I see a good in such emphatic & universal calamity as the times bring, that they dissatisfy me with society
I see a good in such emphatic & universal calamity as the times bring, that they dissatisfy me with society. Under common burdens we say that there is much virtue in the world & what evil coexists is inevitable. I am not aroused to say, ‘I have sinned; I am in the gall of bitterness, & bond of iniquity’; but when the full measures come, it then stands confessed—Society has played out its last stake; it is checkmated. Young men have no hope. Adults stand like daylaborers idle in the streets. None calleth us to labor. The old wear no crown of warm light on the grey hairs. The present generation is bankrupt of principles & hope, as of property. I see man is not what man should be. He is the treadle of the wheel. He is a tassel at the apron string of Society. He is the servant of his belly. This is the causal bankruptcy—this the cruel oppression that the ideal should serve the actual; that the head should serve the feet. Then first I am forced to inquire if the Ideal might not also be tried. Is it to be taken for granted that it is impracticable? Behold the boasted world has come to nothing. Prudence itself is at her wits’ end. Pride, and Thrift, & Expediency, who jeered and chirped and was so well pleased with themselves and made merry with the dream as they termed it of philosophy & love: Behold they are all flat and here is the Soul direct and Unconquered still. What answer is it now to say—it has always been so.—I acknowledge that as far back as I can see the winding procession of humanity the marchers are lame & blind & deaf; but, to the soul, that whole past is but the finite series in its infinite scope. Deteriorating ever and now desperate. Let me begin anew. Let me teach the finite to know its Master. Let me ascend above my fate and work down upon my world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks 5:331