The Great Community

Updated: Jan 30

Pp 42-52 Royce, J. (1916). The hope of the great community. New York, NY: Macmillan.

In speaking at such a moment of the community of mankind viewed simply as an ideal of the future, there are two matters which, as I believe, we ought to bear in mind. First, its members will not be merely individual human beings, nor yet mere collections or masses of human beings, however vast, but communities of some sort, communities such as, at any stage of civilization in which the great community is to be raised to some higher level of organization, already exist. Ethical individualism has been, in the past, one great foe of the great community. Ethical individualism, whether it takes the form of democracy or of the irresponsible search on the part of individuals for private happiness or for any other merely individual good will never save mankind. Equally useless, however, for the attainment of humanity's great end would be any form of mere ethical collectivism, that is, any view which regarded the good of mankind as something which masses or crowds or disorganized collections of men should win.

For this reason Bentham’s utilitarianism, in the form which he gave to it, and which the English political Liberals of the middle of the nineteenth century emphasized, does not express what the community of mankind needs for its existence and for its general welfare. That is why mere philanthropy, merely seeking for the greatest happiness for the greatest number, merely endeavoring to alleviate the pains of individual men or of collections of men, will never bring about the end for which mankind has always been seeking, and for the sake of which our individual life is worth living. That, too, is the reason why at the present time many humane people, despite their former horror of war, in view of its sorrows and of the misery which it causes, find to their surprise that, as Robert Herrick has said in a recent number of “The New Republic,” war seems to them now no longcr as great an evil as it used to seem; for in each of the warring peoples the war has brought about a new consciousness of unity, a new willingness to surrender private good to the welfare of the community, a new sense of the sacredness of duty, a new readiness to sacrifice.

Such converts to the doctrine that war is good ascribe their sudden conversion to the wonder and reverence which have been aroused in them by the sight of France regenerated through the very dangers which the invader has brought with him, awakened to a new sense that the value of life lies not in what individuals get out of it, but in what the exertions and the perils of war call out and illustrate, namely, the supreme and super-individual value of loyalty. Loyalty, the devotion of the self to the interests of the community, is indeed the form which the highest life of humanity must take, whether in a political unity, such as in a nation, or in the church universal, such as Paul foresaw. Without loyalty, there is no salvation. Therefore loyalty can never completely express itself in the search for individual happiness, whether the happiness that is in question be that of the individual who teaches, or that of the mere collections of masses of individuals for whom some philanthropist seeks happiness.

Therefore it is indeed true that, if the only alternative for mankind were either to continue the arts of war or to lose its vision of high attainment in the form of a mere search for happiness, then it would be better that war should rage, with all its horrors, so long as humanity lasts, rather than that what Emerson called ‘‘hearts in sloth and ease” should live in an endlessly dissatisfied search for pleasures which deceive and which fade in the enjoyment, and for a happiness which no human individual can possibly attain, unless indeed he is viewed as a member of the community.

The detached individual is an essentially lost being. That ethical truth lies at the basis of the Pauline doctrine of original sin. It lies also at the basis of the pessimism wilh which the ancient southern Buddhism of the original founder of that faith, Gotama Buddha, viewed the life of man. The essence of the life of the detached individual is, as Gotama Buddha said, an unquenchable desire for bliss, a desire which “hastens to enjoyment, and in enjoyment pines to feel desire.” Train such a detached individual by some form of highly civilized cultivation, and you merely show him what Paul called “the law.” The law thus shown he hereupon finds to be in opposition to his self-will. Sin, as the Pauline phrase has it, “revives.”

The individual, brought by his very cultivation to a clearer consciousness of the conflict between his self-will and the social laws which tradition inflicts upon him, finds a war going on in his own members. His life hereupon becomes only a sort of destruction of what is dearest to him. For as a social being, lie has to recognize both the might of his social order and the dignity of its demands. But as a detached individual, he naturally hates restraint; that is, as Paul says, he hates the law. However correct his outward conduct may be, he inwardly says: “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

Such is the picture of the essentially disastrous life of the detached individual which you find in the much misunderstood, and in our day comparatively unpopular seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. In the following chapter, Paul characterizes the only mode of salvation which can be offered with any hope to such a detached individual. Gotama Buddha sought the salvation of the detached individual through an act of resignation whereby all desires are finally abandoned. Paul describes what is essentially .salvation through loyalty, salvation through the willing service of a community, the salvation of those whom he characterizes by the words: “They are in (Christ Jesus, and walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” .But for Paul the being whom he called Christ Jesus was in essence the spirit of the universal community.

The lesson with regard to which both Buddhism and Christianity agree, is the lesson that for the detached individual there is no .salvation. Since, therefore, you can never make the detached individual securely and steadily happy, it is useless to try to save him, or any mere crowd or collection of detached individuals, by mere philanthropy. Since the detached individual is essentially a lost being, you cannot save masses of lost individuals through the triumph of mere democracy. Masses of lost individuals do not become genuine freemen merely because they all have votes. The suffrage can show the way of salvation only to those who are already loyal, who already, according to their lights, live in the spirit, and are directed not by a mere disposition to give good things to everybody, or to give all their goods to feed the poor, or to give their body to be burned, but by a genuinely Pauline charity.

Since, then, it is only the consciously united community — that which is in essence a Pauline church — which can offer salvation to distracted humanity and can calm the otherwise insatiable greed and longing of the natural individual man, the salvation of the world will be found, if at all, through uniting the already existing communities of mankind into higher communities, and not through merely freeing the peoples from their oppressors, or through giving them a more popular government, unless popular government always takes the form of government by the united community, through the united community, and for the united community.

Therefore, while the great community of the future will unquestionably be international by virtue of the ties which will bind its various nationalities together, it will find no place for that sort of internationalism which despises the individual variety of nations, and which tries to substitute for the vices of those who at present seek merely to conquer mankind, the equally worthless desire of those who hope to see us in future as “men without a country.” Whatever that form of loyalty which is now patriotism expresses, must be in spirit preserved by the great community of the future. That unity within the national growth which the observers of the war watch with such fascination, when they see how each people is better knit and more serious, more conscious of the sacredness of its national life than it was before the great peril, that unity will not, and must not. be lost when the new international life comes into existence. There can be no true international life unless the nations remain to possess it. There can never be a spiritual body unless that body, like the ideal Pauline church, has its many members. The citizens of the world of the future will not lose their distinct countries. What will pass away will be that insistent mutual hostility which gives to the nations of today, even in times of peace, so many of the hateful and distracting characters of a detached individual man. In case of human individuals, the sort of individualism which is opposed to the spirit of loyalty, is what I have already called the individualism of the detached individual, the individualism of the man who belongs to no community which he loves and to which he can devote himself with all his heart, and his soul, and his mind, and his strength. In so far as liberty and democracy, and independence of soul, mean that sort of individualism, they never have saved men and never can save men. For mere detachment, mere self-will, can never be satisfied with itself, can never win its goal. What saves us on any level of human social life is union. And when Webster said, in his familiar reply to Hayne, that what alone could save this country must be described as “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” —Webster expressed in fine phrase, and with special reference to this country, the true doctrine of the church universal.

Liberty alone never saves us. Democracy alone never saves us. Our political freedom is but vanity unless it is a means through which we come to realize and practise charity, in the Pauline sense of that word. Hence the community of mankind will be international in the sense that it will ignore no rational and genuinely self-conscious nation. It will find the way to respect the liberty of the individual nations without destroying their genuine spiritual freedom. Its liberty and union, when attained, will be “now and forever, one and inseparable.”

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