Editorial - Angus MacDonald
Editor's Note: This essay was written many years ago.
You are without principle if you think only of happiness. Should you not be unhappy and grieved in your soul in the face of evil or stupidity? If the world has been carried forward, it has been carried forward by unhappy people who have worked with full strength to correct the abuses either of those in power who have been wicked, or of those who have been so blind that they have not known the difference between right and wrong. Josiah Royce was an eminent American philosopher (1885-1916), and he was a Hegelian. Believing that the evil in the world was part of the goodness of the universe when seen from the point of view of God, he believed progress was made from action and reaction, thesis and antithesis; there was no need for him to be alarmed when a German submarine sank the passenger ship Lusitania. According to his theory, this was a necessary act in the unfolding of events; he was to survey whatever happened with philosophic disdain. But he was enraged by the sinking, calling it the work of barbarians! His capacity for contradiction, proof that his moral soul was more comprehensive than his intended cold rationality, the unhappiness that made him leave the professorial closet to damn evil as evil - this proved that he was a good man. He was unhappy in the presence of evil.
But happiness is not so easily dismissed. We will not admit that the good man must be always unhappy. Let a man argue for a hundred years that only animals are happy and that human unrest is prompted by the divine - we are not convinced. We cannot always find the words to refute our protagonist, but we believe that there must be some mistake in his argument. We do not want the happiness of pigs, but we do not despise happiness. We are more than animals, and we are aware of our duty. But the man who thinks only of good and evil, who is unhappy unless he is busied in reform, who is so pure and so constant in his purity that he grows a long nose the better to sniff with - this man is warped in his virtue. Some will say he is an angel, but he would do better to get some of the strong earth under his delicate fingernails.
Some people with private income are convinced that life is evil. With their refinement and learning they talk at the cocktail hour of what is to be done to save their stupid inferiors, or, if they are charitable, to pass their time, they form do-good societies for the advancement of those who work. From a pinnacle of sadness, some of the idle rich look with contempt on the grown and hearty who live with relish, though they be poor. Thinking those without wealth are to be pitied, the idle rich want to give even of their wealth so that the life of the poor may be better. If the poor accept the advice and help of these idle ones, a sad reformation is effected. The poor forget to work; they lose their pride; they shortly become objects of pity. The reformers gloat over their possibilities, now the poor know that they are to be pitied, but the idle rich quickly forget that it is they who told the poor they were unfortunate. Until this great news arrived, the poor were among the happiest. Some admired and called them blessed.
The poor had better do without culture and the blessings of refinement and luxury, if by receiving them they are made to doubt the blessedness that they have known for centuries, and if they are paralyzed so that, instead of working with good cheer, they become lazy, rebellious, and unhappy. By all means fight against stupidity, by all means try to make the callous more sensitive, but make people sensitive to beauty rather than to appetite. We are to help our fellows, not by telling them they are unfortunate, but by drawing for them a picture of what is good. We will communicate not unhappiness but joy. We will teach our friends how to be brave and vivacious. We will work to abolish indifference. We will not tell people that life is dull, bad, or ugly. The poorest have had this wonderful quality; they have known how to be happy.
Ordinary people are wonderfully tenacious of happiness. One is absorbed in his garden, and another is just as absorbed in something else. As we could not stand the strain of having to think every morning of how to fold our tie, neither could we stand the strain of having to find happiness in everything that we do. We are saved by the dumb contentment that carries us through the many tasks of each day. If we are not appreciative of this, if we cannot live with some gusto, we are the ones to be pitied, and we are the ones who are in need of reformation. Lacking a magic in our veins that will enable us to know joy, we give proof that something is lacking in our faith.
The great mass are peaceful and happy, but they are disturbed by petty ones who think it their duty to fight and scratch. These petty ones bring war and unrest; they disrupt every organization they enter. Their discontent is devilish rather than divine. The bulk of people know they must respect others, tolerate differences, and live peaceably; they know that all important acts are accomplished through patience, goodwill, and love. The masses are humble. They know that life began about five billion years ago and will end in another five billion years. One of these days, the sun will cool, then get hot; will enlarge, explode, and shrink; life as we know it will cease. The great bulk of people know that they must be humble, cooperate rather than fight, only goodness is worth attention, and the mystery of life will be continued by those who have inward beauty and become part of the great mystery which arose we know not when nor how.
Our traditional happiness has been upset by democratic madness. We have been taught until we have believed it - the nonsense that all are equal. We give a person the right to vote - well, just because. We say there is no difference between a carpenter and a doctor, a machinist and a lawyer, a banker and a salesman, a cleric and a painter. No one ever said one was better than the other, but the one is a fool who sees no difference. Even if it were true that all are equal, good manners should prevent us from saying so; but bad manners have accompanied the growth of democracy. We have torn down walls that separate people so that the commonest criticize and demand what only the best have earned. Respect for difference, position, and tradition have been replaced by democratic scratching. The happiness that was the birthright of everyone and which we enjoyed with considerable success for thousands of years has been supplanted by democratic madness. I want to know the contentment of the one who, in wiser times, grew to maturity slowly and quietly, like a cabbage.
Happiness has eluded us because we have followed politicians rather than our inward resolutions. Politicians are men of the least importance, busy as they are tending to others' business, telling everyone how to live, what to learn, how to die. Politicians think legislation will put an end to fraud, injustice, and all forms of rascality, and they are surprised and hurt when good people tell them the truth: reprobates must give up eating and drinking, laziness and immorality; an evil state will not be cured by laws, and a good state does not need them. Politicians cannot measure, and those who tell them that they are ten feet tall are believed, for they do not know how to measure. They have heard the applause of the multitude to whom they have given gifts (with others' money), and they have been deluded into thinking that they are statesmen. But good people, the truly happy, know that God is the only lawmaker, and happiness comes from obedience to the divine call; if the state is rotten, we need purity of heart; if the state is pure, we need to pass no laws. Unhappiness is a keynote today because we are pursuing happiness without divine promptings. We are in profound error when we agree with politicians that legislation can make men happy. Happiness is an inward possession of those who are content with goodness, whatever their material lot. Preachers are of far greater importance than modern, pompous, pontificating politicians who, with a new type of preaching, are trying to usurp the function of the Christian faith with doctrines of materialism and false equality.
Love of money and politicians have combined to tell us that happiness is proportional to our possession of things; but the truth, which is the opposite, comes to us sooner or later. When we were young, we thought that to possess a fine automobile and other luxuries was the highest goal in life. We saw people who held places of prominence, and we were convinced that these, of all, must be the most happy. Part of our maturity is born when we know prominent people firsthand. No sooner do we get a glimpse of their inner life than we realize they have sacrificed their best part for the sake of prominence. The famous are not made happy by having big cars or newspaper headlines. If they were wise, if they had the character to renounce their prominence, they would get out of the pit that they have dug and which others mistakenly admire; they would renounce the mad pursuit of what does not matter. Many prominent people fear to lose face, and they spend their days sadly continuing mistakes they know they could and should avoid.
Happiness comes from the inner self. Our unhappiness with externals drives us inward. In desperation, when we are children, we try to drown out the voice of the inner self by being a part of the roar of the world's excitement; but we cannot shake a nagging deep inside. Never has there been a tongue nimble enough to refute the voice within. We struggle for a long time between two forces: the claims of the external and those other claims, and only when the inner voice triumphs do we know happiness. Happiness is the contentment that comes with reliance on the eternal. Happiness is contentment with the good. Happiness is the knowledge that we have been steadfast with a good conscience. If we recall contradictions and live with the knowledge of a divided spirit, something must give place to a deeper demand. We must have peace in our spirits. Happiness is dependent on this inner peace.
We advance in the esteem of our fellows, but we are not satisfied. We are successful and want not bread for ourselves nor for our children, but something is missing. We seek for something we may never find. More than sense, more than intelligence, there is something heavenly that we can feel but may never know. This unknowable treasure so excites us that all other pleasures and delights are as nothing. Happiness is the pursuit of perfection, and we are not complete until we lay hold on it. If we reach our goal, nothing further is to be attained. Our souls are content and fully satisfied. They rejoice without thirst. They agree with the Psalmist:
O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
O fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no want!
The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. *