MINORITIES VERSUS MAJORITIES by Emma Goldman

MINORITIES VERSUS MAJORITIES

IF I WERE to give a summary of the tendency of our times, I would  say, Quantity. The multitude, the mass spirit, dominates everywhere,  destroying quality. Our entire life--production, politics, and  education--rests on quantity, on numbers. The worker who once took pride  in the thoroughness and quality of his work, has been replaced by  brainless, incompetent automatons, who turn out enormous quantities of  things, valueless to themselves, and generally injurious to the rest of  mankind. Thus quantity, instead of adding to life's comforts and peace,  has merely increased man's burden.

In politics, naught but quantity counts. In proportion to its  increase, however, principles, ideals, justice, and uprightness are  completely swamped by the array of numbers. In the struggle for  supremacy the various political parties outdo each other in trickery,  deceit, cunning, and shady machinations, confident that the one who  succeeds is sure to be hailed by the majority as the victor. That is the  only god,--Success. As to what expense, what terrible cost to  character, is of no moment. We have not far to go in search of proof to  verify this sad fact.

Never before did the corruption, the complete rottenness of our  government stand so thoroughly exposed; never before were the American  people brought face to face with the Judas nature of that political  body, which has claimed for years to be absolutely beyond reproach, as  the mainstay of our institutions, the true protector of the rights and  liberties of the people.

Yet when the crimes of that party became so brazen that even the  blind could see them, it needed but to muster up its minions, and its  supremacy was assured. Thus the very victims, duped, betrayed, outraged a  hundred times, decided, not against, but in favor of the victor.  Bewildered, the few asked how could the majority betray the traditions  of American liberty? Where was its judgment, its reasoning capacity?  That is just it, the majority cannot reason; it has no judgment. Lacking  utterly in originality and moral courage, the majority has always  placed its destiny in the hands of others. Incapable of standing  responsibilities, it has followed its leaders even unto destruction. Dr.  Stockman was right: "The most dangerous enemies of truth and justice in  our midst are the compact majorities, the damned compact majority."  Without ambition or initiative, the compact mass hates nothing so much  as innovation. It has always opposed, condemned, and hounded the  innovator, the pioneer of a new truth.

The oft repeated slogan of our time is, among all politicians, the  Socialists included, that ours is an era of individualism, of the  minority. Only those who do not probe beneath the surface might be led  to entertain this view. Have not the few accumulated the wealth of the  world? Are they not the masters, the absolute kings of the situation?  Their success, however, is due not to individualism, but to the inertia,  the cravenness, the utter submission of the mass. The latter wants but  to be dominated, to be led, to be coerced. As to individualism, at no  time in human history did it have less chance of expression, less  opportunity to assert itself in a normal, healthy manner.

The individual educator imbued with honesty of purpose, the artist  or writer of original ideas, the independent scientist or explorer, the  non-compromising pioneers of social changes are daily pushed to the wall  by men whose learning and creative ability have become decrepit with  age.

Educators of Ferrer's type are nowhere tolerated, while the  dietitians of predigested food, à la Professors Eliot and Butler, are  the successful perpetuators of an age of nonentities, of automatons. In  the literary and dramatic world, the Humphrey Wards and Clyde Fitches  are the idols of the mass, while but few know or appreciate the beauty  and genius of an Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman; an Ibsen, a Hauptmann, a  Butler Yeats, or a Stephen Phillips. They are like solitary stars, far  beyond the horizon of the multitude.

Publishers, theatrical managers, and critics ask not for the quality  inherent in creative art, but will it meet with a good sale, will it  suit the palate of the people? Alas, this palate is like a dumping  ground; it relishes anything that needs no mental mastication. As a  result, the mediocre, the ordinary, the commonplace represents the chief  literary output.

Need I say that in art we are confronted with the same sad facts?  One has but to inspect our parks and thoroughfares to realize the  hideousness and vulgarity of the art manufacture. Certainly, none but a  majority taste would tolerate such an outrage on art. False in  conception and barbarous in execution, the statuary that infests  American cities has as much relation to true art, as a totem to a  Michael Angelo. Yet that is the only art that succeeds. The true  artistic genius, who will not cater to accepted notions, who exercises  originality, and strives to be true to life, leads an obscure and  wretched existence. His work may some day become the fad of the mob, but  not until his heart's blood had been exhausted; not until the  pathfinder has ceased to be, and a throng of an idealles and visionless  mob has done to death the heritage of the master.

It is said that the artist of today cannot create because  Prometheuslike he is bound to the rock of economic necessity. This,  however, is true of art in all ages. Michael Angelo was dependent on his  patron saint, no less than the sculptor or painter of today, except  that the art connoisseurs of those days were far away from the madding  crowd. They felt honored to be permitted to worship at the shrine of the  master.

The art protector of our time knows but one criterion, one  value,--the dollar. He is not concerned about the quality of any great  work, but in the quantity of dollars his purchase implies. Thus the  financier in Mirbeau's Les Affaires sont les Affaires  points to  some blurred arrangement in colors, saying: "See how great it is; it  cost 50,000 francs." Just like our own parvenus. The fabulous figures  paid for their great art discoveries must make up for the poverty of  their taste.

The most unpardonable sin in society is independence of thought.  That this should be so terribly apparent in a country whose symbol is  democracy, is very significant of the tremendous power of the majority.

Wendell Phillips said fifty years ago: "In our country of absolute,  democratic equality, public opinion is not only omnipotent, it is  omnipresent. There is no refuge from its tyranny, there is no hiding  from its reach, and the result is that if you take the old Greek lantern  and go about to seek among a hundred, you will not find a single  American who has not, or who does not fancy at least he has, something  to gain or lose in his ambition, his social life, or business, from the  good opinion and the votes of those around him. And the consequence is  that instead of being a mass of individuals, each one fearlessly  blurting out his own conviction, as a nation compared to other nations  we are a mass of cowards. More than any other people we are afraid of  each other." Evidently we have not advanced very far from the condition  that confronted Wendell Phillips.

Today, as then, public opinion is the omnipresent tyrant; today, as  then, the majority represents a mass of cowards, willing to accept him  who mirrors its own soul and mind poverty. That accounts for the  unprecedented rise of a man like Roosevelt. He embodies the very worst  element of mob psychology. A politician, he knows that the majority  cares little for ideals or integrity. What it craves is display. It  matters not whether that be a dog show, a prize fight, the lynching of a  "nigger," the rounding up of some petty offender, the marriage  exposition of an heiress, or the acrobatic stunts of an ex-president.  The more hideous the mental contortions, the greater the delight and  bravos of the mass. Thus, poor in ideals and vulgar of soul, Roosevelt  continues to be the man of the hour.

On the other hand, men towering high above such political pygmies,  men of refinement, of culture, of ability, are jeered into silence as  mollycoddles. It is absurd to claim that ours is the era of  individualism. Ours is merely a more poignant repetition of the  phenomenon of all history: every effort for progress, for enlightenment,  for science, for religious, political, and economic liberty, emanates  from the minority, and not from the mass. Today, as ever, the few are  misunderstood, hounded, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.

The principle of brotherhood expounded by the agitator of Nazareth  preserved the germ of life, of truth and justice, so long as it was the  beacon light of the few. The moment the majority seized upon it, that  great principle became a shibboleth and harbinger of blood and fire,  spreading suffering and disaster. The attack on the omnipotence of Rome,  led by the colossal figures of Huss, Calvin, and Luther, was like a  sunrise amid the darkness of the night. But so soon as Luther and Calvin  turned politicians and began catering to the small potentates, the  nobility, and the mob spirit, they jeopardized the great possibilities  of the Reformation. They won success and the majority, but that majority  proved no less cruel and bloodthirsty in the persecution of thought and  reason than was the Catholic monster. Woe to the heretics, to the  minority, who would not bow to its dicta. After infinite zeal,  endurance, and sacrifice, the human mind is at last free from the  religious phantom; the minority has gone on in pursuit of new conquests,  and the majority is lagging behind, handicapped by truth grown false  with age.

Politically the human race would still be in the most absolute  slavery, were it not for the John Balls, the Wat Tylers, the Tells, the  innumerable individual giants who fought inch by inch against the power  of kings and tyrants. But for individual pioneers the world would have  never been shaken to its very roots by that tremendous wave, the French  Revolution. Great events are usually preceded by apparently small  things. Thus the eloquence and fire of Camille Desmoulins was like the  trumpet before Jericho, razing to the ground that emblem of torture, of  abuse, of horror, the Bastille.

Always, at every period, the few were the banner bearers of a great  idea, of liberating effort. Not so the mass, the leaden weight of which  does not let it move. The truth of this is borne out in Russia with  greater force than elsewhere. Thousands of lives have already been  consumed by that bloody régime, yet the monster on the throne is not  appeased. How is such a thing possible when ideas, culture, literature,  when the deepest and finest emotions groan under the iron yoke? The  majority, that compact, immobile, drowsy mass, the Russian peasant,  after a century of struggle, of sacrifice, of untold misery, still  believes that the rope which strangles "the man with the white hands" * brings luck.

In the American struggle for liberty, the majority was no less of a  stumbling block. Until this very day the ideas of Jefferson, of Patrick  Henry, of Thomas Paine, are denied and sold by their posterity. The mass  wants none of them. The greatness and courage worshipped in Lincoln  have been forgotten in the men who created the background for the  panorama of that time. The true patron saints of the black men were  represented in that handful of fighters in Boston, Lloyd Garrison,  Wendell Phillips, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Theodore Parker, whose  great courage and sturdiness culminated in that somber giant John Brown.  Their untiring zeal, their eloquence and perseverance undermined the  stronghold of the Southern lords. Lincoln and his minions followed only  when abolition had become a practical issue, recognized as such by all.

About fifty years ago, a meteorlike idea made its appearance on the  social horizon of the world, an idea so far-reaching, so revolutionary,  so all-embracing as to spread terror in the hearts of tyrants  everywhere. On the other hand, that idea was a harbinger of joy, of  cheer, of hope to the millions. The pioneers knew the difficulties in  their way, they knew the opposition, the persecution, the hardships that  would meet them, but proud and unafraid they started on their march  onward, ever onward. Now that idea has become a popular slogan. Almost  everyone is a Socialist today: the rich man, as well as his poor victim;  the upholders of law and authority, as well as their unfortunate  culprits; the freethinker, as well as the perpetuator of religious  falsehoods; the fashionable lady, as well as the shirtwaist girl. Why  not? Now that the truth of fifty years ago has become a lie, now that it  has been clipped of all its youthful imagination, and been robbed of  its vigor, its strength, its revolutionary ideal--why not? Now that it  is no longer a beautiful vision, but a "practical, workable scheme,"  resting on the will of the majority, why not? Political cunning ever  sings the praise of the mass: the poor majority, the outraged, the  abused, the giant majority, if only it would follow us.

Who has not heard this litany before? Who does not know this  never-varying refrain of all politicians? That the mass bleeds, that it  is being robbed and exploited, I know as well as our vote-baiters. But I  insist that not the handful of parasites, but the mass itself is  responsible for this horrible state of affairs. It clings to its  masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify! the moment a  protesting voice is raised against the sacredness of capitalistic  authority or any other decayed institution. Yet how long would authority  and private property exist, if not for the willingness of the mass to  become soldiers, policemen, jailers, and hangmen. The Socialist  demagogues know that as well as I, but they maintain the myth of the  virtues of the majority, because their very scheme of life means the  perpetuation of power. And how could the latter be acquired without  numbers? Yes, authority, coercion, and dependence rest on the mass, but  never freedom or the free unfoldment of the individual, never the birth  of a free society.

Not because I do not feel with the oppressed, the disinherited of  the earth; not because I do not know the shame, the horror, the  indignity of the lives the people lead, do I repudiate the majority as a  creative force for good. Oh, no, no! But because I know so well that as  a compact mass it has never stood for justice or equality. It has  suppressed the human voice, subdued the human spirit, chained the human  body. As a mass its aim has always been to make life uniform, gray, and  monotonous as the desert. As a mass it will always be the annihilator of  individuality, of free initiative, of originality. I therefore believe  with Emerson that "the masses are crude, lame, pernicious in their  demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled.  I wish not to concede anything to them, but to drill, divide, and break  them up, and draw individuals out of them. Masses! The calamity are the  masses. I do not wish any mass at all, but honest men only, lovely,  sweet, accomplished women only."

In other words, the living, vital truth of social and economic  well-being will become a reality only through the zeal, courage, the  non-compromising determination of intelligent minorities, and not  through the mass.

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