Democracy


I am the bard of democracy—
One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person, nor cease at the theme of one’s-self,
Yet utter the word democratic, the word of the modern, the word en-masse
.
O equality! O organic compacts! I am come to be your born poet!
I speak the password primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
Advancing, to give the spirit and the traits of new democratic ages, myself, personally.

Democracy! near at hand to you a throat is now inflating itself and joyfully singing,
Toward the male of the states, and toward the female of the states,
Exulting words, words to democracy’s lands:
O to bring all to common ground!—nothing will do as well as common ground,
O to sternly reject all except democracy!

My utmost pretension is probably but to offset that old claim of the exclusively curative power of first-class individual men, as leaders and rulers, by the claims, and general movement and result, of ideas. Something of the latter kind is democracy, and is the modern.
A man is not greatest as victor in war, nor inventor or explorer, nor in his intellectual or artistic capacity, or exemplar in some vast benevolence. To the highest democratic view, man is most acceptable in living well the average, practical life and lot which happens to him as ordinary farmer, sea-farer, mechanic, clerk, laborer, or driver.

Always waiting untold in the souls of the armies of common people, is stuff better than anything that can possibly appear in the leadership of the same;
The people—their measureless wealth of latent power and capacity—gives final verdicts;
At the idea of this mass of men, so fresh and free, so loving and so proud, a singular awe falls upon me.

The purpose of democracy is to illustrate this image, this doctrine or theory, of completeness in separatism, of individual personal dignity, of a single person, either male or female, characterized in the main, not from extrinsic acquirements or position, but in the pride of himself or herself alone.

Democracy—the purport and aim of all the past, a great word, whose history remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.
Great are the plunges and throes and triumphs and downfalls of democracy,
As a paramount scheme, it has yet few or no full realizers and believers,
It is not yet anywhere the fully-receiv’d, the fervid, the absolute faith.
Democracy, the destin’d conqueror, yet treacherous lip-smiles everywhere,
And death and infidelity at every step;
I mainly write to him or her within whose thought rages the battle, advancing, retreating, between democracy’s convictions, aspirations, and the people’s crudeness, vice, caprices.

It is useless to deny it: Democracy grows rankly up the thickest, noxious, deadliest plants and fruits of all—brings worse and worse invaders;
I myself see clearly enough the crude, defective streaks in all the strata of the common people; the specimens and vast collections of the ignorant, the credulous, the unfit and uncouth, the incapable;
Truly there is ignorance enough yet among the masses to grow up on mountains of sickness, destitution, and vice;
General humanity has always been full of perverse maleficence, and is so yet.

Democracy has been so retarded and jeopardized by powerful personalities, that its first instincts are fain to clip, conform, bring in stragglers, and reduce everything to a dead level—the all-leveling aggregate of democracy.
That growth and tendency of all modern theology, literature, social manners most to be dreaded, is the feebleness, inertia, the loss of power, the loss of personality being diffused over a vast democratic level;
Modern science and democracy appear to be endangering, perhaps eliminating, that primal and interior something in man, in his soul’s abysms, coloring all, and, by exceptional fruitions, giving the last majesty to him.

In downcast hours the soul thinks it always will be—but soon recovers from such sickly moods. That forms an appearance only; the reality is quite different.
Much quackery teems, of course, even on democracy’s side, yet does not really affect the orbic quality of the matter;
The new influences, upon the whole, are surely preparing the way for grander individualities than ever.
The most marked peculiarity of modern philosophy is toward the special subjective, the theory of individuality.
I have allow’d the stress of my poems from beginning to end to bear upon the all-varied, all-permitting, all-free theorem of individuality and assist it as counterpoise to the leveling tendencies of democracy.

I do not put it either on the ground that the people, the masses, even the best of them, are, in their latent or exhibited qualities, essentially sensible and good—nor on the ground of their rights; but that good or bad, rights or no rights, the democratic formula is the only safe and preservative one for coming times. We endow the masses with the suffrage for their own sake, no doubt; then, perhaps still more, from another point of view, for community’s sake.
Equality of all rights and persons is imperiously demanded by self-preservation. The cause of the ruin of all states that have been ruined has been that the whole body of the inhabitants without exception were not equally interested in the preservation of those states or cities—or that a portion was degraded.

Democracy, with all its threatening evils, supplies a training-school. It is life’s gymnasium, not of good only, but of all. We try often, though we fall back often. A brave delight, fit for freedom’s athletes, fills these arenas, and fully satisfies, out of the action in them, irrespective of success.
With the noble democratic spirit
the democratic wisdom underneath, like solid ground for all—even accompanied by its freaks and excesses—no people can ever become enslaved.

What does civilization itself rest upon—and what object has it, with its religions, arts, schools, etc.—but rich, luxuriant, varied personalism? To that, all bends; and it is because toward such result democracy alone breaks up the limitless fallows of humankind, and plants the seed, and gives fair play, that its claims now precede the rest;
The seed but sown—the test the fruit. 

I say democracy is only of use that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruits in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between men, and their beliefs—in religion, literature, colleges, and schools—democracy in all public and private life, and in the army and navy.
I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil, until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past, under opposite influences.
Indirectly, but surely, goodness, virtue, law, (of the very best,) follow freedom. These, to democracy, are what the keel is to the ship, or saltness to the ocean.

The word democracy is, in some sort, younger brother of another great and often-used word, nature;
Democracy most of all affiliates with the open air, is sunny and hardy and sane only with nature,
I conceive of no flourishing and heroic elements of democracy without the nature-element forming a main part—to be its health-element and beauty-element.
To a president:  All you are doing and saying is dangled mirages,
You have not learn’d of nature—of the politics of nature you have not learn’d the great amplitude, rectitude, impartiality—nothing supersedes the rest—
One good of knowing the great politics of nature is to initiate their rectitude and impartiality in all the politics of the state.

The democracy I favor (if forced to choose) willingly leaves all material and political successes to enter upon and enjoy the moral, philosophical and religious ones;
I say at the core of democracy, finally, is a sane and pervading religiousness,
Religion—true, divine, the leveler—touches, infuses every one, is democracy and greater than democracy.
As democracy and science in the modern have an entire lack of what in Greece and Rome was furnished by reverence for the gods—the future must substitute it by a new feeling, a profound and tender enthusiasm for the people, and especially for the poorer and less favored and educated masses. This must take the place of Jupiter and the gods.

It is not that democracy is of exhaustive account, in itself. Perhaps, indeed, it is, (like nature,) of no account in itself. It is that, as we see, it is the best, perhaps only, fit and full means, formulater, general caller-forth, trainer, for the millions, not for grand material personalities only, but for the ultimate democratic purports, the ethereal and spiritual ones—immortal souls.
It is no less than this idea of immortality, above all other ideas, that is to enter into, and vivify, and give crowning religious stamp, to democracy—
Democracy, while weapons were everywhere aim’d at your breast,
I saw you serenely give birth to immortal children.

NEXT: THE POET AS DEMOCRAT