Sin and Society

A Letter

Theodore Roosevelt

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September 19, 1907.

My dear Professor Ross

It was to justice Holmes that I owed the pleasure and profit of reading your book on Social Control. The Justice spoke of it to me as one of the strongest and most striking presentations of the subject he had ever seen. I got it at once and was deeply interested in it. Since then I have read whatever you have written. I have been particularly pleased with the essays which, as you tell me, you are now to publish in permanent form. You define "sin" as conduct that harms another in contradistinction to cc vice," by which we mean practices that harm one's self; and you attack as they should be attacked the men who at the present day do more harm to the body politic by their sinning than all others. With almost all that you write I am in full and hearty sympathy. As you well say, if a ring is to be put in the snout of the greedy strong, only organized society can do it. You war against the vast iniquities in modern busi-

(x) -ness, finance, politics, journalism, due to the ineffectiveness of public opinion in coping with the dominant types of wrong-doing in a huge, rich, highly complex industrial civilization like ours. You show that the worst evils we have to combat have inevitably evolved along with the evolution of society itself, and that the perspective of conduct must change from age to age, so that our moral judgment may be recast in order more effectively to hold to account the really dangerous foes of our present civilization. You do not confine yourself to mere destructive criticism. Your plea is for courage, for uprightness, for far-seeing sanity, for active constructive work. There is no reason why we should feel despondent over the outlook of modern civilization, but there is every reason why we should be fully alert to the dangers ahead. Modern society has developed to a point where there is real cause for alarm lest we shall go the way of so many ancient communities, where the state was brought to ruin because politics became the mere struggle of class against class. Your book is emphatically an appeal to the general sense of right as opposed to mere class interest. As you put it, the danger is as great if the law is twisted

xi) to be an instrument of the greed of one class as if it is twisted to be an instrument of the vengefulness of another. You reject that most mischievous of socialist theses, viz. : that progress is to be secured by the strife of classes. You insist, as all healthy-minded patriots should insist, that public opinion, if only sufficiently enlightened and aroused, is equal to the necessary regenerative tasks and can yet dominate the future. Your book is wholesome and sane and I trust that its influence will be widespread.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt


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