Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Our Existing Civilization
By Henry James, Sr. (1811–1882)
 
[Born in Albany, N. Y., 1811. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1882. Is Marriage Holy?—The Atlantic Monthly. 1870.]

SOCIETY is getting to mean, now, something very different from what it has ever before meant. It has all along meant an instituted or conventional order among men, and this order was to be maintained at whatever cost to the individual man; if need be, at the cost of his utmost physical and moral degradation. People no longer put this extravagant estimate upon our civic organization. Our existing civilization seems now very dear at that costly price. Society, in short, is beginning to claim interests essentially repugnant to those of any established order. It utterly refuses to be identified with any mere institutions, however conventionally sacred, and claims to be a plenary divine righteousness in our very nature. The critical moment of destiny seems to be approaching, the day of justice and judgment for which the world has been so long agonizing in prayer, a day big with wrath against every interest of man which is organized upon the principle of his inequality with his brother, and full of peace to every interest established upon their essential fellowship. Every day an increasing number of persons reject our cruel civilization as a finality of God’s providence upon earth. Every day burns the conviction deeper in men’s bosoms, that there is no life of man on earth so poor and abject, whose purification and sanctification are not an infinitely nearer and dearer object to the heart of God than the welfare of any Paris, any London, any New York extant. And this rising preponderance of the human sentiment in consciousness over the personal one is precisely what accounts for the growing disrespect into which our legal administration is falling, and precisely what it must try to mould itself upon, if it would recover again the lost ground to which its fidelity to the old ideas is constantly subjecting it.
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