From the “Lanterns on the Levee”

By: William Alexander Percy


“Good men nowadays question what form of government is best and search like Plato for a formula, following which this benighted reach of ours may automatically perfect itself. The Delta sages [the Mississippi River] of my youth knew there was no such formula. Being convinced no system of government was good without good men to operate it, they considered it their bounden duty, their prime obligation as members of society, to find such men and elect them to office. Concerning democracy they had no illusions, their fears for it were prophetic; they esteemed it a poor make-shift, but the best devised by man for keeping the peace and at the same time permitting personal liberty. Their point of view, their sense of duty, their relentless striving, while certainly not appreciated or understood by me in my childhood, speeded into me, colored my outlook … I guess a man’s job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able-always remembering the results will be infinitesimal – and to attend to his own soul. I have found in those words directions enough for any life. Maybe the contain the steady simple wisdom of the South.”

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