Principle or Person

It has been said that democracy has stifled personality. Very many hundreds of years ago Aristophanes set out to insist upon something of the same sort in a famous play, but history has hardly borne out his contention. The saying is epigrammatic, but like nearly all epigrams, it descends into a generalization which is unsound. What is meant, of course, is that the jealousies of the crowd prevent the individual from ever getting his shoulders above their heads; in plain English, that the mediocrity of the crowd is preferred to the brilliancy of the few. There would, it need hardly be said, be an element of safety as well as an element of danger in such a consummation. There might, that is to say, be less chance of public opinion being led by an Alcibiades than a town council, but then, on the other hand, a Cromwell or a Washington might never gain an opportunity. As a matter of fact when the "rotten boroughs" were disfranchised, in England, this was the very argument which was used for their retention, but in the years which have followed it has not proved that politics in England have been destitute of brilliant figures.

At the same time, if the world could only come to see it, it is never the person who is followed, though it is curiously true that it is the persona which exerts whatever domination there may be. Now the persona, the Latin word from which person is derived, was the mask worn by the actor to designate the character he was impersonating. Thus the physical personality of the Roman actor was hidden by his mask, and the audience was roused to laughter or to tears by a hidden personality distinguishable to them only by a painted face. Now it is not unlike that in actual everyday affairs. The audience cares very little for the statesman or the orator; it is swayed by the terms of his address, and the terms of his address are formulated either by the human mind, instinct with all the lusts of the flesh and the passions of materiality, or by the ideals given utterance to, which are the reflection, in a larger or a less degree, of the divine Mind, or Principle.

What, then, is really essential to the safety of mankind is that it should be able, as the founder of Christianity told it long ago, to judge righteous judgment. Only in the proportion in which it is able to separate truth from error, does it matter to it whether it is being addressed by an Alcibiades or a Washington, by a Cromwell or a town council. That, surely, is precisely what Mrs. Eddy meant when she wrote, in her article "Personal Contagion," on page 117 of "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany": "'What went ye out for to see?' A person, or a Principle? Whichever it be, determines the right or the wrong of this following." In other words, to mistake Principle for person is quite as dangerous as mistaking person for Principle. The Jewish hierarchy, hearing Jesus the Christ claim that his true self, the Christ, was the Son of God, was maddened and driven on to the committal of the worst crime in history, by mistaking the voice of Principle for the aggrandizement of person, whilst the mob, shouting to-day "Hosanna" and to-morrow "Crucify him," was quite unable to tell whether they were following person or Principle, and so were swayed one moment by the voice of Principle and the next by the mesmerism of evil.

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A Satisfactory Vacation
June 19, 1920

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