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additional testimony to the quantity while the world was burning, while the and the popularity of American ideal- principles we had shouted for were at ism in those months. The tone of the last in actual settlement, this enormous press at that crucial time was evidence American idealism slept, forgot its fine of the tone of the people that read and phrases, forgot its pledges to see the responded. And while many a sound- thing through, was bored because some ing speech and impassioned editorial Americans felt that it was our duty are now, as one reads them, a little to see the thing through. We are an faded, faintly absurd, like tattered war uncritical nation despite our occasional posters on a rural billl-board, yet no. vehemence of criticism, but we have one can doubt the flood of patriotic never been so uncritical of major issues idealism that created them, few will as in 1919, when the terms of world doubt that our war idea lism was a vir- settlement were of acute interest to tue in 1914-18.
all but Americans. We are an easyIt seemed a virtue then, but was it going nation, but we have never been not already diseased? When we entered so easy-going as in 1919, when not one the war, the vast majority of Ameri- man in a thousand as much as read the cans publicly and privately committed abstract of the treaty to see whether themselves to certain general principles, the things he had said he fought for and, whatever else they fought for, be- were safeguarded in it. The only real lieved that they were fighting for them. fire-spitting fervor struck out in this A square deal all around was one, the country since the armistice has been in consent of the governed to their gov- defense of our right to let Europe stew ernment was another, a third was the in her own juice, and our privilege to substitution, at all costs, of justice for tell general principles to go hang. And violence in the ruling of the world. We this is an emotion almost too narrow all assented to these principles, most of to be attributed, even by the generous us assumed them voluntarily as an arti- minded, to idealism. cle of faith, and the average man took One answers, of course, that such a them as seriously as he is able to take decline from overheated virtue into inabstractions. Peace came, the armis- differentism is only human nature at its tice, the stages of the treaty. Nothing old tricks, the collapse after the New could be clearer or more to be expected Year's resolution, the weariness of than that sometimes in spirit, often in being too good, symptoms, in short, of detail, and most seriously in ultimate content with having “licked the Hun," purpose, the treaty in scores of in- and a desire to get back to work. And stances ran counter to the faiths we the reply is, of course this is true. But had accepted and made commonplaces Europe is not thus functioning. The of speech and thin king.
most striking contrast in 1919 has been I am neither criticizing nor justify- the contrast between British and Amering the treaty and its included cove- ican attitudes toward treaty negotianant. No one, I suppose, but a senti- tions. In England, exhausted by war mental optinist could have expected a as we never were, deep in the lassitude work of logical art in exact conformity of rest after struggle, men and women with the principles and conditions of a have leaped into criticism and defense new epoch that has scarcely begun, no of the ideals embodied in the settlement. one at least who had ever read history, 'Peace has seemed to them as vital a or studied the politics of Sonnino, Cle- battle-ground of ideas as war. By and menceau, and the Unionist party. It large, the plodding mass of us who was bound to have inconsistencies; to make money and public opinion have reflect as many views as there were been cold to the contest, uninterested. strong minds in the conference, to be The press of Great Britian has fiercely exporimental, to be a compromise. This attacked and fiercely defended the mois not what is astonishing; it is the rale of the treaty; ours has reported it attitude of the typical American mind with little real criticism and little intoward the treaty negotiations.
where the league was conIn the winter and spring of 1919, cerned. Their universities have sup
plied men and parties to fight through war where American ideals were not the principles for which we fought; properly safeguarded, and then preours have been intent upon how much ferred to risk a treaty without the scholastic credit should be given re- League of Nations, to a league which, turned soldiers and who should get an though it expressed American idealism, honorary degree. They forced an easy- was not perfect by their judging. Congoing premier to stand for a victory sider the flaming desire to make the that was
than conquest; we universe and one's home safe for degrudged our President the attempt to mocracy, in contrast with the current carry through in Paris what in 1917 contempt for the ideals of industrial we were all agreed upon; let our dis- democracy. Perforce one wonders like of his methods outweigh our deep whether American idealism, healthy or interest in his ends. If it had not been diseased, is not a mere emotion, easily for the great issue of the League of roused, never lasting; whether, as Nations, which, forcing Americans to valuable part of our national character, act, forced them to remember (some it is not an illusion. with difficulty) what they had believed So much needs to be said by way of in and what they had learned in 1917 charge and speculation in order to clear of the dangers of selfish aloofness from the air. If I write with some exciteworld problems, if it had not been for ment, it is no more than the sight of the fight over the league, the politics the tumble from great-worded, great of 1919 would have been as local, as deeded 1918 to indifferent, self-regardtrivial, as wearisome, as in the year ing, and a little cynical 1919 may acafter a Presidential election. Some count for. Certainly in our national scholar in the next decade will place past idealism has not been an illusion, side by side the files of a New York although it was often emotional. Nor, daily in its moral-idealistic stage of in sober fact, do I doubt the essential 1917 and its cynical back-to-business idealism of the normal American mind, mood of 1919; will compare the fantastic especially that American mind which pledges never again to trade with Ger- inherits the optimism and the liberal many, which were circulating in 1918, instincts of our forefathers. I am with the export statistics of 1919; will merely curious as to the exact nature marvel, and perhaps draw conclusions. of that idealism as it exists, and plays
And one wonders, meeting every- strange tricks, to-day. It seems to be where an interest in world affairs that a quality more resembling energy than seems dying, a national morale that is a moral characteristic like virtue or forgetting its moral impulses, a hatred vice. It seems, as one thinks over these of the professional idealist, a weariness recent manifestations, to be a blend of general principles, and a cynical dis- of physical virility and nervous sensitrust of ideas—one wonders whether tiveness, good or bad, active or inacthis flaming American idealism 80- tive, according to the condition and encalled was not even in 1918 flushed with vironment of the patient. Stir him, and disease, a virtue already dying.
it becomes active, beneficent, altruistic. Were we indeed ever really idealis- Stir him further, and it may become tic? Consider the case of the ablest sentimental, with symptoms of hysof our manufacturers, who, when the teria Relax the pressure, and it drops emotional fit was on him, proposed to into desuetude. These are the habits increase the production of idealism of American idealism, and I doubt until every American home should own whether more can be said of them exan ideal of the latest model. He gives cept by the way of further description. the order, draws the checks, and, naïve- But there must be some thoughts, some ly surprised at the discovery that you ideas behind to account for these cannot make ideals without under- vagaries. There must be reasons why standing them, hangs up philosophy, Americans idealize more readily than and goes back to the motor business. other nations, and why, just now at Consider the case of our radical pa- least, they so easily tire of their idealpers who fought our entrance into a izing.
Neither the scope of these pages nor choose and reason virtuously, for there my kncwledge permits me to trace the is no way to be sure that he has a good history of American thinking and feeling, will, that he is among the “elect" exto say, as the historians some day must, cept by virtuous action leading to a what elements came from Europe, what sense of salvation. Thus in every conmodifications are due to pioneer envi- dition of life, without excuse or palliaronment, racial mixture, and centu- tion, the Christian must daily, hourly ries of unchecked material develop- strive to prove that he is one of the ment. But tentatively, and with all elect of God, saved from hell-fire by the modesty, one may at least seek for light. character God has given him. Good inI find that two great figures of our na- tentions count for nothing. Good works, tional youth and the ways of thinking if unaccompanied by the sense of spiritthey represented most help me to un- ual salvation, count for nothing. God, derstand the strengths and the weak- Himself blameless, has willed sin and nesses of American idealism, help to
sinful men. It is for us to prove that an understanding of the phenomena of we are not among the damned. 1917-19.
That the system is incredible most The first is Jonathan Edwards, theo- moderns now believe; that it is logical, logian of internationsal importance, more logical perhaps than any later atleader of the great spiritual revival of tempt to justify the ways of God to mid-eighteenth century New England, man, the student must admit. My demissionary to the Indians, president of sire is naturally not to argue, but to Princeton, author of works so widely emphasize, what can never be too much read that even now no farm-house gar- emphasized, the effect of such thinkret in New England but will yield a ing upon the intellectual life of Amersermon or two, a treatise on original ica. It was believed in powerfully and sin, or his epochal essay on the free- well understood by perhaps a majority dom of the will.
of one formative generation. Later it Alas for human reputation! This was not believed in so powerfully, and tireless thinker, whose logic built up in it was but little understood, especially entirety
impregnable argument outside of New England. But a conworthy of Aquinas, is now chiefly re- viction of the great necessity of willing membered as a preacher of infant dam- the right became a mental habit in nation and a thunderer of hell-fire over American morality that persists and frightened Northampton congregations. becomes a trait and a chief factor, as But, as all wiser critics know, the influ- any reader may see, in so-called Amerience of a great mind is distinct and can idealism. often different from its reputation. Benjamin Franklin was almost the What it does, works on and on after exact contemporary of Jonathan: Eddeath, transmuting, transforming; what wards, but he had the inestimable adit was in popular repute, soon becomes vantage of living longer and seeing legend and supposed historical fact. more; two continents and two ages, in Compare the reputation of Machiavelli fact, were his familiars, and learned with his achievements and influence as from him as well as taught him. Frankdescribed in Macaulay's famous essay. lin, it is clear, was strongly influenced
In actual achievement Edwards, by that French eighteenth century that whose mind was of unusual lucidity he loved, with all its praise of reason and and endurance, crystallized for Ameri- its trust in common sense. But he was cans the Calvinistic ethics of life which even more a product of the new Amer- . were the backbone of Puritan civiliza- ica. America, as Edwards and Cotton tion. Man, by the unarguable might Mather saw it, was an experiment in of God, is born with a will whose nature godliness. When the Puritan scheme may be either bad or good. Hence- should have proved its efficacy by an forth his reason is free, his choice is abnormal increase in the number of free, within the limits that his char- earthly saints, the colonies would have acter permits. It becomes therefore of served their chief end, and would, so inimitable importance that he shall Mather thought, decline. The hell
breathing vehemence of Edwards was chiefly due to his fear that the scheme was failing. He was fighting a spiritual decline.
But Franklin was a member of the worldly, not the spiritual, body of America; he was a citizen of a country visibly growing in wealth and population. He looked outward, not inward; forward, not backward. Like Edwards, he hated sin; but sin for him was not sin because it was forbidden, but forbidden because it was sin. Franklin's was a practical morality, which was cut to fit life, not to compress it. His firm character and the clarity of his reason kept his morals high. His ethics were admirable, but they were based upon the principle that honesty is the best policy, not upon the fear of God. To be "reasonable" was his highest good. “So convenient it is to be a reasonable creature,” he remarks whimsically, “since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do." As long as one is a Franklin, with the will to virtue, honesty, industry, and thrift that is bred from a good inheritance, in a new and developing country, such ethics make for idealism. No one was more idealistic in his day than the practical Franklin, who wished to form a league of virtue of all nations to be governed by rules, and supported by the reason of virtuous mankind.
And here is another palpable strain of Americanism, differing from that necessity which Edwards trumpeted, but, like it, a stiffener of idealistic impulses. Here one places the love of a square deal, the desire to do what is right because it is “fair," the sense of the reasonableness of justice that freed the slaves, gave Cuba self-government, determined our policy toward the Philippines, and was horror-struck by the invasion of Belgium. It is the idealism of good common sense, and together with the mental habit of willing the right has been a main cause of American idealism.
Both of these American characteristics are operative to-day. Both are now factors and dangerous factors in our idealism, for the strong will of the Calvinists to do right has become erra
tic and perverted, and the common sense of Franklin's school has degenerated. Here, as I shall endeavor to show, are two chief causes for the vagaries of the American mind in the years that ended the war.
The mental discipline which the Puritans learned from the fear of a wrathful God remained a discipline long after it had lost its theological basis, and is responsible in no small measure for the disciplined will of nineteenth-century America to succeed in material endeavors as well as in philanthropic or moral purpose. But, divorced from the belief in a speedy damnation which had given it cause, it was bound to become, and it did become, a mere mental habit, a kind of aimless necessity of being virtuous. Bolted no longer to a belief in a revengeful God Who demanded virtue, loosed, like an engine from its flywheel, this ancestral sense of necessity whirled on by its own momentum. It became will without thinking behind it, which was driven by material circumstance instead of religious belief. It became a restless energy whose aim, as a foreign observer had said, seemed to be “mere acceleration." It became unreasonable, often absurd, sometimes hysterical. I find its manifestations in the insistence that America must always be described as sweet, lovely, and virtuous in disrecard of the facts, in our "boosting" of prosperity and success by proclaiming them. I find them in the determinaticn to be good and happy and prosperous immediately and without regard to circumstance which has created the Arerican magazine story and brought about national prohibition by constitutional amendment. This hand-me-down will is responsible for much progress, good and bad, in America; it is also responsible for American sentimentalism. It has been a driving force in our idealism; but because it is not so much reasoned purpose as a mental habit inherited, it has run wild, become hysterical and erratic. It led us to propose to reform the world and to advertise our intention before our brains were ready for the task. It makes our idealism feverish and uncertain.
As for Franklin's rule of common
sense, it has become a positive deter- in mind when the moral profits were rent to idealism. His idea of conduct ready for the gathering. It stirred a reasonably shaped according to the passion for the League of Nations, needs of environment was, and is to- rights of small countries, democracy, day, the most solid trait of Americans. justice, and the rest, and then collapsed It is the ethics of modern business, and like the second day of “clean-up" week. American business has become, and for It set the will going and left the brain a little while yet will remain, the fund- unmoved. amental America. Nevertheless, every And
diluted candid observer will admit, no matter through millions, obsessed by the probhow great his faith in the future of his lems of manufacture and construction, country, that the reasonable good sense is in ever greater danger of losing that of the Franklin tradition suffered a basis of character and enlightened reaprogressive dilution or degeneration son that alone can make common sense throughout the nineteenth century. Ra- anything but common. It dreads ideas, tional ethics became for the most of us distrusts theories, is made uncomformaterialistic rationalism, still reason- table by altruism that extends beyond able, still ethical in its way, still backed the home. As a nation, we have not and restrained by common sense (our degenerated, for our virile energy, our profiteers have also been philanthro- will, our adaptiveness are all as strong pists), but an enemy, nevertheless, to as ever, stronger perhaps than elseall idealism that could not be made where in the world. But, as compared from steel, brick, rubber, or oil. We with Franklin's, our common sense has have been too reasonable to be sordid; lost character. It pulled back in the too materialistic to remain in the best great moral and intellectual problems sense reasonable. Far from advocating of the war; it did not lead. As mania league of the virtues, our business fested in the present struggle over incommon sense has been fighting a ternational policies, it falls below the League of Nations. The contrast be- ethical standards of the nation, whether tween our moral code and our business you tap it in clubs and offices or in code has already been overwritten in Congress. In a time of crisis it rallies muck-raking literature. Nevertheless, to encounter material problems and is despite exaggeration, it exists. Our invaluable; but morally and intellectnational life is dual. We can stand on ually its vision is short, its endurance our moral foot and our business foot, but weak. usually we alternate. In 1918 we rested The trouble with the American reentirely on one; in 1919 we swung with former, as has often been said, is that he relief to the other. Franklin's rule of has more energy than reason; and this is common sense as a stimulus to idealism because he incarnates the instinctive, irhas broken down.
rational will of which I have been writing. What reasonable sense of proportion The trouble with the American materialI myself possess as a descendant of the ist is that he has kept his common sense compatriots of Franklin urges me to pro- while losing his vision. test instantly that all this is not to be Both, in short, lack an adequate taken as a picture of contemporary spiritual and moral basis; and so does America. Rather it is a plucking out the American idealism that is functionmerely of two strains of experience ing nobly, but so irregularly, to-day. that all must recognize. But these are With an irresponsible will driving it perilously interwoven in our national forward and a matter-of-fact common character. They affect the validity of sense holding it back, it suffers too our idealism.
frequently from the weakness of all The hysterical will drives us into qualities that spring from custom rather professions of virtue we cannot make than from conviction. Its leafage has good. It drove us to "boost” the war; spread; its roots have contracted. and then, being a restless energy sprung I am not so unhumorous as to profrom habit rather than from conviction, pose that the remedy is once again to left us exhausted in spirit and cynical believe in Jonathan Edwards's God and