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Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/259

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In former times, when the efforts of man to lift himself by his boot-straps were expended, not upon social enterprises, but upon enterprises in physics and the art of medicine, the reigning idols of desire were the philosopher's stone, the panacea, the fountain of youth, etc. The distinctive mark of this boastful century of ours is likely to be in history that it was the one in which the old delusions and self-deceptions of humanity, driven at last from the domain of physics by the advance of science, retreated to the domain of social phenomena and there entrenched themselves for another attempt to reattain dominion. Accordingly we hear now about the "Banquet of Life," the "Boon of Nature," the "Patrimony of the Disinherited," and other fine phrases of the same class, all of which take for granted the question of most serious import in the whole range of interest to which they apply, viz., whether there really are any such things.

The question whether man comes into this world provided by nature with an outfit of some kind; whether he finds any endowment awaiting him; whether he is started on the struggle for existence with some chances predetermined in his favor by nature; whether he enters into a natural estate; whether nature fits him out with any natural rights; whether he comes into the world as a man goes to a banquet, which somebody has prepared for him, and to which he goes not by invitation, but of right; whether nature's attitude to him is at all that of boon-giver; whether he is born to happiness and has