Since each individual is different from all the rest, no code of conduct can be indiscriminately applied to all. Some have such highly individual temperaments that the customary roles cannot be applied to them without special adaptation. At first sight, it would seem that rules as universal as the three we have been discussing applied to all men of all races at all times. Nevertheless, this is not so. The history of Europe and America shows many examples of individuals who have transgressed these laws without bringing catastrophes either on themselves or on their neighbors. On the contrary, some of these transgressions have been immensely profitable both to society and to the race. St. Francis of Assisi did more for humanity by praying and begging than if he had been the father of a large family. It was also better that Amundsen should have sacrificed himself in the hope of saving Nobile than that he should have lived quietly at home to an advanced age. Though the laws of conservation and propagation are imperative, they nevertheless allow of exceptions. The law of spiritual development, on the contrary, is inflexible. Sometimes it is permissible to sacrifice life to the spirit but it is always forbidden to sacrifice the spirit to save one's life.
What course should we adopt when opposition arises in our innermost souls between the orders imposed by the basic laws of life? We must behave as the very structure of things demands of us. We know that there is a hierarchy in our natural duties. The life of an individual is less important than that of his descendants for nature in general sacrifices the individual to its progeny. When everyone prefers his own life to that of the nation, as happened in Rome, the nation collapses. In the human species, spiritual development is the supreme law. To convince oneself that this is so one only needs to observe the state of decline into which a population, infected at once with lack of moral discipline and intellectual infantilism, naturally falls.
The call of the spirit manifests itself more imperiously in many individuals than the call of life. Those who die to save a civilization respond magnificently to this call. So too do the legions of men and women who, in all ages, have transgressed the law of reproduction in order to pursue an ideal of patriotism, charity, beauty or love. Such is the soldier who dies weapon in hand; such are those who become poor and help the poor like Francis of Assisi or Vincent de Paul; such are those who, following the example of St. Benedict, dedicated themselves to God in the religious life.
What rule imposes itself today on those who prefer other duties to that of reproducing life; to those men, and particularly those women, who feel impelled to devote their life to science, charity or religion? As their number is relatively small in proportion to the whole population, it is permissible for them to obey the call of the spirit. We need apostles who will put themselves entirely at the service of Children, mothers, the old and the abandoned. We also need brave and single-hearted enthusiasts capable of abandoning the world to devote themselves to the discovery and apprehension of reality, in laboratories, and monasteries. For the clever, the cunning and the prudent have made a resounding failure and our world is crumbling.
Sometimes subtler conflicts between the different mental activities arise: for example, between reason and feeling. What relative importance should be given to intellectual culture and to moral, esthetic and religious? Ought not certain of the nonintellectual activities of the spirit be developed in preference to others according to a person's temperament? Experience shows that the moral framework is more important both for the individual and for his social group than scientific, literary or philosophical knowledge.
Certainly the adapting of rules of conduct to each individual is not always an easy task The laws of mental life are not as sharply defined as those of chemistry or physiology. A given rule has not the same relevance for a child, an adult or an old person. Nor can it be applied in just the same way to impulsive, scrupulous, depressed, bold or timid natures. The majority of human beings need a guide not only in their spiritual and social conduct but also in their physiological behavior. Very few are capable of directing themselves entirely on their own. Unfortunately, in modern society, there exist no men who specialize in being wise and in helping others with their wisdom. In bygone days, some old family doctors were sufficiently honest and had a wide enough knowledge of life to play the part of spiritual and temporal directors. But today the doctor has become a tradesman. No one would dream of asking a nose or liver or lung specialist for advice on the subject of his personal difficulties. As to the doctors who specialize in the whole behavior of the individual, such as the psychoanalysts, their intervention is sometimes useful, sometimes disastrous, and usually inadequate.
To teach men how to conduct their lives, we need guides who combine a knowledge of the modern world with the science of the doctor, the wisdom of the philosopher and the conscience of the priest; in other words, ascetics who have experience of life and are learned in the science of man. Perhaps a religious order whose members possessed a character at once scientific and sacerdotal should be founded for this very end. These men, when they had reached the threshold of old age, would be qualified to serve as guides to the vast flock of those who wander in universal confusion. It would be incumbent on such men to adjust the general rules of the conduct of life to the needs of each individual.