Project Canterbury

The Mount of Vision
Being a Study of Life in Terms of the Whole

By Charles Henry Brent
Bishop of the Philippine Islands

New York and London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1918.

Chapter VI. Man in Mankind

WE are responsible to two primary loyalties in the terms of which all lesser loyalties must be expressed, loyalty to God or the vertical loyalty, and loyalty to mankind or the horizontal loyalty. Our potential greatness is announced in our being built God-high and man-wide.

The vastness which these loyalties connote is so far from being oppressive as to be inviting. Human life at its earliest conscious moments claims completeness rather than detail. The child's questions are so profound as to puzzle the wise. Only a youth would venture to choose as the topic of an early theme the "World and its Contents." Even Freudian psychology preaches in somewhat pompous though indefinite language the capacity of human life for catholicity:--"There is at any moment of life some course of action (behaviour) which enlists all the capacities of the organism: This is phrased voluntaristically as 'some interest or aim to which a man devotes all his powers,' to which his whole being is consecrated. . . . The more integrated behaviour is harmonious and consistent behaviour toward a larger and more comprehensive situation, toward a bigger section of the universe: it is lucidity and breadth of purpose." Only that which challenges can inspire human nature. It is the limitless, the unexplored, the unknown that draw out our best effort and reveal our capacity.

A normal man finds only elbow-room in the world of men. Human society is not too big for him. It is just large enough. Theoretically it has long been held that the limits of human fellowship and service were the human race. It has been reserved for our day to see myriads of men freely giving self and treasure in behalf, not of local or personal interests and purposes, but for the sake of humanity and the fundamental principles which make human society stable. Rising out of the welter of battle, there is an enlarged conception of man's responsibilities to mankind which seemingly needed a cataclysm for its unveiling. Its splendour tinges the heavy war-cloud with glory. Please God, never again will we sink back into the smallness of mere petty nationalism or other sectional life. To do so would be to abandon God's master plan for us, and to shrivel into the mean stature of pigmies.

With most of us, at any rate, the nation in our early days and even later stood for a finality. Whether or not we expressed it in the language of Stephen Decatur, our loyalty was to the nation, right or wrong. Other nations were judged by their nearness to or farness from our own ideals and customs. Our own nation was the norm by which all others were tested. Its superiority was so patent that it was a matter of honest surprise to us when the citizens of other countries failed to recognize it. As for the oriental world, it was valuable so far as it contributed of its wealth and curios to our own gratification. Its inhabitants enjoyed only a modified humanity, worthy of missionary endeavour, it is true, but missionary endeavour as an outlet for our generosity of soul rather than as an honest recognition that God has made of one all nations of men to dwell on the face of the whole earth. I am recalling my own state of mind in youth and not appealing to imagination. I know that most of the people I knew viewed things in the same manner. Such a frame of mind in child or man is mischievous, untrue and unnecessary. It is mere bald patriotism devoid of the checks and balances of a catholic outlook, that is to say, it is arrogance, conceit, and a denial of brotherhood, made under the shelter of and in the name of the nation.

Such a spirit, nurtured unto a passionate conviction throughout its citizenship, was bound to do that which it has done--precipitate Armageddon. The set purpose of one nation to impose its culture and supremacy on all others has startled us into the recognition that mere patriotism not only breeds strife, tyranny and barbarity, but also tends to denude men of that freedom of choice which in the sphere of government as elsewhere is their inherent right as beings made in the image of God.

The nation becomes much more splendid when viewed, not as an end in itself, but in its true character of group-personality, organically and responsibly related to all similar group-personalities, unable to fully realize its possibilities except in sympathetic and intelligent relationship with the rest. The nation is a permanent social unit in mankind. It can best develop its powers by making as its chief aim universal service. This is not a new conceit or an idea of my own. The prophet Lowell put it in immortal form before the middle of the last century was born:--

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

The nation can no more escape the sign of the Cross than anything else Divine or human can. Belgium and France in their sacrificial life of the past three and a half years have taught us the lesson in a way that can never be forgotten. That which has proved a necessity in time of war bids fair to become a preferred and chosen element of conduct in time of peace.

Patriotism, then, is loyalty to the nation, the nation as a social unit, the nation as responsible to, and expressed in the terms of, mankind. The word is magnificent by tradition. It is not to be discredited much less abandoned, but to be given new magnificence by an expanded conception of its scope and meaning.


Patriotism's function is to make itself felt and heard chiefly in the language of service or self-giving. It recognizes the nation as the vehicle by means of which a citizen can reach, and contribute to, the commonwealth of mankind. Its loyalty is impassioned--loyalty to the nation not solely as it was or is but, in addition, as it is becoming.

In its full meaning the nation shares in that eternal character which is the heritage of everything human. It certainly does not consist only in the sum total of the citizenship, their thoughts and activities, of any given moment or generation. It comes to us, striding down the centuries, endowed with the glory of all its past triumphs, proudly bearing in its bosom the royal contribution of the lives and characters of its heroes, saints and patriots. Its form and incidental features may and do change, but its distinctive soul and character abide. We hold the nation of our day in trust. We are its stewards not less than its beneficiaries. We are to see that its immortal traditions receive no harm or blot because of us.

But while the nation comes to us with all the completeness of the past, it also comes with all the incompleteness of the past. We must refuse to allow it to be static. Our contribution to its progress must be more than imitative; it must be original under the inspiring force of the Spirit of God, who gives to men without stint or measure. At the risk of the literary fault of over-quoting, again I turn to Lowell to say what cannot be said in prose:--

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient food uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast with Truth.

In the dawning nation each citizen is charged with a stewardship not less than clothed with a privilege. He is responsible up to the measure of his developed gifts and capacity for the normal growth of his country's life. Of him that hath much, much will be expected. Unless democracy means this, it is a dangerous principle.

In the working out of the Chinese ideograph for country there is an interesting bit of democratic history. The first symbol represented within the four sides of a boundary, the earth, the mouths of the people and a spear. An imperial tyrant for a short time displaced the symbol of the people and put that representing emperor instead. The other day when the Republic was proclaimed, the ideograph adopted was that for the people with the prolongation of an upward stroke which makes it read "the people who have lifted up their heads."

From the conception of an eating, fighting people we rise to something approximating men made in the image of God, moral, self-determining. The character of the nation is in the hands of the citizen, who is primarily not a member of a local community or of a section of the nation but of the whole. Just as nationalism must find expression in terms of the universal, so local loyalties must utter themselves in terms of the State. In its last analysis democracy is based upon a frank recognition that man was made in the image of God and that he (or she) possesses the inherent right and responsibility of exercising free choice in all that pertains to his or her life as a citizen, with due respect, of course, to the instruments and occasions provided by the will of the majority in any given State.

The requirement which the nation lays upon the citizen is that he should do his share in universal service. The term is so great that we are only just beginning to understand its complete significance. It has come into prominence during war times, but it is not exclusively a war term. It is of the essence of government by the people. That which is necessary in a moment of peril as a defensive measure is equally necessary in times of peace as a constructive principle. It remains for the several nations, each in its own way, to give worthy and effective embodiment to it. The unchartered freedom of democracy's past has not only been a weariness but also a menace to the well-being of more nations than one. Universal service, when expressed in legislative form, is no more to be singled out for opprobrium than any other law which is the will of the people. It is compulsory only in the sense of self-compulsory wherever there is government by the people. Law in its highest sense is a formal embodiment of a people's ideals. Obedience to law is voluntary rather than compulsory for the people who originally willed the law into being. Minorities have rights, of course, but they are constitutional rights restricted by the principles which animate organic life.


Such a consideration, which keeps the whole of mankind in full view without losing sight of the individual man, enhances enormously the value of each personal unit in the social whole. The citizen is of value to the nation, and beyond, in proportion to his contents. Hence it is at once incumbent upon the State to give every citizen full opportunity to rise to his best, and upon every citizen to wring from opportunity everything that will make for his growth in all departments of his manhood. In the nation, broadly viewed, there is exactly the measure and kind of inspiration needed to set working that high spirit of self-respect which is a chief factor in the life of self-giving. Conrad expresses the thought finely in a sentence: "I have a positive horror of losing even for one moving moment that complete possession of myself which is the first condition of good service."

The seeming smallness of the individual life is an illusion hard to dissipate. Obscurity, confinement in circumscribed or dull conditions, mediocre endowments, are obstacles hard to combat. Nothing but stubborn idealism can make a lasting impression on them. And we must be reconciled to the burden of weak, incompetent, perverted elements which society always has to carry. But the wreckage among men does not minimize the responsibility of those of us who have not suffered disablement. On the contrary it enhances our duty. It is a complaint against democracy that it is the "cult of the incompetent," that it is capable of producing only an average of a lowest common denominator sort. For a double reason the charge is unfair--because as yet democracy has little more than a chapter or so of crude experiments to its credit, and because it has given its main attention to protecting the liberty of the citizen rather than to the development of his responsibilities. The plea that the liberty of the subject cannot be interfered with has been, and is yet being used by many as a bulwark of selfishness and so a stumbling-block in the growth of the commonwealth. So far as the average is concerned it may not be as high as it should be, but it is appreciably higher in intelligence and character than it could be under other conditions. There is, however, no standard on which to base a comparison, for the modern nation in its constituent life and conditions is a thing apart. Most men of enlightenment are sufficiently confident of the central principle of democracy to be glad to commend themselves and their fortunes to its keeping, and to give their lives and treasure ungrudgingly that "democracy may be made safe for the world."

This is sure, that in a democracy the man who does rise to a conspicuous position of power and leadership can, if he so wills, always reach his goal on his substantial merits and with clean hands. If he does not do so, he is guilty of abusing liberty and choosing the lower when the higher was available. The development of outstanding character is as necessary as ever and for the same purpose now as in the past. As the war has shown, democracy is not afraid of one-man power. Indeed, it is her glory that she can use it with a security unknown to other systems of government. In a democracy there are moments and circumstances when much must be committed to the control of a single man. He is selected by the people. He is what he is because the nation has given him the opportunity and provided the facilities by which he made himself. Now he is called upon to become a public servant with large powers, limited and controlled by the laws of the State and always responsible to the people in whose behalf he is administering a trust. Not only is one-man power not undemocratic, but also an instrument of government that is safe, and in the same degree powerful, nowhere else but in a democracy.

It is told of Lord Roberts that, years back, he had an inborn conviction that he was some day going to be called upon by his nation for an important service. This led him through two decades, silently and unremittingly, to prepare himself for the contingency should it arise. He resolved that if, or when, the call to give himself came he would be ready to give something worth while. We know that he did not fail in his purpose, and because of his foresight and preparedness, he was equipped to accept his successive opportunities as a king mounting a throne.

His case is a parable of the relation of the nation to the citizen and of the citizen to the nation. The larger and wider our sense of responsibility within the extreme limits of our capacity, the better it is for both man and mankind. Without it the processes of growth go in halting fashion at best. With the knowledge not only that a man cannot save himself except by losing himself in the services of the public weal, but also that the commonwealth of mankind is in his keeping, the citizen rests in the assurance that his is no mean destiny. The relationship is reciprocal. The citizen must duly exalt the State and serve it with loyalty: the State must nurture the citizen and not have it laid to its charge that through its deficiencies or provincialism there has been lack of fostering care or inspiring claims. The citizen as a soldier suddenly leaps into unwonted splendour. But, after all, the soldier is only the citizen in the garb of self-sacrificing service. The garb may change, the character never.

"For their sakes I sanctify myself" has a new and thrilling meaning in the light of the narrowed and intimate world which current events have suddenly revealed to us. Every one has a mission of influence to the whole of mankind. It is not necessary that there should be conspicuous position for the exercise of it. It manages itself, and is so certain of its path, that it never loses its way. The curious thing is that usually, if not always, a self-conscious attempt to direct or control or place on high our good works impedes the operation. Secrecy is a potent factor in all life processes, and the steady rise to superior character is the most hidden of all operations.

The future development of democracy is at this juncture only just hinted at, but it is safe to say that it aspires to control the fortunes of mankind. It cannot rest in circumscribed areas. It is a force working for social coherence, and for a vast unity without devitalizing lesser permanent group-unities such as the nation. Just as in an emergency it has created an intimacy between nations of a deeper and richer tone than the term "alliance" denotes, so in normal conditions it is capable of so cementing the component parts of the human race together, as to enable mankind, as such, to deal effectively with those colossal problems which are inherently the problems of mankind. We have already made a successful beginning in this direction.

We must not allow self-preference, not to say self-righteousness, to blind us to the measure of truth in the following poem to Germany, written by the young British poet and patriot who died for his country at the age of twenty--

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other's dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other's truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
We'll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

Lord, I praise Thee for the spaciousness of life, its firm foundations and its limitless reaches. Thou hast put my feet in a large room and cast my lot in a fair ground. Yea, I have a goodly heritage. I praise Thee for the vast family of mankind which winds down the ages, gathering into its completeness the successive generations of men. In the shaping of the nations I see Thy creative, superintending hand. Thou art the Father of them all, and it is of Thy purpose that they should all flow into a unity of mutual understanding, forbearance and sympathy. Lord, I would endeavour to further Thy plan by preserving the unity of spirit in the bond of peace in the home, the community, and that part of the society of man in which I have responsibility.

Project Canterbury