Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/329

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

be thus elevates the traditions of man, inspires the literature that the people read. He sows the seeds of effort in the fertile soil of the newborn of his own kind, while he leads those who do not have the same gifts to rear and tend the growing plant in their own social gardens. This is true: and a philosophy of society should not overlook either of the facts—the actual deeds and the peculiar influence of the great man upon their own time—or his lasting p]ace in the more inspiring social tradition which is embodied in literature and art.

But it is not my aim to add to the literature of hero-worship. The considerations on that side are so patent that he who runs may read. My aim is to present just the opposite aspect of these apparent exceptions to the canons of our ordinary social life, and so to oppose the extreme claim made by the writers v/ho attempt, in the name of social philosophy and science, to blur the lines of sane thought on these topics. For it only needs a moment's consideration to see that if the genius has no reasonable place in the movement of social progress in the world, then there can be no possible doctrine or philosophy of such progress. To the hero-worshiper his hero comes in simply to "knock out," so to speak, all the regular movement of the society which is so fortunate, or so unfortunate, as to have given him birth: and by his initiative the aspirations, beliefs, struggles of the community or state get a push, in a new direction—a tangent to the former movement or a reversal of it. If this be true, and it be further true that no genius who is likely to appear can be discounted by any human device before his abrupt appearance upon the stage of history, then the history of facts takes the place of the science or philosophy of them, and the chronicler is the only historian with a right to be.

Our genius, then, is a very critical factor in human thought. Not only is he the man from whom we expect the thought; he is also the man who, if the hero-worshiper is right, traduces thought. For of what value can we hold the contribution which he makes to thought if this contribution runs so across the acquisitions of the earlier time, and the contributions of earlier genius, that no line of common truth can be discovered between him and them? Then each, society would have its own explanation of itself, and that only so long as it produced no new genius. It may be, of course, that society is so constituted—or, rather, so lacking in constitution—that simple variations in brain physiology are the sufficient reason for its cataclysms; but a great many efforts will be made by the geniuses themselves to prove the contrary before this highest of all spheres of human activity is declared to have no meaning—no thread which runs from age to age and links mankind, the