"Without a vision the people perish" is an old Hebrew saying based on a comprehensive view of human psychology as demonstrated in history, and therefore a saying which is full with truth. It is invariably a vision or an idea which guides men upwards to glory or downwards to the pit. Plato was right: it is ideas which make or unmake civilizations, build up or overthrow established institutions; and it is just universal ideas, and the will to follow them — ideas and ideals which all men feel to be true — which we lack. It is because we lack vision, the inner knowledge of the right thing to do, of a clear way out of our troubles, that as nations we are where we are.
We are now at the end of one form of civilization, which, like the Roman Empire in its time, has reached its term, its breaking-up, and we are facing the opening measures of the cosmic drama which is coming in. It will depend upon the innate wisdom and sense of high justice inherent in men's hearts and minds whether our present civilization will go down in blood and despair, or whether it will take breath and time in order to recover itself; whether, with the dawning of a new intellectual and moral perception of justice and reason, it will stop its descent down the declivity and begin to rise to new heights overtopping the finest that as yet racially we have attained. This latter can be done; and it is man's intuitions and instincts for justice and reason, nothing else, that will bring it to pass with surety.
History with its silent but tremendously powerful voice shows us that there is absolutely no other way out; that there is no other solution which will be satisfactory to all types of human minds, to all types of human character. Freedom for all; each people seeking its own salvation on its own lines, but in ethical directions accompanied by reason and a desire to do justice. Even so-called 'enlightened self-interest' with its always keen eye for individual advantage, must see the universal benefits and securities of such a plan. All stable human institutions are founded on these intuitions and instincts, and upon naught else; for were it otherwise, then our sense of order and law, our very respect for our courts of law, international or national, were collectively a monstrous deception, and an ignominious and miserable farce. And all sane men realize that our laws are based on the rules of justice and impartial reason, tempered with impersonal mercy.
I am not one of those gloomy pessimists who say that man is but a 'poor worm,' with instincts born of his association with dust, and intuitions that are unfounded in fact, and that therefore he cannot solve his problems. He can indeed solve them if he has the will so to do. We are indeed approaching the end of our civilization, and are fascinated and hold our breath as we watch the phenomena of its breaking up; but all too often we forget that this has been a civilization of matter almost wholly, where things of matter often counted as the only ones permanently worth while. There are no longer new lands to which we may send our young people to colonize, for they all have been pre-empted or taken. The rule of force and of material values has prevailed almost universally, rather than the rules of international justice and common human rights. For eighteen hundred years, more or less, it has been the rule: let everyone grab what he may; let everyone hold what he can. The conduct of the peoples of the earth has been largely based on this purely materialistic and selfish foundation. We sowed the wind; we are now as a body of spiritually bankrupt peoples reaping the whirlwind.
Is it not time that the more far-seeing and superior minds of the world should see to it that calmness and reason and impartial justice shall henceforth prevail? Is there any other and better way out of our troubles and difficulties than by solving them wisely? The only way by which they may be solved is by reason, by justice. If men deliberately refuse to listen to reason, if men deliberately refuse to will to do justice, then it seems certain that down we shall go, and our civilization, our great cities and the manifold works and labors of millions of hands through the years, shall be dust and ruined heaps. There would seem to be no other way out; no god will step into the arena of human pain and wilful ignorance and pull us wretched mortals out of the world-mess that we have created for ourselves, mostly through rabid self-interest and through our wilfully turning away from the paths of justice and peace. We alone must save ourselves; and when we begin to do this in the manner pleasing to the Higher Powers, then we shall make an undeniable appeal for their aid and guidance; and we shall receive it. Hercules helps the wagoner, indeed; but only when the wagoner begins to help himself — and in the right way.
It is the sheerest foolishness and the most blatant of all ethical and intellectual poppycock to aver that man's destiny, now that the waste places of the earth have been taken, is blocked; that there is no future for those who were not 'in at the beginning.' Such an attitude is contradicted by every page of the annals of universal history. We must remember that no thing, no human institution, is unchangeable, eternally the same; and that the shifting and continuously varying scenes of history in the past — a certain fact of truth — promise that the future will be as full as the past has been with the shifting of cosmic scenery, and the changing of human interests and fields of activity. The greatest peoples of the earth have not been those possessing the greatest extent of territory, but precisely those who have been the foremost in the reception and in the application of progressive ideas to the upbuilding of human institutions based on — and visually proclaiming, if not, alas, always following — the ideals of impersonal justice and trained reason. For these are spiritual qualities, and in fact are universal.
Let us fill our hearts with eternal gratitude to the watching though silent Cosmic Powers, that the horizons now before us in all parts of the earth, without distinction of race or creed, are spiritual and intellectual horizons, beyond which there are for us unknown regions waiting conquest by human genius, when we shall give rein to the instincts and intuitions of the human soul. Look then at what lies before us if we will to bring justice unmotivated by self-interest, and the love of honor and truth, to work amongst us!
Let the youth of the different peoples of whatever country set the example of fidelity and loyalty, each youth to his own government, thus proving the strength and worth of the moral ideal of citizenship. On the other hand, as the world badly needs the idealisms and chivalry resident in the younger generation, let youth express these likewise by raising its voice loud and insistent, powerfully declaring itself for universal justice and reason, and do so by the measures of established law. In this manner, the voice of the world's youth will penetrate into all places, closed and open; for their insistence upon their rights as the coming generation soon to shoulder the burden of the older, will reach sympathetic ears too numerous to count. Novus ordo saeclorum!
One may pray and hope that the prominent men in the world today, those who hold the destinies of the peoples more or less in their hands, will listen to the heart-beat, the unexpressed and growing will of the peoples for a permanent solving of their troubles. If they do so, the names of these men will go down in history. They will be remembered not so much by statues and monuments in stone, but their names will be emblazoned in the perduring fabric of human hearts. Their memory shall remain for ages to come as the fire of love and gratitude burning in human hearts.
Again I repeat: a brotherhood of all peoples based on reason and justice and functioning for the common good, for the progress of all, is both practicable and practical, and will some day be seen to be inevitable.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)
There are three weighty matters of law — justice, mercy and truth: and of these the Teacher puts truth last, because that cannot be known but by a course of acts of justice and love. But men put, in all their efforts truth first, because they mean by it their own opinions; and thus, while the world has many people who would suffer martyrdom in the cause of what they call truth, it has few who will suffer even a little inconvenience in that of justice and mercy. — John Ruskin