Social Organization

Chapter 17: The Trend of Sentiment (continued)

Charles Horton Cooley

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THE sentiment of mutual kindness or brotherhood is a simple and widespread thing, belonging not only to man in every stage of his development, but extending, in a crude form, over a great part of animal life. Prince Kropotkin, in his Mutual Aid a Factor in Evolution, has collected illustrations of its universality and significance. ". . . the necessity of communicating impressions," he says, "of playing, of chattering, or of simply feeling the proximity of other kindred living beings pervades nature, and is, as much as any other physiological function, a distinctive feature of life and impressionability."[1] Darwin perceived, what Kropotkin and others have illustrated with convincing fulness, that this fusing kindliness underlies all higher phases of evolution, and is essential to the cooperative life in which thought and power are developed. The popular notion that kindly sentiment can only be a hindrance to the survival of the fittest is a somewhat pernicious misapprehension.

This sentiment flourishes most in primary groups, where, as we have seen, it contributes to an ideal of moral unity of which kindness is a main part. Under its in-

(190) fluence the I-feeling becomes a we-feeling, which seeks, no good that is not also the good of the group. And the humanism of our time strives with renewed energy to make the we-feeling prevail also in the larger phases of life. "We must demand," says a writer who lives very close to the heart of the people,[2] " that the individual shall be willing to lose the sense of personal achievement, and shall be content to realize his activity only in connection with the activity of the many." Huxley at one time felt this so strongly as to say, "If I had 400 pounds a year I would never let my name appear to anything I did or shall do.' [3]

Such utterances, though significant, are one-sided, and it is perhaps more in the way of real progress to demand, not that the sense of personal achievement shall be given up, but that it shall be more allied with fellow-feeling. The sort of ambition congenial to the we-feeling is one directed toward those common aims in which the success of one is the success of all, not toward admiration or riches. Material goods, one feels, should not be appropriated for pride or luxury, but, being limited in amount, should be used in a consciousness of the general need, and apportioned by rules of justice framed to promote a higher life in the whole.

Much might be said of the we-feeling as joy:

Perchè quanto si dice piu li nostro,
Tanto possiede piu di ben ciascuno,
E piu di caritate arde in quel chiostro.[4]


For there, as much the more as one says Our,
So much the more of good each one possesseth,
And more of charity in that cloister burns.[5]

There is nothing more wholesome or less pursued by compunction. To mingle our emotions with fellowship enlarges and soothes them; even resentment on behalf of us is less rankling than on behalf of only me, and there is something cheerful in suffering wrong in friendly company. One of the most obvious things about selfishness is the unhappiness of it, the lack of imaginative expatiation, of the inspiration of working consciously with a vast whole, of "the exhilaration and uplift which come when the individual sympathy and intelligence is caught into the forward intuitive movement of the mass." [6]Fellowship is thus a good kind of joy in that it is indefinitely diffusible; though by no means incapable of abuse, since it may be cultivated at the expense of truth, sanity and individuality.

Everything that tends to bring mankind together in larger wholes of sympathy and understanding tends to enlarge the reach of kindly feeling. Among the conditions that most evidently have this effect are facility of communication and the acceptance of common principles. These permit the contact and fusion of minds and tend to mould the group into a moral whole.

In times of settled principles and of progress in the arts of communication the idea of the brotherhood of man has a natural growth; as it had under the Roman Empire. On the other hand, it is dissipated by whatever breaks up

(192) the moral unity and makes human interests seem inconsistent. Not only war, but all kinds of destructive or unregulated competition, in which the good of one party appears to be a private good gained by the harm of an other, are reflected in the mind by unkindly feeling. What human nature needs is—not the disappearance of opposition, which would be death—but the suppression of destructive forms, and the control of all forms by principles of justice and kindness, so that men may feel that the good survives.

As regards the bearing of contemporary conditions upon the spirit of brotherhood, we find forces at work so conflicting that it is easy to reach opposite conclusions, according to the bias of the observer.

The enlargement of consciousness has brought a broadening of sentiment in all directions. As a rule kindly feeling follows understanding, and there was never such opportunity and encouragement to understand as there is now. Distant peoples—Russians, Chinese and South Sea Islanders; alienated classes—criminals, vagrants, idiots and the insane, are brought close to us, and the natural curiosity of man about his fellows is exploited and stimulated by the press. Indeed, the decried habit of reading the newspapers contributes much to a general we-feeling, since the newspaper is a reservoir of commonplace thought of which every one partakes—and which he knows he may impute to every one else—pervading the world with a conscious community of sentiment which: tends toward kindliness.

Even more potent, perhaps, is the indirect action of

(193) communication in making it possible to organize all phases of life on a larger scale and on a more human basis; in promoting democracy and breaking down caste. Under a~ democratic system the masses have means of self-expression; they vote, strike, and print their views. They have power, and this, at bottom, is the source of all respect and consideration. People of other classes have to think of them, feel with them and recognize them as of a common humanity. Moreover, in tending to wipe out conventional distinctions and leave only those that are functional, democracy fosters the notion of an organic whole, from which all derive and in which they find their value. A sense of common nature and purpose is thus nourished, a conscious unity of action which gives the sense of fellowship. It comes to be assumed that men are of the same stuff, and a kind of universal sympathy—not incompatible with opposition—is spread abroad. It is realized that "there are diversities of gifts but the same spirit."

On the other hand, our life is full of a confusion which often leaves the individual conscious only of his separateness, engaged in a struggle which, so far as he sees, has no more relation to justice and the common good than a dog-fight. Whether he win or lose makes, in this case, little difference as to the effect upon his general view of life: he infers that the world is a place where one must either eat or be eaten; the idea of the brotherhood of man appears to be an enervating sentimentalism, and the true philosophy that of the struggle for existence, which he understands in a brutal sense opposite to the real teaching of science. Nothing could be more uncongenial to the we

(194) feeling than this view, which unfortunate experience has prepared many to embrace, taking from life, as it does, its breadth and hopefulness, the joy and inspiration of working in a vast and friendly whole.

Probably most of us are under the sway of both of these tendencies. We feel the new idealism, the sweep and exhilaration of democracy, but we practice, nevertheless, a thrifty exploitation of all the private advantages we can decently lay our hands on; nor have we the moral vigor to work out any reconciliation of these principles. Experience shows, I think, that until a higher sentiment, like brotherly kindness, attains some definite organization and programme, so that men are held up to it, it is remarkably ineffective in checking selfish activities. People drift on and on in lower courses, which at bottom they despise and dislike, simply because they lack energy and initiative to get out of them. How true it is that many of us would like to be made to be better than we are. I have seen promising idealists grow narrow, greedy and sensual—and of course unhappy—as they prospered in the world; for no reason, apparently, but lack of definite stimulation to a higher life. There is firm ground for the opinion that human nature is prepared for a higher organization than we have worked out.

Certainly there is, on the whole, a more lively and hopeful pursuit of the brotherhood of man in modern democracy than there ever was, on a large scale, before. One who is not deaf to the voices of literature, of social agitation, of ordinary intercourse, can hardly doubt this. The social settlement and similar movements express it, and

(195)-so, more and more, does the whole feeling of our society regarding richer and poorer. Philanthropy is not only extending, but undergoing a revolution of principle from alms to justice and from condescension to fellowship. The wealthy and the educated classes feel, however vaguely, that they must justify their advantages to their fellow men and their own consciences by making some public use of them. Gifts—well meant if not always wise—to education, science and philanthropy are increasing, and there was never, perhaps, a more prevalent disposition to make unusual mental acquirements available toward general culture.

Even the love of publicity and display, said to mark our rich people, has its amiable side as indicating a desire to impress general opinion, rather than that of an exclusive class. Indeed, if there is anywhere in American society an exclusive and self-sufficient kind of people, they are not a kind who have much influence upon the general spirit.

The same sentiment incites us, in our better moments, to shun habits, modes of dress and the like that are not good in themselves and merely accentuate class lines; to save on private and material objects so as to have the more energy to be humanly, spiritually, alive. This, for example, is the teaching of Thoreau, whose works, especially his Walden, have latterly a wide circulation. If Thoreau seems a little too aloof and fastidious to represent democracy, this is not the case with Whitman, who had joy in the press of cities, and whose passion was to "utter the word Democratic, the word En Masse."[7] His chants express a great gusto in common life: "All this I

(196) swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine; I am the man, I suffered, I was there."[8] "Whoever degrades another degrades me." [9]"By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms." [10]" I believe the main purport of these states is to found a superb friendship, exalte, previously unknown." [11]

On the whole, Americans may surely claim that there was never before a great nation in which the people felt so much like a family, had so kindly and cheerful a sense of a common life. It is not only that the sentiment has a wider range; there is also more faith in its future, more belief that government and other institutions can be made to express it. And the popular agitation of all countries manifests the same belief—socialism, and even anarchism, as well as the labor movement and the struggle against monopoly and corruption.

A larger spirit of service is the active side of democratic feeling. A life of service of some sort—in behalf of the clan or tribe, of the chief, of the sovereign, of the mistress, of the Church, of God—has always been the ideal life, since no imaginative and truly human mind contents itself with a separate good: what is new is that the object of this service tends to become wider, with the modern expansion of the imagination, and to include all classes, all nations and races, in its ideal scope. The narrower boundaries do not disappear, but as they become less distinct the greater whole becomes more so. As the child grows until he can see over the hedges bounding his early

(197) playground, so the democratized individual has outgrown the limits of the clan or the caste.

In the United States, at least, the feeling that everybody ought to be doing something useful is so established that there s no influential class within which idleness is respectable. Whatever narrowness there may be in this spirit, in the way of undervaluing activities whose usefulness is of an inobvious sort, it is sound on the whole and does incalculable service in redeeming riches from vulgarity and corruption. If it be true, as is asserted, that the children of the wealthy, with us, are on the whole less given to sloth and vice than the same class in older countries, the reason is to be found in a healthier, more organic state of public opinion which penetrates all classes with the perception that the significance of the individual lies in his service to the whole. That this sentiment is gaining in our colleges is evident to those who know anything of these institutions. Studies that throw light on the nature and working of society, past or present, and upon the opportunities of service or distinction which it offers to the individual, are rapidly taking the place, for purposes of culture, of studies whose human value is less, or not so apparent. Classes in history—political, industrial and social—in economics, in government and administration, in sociology and ethics, in charities and penology, are larger year by year. And the young people, chiefly from the well-to-do classes, who seek these studies, are one and all adherents of the democratic idea that privilege must be earned by function.

The tendency of manners well expresses that of sentiment, and seems to be toward a spontaneous courtesy,

(198) expressing truth and equality as against the concealment and, sometimes, the arrogance, of mere polish. The best practice appears to be to put yourself, on approaching another, into as open and kindly a frame of mind toward him as you can, but not to try to express more than you feel, preferring coldness to affected warmth. Democracy IS too busy and too fond of truth and human nature to like formality, except as an occasional amusement. A merely formal politeness goes with a crystallized society, indicating a certain distrust of human nature and desire to cloak or supplant it by propriety. Thus a Chinese teacher, having a rare opportunity to send a message to his old mother, called one of his pupils saying, " Here, take this paper and write me a letter to my mother." This proceeding struck the observer as singular, and he enquired if the lad was acquainted with the teacher's mother, learning that the boy did not even know there was such a person. "How, then, was he to know what to say, not having been told ? " To this the schoolmaster made reply: "Doesn't he know quite well what to say ? For more than a year he has been studying literary composition, and he is acquainted with a number of elegant formulas. Do you think he does not know perfectly well how a son ought to write to a mother?" The letter would have answered equally well for any other mother in the Empire.[12] Here is one extreme, and the kindly frontiersman with "no manners at all" is at the other.

No doubt form, in manners as well as elsewhere, is capable of a beauty and refinement of its own, and probably raw democracy goes to an anarchic excess in depreci-

(199)-ating it; but the sentiment of reality which demands that form and content should agree, is perhaps a permanent factor in the best manners.

Conflict, of some sort, is the life of society, and progress emerges from a struggle in which each individual, class or institution seeks to realize its own idea of good. The intensity of this struggle varies directly as the vigor of the people, and its cessation, if conceivable, would be death. There is, then, no prospect of an amiable unanimity, and the question arises, What change, if any, in the nature of opposition and of hostility, accompanies the alleged growth of the sense of brotherhood ?

The answer to this is probably best sought by asking ourselves what is the difference between the opposition of friends and that of enemies. Evidently the former may be as energetic as the latter, but it is less personal: that is, it is not directed against the opponent as a whole, but against certain views or purposes which the opponent— toward whom a kindly feeling is still cherished—for the time being represents. The opposition of enemies, on the other hand, involves a personal antagonism and is gratified by a personal injury.

Well-conducted sports are a lesson to every one that fair and orderly opposition may even promote good fellowship; and familiarity with them, in primary groups, is an excellent preparation for the friendly competition that ought to prevail in society at large. Indeed it is only through opposition that we learn to understand one another. In the moment of struggle the opposing agentmay arouse anger, but afterward the mind, more at ease,

(200) views with respect and interest that which has exhibited so much force. It seems evident, for instance, that the self-assertion of the wage-earning class, so far as it is orderly and pursuant of ideals which all classes share, has commanded not only the respect but the good will of the people at large. Weakness—intrinsic weakness, the failure of the member to assert its function—is instinctively despised. I am so far in sympathy with the struggle for existence as to think that passive kindliness alone, apart from self-assertion, is a demoralizing ideal, or would be if it were likely to become ascendant. But the self which is asserted, the ideal fought for, must be a generous one— involving perhaps self-sacrifice as that is ordinarily understood—or the struggle is degrading.

The wider contact which marks modern life, the suppling of the imagination which enables it to appreciate diverse phases of human nature, the more instructed sense of justice, brings in a larger good will which economizes personal hostility without necessarily diminishing opposition. In primitive life the reaction of man against man is crude, impulsive, wasteful. Violent anger is felt against the opponent as a whole and expressed by a general assault. Civilized man, trained to be more discriminating, strikes at tendencies rather than persons, and avoids so far as possible hostile emotion, which he finds painful and exhausting. As an opponent he is at once kinder and more formidable than the savage.

Perhaps the most urgent need of the present time, so far as regards the assuaging of antipathy, is some clearer consciousness of what may be called, in the widest sense, the rules of the game; that is, for accepted ideals of justice

(201) which conscience and public opinion may impose upon reasonable men, and law upon the unreasonable. In the lack of clear notions of right and duty the orderly test of strength degenerates into a scuffle, in which the worst passions are released and low forms of power tend to prevail—just as brutal and tricky methods prevail in ill-regulated sports. We need a popular ethics which is at once Christian and evolutionary, recognizing unity of spirit alongside of diversity of standpoint; a cooperative competition, giving each individual, group or race a fair chance for higher self-assertion under conditions so just as to give the least possible occasion for ill-feeling. Something of this sort is in fact the ideal in accordance with which modern democracy hopes to reconstruct a somewhat disordered world.

There is a French maxim, much quoted of late, to the effect that to understand all is to pardon all: all animosity, as some interpret this, is a mistake; when we fully understand we cease to blame. This, however, is only a half-truth, and becomes a harmful fallacy when it is made to stand for the whole. It is true that if we wholly lose ourselves in another's state of mind blame must disappear: perhaps nothing is felt as wrong by him who does it at the very instant it is done. But this is more than we have a right to do: it involves that we renounce our moral individuality, the highest part of our being, and become a mere intelligence. The fact that every choice is natural to the mind that chooses does not make it right.

The truth is that we must distinguish, in such questions as this, two attitudes of mind, the active and the con-

(202)-templative, both natural and having important functions, but neither by itself sufficient. Pure contemplation sees things and their relations as a picture and with no sense of better or worse; it does not care; it is the ideal of science and speculative philosophy. lf one could be completely in this state of mind he would cease to be a self altogether. All active personality, and especially all sense of right and wrong, of duty, responsibility, blame, praise and the like, depend upon the mind taking sides and having particular desires and purposes.

The unhappiness of bad men, maintained by Socrates, depends upon their badness being brought home to them in conscience. If, because of their insensibility or lack of proper reproof, the error of their way is not impressed upon them, they have no motive to reform. The fact that the evil-doer has become such gradually, and does not realize the evil in him, is no reason why we should not blame him; it is the function of blame to make him and others realize it, to define evil and declare it in the sight of men. We may pardon the evil-doer when he is dead, or has sincerely and openly repented, not while he remains a force for wrong.

It seems that the right way lies between the old vindictiveness and the view now somewhat prevalent that crime should be regarded without resentment, quite like a disease of the flesh. The resentment of society, if just and moderate, is a moral force, and definite forms of punishment are required to impress it upon the general mind. If crime is a disease it is a moral disease and calls for moral remedies, among which is effective resentment. It is right that one who harms the state should go to prison

(203) in the sight of all; but it is right also that all should understand that this is done for the defence of society, and not because the offender is imagined to be another kind of man from the rest of us.

The democratic movement, insomuch as it feels a common spirit in all men, is of the same nature as Christianity; and it is said with truth that while the world was never so careless as now of the mechanism of religion, it was never so Christian in feeling. A deeper sense of a common life, both as incarnated in the men about us and as inferred in some larger whole behind and above them— in God—belongs to the higher spirit of democracy as it does to the teaching of Jesus.

He calls the mind out of the narrow and transient self of sensual appetites and visible appurtenances, which all of us in our awakened moments feel to be inferior, and fills it with the incorrupt good of higher sentiment. We are to love men as brothers, to fix our attention upon the best that is in them, and to make their good our own ambition.

Such ideals are perennial in the human heart and as sound in psychology as in religion. The mind, in its best moments, is naturally Christian; because when we are most fully alive to the life about us the sympathetic becomes the rational; what is good for you is good for me because I share your life; and I need no urging to do by you as I would have you do by me. Justice and kindness are matters of course, and also humility, which comes from being aware of something superior to your ordinary self. To one in whom human nature is fully awake " Love

(204) your enemies and do good to them that despitefully use you" is natural and easy, because despiteful people are seen to be in a state of unhappy aberration from the higher life of kindness and there is an impulse to help them to get back. The awakened mind identifies itself with other persons, living the sympathetic life and following the golden rule by impulse.

To put it otherwise, Christ and modern democracy alike represent a protest against whatever is dead in institutions, and an attempt to bring life closer to the higher impulses of human nature. There is a common aspiration to effectuate homely ideals of justice and kindness. The modern democrat is a plain man and Jesus was another. It is no wonder, then, that the characteristic thought of the day is preponderantly Christian, in the sense of sharing the ideals of Christ, and that in so far as it distrusts the Church it is on the ground that the Church is not Christian enough.

But how far, after all, is this brotherly and peaceful sentiment, ancient or modern, applicable to life as we know it? Is it feasible, is it really right, is it not a sentiment of submission in a world that grows by strife ? After what has already been said on this, it is perhaps enough to add here that neither in the life of Christ nor in modern democracy do we find sanction for submission to essential, moral wrong. Christ brought a sword which the good man of our day can by no means sheathe: his counsels of submission seem to refer to merely personal injuries, which it may be better to overlook in order to keep the conflict on a higher plane. If we mean by Christianity an understanding and brotherly spirit toward all men

(205) and a reverence for the higher Life behind them, expressed in an infinite variety of conduct according to conditions, it would seem to be always right, and always feasible, so far as we have strength to rise to it.

The most notable reaction of democracy upon religious sentiment is no doubt a tendency to secularize it, to fix it upon human life rather than upon a vague other world. So soon as men come to feel that society is not a machine controlled chiefly by the powers of darkness, but an expression of human nature, capable of reflecting whatever good human nature can rise to; so soon, that is, as there comes to be a public will, the religious spirit is drawn into social idealism. Why dream of a world to come when there is hopeful activity in this ? God, it seems, is to be found in human life as well as beyond it, and social service is a method of his worship. " If ye love not your brother whom ye have seen, how can ye love God whom ye have not seen ?"

An ideal democracy is in its nature religious, and its true sovereign may be said to be the higher nature, or God, which it aspires to incarnate in human institutions.


  1. Page 55.
  2. Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics, 275.
  3. Quoted in The Commons, October, 1903.
  4. Dante, Purgatorio, 15, 55-57. He is speaking of Paradise.
  5. Longfellow's Translation.
  6. Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics, 272.
  7. Leaves of Grass (1884), page 9.
  8. Idem, 59.
  9. Idem, 48.
  10. Idem, 48.
  11. Idem, 110.
  12. Arthur H. Smith, Chinese Characteristics, 181.

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