A German Voice of Hope


COUNT HERMANN KEYSERLING has recently attracted international attention through brilliant and intensely original essays on political and industrial subjects of the day. It would, however, be a mistake to think of him chiefly as a man interested in contemporary problems of practical affairs. What he really stands for is a moral reconstruction of Europe, a fundamental and abiding remodeling of the spiritual structure of the individual, a new outlook upon life in all its higher possibilities. An analysis of this inspiring personality from a somewhat wider point of view seems worth while.

Keyserling belongs to that Baltic nobility of German stock which for centuries has been one of the foremost outposts of German culture on Slavic soil. The history of his family contains a goodly number of names prominent in the annals of the landed gentry of Lithuania and Esthonia, of leaders in local and provincial administration as well as in the literary, social, and political life of the Russian capital. His own make-up combines in a remarkable degree the aristocratic virtues of the cavalier and the man of the world with the unbiased temper of the scientist, the democratic leanings of the rationalist philosopher, and the universally human sympathy of the mystic dreamer.

In 1902, as a youth of twenty-two, he took his degree of doctor of philosophy at the University of Vienna, having specialized in biology and geology. There followed years of travel and study in all European countries, alternating with periods of solitary meditation in the retreat of the ancestral estate of Rayküll in Esthonia. The years 1911 and 1912 were devoted to a trip around the world, the early part of 1914 to observations in Africa. The World War brought complete isolation in the Rayküll countryseat, until the victorious drive of the German armies reëstablished connection with Central Europe. The Bolshevist revolution swept away all the family possessions, and the year 1919 saw Count Keyserling a refugee on German soil. Here he married Bismarck’s only granddaughter; and in the following year, at forty years of age, he founded in Darmstadt, under the patronage of the former Grand Duke of Hesse, the ‘School of Wisdom,’ a loose intellectual organization analogous to the Platonic Academy, which is meant to form a rallying-point for free spirits seeking, in the midst of the wreck of all traditional forms of state and society, the foundations for a new life of the soul.

The key to this strangely complex, world-embracing character is to be found in the ‘Travel Diary of a Philosopher’ (Das Reisetagebuch eines Philosophem), a comprehensive record of the impressions, emotions, and thoughts called forth by experiences in the Far East and North America during 1911 and 1912. Its first draft was finished just before the outbreak of the war; but it was revised, in part at least, in the midst of the war, and published in 1919. An English translation has been recently brought out in this country.

‘The shortest way to one’s self is by a détour around the world ‘ — this motto on the title-page aptly expresses the state of mind in which Count Keyserling approached the various countries, the many different racial and national types, religions, philosophies of life with which his travels brought him in contact. From beginning to end this book is not so much an account of ethnological facts or social conditions as a reflex of successive inner experiences, the gradual and consistent self-unfolding of a spiritual personality. It should be read — so the author tells us himself— as a novel of the inner life.

Keyserling is indeed something of a Wilhelm Meister. His emotional and intellectual life is in constant flux. Transformation is a demand of his innermost nature. So he greets the beliefs and ideals of one people after another, as long as he dwells among them, as opportunities of identifying himself with them. Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Japanese self-mastery, American belief in progress, European striving for culture — of each and all he tries to see the positive side, the most fruitful part; in each and all he finds something helpful, some stimulus for heightening his own personality, for linking himself to what is more than personal, what is beyond all individual limitation.


I doubt whether the spell of India — the first country where a longer sojourn was made by the world traveler— has ever, by a European, been put into words more impressive or genuine than in this notebook. By this I do not mean descriptions of scenery or art or people — the tropical exuberance of vegetation, the marvelous effects of light and shade, the wonders of temples and palaces, the inexhaustible variety and beauty of human types. To all these Keyserling does justice. But the real spell of India is reflected in his reaction to the vital energies of the Indian mind.

The fundamental quality of this mind Keyserling sees in its universality, its acceptance of life in all its forms and phases. For even the Buddhist negation of the ultimate reality of this world of appearances does not imply indifference to the forms in which this essentially unreal world happens to appear to us. The Buddhist conception of charity may be cited as one among many evidences of this spirit that forced themselves upon Keyserling. ‘Christian charity,’ he says, ‘means the desire to do good to others; Buddhist charity means understanding and acceptance of others, each in his own place. For it is common Indian belief that every individual holds exactly the place where he belongs, whereto he has ascended or descended according to his own merit; every stage of his existence therefore has its inner justification and its own ideality. Christianity, as long as it was ascetic, rating the worldly life far below the monkish, would have liked to relegate all mankind to the monastery; Buddhism, although on principle still more hostile to the world than early Christianity, and although on principle rating the ascetic life as the highest of all, is far from condemning the lower on account of the higher. The flower, to the Buddhist, does not deny the leaf, the leaf does not deny the stalk and the root. To wish well to our fellow men does not mean to attempt to change all leaves into flowers, but to let them be leaves and love them as such. This superior charity shines forth from the faces of all Buddhist priests, however intellectually insignificant.’

It is, however, not in this abstract realm of Buddhist doctrine that the universality of the Indian mind has found its widest manifestation. For Buddhism was after all a disintegrating influence in Hindu religion, comparable to the rôle played by Protestantism in the development of Christianity — a narrowing-down of all spiritual effort to one specific problem of individual redemption; and it has, as a church, ceased to be the religious interpreter of India. The catholicity of the Indian mind comes to light in forms of conduct and belief dominated by Brahmanism, the ancient but ever-youthful and honored popular religion.

With the avidity of a soul thirsting for the infinite, Keyserling drinks in all that he sees and hears of popular Hindu spirituality. Again and again he marvels at its wide sweep, its human breadth, its freedom from dogma, its sympathy with all living being. As its deepest source, however, he discerns the cardinal conception of the primacy of the psychic over the physical; and in this conception he finds an explanation for everything which in Hindu life appears strange and fantastic to the Western mind: the caste system, the exaltation of silence and meditation, the excesses of trance conditions, the indifference to material progress. But he also sees in it an important element of culture, the engrafting of which on our own mentality, overburdened with external things, would make for the rejuvenation of the Occidental world.

Two consequences of this Hindu insistence upon the primary reality of the psychic, and the derivative character of the physical, Keyserling singles out as of paramount significance for our own civilization: the Hindu ideal of perfection and the Hindu practice of Yoga.

The state of mind in itself and not what it accomplishes, not its relation to physical conditions, is according to Hindu belief the true measure of character. To be sure, this insight is not a monopoly of Hinduism. The Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount as well as Kant’s definition of goodness mean essentially the same thing. But nowhere, Keyserling thinks, since the early days of Christianity has this principle had so deep a hold upon ideals of life as in the India of to-day; nowhere has it brought out so strikingly the fundamental difference between perfection and progress. The Hindu believes whole-heartedly in perfection, but only qualifiedly in progress. He believes that to each individual there is assigned in the universal scheme of things an individual sphere of outward activity within which he may reach perfection, but which it would be wrong to transcend. He believes that a lower state perfectly fulfilled is nearer to the Godhead than a higher state imperfectly fulfilled. At the same time, he believes that this very restriction of individual perfection to specific spheres established by an over-individual power may, through reincarnation, lead to individual progress beyond these spheres. He who has faithfully and with complete self-surrender lived out the tasks of a lower form of life will be reincarnated in a higher form; and thus there is indeed an ascending line of spirits spread through the universe.

Thoughts like these naturally appeal to a man of Keyserling’s spiritual bent. To him the Hindu ideal of perfection appears indeed, theoretically at least, as the very climax of human wisdom. And he is willing to accept its practical consequences even in so extreme a case as that of the hermit saint who in absolute detachment and absolute silence spends his years of meditation on the banks of the Ganges, worshiped by the whole countryside. For this man is to him an embodiment of the profound truth that it is not doing — not even doing good — that counts, but only and exclusively being: that is, the state of mind in which one does or does not as the case may be. Since happiness and unhappiness entirely depend on this inner state, even the most favorable change of outward conditions does not accomplish anything truly essential. To do good is a wise rule of conduct not so much for the sake of the beneficiaries as for the sake of the benefactors. The beneficiaries indeed are very often inwardly harmed by these very acts; they are confirmed by them in their selfishness, they are hampered in the necessary task of becoming free from themselves. The benefactors themselves, on the other hand, are helped by these acts toward their inner freedom. Complete freedom from self, however, the highest goal, is best typified by such an existence as that of the hermit saint by the Ganges. He lives as an example of what others strive for, a life raised above both egoism and altruism; and such an example is worth more than any quantity of good acts.

With equal open-mindedness and sympathetic understanding Count Keyserling enters into the second fundamental Hindu conception, the practice of Yoga, the training of the will by ever-repeated concentration upon its higher possibilities. He is not blind to the fact that this practice is often perverted from its true purpose; that instead of leading to the freeing from selfish desires it often leads to the very opposite: to the concentration of the mind upon nothing but itself, and thence to individual self-glorification and selfadulation. But that an immense service has been rendered by this practice to all higher life in India seems to him beyond question. He has tried it himself and found it so useful that he would advocate its being made an integral part of all education everywhere.

Can there be any doubt that the three essentials of Yoga practice — heightening the power of concentration, putting a stop to the vagaries of automatic soul-action by fixing one’s mind upon its deepest sources of strength, vitalizing psychic processes the prevalence of which will increase the soul’s efficacy — are all of them calculated to make a man master of his soul in the same sense in which an athlete has become master of his body? These exercises, then, trivial as they may appear to the superficial observer, may indeed be made most powerful instruments in the spiritualization of a man’s whole being, in raising him to a new and higher level of consciousness. This higher level of consciousness, a chronic state of inspiration, so to speak, induced by calling up the innermost and essential energies of the subconscious self, is the avowed goal of all Hindu philosophy. The need of this in our present age, estranged from the religious faith of former centuries, harassed by national passions, overwrought by humdrum toil, material greed, and sensual excitement, is so self-evident that any rational help for attaining to it must be welcomed. Keyserling is convinced that among all the helps offered for a similar purpose from many quarters the Hindu call to the deep is the most rational1 and the most momentous; he sees in the reception of India’s message by Western civilization a real hope of restoring Europe to her spiritual equilibrium.

These are some Diary entries from Benares: ‘The great superiority of India over the Occident consists in the fundamental insight that true culture cannot be acquired by expansion, but only by deepening of one’s self; that the process of deepening is necessarily a process of concentration. Hindu philosophy, so called, does not rest upon what we understand by thinking. Witness the traditional Hindu method of instruction, as described in the Upanishads. When the pupil raises a question, the teacher does not answer direct, but simply says: “Come and live with me for ten years.” And during these ten years he does not instruct him as we understand the word; he gives him some maxim for meditation. The pupil is not to criticize it, analyze it, develop it; he is to sink himself in it until his whole soul has been completely suffused by it. Kant used to say to his students: “ I am not going to teach you a particular system of philosophy, I am going to teach you how to think.” Just that is what the Hindu guru does not teach his pupil. Instead, he tries to help him to reach a new level of consciousness, through transformation of his psychic organism to get beyond the limits set to ordinary human experience.

‘The Hindus, one might say, have replaced the static conception of knowledge by a dynamic one. Sooner or later we also shall come to see that knowledge of the essence of things is not to be attained by however far-reaching a perfection of our critical faculties, not through however exhaustive an analysis of our consciousness as it is, but only through the evoking from the depths of our being of a new and higher form of consciousness. Man must lift himself above his secular instrument of knowledge, he must reach out beyond the biological limits the classic definition of which is contained in Kant ‘s Critiques; he must outgrow his present measure; his consciousness, instead of clinging to the surface, must mirror the spirit of the deep which is the psychic foundation of its whole being. This higher development has begun in India, hence the wonders of Hindu insight into the essence of things. It is for us to carry this development further.

‘This is the path, the only one, that leads beyond our present state. We need not renounce any of our intellectual achievements. The breadth of horizon acquired by the modern mind is not to be reduced. The enormous differentiation of our faculties is a gain and must be maintained. The task is to make all these differentiated faculties subservient to our inmost central being. If we succeed in this, we shall have made ourselves types of a new and higher humanity.’

It is a pity that Count Keyserling did not see India after the Gandhi movement had stirred all classes of the nation to a new and unprecedented spiritual effort. The last days, however, of his Indian sojourn were devoted to a stay with the other great representative of modern Hindu culture, Rabindranath Tagore. Of an evening spent at his house, listening to native musicians, he says: ‘Indian music is only another, richer, and fuller expression of Indian wisdom. He who wishes to understand it must have realized his own self, must know that the individual is only a fleeting tone in the great worldsymphony, that everything belongs together, that nothing can be isolated, and that every objective existence is only the glimpse of a moment in the current of mysterious ever-flowing life. He must know that all phenomena are only a reflection of the invisible Being, and that our redemption lies in anchoring our consciousness in this Being. Tagore himself impressed me as a visitor from that higher region. Never perhaps have I seen so much spirituality concentrated in a human form.’


It is not easy to state briefly2 what spiritual harvest Count Keyserling gathered from his contact with the two other great Asiatic civilizations: the Chinese and the Japanese. Certain it is that he entered into both of them with the same divinatory understanding, the same capacity for reproducing in himself states of mind traditionally not his own, which had been such a help to him in fathoming the Hindu soul.

What in China seems to have impressed him more than anything else is the settled popular belief in the fundamental harmony between the moral world and the physical, and the serene submission to the natural order of things resulting from this belief. The Chinaman, as he appears in this Diary, is the very embodiment of proper adjustment to existing conditions. His is a static world, but this static world contains a wealth of refinement, of beauty, of happiness, of wisdom, such as the restless striving of the Occidental mind rarely brings about. Neither Confucius nor Lao-tse distinguishes, as most European thinkers have done, between the inexorableness of matter and spiritual freedom; to them there is nothing but nature — nature living out a moral process, and therefore easily accessible to moral appeals and motives from the human end of it. Whereas Christianity and Western philosophy challenge man to rise above the world of the senses into the free realm of the spirit, Confucianism counsels man to adapt himself to the all-embracing law of nature. The former inspire us to dare the impossible, the latter teaches how to accomplish the possible. Instead of the Kantian imperative ‘Thou shalt,’ Confucius holds out to his followers an alluring ‘Thou wilt.’ Instead of addressing himself to the chosen few, he appeals to the multitude of average men. Obviously Confucianism does not lead to the cultivation of highly differentiated individualities, but it does lead to a mass morality of an extraordinarily high order, perhaps the highest in existence.

Two types of Chinese character as described by Keyserling — the peasant and the high official — may serve to illustrate the effect of such principles upon human conduct. This is what the Diary records about the Chinese peasant in Shantung Province or the basin of the Yangtze River: ‘Nowhere have I seen such impressive pictures of country existence as on this trip through the interior of China. The whole soil is under cultivation, carefully enriched, neatly and skillfully tilled, reaching up to the highest crests of the hills, which slope down, like the pyramids of Egypt, in artificial terraces. The villages, built of clay and surrounded by clay walls, appear as integral forms of the landscape; so little are they set off from the brownish background. All over the wide plain the peasants are at work, methodical, deliberate, serene; the blue of their frocks is as necessary a part of the picture as the green of the fields or the glaring yellow of the dried-up riverbeds. But this whole plain is also one immense graveyard. Hardly an acre that does not contain numerous burial mounds; again and again the ploughman is compelled to wind his way around the memorial tablets. No other peasantry creates so strong an impression of autochthonousness. Here all life and all death are absorbed by the ancestral soil. Man belongs to it, not it to man; permanently entailed, it never releases its children. Be the increase of their number ever so large, they remain upon the soil, forcing its chary returns by ever more assiduous toil. In death they return confidently to the bosom of their common Mother. There they live forever, and the glebe exhales their spirit to reward the descendants for faithfulness in work or to chastise them for neglect of duty. For the responsibility of the peasant is great. He is the foundation of the whole order of the world. If he does not live up to his duty, then heaven and earth are shaken, and the whole moral order is out of joint.’ But if the peasant’s life is as it should be, then nature also will be in a friendly mood, and the long-lookedfor rain or sunshine will come.

And this is from the notes on a company of viceroys, governors, and other high officials ousted by the revolution, whom Keyserling met as exiles at the then German port of Tsingtau: ‘These men are superior types of humanity, whatever they may have been as officials. Not alone because they are masters of their exterior fate, at present so distressing. They are above their own thoughts, their actions, their selves; not in the manner of the Yogi, who has lifted himself above the realm of phenomena, but in the manner of the man of the world who in the midst of the affairs in which he partakes has preserved his inner freedom. In India the people as people had disappointed me; they are less than their thoughts. Their highest and profoundest being has found expression in abstract knowledge; and the living Hindus are for the most part not incarnations but actors of their striving for the ideal. The Chinese intellectuals are more than their wisdom. They live Confucianism. What I looked upon as a theoretical postulate is to them the natural form of their existence. To all these statesmen it seemed self-evident that the State rests on a moral basis, that politics is the practical expression of ethics, and justice the normal outgrowth of benevolence. Our own political culture is something of an external garment; it is the result of a system which forces the individual to act correct’y; it has nothing to do with the soul life. The political culture of the Chinese rests upon the cultivation of this very thing, the inner life. And if we remember that the Chinese Empire has been ruled for thousands of years hardly worse than modern Europe, without much of an administrative mechanism automatically keeping people in order, solely through the moral qualifications of its citizens, one must admit that the average level of moral culture among the Chinese intellectuals must be remarkably high. Remarkably high it surely was with the intellectuals with whom I came in contact. . . . They consider us moral barbarians. Our systems, they admitted, were admirable; but what of the men and their fundamental character? I fear these gentlemen are right. Our political systems are functioning with precision. But we are inferior to our systems; the Chinese are superior to theirs. That is the result of Confucian education.’

To sum up. China, Imperial China (for the Chinese Republic is still a thing of doubtful character and uncertain prospects), has given to mankind a highly valuable type of collective moral strength, based upon a view of the world of striking unity and consistency. According to this view the moral law and the physical law belong to the selfsame all-embracing system of terrestrial existence. Identical norms regulate moral conduct, the sequence of the seasons, the recurrent changes of night and day. There is one great living whole which contains in itself the human and the nonhuman, the organic and the inorganic, the natural and the moral, as component parts of a higher harmony. The moral element, however, is the primary element. Therefore nature runs the risk of sinking back into chaos when men neglect their natural duties; when the fathers are no good fathers, husbands no good husbands, princes no good princes, subjects no good subjects; when the five heavenly virtues — justice, magnanimity, courteousness, insight, loyalty — are not assiduously practised. As soon, however, as the moral law is upheld, everything else automatically sets itself right. In this fundamental trust in moral principle lies China’s greatness. ‘China has remained great, although she hardly ever was a great, political power, and although in war she has almost always been defeated. China will remain great, even if she should be divided up among other nations.’

It would seem that the liberal-conservative Keyserling was better qualified to appreciate Chinese civilization than the radical Bertrand Russell, who from his recent sojourn in Peking brought back as his chief impression the conviction that the sacrifice of the individual to the social order is the curse of all Chinese life. Keyserling, indeed, like Bertrand Russell, clearly sees that the cultivation of mass morality entails the danger of leveling all individuals down to the standard of the average. But, being temperamentally given to seeking out the positive side of things, he discounts this defect of Chinese culture in comparison with the inestimable benefits which all mankind may derive from the Chinese principle that ethics is the only safe basis of conduct in all human affairs, private and public, national and international.


What is it that in Japan impressed our traveler as containing a message of world import? Many of his observations are in line with what other writers, from Lafcadio Hearn on, have told us about Japanese landscape, Japanese feeling for nature, the exquisiteness of Japanese art, the charm of Japanese women, and the depth of Japanese patriotism. One contribution, however, of Keyserling’s to the understanding of Japanese character seems to me to outweigh all the rest.

He objects to the word ‘imitative’ as applied to it. No, the Japanese are not imitators — they are exploiters, appropriators, adaptors. Without having the depth of the Hindu absorption in the infinite, they have evolved from Buddhism a religion of superlative heroism. Without their artistic originality and productiveness being equal to that of the Chinese, they have, by closest observation and assimilation of Chinese models, in many ways outdistanced Chinese art. Without having invented any of the methods of modern strategy, they have applied them with such supreme skill as to shatter the military strength of the vast Russian Empire. Theirs is a civilization of mental tactics; the fit symbol of their whole national life is their method of wrestling, the jujutsu. As the Japanese wrestler watches every play of muscle, every fleeting facial expression, every involuntary motion on the part of his opponent, and instantaneously adapts his own movements thereto, so the Japanese as a nation are constantly on the alert in trying to find out what in other national cultures is either strikingly beneficial or strikingly harmful, so as to avoid or adopt similar characteristics or states of mind as quickly as possible. They are fully abreast in this respect with the progressive nations of Europe.


So Japan forms intellectually as well as geographically a fitting transition stage to the last protracted stay in Count Keyserling’s flight around the civilizations of the globe: the United States of America. And here the observer of the past turns into a prophet of the future.

His first pilgrimage is to the giants of the Mariposa forest. He greets them with enthusiasm as messengers of the spirit of the West: exuberant nature, which in India produces a promiscuous, bewildering jungle, creates on American soil the mighty, sovereign sequoia, sharply outlined, rivalry-defying, soaring skyward: what a symbol of American individualism! What an encouragement to the Occidental state of mind in general! For it is the spirit of modern Occidental Europe, carried to its furthest limit, which Keyserling sees everywhere in the United States, from his first sight of the Golden Gate to his passing the Statue of Liberty.

Being by temper and tradition a conservative, and having just steeped himself in the conceptions and ideals of the timeless, immutable East, he has a keen eye for the defects and dangers of a society the very essence of which is fluidity and absorption in the moment. The modern individual in general, and the modern American in particular, only too often is a fanatic of progress. There is nothing definitive for him; everything is but a stepping-stone toward something else; instead of identifying himself, like the Hindu, with a permanent task and striving for perfection in it, he thinks of it as a rôle temporarily assumed, and the change of rôles quite as much as the acting of them is what gives zest to his life. The same fanaticism of progress is responsible for many other defects and dangers of modern European, and particularly American, life: its prevailing materialism, its lack of true culture, the enslaving influence of machinery, the impoverishment of the soul by what is called success. Keyserling’s notes are full of serious observations on these evils.

And yet, that first vision of American greatness which came to him at the sight of the giant sequoias in the Mariposa forest was not a fleeting dream. It stands by him as he crosses the country; it upholds him in Chicago and New York; it gives to the last chapters of his book the character of a strikingly hopeful finale. All the evils mentioned and many others are to Keyserling after all but necessary concomitants of a comprehensive movement essentially forward and upward: movement from a democracy of material wealth toward a new aristocracy of the spirit.

Even Europe has been transformed during the last hundred years by the typically Western spirit of individual initiative. In many ways this spirit has acted as a destroyer. It has broken up inherited allegiances, undermined religious beliefs, subverted moral systems, disintegrated governments, leveled down social distinctions, sacrificed beauty to utility, commercialized and barbarized the soul. But it has also freed from bondage, bettered social conditions, increased popular health, brought forth great leaders, strengthened the will, created a new idealism, throughout Europe. Present-day America, however, is the classic soil of this spirit of individual initiative; here its effects have been unparalleled, both for good and for ill. As for the latter, it is hardly necessary to dwell on the avalanches of ugliness with which individual enterprise has covered the country; or on the singular form of barbarism to which it has led by producing a class of inordinately rich totally unable to enjoy their riches æsthetically; or on any other distortions of human nature for which it has been responsible. The point is that Keyserling, while not ignoring these distortions, keeps his gaze steadily fixed on the positive contribution which this intensely individualized American society has made to the world’s advancement, and on the prospects which it holds in store for the future.

America, Keyserling thinks, is of all countries the country where a higher type of the Occidental temper is in the making.

In the first place, the Occidental conception of strife as a fundamental form of human existence has in America been modified by a peculiarly optimistic and humane tinge. The American rightly feels that the conditions under which he lives are such that he can enter the st rife with a good chance of winning out. This gives to American business competition a certain charm of daring adventure, hiding the bald egotism which underlies it after all. And, by giving larger scope to the principle of fair play, it takes away from the struggles of industrial life, violent as these struggles may occasionally be, much of the bitter and chronic hatred which in Europe poisons the relations between Capital and Labor. These are, however, not the only instances of the American’s good-natured acceptance of fight as a part of the day’s work; the national games, college rivalries, the contest of political parties — all have this same aspect of boyish exuberance and delight in trying one’s limbs, literally and metaphorically. In fact, the whole history of the settlement of the continent and the opening-up of vast areas to civilized life has been one continuous testimony to the optimism of a people spoiling for a good fight. What this means for the future of higher culture in America, it is hard to overestimate.

The optimistic and frankly condoning attitude toward material wealth, so characteristic of American life, is another point in which America is carrying forward tendencies that have long been at work in Europe, and is bringing them to their full fruition. Early Christianity was, theoretically at least, a religion for the poor and an enemy of riches. Luther reasserted the dignity of secular pursuits; Calvin made worldly efficiency a touchstone of spiritual selectness. But in America for the first time has worldly success been sanctified, not only by popular opinion, but by the churches as well. With the exception of the Salvation Army, there is indeed no Protestant church in America which did not make its primary appeal to the well-to-do, and was not chiefly supported by them; and the two most modern and particularly active sects, Christian Science and New Thought, avowedly cultivate a state of mind that makes for a happy and prosperous material existence. Who would deny that revolting consequences have arisen from this union of Church and Mammon? But who would not also agree with Count Keyserling that it is after all a good symptom when rich men are beginning habitually to supplement their quest for the goods of this world by the striving for ideals? Where wealth, as is the case in America, is looked upon by the rich themselves as carrying with it the obligation to provide for the things of the spirit, the rise of an intellectual aristocracy seems assured.

Is it fanciful to believe with Keyserling that its rise is also being prepared by the present rapid strides in substituting machinery for human labor, or by the extraordinary advances in the organization on a large scale of all the agencies catering to the daily needs of life? Perhaps he is a little too confident that the energy released by these changes will really be put in the service of the spirit. One aspect, however, of his augury of the future we can accept without reserve and whole-heartedly: the new aristocracy of the spirit, destined to bring about a golden age of American culture, will recruit itsell largely from the ranks of the intelligent, moderately well-to-do freemen — farmers, mechanics, village storekeepers, engineers — who constitute after all the vast majority and the true strength of the American people. In them the Occidental spirit of individual initiative has found representative types of rare sturdiness and efficiency; and in the fluid state of the society of which they are a part there is nothing to hinder their sons and daughters from rising, externally as well as internally, to higher strata. Of this type is peculiarly true what Keyserling says of the American in general: ‘Aus ihm kann noch alles werden (in him there is the making of everything).’


The Hindu ideal of individual perfection within a given limit, Chinese belief in the harmony between the moral and the physical order, Japanese genius for intellectual exploitation, American power of individual initiative — these, unsatisfactory as all such formulas are, may be said to constitute the mental harvest which Keyserling brought back from his trip around the world.

More valuable, however, than any of these acquisitions was to him and is to us the fact that his very delving into the differences of national types and beliefs strengthened and vivified his feeling of the solidarity and common humanity of these different peoples, and thus gave him something of that over-individual consciousness which he had set out to attain. This feeling upheld and inspired him when in the midst of the World War, on his lonely estate in Esthonia, he set to work digesting and revising his travel notes. And ever since he has devoted himself to the spreading of this gospel of a new world-consciousness, a world-consciousness based not upon illusive notions of a supposed equality of national types, but upon exact knowledge of their differences and of their peculiar contributions to the common stock of humanity. Poor, embittered, downtrodden Germany is the land where this message at the present time is perhaps needed most, but it is needed everywhere. And, wherever it is heard, it cannot fail to bring a new hope for the future.

’We are coming’ — these are among the closing words of this remarkable book — ‘We are coming to a broadening of the generally human basis of our life such as was never known before, and at the same time to a deepening and intensifying of every individual racial tendency equally unparalleled. While formerly there was the alternative, nationalism or cosmopolitanism, there will henceforth be a mutual penetration of the two. The different types of culture and belief will come to respect each other as necessary complements of each other. The former “He or I” will more and more be transformed into a conscious and deliberate “We.” And this will take place almost independently of all good will, because the life of the world is itself a connected whole. Already, in science, in money, in economic interdependence, foundations have been laid on the basis of which mutual agreement is inevitable; soon the same will be the case in legal relations. These objective realizations of internationalism, on their part, react upon the subjective side, the states of mind. More and more leading minds are renouncing all exclusiveness of national culture. The international solidarity of Labor is daily becoming more powerful. On some day of grace all humanity will feel as one, in spite of all conflicts and contrasts.

‘ To help in bringing about this blessed day and this better world — that, and not the Occidentalization of the rest of the globe, is the mission of us Occidentals. It is the mission of the West to put into practice what the East, and especially India, has first understood as a theoretical command.’

  1. For myself, I confess that I do not see its rationality. But I feel its inspirational quality.
  2. Perhaps I should say that in this whole essay I have taken the liberty of condensing and in a way vulgarizing Keyserling’s highly metaphysical and often elusive language.