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WE have arrived at a stage of human evolution that must be almost unprecedented in history. A large portion of mankind -- and just that portion which corresponds with the part that has hitherto created the events of which we know with some certainty -- is gradually forsaking the religion in which it has lived for nearly twenty centuries.
For a religion to become extinct is no new thing. It must have happened more than once in the night of time; and the annalists of the end of the Roman Empire make us assist at the death of paganism. But, until now, men passed from a crumbling temple into one that was building; they left one religion to enter another; whereas we are abandoning ours to go nowhither. That is the new phenomenon, with the unknown consequences, wherein we live.
It is not necessary to recall the fact that religions have always, through their morality and their promises extending beyond the tomb, exercised an enormous influence upon men's happiness, although we have seen some -- and very important ones, such as paganism -- which provided neither those promises nor any morality properly so called. We will not speak of the promises of our own religion, for they are the first to perish with the faith, whereas we are still living in the monuments erected by the morality born of that departing faith. But we feel that, in spite of the supports of habit, these monuments are yawning over our heads and that already, in many places, we are shelterless under an unforeseen heaven that has ceased to give its orders. Thus we are assisting at the more or less unconscious and feverish elaboration of a morality that is premature, because we feel it to be indispensable, made up of remnants gathered from the past, of conclusions borrowed from ordinary good sense, of a few laws half perceived by science and, lastly, of certain extreme intuitions of our bewildered intelligence, which returns, by a circuitous road through a new mystery, to old-time virtues which good sense alone
is not sufficient to sustain. It may be interesting to try to seize the first reflexes of that elaboration. The hour seems to be striking at which many will ask themselves whether, by continuing to practise a lofty and noble morality in an environment that obeys other laws, they be not disarming themselves too artlessly and playing the ungrateful part of dupes. They wish to know if the motives that still attach them to the older virtues are not merely sentimental, traditional and illusionary; and they seek somewhat vainly within themselves for the supports which reason may yet lend them.
Placing on one side the artificial heaven in which those who remain faithful to the religious certainties take shelter, we find that the upper currents of civilised humanity waver, seemingly, between two contrary doctrines. For that matter, these two parallel, but inverse doctrines have through all time, like hostile streams, crossed the fields of human morality. But their bed was never so clearly, so rigidly dug out as now. That which in other days was no more than altruism and egoism instinctive and vague, with waves that often mingled, has of late become altruism and egoism absolute and systematic. At their sources, which are not renewed, but shifted, stand two men of genius: Tolstoi and Nietzsche. But, as I have said, it is only seemingly that these two doctrines divide the world of ethics. The real drama of the modern conscience is not enacted at either of these too extreme points. Lost in space, they mark little more than two illusive goals, which nobody dreams of attaining: One of these doctrines flows violently back towards a past that never existed in the shape in which that doctrine pictures it; the other ripples cruelly towards a future which there is nothing to foretell. Between these two dreams, which envelop and go beyond it on every side, passes the reality of which they have failed to take account. In this reality, whereof each of us carries the image within himself, it behoves us to study the formation of the morality on which our latter-day life rests. Need I add that, when employing the term "morality," I do not mean to speak of the practices of daily existence, which spring from custom and fashion, but of the great laws that determine the inner man?
Our morality is formed in our conscious or unconscious reason, which, from this point of view, may be divided into three regions. Right at the bottom lies the heaviest, the densest and the most general, which we will call "common sense." A little higher, already striving towards ideas of immaterial usefulness and enjoyment, is what might be called "good sense." Lastly, at the top, admitting, but controlling as severely as possible the claims of the imagination, of the feelings and of all that connects our conscious life with the unconscious and with the unknown forces within and without, lies the indeterminate part of that same total reason, to which we will give the name of "mystic reason."
It is not necessary to set forth at length the morality of "common sense," of that good common sense which exists in all of us, in the best and the worst of us alike, and which springs up spontaneously on the ruins of the religious idea. It is the morality of each man for himself, of practical, solid egoism, of every material instinct and enjoyment. He who starts from common sense considers that he possesses but one certainty: his own life. In that life, going to the bottom of things, are but two real evils: sickness and poverty; and but two genuine and irreducible boons: health and riches. All other realities, happy or unhappy, flow from these. The rest -- joys and sorrows born of the feelings and the passions -- is imaginary, because it depends upon the idea which we form of it. Our right to enjoyment is limited only by the similar right of those who live at the same time as ourselves; and we have to respect certain laws established in the very interest of our peaceful enjoyment. With the reservation of these laws, we admit no constraint; and our conscience, so far from trammelling the movements of our selfishness, must, on the contrary, approve of their triumphs, seeing that these triumphs are what is most in accordance with the instinctive and logical duties of life.
There we have the first stratum, the first state of all natural morality. It is a state beyond which many men, after the complete death of the religious ideas, will never go.
As for "good sense," which is a little less material, a little less animal, it looks at things from a slightly higher standpoint and, consequently, sees a little farther. It soon perceives that niggardly common sense leads an obscure, confined and wretched life in its shell. It observes that man is no more able than the bee to remain solitary and that the life which he shares with his fellows, in order to expand freely and completely, cannot be reduced to an unjust and pitiless struggle or to a mere exchange of services grudgingly rewarded. In its relations towards others, it still makes selfishness its starting-point; but this selfishness is no longer purely material. It still considers utility, but already admits its spiritual or sentimental side. It knows joys and sorrows, affections and antipathies, the objects of which may exist in the imagination.
Thus understood and capable of rising to a certain height above the conclusions of material logic -- without losing sight of its interest -- it appears beyond the reach of every objection. It flatters itself that it is in solid occupation of all reason's summits. It even makes a few concessions to that which does not perceptibly fall within the latter's domain, I mean to the passions, the feelings and all the unexplained things that surround them. It must needs make these concessions, for, if not, the gloomy caves in which it would shut itself would be no more habitable than those in which dull common sense leads its stupefied existence. But these very concessions call attention to the unlawfulness of its claims to busy itself with morality once that the latter has gone beyond the ordinary practices of daily life.
Indeed, what can there be in common between good sense and the stoical idea of duty, for instance? They inhabit two different and almost uncommunicating regions. Good sense, when it claims alone to promulgate the laws that form the inner man, ought to meet with the same resistance and the same obstacles as those against which it strikes in one of the few regions which it has not yet reduced to slavery: the region of aesthetics. Here it is very happily consulted on all that concerns the starting-point and certain great lines, but most imperiously ordered to hold its peace so soon as the achievement and the supreme and mysterious beauty of the work come into question. But, whereas in aesthetics it resigns itself easily enough to silence, in morality it wishes to lord over all things. It were well, therefore, to put it back once for all into its lawful place in the generality of the faculties that makes up our human person.
One of the features of our time is the ever-increasing and almost exclusive confidence which we place in those parts of our intelligence which we have just described as common sense and good sense. It was not always thus. Formerly, man based upon good sense only a somewhat restricted and the vulgarest portion of his life. The rest had its foundations in other regions of our mind, notably in the imagination. The religions, for instance, and with them the brightest part of the morality of which they are the chief sources, always rose up at a great distance from the tiny limits of good sense. This was excessive; but the question is whether the present contrary excess is not as blind. The enormous strides made in the practice of our life by certain mechanical and scientific laws make us allow to good sense a preponderance to which it remains to be proved that this same good sense is entitled. The apparently incontestable, yet perhaps illusory logic of certain phenomena with which we believe ourselves acquainted makes us forget the possible illogicality of millions of other phenomena which we do not yet know. Nothing assures us that the universe obeys the laws of human logic. It would even be surprising if this were so; for the laws of our good sense are the fruit of an experience which is insignificant when we compare it with what we do not know. "There is no effect without a cause," says our good sense, to take the tritest instance. Yes, in the little circle of our material life, that is undeniable and all-sufficing. But, so soon as we emerge from this infinitesimal circle, the saying no longer answers to anything, seeing that the notions of cause and effect are alike unknowable in a world where all is unknown. Now our life, from the moment when it raises itself a little, is constantly issuing from the small material and experimental circle and, consequently, from the domain of good sense. Even in the visible world which serves it for a model in our mind, we do not observe that it reigns undivided. Around us, in her most constant and most familiar manifestations, nature very rarely acts according to good sense. What could be more senseless than her waste of existences? What more unreasonable than those billions of germs blindly squandered to achieve the chance birth of a single being? What more illogical than the untold and useless complication of her means (as, for instance, in the life of certain parasites and the impregnation of flowers by insects) to attain the simplest ends? What madder than those thousands of worlds which perish in space without accomplishing a single work? All this goes beyond our good sense and shows it that it is not in agreement with general life and that it is almost isolated in the universe. Needs must it argue against itself and recognise that we shall not give it in our life, which is not isolated, the preponderant place to which it aspires. This is not to say that we will abandon it where it is of use to us; but it is well to know that good sense cannot suffice for everything, being itself almost nothing. Even as there exists without ourselves a world that goes beyond it, so there exists within ourselves another that exceeds it. It is in its place and performs a humble and blessed work in its little village; but it must not aim at becoming the master of the great cities and the sovereign of the mountains and the seas. Now the great cities, the seas and the mountains occupy infinitely more space within us than the little village of our practical existence, which is the necessary agreement upon a small number of inferior, sometimes doubtful, but indispensable truths and nothing more. It is a bond rather than a support. We must remember that nearly all our progress has been made in despite of the sarcasms and curses with which good sense has received the unreasonable, but fertile hypotheses of the imagination. Amid the moving and eternal waves of a boundless universe, let us not, therefore, hold fast to our good sense as though to the one rock of salvation. Bound to that rock, immovable through every age and every civilisation, we should do nothing of that which we ought to do, become nothing of that which we may perhaps become.
Until the present time, this question of a morality limited by good sense possessed no great importance. It did not stay the development of certain aspirations, of certain forces that have always been considered the finest and noblest to be found in man. The religions completed the interrupted work. To-day, feeling the danger of its limitations, the morality of good sense, which would like to become the general morality, seeks to extend itself as far as possible in the direction of justice and generosity, to find, in a superior interest, reasons for being disinterested, in order to fill up a portion of the abyss that separates it from those indestructible forces and aspirations. But there are points which it is unable to exceed without denying itself, without destroying itself at its very source. After these points, which are just those at which the great useless virtues begin, what guide remains to us?
We shall see presently if it be possible to answer this question. But, even admitting that there is not, that there never can be a guide beyond the plains of the morality of good sense, this is no reason why we should be anxious touching the moral future of humanity. Man is so essentially, so necessarily a moral being that, when he denies the existence of all morality, that very denial already becomes the foundation of a new morality. Mankind, at a pinch, can do without a guide. It proceeds a little more slowly, but almost as surely through the darkness which no one lights. It carries within itself the light whose flame is blown to and fro, but incessantly revived by the storms. It is, so to speak, independent of the ideas which imagine that they lead it. Moreover, it is interesting and easy to establish that these periodical ideas have always had but little influence on the mass of good and evil that is done in the world. The only thing that has a real influence is the spiritual wave which carries us, which has its ebbs and flows, but which seems slowly to overtake and conquer we know not what in space. More important than the idea is the time that lapses around it, is the development of a civilisation which is only the level of the general intelligence at a given moment in history. If a religion were revealed to us to-morrow, proving, scientifically and with absolute certainty, that every act of goodness, of self-sacrifice, of heroism, of inward nobility would bring us, immediately after our death, an indubitable and unimaginable reward, I doubt whether the proportion of good and evil, of virtues and vices amid which we live would undergo an appreciable change. Would you have a convincing example? In the middle ages there were moments when faith was absolute and obtruded itself with a certainty that corresponds exactly with our scientific certainties. The rewards promised for well-doing, the punishments threatening evil were, in the thoughts of the men of that time, as tangible, so to speak, as would be those of the revelation of which I spoke above. Nevertheless, we do not see that the average of goodness was raised. A few saints sacrificed themselves for their brothers, carried certain virtues, selected from among the more contestable, to the pitch of heroism; but the bulk of men continued to deceive one another, to lie, to fornicate, to steal, to be guilty of envy, to commit murder. The mean of the vices was no lower than that of to-day. On the contrary, life was incomparably harsher, more cruel and more unjust, because the low-water mark of the general intelligence was less high.
Let us return to our positivist, utilitarian, materialist or rational morality, which we have called the morality of common sense and good sense. It is certain that, beside the latter, there has always been, there still is another which embraces all that extends from the virtues of good sense, which are necessary to our material and spiritual happiness, to the infinity of heroism, of self-sacrifice, of goodness, of love, of inward probity and dignity. It is certain that the morality of good sense, although it may go pretty far in some directions, such as that of altruism, for instance, will always be a little wanting in nobility, in disinterestedness and, above all, in I know not what faculties that are capable of bringing it into direct relations with the uncontested mystery of life.
If it be probable, as we have hinted, that our good sense answers only to an infinitesimal portion of the phenomena, the truths and the laws of nature, if it isolate us somewhat piteously in this world, we have within us other faculties which are marvellously adapted to the unknown parts of the universe and which seem to have been given to us expressly to prepare us, if not to understand them, at least to admit them and to undergo their great presentiments. These are imagination and the mystic summit of our reason. Do and say what we may, we have never been, we are not yet a sort of purely logical animal. There is in us, above the reasoning portion of our reason, a whole region which answers to something different, which is preparing for the surprises of the future, which is awaiting the events of the unknown. This part of our intelligence, which I will call imagination or "mystic reason," went before us in times when, so to speak, we knew nothing of the laws of nature, outran our imperfect attainments and made us live, morally, socially and sentimentally, on a level very much superior to that of those attainments. At the present time, when we have made the latter take a few steps forward in the darkness and when, in the hundred years that have just elapsed, we have unravelled more chaos than in a thousand previous centuries, at the present time, when our material life seems on the point of becoming fixed and assured, is this a reason why these two faculties should cease to go ahead of us or why they should retrocede towards good sense? Are there not, on the contrary, very serious reasons for urging them forwards, so as to restore the normal distances and their traditional lead? Is it right that we should lose confidence in them? Is it possible to say that they have hindered any form of human progress? Perhaps they have deceived us more than once; but their fruitful errors, by forcing us to march onwards, have revealed to us, in the straying, more truths than our over-timid good sense would ever have lighted upon by marking time. The most welcome discoveries, in biology, in chemistry, in medicine, in physics, almost all had their starting-point in an hypothesis supplied by imagination or mystic reason, an hypothesis which the experiments of good sense have confirmed, but which, given as it is to narrow methods, it would never have foreseen.
In the exact sciences, in which it seems as if they ought to be first dethroned, imagination and mystic reason (that is to say that part of our reason which extends above good sense, draws no conclusions and plays an enormous and lawful part in the hesitations and possibilities of the unknown), our imagination, I was saying, and our mystic reason again occupy a place of honour. In aesthetics, they reign almost undivided. Why should silence be laid upon them in our morality, which fills an intermediary space between the exact sciences and aesthetics? There is no concealing the fact: if they cease to come to the assistance of good sense, if they give up prolonging its work, the whole summit of our morality falls in abruptly. Starting from a certain line which is exceeded by the heroes, the great wise men and even by the majority of mere good men, all the height of our morality is the fruit of our imagination and belongs to mystic reason. The ideal man, as formed by the most enlightened and the most extensive good sense, does not yet correspond, does not even correspond in the slightest degree with the ideal man of our imagination. The latter is infinitely higher, more generous, nobler, more disinterested, more capable of love, of self-abnegation, of devotion and of essential sacrifices. It is a question of knowing which of the two is right or wrong, which has the right of surviving. Or, rather, it is a question of knowing whether some new fact permit us to make this demand and to bring into question the high traditions of human morality.
Where shall we find this new fact? Among all the revelations which science has lately given us, is there a single one that authorises us to take anything from the ideal set before us by Marcus Aurelius, for instance? Does the least sign, the least indication, the least presentiment arouse a suspicion that the primitive ideas which hitherto have guided the just man will have to change their direction and that the road of human good-will is a false road? What discovery tells us that it is time to destroy in our conscience all that goes beyond strict justice, that is to say those unnamed virtues which, beyond those necessary to social life, appear to be weaknesses and yet turn the simple decent man into the real and profound good man?
Those virtues, we shall be told, and a host of others that have always formed the perfume of great souls, those virtues would doubtless be in their places in a world wherein the struggle for life was no longer so necessary as it is now on a planet on which the evolution of species is not yet finished. Meanwhile, most of them disarm those who practise them as against those who do not practise them. They trammel the development of those who ought to be the best to the advantage of the less good. They oppose an excellent, but human and particular ideal to the general ideal of life; and this more restricted ideal is necessarily vanquished beforehand.
The objection is a specious one. First of all, this so-called discovery of the struggle for life, in which men seek the source of a new morality, is at bottom but a discovery of words. It is not enough to give an unaccustomed name to an immemorial law in order to render lawful a radical deviation from the human ideal. The struggle for life has existed since the existence of our planet; and not one of its consequences was modified, not one of its riddles solved on the day when men thought that they had taken cognizance of it by adorning it with an appellation which a whim of the vocabulary will change, perhaps, before fifty years have passed. Next, it behoves us to admit that, if these virtues sometimes disarm us in the face of those who do not know them, they disarm us only in very contemptible combats. Certainly, the over-scrupulous man will be deceived by him who is unscrupulous, the too-loving, over-indulgent, too-devoted man will suffer at the hands of him who is less so; but can this be called a victory of the second over the first? In what does this defeat strike at the inner life of the better man? He will lose some material advantage by it; but he would lose much more by leaving uncultivated all the region that extends beyond the morality of good sense. The man who enriches his sensibility enriches his intelligence; and these are the properly human forces that always end by having the last word.
Moreover, if a few general thoughts succeed in emerging from the chaos of half-discoveries, of half-truths that beguile the mind of modern man, does not one of these thoughts assert that nature has given to every species of living being all the instincts necessary for the accomplishment of its destinies? And has she not, at all times, given us a moral ideal which, in the most primitive savage and the most refined civilised man alike, preserves a proportional and perceptibly equal distance ahead of the conclusions of good sense? Is not the savage, just as, in a higher sphere, the civilised man, as a rule infinitely more generous, more loyal, more true to his word than the interest and experience of his wretched life advise? Is it not thanks to this instinctive ideal that we live in an environment in which, despite the practical preponderance of evil, excused by the harsh necessities of existence, the idea of goodness and justice reigns more and more supreme and in which the public conscience, which is the perceptible and general form of that ideal, becomes more and more powerful and certain of itself?
It is fitting that we should come to an understanding, once for all, on the rights of our instincts. We no longer allow the rights of any of our lower instincts to be contested. We know how to justify and to ennoble them by attaching them to some great law of nature. Why should not certain more elevated instincts, quite as incontestable as those which crawl at the bottom of our senses, enjoy the same prerogatives? Must they be denied, suspected or treated as illusions because they are not related to the two or three primitive necessities of animal life? Once that they exist, is it not probable that they are as indispensable as the others to the accomplishment of a destiny concerning which we do not know what is useful or useless to it, seeing that we do not know its objects? And is it not, then, the duty of our good sense, their innate enemy, to help them, to encourage them and, finally, to confess to itself that certain parts of our life are beyond its sphere?
It is our duty, above all, to strive to develop within ourselves the specific characteristics of the class of living being to which we belong and, by preference, those which distinguish us the most from all the other phenomena of the life around us. Among these characteristics, one of the most notorious is, perhaps, not so much our intelligence as our moral aspirations. One portion of these aspirations emanates from our intelligence; but another has always gone before it, has always appeared independent of it and, finding no visible roots in it, has sought elsewhere, no matter where, but especially in the religions the explanation of a mysterious instinct that urged it to go farther. To-day, when the religions are no longer qualified to explain anything, the fact none the less remains; and I do not think that we have the right to suppress with a stroke of the pen a whole region of our inner existence with the sole object of gratifying the reasoning organs of our judgment. Besides, all things hang together and help one another, even those which seem to contend with one another, in the mystery of man's instincts, faculties and aspirations. Our intelligence derives an immediate profit from the sacrifices which it makes to our imagination when the latter caresses an ideal which the former does not think consonant with the realities of life. Our intelligence has for some years been too prone to believe that it is able to suffice for itself. It needs all our forces, all our feelings, all our passions, all our unconsciousness, all that is with it and all that is against it, in order to spread and flourish in life. But the nutriment which is necessary to it above any other is the great anxieties, the grave sufferings, the noble joys of our heart. These truly are to it what the water from heaven is to the lilies, the dew of the morning to the roses. It is well that it should know how to stoop and pass in silence before certain desires and certain dreams of that heart which it does not always understand, but which contains a light that has more than once led it towards truths which it sought in vain at the extreme points of its thoughts.
We are an indivisible spiritual whole; and it is only for the needs of the spoken or written word that we are able, when we study them, to separate the thoughts of our intelligence from the passions and sentiments of our heart. Every man is more or less the victim of this illusory division. He says to himself, in his youth, that he will see into it more clearly when he is older. He imagines that his passions, even the most generous of them, obscure and disturb his thought; and he asks himself, with I know not what hope, how far that thought will go when it reigns alone over his lulled dreams and senses. And old age comes: the intelligence is clear, but has no object remaining. It has nothing left to do, it works in the void. And it is thus that, in the domains where the results of that division are the most visible, we observe that, in general, the work of old age is not equal to that of youth or of mature age, which, nevertheless, has much less experience and knows many fewer things, but which has not yet stifled the mysterious forces foreign to our intelligence.
If we be now asked which, when all is said, are the precepts of that lofty morality whereof we have spoken without defining it, we will reply that it presupposes a state of soul or of heart rather than a code of strictly-formulated precepts. What constitutes its essence is the sincere and strong wish to form within ourselves a powerful idea of justice and of love that always rises above that formed by the clearest and most generous portions of our intelligence. One could mention a thousand examples: I will take one only, that which is at the centre of all our anxieties and beside which all the rest has no importance, that which, when we thus speak of lofty and noble morality and perfect virtues, cross-examines us as culprits and asks us bluntly, "And when do you intend to put a stop to the injustice in which you live?"
Yes, all of us who possess more than the others, we who are more or less rich as against those who are quite poor, we all live in the midst of an injustice deeper than that which arises from the abuse of brute strength, because we abuse a strength which is not even real. Our reason deplores this injustice, but explains it, excuses it and declares it to be inevitable. It shows us that it is impossible to apply to it. the swift and efficacious remedy which our equity seeks; that any too radical remedy would carry with it evils more cruel and more desperate than those which it pretended to cure; it proves to us, in short, that this injustice is organic, essential and in conformity with all the laws of nature. Our reason is perhaps right; but what is much more deeply, much more surely right is our ideal of justice, which proclaims that our reason is wrong. Even when it is not acting, it is well, if not for the present, at least for the future, that this ideal should have a quick sense of iniquity; and, if it no longer involves renunciations or heroic sacrifices, this is not because it is less noble or less sure than the ideal of the best religions, but because it promises no other rewards than those of duty accomplished and because these rewards are just those which hitherto only a few heroes have understood and which the great presentiments that hover beyond our intelligence are seeking to make us understand.
In reality, we need so few precepts! . . . Perhaps three or four, at the utmost five or six, which a child could give us. We must, before all, understand them; and "to understand," as we take it, is hardly, as a rule, the beginning of the life of an ideal. If that were enough, all our intelligences and all our characters would be equal; for every man of even a very mean intelligence is apt to understand, at this first stage, all that is explained to him with sufficient clearness. There are as many manners and as many stages in the manners of understanding a truth as there are minds that think that they understand it. If I prove, for instance, to an intelligent vain man how childish is his vanity, to an egoist capable of comprehension how unreasonable and hateful is his egoism, they will readily agree, they will even amplify what I have said. There is, therefore, no doubt that they have understood; but it is very nearly certain that they will continue to act as though not so much as the extremity of one of the truths which they have just admitted had grazed their brain. Whereas, in another man, these truths, covered with the same words, will one evening suddenly enter and penetrate, through his thoughts, to the very bottom of his heart, upsetting his existence, displacing every axis, every lever, every joy, every sorrow, every object of his activity. He has understood the sense of the word "to understand," for we cannot flatter ourselves that we have understood a truth until it is impossible for us not to shape our lives in accordance with it.
To return to and resume the central idea of all this, let us recognise that it is necessary to maintain the equilibrium between what we have called good sense and the other faculties and sentiments of our life. Contrary to our former wont, we are nowadays too much inclined to shatter this equilibrium in favour of good sense. Certainly, good sense has the right to control more strictly than ever all that other forces bring to it, all that goes beyond the practical conclusions of its reasoning; but it cannot prevent them from acting until it has acquired the certainty that they are deceiving it; and it owes to itself, to the respect of its own laws the duty of being more and more circumspect in asserting that certainty. Now, though it may have acquired the conviction that those forces have committed a mistake in ascribing to a divine and precise will and injunctions the majority of the phenomena manifested within themselves; though it be its duty to redress the accessory errors that proceed from this central error, by eliminating, for instance, from our moral ideal a host of sterile and dangerous virtues, it could never deny that these same phenomena subsist, whether they emanate from a superior instinct, from the life of the species, infinitely more powerful within us than the life of the individual, or from any other unintelligible source. In any case, it could not treat them as illusions; for, at that rate, we might ask ourselves whether this supreme judge, outflanked and contradicted on every side by the genius of nature and the inconceivable laws of the universe, be not itself more illusive than the illusions which it aspires to destroy.
For all that touches upon our moral life, we still have the choice of our illusions: good sense itself, that is to say the scientific spirit, is obliged to admit as much. Wherefore, taking one illusion with another, let us welcome those from above rather than those from below. The former, after all, have brought us to the stage at which we are; and, when we look back upon our starting-point, the dreadful cave of prehistoric man, we owe them a certain gratitude. The latter illusions, those of the inferior regions, that is to say of good sense, have given proofs of their capacity hitherto only when accompanied and supported by the former. They have not yet walked alone. They are taking their first steps in the dark. They are leading us, they say, to a regular, assured, measured, exactly-weighed state of well-being, to the conquest of matter. Be it so: they have charge of this kind of happiness. But let them not pretend that, to attain it, it is necessary to fling overboard, like a dangerous cargo, all that hitherto formed the heroic, cloud-topped, indefatigable, adventurous energy of our conscience. Leave us a few fancy virtues. Allow a little space for our fraternal sentiments. It is very possible that these virtues and sentiments, which are not strictly indispensable to the just man of to-day, are the roots of all that will blossom when man shall have accomplished the hardest stage of the "struggle for life." Also, we must keep a few sumptuary virtues in reserve, in order to replace those which we abandon as useless; for our conscience has need of exercise and nourishment. Already we have thrown off a number of constraints which were assuredly hurtful, but which at least kept up the activity of our inner life. We are no longer chaste, since we have recognised that the work of the flesh, cursed for twenty centuries, is natural and lawful. We no longer go out in search of resignation, of mortification, of sacrifice; we are no longer lowly in heart or poor in spirit. All this is very lawful, seeing that these virtues depended on a religion which is retiring; but it is not well that their places should remain empty. Our ideal no longer asks to create saints, virgins, martyrs; but, even though it take another road, the spiritual road that animated the saints must remain intact and is still necessary to the man who wishes to go further than simple justice. It is beyond that simple justice that the morality begins of those who hope in the future. It is in this perhaps fairy-like, but not chimerical part of our conscience that we must acclimatise ourselves and learn to delight. It is still reasonable to persuade ourselves that in so doing we have not been duped.
The good-will of men is admirable. They are ready to renounce all the rights which they thought specific, to abandon all their dreams and all their hopes of happiness, even as many of them have already abandoned, without despairing, all their hopes beyond the tomb. They are resigned in advance to seeing their generations succeed one another without an object, a mission, an horizon, a future, if such be the certain will of life. The energy and pride of our conscience will manifest themselves for the last time in this acceptation and in this adhesion. But, before reaching this stage, before abdicating so gloomily, it is right that we should ask for proofs; and, hitherto, these seem to turn against those who bring them. In any case, nothing is decided. We are still in suspense. Those who assure us that the old moral ideal must disappear, because the religions are disappearing, are strangely mistaken. It was not the religions that formed the ideal, but the ideal that gave birth to the religions. Now that these last have weakened or disappeared, their sources survive and seek another channel. When all is said, with the exception of certain factitious and parasitic virtues which we naturally abandon at the turn of the majority of religions, there is nothing as yet to be changed in our old Aryan ideal of justice, conscientiousness, courage, kindness and honour. We have only to draw nearer to it, to clasp it more closely, to realise it more effectively; and, before going beyond it, we have still a long and noble road to travel beneath the stars.
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