“There are certain things which are human nature,” he [the little man] asserted with an owl-like look, “which always have been and always will be, which can’t be changed.”
Amory looked from the small man to the big man helplessly.
“Listen to that! That’s what makes me discouraged with progress. Listen to that! I can name offhand over one hundred natural phenomena that have been changed by the will of many hundred instincts in man that have been wiped out or are now held in check by civilization. What this man here just said has been for thousands of years the last refuge of the associated mutton-heads of the world. It negates the efforts of every scientist, statesman, moralist, reformer, doctor, and philosopher that ever gave his life to humanity’s service. It’s a flat impeachment of all that’s worth while in human nature. Every person over twenty-five years old who makes that statement in cold blood ought to be deprived of the franchise.”
The little man leaned back against the seat, his face purple with rage. Amory continued, addressing his remarks to the big man.
“These quarter-educated, stale-minded men such as your friend here, who think they think, every question that comes up, you’ll find his type in the usual ghastly muddle. One minute it’s ‘the brutality and inhumanity of these Prussians’—the next it’s ‘we ought to exterminate the whole German people.’ They always believe that ‘things are in a bad way now,’ but they ‘haven’t any faith in these idealists.’ One minute they call Wilson ‘just a dreamer, not practical’—a year later they rail at him for making his dreams realities. They haven’t clear logical ideas on one single subject except a sturdy, stolid opposition to all change. They don’t think uneducated people should be highly paid, but they won’t see that if they don’t pay the uneducated people their children are going to be uneducated too, and we’re going round and round in a circle. That – is the great middle class!”
The big man with a broad grin on his face leaned over and smiled at the little man.
“You’re catching it pretty heavy, Garvin; how do you feel?”
The little man made an attempt to smile and act as if the whole matter were so ridiculous as to be beneath notice. But Amory was not through.
“The theory that people are fit to govern themselves rests on this man. If he can be educated to think clearly, concisely, and logically, freed of his habit of taking refuge in platitudes and prejudices and sentimentalisms, then I’m a militant Socialist. If he can’t, then I don’t think it matters much what happens to man or his systems, now or hereafter.”
“I am both interested and amused,” said the big man. “You are very young.”
“Which may only mean that I have neither been corrupted nor made timid by contemporary experience. I possess the most valuable experience, the experience of the race, for in spite of going to college I’ve managed to pick up a good education.”
“You talk glibly.”
“It’s not all rubbish,” cried Amory passionately. “This is the first time in my life I’ve argued Socialism. It’s the only panacea I know. I’m restless. My whole generation is restless. I’m sick of a system where the richest man gets the most beautiful girl if he wants her, where the artist without an income has to sell his talents to a button manufacturer. Even if I had no talents I’d not be content to work ten years, condemned either to celibacy or a furtive indulgence, to give some man’s son an automobile.”
“But, if you’re not sure-”
“That doesn’t matter,” exclaimed Amory. “My position couldn’t be worse. A social revolution might land me on top. Of course I’m selfish. It seems to me I’ve been a fish out of water in too many outworn systems. I was probably one of the two dozen men in my class at college who got a decent education; still they’d let any well-tutored flathead play football and I was ineligible, because some silly old men thought we should all profit by conic sections. I loathed the army. I loathed business. I’m in love with change and I’ve killed my conscience—”
“So you’ll go along crying that we must go faster.”
“That, at least, is true,” Amory insisted. “Reform won’t catch up to the needs of civilization unless it’s made to. A laissez-faire policy is like spoiling a child by saying he’ll turn out all right in the end. He will – if he’s made to.”
“But you don’t believe all this Socialist patter you talk.”
“I don’t know. Until I talked to you I hadn’t thought seriously about it. I wasn’t sure of half of what I said.”
“You puzzle me,” said the big man, “but you’re all alike. They say Bernard Shaw, in spite of his doctrines, is the most exacting of all dramatists about his royalties. To the last farthing.”
“Well,” said Amory, “I simply state that I’m a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation – with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I’ve thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn’t a seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game.”