Baltimore Evening Sun (23 April 1913): 6.
The learned Maryland Suffrage News, in the course of an able editorial in its current issue, defends the suffragettes against my late charge that they are agitators pure and simple, with far more enthusiasm and hydrogen in their souls than common sense. The argument of the News, in brief, is that agitators, whatever their failings, are necessary to the progress of the world. They march ahead of the mass, spying out the land, clearing the way, slaying the immemorial dragons. This work requires a degree of faith which few human beings have. It requires, too, mental and physical toughness, disvulnerability to assault and treachery, and a great talent for whooping. An agitator must have the hide of a rhinoceros and the vocal reeds of a calliope.
Let me agree with the News in all it says, and even in all it doesn’t say. Let me go further, and praise all agitators, and particularly all suffragette agitators, in a voice of brass. They are, without doubt, the true saviors of the world. They are the heralds of progress, the advance agents of the enlightenment. And if, as usually happens, they proceed to the business by making themselves personally obnoxious, if they try to wake up the world by prodding it, cowbiding it, bellowing at it and blowing it up, then their sufficient defense lies in the fact that this is the only workable way to arouse it from its hoggish slumbers. Once their hullabaloo passes the maximum of bearable unpleasantness the world will treat with them in order to get rid of them. And the ensuing compromise--between the hot haste and eagerness of the agitators and the chronic sloth of the world--is what we call progress.
It is by this process, as everyone knows, that every important reform of history has been brought about. For example, the introduction of Christianity. The preaching of the early Christian pastors was extremely disagreeable to the luxurious Romans, and they showed it by setting fire to the pastors. But the preaching kept on, and even increased: ten volunteers took the place of every martyr. By and by the Romans decided that the easiest way to get rid of this disagreeableness was to compromise with it--and the more they negotiated to that end the more they were won over. In the end they became Christians themselves--not Pauline Christians, of course, but compromise Christians who carried over into the new faith many notions and habits of their own. Many of these elements still persist, to the satisfaction of most of us, but to the intense horror of various agitators. The progress of the future, like that of the past, will be made by compromising with these agitators, and with those who object to other doctrines and practices.
So in all other fields of human thought and custom. The essential thing about the agitator is that he is unquenchably obnoxious, that he offends and tortures the public with his yammering, that his agitation finally becomes intolerable, just as the blowing of a steam siren would become intolerable. Then it is that he gains his point, or, at all events, a part of his point. The public offers to compromise with him, not because he has converted it, but simply because he has worn it out. Later on, it may become actually converted--as a matter of practice, it usually is–but at the moment of surrender it is moved almost solely by a desire for peace. It can’t stand the whooping a moment longer. It is at the end of its endurance.
But all of this, of course, does not indicate that the agitator is wrong. On the contrary, he is usually partly right--if not in his promise and prediction, then at least in his complaint. Thus it is, for example, with the suffragettes. They way be wrong when they argue that the disfranchisement of women is the cause of war, measles, high taxes and the social evil, and when they argue that the vast majority of men are lewd and soulless scoundrels, but they are right when they argue that women should have the vote. The excuse for their method lies in the fact that the public will never grant their rightness until it has been clubbed into despair by their wrongness--that it will never give them the vote until they have taken away its civilized peace and security. In brief, they must fill it with something resembling terror before ever it will treat with them.
The same excuse justifies the extravagances of most other agitstors, including, for example, the vice crusaders and the boozehounds. Considered casually, the campaign of the vice crusaders seems to be wholly unsound and preposterous. They exaggerate undoubted evils beyond all reason, piling on horrors until the eyes pop and the liver turns to water. And they propose remedies so violent and so impracticable that the veriest idiot must laugh at them. But at the bottom of all this mountebankery there is a perfectly valid idea, and that is the idea that the world would be better off if prostitution were abolished, that the thing is evil in itself and the mother and father of innumerable other evils. It is not nearly so bad, of course, as they say it is, but all the same it is bad enough, and no sane man is in favor of it.
So with the boozehounds. When they try to show that all crime and wretchedness are caused by drink, that without it there would be no need for police, that its abolition would stamp out disease, that it is the one curse of man--when they argue thus, they merely make the reflective man snicker. He knows better: it is impossible to convert him to so naif and illogical a doctrine. But beneath all their campmeeting eloquence and bogus statistics there is the undoubted fact that alcohol is injurious to thousands of human beings, that it makes for disorder, that its evils are many and vicious, that its use ought to be strictly regulated. In brief, they are right at bottom, as the vice crusaders and suffragettes are right at bottom. Their whole error lies in extravagant and donkeyish exaggeration, in telling the truth so violently that it becomes a lie, and not only a lie, but also a nuisance.
But the value of such agitators lies in this very weakness. If they argued in a dignified manner, sticking closely to the facts, no one would listen to them. Their one sure way of attracting attention is by snorting and yelling. If they keep it up long engugh, and do it vociferously enough, the noise they make will become intolerable to the public. And then the public, pursuing its immemorial custom, will offer to compromise with them. And the essence of that compromise will be the residuum of sound sense in their illimitable cream puff of bosh.
Whenever one of them ex-Sheriffs thinks about the recall of judges, he goes out in the alley and laughs until he darn near busts.