Baltimore Evening Sun (27 June 1913): 6.
Still waiting for the antis’ explanation of the suffrage victory in Illinois. Was it new proof that the majority of women fear and flee from the ballot? If not, what was it?
A DAILY THOUGHT. Allah obligeth no man to do more than he hath given him ability to perform.—The Koran, lxv.
Some estimable clergyman, rising from his place in today’s Letter Column, undertakes to combat my borrowed doctrine that “it is always our most salient weakness that we combat most violently in others” by bringing forward the obvious argumentum ad hominem. That argument, I must confess, is a very embarrassing one and almost always leads to a considerable backing and filling, but it is not nearly so embarrassing after all as the argument involving third persons. For example, I find it practically impossible to answer the rev. correspondent when he touches on the war against graft—and does me the honor of mentioning me in the company of such eminent gladiators as the Hon. MM. Woodrow Wilson and Charles J. Bonaparte. How can I speak for these distinguished gentlemen? I am not privy to the secret psychological history of either of them, and have, in fact, no personal acquaintance with them whatever. What is more, it would be a public indecency, in the absence of specific accusations, to discuss their private ethics, even supposing me to be competent, and what is still more, it would lay me open to vexatious litigation. So I must pass up the theme, for all its fascinations, and enter a plea of confession and avoidance.
But as for myself, I admit freely that the potentialities of graft are within me, though hitherto restrained from noticeable efflorescsoce by æsthetic considerations and lack of safe opportunity. I do not mean, of course, the crude sort of graft practiced by ward heelers and New York policemen, but those higher and more refined varieties which engage the civilized man. I do not remember any occasion when I was ever tempted to take money from a city contractor or a brothel keeper in return for protection, but I do remember being tempted to take an annual pass from the United Railways in return for what may be euphemistically denominated Christian charity. Worse still, I actually took the pass and it required an act of the Legislature to separate me from it. And on various occasions, if the truth must be told, I have accepted cigars, alcoholic beverages and celluloid souvenirs from theatrical managers.
Having thus stooped to folly in the past, however arctic my virtue at the moment, I recognize the existence within my bosom of a subtle impulse to seize such dubious chances, or, to speak in Freudian terms, of a Legislator complex. I do not say that I now yield to that impulse, nor even that I am ever in serious danger of yielding, but what I do say to that it exists, and that it is an integral part of me, and that I have to exercise a conscious effort to combat it. If I were both a member of the Finance Commission and the vice-president of a bank, as the Hon. Mr. Preston is, it is very probable that I should be sorely tempted to give certain material advantages to that bank, just as he, in point of fact, is sorely tempted. And if, diverging from his habit, I should resist that temptation, as he has not resisted it, then that resistance might be nothing more than proof of an inferior courage. It takes a certain toughness of mind and hide to do such things in the open. Even the Hon. Mr. Preston at the start sought concealment. But the existence or non-existence of that toughness is, after all, a secondary matter. The essential thing is the primary impulse. And that impulse, I believe, is in nine-tenths of us.
I say nine-tenths, but in speaking of Americans it would be safer, perhaps, to say 99 per cent. There is no country in Christendom in which unrestrained self-seeking is more assiduously and ferociously hunted down, but by the same token there is no country in which there is so much self-seeking, honest and dishonest, to hunt. The very violence of the chase, indeed, is proof that Americans, as a race, have sound reason for holding the impulse to graft in particular fear. They hold it in particular fear because they have felt its teeth, because it has gnawed them, because they know the poison in its bite. They see in every successful grafter a subtle suggestion, a seductive example. And so, distrusting the soundness of their defenses, they seek the victory by offensive tactics. Afraid that they will be unable to restat the devil, they seek to terrify, flabbergast and hamstring the devil.
I do not say that this national eagerness for a pianissimo profit is proof of a national criminality. As a matter of fact, the average American, far from being a criminal by nature, is almost unbearably moral. He sees sin in scores of acts that most other civilized white men, including even a minority of Scotchmen, regard with complete indifference. But it must be obvious that a general taste for morality, however keen, may yet be complicated by certain repressed but none the less eager leanings in the other direction. The precise leaning of the American is toward unhallowed usufructs. A being so little æsthetic that even his religion tends to degenerate into something that can be enforced by a policeman and audited by an accountant, he does all his thinking on a material plane and is forever tempted by the possibility of gain. And as that gain comes nearer the borders of the virtuous, his temptation increases in virulence. Put him in a room with a gold watch and he will not be seriously tempted to steal it. But put him in a room with a man offering a safe little rake-off and he will be tempted worse than St. Anthony. He is not a thief. He is merely a fellow eager to get on in the world and with a somewhat elemental notion of what getting on in the world means.
So much for the rev. gentleman’s argumentum ad hominem in the matter of graft. My answer is that I am American enough to have been tempted by street-car passes, but German enough to be ashamed of it today. As for his accusation in the matter of vice crusaders, anti-vivisectionists and other such gladiators, I must defer my answer to some other day. But in passing, let me recall to him something I have frequently maintained in the past—that the impulse underlying the jehads of all such fellows is the mere impulse to knock someone out. The vice crusaders pursue the gazelles of the Tenderloin and the anti-vivisectionists pursue the pathologists for exactly the same reason that I myself pursue the two packs of pursuers—because it is darn good sport and stimulating to the liver and lights.