Kipling’s emphasis on the virtuous means of morality is the essence of bourgeois individualism. “If” acknowledges that the practice of virtue is an arduous struggle against inner temptations (“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master”) and outer attacks (“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you”). It admits that complete success in pursuing well-being is far from certain, even for the wholly virtuous (“If you can … watch the things you gave your life to broken”). It reminds us that all we truly have in our control is the ability to be a person of good character. But it consoles us that, if we become such a person, then at some deep level all shall be well. Virtue is for the sake of well-being, but one must not make success and failure the measure of our life, for those things depend too much on contingencies.
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