The Universal Order - Study Group Paper 9
Practical Idealism and Reform
Be not wanting in comforting them that weep, and walk with them that mourn.
Be not slow to visit the sick: for by these things thou shalt be confirmed in love.
Ecclesiasticus, vii. 38-39
I. The practical idealist is one whose life is devoted to the elimination of human misery. Constantly present to his inner consciousness is the ideal or vision of the perfected state of humanity, towards the realisation of which all his efforts are directed. He is practical because he seeks the most sure, effective, and speedy means of bringing into the collective life of mankind the happiness which has been lost.
The purpose of every reformatory movement is to establish the complete and lasting happiness of the human race by bringing all its warring elements into harmony. This ideal of harmony is the ultimate goal of every movement towards reform. The activities of the reformer who prescribes for the illnesses of the social organism are analogous to those of the doctor who heals the sickness of an individual patient. All sickness and disease is the result of a lack of harmony, a disturbance of the perfect order which should characterise all the operations of the organisms concerned. Social organisms such as nations, societies, federations, and corporate bodies of all kinds may suffer from malnutrition, disease, or accident to their limbs and members, just as surely as an animal body. Therefore the purpose of all reformatory and idealistic movements must be to remove the causes of such sociological and economic diseases. When any body is sick, every cell in that body suffers accordingly, and when any state, institution, profession or industry suffers from lack of order, or nutriment, all its individual members are correspondingly unhappy. The reformer or practical idealist directs all his activities towards the restoring of the perfect harmony and order which constitute the health of the body politic.
II. The process by which this purpose is to be accomplished might be described as the elimination of friction by the perfect adjustment of the mechanism of the social order. It is the process of organisation or bringing into order all the forces and tendencies which, when not controlled and intelligently directed, are the causes of discord and inharmony. When any human being, or body of human beings, is concerned solely with looking after its own welfare without regard to the rights of the rest of mankind, the result is invariably unsatisfactory and productive of unhappiness. When a particular or private good is pursued regardless of the good of the whole community, an element of discord or friction enters into the public life. But since all men are bound together by innumerable ties, any inharmony in the life of a nation ultimately reacts upon those who are responsible for it and causes them to suffer.
No sane person willingly seeks evil or suffering; therefore those who disturb the order of a community by pursuing their private gain at the expense of the common weal do so through ignorance, or the consequences of ignorance. They pursue a lesser good because they are unaware of the greater good which embraces it; they sacrifice for some slight material gain the happiness without which mere riches are but dust. If we understood that our own highest happiness is to be found in the service of our fellow men, we would at once direct our powers to that end.
The interests of human beings are not mutually exclusive. The good of all depends upon their friendly co-operation in work and production. Those who pursue the lesser goods of merely personal wealth and power, or attempt to enforce reform by violent and disintegrative methods, thereby injure their fellow men. They are not aware of the more universal good which is the pursuit of prosperity for all men. When this ideal has been presented to them in such a way as to appeal to their love of that which is good, they will inevitably pursue it, for when a choice of two goods is put before any human being, he will invariable pursue that which appears to him to be the greater.
III. The three fundamental elements in human society are: first, those which perform intellectual, professional, or teaching functions, including all ministers of religion and persons devoted to the upliftment of mankind; secondly, those who rule, direct, organise and administer, including all persons responsible for the preservation of the social order; and thirdly, those who produce and are engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufacture. All these functions are equally indispensable, and all are honourable. They correspond in a general way to the brain, the muscles and motor elements, and the organs of nourishment in an animal body.
The process of ordering all these so that each performs its proper functions for the general good is the process of sociological healing. While each class or profession is imperfectly related to the others, or while it is imagined that the real interest of one class can ultimately conflict with the interest of any other, the friction of life will continue. The whole problem is that of re-adjusting, in their real and natural relations, the complicated systems of classes within classes, trades within trades, and groups within groups, which constitutes a modern nation. And in order to do this, it is necessary to know, with certainty, the laws and principles upon which these relations depend.
IV. A fundamental principle which is often overlooked by reformers is that man has free will. He may be led or persuaded, but can never be coerced without the most disastrous results being incurred. All true reform must come from within; it must be the expression of the collective will of the state. Hence all reformatory schemes which require the forcible imposition of the will of a section of the community upon the rest are impractical as well as futile for the purpose of ideal reformation.
The most practical of all activities which contribute to the bringing near of the ideal state, is the dissemination of right knowledge. Ignorance is the root cause of all misery, and it is only by a real knowledge of the nature and destiny of man that the individual and collective energies of mankind can be directed to their proper ends. Were this to be done, every human being would take his proper place in the great sociological scheme, would contribute his share of work for the good of the whole, and receive his due reward. The unnecessary strife and discord which waste so much of human energy would disappear, and the health of the sociological organism would be restored.
Competition, which is a principle of life followed when the true nature of man is unknown or forgotten, would give place to co-operation. Men would work not only for themselves alone, but for the state and for the world.
What is required is not the destruction of that which already exists, for the machinery of the social organism and all that has come from the past can be used; but reconstruction and re-adjustment are necessary so that order may be brought out of that which is now in chaos, and, by the systematic organisation of means of production, all men may live, in the full sense of the word, and the vast wealth of the world may benefit all according to their need.
“A man of principle is reverent in everything and as much as in anything else reverences his own self. That self of his is a branch of the tree of his parents. How could he not reverence it? To be unable to reverence oneself is an injury to one’s parents, and that is an injury to one’s very root. Let the root be injured and the branches along with it will die. These three are a symbol of life in the community: ‘self’ includes other selves; ‘son’ includes other men’s sons; ‘wife’ includes other men’s wives. Let a man of principle put these three things into practice, and he will reach out to the whole of the Great Society. They constitute the Way of a great king, and it is along this line that states and families will become docile.” Li Chi, Ai Kung Wen
“Unless the mind be trained to selflessness and infinite compassion, one is apt to fall into the error of seeking liberation for self alone.” Gampopa
“In everyone there is something of his fellow man. Therefore, whosoever sins, injures not only himself, but also that part of himself which belongs to another.” Moses ben Jacob Cordovero
© The Universal Order 2002