Read GOOD NEWS AND HARD WORK - NEWS AND GOVERNMENT - CHAPTER XVI of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


MARCH 4, 1913.

As I write these words, I look out upon the great meadow.  I see the poles and the wires in the sun, that long trail of poles and wires I am used to, stalking across the meadow.  I know what they are doing.

They are telling a thousand cities and villages about our new President, the one they are making this minute, down in Washington, for these United States.  With his hand lifted up he has just taken his oath, has sworn before God and before his people to serve the destinies of a nation.  And now along a hundred thousand miles of wire on dumb wooden poles, a hope, a prayer, a kind of quiet, stern singing of a mighty people goes by.  And I am sitting here in my study window wondering what he will be like, what he will think, and what he will believe about us.

What will our new President do with these hundreds of miles of prayer, of crying to God, stretched up to him out of the hills and out of the plains?

Does he really overhear it-that huge, dumb, half-helpless, half-defiant prayer going up past him, out of the eager, hoarse cities, out of the slow, patient fields, to God?

Does he overhear it, I wonder?  What does he make out that we are like?

I should think it would sound like music to him.

It would come to seem, I should think, when he is alone with his God (and will he not please be alone with his God sometimes?), like some vast ocean of people singing, a kind of multitudinous, faraway singing, like the wind-ah, how often have I heard the wind like some strange and mighty people in the pine treetops go singing by!

I do not see how a President could help growing a little like a poet-down in his heart-as he listens.

If he does, he may do as he will with us.

We will let him be an artist in a nation.

As Winslow Homer takes the sea, as Millet takes the peasants in the fields, as Frank Brangwyn lifts up the labour in the mills and makes it colossal and sublime, the President is an artist, in touching the crowd’s imagination with itself-in making a nation self-conscious.

He shall be the artist, the composer, the portrait painter of the people-their faith, their cry, their anger, and their love shall be in him.  In him shall be seen the panorama of the crowd, focused into a single face.  In him there shall be put in the foreground of this nation’s countenance the things that belong in the foreground.  And the things that belong in the background shall be put in the background, and the little ideas and little men shall look little in it, and the big ones shall look big.

They do not look so now.  This is the one thing that is the matter with America.  The countenence of the nation is not a composed countenance.  All that we want is latent in us, everything is there in our Washington face.  The face merely lacks features and an expression.

This is what a President is for-to give at last the Face of the United States an expression!

If he is a shrewd poet and believes in us, we shall accept him as the official mind reader of the nation.  He focuses our desires.  In the weariness of the day he looks away-he looks up-he leans his head upon his hand-through the corridors of his brain, that little silent Main street of America, the thoughts and the crowds and the jostling wills of the people go.

If he is a shrewd poet about us, he becomes the organic function, the organizer of the news about our people to ourselves.  He is the public made visible, the public made one.  He is a moving picture of us.  He speaks and gestures the United States-if he is a poet about us-when he beckons or points or when he puts his finger on his lips, or when he says, “Hush!” or when he says, “Wait a moment!” he is the voice of the people of the United States.

I am sitting and correcting, one by one, as they are brought to me, these last page proofs in the factory.  The low thunder on the floors of the mighty presses, crashing down into paper words I can never cross out-rises around me.  In a minute more-minute by minute that I am counting, that low thunder will overtake me, will roar down and fold away these last guilty, hopeful, tucked-in words with you, Gentle Reader, and you will get away!  And the book will get away!

There is no time to try to hold up that low thunder now, and to say what I have meant to say about false simplicity and democracy, and about our all being bullied into being little old faded Thomas Jeffersons a hundred years after he is dead.

But I will try to suggest what I hope that some one who has no printing-presses rolling over him-will say: 

One cannot help wishing that our socialists to-day would outgrow Karl Marx, and that our individualists would outgrow Emerson.  Democrats by this time ought to grow a little, too, and outgrow Jefferson, and Republicans ought to be able by this time to outgrow Hamilton.

Why not drop Karl Marx and Emerson and run the gamut of both of them, on a continent 3,000 miles wide?  Why should we live Thomas Jefferson’s and Alexander Hamilton’s lives?  Why not drop Jefferson and Hamilton and live ours?

The last thing that Jefferson would do, if he were here, would be to be Jefferson over again.  It is not fair to Jefferson for anybody to take the liberty of being like him, when he would not even do it himself.  If Jefferson were here, he would break away from everybody, lawyers, statesmen and Congress and go outdoors and look at 1913 for himself.

I like to imagine how it would strike him.  I am not troubled about what he would do.  Let Jefferson go out and listen to that vast machine, to the New York Central Railway smoothing out and roaring down crowds, rolling and rolling and rolling men all day and all night into machines.  Let Jefferson go out and face the New York Central Railway!  Jefferson in his time had not faced nor looked down through those great fissures or chasms of inefficiency in what he chose to call democracy, the haughty, tyrannical aimlessness and meaninglessness of crowds, too mean-spirited and full of fear and machines to dare to have leaders!

He had not faced that blank staring hell of anonymousness, that bottomless, weak, watery muck of irresponsibility-that terrific, devilish vagueness which a crowd is and which a crowd has to be without leaders.

Jefferson did not know about or reckon with Inventors, as a means of governing, as a means of getting the will of the people.

A whole new age of invention, of creation, has flooded the world since Jefferson.  This is the main fact about the modern man, that he is gloriously self-made.  He is practising democracy, inventing his own life, making his own soul before our eyes.

If we have a poet in the White House, this is the main fact he is going to reckon with:  He will not be seen taking sides with the Alexander Hamilton model or with the Thomas Jefferson model or with Karl Marx or Emerson.  We will see him taking Karl Marx and Emerson and Hamilton and Jefferson and melting them down, glowing them and fusing them together into one man-the Crowd-Man-who shall be more aristocratic than Hamilton ever dreamed, and be filled with a genius for democracy that Jefferson never guessed.  America to-day, on the face of the earth and in the hearts of men, is a new democracy, as new as Radium, Copernicus, the Wireless Telegraph, as new and just beginning to be noticed and guessed at as Jesus Christ!

Copernicus, Marconi, Wilbur Wright, and Christianity have turned men’s hearts outward.  Men live for the first time in a wide daily consciousness of one another.

Alexander Hamilton, had really a rather timid and polite idea of what an aristocrat was and Jefferson had merely sketched out a ground plan for a democrat.  If Hamilton had been aristocratic in the modern sense, he would have devoted half his career to expressing a man like Jefferson; and if Jefferson had been more of a democrat, he would have had room in himself to tuck in several Alexander Hamiltons.  Either one of them would have been a Crowd-Man.

By a Crowd-Man I do not mean a pull-and-haul man, a balance of equilibrium between these two men, I mean a fusion, a glowed together interpenetration of them both.  They did not either of them believe in the people as much as a man made out of both of them would-a really wrought-through aristocrat, a really wrought-through democrat or Crowd-Man, or Hero or Saviour.

I am afraid that some of us do not like the word Saviour as people think we ought to.  There seems to be something about the way many people use the word Saviour which makes it seem as if it had been dropped off over the edge of the world-of a real world, of a man’s world.

I do not believe that Christ spent five minutes in His whole life in feeling like a Saviour.  He would have felt hurt if He had found any one saying He was a Saviour in the tone people often use.  He wanted people to feel as if they were like Him.  And the way He served them was by making them feel that they were.

I do not believe that Thomas Jefferson, if he were here to-day, would object to a hero, or aristocrat, a special expert or a genius in expressing crowds, if he lived and wrought in this spirit.

The final objection that people commonly make to heroes or to men of marked and special vision or courage is that they are not good for people, because people put them on pedestals and worship them.  They look up at them wistfully.  And then they look down on themselves.

But I have never seen a hero on a pedestal.

It is only the Carlyle kind of hero who could ever be put on a pedestal, or who would stay there if put there.

And Carlyle-with all honour be it said-never quite knew what a hero was.  A hero is either a gentleman, or a philosopher, or an inventor.

The gentleman-on a pedestal-feels hurt and slips down.

The philosopher laughs.

The inventor thinks up some way of having somebody else get up so that it will not really be a pedestal at all.

I agree with all the socialists’ objections to heroes, if they mean by a hero the kind of man that Thomas Carlyle, with all his little glorious hells, all his little cold, lonesome, select heavens, his thunderclub view of life, and his Old Testament imagination, called a hero.  There is always something a little strained and competitive about Carlyle’s heroes as he conceives them except possibly one or two.

Being a hero with Carlyle consisted in conquering and displacing other heroes.  Even if you were a poet, being a hero consisted in a kind of spiritual standing on some other poet’s neck.  According to Carlyle, one must always be a hero against other men.  Modern heroism consists in being a hero with other men.  The hero Against comes in the Twentieth Century to be the hero With, and the modern hero is known, not by cutting his enemies down, but by his absorbing and understanding them.  He drinks up what they wish they could do into what he does, or he states what they believe better than they can state it.  Combination or cooeperation is the tremendous heroism of our present life.

I admit that I would be afraid of Carlyle’s heroes having pedestals.  They have already-many of them-done a good deal of harm because they have had pedestals, and because they would not get down from them.

But mine would.

With a man who is being a hero by cooeperation, getting down is part of the heroism.  And there is never any real danger in allowing a pedestal for a real hero.  He never has time to sit on it.

One sees him always over and over again kicking his pedestal out from under him and using it to batter a world with.  As the world does not take to enjoying its heroes’ pedestals in this way, a pedestal is quite safe.  Most people feel the same about a hero’s halo.  They prefer to have him wear it like a kind of glare around his head, and if he uses it as a searchlight upon them, if he makes his halo really practical and lights up the world a little around him instead, he is not likely to be spoiled, is almost always safe from any danger of having any more halo crowded upon him than he wants, or than anybody wants him to have.  One might put it down as a motto for heroes, “Keep your halo busy and it won’t hurt you.”  Modern democracy will never have a chance of being what it wants to be as long as it keeps on throwing away great natural forces like halos and pedestals.  There is no reason why we should not believe in halos and pedestals, not to wear or stand on, but when used strictly for butting and seeing purposes.

We may know a real hero by the fact that we always have to keep rediscovering him.  One knows the real hero by the fact that in his relation to people who put him on a pedestal he is always kicking his pedestal away and substituting his vision.

There is something about any real heroism that we see to-day which makes heroes out of the people who see it, A real hero has his back to the people and the crowd looks over his shoulders with him at his work and he feels behind him daily, with joy and strength, thousands of heroes pressing up to take his place.  And he is daily happy with a strange, mighty, impersonal joy in all these other people who could do it, too.  He lives with a great hurrah for the world in his heart.  The hero he worships is the hero he sees in others.  A man like this would feel cramped if he were merely being himself, or if he were being imprisoned by the people in his own glory, or were being cooped up into a hero.

It is in this sense that I have finally come again to believe that hero worship is safe, that in some form as one of the great elemental energies in human nature it must be saved, that it must be regulated and used, that it has an incalculable power which was meant to be turned on to run a nation with.

And I believe that Thomas Jefferson, confronted in this desperate, sublime 1913, with the new socialized spirit of our time, placed face to face at last with a Christian aristocrat or Crowd-Man, would want him saved and emphasized too.

It is because in democracies saviours are being kept by crowds and by millionaires and by machines very largely in the position of hired men, or of ordered about men, that ninety-nine one-hundredths of the saving or of the man-inventing and man-freeing in crowds, is not being attended to.

I have wanted to suggest in this book that the moment the Saviours in any nation will organize quietly and save themselves first, the less difficult thing (with men to attend to it) like saving the rest of us, will be a mere matter of detail.

The only thing that stands in the way is the Thomas Jefferson bug-a-boo.  People seem to have a kind of left-over fear that the moment these saviours or experts or inventors or heroes, call them what you will, get the chance that they have been working to get to save us, they will not want to use it.

It does not seem to me that anything will be allowed to interfere with it-with their saving us, or making detailed arrangements for our saving ourselves.

Being a great man (if as democracies seem to think being a great man is a disease) is at least a self-limiting disease.  Inventors when they get their first chance are going to save us, because they could not endure living with us unless we were saved.

Inventors could not enjoy inventing-inventing their greater, more noble inventions, until they had attended to a little rudimentary thing in the world like having people half alive on it to live with and to invent for.

It does not interest a really inspired man-inventing flying machines for people who have not time to notice the sky, wireless telegraph for people who have nothing to say, symphonies for tone-deaf crowds, or ambrosia for people who prefer potatoes.

This is the whole issue in a nutshell.  When people say that our inventors, or Crowd-Men or saviours, when they have fulfilled or saved themselves, cannot be trusted to save us, the reply that will have to be made is that only people who do not know how inventors feel or how they are made or what it is in them that drives them to do things, or how they do them, will be afraid to let men who give us worlds and who express worlds for us and who make us express ourselves in worlds the freedom to help shape them and run them.

Men who have the automatic courage, the helpless bigness and disinterestedness that always goes with invention, with creative power, can be trusted by crowds.

The prejudice against the hero is due to the fact that heroes in days gone by have been by a very large majority fighters, expressing themselves against the world, or expressing one part of the world against another.

The moment the hero becomes the artist and begins expressing himself and expressing the crowd together, the crowd will no longer be touched with fear and driven back upon itself by the Thomas Jefferson bug-a-boo.