The Mind in the Making Part 8

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It is in connection with them that free thinking is most difficult and most apt to be misunderstood, for they easily become confused with the traditional reverences and sanct.i.ties of political fidelity, patriotism, morality, and even religion. There is something humiliating about this situation, which subordinates all the varied possibilities of life to its material prerequisites, much as if we were again back in a stage of impotent savagery, scratching for roots and looking for berries and dead animals. One of the most brilliant of recent English economists says with truth:

The burden of our civilization is not merely, as many suppose, that the product of industry is ill-distributed, or its conduct tyrannical, or its operation interrupted by bitter disagreements. It is that industry itself has come to hold a position of exclusive predominance among human interests, which no single interest, and least of all the provision of the material means of existence, is fit to occupy. Like a hypochondriac who is so absorbed in the processes of his own digestion that he goes to the grave before he has begun to live, industrialized communities neglect the very objects for which it is worth while to acquire riches in their feverish preoccupation with the means by which riches can be acquired.

That obsession by economic issues is as local and transitory as it is repulsive and disturbing. To future generations it will appear as pitiable as the obsession of the seventeenth century by religious quarrels appears to-day; indeed, it is less rational, since the object with which it is concerned is less important. And it is a poison which inflames every wound and turns each trivial scratch into a malignant ulcer.[22]

Whatever may be the merits of the conflicting views of our business system, there can be no doubt that it is agitating all types of thoughtful men and women. Poets, dramatists, and story writers turn aside from their old _motifs_ to play the role of economists.

Psychologists, biologists, chemists, engineers, are as never before striving to discover the relation between their realms of information and the general problems of social and industrial organization. And here is a historical student allowing the dust to collect on mediaeval chronicles, church histories, and even seventeenth-century rationalists, once fondly perused, in order to see if he can come to some terms with the profit system. And why not? Are we not all implicated? We all buy and many sell, and no one is left untouched by a situation which can in two or three years halve our incomes, without fault of ours. But before seeking to establish the bearing of the previous sections of this volume on our att.i.tude toward the puzzles of our day, we must consider more carefully the "good reasons" commonly urged in defense of the existing system.


So far we have been mainly engaged in recalling the process by which man has acc.u.mulated such a mind as he now has, and the effects of this acc.u.mulation on his mode of life. Under former conditions (which are now pa.s.sing away) and in a state of ignorance about highly essential matters (which are now being put in quite a new light) he established certain standards and practices in his political, social, and industrial life. His views of property, government, education, the relations of the s.e.xes, and various other matters he reaffirms and perpetuates by means of schools, colleges, churches, newspapers, and magazines, which in order to be approved and succeed must concur in and ratify these established standards and practices and the current notions of good and evil, right and wrong. This is what happened in the past, and to the great majority of people this still seems to be the only means of "safeguarding society". Before subjecting this att.i.tude of mind to further criticism it will be helpful to see how those argue who fail to perceive the vicious circle involved.

The war brought with it a burst of unwonted and varied animation.

Those who had never extended their activities beyond the usual routine of domestic and professional life suddenly found themselves partic.i.p.ating in a vast enterprise in which they seemed to be broadening their knowledge and displaying undreamed of capacity for co-operation with their fellows. Expressions of high idealism exalted us above the petty cares of our previous existence, roused new ambitions, and opened up an exhilarating perspective of possibility and endeavor. It was common talk that when the foe, whose criminal l.u.s.t for power had precipitated the mighty tragedy, should be vanquished, things would "no longer be the same". All would then agree that war was the abomination of abominations, the world would be made safe for right-minded democracy, and the nations would unite in smiling emulation.

Never did bitterer disappointment follow high hopes. All the old habits of nationalistic policy rea.s.serted themselves at Versailles. A frightened and bankrupt world could indeed hardly be expected to exhibit greater intelligence than the relatively happy and orderly one which had five years earlier allowed its sanctified traditions to drag it over the edge of the abyss. Then there emerged from the autocracy of the Tsars the dictators.h.i.+p of the proletariat, and in Hungary and Germany various startling attempts to revolutionize hastily and excessively that ancient order which the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern rulers had managed to perpetuate in spite of all modern novelties. The real character of these movements was ill understood in our country, but it was inevitable that with man's deep-seated animistic tendencies they should appear as a sort of wicked demon or a deadly contagion which might attack even our own land unless prevented by timely measures. War had naturally produced its machinery for dealing with dissenters, sympathizers with the enemy, and those who deprecated or opposed war altogether; and it was the easiest thing in the world to extend the repression to those who held exceptional or unpopular views, like the Socialists and members of the I.W.W. It was plausible to charge these a.s.sociations with being under the guidance of foreigners, with "pacificism" and a general tendency to disloyalty.

But suspicion went further so as to embrace members of a rather small, thoughtful cla.s.s who, while rarely socialistic, were confessedly skeptical in regard to the general beneficence of existing inst.i.tutions, and who failed to applaud at just the right points to suit the taste of the majority of their fellow-citizens. So the general impression grew up that there was a sort of widespread conspiracy to overthrow the government by violence or, at least, a dangerous tendency to prepare the way for such a disaster, or at any rate a culpable indifference to its possibility.

Business depression reinforced a natural reaction which had set in with the sudden and somewhat unexpected close of the war. The unwonted excitement brought on a national headache, and a sedative in the form of normalcy was proffered by the Republican party and thankfully accepted by the country at large. Under these circ.u.mstances the philosophy of safety and sanity was formulated. It is familiar and rea.s.suring and puts no disagreeable task of mental and emotional readjustment on those who accept it. Hence its inevitable popularity and obvious soundness.

And these are its presuppositions: No nation is comparable to our own in its wealth and promise, in its freedom and opportunity for all. It has opened its gates to the peoples of the earth, who have flocked across the ocean to escape the poverty and oppression of Europe. From the scattered colonies of the pre-revolutionary period the United States has rapidly advanced to its world ascendancy. When the European powers had reached a hopeless stalemate after four years of war the United States girded on the sword as the champion of liberty and democracy and in an incredibly short time brought the conflict to a victorious close before she had dispatched half the troops she could easily have spared. She had not entered the conflict with any motives of aggrandizement or of territorial extension. She felt her self-sufficiency and could well afford proudly to refuse to join the League of Nations on the ground that she did not wish to be involved in European wrangles or sacrifice a t.i.ttle of her rights of self-determination.

The prosperity of the United States is to be attributed largely to the excellence of the Federal Const.i.tution and the soundness of her democratic inst.i.tutions. Cla.s.s privileges do not exist, or at least are not recognized. Everyone has equal opportunity to rise in the world unhampered by the shackles of European caste. There is perfect freedom in matters of religious belief. Liberty of speech and of the press is confirmed by both the Federal Const.i.tution and the const.i.tutions of the various states. If people are not satisfied with their form of government they may at any time alter it by a peaceful exercise of the suffrage.

In no other country is morality more highly prized or stoutly defended. Woman is held in her proper esteem and the inst.i.tution of the family everywhere recognized as fundamental. We are singularly free from the vices which disgrace the capitals of Europe, not excepting London.

In no other country is the schoolhouse so a.s.suredly acknowledged to be the corner stone of democracy and liberty. Our higher inst.i.tutions of learning are unrivaled; our public libraries numerous and accessible.

Our newspapers and magazines disseminate knowledge and rational pleasure throughout the land.

We are an ingenious people in the realm of invention and in the boldness of our business enterprise. We have the st.u.r.dy virtues of the pioneer. We are an honest people, keeping our contracts and giving fair measure. We are a tireless people in the patient attention to business and the laudable resolve to rise in the world. Many of our richest men began on the farm or as office boys. Success depends in our country almost exclusively on native capacity, which is rewarded here with a prompt and cheerful recognition which is rare in other lands.

We are a progressive people, always ready for improvements, which indeed we take for granted, so regularly do they make their appearance. No alert American can visit any foreign country without noting innumerable examples of stupid adherence to outworn and c.u.mbrous methods in industry, commerce, and transportation.

Of course no one is so blind as not to see that here and there evils develop which should be remedied, either by legislation or by the gradual advance in enlightenment. Many of them will doubtless cure themselves. Our democracy is right at heart and you cannot fool all the people all the time. We have not escaped our fair quota of troubles. It would be too much to expect that we should. The difference of opinion between the Northern and Southern states actually led to civil war, but this only served to confirm the natural unity of the country and prepare the way for further advance.

Protestants have sometimes dreaded a Catholic domination; the Mormons have been a source of anxiety to timid souls. Populists and advocates of free silver have seemed to threaten sound finance. On the other hand, Wall Street and the trusts have led some to think that corporate business enterprise may at times, if left unhampered, lead to over-powerful monopolies. But the evil workings of all these things had before the war been peaceful, if insidious. They might rouse apprehension in the minds of far-sighted and public-spirited observers, but there had been no general fear that any of them would overthrow the Republic and lead to a violent destruction of society as now const.i.tuted and mayhap to a reversion to barbarism.

The circ.u.mstances of our partic.i.p.ation in the World War and the rise of Bolshevism convinced many for the first time that at last society and the Republic were actually threatened. Heretofore the socialists of various kinds, the communists and anarchists, had attracted relatively little attention in our country. Except for the Chicago anarchist episode and the troubles with the I.W.W., radical reformers had been left to go their way, hold their meetings, and publish their newspapers and pamphlets with no great interference on the part of the police or attention on the part of lawgivers. With the progress of the war this situation changed; police and lawgivers began to interfere, and government officials and self-appointed guardians of the public weal began to denounce the "reds" and those suspected of "radical tendencies". The report of the Lusk Committee in the state of New York is perhaps the most imposing monument to this form of patriotic zeal.

It is not our business here to discuss the merits of Socialism or Bolshevism either from the standpoint of their underlying theories or their promise in practice. It is only in their effects in developing and substantiating the philosophy of safety and sanity that they concern us in this discussion.

Whether the report of the so-called Lusk Committee[23] has any considerable influence or no, it well ill.u.s.trates a common and significant frame of mind and an habitual method of reasoning. The ostensible aim of the report is:

... to give a clear, unbiased statement and history of the purposes and objects, tactics and methods, of the various forces now at work in the United States, and particularly within the state of New York, which are seeking to undermine and destroy, not only the government under which we live, but also the very structure of American society. It also seeks to a.n.a.lyze the various constructive forces which are at work throughout the country counteracting these evil influences, and to present the many industrial and social problems that these constructive forces must meet and are meeting.

The plan is executed with laborious comprehensiveness, and one unacquainted with the vast and varied range of so-called "radical"

utterances will be overwhelmed by the ma.s.s brought together. But our aim here is to consider the att.i.tude of mind and a.s.sumptions of the editors and their sympathizers.

They admit the existence of "real grievances and natural demands of the working for a larger share in the management and use of the common wealth". It is these grievances and demands which the agitators use as a basis of their machinations. Those bent on a social revolution fall into two and anarchists. But while the groups differ in detail, these details are not worth considering.

"Anyone who studies the propaganda of the various groups which we have named will learn that the arguments employed are the same; that the tactics advocated cannot be distinguished from one another, and that articles, or speeches made on the question of tactics or methods by anarchists, could, with propriety, be published in socialist, or communist newspapers without offending the members.h.i.+p of these organizations." So, fortunately for the reader, it is unnecessary to make any distinctions between socialists, anarchists, communists, and Bolsheviki. They all have the common purpose of overthrowing existing society and "general strikes and sabotage are the direct means advocated". The object is to drive business into bankruptcy by reducing production and raising costs.[24]

But it would be a serious mistake to a.s.sume that the dangers are confined to our industrial system. "The very first general fact that must be driven home to Americans is that the pacifist movement in this country, the growth and connections of which are an important part of this report, is an absolutely integral and fundamental part of international socialism." European socialism, from which ours is derived, has had for one of its main purposes "the creation of an international sentiment to supersede national patriotism and effort, and this internationalism was based upon pacificism, in the sense that it opposed all wars between nations and developed at the same time cla.s.s consciousness that was to culminate in relentless cla.s.s warfare.

In other words, it was not really peace that was the goal, but the abolition of the patriotic, warlike spirit of nationalities".

In view of the necessity of making head against this menace the Criminal Anarchy statute of the State of New York was invoked, search warrants issued, "large quant.i.ties of revolutionary, incendiary and seditious written and printed matter were seized". After the refusal of Governor Smith to sign them, the so-called Lusk educational bills were repa.s.sed and signed by the Republican Governor Miller. No teacher in the schools shall be licensed to teach who "has advocated, either by word of mouth or in writing, a form of government other than the government of the United States or of this state". Moreover, "No person, firm, corporation, a.s.sociation, or society shall conduct, maintain, or operate any school, inst.i.tute, cla.s.s, or course of instruction in any subject without making application for and being granted a license from the University of the State of New York [_i.

e_. the Regents]." The Regents shall have the right to send inspectors to visit and schools so licensed and to revoke licenses if they deem that an overthrow of the existing government by violence is being taught.[25]

But the safe and sane philosophy by no means stops with the convenient and compendious identification of socialists of all kinds, anarchists, pacificists and internationalists, as belonging to one threatening group united in a like-minded attempt to overthrow society as we now know it. This cla.s.s includes, it may be observed, such seemingly distinguishable personalities as Trotzky and Miss Jane Addams, who are a.s.sumed to be in essential harmony upon the great issue. But there are many others who are perhaps the innocent tools of the socialists.

These include teachers, lecturers, writers, clergymen, and editors to whom the Lusk report devotes a long section on "the spread of socialism in educated circles". It is the purpose of this section

... to show the use made by members of the Socialist Party of America and other extreme radicals and revolutionaries of pacifist sentiment among people of education and culture in the United States as a vehicle for the promotion of revolutionary socialistic propaganda.

The facts here related are important because they show that these socialists, playing upon the pacifist sentiment in a large body of sincere persons, were able to organize their energies and capitalize their prestige for the spread of their doctrines. [P. 969.]

An instance of this is an article in the _New Republic_ which:

... includes more or less open attacks on Attorney-General Palmer, Mr. Lansing, the House Immigration Committee, the New York _Times_, Senator Fall, this Committee, etc. It also quotes the dissenting opinions in the Abrams case of Justices Holmes and Brandeis, and ends by making light of the danger of revolution in America: ...

This belittling of the very real danger to the inst.i.tutions of this country, as well as the attempted discrediting of any investigating group (or individual), has become thoroughly characteristic of our "Parlor Bolshevik" or "Intelligentsia". [P. 1103.]

So it comes about, as might indeed have been foreseen from the first, that one finds himself, if not actually violating the criminal anarchy statute, at least branded as a Bolshevik if he speaks slightingly of the New York _Times_ or recalls the dissenting opinion of two judges of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, as might have been antic.i.p.ated, the issues prove to be at bottom not so much economic as moral and religious, for "Materialism and its formidable sons, Anarchy, Bolshevism, and Unrest, have thrown down the gauge of battle" to all decency.

... What is of the greatest importance for churchmen to understand, in order that they may not be led astray by specious arguments of so-called Christian Socialists and so-called liberals and self-styled partisans of free speech, is that socialism as a system, as well as anarchism and all its ramifications, from high-brow Bolshevism to the Russian Anarchist a.s.sociation, are all the declared enemies of religion and all recognized moral standards and restraints. [P. 1124.]

We must not be misled by "false, specious idealism masquerading as progress". The fight is one for G.o.d as well as country, in which all forms of radicalism, materialism, and anarchy should be fiercely and promptly stamped out.[26]


[21] Keynes, _The Economic Consequences of the Peace_, pp. 11-12.

[22] Tawney, R. H., _The Acquisitive Society_, pp. 183-184. The original t.i.tle of this admirable little work, a Fabian tract, was, _The Sickness of an Acquisitive Society_, but the American publishers evidently thought it inexpedient to stress the contention of the author that modern society has anything fundamentally the matter with it.

[23] _Revolutionary Radicalism, Its History, Purpose, and Tactics: with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the Joint Legislative Committee investigating seditious activities, filed April 24, 1920, in the Senate of the state of New York._ This comprises four stout volumes (over 4,200 pages in all) divided into two parts, dealing, respectively, with "Revolutionary and Subversive Movements at Home and Abroad" and "Constructive Movements and Measures in America". Albany, 1920.

[24] "While the nature of this investigation has led the committee to lay its emphasis upon the activities of subversive organizations, it feels that this report would not be complete if it did not state emphatically that it believes that those persons in business and commercial enterprise and certain owners of property who seek to take advantage of the situation to reap inordinate gain from the public contribute in no small part to the social unrest which affords the radical a field of operation which otherwise would be closed to him."

(P. 10.)

[25] The general history throughout the United States of these and similar measures, the interference with public meetings, the trials, imprisonments, and censors.h.i.+p, are all set forth in Professor Chaffee's _Freedom of Speech_, 1920.

[26] During the summer of 1921 the Vice-President of the United States published in _The Delineator_ a series of three articles on "Enemies of the Republic", in which he considers the question, "Are the 'reds'

stalking our college women?" He finds some indications that they are, and warns his readers that, "Adherence to radical doctrines means the ultimate breaking down of the old, st.u.r.dy virtues of manhood and womanhood, the insidious destruction of character, the weakening of the moral fiber of the individual, and the destruction of the foundations of society." It may seem anomalous to some that the defenders of the old, st.u.r.dy virtues should so carelessly brand honest and thoughtful men and women, of whose opinions they can have no real knowledge, as "enemies of the Republic"--but there is nothing whatever anomalous in this. It has been the habit of defenders of the st.u.r.dy, old virtues from time immemorial to be careless of others'


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The Mind in the Making Part 8 summary

You're reading The Mind in the Making. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): James Harvey Robinson. Already has 123 views.

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