Show me a man or woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call “society.” Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare.
The first time someone sent an insulting letter to someone else instead of throwing a rock at him was the day civilization began.
Surely history does not start anew with each decade. The roots of one era branch and flower in subsequent eras. Human beings, writings, invisible transmitters of all kinds, carry messages across the generations.
There is a tendency for living things to join up, establish linkages, live inside each other, return to earlier arrangements, get along whenever possible. This is the way of the world. . . . The whole dear notion of one’s own self — marvelous old free-willed, free-enterprising, autonomous, independent, isolated island of a Self — is a myth.
You say to yourself when you are at liberty how desperate you are for your solitude, you love your periods of solitude, you scramble for it, you find ways of being by yourself so you can do what you want with yourself and your mind. But when you’re deprived of it for a lengthy period then you value human companionship.
Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
More than anything, we need communion with everyone. Struggles for power have nothing to do with communion. Communion extends beyond borders. It is with one’s enemies also.
We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.
The ideal of brotherhood of man, the building of the Just City, is one that cannot be discarded without lifelong feelings of disappointment and loss. But if we are to live in the real world, discard it we must. Its very nobility makes the results of its breakdown doubly horrifying, and it breaks down, as it always will, not by some external agency, but because it cannot work.
Civilization is a perishable commodity.
Although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is an endless train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered.
One cannot be too extreme in dealing with social ills; besides, the extreme thing is generally the true thing.
You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity.
Society is indeed a contract. . . . It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.
But look, suppose people . . . could be in the country in five minutes’ walk, and had few wants; almost no furniture for instance, and no servants, and studied the (difficult) arts of enjoying life, and finding out what they really wanted: then I think one might hope civilization had really begun.