Superficiality Of Most Politics...
America is said to be the arena on which the battle of
freedom is to be fought; but surely it cannot be freedom
in a merely political sense that is meant. Even if we
grant that the American has freed himself from a political
tyrant, he is still the slave of an economical and moral
tyrant. Now that the republic—the res-publica—has
been settled, it is time to look after the res-privata,—the
private state,—to see, as the Roman senate charged
its consuls, “ne quid res-PRIVATA detrimenti caperet,”
that the private state receive no detriment.
Do we call this the land of the free? What is it
to be free from King George and continue the slaves of
King Prejudice? What is it to be born free and not to
live free? What is the value of any political freedom,
but as a means to moral freedom? Is it a freedom to be
slaves, or a freedom to be free, of which we boast? We
are a nation of politicians, concerned about the outmost
defences only of freedom. It is our children’s children
who may perchance be really free. We tax ourselves unjustly.
There is a part of us which is not represented. It is
taxation without representation. We quarter troops, we
quarter fools and cattle of all sorts upon ourselves.
We quarter our gross bodies on our poor souls, till the
former eat up all the latter’s substance.
With respect to a true culture and manhood, we are essentially
provincial still, not metropolitan,—mere Jonathans.
We are provincial, because we do not find at home our
standards; because we do not worship truth, but the reflection
of truth; because we are warped and narrowed by an exclusive
devotion to trade and commerce and manufactures and agriculture
and the like, which are but means, and not the end.
What is called politics is comparatively something so
superficial and inhuman, that practically I have never
fairly recognized that it concerns me at all. The newspapers,
I perceive, devote some of their columns specially to
politics or government without charge; and this, one would
say, is all that saves it; but as I love literature and
to some extent the truth also, I never read those columns
at any rate. I do not wish to blunt my sense of right
so much. I have not got to answer for having read a single
President’s Message. A strange age of the world
this, when empires, kingdoms, and republics come a-begging
to a private man’s door, and utter their complaints
at his elbow! I cannot take up a newspaper but I find
that some wretched government or other, hard pushed and
on its last legs, is interceding with me, the reader,
to vote for it,—more importunate than an Italian
beggar; and if I have a mind to look at its certificate,
made, perchance, by some benevolent merchant’s clerk,
or the skipper that brought it over, for it cannot speak
a word of English itself, I shall probably read of the
eruption of some Vesuvius, or the overflowing of some
Po, true or forged, which brought it into this condition.
I do not hesitate, in such a case, to suggest work, or
the almshouse; or why not keep its castle in silence,
as I do commonly? The poor President, what with preserving
his popularity and doing his duty, is completely bewildered.
The newspapers are the ruling power. Any other government
is reduced to a few marines at Fort Independence. If a
man neglects to read the Daily Times, government will
go down on its knees to him, for this is the only treason
in these days.