believe that the end of life--and therefore of all institutions, political, social, and religious--is the development of character; and he may believe that no government is so educative as democratic government. He may be of the opinion that the blunders of democracy are worth all that they cost, since they constitute an essential element in experience, and most men learn only by experience. He may think that it is better for ignorance to govern and learn by governing, than to be governed and remain ignorance. It is quite likely, he will say, that the Indian tribes will suffer less from the possible corruption of an Indian agent than from their own inca

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