Crucial Moments in National Life

Flower, B. O., Pp. 178-180, Persons, Places and Ideas, Miscellaneous Essays, The Arena Publishing Company, 1896

Humanity is rising. Life, as a whole, is ascending. This fact will become obvious if we trace the progress of man from the dawn of history to the present time, in such a comprehensive manner as to include the people in the aggregate rather than special classes, and when we also bear in mind the fact that races, civilizations and nations, no less than individuals, have their periods of “depression and exaltation,” that at moments in the existence of peoples and nationalities, no less than in the course of individual development, great crises arise. Two gates open before the people; two paths are visible; a choice is made between self love and divine love. Then one gate closes, and for a generation, a century or a cycle, the life of the nation, race or civilization slowly rises or falls. These supreme moments are destiny-fixing in character; they give a trend to thought, and thought colors life. If the higher impulses rule, if the divine rises superior to the animal, or, in a word, if the spirit of “All for all” is more potent than the spirit of “All for self,” the civilization, race or nation is rejuvenated. It receives a moral uplift a baptism from above, which is the oxygen of the higher life.

While, however, it is true that taken as a whole, and comparing various stages of depression and exaltation with corresponding stages in the ebb and flow of nations and civilizations, it will be found that humanity is slowly rising, the important fact must not be ignored that the rise of man is accelerated or retarded by the influence of the individual. No one is absolutely negative. Every life exerts an upward lift or a downward pressure, and therefore a grave responsibility rests upon each human soul. When individuals forget the sacred duty imposed upon them and abandon the cause of justice, progress and humanity for material comfort and selfish gratification, manhood from the zenith to the nadir of social life suffers for the sins committed. When, a nation comes to worship gold rather than goodness, so that the poor and unfortunate are ground to servitude, while rare, sensitive natures, whose ideals are high and whose thought runs ahead of the time, are systematically misrepresented, abused and misinterpreted, that nation enters upon a fatal decline which, though it may be lingering as a slow consumption, must terminate in death, unless the people can be aroused so that opinion-forming currents, which have become polluted by the gold of avarice, no longer influence them, and, under the impulsion of a new hope and a grim determination to secure justice, an awakened manhood succeeds in changing the current of national life.

When in the history of a nation the shell of conventionalism encrusts a civilization, a gross and deadly materialism crushes faith and hope, turns the index-finger downward, and sneers at the ideals of duty, justice and love by whose leverage the world is raised; when human sympathy becomes paralyzed in consequence of self-absorption; when capital becomes more precious than human rights; when life is less sacred than property; when the letter is enlarged and the spirit disregarded; when theology magnifies the importance of form, rite and ritual while industry begs in vain for employment; when widows starve and orphans grow up amid an environment of moral death; when divine love is at a discount, and the faith so loudly proclaimed by the lips finds no responsive echo in the deep recesses of the soul then we have the melancholy spectacle of a nation which has reached a point beyond which it cannot go without forever losing the soul which made progress possible, and which alone held the element of perpetual rejuvenation. Then the voice of the divine speaks through prophets, poets and seers, crying “Choose.” On the one side are duty, justice, love and stern morality; on the other the selfishness of pure animalism expressed in luxury, voluptuousness and venality. The moment is supreme. The coronal region struggles with the basilar for final supremacy, and the issue is life or death; not necessarily a sudden going out if the lower triumphs, for sometimes, as in the civilization of Rome, a slow and terrible agony of decay precedes the final downfall.

We are today facing one of these great crises. Professor George D. Herron voices the common conviction of earnest students of social conditions when he says:

We are in the beginnings of a revolution that will strain all existing religions and political institutions, and test the wisdom and heroism of the earth’s purest and bravest souls. It will not do to say the revolution is not coming, or pronounce it of the devil. Revolutions, even in their wildest forms, are the impulses of God moving in tides of fire through the life of man.

The slogan cry of “All for all” is far more noble than the creed “All for self” which has held sway in the past. The dogma of the divine right of property has too long obscured the rights of man. Plundering by law may be safe, but it is not moral, and throwing a few millions of acquired gold into the lap of philanthropy, conventional education or a church more awake on the material than the spiritual side of her being, may be politic, but such acts do not take away the woe pronounced by Jesus upon the Pharisees who paid tithes and posed as philanthropists while they “devoured widows houses” and ignored the “weightier matters of the law,” such as “judgment and mercy.”

The hour for dreaming is past. Not a moment is to be lost if the republic is to be redeemed. From this time forward plain speaking will be in order. The time for the soul to assert its supremacy has arrived; blessed is the man or woman who makes the great renunciation, and consecrates life to the cause of the people and for the restoration of the republic from the rule of the Assyrians.

“Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand, Ere the doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land? Though the cause of evil prosper, yet tis truth alone is strong, And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng Troops of beautiful tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

He’s true to God who’s true to man; wherever wrong is done, To the humblest and the weakest, neath the all-beholding sun,

That wrong is also done to us; and they are slaves most base, Whose love of right is for themselves, and not for all their race.

Tis ours to save our brethren, with peace and love to win Their darkened hearts from error, ere they harden it to sin; But if before his duty man with listless spirit stands, Erelong the Great Avenger takes the work from out his hands.”

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