Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/501

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
493
IS THIS A DEGENERATE AGE?.

ago any hovel answered for the poor man, while the rich neglected what, in our day, are called ordinary sanitary precautions. Now a board of health is an essential part of city government and it has powers which, in other departments, would be regarded as despotic. Problems of ventilation, space of living apartments, sewage disposal and street cleaning are those for the sanitary engineer, whose profession is dignified and requires years of preparation. The hydraulic engineer no longer expends his chief efforts upon quays, harbor walls or dams; those are still important, but far more important are problems relating to water-supply for cities, towns and even small villages. Nothing bearing upon public health is too insignificant for notice; neglect by a traction company to provide closed cars on a cool day awakes editors to write indignantly. Sanitary regulations have led to sanitary living, so that, in spite of the fact that men work more intensely than ever before, they break down less rapidly and fourscore is more nearly man's expectation of life now than was threescore and ten fifty years ago.

The rights of man as man before the law are acknowledged by the two great commercial nations as never before and as by no other nations. A defendant no longer rests under the assumption of guilt; he is innocent until the charge has been proved; a married woman is no longer merged in her husband; in the eye of the law, she is at least her husband's equal. The poor man and his wealthy neighbor stand on a common level in the court room and at the polls. Taxes are distributed justly and the rich, as well as the less favored, bear an equitable share of the governmental burdens.

Having granted universal suffrage, the two great commercial nations have been compelled to recognize man's intellectual needs. They offer opportunity for education to all, even straining the prerogative of government to do so. Education, free from ecclesiastical control, is no longer a privilege obtainable only by purchase, it is the right of every man. More, it is maintained that government is bound not only to offer the opportunity, but also to compel its acceptance. The poorest man has the way open in our land from the primary school to the close of professional preparation, practically without cost. Machiavelli has grouped the people of any nation into three classes—those who think for themselves, always few in number; those who think as others think, the intelligent middle class; those who do not think, the great mass of the population. His grouping is still applicable to Great Britain and the United States, but our schools, our sharp political contests and the wide circulation of journals have led to great changes in the relative proportions of the classes. The growth of liberal parties and the increasing independent vote, with which politicians have to reckon, are manifestations of the change.