Now, as individuals differ greatly from each other, in intelligence, sagacity, energy, perseverance, skill, habits of industry and economy, physical power, position and opportunity,–the necessary effect of leaving all free to exert themselves to better their condition, must be a corresponding inequality between those who possess these qualities and advantages in a high degree, and those who may be deficient in them. The only means by which this result can be prevented are, either to impose such restrictions on the exertions of those who may possess them in a high degree, as will place them on a level with those who do not; or to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions. But to impose such restrictions on them would be destructive of liberty,–while, to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions, would be to destroy the desire of bettering their condition. It is, indeed, this inequality of condition between the front and rear ranks, in the march of progress, which gives so strong an impulse to the former to maintain their position, and to the latter to press forward into their files. This gives progress its greatest impulse. To force the front rank back to the rear, or attempt to push forward the rear into line with the front, by the interposition of the government, would put an end to the impulse, and effectually arrest the march of progress.
Hitherto no one in the United States has dared advance the maxim that everything is permissible for the interests of society, an impious adage which seems to have been invented in an age of freedom to shelter tyrants.
On his fifty-eighth birthday, Emerson remarked, “I could never give much reality to evil and pain.” Now evil and pain are the tremendous problems of Christian thought, and a man who cannot “give much reality” to those terrible and inexorable facts is no trustworthy guide for the modern mind. The whole social tendency of Emersonianism has been either to advocate some radical and summary measure, a Solomon’s judgment without its saving cunning, or (if this will not suffice) to pretend that the problem does not exist.