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We are deeply interested in the United States just now, in seeing what will be the fate of President Wilson’s government in getting men to be good.  The fate of a government in 1913 may be said to stand on the government’s psychology or knowledge of human nature or of what might be called human engineering, its mastery of the principles of lifting over in great masses heavy spiritual bodies, like people, swinging great masses of people’s minds over as on some huge national derrick up on The White House, from one lookout on life to another.

There are certain aspects of human nature when power is being applied to it in this way, and when it is being got to be good, that may not be beside the point.

If one could drop in on a government and have a little neighbourly chat with it, as one was going by, I think I would rather talk with it (especially our government, just now), about Human Nature than about anything.

I would have to do it, of course, in what might seem to a government to be a plain and homely way.

I would ask the government what it thought of two or three observations I have come to lately about the way that human nature works, when people are getting it to be good.  What a government thinks about them might possibly prove before many months to be quite important to It.

The first observation is this: 

The reason that the average bachelor is a bachelor is that he spends the first forty-five years of his life in picking out women he will not marry.

Possibly it is because many people are following the same principle in trying to be good and in getting other people to be good that they make such poor work of it.

Possibly the main reason why there are so many wicked people or seem to be, in proportion, among the Hebrews in the Old Testament, is that Moses was a lawyer and that he tried to start off a great people with the Ten Commandments, that is, a list of nine things they must never do any more, and of one that they must.

Some of us who have tried being good, have noticed that when we have hit it off, being good (at least with us) consists in being focused, in getting concentrated, in getting one’s attention to what one really wants to do.

Moses’ idea when he started his government, the idea of getting people concentrated on not getting concentrated on nine things, was not conducive to goodness.  The fundamental principle Moses tried to make the people good with was a contradiction in terms.  It is a principle that would make wicked people out of almost anybody.  It is not a practicable principle for a government to rely on in getting people to be good.  It did not work with the people in the Old Testament and it has never worked with people since.

It does not call people out, in getting them to take up goodness, to point out to them nine places not to take hold of and one where they will be allowed to take hold, if they know how.

All that one has to do to see how true this is, is to observe the groups or classes of people who are especially not what they should be.  The people who never get on morally (as different as they may be in most things and in the fields of their activity) all have one illusion in common.  There is one thing they always keep saying when any new hopeful person tries once more to get them to be good.

They say (almost as if they had a phonograph) that they try to be good and cannot do it.

And this is not true.

When a man says he tries to be good and cannot do it, if he sits down and thinks it over he finds, generally, he is not trying to be good at all.  He is trying to be not bad.

A man cannot get himself reformed, by a negative process, by being not bad, and it is still harder for him and for everybody, when other people try to do it-those who are near him, and it is still, still harder for a President down in Washington to do it.

An intelligent, live man or business corporation cannot be got to keep up an interest very long in being not bad.  Being not bad is a glittering generality.  It is like being not extravagant or economical.

Most people who have ever tried to attain in a respectable degree to a pale little neuter virtue like economy, and who have reflected upon their experiences, have come to conclusions that may not be very far from the point in a fine art like getting one’s self to be good or getting other people to be good.

To concentrate on being economical by going grimly down the street, looking at the shop windows, looking hard at miles of things one will not buy, cannot be said to be a practicable method of attaining economy.

The real artist, in getting himself to be good, proceeds to upon the opposite principle.  Even if the good thing he tries for is merely a negative good thing like economy, he instinctively seeks out some positive way of getting it.

A man who is cultivating the art of getting himself to be economical, or of getting his wife to be economical, does not make a start by sitting down with a pencil and making out a list, by concentrating his mind on rows of things that he and his family must get along without.  He knows a better way.  He goes downtown with his entire family, takes them into a big shop and sits down with them and listens to a Steinway Grand he cannot get.  As he listens to it long enough, he thinks he will get it.

Then a subtle, spiritual change passes over him and over his family while they listen.  He would not have said before he started that sitting down and thinking of things he could get along without-making lists in his mind of things that he must not have-could ever be in this world a happy, even an almost thrilling experience.  But as a matter of fact, as he sits by the piano and listens, he finds himself counting off economies like strings of pearls, and he greets each new self-sacrifice he can think of with a cheer.  While the Steinway Grand fills the room with melody all around him, there he actually is sitting, and having the time of his life dreaming of the things he can get along without!

When he goes home, he goes home thinking.  And the family all go home thinking.

Then economy sets in.  The reason most people make a failure of their economy is that they are not artistic with it, they do not enjoy it.  They do not pick out anything to enjoy their economy with.

With some people an automobile would work better than a Steinway Grand and there are as many ways, of course, of practising the Steinway Grand principle in not being bad as there are people, but they all consist apparently in selecting some big, positive thing that one wants to do, which logically includes and bundles all together where they are attended to in a lump, all the things that one ought not to do.

Most sins (every one who has ever tried them knows this) most sins are not really worth bothering with, each in detail, even the not-doing them and the most practical, firm method of getting them out of the way (thousands of them at once, sometimes, with one hand) is to have something so big to live for that all the things that would like to get in the way, and would like to look important, look, when one thinks of it, suddenly small.

The distinctive, preeminent, official business for the next four years, of making small things in this country look small and of gently, quietly making small men feel small, has been assigned by our people recently, to Mr. Woodrow Wilson.

Now it naturally seems to some of us, the best way for Mr. Wilson’s government to do in getting the Trusts to give up lying and stealing, is going to be to place before them quietly a few really big, interesting, equally exciting things that Trusts can do, and then dare them, as in some great game or tournament of skill-all the people looking on-dare them, challenge them like great men, to do them.

There are three ideas President Wilson may have of the government’s getting people to be good.

First, not letting people be bad. (Moses.)

Second, being good for them. (Karl Marx.)

Third, letting them be good themselves. (Any Democrat.)

The first of these ideas means government by Prison.  The second, means government by Usurpation, that is, the moment a man amounts to enough to choose to do right or do wrong of his own free will, the moment he is a man, in other words, being so afraid of him and of his being a man, that we all, in a kind of panic, shove into his life and live it for him-this is Socialism, a scared machine that scared people have invented for not letting people choose to do right because they may choose to do wrong.

The third, letting people be good themselves, letting them be self-controlling, self-respecting, self-expressing or voluntarily good people, is democracy, a machine for letting men be men by trying it.

Moses was the inventor of a kind of national moral-brake system, a machine for stopping people nine times out of ten.  The question that faces President Wilson just now, while the world looks on is, “Is a government or is it not a moral-brake system-a machine for stopping people nine times out of ten?”

There is a considerable resemblance between Moses’ position and the new President’s in the United States.  When Moses looked around on the things he saw the men around him doing, and took the ground that at least nine out of ten of the things should be stopped, he was academically correct.  And so, also, President Wilson, gazing at the business of this country to-day, at nine out of ten of the humdrum thoughtless things that trusts and corporations have been doing, will be academically correct in telling them to stop, in having his little, new, helpless, unproved, adolescent government stand up before all the people and speak in loud, beautiful, clear accents and (with its left fist full of prisons, fines, lawyers, of forty-eight legislatures all talking at once) bring down its right fist as a kind of gavel on the world and say to these men, before all the nations, that nine of the things they are doing must be stopped and that one of the things, if they happen to able be to think out some way of keeping on doing it-nobody will hurt them.

But the question before President Wilson, to-day, with all our world looking on, is not whether he would be right in entering upon a career of stopping people.  The real and serious question is, does stopping people stop them?  And if stopping people does not stop them, what will?

Perhaps the way for a government to stop people from doing things they are doing, is to tell them the things it wants done.  A government that does not express what it wants, that has not given a masterful, clear, inspired statement of what it wants-a government that has only tried to say what it does not want, is not a government.

The next business of a government is a statement of what it wants.

The problem of a government is essentially a problem of statement.

How shall this statement be made?