The Menace of the Good Citizen
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In plain and briefer terms, the people that I know who do good (in the sense of following the line of greatest resistance) do it not because they want to, but rather because if they didn’t their consciences would prick them, and they would suffer much uneasiness as a result of the loss of their own self-respect-that is, they guide their life by certain standards of conduct which it would disturb them to ignore-a quite proper state of mind which is free from cant. The normal man-explicitly or implicitlystands for certain individual and social values. The advertiser and salesman stand for selling things regardless of their true worth ; the demagogue seeks that warm and inner glow which comes from controlling multitudes ; the writer of cheap fiction likes money and popularity ; the public philanthropist who forgets that in charity the left hand should not know what the right hand doeth, stands for honours rather than honour ; the soldier respects the military virtues ; the Socialist stands for a society in which wealth is equitably distributed and the dignity of man respected ; and the Christian stands for his faith and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. And in their varying ways people will sacrifice themselves even unto death for what they hold dear ; but that is something very different from wishing to do good in an amiable, thoughtless, and woolly way. The task of the W.E.A. and similar bodies is not merely to generate tremendous amounts of moral steam, so much as to think hard about what would be a suitable engine
in which that moral steam might work. The common distinction between men of thought and men of action is too simple a one : we are all men of action in varying degrees, and if we think properly we shall do good, and if we don’t we won’t. That is all about it. Merely to have an amiable sentiment that one wants to do good is not enough. What is good is the point which has to be decided ; otherwise we shall fall into the error described by D. H. Lawrence : ‘ For what does goodness mean ? It means, in the end, being like everybody else, and not having a soul to call your own. You must be good, and feel exactly what is expected of you, which is just what other people feel. Which means that in the end you feel nothing at all : all your feeling has been killed out of you. And all that is left is the artificial stock emotion which comes out with the morning papers’.