World or Nothing


WE cannot understand the history of our time if we think of today’s agony as just another stage in ‘the same old war.’ A world revolution is taking place. If we study the nature and the causes of the revolution we shall find our duty to ourselves and to mankind. We shall also stop arguing about whether to ‘stay out’ of the war. Nobody can stay out of a world revolution. The revolution can be resisted or accepted; it cannot be ignored.

The war, which is now torturing three continents and which has brought back piracy to ‘ the dark, the serpent-haunted sea,’ is only an incident in the revolution. War today is a sign that the more dangerous revolutionary weapons have failed to do their full work. These weapons include threats and bribes and blackmail, as in the Low Countries and the Balkans; they include economic pressure and treason, as in South America; they include soft promises of friendship for whatever nations the revolution is not yet prepared to murder; above all they include an appeal to the dissatisfactions, the confusions, and the guilt which infest our world because we have too long been untrue to ourselves. The revolution against civilization could not have started but for the sins of civilization.

In our upside-down world it is almost a sign of health when war occurs; because war means that men are somewhere still willing to resist the revolution, still confident enough to try to earn for our civilization a second chance. When there are no more such men the Decline of the West will be complete; we shall have what many pacifists call ‘peace.’

If we are to know the meaning of the revolution we must first know the true meaning of peace. Peace is not the absence of war; peace is the presence of justice. Peace — domestic or foreign — is what men get when they have built a world which deserves to survive. It is not what men get when they refuse to fight, or when they have been so badly beaten that fighting is impossible.

There are three kinds of false peace. The first is the peace of the grave — the peace of Poland. There is an absence of war in Poland today. There is also an increasing absence of Poles. The ancient Polish problem is being solved by the destruction of the men who might lead Poland to revolt. If the Axis has its way for another decade the solution will be complete. There are no problems in the quiet grave.

The second false peace is the peace of the jailhouse—the peace of France. Partly because America must still be lulled into inaction, it is not yet expedient to ‘solve’ the French problem. The blueprints for the solution have been prepared. They have been announced repeatedly. But for the time being, since news still leaks out of Western Europe fairly fast, the solution must be postponed. So France waits disconsolately in the jailhouse, until other men liberate her or until the hour of destruction is at hand.

The third false peace is the peace of the Laodiceans — the peace of the United States. This is the peace of the men who cannot make up their minds. It is the best prelude to the peace of France or of Poland. Saint John said to the Laodiceans: ‘I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. . . . Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ A world in revolution is not a healthy place for those who are neither cold nor hot.

All three of the false forms of peace are characterized by an absence of war; yet none of them is a peace which a patriot would wish for his own country. Nothing less than the peace of justice is worth attempting; and there can be no justice until the revolution is destroyed.

The roots of the revolution are in the cynicism, the disbelief, and the despair which for years have been spreading across the world. These were in turn the fruits of our bad conduct, our betrayal of a great cause. It is more profitable to examine our own sins than those of our neighbors, so I shall review some of America’s contributions to this betrayal.

The soldiers and the sailors of the last war were scarcely demobilized before our country had turned its back on every obligation we had assumed. We pledged our sacred honor in the Armistice that we would help to build a world institution whereby the status quo could be altered progressively by negotiation, instead of convulsively by force. We then broke our word, after careful debate and after ratifying the dishonor in a national election.

It was made clear during that election that if we broke our word we condemned the League of Nations to become a League to keep the status quo as it was, in the interests of the French and British Empires, instead of a League to amend the status quo from time to time in the interests of mankind. Nevertheless, we backed out; we did not choose to be distracted from the delicious pastime of selling each other as many automobiles and iceboxes as possible. We assumed that the fate of mankind did not concern us. We said, ‘I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ And then we assuaged our consciences by abusing the British and French for allowing the League to become what we knew it must become if America abandoned it.

We did not behave much better on the domestic front. In the development of a social conscience we lagged thirty years behind Western Europe. Labor’s rights to collective bargaining were overridden at will. The progressive expropriation of the landowning farmer was ignored, although since the days of Jefferson we had boasted of the small landowner as the backbone of our democracy. The Negro, who had been promised a new justice because of his patriotism during the war, received nothing but the same old invidious treatment sicklied over with the same old palaver about ‘democracy.’ And every protest against these and similar abuses was drowned out by talk about ‘economic law,’ ‘technological necessity,’ and the glories of ‘progress.’

The other rich and powerful ‘free nations’ were behaving as blindly as the United States. For increasing millions in America and Western Europe, freedom and democracy became fake words; the promises of politicians became a synonym for fraud. But injustice was real. And unemployment. And the need of simple men to have something to believe.

Out of the hunger and the unemployment, which were at their worst in Central Europe, and out of the cynicism which was the moral climate of the whole Western world, came the chance for revolution. A world where too many people cannot earn their way, and where too few people believe in anything, has small survival value.

Hitler was a necessity. Unless the great betrayal had led to a collapse of values and a revival of savagery, modern history would be a tale told by an idiot. ‘Something has come to an end,’ wrote Hitler. He thinks that the ‘something’ which has ended is the brief period of modern democracy, beginning with the invention of the steam engine and ending with the invention of the dive bomber. He thinks that modern technology, plus the decline of faith in our civilization, has made it possible for a few ambitious leaders to return the plain man to his traditional place as a slave. This was the message of Oswald Spengler, the John the Baptist of Naziism. This is the purpose of the buccaneers who lead the revolution of nihilism.

Hitler may be right. But there is another answer to the statement that ‘something has come to an end.’ The ‘something’ may be defined, not as the period when men are so foolish as to strive for democracy, but as the period when men are so slack as to betray it. Democracy, as a cheap and boastful creed that demands no sacrifice, is dead. Hitler has murdered it. But democracy as a code of conduct, as the struggle to make institutions which will bring man nearer to his ancient need for ‘equal rights and no special privileges,’ is not necessarily dead. The punishment which our sins have brought upon us may teach us to live better, for a time at least — if we have a second chance. The one thing certain is that there will be no second chance unless the revolution is beaten.

There is no use pouring ashes on our heads and saying with Anne Lindbergh and Robert Hutchins that we are too sinful to resist. We must resist, for this is not a constructive revolution that threatens us. It is not a revolution in the name of a great new cause, which may be expected to settle down into something tolerable after the violent phase is ended. This is a revolution against great causes, as its origins imply. It is a revolution of cynicism and therefore of death. It is a revolution which says there is no law of God or man which holds in this brave new world. Power alone is to be worshiped; there is nothing which may not be done in the name of mastery. The revolution is carrying to its logical end the immoral and antichristian behavior of our world since the last armistice day.

Unfortunately, a world which fulfills its worst sins logically is a world which is dying. Where ‘anything goes,’ everything is gone. If we permit the revolution to conquer, we shall see the end of the world which began with Rome and Palestine. This, too, is predicted by both Spengler and Hitler.


The belief that the Axis revolution can settle down into something tolerable ignores the simplest and the most universal rule of history. The rule has been stated briefly by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘The ends preëxist in the means.’ Or as Eduard Lindeman states it, ‘We become what we do.’ This implies that good ends cannot follow from atrocious means.

The means which are used to promote this revolution are treachery, murder, blackmail, the torture and enslavement of the mind as well as of the body. The permanent institution — the end — which must result from these means is government by the Gestapo. The return of slavery to the modern world, the degradation of man’s reason, must lead to government by the secret police. Whenever the armies of the Axis Powers overrun another nation, the secret police arrive to rule the lives and break the spirits of the people. When the work has been well done the armies may withdraw; but the Gestapo stays.

It is not clever of Americans to think we could ‘get along all right’ in a world run by the Axis. It is like saying that a man with his own private suite of rooms, and his own private income, could ‘get along all right’ in a jail or a madhouse.

Yet there is nothing which this revolution of destruction, carried on by torture, can build except a world combining the worst features of prison and asylum. Hitler may cheat and deceive all men; but he cannot cheat history. He may abolish all other laws; but he cannot abolish the law which says that ‘ the ends preëxist in the means.’ This too was predicted by his John the Baptist, who cried out in an ecstasy of masochism that the future belongs, not to the decent human race, but to the Cæsars and the soldier-emperors whose wars will teach us to endure pain like Chinamen and to hope not at all.

Incidentally, we must not pervert the doctrine that ‘the ends preëxist in the means’ by using it as an excuse to accept evil. If force is brought against us to degrade our lives and to destroy our humanity, we must fight back with force. For this is the revolution of slavery, which intends to abolish our world. If we don’t fight back we accept destruction, betraying ourselves and also our descendants for generations to come. Some day, somewhere, man will begin again the long ascent from slavery — but not because of any help we gave him. We shall be known forever as the men who were neither cold nor hot, who would not fight the enemy while there was still time and who therefore handed their world to ruin.

If we turn from morals to economics we find fresh proof that this revolution is one of destruction only, that it must go on until it poisons the world or until enough men stand together to resist it. The Axis Powers are not creating an economic system; they are perfecting a system of making war pay for itself. The unemployed millions of capitalism’s shame are turned into soldiers and munition makers. Then comes a period of ‘guns instead of butter.’ When the supply of guns is sufficient, the soldiers and their guns are sent abroad to steal the butter. The Axis exports troops the way a civilized nation exports surplus commodities, to acquire the imports without which it must perish. Berlin now boasts it has a higher butter ration than London; but the butter is stolen from the nations whose corpses ring the frontiers of the Third Reich.

This is not an economic system, because it is a system that can only work by continual expansion. It can never reach a point of equilibrium. A nation which exports soldiers instead of goods and services, a nation whose imports are gained by plunder rather than by exchange, can set no limits to its conquests. It must expand or die. Physically as well as morally, this revolution of nihilism lives on death. The minute it cannot steal new food, new fuel, new slaves — at that minute it collapses. This is why Austria was not enough (though Hitler promised it was enough); this is why the Sudetenland was not enough (although Hitler swore it was his last ambition); this is why Poland was not enough, nor all the little democracies of the North, nor France, nor blackmailed Bulgaria, nor treason-killed Rumania, nor war-killed Greece and Yugoslavia. This is why the British Empire will not be enough, nor the Ukraine, nor Turkey, nor China if she is finally downed by bombs made of American scrap iron and dropped from planes flown on American fuel.

South America cannot be enough, either. This revolution is a disease. It is the Black Death of civilization. If it is not halted it must spread and spread so long as there is still a healthy body to infect. To be sure, as our appeasers say, the disease must some day run its course—but not until the patient is dead. The ‘new order’ of slavery may then last a thousand years, as Hitler hopes. It may last a much shorter time. But in any case our world is ended. And the essential point is that because of its moral and its economic nature the Axis revolution cannot stop. The Axis sword, once drawn, can never be sheathed.

It is ironic that there should be Americans who assume that the revolution will stop short of our shores. For not only is it incapable of stopping short anywhere until it has conquered the world or been conquered by the world, but we in America are its natural enemies. We are rich, and the revolution lives on plunder. We still hold in our hearts the great tradition of freedom, and the revolution depends on the spread of slavery. We have boasted for a century and a half that we welcome ‘all men,’ and even though the boast is sometimes vain we still intend to make it come true; the revolution boasts that it will divide the world into a few masters and a multitude of slaves. The leaders of the revolution hate us as no enemies have ever hated us before. They despise us as only envy can teach men to despise. They call us ‘Jewish,’ ‘decadent,’ and ‘capitalistic.’ They mean that in so far as we stand for anything we stand for the eternal opposite of their world. It will be a sad day for the Americas if we let them control the Atlantic Ocean. And control it they will if we let the British Empire follow the French Empire into their greedy hands.


Even so brief a review of the origins and the nature of this revolution may help to answer the arguments of those who still urge that we make terms with the enemy. With her usual calmness and good taste, Anne Lindbergh asked for a negotiated peace in the last issue of this magazine. She said she would like to help England, and she added 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.’ And then she asked whether ‘the prolongation and expansion of this war will contribute to their survival.’

If a man has a mortal illness, he does not ask whether fighting the illness by all the means at his disposal will contribute to his survival. It may or it may not. He knows, however, that refusing to fight the illness must contribute to his immediate death. And he knows that he cannot make a negotiated peace with his disease. Yet Anne Lindbergh asks, ‘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 hard-pressed empire still farther down the path to ruin?’

The question could only be raised by someone who thinks of this war in terms of a contest for Alsace-Lorraine, or the Cameroons. Mrs. Lindbergh must be one of the alarming people who have never learned Emerson’s law of history. How else could she imagine that we can negotiate a ‘peace’ with people who conquer by torture and terrorism and by the destruction of man’s chance to use his mind or to possess morals?

One illustration may suggest the weakness of this well-meaning hope. The American papers recently carried pictures of the new Ghetto walls built in Poland, in the year 1941. Anyone with a sense of history, seeing the pictures, must have felt his blood run cold. Those Ghetto walls are not the relics of a dark past. They were built this year, in 1941, in order that man might the better oppress and degrade his neighbor. They are a physical sign of the slavery that the revolution is bringing back into our world, along with the Nordic gods of pessimism and the Spenglerian philosophy of doom. They represent the contempt for your neighbor which will take the place of the Christian affirmation; they stand for the reign of pure power which will supersede our effort to create a reign of law.

The men who build such walls cannot negotiate a peace with the men whose hearts are outraged that such walls can be. The two groups can only negotiate an armistice, so that the silly men who still think this is a war and not a world-revolution can go home and resume business as usual, while the revolutionists prepare for the next stage in the slaughter.

The last and most attractive and most lethal of Anne Lindbergh’s arguments is that the revolution is too bad to endure. ‘The Nazi order,’ she writes, ‘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.’ Mrs. Lindbergh does not seem to understand that civilizations, like men, can die.

The Nazis are not reforming capitalist democracy; they are murdering it. They are not substituting a new and vital philosophy; they are substituting plunder and slavery. In the world of today, writes Spengler, ‘the conflict of intelligences that had served as substitute for war must give place to war itself in its most primitive form.’ And in the world of tomorrow ‘high history lays itself down weary to sleep. Man becomes a plant again, adhering to the soil, dumb and enduring. The timeless village and the “eternal” peasant reappear, begetting children and burying seed in Mother Earth — a busy, not inadequate swarm, over which the tempest of soldier-emperors passingly blows. . . . Men live from hand to mouth, with petty thrifts and petty fortunes, and endure. Masses are trampled on in the conflicts of the conquerors who contend for the power and the spoil of this world, but the survivors fill up the gaps with primitive fertility and suffer on.’

This is the stuff on which our modern Cæsars feed. This is the philosophy — with technological refinements both for efficiency and for cruelty — which is being applied in Poland today. It is perhaps too much to expect our politicians to read the writings which formed the mind of Hitler, and which explain the pessimism and the contempt for man out of which this revolution rose. But authors who would persuade America to make peace with the revolution might be asked to take into account the nature of the movement they would appease.

Even if we take the short view, and look on the world tragedy of today as a war, it is a war which we dare not lose because it involves the control of the Atlantic Ocean. Our leaders in the past, from Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson, knew that if that ocean passed into hostile hands it would no longer be a bulwark for our liberties; it would be a broad highway for any desired attack on this hemisphere. But the war, as I have said, is only an incident in the revolution. And if we take the long view and look upon the revolution raging across the continents and the oceans, it is a revolution which intends to destroy our values, our hopes, forever. It is a revolution which affirms as the rule of life ‘war itself in its most primitive form,’ a revolution which believes that all mankind, except a few masters, must become ‘a plant again, dumb and enduring.’

It would be folly not to recognize that no such revolution could have begun were it not for our sins. It would be a double folly to say that because we have sinned we must now lie down dejectedly and die. We shall die if we try to negotiate with this gospel of doom. We shall die if we try to do business with these makers of slaves. We shall live if we still have faith in man, without which we can have no faith in America.

Man everywhere is waiting for a sign that those who believe in freedom are willing to stand together against those who affirm slavery. The revolution is winning because that sign has not been given. The revolution can be destroyed, by outside pressure and by revolt from within, if man is offered hope. (Even the favored workmen of the ‘master race,’ for whom the Nazis are building model factories and imperial swimming baths, will be disheartened when they discover that the price of these luxuries is endless expansion, endless conflict.) Man wants a second chance to make freedom work, to serve the cause of decency. No people but ourselves can supply that chance. It cannot be done by bargaining with the Cæsars who despise us. It can be done by beating the Cæsars while we still have friends to help us.