In Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck Rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the
filth of the floor.
Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is
vile and debasing.
There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck rake; and there are times and places where this
service is the most needed of all the
services that can be performed.
But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck rake, speedily becomes, not a help but one of the most
potent forces for evil.
There should be relentless
exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life.
I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with
merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.
The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his
mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves.
It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical
exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth.
An epidemic of
indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm.
The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is
assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully
Some persons are sincerely incapable of understanding that to denounce mud slinging does not mean the
endorsement of whitewashing; and both the interested individuals who need whitewashing and those others who practice mud slinging like to encourage such confusion of ideas.
One of the chief counts against those who make indiscriminate assault upon men in business or men in public life is that they invite a reaction which is sure to tell powerfully in favor of the
unscrupulous scoundrel who really ought to be attacked, who ought to be exposed, who ought, if possible, to be put in the penitentiary.
If Aristides is
praised overmuch as just, people get tired of hearing it; and over-censure of the unjust finally and from similar reasons results in their favor.
excess is almost sure to invite a reaction; and, unfortunately, the reactions instead of taking the form of punishment of those guilty of the
excess, is apt to take the form either of punishment of the unoffending or of giving immunity, and even strength, to offenders.
reckless assaults on character, whether on the stump or in newspaper, magazine, or book, create a morbid and vicious public sentiment, and at the same time act as a profound deterrent to able men of normal sensitiveness and tend to prevent them from entering the public service at any price.
At the risk of repetition let me say again that my plea is not for immunity to, but for the most unsparing exposure of, the politician who betrays his trust, of the big business man who makes or spends his fortune in illegitimate or
Expose the crime, and hunt down the criminal; but remember that even in the case of crime, if it is attacked in sensational,
lurid, and untruthful fashion, the attack may do more damage to the public mind than the crime itself.
The men with the muck rakes are often
indispensable to the well being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck, and to look upward to the celestial crown above them, to the crown of worthy endeavor.
If the whole picture is painted black there remains no hue whereby to single out the rascals for
distinction from their fellows.
To assail the great and admitted evils of our political and industrial life with such crude and sweeping
generalizations as to include decent men in the general condemnation means the searing of the public conscience.
There results a general attitude either of
cynical belief in and indifference to public corruption or else of a distrustful inability to discriminate between the good and the bad.
There is any amount of good in the world, and there never was a time when loftier and more
disinterested work for the betterment of mankind was being done than now.
The forces that tend for evil are great and terrible, but the forces of truth and love and courage and honesty and
generosity and sympathy are also stronger than ever before.
The men who with stern
sobriety and truth assail the many evils of our time, whether in the public press, or in magazines, or in books, are the leaders and allies of all engaged in the work for social and political betterment.
But if they give good reason for distrust of what they say, if they chill the ardor of those who demand truth as a primary
virtue, they thereby betray the good cause and play into the hands of the very men against whom they are nominally at war.
This truth should be kept constantly in mind by every free people desiring to preserve the sanity and
poise indispensable to the permanent success of self-government.
Bad though a state of hysterical excitement is, and evil though the results are which come from the violent oscillations such excitement invariably produces, yet a sodden
acquiescence in evil is even worse.
So far as this movement of
agitation throughout the country takes the form of a fierce discontent with evil, of a determination to punish the authors of evil, whether in industry or politics, the feeling is to be heartily welcomed as a sign of healthy life.
We can no more and no less afford to
condone evil in the man of capital than evil in the man of no capital.
No good whatever will come from that warped and mock morality which
denounces the misdeeds of men of wealth and forgets the misdeeds practiced at their expense; which
denounces bribery, but blinds itself to blackmail; which foams with rage if a corporation secures favors by improper methods, and merely leers with hideous mirth if the corporation is itself wronged.
But in addition to honesty, we need sanity. No honesty will make a public man useful if that man is timid or foolish, if he is a hot-headed
zealot or an impracticable visionary.
On the other hand, the wild preachers of unrest and
discontent, the wild agitators against the entire existing order, the men who act crookedly, whether because of sinister design or from mere puzzle headedness, the men who preach destruction without proposing any substitute for what they intend to destroy, or who propose a substitute which would be far worse than the existing evils—all these men are the most dangerous opponents of real reform.
If they fail to get their way they will still do incalculable harm by
provoking the kind of reaction which in its revolt against the senseless evil of their teaching would enthrone more securely than ever the evils which their misguided followers believe they are attacking.
More important than aught else is the development of the broadest
sympathy of man for man.
welfare of the wage worker, the
welfare of the tiller of the soil, upon these depend the
welfare of the entire country; their good is not to be sought in pulling down others; but their good must be the prime object of all our statesmanship.