Baltimore Evening Sun (17 February 1913): 6.
Meanwhile, there is still no sign of moving day at Goucher College.
THE VICE CRUSADE
We have had success [in segregation] because we have never started to do anything we knew we could got do. We did not try to extirpate vice and crime. Reformers are often worse than crooks in such matters. We had a lot of them after us at first, when they found that we were going only to regulate vice and not to drive it entirely out of Cleveland. They are with us now, however.--Chief of Police Kohler, of Cleveland.
The ferocity with which the current vice crusade is being carried on by its gladiators is no proof of an unusual lack of charity in those gentelmen, but merely one more indication of the eternal incompatibility between militant morality and the fairness commonly prevailing among civilized white men. Upon all other subjects under the sun, including even faith, it is perfectly possible for two men to meet in friendly dispute, but once a moral issue to raised they tackle one another in the fashion of hyenas, and the loser reaches the coroner in the form of an attenuated emulsion. Hence the peculiar fascination of the combat.
And yet it must be plain to everyone who has given any thought to the matter that the rules of morality are far from fixed--that there is often room for a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the rightness or wrongness of a given action. Even the Decalogue, by long odds the most satisfactory code of morality ever subscribed to by man, is not complete. The whole science of morals, indeed, is no more than an organized attempt to improve it, by adding to it on the one hand, by interpreting and developing it on the other hand, and by explaining it away, as it were, on the third hand. Many actions which we now regard with virtuous indignation--stuffing the ballot box, going naked, using cocaine and bribing legislators, for example--are not forbidden by the Decalogue. And some things that we regard with great toleration--the invention and propagation of new and preposterous religions, for example–seem to be specifically prohibited by it.
Even when the Decalogue appears to retain its old validity unchallenged there is commonly a violent difference of opinion as to the exact extent and bearing of its prohibitions. Consider, for example, the sin forbidden by the Seventh Commandment. The language of the Commandment is admirably direct and unequivocal, and yet the Public General Laws of Maryland presume to qualify it. That is to say, they provide that only a violation involving an innocent third person shall be considered a violation at all. In case no third person is involved, directly or indirectly, no punishment is provided. And this same qualification appears in the penal codes of almost all the other States of Christendom. To that extent, at least, the Decalogue has been amended.
It is precisely in this field--the debatable ground of amendment and interpretation--that the most sanguinary moral battles are fought. On the general validity of the Commandments practically all civilized white men are agreed, but on the subtler questions of meaning and implication it is difficult to find two thoughtful men who agree entirely. And when we pass from meanings and come to means--when we begin to consider how given interpretations are to be enforced--then we plunge into a battle so vociferous and so fierce that the wars of Zulus and tomcats pale beside it.
The present mad whooping and bellowing over the so-called social evil affords an admirable example. So far as I can make out, all the sluggers engaged are agreed upon two points: (a) That the Seventh Commandment is sound in principle and (b) that it is impossible wholly to enforce it in practice. But upon the remaining points, (c) how far it may be enforced and (d) by what means, there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion, and that difference of opinion reveals itself in the form of a desperate combat with clubs, poisons, cobblestones and curses, in which all the other Commandments are torn to flinders.
I say all, but I mean especially the Ninth: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” It has been violated constantly since the beginning of the controversy, and not only constantly, but also lightly, nonchalantly, with no thought of sin. The last offender was an eminent clergyman--a gentleman whose piety and good faith I haven’t the slightest reason to doubt. And yet he violated it openly and shamelessly, and when I called him to book he made his escape by violating it again! And I myself, in the midst of my virtuous denunciation of him, adorned the tale by violating it as boldly!
Such is moral endeavor. Such is the combat of the pure. Two-thirds of the energy of the vice crusaders is devoted to attacking the men who do not believe in their panacea--not by argument, mind you, but by threats, slanders and reviling. For example, every police official who has presumed to stand against them has had to meet the abominable charge that he shares the profits of prostitutes. And they have made a systematic and relentless effort to scare off all other critics and opponents, either by direct attack or by back-alley appeals to supporters and superiors. I could a tale unfold–but not yet, not yet!
The joke is, of course, that the persons who draw the fire and ire of the vice crusaders are all quite as earnest and intelligent as they are themselves, and quite as eager to reduce vice to a minimum. The dispute, in brief, is not over principles, but over means. And it is precisely that dispute over means which provokes the worst passions of militant moralists. The Anti-Saloon League, pledged to one scheme for reducing drunkenness, spends four-fifths of its energies bawling against the advocates of other schemes. The Lord’s Day Alliance, setting up as infallible its own narrow, pecksniffian definition of a decent Sunday, condemns the adherents of all other definitions to the stake.
And so on and so on. Once the issue is joined over the means of enforcing a moral law the law itself is forgotten. The warring armies of its supporters attack each other more savagely than they attack the common foe. And the result, of course, is the prosperity of that common foe. Vice crusading makes vice romantic and prosperous. Local option multiplies bootleggers and promotes drunkenness. The Lord’s Day campaign turns thousands of decent citizens into determined and habitual lawbreakers.