From 1923, some thoughts on current issues

The following quotes are from a Canadian magazine, The Listening Post, specifically a piece called The University and the Nation, by Wilfred Bovey, dated 1923.

President Calvin Coolidge, in a speech made last 4th of July before the National Education Association of the United States, put forward an interesting theory regarding the basis of American Nationalism.

‘It can not be too often pointed out that the fundamental conception of American institutions is regard for the individual. The rights which are so clearly asserted in the Declaration of Independence are the rights of the individual. The wrongs of which that instrument complains, and which it asserts it is the purpose of its signers to redress, are the wrongs of the individual. Throughout it all runs the recognition of the dignity and worth of the individual, because of his possession of those qualities which are revealed to us by religion. It is this conception alone which warrants the assertion of the universal right to freedom. America has seen the working out of the modern effort to provide a system of government and society which would give to the individual that freedom which his nature requires. […]

[I]t seems to be a fair paraphrase to say that as President Coolidge here states the American ideal is the aim of the state to serve the individual. Indeed, he himself says, a little later on in the same address: ‘The end sought has been to create a nation wherein the individual might rise to the full stature of manhood and womanhood.”

There are those who will tell us that this interpretation of American ideals is not an accurate one. The individual if he is to reach his highest development must surely have before him an aim, and can that aim be higher that the good of his fellow men? If then our individual ideal be the acquiring of civil virtue we are logically forced to the conclusion that the chief end of the individual is service to the nation, a doctrine apparently opposite to that expounded by President Coolidge. Of course we can easily put ourselves back on the original path by saying that a nation which does not permit of individual freedom cannot arouse patriotism, and we can shortly lose ourselves in what a politician once called ‘The mazes of a vicious circle.’ Yet President Coolidge’s statement, worded as it is, can hardly fail to awaken in our minds a question whether the individual is not given today an undue measure of importance.

[…] Civilization in our sense of the word cannot exist without individualism. Nevertheless we must not allow our attention to the individual, his growth, and his privileges to close our ears to the call of patriotism and of civic duty.”

The author of this piece notes that young people, in late adolescence, tend to veer off into an unhealthy type of individuality which emphasizes emotion and sentimentality, based on the shared experiences within his age cohort. I would add to that the tendency to identify too strongly with his age-mates only. This makes for a more narrow outlook which is in conflict with any real ‘patriotism’ which involves the ability to identify with the larger group of countrymen or kinsmen.

Bovey’s article concludes with a quote from Dr Nicholas Murray Butler:

“The conflict is on between the principle of individual liberty which is the moving force of Western civilization, and the principle of social, economic, and political collectivism which is the essential principle of the civilization of the Orient.

[…] The struggle between liberty and equality has begun. The history of the next centuries seems likely to be written in terms of that far-reaching controversy. Victory over collectivism, with its attendant destruction, stagnation, and death, will not be had by an individualism which is grasping, self-centred, and selfish. If individualism is to have a chance to win on the pages of history it must be an individualism which finds its completion in the spirit of glad and generous service to country and mankind. It is still true that ‘whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.’

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