The straight mind and other essays (Book, 1992) …
“He has made the splendid attempt,” replied Markham, “to give fixity and order to our moral ideas, and to place the relation of men to each other on settled foundations. The love of disorder is so great in the human mind that probably men will yield but slowly to his teaching, perhaps not till they have passed through many troubles. But it is along the track that he has opened out to them, and that track only, that every nation must escape anarchy and find its happiness.”
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And now let us look a little more closely into the rights of the individual. I claim that he is by right the master of himself and of his own faculties and energies. If he is not, who is? Let us suppose that A having no rights over himself, B and C, being in a majority, have rights over him. But we must assume an equality in these matters, and if A has no rights over himself, neither can B and C have any rights over themselves. To what a ridiculous position are we then brought! B and C having no rights over themselves, have absolute rights over A; and we should have to suppose in this most topsy-turvy of worlds that men were walking about, not owning themselves, as any simple-minded person would naturally conclude that they did, but owning some other of their fellow-men; and presently in their turn perhaps to be themselves owned by some other. Look at it from another point of view. You tell me a majority has a right to decide as they like for their fellow-men. What majority? 21 to 20? 20 to 5? 20 to 1? But why any majority? What is there in numbers that can possibly make any opinion or decision better or more valid, or which can transfer the body and mind of one man into the keeping of another man? Five men are in a room. Because three men take one view and two another, have the three men any moral right to enforce their view on the other two men? What magical power comes over the three men that because they are one more in number than the two men, therefore they suddenly become possessors of the minds and bodies of these others? As long as they were two to two, so long we may suppose each man remained master of his own mind and body; but from the moment that another man, acting Heaven only knows from what motives, has joined himself to one party or the other, that party has become straightway possessed of the souls and bodies of the other party. Was there ever such a degrading and indefensible superstition? Is it not the true lineal descendant of the old superstitions about emperors and high priests and their authority over the souls and bodies of men?
“Necessarily at the beginnings of social life men's actions are confused and in conflict with each other. Presently a stage is reached at which reason asserts its claims to regulate these acts, and then, as we have already seen, it requires of men to respect each other's rights. This, though the necessary condition of all happiness, is not sufficient for the perfecting of it. A second command–inferior in authority and definiteness–succeeds to the first, and bids us not only respect rights but also feelings, so far at least as such feelings do not tend to restrict rights. There are many actions which we have, as far as the first command is concerned, a right to do, but which, as they cause unnecessary pain to others, we ought to abstain from doing. To these actions Mr. Spencer gives the name of negative beneficence. Again, succeeding to these acts of abstention are the acts of positive beneficence, the direct acts which men do for the sake of increasing the happiness of others; acts which, as human nature evolves, will become more and more a necessary and integral part of the happiness of each man. But you can readily see that to add to the happiness of our neighbor, or even to avoid giving him unnecessary pain, excellent as such acts are, are of little moral value unless you begin by respecting his rights. Except on such a foundation they cannot lead to the settled happiness of men; they can only lead to such confusion between good and evil as we see around us at present. And now observe a further development. From respecting rights we learn to recognize the self in each man as the true governing center of his actions. We learn to see the false side of those great systems which lower and debase a man by offering him comfort–whether it be intellectual or material comfort–at the price of liberty, which weaken his self-guidance and his self-responsibility, and make him but a semiconscious unit in churches and parties. We see that all social as well as political systems must be framed to make him not only in higher matters the possessor of his own soul, but in matters of everyday life the intelligent director of his own energies. Do you see how fruitful, how far-reaching, will be the influence of this recognition of the self in each man? For every act toward others will be shaped and determined by it. Is it a matter of helping some fellow man in distress, we shall ask, “Am I merely lifting the man by an external machinery out of a momentary trouble at the cost of depressing rather than increasing his own self-helping energies?' Of assisting masses of men to better their position, 'Can I rightly lighten the burdens of one man by increasing the burdens of another, to however small an extent, and however easily the latter may be able to bear it? Can I do so without weakening in all minds the sense of the universal agreement, and in the minds of those who are helped that self-respect which should only claim free play for the energies of each?' Of spreading opinion and bringing others within a church or party, 'Have I joined these men to myself by the true and pure conviction of each soul, or have I treated them as a mere crowd, to be moved as I wished by machinery, to be bribed and cajoled and driven toward the ends that I desired?' Of education, 'Am I mechanically impressing the self of my own opinions on another mind? Am I merely gaining the ends on which the world of the day sets store, and content for the sake of these to follow such lifeless and mechanical methods as promise the readiest success? Am I willing to make my own task easier by employing systems of bribes and threats, or is my one effort to develop another equal being that shall be strong in its own self-confidence and able by its own reason to make a life for itself?' There is no part of human life, no question of morality, that will not be illumined by the light thrown from that intense respect for each human self which in due time will succeed to the perfect recognition of each other's rights. The creed of rights leads as certainly to the elevation of the human race as the creeds of socialism, founded on force, lead to the degradation of it.”