ENNOBLEMENT THROUGH DEGENERATION. -- History teaches that a race of people is best preserved where the greater number hold one common spirit in consequence of the similarity of their accustomed and indisputable principles: in consequence, therefore, of their common faith. Thus strength is afforded by good and thorough customs, thus is learnt the subjection of the individual, and strenuousness of character becomes a birth gift and afterwards is fostered as a habit. The danger to these communities founded on individuals of strong and similar character is that gradually increasing stupidity through transmission, which follows all stability like its shadow. It is on the more unrestricted, more uncertain and morally weaker individuals that depends the intelIectual progress of such communities, it is they who attempt all that is new and manifold. Numbers of these perish on account of their weakness, without having achieved any specially visible effect; but generally, particularly when they have descendants, they flare up and from time to time inflict a wound on the stable element of the community. Precisely in this sore and weakened place the community is inoculated with something new; but its general strength must be great enough to absorb and assimilate this new thing into its blood. Deviating natures are of the utmost importance wherever there is to be progress. Every wholesale progress must be preceded by a partial weakening. The strongest natures retain the type, the weaker ones help it to develop. Something similar happens in the case of individuals; a deterioration, a mutilation, even a vice and, above all, a physical or moral loss is seldom without its advantage. For instance, a sickly man in the midst of a warlike and restless race will perhaps have more chance of being alone and thereby growing quieter and wiser, the one-eyed man will possess a stronger eye, the blind man will have a deeper inward sight and will certainly have a keener sense of hearing. In so far it appears to me that the famous Struggle for Existence is not the only point of view from which an explanation can be given of the progress or strengthening of an individual or a race. Rather must two different things converge: firstly, the multiplying of stable strength through mental binding in faith and common feeling; secondly, the possibility of attaining to higher aims, through the fact that there are deviating natures and, in consequence, partial weakening and wounding of the stable strength; it is precisely the weaker nature, as the more delicate and free, that makes all progress at all possible. A people that is crumbling and weak in any one part, but as a whole still strong and healthy, is able to absorb the infection of what is new and incorporate it to its advantage. The task of education in a single individual is this: to plant him so firmly and surely that, as a whole, he can no longer be diverted from his path. Then, however, the educator must wound him, or else make use of the wounds which fate inflicts, and when pain and need have thus arisen, something new and noble can be inoculated into the wounded places. With regard to the State, Machiavelli says that, "the form of Government is of very small importance, although half-educated people think otherwise. The great aim of State-craft should be duration, which outweighs all else, inasmuch as it is more valuable than liberty." It is only with securely founded and guaranteed duration that continual development and ennobling inoculation are at all possible. As a rule, however, authority, the dangerous companion of all duration, will rise in opposition to this.
FREE-THINKER A RELATIVE TERM. -- We call that man a free-thinker who thinks otherwise than is expected of him in consideration of his origin, surroundings, position, and office, or by reason of the prevailing contemporary views. He is the exception, fettered minds are the rule; these latter reproach him, saying that his free principles either have their origin in a desire to be remarkable or else cause free actions to be inferred, -- that is to say, actions which are not compatible with fettered morality. Sometimes it is also said that the cause of such and such free principles may be traced to mental perversity and extravagance; but only malice speaks thus, nor does it believe what it says, but wishes thereby to do an injury, for the free-thinker usually bears the proof of his greater goodness and keenness of intellect written in his face so plainly that the fettered spirits understand it well enough. But the two other derivations of free-thought are honestly intended; as a matter of fact, many free-thinkers are created in one or other of these ways. For this reason, however, the tenets to which they attain in this manner might be truer and more reliable than those of the fettered spirits. In the knowledge of truth, what really matters is the possession of it, not the impulse under which it was sought, the way in which it was found. If the free-thinkers are right then the fettered spirits are wrong, and it is a matter of indifference whether the former have reached truth through immorality or the latter hitherto retained hold of untruths through morality. Moreover, it is not essential to the free-thinker that he should hold more correct views, but that he should have liberated himself from what was customary, be it successfully or disastrously. As a rule, however, he will have truth, or at least the spirit of truth-investigation, on his side; he demands reasons, the others demand faith.
THE ORIGIN OF FAITH. -- The fettered spirit does not take up his position from conviction, but from habit; he is a Christian, for instance, not because he had a comprehension of different creeds and could take his choice; he is an Englishman, not because he decided for England, but he found Christianity and England ready-made and accepted them without any reason, just as one who is born in a wine-country becomes a wine-drinker. Later on, perhaps, as he was a Christian and an Englishman, he discovered a few reasons in favour of his habit; these reasons may be upset, but he is not therefore upset in his whole position. For instance, let a fettered spirit be obliged to bring forward his reasons against bigamy and then it will be seen whether his holy zeal in favour of monogamy is based upon reason or upon custom. The adoption of guiding principles without reasons is called faith.
CONCLUSIONS DRAWN FROM THE CONSEQUENCES AND TRACED BACK TO REASON AND UN-REASON. -- All states and orders of society, professions, matrimony, education, law : all these find strength and duration only in the faith which the fettered spirits repose in them, -- that is, in the absence of reasons, or at least in the averting of inquiries as to reasons. The restricted spirits do not willingly acknowledge this, and feel that it is a pudendum. Christianity, however, which was very simple in its intellectual ideas, remarked nothing of this pudendum, required faith and nothing but faith, and passionately repulsed the demand for reasons; it pointed to the success of faith: "You will soon feel the advantages of faith," it suggested, "and through faith shall ye be saved." As an actual fact, the State pursues the same course, and every father brings up his son in the same way: "Only believe this," he says, "and you will soon feel the good it does." This implies, however, that the truth of an opinion is proved by its personal usefulness; the wholesomeness of a doctrine must be a guarantee for its intellectual surety and solidity. It is exactly as if an accused person in a court of law were to say, "My counsel speaks the whole truth, for only see what is the result of his speech: I shall be acquitted." Because the fettered spirits retain their principles on account of their usefulness, they suppose that the free spirit also seeks his own advantage in his views and only holds that to be true which is profitable to him. But as he appears to find profitable just the contrary of that which his compatriots or equals find profitable, these latter assume that his principles are dangerous to them; they say or feel, "He must not be right, for he is injurious to us."
THE STRONG, GOOD CHARACTER. -- The restriction of views, which habit has made instinct, leads to what is called strength of character. When any one acts from few but always from the same motives, his actions acquire great energy; if these actions accord with the principles of the fettered spirits they are recognised, and they produce, moreover, in those who perform them the sensation of a good conscience. Few motives, energetic action, and a good conscience compose what is called strength of character. The man of strong character lacks a knowledge of the many possibilities and directions of action; his intellect is fettered and restricted, because in a given case it shows him, perhaps, only two possibilities; between these two he must now of necessity choose, in accordance with his whole nature, and he does this easily and quickly because he has not to choose between fifty possibilities. The educating surroundings aim at fettering every individual, by always placing before him the smallest number of possibilities. The individual is always treated by his educators as if he were, indeed, something new, but should become a duplicate. If he makes his first appearance as something unknown, unprecedented, he must be turned into something known and precedented. In a child, the familiar manifestation of restriction is called a good character; in placing itself on the side of the fettered spirits the child first discloses its awakening common feeling; with this foundation of common sentiment, he will eventually become useful to his State or rank.
THE STANDARDS AND VALUES OF THE FETTERED SPIRITS. -- There are four species of things concerning which the restricted spirits say they are in the right. Firstly: all things that last are right; secondly: all things that are not burdens to us are right; thirdly: all things that are advantageous for us are right; fourthly: all things for which we have made sacrifices are right. The last sentence, for instance, explains why a war that was begun in opposition to popular feeling is carried on with enthusiasm directly after a sacrifice has been made for it. The free spirits, who bring their case before the forum of the fettered spirits, must prove that free spirits always existed, that free-spiritism is therefore enduring, that it will not become a burden, and, finally, that on the whole they are an advantage to the fettered spirits. It is because they cannot convince the restricted spirits on this last point that they profit nothing by having proved the first and second propositions.
ESPRIT FORT. -- Compared with him who has tradition on his side and requires no reasons for his actions, the free spirit is always weak, especially in action; for he is acquainted with too many motives and points of view, and has, therefore, an uncertain and unpractised hand. What means exist of making him strong in spite of this, so that he will, at least, manage to survive, and will not perish ineffectually? What is the source of the strong spirit (esprit fort)? This is especially the question as to the production of genius. Whence comes the energy, the unbending strength, the endurance with which the one, in opposition to accepted ideas, endeavours to obtain an entirely individual knowledge of the world?
THE RISE OF GENIUS. -- The ingenuity with which a prisoner seeks the means of freedom, the most cold-blooded and patient employment of every smallest advantage, can teach us of what tools Nature sometimes makes use in order to produce Genius, -- a word which I beg will be understood without any mythological and religious flavour; she, Nature, begins it in a dungeon and excites to the utmost its desire to free itself. Or to give another picture: some one who has completely lost his way in a wood, but who with unusual energy strives to reach the open in one direction or another, will sometimes discover a new path which nobody knew previously, -- thus arise geniuses, who are credited with originality. It has already been said that mutilation, crippling, or the loss of some important organ, is frequently the cause of the unusual development of another organ, because this one has to fulfil its own and also another function. This explains the source of many a brilliant talent. These general remarks on the origin of genius may be applied to the special case, the origin of the perfect free spirit.
CONJECTURE AS TO THE ORIGIN OF FREE SPIRITISM. -- Just as the glaciers increase when in equatorial regions the sun shines upon the seas with greater force than hitherto, so may a very strong and spreading free-spiritism be a proof that somewhere or other the force of feeling has grown extraordinarily.
THE VOICE OF HISTORY. -- In general, history appears to teach the following about the production of genius: it ill-treats and torments mankind -- calls to the passions of envy, hatred, and rivalry -- drives them to desperation, people against people, throughout whole centuries! Then, perhaps, like a stray spark from the terrible energy thereby aroused, there flames up suddenly the light of genius; the will, like a horse maddened by the rider's spur, thereupon breaks out and leaps over into another domain. He who could attain to a comprehension of the production of genius, and desires to carry out practically the manner in which Nature usually goes to work, would have to be just as evil and regardless as Nature itself. But perhaps we have not heard rightly.
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