‘ Our political views are determined in a last resort by the estimate we have formed of human nature. Those who think meanly of it naturally cry aloud for autocracy and a strong hand. Those who think highly of it inevitably desire the maximum of self-determination and self-realization and the minimum of constraint.’ — GEORGE PEABODY GOOCH
BY a survey of current intellectual conceptions of the case of man in the world, we are able to judge from time to time his progress. This is never constant. At certain stages, the world will be full of books stoutly maintaining his integrity and sustaining the clear goal at which he is aiming. At other times the world becomes dark and uncertain, its leaders hesitant, and, over the whole face of literature, mankind becomes a satisfactory product only if he can restrain impulses at war with his wishes.
At the time of the Second Crusade, a lonely priest was able to stir the world with a fresh enthusiasm. The struggle between Rome and Byzantium, the wide separation of distances, the deep penetration of home-grown varieties of the struggle for power, became insignificant so long as the holy places in Palestine were in the hands of the infidel. Nothing was so important as to rescue them, and bands of armed men, who had previously devoted themselves to the pretensions of local leaders, marched uniformly across Europe to Palestine concentrated upon one objective— the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre and the restraint of the Saracen invasion. There is little known of the action of men in the western countries while this crusade went forward, but we do know enough to appreciate their common consent to its general maintenance. We can realize how, after a little, its tension grew less and the struggle to maintain the advantages which it had started ceased to attract men’s minds as new efforts for regeneration at home supplanted the great objective of the Crusade itself.
Mr. Walter Lippmann’s The Good Society raises in the minds of the thoughtful many questions like this. Twenty-five years separate his Preface to Politics and his inquiry into the ‘Providential State.’ In the meantime the people of the world have become as confused as he was. When he undertook the Preface, the World War had not intervened. Men’s eyes were scarcely opened as yet to the evils of propaganda. No nation, as it then existed, realized its self-importance. In the heyday of Wilson’s New Freedom, there was as yet no room for the state which demanded complete sacrifice of the individual that it might press forward its claims. We were all able to imagine a continuance of ‘ the peace since Waterloo’ and a gradual enlargement of the empire built in a régime of personal liberty, gradually expanding a planned and intelligently directed social order. Then the war came. The great powers of the earth devoted themselves to its prosecution for five years, and sacrificed ten million lives in the process. Gone were the old theories, and a new set of questions had arisen.
Russia was free to develop, from her maritime ports to the German border, a civilization which would resist all encroachments. But in the meantime Germany, tied in at the waist by the Versailles Treaty, felt her population tugging at her; and Italy, aroused by a new impulse, was likewise demanding a place in the sun. Japan, under the compulsion of the new spirit, laid hold of Manchuria. The three peoples thus involved became inflamed with a new set of common ideals, and at the present moment everything in their common psychology is committed to the supremacy of the state. But it is important to note that the peoples of these three countries are absorbed in certain very definite ideals. The supremacy of the state to which their minds are committed is a military supremacy. The man in the street looks forward to an immediate contest with his neighbors. There may be a complaint of the poorness of life, but an immediate comparison is made with the results of the conquest which he assumes his state is about to achieve. Many people in these countries want butter, but they will tell you that the Minister of Propaganda has explained that cannons are more important.
In each one of the three there has come a sudden reversal of the status of military men. To-day in these countries the head of the army is the head of the state. The contributions which the learned men used to make to the development of a more or less humane civilization are narrowed down to their respective contributions to the art of war. As a matter of fact, the German, Italian, and Japanese psychology revolves about the instant application of that psychology to the country’s immediate neighbors, and the dominant thought in each country involves the sacrifice of the individual to what is temporarily regarded as the highest good.
The war and its consequences left strange bedfellows. In England, from Land’s End to the Scottish Highlands, every thoughtful conversation turns on England and what will be left of her when the next outbreak comes. Middleaged people regard the bombing of London and its environs as the inescapable penalty Great Britain must pay for German and Italian aggression, while the French people regard the efforts of Germany and Italy to establish, in Spain, the dominance of their theory as the beginning of the end when Germany and Italy take up the war to which their hearts are now committed.
The other side of the world finds the Chinese Republic, with incredible bravery, reorganizing itself into a modern state and yielding with infinite reluctance to the savage onslaught of Japan, which has swept away the twenty million Chinese in Manchuria and has now captured Peking, while at the same moment it terrorizes the heart of China at Shanghai.
The observation of Mr. Gooch quoted at the beginning of this article can, therefore, be accepted only in a free world, and the temporary invasion of the affairs of the world by the acceptance of fixed devotions to radical ideas postpones inevitably the long working out of the ideas upon which it depends. Nothing is more certain than that war prevents the abstract consideration of all qualities which stand in its way. However well disposed one may be to the resumption of normal human relations, he is balked into silence when war comes. Accordingly one is not surprised to discover in Mr. Lippmann’s book a frank protest against the dominance of the world by war and, throughout the course of his argument, repeated references to the purpose which animates those who are at present guiding the destinies of the world. As the result of steadfast thinking, Mr. Lippmann comes to the conclusion that a ‘directed society must be bellicose and poor. If it is not both bellicose and poor, it cannot be directed.’ He comes to the corresponding conclusion that ‘a prosperous society must be free.’
Whatever may be the result of Mr. Lippmann’s thinking, it is inconsistent with the present purposes of the world. Mussolini, Hitler, and the military clique which governs Japan will have none of it. It does not fit in with their theory of the state. It measures itself beside great and peaceful purposes, and until the theory that devotes these countries to war is replaced, any escape from the present alternative is impossible.
It would be simple to trace this fever through other lands. Czechoslovakia, Austria, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, each have their own fears of what their fate will be when the tide comes, born of an ancient tendency on their part to inflict similar disasters on mere neighbors. The southeastern section of Europe has for a long time been nurturing some such philosophy as this, and so, according to the old rules, it was called the ‘Bear-pit of Europe’; but now the pit is enlarged and includes three great military powers, while the peaceful powers of the world are correspondingly diminished. So long as the Bear-pit consisted of these subordinate military elements, Europe, strong in her reliance upon force, was able to control it. Now, however, it is apparent to everybody that the war spirit has grown mandatory. Nations which were once peaceful have accepted its theory.
The League of Nations, established to promote peace among the powerful, finds itself unable to lay down rules which will restrain the aggression of the states which by concerted action lend authority to its decisions. With Italy, Germany, and Japan demanding war, no combination which can be made at Geneva will impose even a temporary restraint upon the world. Whether this war will come depends upon the conditions which leaders in those countries believe to exist. They have discounted England and France. As far as the United States is concerned, there is a very serious question in their minds whether the peaceful persuasion of our people is a state of mind or a preparatory declaration. The United States is always for peace, yet in moments of great righteousness it decides for war.
There is a corresponding uncertainty about Russia. So long as the Trotsky theory obtained in that country, there was widespread concern lest it should be found active and energetic in the presence of a European war. Apparently Stalin has imposed another theory upon Russia, and at least for the present there is a great desire on the part of the Bolshevik Government to be left alone while it develops Russia for the Russian people. How long that will satisfy the Russians neither the Germans nor the Italians know, nor can they have any adequate idea of the extent to which Russia is prepared in the event of an attack upon her. In both quarters of the world, the Italians and Germans on the one side and Japan on the other, there are secret misgivings as to what may turn out to be the real strength of Russia if simultaneously attacked. Her diplomacy is certainly aggressive. If her military policy is correspondingly brave, Italy and Germany realize the possibility of a war with England, France, and Russia, with an overwhelming onslaught by Russia from the east.
Meantime, in the world of finance, both Germany and Italy are gradually reaching the ultimate limit of preparation. Both countries are devoting all they have and all they can borrow to preparation for a war which is scheduled to happen to-morrow. Internal taxation has reached the limit beyond which it would be subject to the law of diminishing return, and external loans cannot be expected to replace what would be needed to keep those countries ready for war unless the war comes soon. One is warned by the experience of other years against counting too much on this possibility. A nation which cannot afford to buy butter for its inhabitants has not often been able to buy cannon for its armies.
Thus we have at the present moment everything tending to war except those undefinable instincts which hold states in subjection because of the uncertainty of the result. Should war be declared, the likelihood is that it will at once become universal. The little states in Central Europe will become immediately involved; but their power is negligible. Italy, Germany, and Russia will determine the outcome, with England and France helping in every way, but themselves involved, perhaps controlled, by the outcome. The theory of life Mr. Lippmann advocates will then be postponed, and if, as many people think, a new world shall arise from such a disaster, it will be controlled by the consequences imposed.
Most of the books current nowadays in this country deal with America as though she had no part in the world struggle. Certainly the mind of America is withdrawn from any part in such a controversy. We are absorbed in technical problems of a purely domestic sort, and it may well be that a war could break out in Europe with consequences so immediate and disastrous as to leave no room for us to interpose our strength in time to avert its disastrous effect. The probability, however, does not lie in that direction. We must not permit ourselves to forget Canada, Austria, New Zealand, and India, which will be crossed by radical currents as the result of such a war; nor should we forget that the consolidated good will of the world lies in the hands of the British Empire, the Scandinavian States, and the United States, as its present sole custodians, and that in the last analysis the policy of this country will be gravely affected by a manifest threat by warlike Europe to seize and imprison historic unities in those countries which represent, after all, the highest stage civilization has yet reached.
It may be that the world has grown too complicatedly intimate to be governed by the old subdivisions which we knew as states, but when the last word is said the result of the struggle for liberty on the one side and despotism on the other will present a problem in which the United States will be obliged to take a share. This was the crisis which in the World War presented itself as a choice. Much has been written since the World War from an opposite point of view, and those who were instrumental in forming the policy of the United States during the World War have grown sad or silent in the present circumstances; but the next time that choice comes the same decision will be made, and America’s attempts to adjust compensation for her veterans will be forgotten and all the heyday preparations of America to make the world safe for democrats will cease to be important if America again embraces the idea that her liberty is endangered.
In The Good Society, Mr. Lippmann parts company with the commentators in the United States on the question involved. For twenty-five years he has struggled with the American mind, and he is no longer deceived by ephemeral books which lay the basis for a temporary philosophy. The brooding and meditating mind finds it impossible to stop with these temporary expedients, and accordingly it cuts down between two deep theories, with the satisfaction of realizing that on one side is human progress and on the other side is an encroachment on the rights of man until what is left will be swept aside in the flood of some tempestuous upheaval remembered only because of its cataclysmic character. It would have been enough if he had said baldly that the present world is organized on the theory of war, that the future world should be organized on the theory of peace. Instead of this, however, he has laboriously undertaken to examine the doctrines of the eighteenth century and comes to the conclusion that Adam Smith had something in his mind very different from the interpretation which has been put upon his work by the glosses of national prejudices and temperament which have interpreted it since 1776. The Wealth of Nations is not a proclamation of laissez faire, but it is one of the movements in favor of the freedom of the individual which is constantly being encroached upon.
‘ Collectivists generalize from an interpretation of a relatively short historical epoch.’ They find it impossible to generalize except in narrow limits. In any collective economy there must be a blow-off place where the mind, unable to be satisfied with the conditions of an art, can impose new conditions, and the intervention of such thinking into a collectivist scheme is the final condemnation of it. This has always been true, but never so true as in our industrial age. Every year sees multiple appliances for the simplification of the arts, and every successful simplification requires their reconstruction. To impose upon this movement the obstacle of governance is to impose the impossible. It is essentially absurd to assume that there can be a group of men so placed and circumstanced that they can suppress all ideas. Philosophers would not do, for every one of them has matured, developed, expanded, and changed his ideas. Politicians would not do, for the scope of the mass with which they have to deal is far beyond their comprehension. Manifestly a set of highly trained specialists will not do, because of their interests. Society is not organized, nor can it be, to make a progressive system out of the inventions and discoveries of the individual, except as those inventions and discoveries are allowed to make a place for themselves.
The example given by Mr. Lippmann of the regimentation of the textile industry in France is a fair illustration. From 1666 to 1730 the regulations were extended until they were finally to be found in four quarto volumes of 2200 pages with three supplemental volumes! A similar application of the principle of regulation to the steel industry of the United States would require a library of many volumes, with changing daily regulations throughout its entire field. This may have been possible once, when regulations were possible because they were local; but, in an age of telegraph, telephone, and wireless publicity, progress depends upon the state of the art to-day, and upon provisions applicable to the raw material, wages and hours, fiscal arrangements, customs, and a dozen other things that make to-day’s product available to a man with money in his hand.
The statement of this case is overwhelmingly made by Mr. Lippmann. Man has reached a condition where every political agency is seeking to control him in the interest of a forthcoming war. Control is sought to be exercised on the other side of the same man by a wilderness of demands of a peremptory nature. He can take his choice and become the servant of the state and surrender his freedom, or on the other hand, by imposing proper limitations upon the power of the state, retain his freedom and continue to advance. The answer to this problem may not be what Mr. Lippmann expects, but that he has stated the problem will not be denied; nor will it be denied that he has successfully intimated certain great problems connected with the security of the individual which will need to be attended to, though upon this phase of his inquiry the expanding future will put its own mark.
The next few years may set his book entirely aside, to be reviewed again when the war is over. The next few years, however, may take the other course if man is as rational as Mr. Lippmann feels he is. For in the latter case there will come a turn against war, and, with that terror removed, the flow of invention and discovery will soon stop attempts to regulate. Man will realize that he has a higher destiny than the service of the state.