“Well meant thoughts don't make bread.” Such is the wisdom heard today the moment one speaks of ideas like those underlying the threefold social order. In view of the gravity of the times, this piece of wisdom may rank with another frequently heard today: “The social question will look different only when people return to work.”
Whoever does not hear these two truths constantly repeated has no ears for the language of public discourse in widespread circles. And even if they are not expressly spoken, one hears these words behind much that is said publicly.
It is hard for the ideas that the age requires to compete against such founts of wisdom because these objections are so incomparably “insightful.” A person need only say, “Show that they are wrong!” for the keenest thinker to recognize his powerlessness. Of course they cannot be refuted; they are obviously perfectly true.
Is this all that is important in life — to say something
that is perfectly true? Is not the all-important task to find thoughts
that can set the facts of the matter into motion? It is a feature of
modern public life (and one which does it great harm) that people will
not combine their thinking with
a sense of reality.
It is only this lack of a sense of reality that stands in the way when one tries to bring fruitful ideas to bear upon modern social troubles. People have long been accustomed to such deficient thinking; however, now it is truly time for a radical change of habits, especially in this aspect of human life.
First, one must perceive how people came to slip into this kind of thinking. One must look at the kind of thought valued by our age.
One such cherished train of social thought goes back to the life and customs of primitive times. People burrow into “primeval ages” to find communistic customs and such things, and draw from this certain conclusions about what should be done today. This train of thought has become very fashionable in pamphlets on the social question, and has thus spread throughout large circles. It may be found today in a great many ideas about “the social question,” especially among the masses.
People might actually have arrived at this particular train of thought with far less effort than has been devoted to it in many quarters. They might have compared human social life with the lives and habits of various wild animals. They would have found that the animals have instinctive functions which lead them to satisfy their needs, and that these instinctive functions are adapted to acquiring in the best way the things nature provides.
The essential point is that in the human being this instinctive functioning must be replaced by conscious, intentional thought. We must build upon the foundation of nature, just like every other creature that must eat to survive. The “bread question” touches the natural foundation of our very existence. But this question exists for every creature that needs food; one cannot possibly talk of “social thinking” in this regard. Social thinking begins only when the human being works upon nature by means of his intellect. Through thinking he makes himself master of the forces of nature; through thinking he brings himself into association with other human beings in a labor process through which the “bread” won from nature becomes a part of general social life. For this life, the “bread question” is an intellectual one. It can mean only, “Which are the fruitful thoughts that can, when realized, guide human labor to the satisfaction of our needs?”
One can readily agree with anyone who, after hearing such an argument, replies, “Really, that is a very primitive piece of wisdom! What is the use of expounding anything that is so self-evident?” Indeed, one would very gladly stop expounding it, if only those who believe it is so superfluous were not the very people who cast it to the winds and destroy all sound social thinking with these words of wisdom: “Bread is not made by thoughts.”
It is the same with that other wise saying, through which people seek to evade the gravity of the social question: “First of all, people should get back to work.” We work when a thought stirs in our soul and sets us working. If one is to work as a member of society as a whole, and at the same time feel one's existence to be one worthy of a human being, social life must be shaped by thoughts that reveal our contribution in the light of human dignity. Certain circles, it is true (socialist ones, moreover), would like to replace this incentive to work with compulsory labor. That is their particular way of avoiding recognition of the need for fruitful social ideas.
The world has been brought to its present pass by those who make it impossible for ideas to effect anything because they run away from them. Salvation is possible only if a strong body of people, who are still able to rouse themselves to sufficient consciousness of the true state of affairs, join together. These people must not grow faint-hearted at this critical time, for they will be buffeted with the scornful words: “Impractical idealist! Utopian dreamer!” These people will do their duty and build, while the scoffers tear down. For everything that the others, with their “magnificent accomplishments,” have built or still wish to build, will fall into ruin because with their dread of ideas and their “practical life” they have built upon a quagmire of false “realities.” Such people are merely weaving delusions around their own routines, and procuring themselves a cheap complacency by scoffing at life's real work. To the open-minded, it is as clear as day; to look at such things clearly is the urgent duty of all who are unafraid to change their way of thinking. The age longs for creative thoughts. This longing will not be silenced, however noisily the foes of thinking may try to drown it out by thoughtlessness and grandiose gestures.