England, France, and America
ONE has only to remember the war years to realize by what easy stages of propaganda we can be brought to a thorough misunderstanding of other peoples. One of the most distinguished books of this year is an honest appraisal of England undertaken by a German for Germans. Books like this help to clear the air and to clear the mind of ignorant hostility.
IT was Harper, $5.00), whose original German edition came out in 1922, to place an honest analysis alongside the war propaganda about the people against whom his people had fought. As such, it has had a profound and lasting effect in Germany. When in the early months of this year the English edition appeared, excellently translated by Miss Mary Hamilton, M.P., it was greeted by full-column reviews in the Times and elsewhere which compared what Professor Dibelius has done for England with what Bryce did for the United States in his American Commonwealth. In England the factual sections of the book belong, of course, to the category of things already known, but the importance of the appraisal of national character which runs along with them, especially for a nation little inclined to be introspective, has been appreciated at its full value.s purpose in writing his book, England, Its Character and Genius (
So fundamental a consideration of English character as this one has hitherto been lacking. In Señor Salvador de Madariaga’s Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards we had brilliant flashes of intuitive insight into what constitutes the essence of an Englishman; in the English chapter of Count Hermann Keyserling’s Europe we hud a combination of personal impression and acute observation of national traits. Professor Dibelius gives, as it were, the physiology of his subject where these two give the algebra; they suggest the formula? of national behavior where he examines the various organs of public life of which it is made up.
He has a preliminary section on ‘The Country and Its People,’ ending with an essay on ‘National Characteristics’ which is one of the high lights of the book. Then follow parts on the Constitution, on religion and the Church, and on education. The final section is an estimate of England’s achievement, based on the points brought out in the preceding pages. The Old English peasant, Chivalry, Humanism, Puritanism, the Nineteenth Century, the Present — it is a beautifully balanced sequence which he finally presents, and one which bears witness to an amazing range of familiarity with English things, from Chaucer’s poems to the last tradeunion law. He sees, and makes it possible for his readers to see, the whole of the English forest, and even the trees thereof are not the dead wood of dry research, but the oaks of Sherwood, the masts of the ships that built the Empire, or the pulp of the tabloid press.
When André Siegfried, the author of A merica Comes of Age, turns to his own country, France: A Study in Nationality (Yale University Press, $2.00), what he presents is not, as in his former work, a sketch of the whole of a national life, but an analysis of a single aspect. In comparing France with the other countries in the modern world M. Siegfried finds that she is hardly a contemporary of to-day. Agricultural to a far larger extent than any other Great Power, self-sufficient economically to an extraordinary degree, and lacking the life-or-death preoccupation with foreign trade of England, Germany, or the United States, France feels an interest outside her boundaries only when her internal security seems to be threatened. For the rest of the time she lives a life busy with domestic thrift, and one in which certain ideas of liberty and culture are translated into individuality. Individuality is at the centre of whatever is original in French civilization. To-day individualist preoccupations are not those of modern society. The strengths and weaknesses of the French system — of a system based on personal work, individualism, and liberty, instead of on coöperation, discipline, and efficiency — are shown most clearly by his study of French politics, which are the aspect of French national life most removed from the ways of the contemporary world.
M. Siegfried reproduces in a remarkable way a feeling of the intangible atmospheric pressures under which the Chamber acts, of those tacit and irrational possibilities and impossibilities which give its working character to any constitution. He points out the forces which support the ideas of the Revolution and those which uphold the concept of Authority as the two magnets which are forever exercising simultaneous attraction upon each individual Frenchman, since every voter ‘wears his heart on the left, but his pocket on the right.’
There is one aspect of political life which one wishes M. Siegfried had treated more at length. At various points he emphasizes the extent to which party alignments are drawn around ideas, the impossibility of a party identified with an ‘interest’ having success. Is there nothing in France, however, which corresponds to our invisible Third House of Congress, no individual who is like our lobbyist? The question is important, because the post-war development of industries like the automobile industry and of groupings like the Comité des Forges is bringing into French life something which more nearly corresponds to ‘the interests in the AngloSaxon sense of the word. Are they not going to complicate the pattern of individualist French politics.”
There is some pertinence in setting beside these two national characterizations the picture of American Culture which James Truslow Adams has drawn in his collected magazine articles, Our Business Civilization (A. & C. Boni, $3.00). The papers give a rather one-sided view, for, from one angle or another, they are all protests against the spiritual deformation of American society through the influence of its over-abundant wealth. The best of them, as for instance the one on ’Jefferson and Hamilton To-day,’ outline trenchantly some of the problems which cannot wait much longer to he discussed. Unfortunately the magazine writer in America whose feelings carry him from analysis to reform has to walk a difficult striding edge which slopes down to muckraking on the left and moralizing on the right. With certain slight slips in each direction, of which ‘Hoover and Law Observance’ and the final, exhortatory ‘Art of Living’ are the chief, Mr. Adams arrives in quite good form. But in arriving has he perhaps outlined for himself a new and deeper book? He points, with justice, to the extent to which values in America are those to be found on a ticket of purchase. By his courageous attack on these values, Mr. Adams has conquered a certain amount of enemy territory. Will he go on and establish a position there?
H. D. HILL