Modern period

The story of the French Revolution is too familiar to need recapitulation here: indeed, I have already dealt with it in my Social Revolutions ; but the effects of that convulsion are only now beginning to appear, and these effects, without the shadow of a doubt, have been in their ultimate development the occasion of that great war whose conclusion we still await.

France, in 1792, having passed into a revolution which threatened the vested interests of Prussia, was attacked by Prussia, who was defeated at Valmy. Presently, France retaliated, under Napoleon, invaded Prussia, crushed her army at Jena, in 1807, dismembered the kingdom and imposed on her many hardships. To obtain their freedom the Prussians found it needful to reorganize their social system from top to bottom, for this social system had descended from Frederic William, the Great Elector of Brandenburg (1640-1688), and from Frederic the Great (1740-1786), and was effete and incapable of meeting the French onset, which amounted, in substance, to a quickened competition. Accordingly, the new Prussian constitution, conceived by Stein, put the community upon a relatively democratic and highly developed educational basis. By the Emancipating Edict of 1807, the peasantry came into possession of their land, while, chiefly through the impulsion of Scharnhorst, who was the first chief of staff of the modern army, the country adopted universal military service, which proved to be popular throughout all ranks. Previous to Scharnhorst, under Frederic the Great, the qualification of an officer had been birth. Scharnhorst defined it as education, gallantry, and intelligence. Similarly, Gneisenau's conception of a possible Prussian supremacy lay in its army, its science, and its administration. But the civil service was intended to incarnate science, and was the product of the modernized university, exemplified in the University of Berlin organized by William von Humboldt. Herein lay the initial advantage which Germany gained over England, an advantage which she long maintained. And the advantage lay in this: Germany conceived a system of technical education matured and put in operation by the State. Hence, so far as in human affairs such things are possible, the intelligence of Germans was liberated from the incubus of vested interests, who always seek to use education to advance themselves. It was so in England. The English entrusted education to the Church, and the Church was, by the necessity of its being, reactionary and hostile to science, whereas the army, in the main, was treated in England as a social function, and the officers, speaking generally, were not technically specially educated at all. Hence, in foreign countries, but especially in Germany which was destined to be ultimately England's great competitor, England laid herself open to rather more than a suspicion of weakness, and indeed, when it came to a test, England found herself standing, for several years of war, at a considerable disadvantage because of the lack of education in those departments wherein Germany had, by the attack of France, been forced to make herself proficient. This any one may see for himself by reading the addresses of Fichte to the German nation, delivered in 1807 and 1808, when Berlin was still occupied by the French. In fine, it was with Prussia a question of competition, brought to its ultimate tension by war. Prussia had no alternative as a conquered land but to radically accelerate her momentum, or perish. And so, at the present day, it may not improbably be with us. Competition must grow intenser.

With England the situation in 1800 was very different. It was less strenuous. Nothing is more notable in England than to observe how, after the Industrial Revolution began, there was practically no means by which a poor man could get an education, save by educating himself. For instance, in February 1815, four months before Waterloo, George Stephenson took out a patent for the locomotive engine which was to revolutionize the world. But George Stephenson was a common laborer in the mines, who had no state instruction available, nor had he even any private institution at hand in which the workmen whom he employed in practical construction could be taught. He and his son Robert, had to organize instruction for themselves and their employees independently. So it was even with a man like Faraday, who began life as an errand boy, and later on who actually went abroad as a sort of valet to Sir Humphry Davy. Davy himself was a self-made man. In short, England, as a community, did little or nothing by education for those who had no means, and but little to draw any one toward science. It was at this precise moment that Germany was cast into the furnace of modern competition with England, who had, because of a series of causes, chiefly geographical, topographical, and mineralogical, about a century the start of her. Against this advantage Germany had to rely exclusively upon civil and military education. At first this competition by Germany took a military complexion, and very rapidly wrought the complete consolidation of Germany by the Austrian and the French wars. But this phase presently passed, and after the French campaign of 1870 the purely economic aspect of the situation developed more strenuously still, so much so that intelligent observers, among whom Lord Roberts was conspicuous, perceived quite early in the present century that the heat generated in the conflict must, probably, soon engender war. Nor could it either theoretically or practically have been otherwise, for the relations between the two countries had reached a point where they generated a friction which caused incandescence automatically. And, moreover, the inflammable material fit for combustion was, especially in Germany, present in quantity. From the time of Fichte and Scharnhorst downward to the end of the century, the whole nation had learned, as a sort of gospel, that the German education produced a most superior engine of economic competition, whereas the slack education and frivolous amusements of English civil and military life alike, had gradually created a society apt to crumble. And it is only needful for any person who has the curiosity, to glance at the light literature of the Victorian age, which deals with the army, to see how dominant a part such an amusement as hunting played in the life of the younger officers, especially in the fashionable regiments, to be impressed with the soundness of much of this German criticism.

Assuming, then, for the sake of argument, that these historical premises are sound, I proceed to consider how they bear on our prospective civilization.

This is eminently a scientific age, and yet the scientific mind, as it is now produced among us, is not without tendencies calculated to cause uneasiness to those a little conversant with history or philosophy. For whereas no one in these days would dream of utilizing prayer, as did Moses or Saint Hugh, as a mechanical energy, nevertheless the search for a universal prime motor goes on unabated, and yet it accomplishes nothing to the purpose. On the contrary, the effect is one which could neither be expected nor desired. Instead of being an aid to social coordination, it stimulates disintegration to a high degree as the war has shown. It has stimulated disintegration in two ways. First, it has enormously quickened physical movement, which has already been discussed, and secondly, it has stimulated the rapidity with which thought is diffused. The average human being can only absorb and assimilate safely new forms of thought when given enough time for digestion, as if he were assimilating food. If he be plied with new thought too rapidly he fails to digest. He has a surfeit, serious in proportion to its enormity. That is to say, his power of drawing correct conclusions from the premises submitted to him fails, and we have all sorts of crude experiments in sociology attempted, which end in that form of chaos which we call a violent revolution. The ordinary result is infinite waste fomented by fallacious hopes; in a word, financial disaster, supplemented usually by loss of life. The experience is an old one, and the result is almost invariable.

For example, during the Middle Ages, men like Saint Hugh and Peter the Venerable, and, most of all, Saint Francis, possessed by dreams of attaining to perfection, by leading lives of inimitable purity, self-devotion, and asceticism, inspired the community about them with the conviction that they could work miracles. They thereby, as a reward, drew to the Church they served what amounted to being, considering the age they lived in, boundless wealth. But the effect of this economic phenomenon was far from what they had hoped or expected. Instead of raising the moral standard of men to a point where all the world would be improved, they so debased the hierarchy, by making money the standard of ambition within it, that, as a whole, the priesthood accepted, without any effective protest, the fires of the Council of Constance which consumed Huss, and the abominations of the Borgias at Rome. Perfectly logically, as a corollary to this orgy of crime and bestiality, the wars of the Reformation swept away many, many thousands of human beings, wasted half of Europe, and only served to demonstrate the futility of ideals.

And so it was with the Puritans, who were themselves the children of the revolt against social corruption. They fondly believed that a new era was to be ushered in by the rule of the Cromwellian saints. What the Cromwellian saints did in truth usher in, was the carnival of debauchery of Charles II, in its turn to be succeeded by the capitalistic competitive age which we have known, and which has abutted in the recent war.

Man can never hope to change his physical necessities, and therefore his moral nature must always remain the same in essence, if not in form. As Washington truly said, "The motives which predominate most in human affairs are self-love and self-interest," and "nothing binds one country or one state to another but interest."

If, then, it be true, that man is an automatic animal moving always along the paths of least resistance toward predetermined ends, it cannot fail to be useful to us in the present emergency to mark, as distinctly as we can, the causes which impelled Germany, at a certain point in her career, to choose the paths which led to her destruction rather than those which, at the first blush, promised as well, and which seemed to be equally as easy and alluring. And we may possibly, by this process, expose certain phenomena which may profit us, since such an examination may help us to estimate what avenues are like to prove ultimately the least resistant.

Throughout the Middle Ages North Germany, which is the region whereof Berlin is the capital, enjoyed relatively little prosperity, because Brandenburg, for example, lay beyond the zone of those main trade routes which, before the advent of railways, served as the arteries of the eastern trade. Not until after the opening of the Industrial Revolution in England, did that condition alter. Nor even then did a change come rapidly because of the inertia of the Russian people. Nevertheless, as the Russian railway system developed, Berlin one day found herself standing, as it were, at the apex of a vast triangle whose boundaries are, roughly, indicated by the position of Berlin itself, Petersburg, Warsaw, Moscow, Kiev, and the Ukraine. Beyond Berlin the stream of traffic flowed to Hamburg and thence found vent in America, as a terminus. Great Britain, more especially, demanded food, and food passed by sea from Odessa. Hence Russia served as a natural base for Germany, taking German manufactures and offering to Germany a reservoir capable of absorbing her redundant population. Thus it had long been obvious that intimate relations with Russia were of prime importance to Germany since all the world could perceive that the monied interests of Russia must more and more fall into German hands, because of the intellectual limitations of the Russians. Also pacification to the eastward always was an integral part of Bismarck's policy. Notwithstanding which other influences conflicted with, and ultimately overbalanced, this eastern trend in Germany.

For many thousand years before written history began, the economic capital of the world, the seat for the time being of opulence and of splendor, and at once the admiration and the envy of less favored rivals, has been a certain ambulatory spot upon the earth's surface, at a point where the lines of trade from east to west have converged. And always the marked idiosyncrasy of this spot has been its unrest. It has constantly oscillated from east to west according as the fortunes of war have prevailed, or as the march of applied science has made one or another route of transportation cheaper or more defensible.

Thus Babylon was conquered and robbed by Rome, and Rome, after a long heyday of prosperity, yielded to Constantinople, while Constantinople lost her supremacy to Venice, Genoa, and North Italy, following the sack of Constantinople by the Venetians in 1202 A.D. The Fairs of Champaign in France, and the cities of the Rhine and Antwerp were the glory of the Middle Ages, but these great markets faded when the discovery of the long sea voyage to India threw the route by the Red Sea and Cairo into eccentricity, and caused Spain and Portugal to bloom. Spain's prosperity did not, however, last long. England used war during the sixteenth century as an economic weapon, pretty easily conquering. And since the opening of the Industrial Revolution, at least, London, with the exception of the few years when England suffered from the American revolt of 1776, has assumed steadily more the aspect of the great international centre of exchanges, until with Waterloo her supremacy remained unchallenged. It was this brilliant achievement of London, won chiefly by arms, which more than any other cause impelled Germany to try her fortunes by war rather than by the methods of peace.

Nor was the German calculation of chances unreasonable or unwarranted. For upwards of two centuries Germany had found war the most profitable of all her economic ventures; especially had she found the French war of 1870 a most lucrative speculation. And she felt unbounded confidence that she could win as easy a triumph with her army, over the French, in the twentieth as in the nineteenth century. But, could she penetrate to Paris and at the same time occupy the littoral of the Channel and Antwerp, she was persuaded that she could do to the commerce of England what England had once done to the commerce of Spain, and that Hamburg and Berlin would supplant London. And this calculation might have proved sound had it not been for her oversight in ignoring one essential factor in the problem. Ever since North America was colonized by the English, that portion of the continent which is now comprised by the Republic of the United States, had formed a part of the British economic system, even when the two fragments of that system were competing in war, as has occurred more than once. And as America has waxed great and rich these relations have grown closer, until of recent years it has become hard to determine whether the centre of gravity of this vast capitalistic mass lay to the east or to the west of the Atlantic. One fact, however, from before the outset of this war had been manifest, and that was that the currents of movement flowed with more power from America to England than from America to Germany. And this had from before the outbreak of hostilities affected the relations of the parties. Should Germany prevail in her contest with England, the result would certainly be to draw the centre of exchanges to the eastward, and thereby to throw the United States, more or less, into eccentricity; but were England to prevail the United States would tend to become the centre toward which all else would gravitate. Hence, perfectly automatically, from a time as long ago as the Spanish War, the balance, as indicated by the weight of the United States, hung unevenly as between Germany and England, Germany manifesting something approaching to repulsion toward the attraction of the United States while Great Britain manifested favor. And from subsequent evidence, this phenomenon would seem to have been thus early developed, because the economic centre of gravity of our modern civilization had already traversed the Atlantic, and by so doing had decided the fortunes of Germany in advance, in the greater struggle about to come. Consider attentively what has happened. In April, 1917, when the United States entered the conflict, Germany, though it had suffered severely in loss of men, was by no means exhausted. On the contrary, many months subsequently she began her final offensive, which she pushed so vigorously that she penetrated to within some sixty miles of Paris. But there, at Château Thierry, on the Marne, she first felt the weight of the economic shift. She suddenly encountered a division of American troops advancing to oppose her. Otherwise the road to Paris lay apparently open. The American troops were raw levies whom the Germans pretended to despise. And yet, almost without making a serious effort at prolonged attack, the Germans began their retreat, which only ended with their collapse and the fall of the empire.

A similar phenomenon occurred once before in German history, and it is not an uncommon incident in human experience when nature has already made, or is on the brink of making, a change in the seat of the economic centre of the world. In the same way, when Constantine won the battle of the Milvian Bridge, with his men fighting under the standard of the Labarum, it was subsequently found that the economic capital of civilization had silently migrated from the Tiber to the Bosphorus, where Constantine seated himself at Constantinople, which was destined to be the new capital of the world for about eight hundred years. So in 1792, when the Prussians and the French refugees together invaded France, they never doubted for an instant that they should easily disperse the mob, as they were pleased to call it, of Kellermann's "vagabonds, cobblers, and tailors." Nevertheless the Germans recoiled on the slope of Valmy from before the republican army, almost without striking a blow, nor could they be brought again to the attack, although the French royalists implored to be allowed to storm the hill alone, provided they could be assured of support. Then the retreat of the Duke of Brunswick began, and this retreat was the prelude to the Napoleonic empire, to Austerlitz, to Jena, to the dismemberment and to the reorganization of Prussia and to the evolution of modern Germany: in short, to the conversion of the remnants of mediæval civilization into the capitalistic, industrial, competitive society which we have known. And all this because of the accelerated movement caused by science.

If it be, indeed, a fact that the victory of Château Thierry and the subsequent retreat of the German army together with the collapse of the German Empire indicate, as there is abundant reason to suppose that they may, a shift in the world's social equilibrium, equivalent to the shift in Europe presaged by Valmy, or to that which substituted Constantinople for Rome and which was marked by the Milvian Bridge, it follows that we must prepare ourselves for changes possibly greater than our world has seen since it marched to Jerusalem under Godfrey de Bouillon. And the tendency of those changes is not so very difficult, perhaps, roughly to estimate, always premising that they are hardly compatible with undue optimism. Supposing, for example, we consider, in certain of their simpler aspects, some of the relations of Great Britain toward ourselves, since Great Britain is not only our most important friend, assuming that she remain a friend, but our most formidable competitor, should competition strain our friendship. Also Great Britain has the social system nearest akin to our own, and most likely to be influenced by the same so-called democratic tendencies. For upwards of a hundred years Great Britain has been, and she still is, absolutely dependent on her maritime supremacy for life. It was on that issue she fought the Napoleonic wars, and when she prevailed at Trafalgar and Waterloo she assumed economic supremacy, but only on the condition that she should always be ready and willing to defend it, for it is only on that condition that economic supremacy can be maintained. War is the most potent engine of economic competition. Constantinople and Antwerp survived and flourished on the same identical conditions long before the day of London. She must keep her avenues of communication with all the world open, and guard them against possible attack. So long as America competed actively with England on the sea, even for her own trade, her relations with Great Britain were troubled. The irritation of the colonies with the restrictions which England put upon their commerce materially contributed to foment the revolution, as abundantly appears in the famous case of John Hancock's sloop Liberty, which was seized for smuggling. So in the War of 1812, England could not endure the United States as a competitor in her contest with France. She must be an ally, or, in other words, she must function as a component part of the British economic system, or she must be crushed. The crisis came with the attack of the Leopard on the Chesapeake in 1807, after which the possibility of maintaining peace, under such a pressure, appeared, in its true light, as a phantasm. After the war, with more or less constant friction, the same conditions continued until the outbreak of the Rebellion, and then Great Britain manifested her true animus as a competitor. She waged an unacknowledged campaign against the commerce of the United States, building, equipping, arming, manning, and succoring a navy for the South, which operated none the less effectively because its action was officially repudiated. And in this secret warfare England prevailed, since when the legislation of the United States has made American competition with England on the sea impossible. Wherefore we have had peace with England. We have supplied Great Britain with food and raw materials, abandoning to England the carrying trade and an undisputed naval supremacy. Consequently Great Britain feels secure and responds to the full force of that economic attraction which makes America naturally, a component part of the British economic system. But let American pretensions once again revive to the point of causing her to attempt seriously to develop her sea power as of yore, and the same friction would also revive which could hardly, were it pushed to its legitimate end, eventuate otherwise than in the ultimate form of all economic competition.

If such a supposition seems now to be fanciful, it is only necessary to reflect a moment on the rapidity with which national relations vary under competition, to be assured that it is real. As Washington said, the only force which binds one nation to another is interest. The rise of Germany, which first created jealousy in England, began with the attack on Denmark in 1864. Then Russia was the power which the British most feared and with whom they were on the worst of terms. About that period nothing would have seemed more improbable than that these relations would be reversed, and that Russia and England would jointly, within a generation, wage fierce war on Germany. We are very close to England now, but we may be certain that, were we to press, as Germany pressed, on British maritime and industrial supremacy, we should be hated too. It is vain to disguise the fact that British fortunes in the past have hinged on American competition, and that the wisest and most sagacious Englishmen have been those who have been most alive to the fact. Richard Cobden, for example, was one of the most liberal as he was one of the most eminent of British economists and statesmen of the middle of the nineteenth century. He was a democrat by birth and education, and a Quaker by religion. In 1835, just before he entered public life, Cobden visited the United States and thus recorded his impressions on his return:

"America is once more the theatre upon which nations are contending for mastery; it is not, however, a struggle for conquest, in which the victor will acquire territorial dominion—the fight is for commercial supremacy, and will be won by the cheapest.... It is from the silent and peaceful rivalry of American commerce, the growth of its manufactures, its rapid progress in internal improvements, ... it is from these, and not from the barbarous policy or the impoverishing armaments of Russia, that the grandeur of our commercial and national prosperity is endangered." [Footnote: John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden, 107, 108.]

It is not, however, any part of my contention that nature should push her love of competition so far as necessarily to involve us in war with Great Britain, at least at present, for nature has various and most unlooked-for ways of arriving at her ends, since men never can determine, certainly in advance, what avenue will, to them, prove the least resistant. They very often make an error, as did the Germans, which they can only correct by enduring disaster, defeat, and infinite suffering. Nature might very well, for example, prefer that consolidation should advance yet another step before a reaction toward chaos should begin.

This last war has, apparently, been won by a fusion of two economic systems which together hold and administer a preponderating mass of fluid capital, and which have partially pooled their resources to prevail. They appear almost as would a gigantic lizard which, having been severed in an ancient conflict, was now making a violent but only half-conscious effort to cause the head and body to unite with the tail, so that the two might function once more as a single organism, governed by a single will. Under our present form of capitalistic life there would seem to be no reason why this fluid capital should not fuse and by its energy furnish the motor which should govern the world. Rome, for centuries, was governed by an emperor, who represented the landed class of Italy, under the forms of a republic. It is not by any means necessary that a plutocratic mass should have a recognized political head. And America and England, like two enormous banking houses, might in effect fuse and yet go on as separate institutions with nominally separate boards of directors.

But it is inconceivable that even such an expedient as this, however successful at the outset, should permanently solve the problem, which resolves itself once more into individual competition. It is not imaginable that such an enormous plutocratic society as I have supposed could conduct its complex affairs upon the basis of the average intelligence. As in Rome, a civil service would inevitably be organized which would contain a carefully selected body of ability. We have seen such a process, in its initial stages, in the recent war. And such a civil service, however selected and however trained, would, to succeed, have to be composed of men who were the ablest in their calling, the best educated, and the fittest: in a word, the representatives of what we call "the big business" of the country. Such as they might handle the railroads, the telegraph lines, the food supply, the question of competitive shipping, and finally prices, as we have seen it done, but only on condition that they belonged to the fortunate class by merit.

But supposing, in the face of such a government, the unfortunate class should protest, as they already do protest in Russia, in Germany, and even in England and here at home, that a legal system which sanctions such a civilization is iniquitous. Here, the discontented say, you insist on a certain form of competition being carried to its limit. That is, you demand intellectual and peaceful competition for which I am unfit both by education, training, and mental ability. I am therefore excluded from those walks in life which make a man a freeman. I become a slave to capital. I must work, or fight, or starve according to another man's convenience, caprice, or, in fine, according to his will. I could be no worse off under any despot. To such a system I will not submit. But I can at least fight. Put me on a competitive equality or I will blow your civilization to atoms. To such an argument there is no logical answer possible except the answer which all extreme socialists have always advanced. The fortunate man should be taxed for all he earns above the average wage, and the State should confiscate his accumulations at death. Then, with a system of government education, obligatory on all, children would start equal from birth.

Here we come against the hereditary instinct, the creator and the preserver of the family: the instinct which has made law and order possible, so far as our ancestors or we have known order, as far back as the Ice Age. If the coming world must strive with this question, or abandon the "democratic ideal," the future promises to be stormy.

But even assuming that this problem of individual competition be overcome, we are as far as ever from creating a system of moral law which shall avail us, for we at once come in conflict with the principle of abstract justice which demands that free men shall be permitted to colonize or move where they will. But supposing England and America to amalgamate; they now hold or assume to control all or nearly all the vacant regions of the earth which are suited to the white man's habitation. And the white man cannot live and farm his land in competition with the Asiatic; that was conclusively proved in the days of Rome.

But it is not imaginable that Asiatics will submit to this discrimination in silence. Nothing can probably constrain them to resignation but force, and to apply force is to revert to the old argument of the savage or the despot, who admits that he knows no law save that of the stronger, which is the system, however much we have disguised it and, in short, lied about it, under which we have lived and under which our ancestors have lived ever since the family was organized, and under which it is probable that we shall continue to live as long as any remnant of civilization shall survive.

Nevertheless, it seems to be far from improbable that the system of industrial, capitalistic civilization, which came in, in substance, with the "free thought" of the Reformation, is nearing an end. Very probably it may have attained to its ultimate stages and may dissolve presently in the chaos which, since the Reformation, has been visibly impending. Democracy in America has conspicuously and decisively failed, in the collective administration of the common public property. Granting thus much, it becomes simply a question of relative inefficiency, or degradation of type, culminating in the exhaustion of resources by waste; unless the democratic man can supernaturally raise himself to some level more nearly approaching perfection than that on which he stands. For it has become self-evident that the democrat cannot change himself from a competitive to a non-competitive animal by talking about it, or by pretending to be already or to be about to become other than he is,—the victim of infinite conflicting forces.