National Efficiency Best Developed Under Free Governments

“More and more, as time goes on, this war develops into a conflict between free institutions and autocratic institutions.”



The causes of this fearful war are often discussed as if they were to be sought in the month before the war actually broke out. We hear men talking as if the exchange of telegrams and notes between the monarchs just before the war could supply an intelligent understanding of the causes of the outbreak. We hear the conversations between the various chancelleries of Europe in July spoken of as if the real cause of the war was to be found in them, or indeed, in the sequence of the orders given for mobilization. I have even read articles in which the cause of the war was found in the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

Now, to my mind, all these so-called causes are merely superficial events, which might more properly be called the occasions than the causes of the war. To my thinking, the causes of the war are very deep-seated, and have to be traced back through long years, and, indeed, through generations of men. They are states of mind rather than events. They have their sources in racial feelings and to some extent in religious differences; in the ambitions of princes; in long-cherished aspirations and ambitions of peoples; in continuously developed policies of governments; and deeper still in great popular emotions. If such are the real causes of the war, we need to consider carefully the historical development of these aspirations, ambitions, and emotions, which have had a national scope.

This war has brought out very strongly the sentiment of nationality, — a sentiment the origins and conditions of which are peculiarly difficult to appreciate and understand. Many people think that a common language is necessary to the development of the sentiment of nationality; but how many instances there are in the world in which many languages are used in the territory ascribed to a nation. At this moment there is no country which nourishes a stronger spirit of nationality than little Switzerland, the model republic of the world. Now, in that small territory four languages are used, each by thousands of people; and in the legislative assembly, if a member does not speak at the rostrum in French or in German, an interpreter is placed beside the orator who keeps along with him, so that the two voices are going on at the same time. Belgium is a strong nationality as regards sentiment, but at least two quite different languages are spoken in that country. In the vast territory of China many dialects exist, so different that the people of one section may not understand the people of any other.

One almost wishes that a common language could be spoken of as a source or necessary condition of a strong sentiment of nationality; but there are too many cases in the world where a strong national feeling prevails, and yet there is no common language. We Americans have been in the habit to thinking that the use of the English language all over our immense territory has contributed to our sense of national unity and well-being; and, indeed, it probably has. Nevertheless, that test of nationality will not hold in the modern world.

The national sentiment in Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia is to-day intense, and so far as we can see, it is equally intense in all these countries. Apparently little distinction can be drawn between national sentiment in an immobile empire like Russia, under an autocratic government like that of Germany, in a somber, experienced, constitutional monarchy like that of England, or in a new republic like France. We do not find the cause or source of this intense popular sentiment in the form of government to which the people are accustomed. And yet one cannot imagine any satisfactory settlement of this terrible world-conflict,, which will not take more account than any settlement of a European war has ever done before, of this emotion or sentiment of nationality.

The experience of Europe during the last sixty years has been peculiar in one respect, — it has been a period in which peoples who possess a common language or a common sentiment of nationality, and are derived from similar racial stocks, have succeeded in getting together in larger entities. That has been emphatically the case with Germany and with Italy; and until the Second Balkan War the well-wishers for Europe hoped that it was going to be the case in the whole Balkan region; but that second war disappointed all such hopes.

What tremendous changes have been wrought in Europe since the close of the Thirty Years’ War! That war ended in the recognition and establishment of a large number of separate, independent, small states and principalities. When this present war ends, we may reasonably expect that it will result in the development of some new large states in Europe, federations perhaps, and some new small states, but also in a greater security for the smaller states over against the larger.

Several European nations have been infected at various times—England first, since the decline of Spain—with a false and dangerous conception of the state as an imperial being, independent of ordinary ethical considerations, entitled to the unquestioned obedience and service of its subjects, aiming at the development of strong types of men and women without much regard to the freedom or happiness of the individual and claiming dominion over neighbors, oceans, or remote possessions in other parts of the world. British imperialism had sound commercial and industrial objects, and was qualified by much domestic freedom, and the policy of free trade. Being an island, Great Britain tried to rule the seas, in order that her indispensable supplies of food and raw materials might never be cut off. Her Continental imitators have not had her domestic freedom, her affiliated free commonwealths, her free trade, or her strong reason for possessing mastery of the oceans; but they have had, and some of them still have, the imperialistic fever in its hottest form.

If, then, we must look for the causes of this unprecedented convulsion in these deep-rooted popular aspirations and ambitions, what shall we say about the slow but steady growth of these sentiments of Germany? There are those who ascribe this war to the German Emperor or cabinet, or to some particular German teachers and authors, or to the growth of a strong, united military caste in Germany. All these influences doubtless contributed in some measure to the outbreak; but the real cause of the successive military aggressions on the part of Germany since 1864 lies in the gradual prevalence throughout that nation, and particularly in its educated classes, of an exaggerated estimate of the bodily and spiritual merits of the German people, and of a firm belief that the national greatness and the progress of characteristic German civilization were to be attained through the development of the most tremendous national force that could possibly be contrived and brought into being, and through the gratification of the intense German desire for domination in Europe, and eventually in the world.

The government of Germany is the most autocratic in Europe. It has always been so in Prussia; and since German unification applies to the whole of Germany. One of the most extraordinary phenomena in connection with this ferocious war is the unanimous opinion among German scholars, historians, statesmen, and diplomats, and indeed throughout the educated classes, that—as was lately said to me in a letter from a German friend—‘We Germans are just as free as you Americans are.’ They really believe that. This unanimous opinion is a complete demonstration of the effect of the autocratic government which has long existed in Germany on the spirit and temper of the German people as a whole. They do not know what political and social liberty is. They have no conception of such liberty as we enjoy. They know nothing at all about the liberty that England has won through Parliamentary government, through party government. Their complete ignorance on that subject is the explanation of the fatal mistake that the German government made in going to war last summer before they knew what England was going to do, or could do. The German government thoroughly believed that in the existing condition of party government in England, with the Ulster disturbance unsettled, and with the trades-union difficulties on hand, England not only would not go to war, but could not. One could not have a better illustration of the complete ignorance of the German people as to what political and social liberty really is. The German diplomats misinformed their government about the state of Great Britain and Ireland, and of France, in spirt of their ample system of resident informers, because neither they nor their informers understood the political action of a free people. And at this moment, the German government is being misinformed in the same manner about the state of American public opinion. To the German mind political liberty means public incapacity and weakness—particularly in war.

In the earlier steps of the war, Germany met with a series of surprises, because the German government and the military caste in Germany did not understand what comparatively free peoples value, what their ideals are, and what they are capable of undertaking and enduring in defense of their ideals. For instance, the German doctrine about the justifiableness of violating a contract or a treaty on grounds of military necessity was universally accepted in Germany as right. Germans do not know how free peoples regard the sanctity of contract, not only for business purposes, but for political purposes, to say nothing of honorable obligation. Nothing could be more frank than the original explanation which the German Chancellor gave of the breaking of the treaties concerning the neutrality of Belgium; but his frankness is evidence that he did not understand in the least the freeman’s idea of the sanctity of contract—the foundation of all public law and usage in a free country. In a country despotically or autocratically ruled, there is no such condition of public opinion.

More and more, as time goes on, this war develops into a conflict between free institutions and autocratic institutions. Of course, the position of Russia as an ally of France and England somewhat shrouds or complicates this fact; because the Russian people is by inheritance and in some respects by nature a people which submits to despotic government. Her exceptional position as an ally of two free countries is due to a long-nourished indignation against Austria-Hungary and Germany for presenting obstacles year after year and generation after generation to the gratification of Russian ambition for aggrandizement in the Balkan countries and the Near East. That ambition and some stirrings toward liberty may have put Russia in its exceptional position by the side of two free countries.


If, now, we take it for granted that the question between free and autocratic institutions in Europe, the question of more public liberty, the question of civilization developing under the forms of free government rather than under the forms of autocratic government, is the real issue this war is to decide, it becomes a very interesting study for all the freer peoples how German efficiency is going to turn out in competition with such efficiency as the freer nations develop. The military result of the war is going to turn on the comparative efficiency of the military and naval forces of the opposing parties, and on the efficiency with which the economic resources of the several nations are used. Numbers are so enormous on each side that the result will not be determined so much by mere numbers, as by the efficiency of the armed forces of the combatants, and of their industrial and financial forces.

German efficiency has been an object of great admiration, not only in this country, but in England, France, and Russia, for twenty-five or thirty years. We have all admired it in the recent commercial and industrial development of Germany—not the less remarkable because it started about sixty years ago from a low level. We have admired it, too, in the efficiency of her military and naval development. It is an extraordinary phenomenon in the history of the nineteenth century—this wonderful efficiency; but German efficiency is of a peculiar type. It is an efficiency in administration—in business administration, in municipal government strikingly, and in all the national government bureaus. It is an efficiency which takes hold of every child in Germany at birth, and follows every youth and every man and woman through life until death. It is that very efficiency which has prevented the last two generations of Germans from knowing anything about liberty. It is in the highest degree an autocratic efficiency in all walks of German life, including education and the relations between the sexes. The whole course of elementary and secondary education for every German boy or girl is determined by the government, and there is no election by the pupil included, no choice by the child, except in its later stages the choice between a technical school and a gymnasium; and even that choice is often made, not by the child, but for him.

A significant illustration of the German regard for strength and force, and contempt for weakness and gentleness, is to be found in the low estimate they place on the social and intellectual influence of women. A German woman at her best is a successful housewife and diligent attendant on husband and children; she is seldom the intellectual and spiritual comrade of her husband and the inspirer of her grown-up children, as a woman is in the freer countries of Europe and in America. The contrast between the status of the German woman and that of the American woman is strong indeed. The German woman of to-day has grown up and lived in an atmosphere of compulsion and discipline which no American woman has had to endure for two centuries past.

The Germans are fond of mentioning their ‘academic freedom,’ the freedom of their learned men; but that is much exaggerated in German descriptions of their university life. The German universities are chiefly supported and ruled by the government; and there are no free endowed institutions to compete with them. The whole world is deeply indebted in unnumbered ways to the German universities of the last hundred years; but for any vital teaching of civil and religious liberty one must go back to individual German teachers and preachers of an earlier time. The entrance to every learned and scientific profession in Germany, and to the highly trained military and naval caste, is strictly guarded and controlled by the government.

German efficiency, however, is a very real and formidable thing in all the competitions of the civilized world; so that the most interesting question to be studied as to the probable outcome of the European War is this—is Germany with its autocracy more efficient or less efficient than France and England with their liberties? The German way of procuring industrial and commercial efficiency is to make each individual man, in the first place, a man well trained for the exact service he is to render, and then to keep him under a severe discipline which will result in his doing every time exactly what he has been trained to do. He may also be induced in some measure to a perfect subordination by a bonus, prize, or honorary reward. That is the German method of efficiency all the way through industrial life—giving instruction and training enough to produce the amount of skill needed for the daily task, then enforcing that subjection of the worker which results in thorough coördination and coöperation in the complex process of production. The efficiency of their military system is obtained in like manner—by thorough training which leads to the instinctive coöperation of the individual with a mass of comrades, and to an absolute obedience unto death.

Now, what have the freer nations to say about their chance in industrial and military competition with the German autocratic system? They say in speech and action, ‘We believe a man or a nation will develop greater mental capacity and moral force with freedom than without it. Our philosophy of life teaches that doctrine; our history illustrates it; our practice and experience prove it.’

To-day seven nations conspicuously illustrate the worth of liberty in national development: Great Britain and her affiliated commonwealths, France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States, and, in addition, the Scandinavian group of peoples. Italy struggled long under various oppressors. She won at last unity and freedom, because during the centuries she brought forth such independent spirits as Dante, Savonarola, Leonardo, Galileo, Michael Angelo, Cavour, and Garibaldi. The Dutch were pioneers in the long fight for liberty. Since Elizabeth’s adventurers ran about the oceans, Cromwell marshaled his Independents, and Milton taught civil and religious liberty and freedom for the press, English political, industrial, and religious life has been instinct with liberty. The French political philosophers of the eighteenth century set forth eloquently the Rights of Man; and the French Revolution strove boldly, although ignorantly, to win those rights, and, in spite of its violences and crudities, spread through the world the potent concpetions of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The mutual jealousy of their neighbors has permitted Belgium and Switzerland to prosper in comparative freedom. The Pilgrim Fathers planted on American soil the seeds of the best English and Dutch liberties; and from those seeds there came, in three centuries, a solid growth of liberty under law, — the widest liberty, political, industrial, and social, that the world has ever known, conceived by free spirits, embodied in legislation, and cherished in the hearts of a multitudinous people. The Scandinavian peoples have suffered much from more powerful neighbors, but have never lost the adventurous spirit of the Norsemen, or failed to exercise that right of private judgment which was the best teaching of the Protestant Reformation, or ceased to manifest the sturdy, independent spirit of their race. The Scandinavian emigrants to America make admirable citizens of the American Republic without any change of disposition or character.

The efficiency of all these nations is based on a high degree of personal initiative and of political and industrial freedom, — not on the subjection or implicit obedience of the individual, but on the energy and goodwill in work which result from individual freedom, ambition, and initiative.


If this doctrine is well founded, the remarkable increase of industrial and commercial efficiency during the past hundred and fifty years should have proceeded from the freer nations, and not from the nations governed autocratically. It is an interesting inquiry, therefore, whether this wonderfully increased efficiency has proceeded from Russia, Germany, Austria, and Turkey, or from England, France, Italy, Holland, Scandinavia, and the United States. A brief review of the sources of the important discoveries and inventions, which have made the industries of the civilized world vastly more effective since 1830 than they ever were before, will convince any impartial person that the means of improvement have come from the free countries, and not from the countries that are despotically governed.

Going back to the late years of the eighteenth century, we find that propulsion by steam on land and water was first made commercially successful by Englishmen and Americans; and that English and French chemists made the fundamental discoveries in chemical theory. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the development of the factory system with steam-driven machinery was an English achievement, and later an American. As we come further on in the nineteenth century, we find that it was Americans who developed the telegraph and telephone as industrial implements, and thereby changed in large measure the habits of industrial, commercial, and financial life, and in many respects of domestic and family life also. It was an Italian who invented and introduced in practice wireless telegraphy, — a delightful instances of the transmission of a genius for physics in the same nation though centuries. It was Americans who invented and made commercially practical the electric light and the wide diffusion of mechanical power by electricity. The explosive engine was developed as an industrial agent in France; and the gasoline motor and the automobile have been French, English, and American developments. The aeroplane heavier than air was invented by Professor Langley, when Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and was developed for practical use by two other Americans—the brothers Wright. The cotton gin, on which the whole cotton textile industry is founded, was the invention of an American, as were also the sewing machine, the typewriter, and all sorts of shoe-machinery. So was the job printing-press with the type held, not on a horizontal plane, but at any convenient angle with the paper to be printed—an invention out of which came the rotary press, which is to-day an indispensable instrument for the quick and wide circulation of news. It was America that built the first monitor and the first submarine; and it was England that built the first dreadnought.

Turning to a totally different field of discovery, anæsthesia was an American invention; and its wide usefulness was first demonstrated in an American hospital. Asepsis, a discovery of equal value, was introduced by Lister, a British subject. Another Englishman invented and brought into use inoculation against typhoid fever. It was American surgeons and members of the Army Medical Corps, temporarily serving in Cuba, who showed the world how to prevent the spread of yellow fever.

The immense world-wide rubber industry is based on the invention of the American Goodyear, who discovered that the mixture of Sulphur and rubber produced an elastic, waterproof material, capable of innumerable useful applications for which pure rubber was not fit.

The great inventions in business organization have, of course, proceeded from the freer countries, and not from those despotically governed, — such, for example, as the organization of the ocean liners running to all parts of the world, which is in the main an English invention. The organization of the great business of taking petroleum out of the earth, piping the oil over great distances, distilling and refining it, and distributing it in tank steamers, tank wagons, and cans all over the earth, was an American invention. The conception of the huge and complex organization of the United States Steel Corporation, and the putting of that conception into practice, is another American achievement of great significance. The invention of the corporation with limited liability, which has led to an immense development of industrial and commercial productiveness, is English and American; and this management of industries by corporations set up in free governments has, in turn, become a great reinforcement of free institutions.

Obviously, we are not tracing here the results of blind chance, or of any sort of coincidence or accident. We are recognizing the legitimate fruits of liberty. It is, of course, true that Germany has adopted, adapted, and used with great skill all the inventions that have been mentioned, and especially in organizing and using her army and navy. She has also used them all in the remarkable development of her industries during the past fifty years; but she invented and brought into use none of them; nor did Russia, Austria, or Turkey. Most of the inventions mentioned are indispensable to the preparations for that war, carried on through long years before; but all of them, except the distinctly naval inventions, were made for peaceful uses—to promote the industrial productiveness and the well-being of the human race.

It is an interesting observation that universal education, to the lower grades of which all children are compelled, seems to have but slight effect on the kind of national efficiency here considered. For one hundred years past, systematic education for the whole people has been better planned and carried on in Germany than it has been in any of the freer countries. Large portions of the Italian population have had no access to schools until lately. England had nothing that could be called a system of popular education until 1870-71; France began to put universal education in force under the present Republic; and to this day millions of American children have but scant access to elementary education, and none at all to secondary. The plain fact is that the German system of education and government has not had freedom enough in it; and that the free peoples, among whom there exists a large amount of social and industrial mobility, are the peoples who have produced all the great applied-science inventions of the last century and this.

The facts of the case are unquestionable. The explanation of them is, — that under free governments, and in communities which have a fair amount of social mobility, the rare men are super to come forward into vigorous action, — the men who are competent, not only to invent or imagine the thing or the method that is next wanted, but to put their inventions into practical form, and to make them useful in the actual industries of their nations and the world. Among a free people the remarkable human specimen is more likely to get his most complete and powerful development than among a people subject to autocratic government.

We may reasonably believe, therefore, that there is a power in free institutions which leads straight to efficiency in the industries of the country, and, in the long run and after many experiments and failures, to the efficient management of its governmental concerns, and that this efficiency can be brought to a higher condition in a republic or a constitutional monarchy than in any despotic or autocratic government.

There is another field of human activity, — the development of great pioneers in thinking and imagining, — in which the Germans are accustomed to claim the leadership; but that claim is without warrant. In the first place, German literature and philosophy are, like German industrial development, comparatively young. That they should become preëminent so soon is not to be expected. In the next place, the German race has not yet developed leaders of thought in literature, philosophy, poetry, and statesmanship who can bear comparison with the supreme personages in England, France, and Italy. Germany has produced no men who can be placed beside Dante, Michael Angelo, and Cavour in Italy; Shakespeare, Milton, Newton, Faraday, and Darwin in England, or Pasteur in France. And as to America, it seems to a native American profane to mention Bismarck and the present German Emperor in the same breath with Washington and Lincoln.


The present war in Europe is going to put to a supreme military test this theory concerning the surest sources of national efficiency. The war ought to demonstrate in the end that German efficiency in war is not so great as that of England and France, if we include in the definition of military efficiency the management of the supporting industries, and skill in summoning and applying financial resources, as well as the management of the troops in actual fighting. The war should demonstrate that a volunteer soldier is, on the whole, more effective than a conscript, because he has more personal initiative, more power of independent action, and more sense of individual responsibility. The first year of the war ought to prove that large and effective armies can be put into the field after a training of only a few months, if the volunteer recruits come from occupations which call for intelligence and coöperative goodwill, and are inspired by ethical motives which strongly appeal to them as individuals. The war ought also to prove that the freer a people are, and the more accustomed to the exercise of self-controlled liberty, the more warmly and resolutely they will respond to calls on their courage, endurance, and love of country.

The only issue of the war that can possibly be satisfactory to the freer nations of Europe, or to Americans, is an issue which will further in Europe the cause of essential freedom—the freedom which can be developed under any constitutional form of government, but cannot be developed under an autocratic form. Therefore, we look forward with hope to a diminution in Europe of the autocratic forms, as well as to better security for both large and small states against sudden invasion. This better security implies a federal council of a few states, the reduction of national armaments, and the creation of a federal force competent to impose peace.

A precious lesson of the war will be this: —

Toward every kind of national efficiency discipline is good, and coöperation is good; but for the highest efficiency both should be consented to in liberty.