Chapter XII.



THEREFORE, the identical story is not the same story to all who hear it. Each will enter it at a slightly different point, since no two experiences are exactly alike; he will reenact it in his own way, and transfuse it with his own feelings. Sometimes an artist of compelling skill will force us to enter into lives altogether unlike our own, lives that seem at first glance dull, repulsive, or eccentric. But that is rare. In almost every story that catches our attention we become a character and act out the role with a pantomime of our own. The pantomime may be subtle or gross, may be sympathetic to the story, or only crudely analogous; but it will consist of those feelings which are aroused by our conception of the role. And so, the original theme as it circulates, is stressed, twisted, and embroidered by all the minds through which it goes. It is as if a play of Shakespeare's were rewritten each time it is performed with all the changes of emphasis and meaning that the actors and audience inspired.

Something very like that seems to have happened to the stories in the sagas before they were definitively written down. In our time the printed record, such as it is, checks the exuberance of each individual's fancy. But against rumor there is little or no checks and the original story, true or invented, grows wings and horns, hoofs and beaks, as the artist in each gossip works upon it. The first narrator's account does not keep its shape and proportions. It is edited and revised by all who played with it as they heard it, used it for day dreams, and passed it on.(1)

Consequently the more mixed the audience, the greater will be the variation in the response. For as the audience grows larger, the number of common words diminishes. Thus the common factors in the story become more abstract. This story, lacking precise character of its own, is heard by people of highly varied character. They give it their own character.


The character they give it varies not only with sex and age, race and religion and social position, but within these cruder classifications, according to the inherited and acquired constitution of the individual, his faculties, his career, the progress of his career, an emphasized aspect of his career, his moods and tenses, or his place on the board in any of the games of life that he is playing. What reaches him of public affairs, a few lines of print, some photographs, anecdotes, and some casual experience of his own, he conceives through his set patterns and recreates with his own emotions. He does not take his personal problems as partial samples of the greater environment. He takes his stories of the greater environment as a mimic enlargement of his private life.

But not necessarily of that private life as he would describe it to himself. For in his private life the choices are narrow, and much of himself is squeezed down and out of sight where it cannot directly govern his outward behavior. And thus, beside the more average people who project the happiness of their own lives into a general good will, or their unhappiness into suspicion and hate, there are the outwardly happy people who are brutal everywhere but in their own circle, as well as the people who, the more they detest their families, their friends, their jobs, the more they overflow with love for mankind.

As you descend from generalities to detail, it becomes more apparent that the character in which men deal with their affairs is not fixed. Possibly their different selves have a common stem and common qualities, but the branches and the twigs have many forms. Nobody confronts every situation with the same character. His character varies in some degree through the sheer influence of time and accumulating memory, since he is not an automaton. His character varies, not only in time, but according to circumstance. The legend of the solitary Englishman in the South Seas, who invariably shaves and puts on a black tie for dinner, bears witness to his own intuitive and civilized fear of losing the character which he has acquired. So do diaries, and albums, and souvenirs, old letters, and old clothes, and the love of unchanging routine testify to our sense of how hard it is to step twice in the Heraclitan river.

There is no one self always at work. And therefore it is of great importance in the formation of any public opinion, what self is engaged. The Japanese ask the right to settle in California. Clearly it makes a whole lot of difference whether you conceive the demand as a desire to grow fruit or to marry the white man's daughter. If two nations are disputing a piece of territory, it matters greatly whether the people regard the negotiations as a real estate deal, an attempt to humiliate them, or, in the excited and provocative language which usually enclouds these arguments, as a rape. For the self which takes charge of the instincts when we are thinking about lemons or distant acres is very different from the self which appears when we are thinking even potentially as the outraged head of a family. In one case the private feeling which enters into the opinion is tepid, in the other, red hot. And so while it is so true as to be mere tautology that "self-interest" determines opinion, the statement is not illuminating, until we know which self out of many selects and directs the interest so conceived.

Religious teaching and popular wisdom have always distinguished several personalities in each human being. They have been called the Higher and Lower, the Spiritual and the Material, the Divine and the Carnal; and although we may not wholly accept this classification, we cannot fail to observe that distinctions exist. Instead of two antithetic selves, a modern man would probably note a good many not so sharply separated. He would say that the distinction drawn by theologians was arbitrary and external, because many different selves were grouped together as higher provided they fitted into the theologian's categories, but he would recognize nevertheless that here was an authentic clue to the variety of human nature.

We have learned to note many selves, and to be a little less ready to issue judgment upon them. We understand that we see the same body, but often a different man, depending on whether he is dealing with a social equal, a social inferior, or a social superior; on whether he is making love to a woman he is eligible to marry, or to one whom he is not; on whether he is courting a woman, or whether he considers himself her proprietor; on whether he is dealing with his children, his partners, his most trusted subordinates, the boss who can make him or break him; on whether he is struggling for the necessities of life, or successful; on whether he is dealing with a friendly alien, or a despised one; on whether he is in great danger, or in perfect security; on whether he is alone in Paris or among his family in Peoria.

People differ widely, of course, in the consistency of their characters, so widely that they may cover the whole gamut of differences between a split soul like Dr. Jekyll's and an utterly singleminded Brand, Parsifal, or Don Quixote. If the selves are too unrelated, we distrust the man; if they are too inflexibly on one track we find him arid, stubborn, or eccentric. In the repertory of characters, meager for the isolated and the self-sufficient, highly varied for the adaptable, there is a whole range of selves, from that one at the top which we should wish God to see, to those at the bottom that we ourselves do not dare to see. There may be octaves for the family,--father, Jehovah, tyrant,--husband, proprietor, male,--lover, lecher,--for the occupation,--employer, master, exploiter,--competitor, intriguer, enemy,--subordinate, courtier, snob. Some never come out into public view. Others are called out only by exceptional circumstances. But the characters take their form from a man's conception of the situation in which he finds himself. If the environment to which he is sensitive happens to be the smart set, he will imitate the character he conceives to be appropriate. That character will tend to act as modulator of his bearing, his speech, his choice of subjects, his preferences. Much of the comedy of life lies here, in the way people imagine their characters for situations that are strange to them: the professor among promoters, the deacon at a poker game, the cockney in the country, the paste diamond among real diamonds.


Into the making of a man's characters there enters a variety of influences not easily separated.(2) The analysis in its fundamentals is perhaps still as doubtful as it was in the fifth century B. C. when Hippocrates formulated the doctrine of the humors, distinguished the sanguine, the melancholic, the choleric, and the phlegmatic dispositions, and ascribed them to the blood, the black bile, the yellow bile, and the phlegm. The latest theories, such as one finds them in Cannon, (3) Adler,(4) Kempf,(5) appear to follow much the same scent, from the outward behavior and the inner consciousness to the physiology of the body. But in spite of an immensely improved technique, no one would be likely to claim that there are settled conclusions which enable us to set apart nature from nurture, and abstract the native character from the acquired. It is only in what Joseph Jastrow has called the slums of psychology that the explanation of character is regarded as a fixed system to be applied by phrenologists, palmists, fortune-tellers, mind-readers, and a few political professors. There you will still find it asserted that "the Chinese are fond of colors, and have their eyebrows much vaulted" while "the heads of the Calmucks are depressed from above, but very large laterally, about the organ which gives the inclination to acquire; and this nation's propensity to steal, etc., is admitted." (6)

The modern psychologists are disposed to regard the outward behavior of an adult as an equation between a number of variables, such as the resistance of the environment, repressed cravings of several maturities, and the manifest personality.(7)

They permit us to suppose, though I have not seen the notion formulated, that the repression or control of cravings is fixed not in relation to the whole person all the time, but more or less in respect to his various selves. There are things he will not do as a patriot that he will do when he is not thinking of himself as a patriot. No doubt there are impulses, more or less incipient in childhood, that are never exercised again in the whole of a man's life, except as they enter obscurely and indirectly into combination with other impulses. But even that is not certain, since repression is not irretrievable. For just as psychoanalysis can bring to the surface a buried impulse, so can social situations.(8)

It is only when our surroundings remain normal and placid, when what is expected of us by those we meet is consistent, that we live without knowledge of many of our dispositions. When the unexpected occurs, we learn much about ourselves that we did not know. The selves, which we construct with the help of all who influence us, prescribe which impulses, how emphasized, how directed, are appropriate to certain typical situations for which we have learned prepared attitudes. For a recognizable type of experience, there is a character which controls the outward manifestations of our whole being. Murderous hate is, for example, controlled in civil life. Though you choke with rage, you must not display it as a parent, child, employer, politician. You would not wish to display a personality that exudes murderous hate. You frown upon it, and the people around you also frown. But if a war breaks out, the chances are that everybody you admire will begin to feel the justification of killing and hating. At first the vent for these feelings is very narrow. The selves which come to the front are those which are attuned to a real love of country, the kind of feeling that you find in Rupert Brooke, and in Sir Edward Grey's speech on August 3,1914, and in President Wilson's address to Congress on April 2, 1917. The reality of war is still abhorred, and what war actually means is learned but gradually. For previous wars are only transfigured memories. In that honeymoon phase, the realists of war rightly insist that the nation is not yet awake, and reassure each other by saying: "Wait for the casualty lists." Gradually the impulse to kill becomes the main business, and all those characters which might modify it, disintegrate. The impulse becomes central, is sanctified, and gradually turns unmanageable. It seeks a vent not alone on the idea of the enemy, which is all the enemy most people actually see during the war, but upon all the persons and objects and ideas that have always been hateful. Hatred of the enemy is legitimate. These other hatreds have themselves legitimized by the crudest analogy, and by what, once having cooled off, we recognize as the most far-fetched analogy. It takes a long time to subdue so powerful an impulse once it goes loose. And therefore, when the war is over in fact, it takes time and struggle to regain self-control, and to deal with the problems of peace in civilian character.

Modern war, as Mr. Herbert Croly has said, is inherent in the political structure of modern society, but outlawed by its ideals. For the civilian population there exists no ideal code of conduct in war, such as the soldier still possesses and chivalry once prescribed. The civilians are without standards, except those that the best of them manage to improvise. The only standards they possess make war an accursed thing. Yet though the war may be a necessary one, no moral training has prepared them for it. Only their higher selves have a code and patterns, and when they have to act in what the higher regards as a lower character profound disturbance results.

The preparation of characters for all the situations in which men may find themselves is one function of a moral education. Clearly then, it depends for its success upon the sincerity and knowledge with which the environment has been explored. For in a world falsely conceived, our own characters are falsely conceived, and we misbehave. So the moralist must choose: either he must offer a pattern of conduct for every phase of life, however distasteful some of its phases may be, or he must guarantee that his pupils will never be confronted by the situations he disapproves. Either he must abolish war, or teach people how to wage it with the greatest psychic economy; either he must abolish the economic life of man and feed him with stardust and dew, or he must investigate all the perplexities of economic life and offer patterns of conduct which are applicable in a world where no man is self-supporting. But that is just what the prevailing moral culture so generally refuses to do. In its best aspects it is diffident at the awful complication of the modern world. In its worst, it is just cowardly. Now whether the moralists study economics and politics and psychology, or whether the social scientists educate the moralists is no great matter. Each generation will go unprepared into the modern world, unless it has been taught to conceive the kind of personality it will have to be among the issues it will most likely meet.


Most of this the naive view of self-interest leaves out of account. It forgets that self and interest are both conceived somehow, and that for the most part they are conventionally conceived. The ordinary doctrine of self-interest usually omits altogether the cognitive function. So insistent is it on the fact that human beings finally refer all things to themselves, that it does not stop to notice that men's ideas of all things and of themselves are not instinctive. They are acquired.

Thus it may be true enough, as James Madison wrote in the tenth paper of the Federalist, that "a landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views." But if you examine the context of Madison's paper, you discover something which I think throws light upon that view of instinctive fatalism, called sometimes the economic interpretation of history. Madison was arguing for the federal constitution, and "among the numerous advantages of the union" he set forth "its tendency to break and control the violence of faction." Faction was what worried Madison. And the causes of faction he traced to "the nature of man," where latent dispositions are "brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for preeminence and power, or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to cooperate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property."

Madison's theory, therefore, is that the propensity to faction may be kindled by religious or political opinions, by leaders, but most commonly by the distribution of property. Yet note that Madison claims only that men are divided by their relation to property. He does not say that their property and their opinions are cause and effect, but that differences of property are the causes of differences of opinion. The pivotal word in Madison's argument is "different." From the existence of differing economic situations you can tentatively infer a probable difference of opinions, but you cannot infer what those opinions will necessarily be.

This reservation cuts radically into the claims of the theory as that theory is usually held. That the reservation is necessary, the enormous contradiction between dogma and practice among orthodox socialists bears witness. They argue that the next stage in social evolution is the inevitable result of the present stage. But in order to produce that inevitable next stage they organize and agitate to produce "class consciousness." Why, one asks, does not the economic situation produce consciousness of class in everybody? It just doesn't, that is all. And therefore the proud claim will not stand that the socialist philosophy rests on prophetic insight into destiny. It rests on an hypothesis about human nature.(9)

The socialist practice is based on a belief that if men are economically situated in different ways, they can then be induced to hold certain views. Undoubtedly they often come to believe, or can be induced to believe different things, as they are, for example, landlords or tenants, employees or employers, skilled or unskilled laborers, wageworkers or salaried men, buyers or sellers, farmers or middle-men, exporters or importers, creditors or debtors. Differences of income make a profound difference in contact and opportunity. Men who work at machines will tend, as Mr. Thorstein Veblen has so brilliantly demonstrated,(10) to interpret experience differently from handicraftsmen or traders. If this were all that the materialistic conception of politics asserted, the theory would be an immensely valuable hypothesis that every interpreter of opinion would have to use. But he would often have to abandon the theory, and he would always have to be on guard. For in trying to explain a certain public opinion, it is rarely obvious which of a man's many social relations is effecting a particular opinion. Does Smith's opinion arise from his problems as a landlord, an importer, an owner of railway shares, or an employer? Does Jones's opinion, Jones being a weaver in a textile mill, come from the attitude of his boss, the competition of new immigrants, his wife's grocery bills, or the ever present contract with the firm which is selling him a Ford car and a house and lot on the instalment plan? Without special inquiry you cannot tell. The economic determinist cannot tell.

A man's various economic contacts limit or enlarge the range of his opinions. But which of the contacts, in what guise, on what theory, the materialistic conception of politics cannot predict. It can predict, with a high degree of probability, that if a man owns a factory, his ownership will figure in those opinions which seem to have some bearing on that factory. But how the function of being an owner will figure, no economic determinist as such, can tell you. There is no fixed set of opinions on any question that go with being the owner of a factory, no views on labor, on property, on management, let alone views on less immediate matters. The determinist can predict that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the owner will resist attempts to deprive him of ownership, or that he will favor legislation which he thinks will increase his profits. But since there is no magic in ownership which enables a business man to know what laws will make him prosper, there is no chain of cause and effect described in economic materialism which enables anyone to prophesy whether the owner will take a long view or a short one, a competitive or a cooperative.

Did the theory have the validity which is so often claimed for it, it would enable us to prophesy. We could analyze the economic interests of a people, and deduce what the people was bound to do. Marx tried that, and after a good guess about the trusts, went wholly wrong. The first socialist experiment came, not as he predicted, out of the culmination of capitalist development in the West, but out of the collapse of a pre-capitalist system in the East. Why did he go wrong? Why did his greatest disciple, Lenin, go wrong? Because the Marxians thought that men's economic position would irresistibly produce a clear conception of their economic interests. They thought they themselves possessed that clear conception, and that what they knew the rest of mankind would learn. The event has shown, not only that a clear conception of interest does not arise automatically in everyone, but that it did not arise even in Marx and Lenin themselves. After all that Marx and Lenin have written, the social behavior of mankind is still obscure. It ought not to be, if economic position alone determined public opinion. Position ought, if their theory were correct, not only to divide mankind into classes, but to supply each class with a view of its interest and a coherent policy for obtaining it. Yet nothing is more certain than that all classes of men are in constant perplexity as to what their interests are. [Footnote: As a matter of fact, when it came to the test, Lenin completely abandoned the materialistic interpretation of politics. Had he held sincerely to the Marxian formula when he seized power in 1917, he would have said to himself: according to the teachings of Marx, socialism will develop out of a mature capitalism... here am I, in control of a nation that is only entering upon a capitalist development... it is true that I am a socialist, but I am a scientific socialist... it follows that for the present all idea of a socialist republic is out of the question... we must advance capitalism in order that the evolution which Marx predicted may take place. But Lenin did nothing of the sort. Instead of waiting for evolution to evolve, he tried by will, force, and education, to defy the historical process which his philosophy assumed.

Since this was written Lenin has abandoned communism on the ground that Russia does not possess the necessary basis in a mature capitalism. He now says that Russia must create capitalism, which will create a proletariat, which will some day create communism. This is at least consistent with Marxist dogma. But it shows how little determinism there is in the opinions of a determinist.]

This dissolves the impact of economic determinism. For if our economic interests are made up of our variable concepts of those interests, then as the master key to social processes the theory fails. That theory assumes that men are capable of adopting only one version of their interest, and that having adopted it, they move fatally to realize it. It assumes the existence of a specific class interest. That assumption is false. A class interest can be conceived largely or narrowly, selfishly or unselfishly, in the light of no facts, some facts, many facts, truth and error. And so collapses the Marxian remedy for class conflicts. That remedy assumes that if all property could be held in common, class differences would disappear. The assumption is false. Property might well be held in common, and yet not be conceived as a whole. The moment any group of people failed to see communism in a communist manner, they would divide into classes on the basis of what they saw.

In respect to the existing social order Marxian socialism emphasizes property conflict as the maker of opinion, in respect to the loosely defined working class it ignores property conflict as the basis of agitation, in respect to the future it imagines a society without property conflict, and, therefore, without conflict of opinion. Now in the existing social order there may be more instances where one man must lose if another is to gain, than there would be under socialism, but for every case where one must lose for another to gain, there are endless cases where men simply imagine the conflict because they are uneducated. And under socialism, though you removed every instance of absolute conflict, the partial access of each man to the whole range of facts would nevertheless create conflict. A socialist state will not be able to dispense with education, morality, or liberal science, though on strict materialistic grounds the communal ownership of properties ought to make them superfluous. The communists in Russia would not propagate their faith with such unflagging zeal if economic determinism were alone determining the opinion of the Russian people.


The socialist theory of human nature is, like the hedonistic calculus, an example of false determinism. Both assume that the unlearned dispositions fatally but intelligently produce a certain type of behavior. The socialist believes that the dispositions pursue the economic interest of a class; the hedonist believes that they pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Both theories rest on a naive view of instinct, a view, defined by James,(11) though radically qualified by him, as "the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the ends and without previous education in the performance."

It is doubtful whether instinctive action of this sort figures at all in the social life of mankind. For as James pointed out: (12) "every instinctive act in an animal with memory must cease to be 'blind' after being once repeated." Whatever the equipment at birth, the innate dispositions are from earliest infancy immersed in experience which determines what shall excite them as stimulus. "They become capable," as Mr. McDougall says, (13) "of being initiated, not only by the perception of objects of the kind which directly excite the innate disposition, the natural or native excitants of the instinct, but also by ideas of such objects, and by perceptions and by ideas of objects of other kinds."(14)

It is only the "central part of the disposition"(16) says Mr. McDougall further, "that retains its specific character and remains common to all individuals and all situations in which the instinct is excited." The cognitive processes, and the actual bodily movements by which the instinct achieves its end may be indefinitely complicated. In other words, man has an instinct of fear, but what he will fear and how he will try to escape, is determined not from birth, but by experience.

If it were not for this variability, it would be difficult to conceive the inordinate variety of human nature. But when you consider that all the important tendencies of the creature, his appetites, his loves, his hates, his curiosity, his sexual cravings, his fears, and pugnacity, are freely attachable to all sorts of objects as stimulus, and to all kinds of objects as gratification, the complexity of human nature is not so inconceivable. And when you think that each new generation is the casual victim of the way a previous generation was conditioned, as well as the inheritor of the environment that resulted, the possible combinations and permutations are enormous.

There is no prima facie case then for supposing that because persons crave some particular thing, or behave in some particular way, human nature is fatally constituted to crave that and act thus. The craving and the action are both learned, and in another generation might be learned differently. Analytic psychology and social history unite in supporting this conclusion. Psychology indicates how essentially casual is the nexus between the particular stimulus and the particular response. Anthropology in the widest sense reinforces the view by demonstrating that the things which have excited men's passions, and the means which they have used to realize them, differ endlessly from age to age and from place to place.

Men pursue their interest. But how they shall pursue it is not fatally determined, and, therefore, within whatever limits of time this planet will continue to support human life, man can set no term upon the creative energies of men. He can issue no doom of automatism. He can say, if he must, that for his life there will be no changes which he can recognize as good. But in saying that he will be confining his life to what he can see with his eye, rejecting what he might see with his mind; he will be taking as the measure of good a measure which is only the one he happens to possess. He can find no ground for abandoning his highest hopes and relaxing his conscious effort unless he chooses to regard the unknown as the unknowable, unless he elects to believe that what no one knows no one will know, and that what someone has not yet learned no one will ever be able to teach.

1. For an interesting example, see the case described by C. J. Jung, Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse, 1911, Vol. I, p. 81. Translated by Constance Long, in Analytical Psychology, Ch. IV.
2. For an interesting sketch of the more noteworthy early attempts to explain character, see the chapter called "The Antecedents of the Study of Character and Temperament," in Joseph Jastrow's The Psychology of Conviction.
3. Bodily Changes in Pleasure, Pain and Anger.
4. The Neurotic Constitution.
5. The Autonomic Functions and the Personality; Psychopathology. Cf. also Louis Berman: The Glands Regulating Personality.
6. Jastrow, op. cit., p. 156.
7. Formulated by Kempf, Psychopathology, p. 74, as follows:

Manifest wishes }
over }
Later Repressed Wishes }
Over } opposed by the resistance of the
Adolescent Repressed Wishes } environment=Behavior
Over }
Preadolescent Repressed Wishes }

8. Cf. the very interesting book of Everett Dean Martin, The Behavior of Crowds.

Also Hobbes, Leviathan, Part II, Ch. 25. "For the passions of men, which asunder are moderate, as the heat of one brand, in an assembly are like many brands, that inflame one another, especially when they blow one another with orations...."

LeBon, The Crowd, elaborates this observation of Hobbes's.

9. Cf. Thorstein Veblen, "The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers," in The Place of Science in Modern Civilization, esp. pp. 413-418.
10. The Theory of Business Enterprise.
11. Principles of Psychology, Vol. II, p. 383.
12. Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 390.
13. Introduction to Social Psychology, Fourth Edition, pp. 31-32.
14. "Most definitions of instincts and instinctive actions take account only of their conative aspects... and it is a common mistake to ignore the cognitive and affective aspects of the instinctive mental process."(15)
15. op. cit., p. 29.
16. Footnote: p. 34.