Human perfectibility, or even entire social amelioration, appear with the passage of time to recede into a yet further distance; and, whilst forming subject-matter for academic discussion and for visionary imagination, they hardly come within the range of practical politics. With them, as with disquisitions about the hereafter, there has been a tendency to allow “other worldliness” to obscure the necessity for doing our duty here and now, and letting the distant future take care of itself. To those who object that this view is a sordid, or at least a selfish one, it may be answered that if we observe the Golden Rule—if even we practise but a negative virtue by refraining from doing evil—we shall yet make for the desired goal, possibly as rapidly as those who, their eyes fixed on that distant point, fail to observe the obstacles which lie immediately in their path, and who have, again and again, to arise bruised and disheartened by their stumbles and disappointments. It may indeed be that their aims are but illusions, mere figments of the fancy, impossible of realisation. “Uniform and universal knowledge, social salvation and sovereign goodness, a golden age to come excelling a past golden age, a Paradise regained in lieu of a Paradise lost, in fact, a kingdom of heaven on earth or elsewhere, are not yet matters with which the sober-minded scientist can grapple;” and nescience can only formulate them in phraseology which lacks verisimilitude even to those who utter it. It is doubtful whether the projectors of ideal commonwealths would have desired to have been themselves inhabitants thereof; even if they had had the will it is certain that they would not have had the ability to carry it into effect. Much of their work is perchance energy misdirected, and the words of Milton may be applicable to others as well as to him of whom he uttered them. “Plato, a man of high authority indeed, but least of all for his Commonwealth, in the book of his laws, which no City ever yet received, fed his fancie with making many edicts to his ayrie Burgomasters, which they who otherwise admire him wish had been rather buried and excused in the genial cups of an Academick night-sitting.” It is no use, as he further remarks, “to sequester out of the world into Atlantick and Eutopian politics, which never can be drawn into use, and will not mend our condition; but to ordain wisely as in this world of evil.”
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