« AnkstesnisTęsti »
The Curse of Outworn Ideals
By GEORGE Y. BIDDLE
George Y. Biddle boasts his seventy years, but despite the snow-cap on his mountainous head, those ruddy cheeks, that glint in the blue eyes, and the fierce irony of his thought proclaim him a warrior in his prime. He has fought his way to a high place among the priests of Mammon, "getters and hoarders of gold." His life has been a struggle with men, to help them, to defeat them, to construct industrial America with them. If he did not forbid it, his name would stand over these opinions of his; but he declares that for the moment he is merely George Y. Biddle, as he will not risk ostracism from the society of amiable plutocrats by permitting his identity to be divulged, and adds, "When all is said, I prefer the companionship of cultivated liars to that of the studious bourgeoisie." Any one who wishes may find him through his alias.-THE EDITORS.
O the employers of America; to the owners of lands, warehouses, factories, and railroads; to the propertied class, who are thieves according to Proudhon, but whose wits and whose masterfulness have wrought this nation to them, and in defense of them, much might be said. I am of their brotherhood. I am not the least among them. But I cannot praise them, for they have put themselves in the wrong. They, the chieftains of our people, for four generations have permitted their children, and even the children of the poor, to be taught that all men are born free and equal. It is a doctrine borrowed from the French encyclopedists and the madman Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose teachings formed the basis for that Declaration of the Rights of Man which ushered in a period of bloody communism in France. Yet almost before the alphabet is memorized our children learn to believe in it, and so the ideal of human equality has become embedded in the national skull, whence perhaps it can be excised only by the surgery of disaster, as happened in France, as is happening in Russia.
Proudhon said that the man who exclusively possesses anything steals from mankind. Viewed from his angle, the statement is virtually tautological. However, biology and history unite to show that private ownership is the basic variations which has lifted man above his hairy brother, the ape; and a
world without private ownership is a world in which blunderers like Lenine will always strive to equalize humanity by obliterating the schism between man and his monkey kin.
But if Proudhon's doctrine hangs fetid on the breath of our people after their prolonged debauchery of idealistic dreams, be it remembered that their intoxication was contrived by leading citizens of the land. The masters of America have put themselves in the wrong. This is no easy admission for an elderly millionaire to make, but even a millionaire has reckless moments, and this is one of mine. Desiring to spur our work-people to greater efforts in the guerrilla warfare of industrial competition, we have hinted, intimated, stated, and finally preached, that since all men are born free and equal, every man is as good a man as his neighbor, and should strive to rise in the world; for cannot the son of the merest laborer become the President of the United States? During four generations we have affirmed that ambition is the most necessary virtue of man, and that contentment, or lack of ambition, as we have accounted it, is spinelessness and beneath contempt. We have iterated and reiterated that no man need be poor, that wealth awaits the taker; and we have repeated these and a hundred kindred sayings until the ferment has begun to work, and millions of the discontented howl for the realization of rainbows. We sowed ambition; we reap an attempt to
take command in industry. We sowed discontent; we reap a lust for luxuries and ever higher wages. We are to blame.
This is not the first reconstruction America has outlived, or the worst. After the Civil War there was a time when strong men, mighty statesmen and bankers, almost despaired. In those days the untamed western half of North America lured away the ambitious and the malconten、 ; to freedom. With drink and firearms they killed themselves or their equals, or created imperial fortunes, if they chose, as settlers, prospectors, and gamblers. But to-day these United States are settled, and the ambitious and the malcontents have grown more numerous and have learned to organize into unions, brotherhoods, and protective orders. What shall we do with them? The wild places of the earth beckon to them. Siberia, northern China, Western Australia, are beckoning to them. Will they go? Will they go, and leave us in industrial peace?
Let it be said once more: this nation possesses outworn ideals of human equality, of advancement for every man, of individual ambition-ideals suitable only for the jungle, the desert, or the frozen tundra, and it is cursed by those ideals. We adopted them in 1776 very naturally, we canonized the Rights of Man very innocently, when they were appropriate for us, when we lived as trappers in the forest, or as isolated farmers in little clearings, wolf-beset, surrounded by hostile savages. We were a primitive people, passing from the hunting to the husbandry stage of cultural growth. Life was very simple, very dangerous. Trade was mainly by barter, maize and wheat for plowshares and shoes, pelts of beaver for casks of rum. We were virtually barbarians.
Our ideals were adapted to our barbarous circumstances, but can any man say they are fitting in this land to-day? Society one hundred and fifty years ago was cellular, was composed of units almost entirely independent of one another. Society to-day is an organic whole, more closely integrated every year by the knitting of new ties, new
interdependencies. We have transformed a wilderness into the dwellingplace of myriads whose very existence continues only if the functioning of every portion of the community harmonizes with that of every other portion. We were once a scattering of solitary soldiers of fortune; we are now an army on the industrial march.
Hence it is alarming that to-day the soldiers in our industrial armies seem to be threatening to organize Soldiers' and Workmen's Councils such as shattered the Russian armies in the field just before the Revolution of 1917councils which will overthrow the general staff, will replace the trained officers with privates unaccustomed to command, abolish the salute of respect to authority and government, and substitute for military wage discipline and the healthy hunger stimulus, appeals in windy language to the freed and irresponsible laborer to "serve his fellow-proletarians unselfishly unselfishly without compulsion or compensation." Later, perhaps after a holocaust of volcanic upheaval, will come realization and repentance for such infatuate idealism, and the discarding of false gods. All men are neither free nor equal in a civilized and humane society.
Four generations ago, when the Declaration of the Rights of Man was the latest news from France, American farmers were accustomed to drive their sons from home when the latter married. They helped them clear new lands for the plow, or started them off in canvas-covered wagons across the plains. Even after the Civil War the air resounded with urgent, strident individualism, and echoes of the cry, "Go West, young man," are heard to-day. There were always many sons; some of the family remained to work the ancestral holding to the limit of its productivity. That unregenerate exceptional farmer's son who was not fired by ambition for a great farm of his own clearing was a disgrace to his parentage. Had he not been trained to independence? Had he not been exhorted to love freedom better than death, to fight to prove his equality with the best in the world, as well as to establish his supremacy over the wilderness and the
savages in the wilderness? Had he not been a crack shot, a horseman, a hunter, a marvelous woodsman, and a skilful husbandman before he was ten years of age? No wonder he believed with all his might that men are born free and equal, that the goal of life is self-aggrandizement.
Contrast agrarian France, where the cultural development has had centuries to progress beyond the stage of savagery. France is comically patched with little fields thirty feet on a side, and fenced with high stone walls. Since there is no place for the sons of peasants to go, their parents must keep them at home, and the Napoleonic law of inheritance, still in force, which demands that every son shall have his share, has compelled the parceling out of the holdings until even the most intensive agriculture will not support the population, and the peasant has been forced to restrict his offspring and to reduce his well-beloved children to the status of unpaid farm-laborers, dependent upon him even for permission to marry. It is only natural that French peasants teach their children the passionate love of home, the abject respect for parental authority. The cultivation of the supreme virtue of contentment is inculcated, until to the young Frenchman contentment seems of more worth than jewels or adventures or fine gold.
As for this country, Americans still are being urged to yearn with undivided minds for wealth, never to be content without great riches. Industrial relations are poisoned with the fruit of this teaching, and commerce is half distraught with the strikes of pupils who have taken their lessons to heart. Can they ever be satisfied? For years Americans have had the spot light of publicity focused upon the newly rich, who like colossi rise from the mud by the sweat of brow and brain to bestride whole domains of human effort. For years we, the self-appointed, self-deluded instructors of the wage-earners, have insisted upon their emulation of these shirt-sleeved giants; and the wage-earners, grasping the superficial fact that men can be enriched only by controlling the
market, have banded together in unions to control the labor market. So the teaching is turned against the teacher. To-morrow, unless we give them better gods to replace these lying lares and penates, we shall witness another communist experiment, another temporary atavism, another sanguinary reversal to the ways of the simian grandparents we have in common with modern monkeydom. Do we want a recrudescence of ancestral beastliness to hurl our complex culture into the sea?
Spiritually America has attained its sixteenth year, no more, and its young head is as full of fantastic notions as a lobster's claw with meat. It is charming, it is pathetic, it is damnable, by turns. Aged Europe, succored by our youthful strength, found us adorably naïve, then pitifully impractical, and finally detestable in our insistence upon nonsensical ideals. Spiritually, like any sixteen-year-old, we must have time to wax romantic, to fall in love, to suffer and sigh, to reach military age, to have our warlike phase of imperialism, and to grow and mellow with the decades before we can become adult.
We must have time, but the world cannot wait. The other day an English statesman lamented, "The worst of the war is that it leaves England in financial leading-strings to a nation politically in its nonage." No, the world cannot wait. France, her blood still flowing from a thousand wounds, is endeavoring to marry both the senior and the junior members of the AngloSaxon house, and if virginal and bachelor America is rather coy about accepting France's leap-year proposal, it is only because we still regard marital alliances as sacraments, not to be lightly dissolved, and we recall that France is only just divorced from Russia after a disgraceful trial. While polygamous England, very much the man of the world, accepts this new alliance as an incident, America hangs back because of youthfulness; but that will offend no Frenchman who comprehends how childish is the intelligence of America.
Our national adolescence, despite its gawky moral fantasies, is but the pass