On The Common Man
“The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people”. This, then, is an encomium to that very class of people, to the common people, that group to whom, like the great Walt Whitman from whom, greedily I borrow, I’ll proceed to dedicate a few lines.
The common people is the class—that of which, meanly, our high-browed society of sophisticates has become so openly derisive, that to which it presently affixes far too little import—upon which we’re our ailing nation is dependent. Yet, each and every day, we fail to take note of the magnitude of this dependence, for which, inexplicably, we’re so blithely ungrateful. We fail to appreciate its Brobdingnagian size and the fertility of its growth. While pervasive, it’s one that eludes all measurement. It becomes a picture of whose scale we’ve not even the slightest hint. If and when we do think about it, we might guess at its size, predict the depth of the furrows of its skin, but we’d inevitably be wrong. We might imagine its contours, describe the curves of its mien, but we’d surely frustrate ourselves in attempting their depiction. We’d underestimate and offend them, if ever we tried.
I think, because the dependence we have on the common people is immeasurable, it’s also unfathomable. Thus, we decide not only that we won’t, but we can’t think about it in any serious way. We struggle with its conception, one of many ideas by which our sleepy minds are arrested in the drowsiness of our age. This, I gather, is our excuse for having ignored it for so long a time; it strains, and eventually exhausts the faculties of the satiated and recumbent brain. It provokes into action the preferred languor of our idle talk. It stirs into thinking the quietude of our thought, and this is an activity for which we’ve lost all necessary interest and verve. And so, its breadth is one around which we can’t even begin to wrap our limp minds, and we hardly bother ourselves to try.
Though ignorant of this common man and his sweat-filled face and bruise-ridden body, though blind to this nameless, wearied person for whom, otherwise, we’d not spare a moment’s consideration, he knows us with an intimacy by whose closeness we’d be shocked. He knows our wants and he services our needs. He anticipates our whims and begrudges them not. He ensures the availability of all the things on which the comforts of our modern life are dependent: water, electricity, groceries, medicine, and the thousand other commodities without which our existence would be insufferably bleak.
Food, fuel, health, convenience, exchange—these are his contributions by which we all profit, for which he goes almost completely unacknowledged. If not for the daily toil of his effort, by whose quiet persistence, our various needs and wants are satisfied in every conceivable way, we, as a society, would sooner collapse. We’d fall, quite painfully, if not for the endurance of his unwavering support. We’d tumble if not for the reliability of his toil.
The source of our national wisdom, the root and flower of our collective genius—they are to be found in the soul of the common people, of whose great fecundity and enduring brilliance, we must now, and forevermore, sing. It is the most fertile of soils out of which a national identity can grow. It is the most exalted of spirits, the most euphonious of tunes, with which our lively national lips can harmonize. It is the class, much more than that “high”, gilded, and bedazzled one to which so many of us errantly aspire, in which the truest, most distinct coloring of our genius is to be found. With vibrancy, do we see it, with glee does it tickle the eye. Gazing upon it, we’re forever astonished by its radiance and overcome by the clarity of its force.
It is the most inclusive and robust, the humblest and heartiest, the most unostentatious and proud group of people with whom, on the most infrequent of occasions, we come into contact. It is the fount of our wisdom, the grit of our teeth, the strength of our back, the bend of our joints. The common people are the sinew, muscle, heart, and bone of a nation so recently and incessantly battered by the cruel pestilence of eastern winds. Most importantly, though, they are soul by which those same noxious gusts are resisted, the shield through which those external threats can never cut.
The common people, as opposed to the haughty people, is that class to which, if we’re to live life once, but well, we should all aspire. That is the class toward which our veneration and thanks ought to be directed, in whose image we should construct our own. They are, after all, the essential people, by which I mean the people most faithfully drawn in the mold of the American essence. They are the essential workers, skilled in every way, upon whose indomitable persistence, our cherished economy, our continued health, and our national character relies. Without them, we are but a barren continent placed in the whirling midst of two tempestuous seas. Without them, we are nothing. They are essential, and we, at least here in these lines, are their supplicants offering for the first time our thanks. All others, while useful, are but superficiality and of a lighter substance. The common people are heavy, empathic, and real. All others, especially executives and legislatures, newspapers and authors, are but vapidity shorn of genius, talking heads from which earnest thinking has long since fled. The common people is our reservoir for this genius, the source out of which our sincere national philosophy flows.
They are, in every way, their own. In the words of Walt Whitman, with which, dutifully, I’ll now end my piece: “Their manners, speech, dress, friendships—the freshness and candor of their physiognomy—the picturesque looseness of their carriage; their deathless attachment to freedom; their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean; the practical acknowledgement of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states; the fierceness of their roused resentment; their curiosity and welcome novelty; their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy; their susceptibility to a slight; the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors; the fluency of their speech; their delight in music, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul”.
If this is a common people, it’s the most uncommon of all. We celebrate, now and forever, the undying genius of its spirit.