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of the particular offenders, sometimes by the destruction of the group to which they belonged and which they by their divergence weakened.
What forces made against custom-morality?
Against these repressive forces, however, other forces were from early times urging men on to reject the tyranny of custom. Those inward promptings that we call conscience were continually tending to become less the echo of the group-conventions and more the expression of the individual's needs and deepest desires.
(1) At bottom, of course, lay the natural restlessness and passions of men, the impatience of control, the longing for liberty, the craving for self-expression. The combative instinct, pride, obstinacy, and notably the sex-instinct, were from earliest times spurring men on to a disregard of the conventional and the formation of individual standards.
(2) We may make special mention of the love of power over others, which has been one of the deep roots of the perpetual internecine struggles of man. There is a need of leadership in every group; and this need is felt more and more keenly as the groups increase in size. At first the authority of the elders suffices, or of strong men who push to the fore at times of crisis, as in the case of the so-called judges, the military dictators, as we might better call them, of early Israel. But as Israel, grown in numbers, and feeling the need of greater unity and readiness, clamored for a king, so generally, at a certain stage of culture, permanent chiefs of some sort become necessary. Now the chief, enjoying his sense of power, usually imposed his will upon the people; his individuality, at least, had more or less free play. And thus, through the changing decrees of successive rulers, all sorts of varying standards became realized, and the rigidity of early custom was steadily loosened.
(3) In the hunting stage of primitive life, and even in the pastoral stage, there was little private property, and hence little opportunity for the development of the acquisitive instinct. But with the transition to an agricultural life, and still more with the growth of commerce and the arts, private accumulation became possible. Individual initiative began to pay; the smarter and more ingenious could outstrip their fellows by breaking through the crust of custom, while those who were hidebound by a conventional conscience were at a disadvantage. To a large extent this lawlessness or
a innovation in conduct came into conflict with the individual's conscience. But the question “Why not?” would at once arise; if possible, a man would justify his act to himself. And to some degree those new ways of acting would swing conscience over to their side.
(4) In earliest times each tribe lived very much to itself and developed its own morals, under the stress of similar forces, but without much influence from the experience of other groups. It was thus exceedingly difficult for it to conceive of any other ways of doing things; the ancestral customs were accepted as inevitable, like the sun and the rain. Inter-tribal conflicts first gave, perhaps, a vantagepoint for mutual criticism. A clan that by some custom had an obvious advantage over its neighbors would naturally be imitated as soon as men became quick-witted enough to understand its superiority. The taking of prisoners, the exchange of hostages or envoys, friendly missions and journeys, would give insight into one another's life. With the development of commerce, this mutual criticism of morals would be greatly accelerated. So the authority of local conventions and standards would be discredited, custom would become more fluid, and individual judgment find freer play. Especially would the more observant, the more traveled, the more reflective, tend to vary from the ideals of their neighbors.
(5) In various other ways, apart from the mutual influence of divergent group-customs, the progress of civilization tends to produce variations in ideals. The increase of knowledge, the development of science and philosophy, bring floods of new ideas to burst the old dams; deepening insight reveals the irrationality of old ideas to the leaders of thought. The progress of the arts gives new interests and valuations. The spiritual seers and prophets see visions of a better order and proclaim new gospels. The development of classes and castes allows to the aristocracy more leisure to think and criticize; the institution of slavery, in particular, produced a class of slave-owners with ample time to dissect their inherited conceptions.
(6) Finally, where, under favoring conditions, the danger of war in which man has for the most part lived became less acute, custom generally grew laxer. It is the imperious necessity of self-preservation that has been the greatest conservative force; warlike states have demanded strict allegiance and looked with suspicion upon deviations from the group ideals. But peoples that, whether from a fortunate geographical situation or because of their marked superiority in numbers and power over their neighbors, have escaped this need of perpetual self-defense, could afford to relax their vigilance for conformity. And the very notable increase in individual variations in conduct and ideal during the past century has been largely owing to the era of comparative peace. We seem to be reaching the age when the advantage is to lie not with the nation that has the most rigid customs, but with the nation that shows the most individual initiative and progress.
Conservatism vs. radicalism
We have become forever emancipated from the tyranny of custom-morality under which the majority of men have
lived. Legislation is to be sure, continually on the increase, shutting men out from the ever new ways they discover to prey upon their fellows. But nevertheless, the freedom with which men may now live their own lives according to their own ideas is almost a new phenomenon upon the earth. When we compare the free range that our individuality has with the tyranny of public opinion even so recently as the lifetime of our Puritan grandparents, when we see the new experiments in personal life and social legislation which are being tried on every hand, when we read a few of the thousands of books and magazines and newspapers that are pouring a continual flood of new ideas into the world, we must realize the immense change from the stereotyped customs of nearly all past epochs. In each of our forty-eight States different codes are showing their relative advantages; here woman's suffrage is on trial, there the initiative and referendum, there the recall. Almost every sort of possible marriage law, it would seem, is being tried somewhere. It is a time of moral confusion, of the unsettling of old conceptions and a groping, stumbling progress toward the new.
In such a situation it is no wonder that we have two types of thought, two sets of forces, at work. On the one hand we have the conservatives, the "stand-patters,” the maintainers of the existing order; on the other hand are the progressives, the radicals, the reformers of the existing order. For the former the moral standards of their particular age and country tend to have an absolute and unconditional worth, which must not be criticized or questioned. The necessity of allegiance to morality has been so deeply stamped upon their minds that it has become a loyalty to the particular brand of morality they have grown up in, however flagrantly inadequate or tyrannous it may be. For the latter a commendable impatience with the imperfect is apt to foster a blindness to the value that almost always lies in ancient customs and a lack of regard for the need of stability and common agreement on some plane. These iconoclasts, vociferous in condemnation, are often most empty-handed, giving us nothing wiser or more advantageous wherewith to replace the conventions they discard. So it is difficult to say whether humanity is more in danger from the redhanded radicalism which destroys the precious fruit of long experience, or from the obstinate obstructionists who by the dead weight of their apathy or the positive pull-back of their antagonism delay the remedying of existing evils. The ideal lies in keeping morality plastic while giving its approved forms our hearty allegiance. Widely different ideals are theoretically conceivable; but we live in a specific time and place and must defer to the code of our fellows; it is along these lines, and by gradual steps, that progress must be made. We must be on the alert for new suggestions, but slow to tear down till we can build better. The greatest of prophets, keenly as he saw the flaws in existing standards, proclaimed that he came not to destroy but to fulfill.
It is evident enough to the impartial observer that our present chaos and mutual antagonism of conflicting viewpoints is not ideal; we need to work out of this disorder into some sane and stable order; when we can find the best
way of life we must discard these manifold variations, most of which are foolish and ill-advised. The undesirability of this contemporary disagreement, which in some matters amounts to almost a complete moral anarchy, is enough to explain the pull-back of the conservatives. And it is precisely the purpose of such a volume as this to help in the crystallizing of definite and universally accepted moral principles for personal and social life. But, on the other hand, this temporary chaos is more pregnant with promise than the older blind acquiescence in existing codes. We must bring the