I BEGAN to write this article as a reply to my critics. It has, however, turned out to be not a reply but a reaffirmation of what I believe. Replies are dull reading and seldom important. If the criticism is obvious misuse and distortion, it is unnecessary to reply to it. ‘It is not our business,’ said Yeats of bitter criticism, ‘to reply to this and that, but to set up our love and indignation against their pity and hate.’

On the other hand, every sincere criticism must be weighed in the heart. Here the writer can learn, and gratefully. I have never yet written anything that I did not feel could have been better done with more time, with a second or rather with a ninety-ninth attempt. These errors might be corrected, if anyone would be interested. But most corrections are excessively boring. Even dramatic ones get scant attention. We all know the classic example of the worthy clergyman whose name was smirched in a scandalous front-page story in the newspapers. When his friends were able to get a retraction printed on a back page, it read somewhat as follows: ‘Instead of being arrested yesterday as we stated, for kicking his wife down a flight of stairs and hurling a lighted kerosene lamp after her, Reverend James P. Wells died unmarried four years ago.’ I am afraid I should have nothing so dramatic to present by way of correction. In fact, I could correct nothing at all in belief, only in its expression.

I write really, then, because of that urge to say what one believes passionately, and to say it again and again. To say it better and clearer and more fully, if possible, but even if it is said awkwardly and baldly — still to say it again until it is understood. For statements of belief seem to me essential to a democracy. If the statement is considered, if it comes from the depths of sincerity, if it is honest, it can be looked at, it can be accepted or tossed aside; it is not deception, and deception is the real sin in speaking or writing to a free people. Belief in democracy is based on the faith that the average man has a right to judge the path his country is to follow, and that within him, somewhere, lies the insight to make the best choice. This is not to say he is infallible, but that through trial and error, mistakes and suffering, education and practice, he is able to govern himself. The principle of the vote is based on this conception — this confidence in the judgment of the average man. If this is not true in America; if he must be guarded and pampered and fed a predigested political pap; if he must be told what to think and what not to think; if he is not free to select and reject; if he can no longer tell the good from the evil, the true from the false; if the choice must be dictated to him from an ‘elite,’ from an all-knowing, all-seeing power at the top — then we are no longer a democracy. Free speech is based on the conception, not only that every man has a right to speak what he believes, but that every man has the right and the innate power to choose what belief to accept and what to reject. It is based, as the Christian conception, on the spark of divinity in man.

With this concept in mind, I write again what I believe and what I have stated in The Wave of the Future. I do not say everyone must accept my belief, or that the people who don’t accept it are cowards, liars, and traitors. I only say: This is my point of view. I have tried to state it as clearly and honestly as I can. This is the conviction of one sincere citizen. Accept it or reject it in the spirit of American tolerance and independence. That is what matters most.

But there is another reason for this article. When I wrote my book, I did not envisage it as a political pamphlet. I did not fasten it as temporally or locally to this or that particular issue, as many of my critics have done. It was, just as it said, a confession of faith in the future of America. Personally I do not think that the future of America, or of the world, will be best served by entering the present war in Europe, but my book was not concerned alone with the issue of war and peace, today and tomorrow. When one sets down a general faith for the future, one is not thinking in terms of this or that bill, or such and such a politician’s speech. One is thinking, literally, into the future and trying to voice a philosophy for that future, a fresh turn of face and of heart. But in the course of the discussions of my book many questions have come up and many assumptions have been made on where the book stands on this and that temporal issue. To deal with them all I should have to write another book, but some of the questions I have answered here, and some of these assumptions I have corrected, in the course of restatement.


A restatement should start, I feel, with a definition of the title of the book, The Wave of the Future, that fluid, elusive, and protean symbol which has been used to mean whatever the critic desires. What does the ‘Wave of the Future’ mean? Is it, as many people have carelessly and falsely assumed, an ‘inevitable’ wave of Communism, Fascism, and Naziism to which we must bow down in abject submission? No, certainly not. To me, the Wave of the Future is none of these things. It is, as I see it, a movement of adjustment to a highly scientific, mechanized, and material era of civilization, with all its attendant complications, and as such it seems to me inevitable. I feel that we must face this Wave; that we must not be overwhelmed by it, as Europe has been; that we must, on the contrary, ride it — not only ride it, but guide it. Obviously, the image of a wave, from a literary standpoint, is difficult. A physical wave of the ocean, strictly speaking, cannot be guided, whereas the abstract wave of ideas, of emotions, of events, to some extent can be controlled. The control of this abstract wave was the course I proposed for our country, and what might be called the central thesis of my book. I feel we must ‘guide’ the Wave of the Future. ‘Guiding’ a wave — to toss exact literary parallels to the winds — does not mean lying down prostrate on the beach and letting it pound you into the sand. Quite the opposite. It means taking advantage of that wave and controlling it with all the powers at your disposal. It means meeting the changes that are coming in the world before they are forced upon us by cataclysms and violence. That great changes are coming seems to me inescapable — inescapable with or without war, with or without the dictators, for we have set these changes in motion ourselves.

The waves that are inevitable are those we create ourselves, those which follow certain actions of our own, like the waves which ripple back in everwidening circles from a stone thrown into a pool. The Wave of the Future — and there is always one — is a wave of effect following cause. The causes, it seems to me, go back to actions of our own in the last century, to the impact of science on the delicately balanced life of man. In this sense, science is the stone which we ourselves have thrown into the pool of custom. And it is the wave created by this impact that we are confronting today and whose challenge we must meet. I do not say we must meet it in the same way as the dictator-governed nations. I oppose that way from the depths of my conviction. But I think they have had their ear to the ground better than we. They have sensed the changes in the economic, social, mechanistic, and even psychological fields, and have exploited these changes to their own ends. It does not seem to me a wise policy either in war or in peace to overlook or underrate the weapons your opponent is using, in whatever field they may occur. Because your enemy may use them for evil does not mean you may not use them for good. I hoped and I still hope that we may meet this wave in our own way, quickly enough and ably enough to avoid the chaos which resulted from the failure to meet it in Europe. The conception behind the early reforms of the New Deal was certainly an attempt to meet and ride this Wave of the Future, and, as such, was greeted with hope by a majority of forward-looking people. But I am afraid any such attempts may be jeopardized now by our launching blindly into a world war.

It is true, of course, as someone has said, that one must deal not only with the wave but with the scum on its surface — as I defined the evils in Fascism. Certainly it is necessary to deal with the scum; but I feel that if we do not deal with the wave first we shall have no power to deal with the scum. We must prepare ourselves not only with planes, tanks, guns, and battleships, but also with strength in our own internal conditions, or the scum wall overwhelm us, not from abroad, but here at home.

Scum is everywhere; it is not just personified in devils across the ocean; it is in our midst. I believe we have obvious and terrible problems here at home, problems which have arisen from our failure to adjust physically, mentally, and spiritually to the modern material world. These problems, if they go unsolved, will bring with them, I feel, their horrible reactions and antidotes — as night follows day — reactions which we see so plainly abroad. I do not belittle the scum. I look with horror on those evils we see in Europe: the suppression of free speech, of free action, the relinquishing of individual rights to the control of one man, the end of democratic government, the wielding of hate as a weapon, the unrestricted use of force and terror, mob riots, class warfare, racial and religious persecution. I note with growing concern their rise here, following like a steady thermometer the rise of war fever. It is just because I oppose these evils from the bottom of my heart that I oppose the war. I believe our entering a war abroad, a war for which we are not prepared either externally or internally, will be the quickest way of bringing those evils upon us. Then, indeed, we may be overwhelmed by the Wave of the Future, scum and all, unable to guide it, unable to control it, unable — in other words — to impose order on the chaos of a revolutionary era.


When I call the present period revolutionary, I apply the word to the whole period we are going through and not simply to one or another element of it. And when I say I believe the revolution is in its essence good, I mean that the effort to adjust to the mechanized world is a necessary one. And I believe the world which will be evolved from this gigantic effort will be a better one than the world in which we are living today.

My critics say that what is occurring in Germany is not revolutionary in essence, but reactionary. Here I agree with them. Yes, I would say, it is reactionary, in the root-sense of the word. But what is it a reaction against? The interventionists speak of Naziism as a scourge. Perhaps it is a scourge for the Democracies, but is it an accidental scourge? A ‘wave of chance’? I do not believe so. Why did it come? It has often been said that it came as an outgrowth of the last war with all its pitiful failures, hardships, and attendant miseries. I think this is perhaps true, but it seems to me only a half-truth. Is it not possible that Naziism has come not only as a result of evils within Germany but also as a terrible antidote to other weaknesses in the Democracies themselves — as a fever is sometimes necessary to drive out a disease? Had we really been strong Democracies, had we really lived up to what we believed democracy was, would there ever have been any Naziism? This was the question I was trying to pose. I wrote my book in the hope that we might be able to cure ourselves of the diseases attacking democracy without such a terrible corrective as we see in Europe today.

If one looks at history momentarily through the lens of a simplified theory — a theory once suggested to me by my father — one can see man’s long and painful struggle for good government as a struggle to adjust two conflicting desires: his desire for freedom and his desire for order. Both desires are good, but both carried to extremes are evil. Freedom at any price becomes selfishness, licentiousness, lack of standards, and eventually chaos. Order at any price becomes regimentation, intolerance of any dissenting voice in creed, race, thought, or action. Perfect order becomes tyranny, but perfect freedom (in the imperfect. state to which human beings have so far evolved) becomes anarchy. It takes a balance of the two to create a good government. No theory should be accepted too rigidly or carried too far, but in the original vision of Communism there was much which seemed like a striving towards freedom at any price, while Fascism certainly looks at this distance like order at any price. I believe that democracy attempts to be that perfect mean between order and freedom. But if it lapses into a democracy in which each man is out for himself, in which there is no sense of responsibility, no willingness to sacrifice for the common good, in which there is no selfdiscipline or self-control, is this the perfect mean? And can it survive? I am not saying we have reached this state of decay, but I do say that the seeds of such decay are in us and were in all the Democracies before this war started. And I say that, unless we wage war on them here at home, there is no use in our waging war for democracy abroad. Decay will come faster than conquest.

It is for this reason that I have opposed our entrance into this war. It is not that I am insensible to the plight of England. I believe we should help England. My heart draws me to help those people I love and admire; my spirit tells me that the world would be a poor one without an England and without those qualities which are imbedded in English culture: justice, tolerance, and compassion. But my mind asks me if the prolongation and expansion of this war will contribute to their survival. My mind asks me to think of the objectives in this conflict and to consider how they may best be obtained. My mind demands of me the practical ends and aims of the struggle which we are encouraging and in which we may become actively involved. Like thousands of other citizens, I want Britain to survive. But to commit our country, especially in its present state of internal and external unpreparedness, to the reconquering of all of Europe and possibly Asia and Africa seems to me to be setting up an objective hopelessly beyond our range.

Of course it is courageous to fight impossible battles against hopeless odds. There are times when a man prefers to die fighting rather than submit to the conditions imposed upon him. But the aim in conflict is to fight successfully —to survive. Sheer courage is not enough; it must be combined with other elements of human character. The man who sets out to fly the ocean with a faulty engine, and insufficient fuel to reach his objective, may be courageous; but his courage alone will not take him across. He lacks another vital element — intelligence. He has substituted wishful thinking for clear thinking. He has not kept his mind on the objective, or he would have been better prepared to gain it.

We also have objectives. We want the ‘way of life’ embodied in our own and in English culture to survive. We have said that we want to establish a world in which the four freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear — can flourish in peace and security. But can we reach these objectives by entering a war unprepared to wage it successfully? Are we bringing them nearer by prolonging a bloody struggle to universal exhaustion with the prostration of all Europe and possibly our own country as a result? Are not those four freedoms and that ‘way of life’ more likely to be destroyed than saved by such a course? And may it not bring to England, whom we want to help, to America, and to the democratic countries all over the world, conditions possibly worse than those in Germany we condemn? Should we not approach our objective more nearly by putting the strength of our influence behind an undefeated England for a negotiated peace than by pushing a hardpressed empire still farther down the path to ruin?


I do not overlook the horrors of war, of aggression, of tyranny. How can any living soul in the world today overlook them? Who can watch his own children without thinking of maimed and mutilated children in the slums of London? Who can sit down to a meal without thinking of the families facing their dwindling ration of bread in Europe? Who can enter his own door without thinking of refugees, homeless, driven, and hunted from nation to nation? Who can even look at the sun rising or setting without considering what deaths that day has brought to countless soldiers in the field of battle? Not one instant of the day is free from the thought of war and its horrors. Even beauty is darkened by it. A full moon riding through a cloudless sky brings thoughts of the shining and vulnerable roofs of cities. There is no shred of beauty left — even in America — which is untouched by the tragedies of our time.

Certainly one feels things. Who can do otherwise if he reads the daily newspapers? But it is not enough to feel, to be shocked, to strike out blindly. One must think, and one must try to think without hate and without anger, for these only muddy thought and obstruct action. One must search and ask: Howcan these things be stopped? How can they be alleviated? How, finally, can they be prevented? One must consider deeply in one’s heart whether the course one advocates, in emotion, will increase or decrease the miseries both here and abroad; whether it will stop them, or prolong them; whether it will contribute fundamentally to their permanent solution.

This is essentially what my book asked. It asked people to try to look at the world and world issues quietly and objectively. Even in an emergency — especially in an emergency — it is better not to lose one’s head. It said that possibly the world is more complicated than this cartoon before our eyes, slashed in stark black and stark white. It said that possibly we had been taking too narrow a view of the world situation; that possibly there were other causes and other solutions than the obvious and muchheralded ones. It suggested that our dangers were internal rather than external, and that if we did not solve the internal ones first we might not be able to solve the external ones. It advocated a reappraisal and a reaffirmation of our own standards and beliefs to meet the changing world. It did not in any sense set up ‘the new order of Fascist Europe’ as a pattern to copy, or call that new order ‘the Wave of the Future,’ or say that such an ‘order’ was all-powerful, inevitable, and permanent. On the contrary, I cannot believe that Europe will permit it self to be permanently governed under certain of the precepts of that philosophy. If Europe is governed in a period of peace by the same rules that Germany has imposed on her own and conquered peoples in a period of revolution and war, that continent will never function successfully or prosperously, even for Germany. Prosperity is not a flower which grows from oppression. Burke preached this principle two hundred years ago when he urged upon the English government more tolerant treatment of the American colonies. The Nazi Order, as far as we can judge it from literature, speeches, threats, and present examples, will have to moderate or it will fall. It is not built on principles that are lasting. For that reason alone, if not for many others, we should not copy it.

I do feel, however, that we should set about to evolve a new and better world of our own to face the Nazi challenge: a world which can be a stronghold for those virtues, those faiths, and those beliefs which are fast disappearing from the globe; a world which, by its example, can point the way forward to another era, which can use the new forces of our time for good and not for evil. The shaping of such a world will certainly take vision, faith, and tremendous courage. It is not a policy of apathy and ease, but of effort and initiative. It will have to be a profound renewal, a ‘peaceful revolution.’ But peaceful revolution does not mean violent change. It means, to my mind, revolution in the sense used by a modern poet who defined it as ‘the conquering of abuses for the benefit of the deepest tradition.’

The ‘deepest tradition’ I take here arbitrarily to be not only the American tradition but the Christian one. The revolution that will have to take place over the world before it can again begin its march forward seems to me not alone the conquest of machine by man, but much more deeply the conquest of spirit over matter. The material world has outstripped us, and we must try to make up our lost ground. No one, it is true, or no period has yet been able to make the perfect adjustment of spirit to matter. In one age spiritual values seem to predominate, and in another, material. But is it fantastic to hope that in America we might be able to approach a better solution than ever before? We have in our heritage and in our temperament both the man of action and the dreamer; both the practical man and the visionary, the technician and the mystic. Might not America, with her peculiar advantages of geographical situation, of temperament, of heredity, and of culture, be able to work out some of the old, old problems of man, and, in doing so, give her greatest possible contribution to civilization?

The future that I envisage for America, and in which I voice faith, is not an arid isolationism nor yet the golden bubble of imperialism. I envisage America as a light to other nations, but not as a firebrand, spreading here and there. Of course the light must be guarded. It must be fed. But it can only be fed at its source. It must be kept burning clear and bright so that it may shine over great distances and be a guide to strangers many miles away. But a light does not need to be scattered over wide areas to shine a great distance. What it needs is height. ‘A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.’