To prepare the society of tomorrow, we must first grasp the reality of today. This apprehension of reality demands a sincere and persistent effort to understand the events going on about us, not only in our own village or town but also in the nation and the world.
No effort is more difficult. Both in Europe and in America we are all alike immersed in the lies of the radio as well as those of newspapers and books. The subtle techniques of propaganda have to all intents and purposes suppressed liberty of thought. We have not fully realized the humiliation and danger of this new form of slavery and we have not yet learned how to rebel against it.
Furthermore, during catastrophic periods of history, a strange darkness always spreads over the masses as well as over their leaders. The French, for example, have not yet understood the significance of the defeat They continue to live obstinately with the ghosts of the past in a world as unreal as a stage setting.
The democracies of Europe and America suffer from a declining birth rate, from diminished public and private wealth and from an enormous increase of expenditure due to the war. The same symptoms were observable during the Peloponnesian War at the beginning of the decline of ancient Greece. But, just as in Greece, the causes of our decline are moral rather than political or economic. In the years before the war, the disunity and lack of patriotism of the people and the dishonesty of their leaders were no less evident in France than in Greece at the time of Demosthenes.
It is important to understand that the principal phenomenon of our time is not universal war. Undoubtedly the last war was a formidable event in the history of Europe. It was, nevertheless, only an accident; a sharp crisis in a chronic disease, hitherto incurable, which has attacked all former civilizations at a certain point in their history.
The danger is, therefore, extreme. Nevertheless, we have some reason to hope that history will not repeat itself for us since we possess means of knowing and acting not available to our ancestors. For the first time in the history of the world, a civilization which has arrived at the verge of its decline is able to diagnose its ills. Perhaps it will be able to use this knowledge and, thanks to the marvelous forces of science, to avoid the common fate of all the great peoples of the past. We ought to launch ourselves on this new path from this very moment.
We are incapable, in our present state of division and confusion, of transforming our institutions all at once. Modern society is a heavy construction weighed down with all the errors of the past. At this moment we have neither the intelligence nor the strength to build up every single part of a new world. Before renewing our institutions, we must renovate ourselves and this effort of renovation can be begun here and now by anyone who chooses. It may seem absurd to believe that we, obscure as we are, should be capable of effecting the revival of our nation by a tiny individual effort. Yet a very feeble effort becomes irresistible when it is multiplied millions of times. No one should think his contribution to the common work useless, however insignificant it may seem to himself.
Nothing is harder than to strip oneself of one's egoism, intemperance, boorishness and laziness; of all those vices which arrest the development of our personality and make us odious to others.
We must go untiringly repeating this extremely arduous and difficult attempt to reconstruct ourselves, with the help of physiology and psychology, until we succeed. Once we have recovered our strength and our clearness of vision, we can begin the transformation of our methods of education, our ways of life, our legislation and our government. Thus, little by little, there will develop a social environment in which the generation which succeeds us will be able to develop all the potentialities hidden in the germ plasm. It is thus that, stone by stone, the new City will come to be built.
Life only develops to its fullest and best in appropriate conditions, conditions which society has gradually created over thousands of years. Isolated and independent man has never existed except in the imagination of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We depend entirely on other men: on those who live with us and above all on those who have preceded us. Society is composed of the dead as well as the living. Robinson Crusoe would not have survived without the help of the tools and the weapons he found. Even in his solitude, he benefited from the efforts of other men.
The future will be what we are ourselves. It is beyond doubt that the principle of least effort, the morality of pleasure and Liberalism are in contradiction to the laws of conduct inscribed in the very structure of our body and soul. They must therefore be firmly rejected.
What will life, as it demands to be lived, give us in exchange for the satisfaction of our sloth and our appetites? At first it will bring us effort, sacrifice and suffering like any discipline intended for the training of the mind, organs or muscles. Later it will bring us something of inestimable value; something of which those who live only for pleasure, profit or amusement will always be deprived. This peculiar, indefinable joy, which one must have felt oneself to understand, is the sign with which life marks its moment of triumph; the moment when our physical and mental activities attain the end prescribed by the order of things. It is the joy of the runner breasting the tape, of the artist before his work, of the woman hearing the first cry of her newborn child, of the scientist on the verge of a discovery, of the hero leading his people to victory, of the saint falling asleep in the peace of the Lord.
Before those who perfectly perform their task as men, the road of truth lies always open. On this royal road, the poor as well as the rich, the weak as well as the strong, believer and unbeliever alike are invited to advance. If they accept this invitation, they are sure of accomplishing their destiny, of participating in the sublime work of evolution, of hastening the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. And, over and above, they will attain all the happiness compatible with our human condition.