The Paradox of Humanism: A Discussion of the Modern Temper


WORDS which are spelled with a capital letter are peculiarly dangerous to thought. One commonly uses them to designate a complex of ideas which has never been adequately analyzed, and their meaning varies from age to age as well as from person to person. A whole volume might profitably be devoted to trace, for example, the history of the various senses in which the term ‘Nature’ has been employed, and in a chapter of his Reconstruction in Philosophy John Dewey has, indeed, sketched the outline of a part of such a volume. He has shown how the eighteenth century habitually employed it in reference to a closed system of logical ideas, and how it referred thereby to a hypothetical order of values which has no connection whatever with the Nature which it is the scientist’s business to investigate. Dewey might have gone on to inquire by what confusion the contemporaries of Mozart were led to praise as ‘natural’ musical compositions as elaborately formal as his, and by what perversion the same adjective was used to praise the strained artificial romanticism of Kotzebue’s lugubrious dramas. But at least he carries the analysis far enough for his own purpose as well as for ours, which is merely to illustrate how dangerous it is to use such a word without a most exacting investigation of its content.

In the present instance we are to be concerned with another capitalized word, ‘Humanism,’ a word which has undergone similar variations of meaning; which has been used in similarly opposed senses; and which, like ‘Nature,’ has been most frequently employed rather because of certain affective connotations than because of any exact meaning. The Renaissance scholars who introduced it did so in order to define a culture which was not theological, and the contrast chiefly implied was a contrast between that which is human and that which is divine. The modern use of the term arose, on the other hand, as a result of the theory of evolution, and it is chiefly employed by those who feel some temperamental repugnance to the nineteenth century’s tendency to study man chiefly as a form of animal life. It has managed, moreover, to get itself confused with semireligious protests against the radical tendencies of contemporary society, and so vague has it become that, if we are to talk of humanism and its paradox, we must define our term.

But if‘human’ and the words formed from it can have an exact meaning, as distinguished from the vague connotation of a complex of ideas and attitudes, that meaning must refer to those qualities, characteristics, and powers which distinguish the human being from the rest of animate nature, and which, if they exist, justify us in making a distinction between Man and Nature, even though we are naturalistic enough in our thought to agree that what we really mean is no more than a distinction between man and the rest of nature. It is in that sense that it will be here employed, and the purpose of this essay is to investigate some of these distinctions and to comment upon the problems which they present to those who are concerned with the potentialities of life. It will arrive at conclusions somewhat at variance with those upon which both the expansive optimistic naturalist and the cautious exponent of dualistic humanism base their respective conceptions of the art of life.


First of all we must be careful to give to the beasts their due, for your selfstyled humanist has a churlish habit of calling the most characteristic human vices ‘animal.’ In particular he is inclined to describe any sexual indulgence of which he does not approve as ‘ bestial,’ and more especially still to say of a man or woman who makes the pleasures of sense the chief business of life that he is yielding to his ‘animal nature.’ But while such a description may serve a useful homiletic purpose, and while it may, since man is by nature proud of his humanity and anxious to distinguish himself from his humbler cousins, sometimes incline him to struggle against tendencies thus cavalierly labeled, it can hardly satisfy the philosopher, who will recognize its injustice.

A century and a half ago man was first described as the only animal who loves all the year around, and in general the distinction will still hold. Not only is it true that the animals rigidly subordinate sex to the function of reproduction, but it is also, among anthropologists, notoriously true that the more primitive races of men closely resemble animals in this respect. Early superficial observers who watched the rites with which savages celebrate the act of physical union and who noted the elaborate sexual symbolism which runs through certain of their dances leaped to the conclusion that they were obsessed with sexual ideas and labeled them ‘obscene.’ But a more intimate investigation of primitive society and the primitive mind has reversed this idea. In comparison with civilized man the savage is, like the animal, what we should be tempted to call singularly sexless. His mind does not turn readily or habitually in that direction; his passions require an extraordinary amount of stimulation before they are aroused; and his ‘obscene’ dances are not the result of fantastic corruption, but are, on the contrary, necessary to stimulate in him a sufficient interest in the sexual functions adequately to reproduce his kind. The Don Juan, on the other hand, is characteristically human, and complexly human at that. Neither the animal nor the primitive man could ‘live for love’ in the physical sense, although both, as will be indicated later, can realize more perfectly perhaps than civilized man that, selflessness which is sometimes also called love and which is not infrequently spoken of as the highest achievement of the human spirit.

Chastity is not, then, human in the sense in which we have defined the term. To man and to man alone belong both that exaggeration of the sexual impulse which makes it possible, in certain cases, for him to subordinate everything else to it, and also that unfortunate disharmony which leads him, in other cases, to devote his chief attention to maintaining and celebrating his resistance to similar impulses. But chastity, in the sense of an inherent tendency to avoid an absorption in the sexual instinct, is rather animal than human. And if, then, debauchery rather than abstinence is ‘humanistic’ we may proceed to examine certain of the other virtues, and we need not be too much surprised if we find that many are, at best, not part of that which particularly distinguishes man from the rest of Nature.

Certainly paternal or maternal love is nowhere more perfectly illustrated than among the animals. A devotion to the welfare of children, a complete absorption in the business of parenthood, and a willingness not only to subordinate all other interests to those of the offspring, but, if necessary, to lay down life itself upon the altar of family duty — such devotion, which, in the case of human beings, would be celebrated as an unusual and shining example of the heights to which human nature can on rare occasions rise, is a common occurrence among animals and it is not the occasion of any special wonder. But on the other hand that unwillingness on the part of the parent to subordinate himself entirely to the welfare of his children, that tendency to go on ‘living one’s own life’ which certain ‘humanists’ denounce as the result of ‘naturalistic’ literature and thought, is, on the contrary, quite distinctly human. Our kind has, in addition, developed that particular perversion which sometimes leads mothers or fathers selfishly to indulge the luxury of their parental emotions to a harmful degree and to pursue their grown children with a fatal solicitude of which no animal would be capable: but devotion which perfectly fulfills its function is — shall we say — ‘ bestial.’

It is hardly necessary to pursue this painful inquiry further, but in general it may be remarked that those virtues whose tendency it is to promote the welfare of the species without regard to the welfare of the individual, and which result in the complete subordination of any real or fancied ‘self-realization,’ are conspicuously animal, while the revolt against them is distinctly human. Even the more complex social virtues grow from roots which may be traced in animal nature more readily than the roots of many human vices; and, since it is upon the social virtues that the modern humanist lays greatest stress, it would be more appropriate for him to call himself by some name which would suggest that the fear lying behind his protestations is in reality a fear lest man should become too exclusively ‘human’ and lest, detaching himself too completely from animal tendencies, he should become no longer willing to live in a fashion that would make possible the continuity of society.

Perhaps, on the other hand, the inclusive term ‘individualism’ is the one which will best describe the attitude toward living which is most characteristically human. The animal, absorbed as he is in the business of arranging for the survival of himself and his kind, seems far less capable than man of distinguishing between himself and his race. We need not naively attribute to him any philosophy in order to explain his behavior, but it is evident that he acts as though he had arrived at that attitude which is accounted by some exponents of social ethics as the ultimate human ideal, and which consists in an identification with society so close as to make meaningless any distinction between private and public good. He does not ask what he gets out of life, nor why he should sacrifice himself in the laborious business of continuing it. The lair or the nest is prepared, and the young are born. They are nourished, defended, given such education as they need, and then, when the time comes, the parents die quietly, quite as though they were as completely aware as Mr. Shaw’s Ancients that the important thing is, not that any individual should have arrived at any ‘fulfillment’ of his own, but that life should go on. Yet, though something of this kind has been often enough described as the highest human virtue, the human being seems incapable of consciously achieving what the animal possesses as part of his natural endowment.

Doubtless the more primitive races come nearest to it, and in civilized communities it is the simplest people who, at least according to the literature of wholesome sentiment, most conspicuously exhibit this willingness to refrain from any demand that life should justify itself in their own person by being worth while to them as individuals, and who are therefore most perfect in the social virtues. But even among those who acquiesce most patiently in the burdens of life there are usually moments of analysis and rebellion. ‘Quiet desperation,’ that famous phrase which Thoreau used to describe the mood of the average man, is the result of an impotent protest against the realization that he is playing the animal’s part without being blessed with the animal’s unconscious acquiescence; and the more highly developed the reflective powers of the individual become, the more likely is that, quiet desperation to become an active rebellion which expresses itself in self-regarding vices.

The fact that the belief in immortality is practically coextensive with the human race does not, unfortunately, prove that the belief is well founded, but it does prove that the desire for a life beyond this life is universal, and that, in turn, may be used to show that individualism is one of the most fundamental human traits, since the desire for immortality is an expression of the human protest against the scheme of nature which takes so little account of man and his demands. When first he dimly perceives that his chief function is merely to see that others like himself shall carry life on after he has had his busy and futile hour of consciousness, he, as an individual, revolts against the natural order, and in imagination he projects himself forward into another existence in which that consciousness, so he assures himself, shall continue to exist. He is no longer willing, as the animal is, to accept the fate which makes him only a part of something larger than himself, and thus religion, in so far as it is essentially a belief in immortality, is merely the first stage in the process by which man detaches himself from Nature, asserts the importance of himself as an individual, and proposes to himself ends and values which do not exist for her.

And if the belief in immortality be so regarded, its chief function will appear to depend upon the power which it has of enabling the human being to continue in the practice of the animal virtues. The heightened consciousness which makes him aware of himself as an individual leads him to demand some adequate motive which will take the place of the instinct which is by itself sufficient for the beast. In him the will to live is not so nearly unconditional, and neither does it discriminate so little between individual and racial survival. But by promising himself an eternal life he achieves a conscious substitute for the animal’s unconscious concern for the species, and by associating the animal virtues with his eternal welfare he obtains a motive for their practice.

Hence it is that those for whom the belief in immortality is most vivid are the most likely to practise the virtues which have a survival value and the least likely to deviate into either those virtues or those vices which are exclusively human. But, as skepticism grows, the pattern of human conduct inevitably changes. The demand that life justify itself can no longer be postponed, and hence there begins the search for values which shall have meaning for the individual consciousness as opposed to those which have meaning only for Nature and her inscrutable appetite for mere life in itself. The simpler man, caught in a meaningless but exacting round of duties, does no more than fall into that ‘quiet desperation’ which we must again thank Thoreau for having so exactly named. Probably he comforts himself with some vague dream concerning some future fulfillment on the part of his children, and he does not dare to realize that their happiness will be, at best, as shadowy as his — that it too will consist in a projection forward upon still another generation, and that his children too will receive his own illusory sense of achievement when they have in reality done no more than pass the problem on to fresh bodies which are doomed to the same futile exhaustion. But minds which are keener and wills which are stronger than the average do not rest in ‘quiet desperation ’ palliated by illusion. They demand of life some meaning comprehensible to them, and they set themselves up against Nature because they have come to realize that her values are not for them and her contentment not theirs.

Thus even the Don Juan is characteristically human, because he has seized upon something which Nature has instituted for her purposes and has tried to utilize it for his own. However dangerous he may be to society, and however great his own failure may ultimately seem even, perhaps, to himself, his effort is the type of all purely human effort because it is essentially an attempt to make some process of life significant and valuable in itself; and it is doubtless the fact that he presents so readily comprehensible a symbol of the humanizing process which has made him so eternally popular in imaginative literature. Yet, however easily understandable his effort may be from a human standpoint, it will serve to illustrate most strikingly how this standpoint may be diametrically opposed to that of Nature, upon whom, nevertheless, even man must depend for the health of his own body and the welfare of his race. The Don Juan may find himself comprehended and pardoned by his fellow men, but Nature takes no account of even the most reasonable of human excuses.


To those who study her, this Nature reveals herself as extraordinarily fertile and ingenious in devising means, but she has no ends which the human mind has been able to discover or comprehend. Perhaps, indeed, the very conception of an end or ultimate purpose is exclusively human; but at least it must be said that the most characteristically human effort is that to transform a means into an end, and that it is such an effort which explains the Don Juan, as well as the more complex forms assumed by that curiously modified animal which is described as human. The artist and the philosopher have been generally recognized as representing the most highly developed type of that intelligence which we admire as something beyond mere animal instinct or animal cunning, but the concern of both is not with the means of Nature but with the ends of man. By thought the philosopher attempts to discover what these may be, and the artist, who is thus closely parallel to the Don Juan, attempts to achieve them by arresting the attention upon certain moments in life and proclaiming that it is for them as ends in themselves that life exists.

Yet the plain man has always, and not without reason, distrusted the philosopher and the artist. Observation has taught him that the latter, especially, is likely to be too ferociously intent upon his own ends to be other than a bad father and an unreliable citizen; and more obscurely he realizes that, even when this cannot be specifically charged, both are too detached from animal impulses to carry on the business of survival and propagation with that single-minded intensity which has populated every cranny of the earth. Nor can the philosopher or the artist himself fail to recognize the justice of this distrust. At one moment he might be inclined to suppose the evolution of humanity to be in his direction, but at the next he is compelled to realize that a world of philosophers and artists is unthinkable. The foundations of the society in which he exists were built up and are sustained by people who were active in a way in which he can never be. He is not, in the most fundamental or necessary sense, useful or productive; he is parasitic upon a society which depends upon those endowed with an unquestioning animal vigor, and without them he could not exist. A decadent society, he realizes, is merely one in which too large a proportion of the population is concerned with ’ends’ and with self-realization. While some pursue pleasure and end in debauchery, the others create works of art or lose themselves in speculation concerning the elusive summum bonum, but too few are left to sustain the natural substructure with that energy which is drawn from instinct alone. While the bush blossoms all too profusely, the roots die away, and before long the whole organism is dead. And thus the artist-philosopher, who, correctly enough, considers himself as the most exclusively human of human beings, is left in a dilemma, for he is compelled to recognize humanism as the ultimate enemy of those natural impulses which have made the human animal possible.

Sensibility and intelligence arose in the animal in order to serve animal purposes, for through the first it was able to distinguish those things which favor the survival of it and its race and through the second it was able to go about in a more efficient manner to secure them. Both were, like all things in Nature, merely means toward the achievement of that humanly incomprehensible end, mere survival; but the philosopher-artist has detached both from their natural places as mere devices, and in attempting to make each an end in itself he has discovered that when they are so detached they are capable of becoming impediments to the attainment of the superhuman aims they were developed to promote. When sensibility has been detached from its animal setting it may, in its crudest form, become the erotomania of the Don Juan, or, in a more exalted form, it may develop into a quest for that self-justifying Beauty which is humanly valuable but biologically useless and which it is the artist’s chief effort to capture; when intelligence is detached, it not only tends to paralyze natural impulse by criticizing natural aims, but develops certain intellectual virtues which are biologic vices. We are, for example, inclined to regard skepticism, irony, and above all the power of dispassionate analysis, as the marks of the most distinctly human intelligence. We admire the man whose reason is capable of more than scheming, whose logic is not the mere rationalization of his desires, and who can follow through an argument to its conclusion even though that conclusion is not one favorable to himself, his party, his country, or his species. But intelligence as detached as this is a vital liability. It puts the man or the race which possesses it at a disadvantage in dealing with those whose intelligence faithfully serves their purpose by enabling them to scheme for their ends and to justify to themselves their desires. Such is the animal function of intelligence, and whenever it develops beyond this it is useful for contemplation and it has a beauty of its own, but it is only humanly valuable and it inhibits rather than aids that effective action in the pursuit of natural ends which was the original function of mind.

And incidentally it may be remarked that the dilemma here indicated is the largest aspect of the one which in a more immediately insistent way pins between its horns every nation which has developed a national mind capable of detachment. Thanks to this mind, the nation is compelled to criticize that naive patriotism which leads every race to regard itself as evidently superior to every other; it hesitates to embark upon a career of imperialism and to subject the surrounding people to its dominion because it has passed beyond that stage of invigorating delusion which could make it fancy itself master by right of an inherent superiority; and it sees both sides. And yet it must purchase this intellectual and moral superiority at the price of a gradual decline, and it is well that it should do so in a full consciousness of the price. One after another the great nations of history have founded upon aggression the civilization which then supported for a time, but for a time only, great periods of human culture which flourished at their height just as the substructure crumbled. Animals made men possible and conquerors prepared the way for poets and philosophers, but neither poet nor philosopher can survive long after he has parted company with his progenitor and opponent.

Nor need we be surprised to see races enfeebled by civilization as though by disease, for the distinction between the vices and the virtues of the complexly organized man is a human, not a natural, distinction, and the two develop together as he humanizes himself. That detachment of mind from its function which makes philosophy possible and which encourages dispassionate analysis is exactly parallel to the detachment of the sexual functions from their purposes which results in the cult of the senses. Thought for thought’s sake is a kind of perversion whose essential character is not changed because it happens to illustrate the fact that human virtues may be biologic vices, and there is no reason to suppose that from a strictly biological standpoint one detachment is not as bad as the other. Civilizations die from philosophical calm, irony, and the sense of fair play quite as surely as they die of debauchery.


Whatever we may think of the recurrent ‘live dangerously’ of Nietzsche’s various testaments, the injunction is one which in certain spiritual senses we cannot choose but obey, for, the higher the mental organization which men achieve, the more precariously is it poised. The simple automatic responses of the amœba serve it with dependable regularity. It may die a physical death, but it may neither lose its mind nor sink to depths of moral degradation; and what is true of the amœba is so largely true throughout the whole range of animal life that the difference between it and the highest ape is not in that respect so great as the difference between the ape and man. Consciousness, understanding, and the powers of judgment and choice, even though these may be, as the behavioristic psychologists maintain, only a sort of illusion, are accompanied by capacities for ghastly failure unknown to the animal. To live humanly is, in that sense, to live dangerously; and the more completely human we are, the less our motives, our impulses, and our values are those which we have in common with the other animals, the more dangerous our lives come perforce to be.

To renounce Nature and natural ends, to go even so far as to find them insufficient, is to renounce at the same time the sure guidance which she gives to those who are content to accept it without question. Upon ourselves we impose both the task of conceiving ends independent of hers and the task of devising means to attain them. Equipped with certain capacities capable of certain developments, we pervert them from their uses, and we suffer as a result from a permanent maladjustment. Both mind and body are subjected to abuses, and both are thereby corrupted. Even when our efforts are momentarily successful, even when some great man or some resplendent civilization seems to justify the effort to transcend Nature, the equilibrium achieved is an unstable one. The great mind and the great culture are alike poised over an abyss and are in perpetual danger of tumbling headlong. Civilization has been called a dance, but the feet of the dancers do not rest upon terra firma. It is danced upon a tight rope that sways in the breeze. The nerves and muscles of the performers are tense. They wave reckless defiance to the force of gravity, but they are in truth ill equipped for the airy stunt. Their feet are designed to rest upon the earth; it is even at the expense of a certain strain upon their bodies that they walk upright rather than upon all fours, and their balance is far from sure.

The ant who crawls unnoticed in the grass below is much older than they, and in the eyes of Nature he has made a much greater success in life. Long before they felt the first stirrings of proud superiority he was fixed in wise habits that have never varied. For thousands of years his frozen perfection has endured and, if he has no art and no philosophy, he is perfect in social virtue. He has merged his own interest s completely with those of his kind, and he makes no demands for himself which will interfere with the prosperity of the colony which he inhabits.

His industry and his foresight have always been admired, but only patient observation has revealed how much more complex his virtues are. Not only does he perform without question the part assigned him in the division of labor, but he has even achieved a control over the processes of reproduction which enables him to see to it that just the right number of each type of citizen shall be born; and, far from allowing himself to be disturbed by the distractions of love, he has consented, in the interests of efficiency, to remain sexless, while certain specialists are endowed with powers of reproduction, He is not primitive or simple, but he has let Nature have her way with him and she has rewarded him with a peaceful security which her more rebellious children can never hope to obtain.

But when a man looks at an ant he realizes the meaning of his humanity. If he happens to be one of those whose thought has concerned itself much with sociology he may be struck by the fact that the ant hill represents something very close to that communistic Utopia generally evolved by the imagination which busies itself with picturing an ideal society, and yet the contemplation of this realized and eternal perfection strikes a chill to his heart, because it seems to have no meaning or value and because he perceives that, so far as he is concerned, Nature’s masterpiece might be destroyed without causing him to feel that anything valuable had passed away.

This perfected society is, that is to say, utterly devoid of human values, and its perfection is made possible by that very fact. It owes both its stability and its efficient harmony to the absence of any tendency on the part of individuals either to question the value of existence or to demand anything for themselves. Students of its evolution tell us that the automatic and yet cunning elaborateness of the life habits which it reveals are explainable only on the theory that insects were once more variable, perhaps we can say more ‘intelligent,’than they are now, but that, as perfection of adjustment was reached, habit became all-sufficient, and hence the biologically useless consciousness faded away until they are probably now not aware of their actions in any fashion analogous to the awareness of the mammals who are in certain respects so much less perfect than they.

And yet who, however weary he may be of human instability and discontent and violence, would exchange his state for that of the ant? However much he may admire the social virtues and however much he may be repelled by the selfish disorder of modern individualistic society, he must realize that whatever gives to life the qualities which make him cling to it resides somewhere in that region from whence spring the protests which make the regularity and peace of the ant hill impossible for man. Complete nonbeing seems to him scarcely less ghastly than the automatic existence which its citizens lead, and so it is ultimately to the biologic vices of the human being that he clings.

It is through these latter that he suffers, and through them that he, as an animal, fails. They are the source of the tœdium vitœ which oppresses him when he realizes that he is leading a purely natural life and accomplishing only natural aims; they inspire him also to those rebellions which are impotent because they bring him face to face with the limitations he cannot transcend; and they exact as the penalty of indulgence the ills of mind or flesh which oppress the wearied brain of the thinker or the exhausted body of the debauchee. Yet they constitute his humanity, and it is only as a human being that he cares to live.


It would appear, then, that that complex of ideas and preferences which passes current under the name of humanism may be separated into two distinct parts. The complex includes on the one hand a tendency to stress the importance of the social virtues set up in opposition to the destructive, anarchistic tendencies of what it mistakenly calls the ‘natural’ man, and it includes on the other hand a sympathy with the attempt to create human, as opposed to natural, values. Yet these social virtues are, as we have seen, themselves animal, and among men they flourish most in those societies where the genuinely human tendencies — both virtuous and vicious — are least prominent. ‘Humanism’ in this popular sense is thus obviously at war with itself, for the simple reason that, the closer it comes to a realization of one half its ideal, the further it is bound to be from the possibility of achieving the other, since the second demands a detachment from the aims of Nature and the first a harmony with them.

The virtues of half-legendary Spartans will stand as a fitting symbol of the more austere half of the idea. The Spartan commonwealth, if we may trust the image of it which has exercised a continuous fascination on the imagination of mankind for the very reason that it does serve as a symbol, was not unlike a community of insects. It was marked by the discipline, the regularity, and the patriotism of the ant hill. It subordinated the individual to the state, and it regarded posterity as the chief of that state’s concern. But it was thus a ‘natural’ society and it maintained its uncorrupted animality by a stern contempt for the virtues as well as the vices which together constituted the humanism of its great neighbor. A little later ‘Roman virtue’ looked with a perfectly justified suspicion upon Athenian culture, and the Catos were shrewd enough to perceive what most moderns do not dare to admit: namely, that a choice must ultimately be made between a stable, essentially animal existence and the dangerous — ultimately fatal — life of the society which starts out fit pursuit of purely human values.

Historians looking back upon the rise and fall of civilization have always been perplexed by the fact that societies are most admirable just before they collapse. They have been embarrassed by the necessity of interrupting the description of every golden age in order to point a warning finger at the signs of decay which have a way of manifesting themselves just at the moment when perfection seems about to be reached. To escape from a dilemma they have assumed that the association so often noted between the flowering of the intellect and the decline of national vigor is merely fortuitous, but it may very well be that it is instead the inevitable result of that detachment from Nature which we have been describing and which is at once the condition of human greatness and the destruction of animal health.

The antithesis between human and natural ends is thus ultimately irreconcilable, and the most that man can hope for is a recurrent defiance recurrently subdued. He can deviate so far but no further from the animal norm. He can make himself into an artist or a philosopher, but there are limits set both to the perfection of those types and to the extent to which the bulk of any population can be allowed to approach either, for individuals and races alike fall victim to their humanity. In the search for human values they first lose interest in those natural virtues which serve to keep the structure of the ant hill sound; and then when they discover that, even for them as individuals, life has no purpose which their intellects can accept, even they perish of a toedium vitœ and leave the world to simpler peoples who have still some distance to go before they reach the end of the tether which attaches them to Nature. In the drama of history barbarians are always appearing in the rôle of the deus ex machina, and the historian is always laying great stress upon ‘fresh blood’ brought in from the provinces or infused by primitive conquerors. And yet he has seldom cared to draw the pessimistic conclusion which alone seems deductible from the facts in his possession.

Nor can it be said that to understand this paradox of humanism helps us in any way to solve it. The analysis which we perform is, indeed, itself an example of one of those exercises of the mind which is perverse because it does not serve as a means toward a natural end, and when we have admitted that the human ideal is one which the human animal cannot even approach without tending to destroy himself as he does so, we have, by that very admission, both diminished our biological fitness and desolated our human feelings. Hence it is that many a man with trained mind, developed sensibilities, and even as much good will toward society as can be expected of a creature who has lost the animal’s innate talent for caring more for his race than for himself, stands paralyzed in the midst of a world that has learned so many things which do not help it toward any ultimate solution of its problems, but which tend, on the contrary, rather to make him suspect that they are insoluble. These men cannot strive with a missionary zeal for the development and spread of pure science, philosophy, and art because they have come to believe that these things are either ultimately satisfying or conducive to a vigorous national life, but neither can they cast their lot with the ‘plain man,’ the ‘sturdy citizen,’ or the Spartan patriot, because it is the detachment of which these are enemies that gives human life whatever of even doubtful value it seems to the pure humanist to have. To the latter it appears that there is no choice to be made, except that between an antlike stability and an eternal recurrence which condemns humanity to a recurrent death at the top, to be followed once more by a fresh growth from the roots.

And, difficult as it seems to him to choose between such unsatisfactory alternatives, he is still further perplexed by an uneasy sense that the decision is one which the moment makes particularly pressing. Something in the state of his own soul as well as in the state of the world about him warns him that he is living in one of those periods which has about reached the limits set by Nature. He has already envisaged the possibility of seeing civilization destroy itself in a gigantic war, and that irony directed against himself which is one of the signs of the extent to which he has detached himself from the animal has even enabled him to feel some amusement at the thought of a race which should, by way of achieving the crowning triumph of its mechanical ingenuity, blow itself to bits. But, even if this possibility should be avoided, the impasse to which his thought has led him seems capable of leading the society of which he is a part to an end as certain even though less spectacular, since it is already too completely human in both its virtues and its vices to live either comfortably or safely in the universe of Nature.