Open main menu

Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/204

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
178
EARTH HUNGER AND OTHER ESSAYS

which it was their business to supply. The adage, however, was true; knowledge is power, and, in itself considered, it is nothing more. The notion that knowledge makes men good is one of the superstitions of the nineteenth century. Knowledge only gives men power and it furnishes a chance; it brings with it, however, the grim alternative already cited: will the man who has it use it for good or for ill? That is a moral question. It finds its answer in the springs of character, and the independent self-determination which lies deepest in the essential elements of each man's personality. This, by the way, is one of the reasons why there is no sound social or personal strength which is not founded on the training of the individual; it is the reason why individual character is the spring of all good in man or the state, and why all socialism is profoundly immoral. Wherever collective standards, codes, ideals, and motives take the place of individual responsibility, we know from ample experience that the spontaneity and independent responsibility which are essential to moral vigor are sure to be lost.

The things which men call "goods," therefore, because they are means or powers, are not positive gains; they only open the lists and give the chance for a struggle.

Leaving the matter of morals now, and turning back to the practical utilities for which men value all "goods," we find that every chance which is opened means gain or loss according to the wisdom with which it is employed. Very few men of fifty can look back on their lives and see anything but chances misapprehended, opportunities lost, and errors in the use of powers. It is simply a wild speculation to guess what a hundred men would attain to if they should correctly understand and use every opportunity in life which opened before them,