National Life and Character
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In National Life and Character; a Forecast, Mr. Charles H. Pearson, late fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and sometime Minister of Education in Victoria, has produced one of the most notable books of the century. Mr. Pearson is not always quite so careful as he might be about his facts; many of the conclusions he draws from them seem somewhat strained; and with much of his forecast most of us would radically disagree. Nevertheless, no one can read this book without feeling his thinking powers greatly stimulated; without being forced to ponder problems of which he was previously wholly ignorant, or which he but half understood; and without realizing that he is dealing with the work of a man of lofty thought and of deep and philosophic insight into the world-forces of the present.
Mr. Pearson belongs to the melancholy or pessimist school, which has become so prominent in England during the last two or three decades, and which has been represented there for half a century. In fact, the note of despondency seems to be the dominant note among Englishmen of high cultivation at the present time. It is as marked among their statesmen and publicists as among their men of letters. Mr. Balfour being particularly happy in his capacity to express in good English, and with much genuine elevation of thought, a profound disbelief in nineteenth century progress, and an equally profound distrust of the future toward which we are all travelling. For much of this pessimism and for many of the prophecies which it evokes, there is no excuse whatsoever. There may possibly be good foundation for the pessimism as to the future shown by men like Mr. Pearson; but hitherto the writers of the stamp of the late “Cassandra” Greg who have been pessimistic about the present, have merely betrayed their own weakness or their own incapacity to judge contemporary persons and events. The weakling, the man who cannot struggle with his fellow-men and with the conditions that surround him, is very apt to think these men and these conditions bad; and if he has the gift of writing, he puts these thoughts down at some length on paper. Very strong men, moreover, if of morose and dyspeptic temper, are apt to rail at the present, and to praise the past simply because they do not live in it. To any man who will consider the subject from a scientific point of view, with a desire to get at the truth, it is needless to insist on the fact that at no period of the world’s history has there been so much happiness generally diffused among, mankind as now.
At no period of the world’s history has life been so full of interest, and of possibilities of excitement and enjoyment as for us who live in the latter half of the nineteenth century. This is not only true as far as the working classes are concerned, but it is especially true as regards the men of means, and above all of those men who also possess brains and ambition. Never before in the world’s history have there been such opportunities thrown open to men, in the way of building new commonwealths, exploring new countries, conquering kingdoms, and trying to adapt the governmental policy of old nations to new and strange conditions. The half-century which is now closing has held out to the people who have dwelt therein some of the great prizes of history. Abraham Lincoln and Prince Bismarck have taken their places among the world’s worthies. Mighty masters of war have arisen in America, in Germany, in Russia; Lee and Grant, Jackson and Farragut, Moltke, Skobeleff, and the Red Prince. The work of the chiefs of mechanical and electrical inventions has never been equalled before, save perhaps by what was done in the first half of this same century. Never before have there been so many opportunities for commonwealth builders; new States have been pitched on the banks of the Saskatchewan, the Columbia, the Missouri, and the Colorado, on the seacoast of Australia, and in the interior of Central Africa. Vast regions have been won by the sword. Burmah and Turkestan, Egypt and Matabeleland, have rewarded the prowess of English and Russian conquerors, exactly as, when the glory of Rome was at its height, remote Mediterranean provinces furnished triumphs to the great military leaders of the Eternal City. English administrators govern subject empires larger than those conquered. by Alexander. In letters no name has been produced that will stand with the first half-dozen of all literature, but there have been very many borne by men whose effect upon the literatures of their own countries has been profound, and whose works will last as long as the works of any men written in the same tongues. In science even more has been done; Darwin has fairly revolutionized thought; and many others stand but a step below him.
All this means only that the opportunities have been exceptionally great for the men of exceptionally great powers; but they have also been great for the men of ordinary powers. The workingman is, on the whole, better fed, better clothed, better housed, and provided with greater opportunities for pleasure and for mental and spiritual improvement than ever before. The man with ability enough to become a lawmaker has the fearful joy of grappling with problems as important as any the administrators and legislators of the past had to face. The ordinary man of adventurous tastes and desire to get all out of life that can be gotten, is beyond measure better off than were his forefathers of one, two, or three centuries back. He can travel round the world; he can dwell in any country he wishes; he can explore strange regions; he can spend years by himself in the wilderness, hunting great game; he can take part in a campaign here and there. Whithersoever his tastes lead him, he finds that he has far greater capacity conferred upon him by the conditions of nineteenth-century civilization to do something of note than ever a man of his kind has before. If he is observant, he notes all round him the play of vaster forces than have ever before been exerted, working, half blindly, half under control, to bring about immeasurable results. He sees going on before his eyes a great transfer of population and civilization, which is making America north of the Rio Grande, and Australia, English-speaking continents; which has filled Central and South America with States of uncertain possibilities; which is creating for the first time a huge Aryan nation across the entire north of Asia, and which is working changes in Africa infinitely surpassing in importance all those that have ever taken place there since the days when the Bantu peoples first built their beehive huts on the banks of the Congo and the Zambezi. Our century has teemed with life and interest.
Yet this is the very century at which Carlyle railed: and it is strange to think that he could speak of the men at that very moment engaged in doing such deeds, as belonging to a worn-out age. His vision was clear to see the importance and the true bearing of England’s civil war of the seventeenth century, and yet he remained mole-blind to the vaster and more important civil war waged before his very eyes in nineteenth-century America. The heroism of Naseby and Worcester and Minden hid from him the heroism of Balaklava and Inkerman, of Lucknow and Delhi. He could appreciate at their worth the campaigns of the Seven Years’ War, and yet could hardly understand those waged between the armies of the Potomac and of Northern Virginia. He was fairly inspired by the fury and agony and terror of the struggle at Kunnersdorf; and yet could not appreciate the immensely greater importance of the death-wrestle that reeled round Gettysburg. His eyes were so dazzled by the great dramas of the past that he could not see the even greater drama of the present. It is but the bare truth so say that never have the rewards been greater, never has there been more chance for doing work of great and lasting value, than this last half of the nineteenth century has offered alike to statesman and soldier, to explorer and commonwealth-builder, to the captain of industry, to the man of letters, and to the man of science. Never has life been more interesting to each to take part in. Never has there been a greater output of good work done both by the few and by the many.
Nevertheless, signs do not fail that we are on the eve of great changes, and that in the next century we shall see the conditions of our lives, national and individual, modified after a sweeping and radical fashion. Many of the forces that make for national greatness and for individual happiness in the nineteenth century will be absent entirely, or will act with greatly diminished strength, in the twentieth. Many of the forces that now make for evil will by that time have gained greatly in volume and power. It is foolish to look at the future with blind and careless optimism; quite as foolish as to gaze at it only through the dun-colored mists that surround the preachers of pessimism. It is always best to look facts squarely in the face, without blinking them, and to remember that, as has been well said, in the long run even the most uncomfortable truth is a safer companion than the pleasantest falsehood.
Whether the future holds good or evil for us does not, it is true, alter our duty in the present. We must stand up valiantly in the fight for righteousness and wisdom as we see them, and must let the event turn out as it may. Nevertheless, even though there is little use in pondering over the future, most men of intelligence do ponder over it at times, and if we think of it at all, it is well to think clearly.
Mr. Pearson writes a forecast of what he believes probably will, or at least very possibly may, happen in the development of national life and character during the era upon which we are now entering. He is a man who has had exceptional advantages for his work; he has studied deeply and travelled widely; he has been a diligent reader of books and a keen observer of men. To a careful training in one of the oldest of the world’s universities he has added long experience as an executive officer in one of the world’s youngest commonwealths. He writes with power and charm. His book is interesting in manner, and is still more interesting in matter, for he has thought deeply and faithfully over subjects of immense importance to the future of all the human race. He possesses a mind of marked originality. Moreover, he always faithfully tries to see facts as they actually are. He is, it seems to me, unduly pessimistic; but he is not pessimistic of set purpose nor does he adopt pessimism as a cult. He tries hard, and often successfully, to make himself see and to make himself state forces that are working for good. We may or may not differ from him, but it behooves us, if we do, to state our positions guardedly; for we are dealing with a man who has displayed much research in getting at his facts and much honesty in arriving at his rather melancholy conclusions.
The introduction to Mr. Pearson’s book is as readable as the chapters that follow, and may best be considered in connection with the first of these chapters, which is entitled “The Unchangeable Limits of the Higher Races.” I am almost tempted to call this the most interesting of the six chapters of the book, and yet one can hardly do so when absorbed in reading any one of the other five. Mr. Pearson sees what ought to be evident to every one, but apparently is not, that what he calls the “higher races,” that is, the races that for the last twenty-five hundred years (but, it must be remembered, only during the last twenty-five hundred years) have led the world, can prosper only under conditions of soil and climate analogous to those obtaining in their old European homes. Speaking roughly, this means that they can prosper only in the temperate zones, north and south.
Four hundred years ago the temperate zones, were very thinly peopled indeed, while the tropical and sub-tropical regions were already densely populated. The great future in the world’s history for the last four centuries has been the peopling of these vast, scantily inhabited regions by men of the European stocks; notably by men speaking English, but also by men speaking Russian and Spanish. During the same centuries these European peoples have for the first time acquired an enormous ascendancy over all other races. Once before, during the days of the Greco-Macedonian and Roman supremacy, European peoples possessed a somewhat similar supremacy; but it was not nearly as great, for at that period America and Australia were unknown, Africa south of the Sahara was absolutely unaffected by either Roman or Greek, and all but an insignificant portion of Asia was not only without the. pale of European influence, but held within itself immense powers of menace to Europe, and contained old and peculiar civilizations, still flourishing in their prime. All this has now been changed. Great English-speaking nations have sprung up in America north of the Rio Grande, and are springing up in Australia. The Russians, by a movement which has not yet fired the popular imagination, but which all thinking men recognize as of incalculable importance, are building a vast State in northern Asia, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Ural Mountains. Tropical America is parcelled out among States partly of European blood, and mainly European in thought, speech, and religion; while tropical Asia and Africa have been divided among European powers, and are held in more or less complete subjection by their military and civil agents. It is no wonder that men who are content to look at things superficially, and who think that the tendencies that have triumphed during the last two centuries are as immutable in their workings as great natural laws, should speak as if it were a mere question of time when the civilized peoples should overrun and occupy the entire world, exactly as they now do Europe and North America.
Mr. Pearson points out with great clearness the groundlessness of this belief. He deserves especial praise for discriminating between the importance of ethnic, and of merely political, conquests. The conquest by one country of another populous country always attracts great attention at the time, and has wide momentary effects; but it is of insignificant importance when compared with the kind, of armed settlement which causes new nations of an old stock to spring up in new countries. The campaigns carried on by the lieutenants of Justinian against Goth and Vandal, Bulgarian and Persian, seemed in the eyes of civilized Europe at that time of incalculably greater moment than the squalid warfare being waged in England between the descendants of Low Dutch sea-thieves and the aboriginal British. Yet, in reality, it was of hardly any consequence in history whether Belisarius did or did not succeed in overthrowing the Ostrogoth merely to make room for the Lombard, or whether the Vandal did or did not succumb to the Roman instead of succumbing to the Saracen a couple of centuries later; while it was of the most vital consequence to the whole future of the world that the English should supplant the Welsh as masters of Britain.
Again, in our own day, the histories written of Great Britain during the last century teem with her dealings with India, while Australia plays a very insignificant part indeed; yet, from the standpoint of the ages, the peopling of the great island-continent with men of the English stock is a thousand fold more important than the holding Hindoostan for a few centuries.
Mr. Pearson understands and brings out clearly that in the long run a conquest must fail when it means merely the erection of an insignificant governing caste. He shows clearly that the men of our stock do not prosper in tropical countries. In the New World they leave a thin strain of their blood among and impose their laws, language, and forms of government on the aboriginal races, which then develop on new and dimly drawn lines. In the Old World they fail to do even this. In Asia they may leave a few tens of thousands, or possibly hundreds of thousands, of Eurasians to form an additional caste in a caste-ridden community. In tropical Africa they may leave here and there a mulatto tribe like the Griquas. But it certainly has not yet been proved that the European can live and propagate permanently in the hot regions of India and Africa, and Mr. Pearson is right in anticipating for the whites who have conquered these tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Old World, the same fate which befell the Greek kingdoms in Bactria and the Chersonese. The Greek rulers of Bactria were ultimately absorbed and vanished, as probably the English rulers of India will some day in the future—for the good of mankind, we sincerely hope and believe the very remote future—themselves be absorbed and vanish. In Africa south of the Zambezi (and possibly here and there on high plateaus north of it,) there may remain white States, although even these States will surely contain a large colored population, always threatening to swamp the whites; but in tropical Africa generally, it does not seem possible that any white State can ever be built up. Doubtless for many centuries European adventurers and Arab raiders will rule over huge territories in the country south of the Soudan and north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and the whole structure, not only social, but physical, of the negro and the negroid peoples will be profoundly changed by their influence and by the influence of the half-caste descendants of these European and Asiatic soldiers of fortune and industry. But it is hardly possible to conceive that the peoples of Africa, however ultimately changed, will be anything but negroid in type of body and mind. It is probable that the change will be in the direction of turning them into tribes like those of the Soudan, with a similar religion and morality. It is almost impossible that they will not in the end succeed in throwing off the yoke of the European outsiders, though this end may be, and we hope will be, many centuries distant. In America most of the West Indies are becoming negro islands. The Spaniard, however, because of the ease with which he drops to a lower ethnic level, exerts a much more permanent influence than the Englishman upon tropic aboriginal races; and the tropical lands which the Spaniard and Portuguese once held, now contain, and always will contain, races which, though different from the Aryan of the temperate zone, yet bridge the gulf between him and the black, red, and yellow peoples who have dwelt from time immemorial on both sides of the equator.
Taking all this into consideration, therefore, it is most likely that a portion of Mr. Pearson’s forecast, as regards the people of the tropic zones, will be justified by events. It is impossible for the dominant races of the temperate zones ever bodily to displace the peoples of the tropics. It is highly probable that these people will cast off the yoke of their European conquerors sooner or later,and will become independent nations once more; though it is also possible that the modern conditions of easy travel may permit the permanent rule in the tropics of a vigorous northern race, renewed by a complete change every generation.
Mr. Pearson’s further proposition is that these black, red, and yellow nations, when thus freed, will threaten the dominance of the higher peoples, possibly by military, certainly by industrial, rivalry, and that the mere knowledge of the equality of these stocks will cow and dispirit the higher races.
This part of his argument is open to very serious objections. In the first place, Mr. Pearson entirely fails to take into account the difference in character among the nationalities produced in the tropics as the result of European conquest. In Asia, doubtless, the old races now submerged by European predominance will reappear, profoundly changed in themselves and in their relations to one another, but as un-European as ever, and not appreciably affected by any intermixture of European blood. In Africa, the native States will probably range somewhere between the Portuguese half-caste and quarter-caste communities now existing on certain of the tropic coasts, and pastoral or agricultural communities, with a Mohammedan religious cult and Asiatic type of government, produced by the infusion of a conquering semitic or hamitic caste on a conquered negro people. There may be a dominant caste of European blood in some of these States, but that is all. In tropical America, the change has already taken place. The States that there exist will not materially alter their form. It is possible that here and there populations of Chinese, pure or half-caste, or even of coolies, may spring up; but taken as a whole these States will be in the future what they are now, that is, they will be by blood partly white, but chiefly Indian or negro, with their language, law, religion, literature, and governmental system approaching those of Europe and North America.
Suppose that what Mr. Pearson foresees comes to pass, and that the black and yellow races of the world attain the same independence already achieved by the mongrel reddish race. Mr. Pearson thinks that this will expose us to two dangers. The first is that of actual physical distress caused by the competition of the teeming myriads of the tropics, or perhaps by their invasion of the temperate zones. Mr. Pearson himself does not feel any very great anxiety about this invasion assuming a military type, and I think that even the fear he does express is unwarranted by the facts. He is immensely impressed by the teeming population of China. He thinks that the Chinese will some day constitute the dominant portion of the population, both politically and numerically, in the East Indies, New Guinea, and Farther India. In this he is probably quite right; but such a change would merely mean the destruction or submersion of Malay, Dyak, and Papuan and would be of hardly any real consequence to the white man. He further thinks that the Chinese may jeopardize Russia in Asia. Here I am inclined to think he is wrong. As far as it is possible to judge in the absence of statistics, the Chinaman at present is not increasing relatively as fast as the Slav and the Anglo-Saxon. Half a century or so more will put both of them within measurable distance of equality with him, even in point of numbers. The movement of population in China is toward the south, not the north; the menace is real for the English and French protectorates in the south; in the north the difficulty hitherto has been to keep Russian settlers from crossing the Chinese frontier. When the great Trans-Siberian railroad is built, and when a few millions more of Russian settlers stretch from the Volga to the valley of the Amoor, the danger of a military advance by the Chinese against Asiatic Russia will be entirely over, even granting that it now exists. The Chinaman never has been, and probably never will be, such a fighter as Turk or Tartar, and he would have to possess an absolutely overwhelming superiority of numbers to give him a chance in a war of aggression against a powerful military race. As yet he has made no advance whatever towards developing an army capable of offensive work against European foes. In China there are no roads; the military profession is looked down on; Chinese troops would be formidable only under a European leader, and a European leader would be employed only from dire necessity; that is to repel, not to undertake an invasion. Moreover, China is merely an aggregate of provinces with a central knot at Pekin; and Pekin could be taken at any time by a small trained army. China will not menace Siberia until after undergoing some stupendous and undreamed-of internal revolution. It is scarcely within the bounds of possibility to conceive of the Chinaman expelling the European settler from the lands in which that settler represents the bulk of a fairly thick population, not merely a small intrusive caste. It is, of course, always possible that in the far-distant future (though there is no sign of it now) China may travel on the path of Japan, may change her policy, may develop fleets and armies; but if she does do this, there is no reason why this fact should stunt and dwarf the people of the higher races. In Elizabeth’s day the Turkish fleets and armies stood toward those of European powers in a far higher position than those of China, or of the tropics generally, can ever hope to stand in relation to the peoples of the temperate zones; and yet this did not hinder the Elizabethan Age from being one of great note both in the field of thought and in the field of action.
The anticipation of what might happen if India became solidified seems even more ill-founded. Here Mr. Pearson’s position is that the very continuance of European rule, doing away with war and famine, produces an increase of population and a solidity of the country, which will enable the people to over-throw that European rule. He assumes that the solidified and populous country will continue to remain such after the over-throw of the Europeans, and will be capable of deeds of aggression; but, of course, such an assumption is contrary to all probabilities. Once the European rule was removed, famine and internecine war would again become chronic, and India would sink back to her former place. Moreover, the long continuance of British rule undoubtedly weakens the warlike fibre of the natives, and makes the usurer rather than the soldier the dominant type.
The danger to which Mr. Pearson alludes, that even the negro peoples may in time become vast military powers constituting a menace to Europe, really seems to belong to a period so remote that every condition will have changed to a degree rendering it impossible for us to make any estimate in reference thereto. By that time the descendant of the negro may be as intellectual as the Athenian. Even prophecy must not look too many thousand years ahead. It is perfectly possible that European settlements in Africa will be swamped some time by the rising of natives who outnumber them a thousand to one, but it is not possible that the negroes will form a military menace to the people of the north, at least for a space of time longer than that which now separates us from the men of the River Drift. The negroid peoples, the so-called “hamitic,” and bastard semitic, races of eastern middle Africa are formidable fighters; but their strength is not fit for any such herculean tasks.
There is much reason to fear the industrial competition of these races; but even this will be less formidable as the power of the State increases and especially as the democratic idea obtains more and more currency. The Russians are not democratic at all, but the State is very powerful with them; and therefore they keep the Chinese out of their Siberian provinces, which are being rapidly filled up with a population mainly Slav, the remainder of which is being Slavicized. From the United States and Australia the Chinaman is kept out because the democracy, with much clearness of vision, has seen that his presence is ruinous to the white race Nineteenth century democracy needs no more complete vindication for its existence than the fact that it has kept for the white race the best portions of the new world’s surface, temperate America and Australia. Had these regions been under aristocratic governments, Chinese immigration would have been encouraged precisely as the slave trade is encouraged of necessity by any slave-holding oligarchy, and the result would in a few generations have been even more fatal to the white race; but the democracy, with the clear instinct of race selfishness, saw the race foe, and kept out the dangerous alien. The presence of the negro in our Southern States is a legacy from the time when we were ruled by a trans-oceanic aristocracy. The whole civilization of the future owes a debt of gratitude greater than can be expressed in words to that democratic policy which has kept the temperate zones of the new and the newest worlds a heritage for the white people.
As for the industrial competition, the Chinaman and the Hindoo may drive certain kinds of white traders from the tropics; but more than this they cannot do. They can never change the status of the white laborer in his own home, for the latter can always protect himself, and as soon as he is seriously menaced, always will protect himself, by protective tariffs and stringent immigration laws.
Mr. Pearson fears that when once the tropic races are independent, the white peoples will be humiliated and will lose heart: but this does not seem inevitable, and indeed seems very improbable. If the Englishman should lose his control over South Africa and India, it might indeed be a serious blow to the Englishman of Britain; though it may be well to remember that the generation of Englishmen which grew up immediately after England had lost America, accomplished feats in arms, letters, and science such as, on the whole, no other English generation ever accomplished. Even granting that Britain were to suffer as Mr. Pearson thinks she would, the enormous majority of the English-speaking peoples, those whose homes are in America and Australia, would be absolutely unaffected; and Continental Europe would be little more affected than it was when the Portuguese and Dutch successively saw their African and Indian empires diminish. France has not been affected by the expulsion of the French from Hayti; nor have the freed negroes of Hayti been capable of the smallest aggressive movement. No American or Australian cares in the least that the tan-colored peoples of Brazil and Ecuador now live under governments of their own instead of being ruled by viceroys from Portugal and Spain; and it is difficult to see why they should be materially affected by a similar change happening in regard to the people along the Ganges or the upper Nile. Even if China does become a military power on the European model, this fact will hardly affect the American and Australian at the end of the twentieth century more than Japan’s effort to get admitted to the circle of civilized nations has affected us at the end of the nineteenth.
Finally, it must be borne in mind that if any one of the tropical races ever does reach a pitch of industrial and military prosperity which makes it a menace to European and American countries, it will almost necessarily mean that this nation has itself become civilized in the process; and we shall then simply be dealing with another civilized nation of non-aryan blood, precisely as we now deal with Magyar, Fin, and Basque, without any thought of their being ethnically distinct from Croat, Rouman, or Wend.
In Mr. Pearson’s second chapter he deals with the stationary order of society, and strives to show that while we are all tending toward it, some nations, notably France, have practically come to it. He adds that when this stationary state is reached, it will produce general discouragement, and will probably affect the intellectual energy of the people concerned. He further points out that our races now tend to change from faith in private enterprises to faith in State organizations, and that this is likely to diminish the vigorous originality of any race. He even holds that we already see the beginning of a decadence, in the decline of speculative thought, and still more in the way of mechanical inventions. It is perfectly true that the laissez-faire doctrine of the old school of political economists is receiving less and less favor; but after all, if we look at events historically, we see that every race, as it has grown to civilized greatness, has used the power of the State more and more. A great State cannot rely on mere unrestricted individualism, any more than it can afford to crush out all individualism. Within limits, the mercilessness of private commercial warfare must be curbed as we have curbed the individual’s right of private war proper. It was not until the power of the State had become great in England, and until the lawless individualism of feudal times had vanished, that the English began that career of greatness which has put them on a level with the Greeks in point of intellectual achievement, and with the Romans in point of that material success which is measured by extension through settlement, by conquest, by triumphant warcraft and statecraft. As for Mr. Pearson’s belief that we now see a decline in speculative thought and in mechanical invention, all that can be said is that the facts do not bear him out.
There is one side to this stationary state theory which Mr. Pearson scarcely seems to touch. He points out with emphasis the fact, which most people are prone to deny, that the higher orders of every society tend to die out; that there is a tendency, on the whole, for both lower classes and lower civilizations to increase faster than the higher. Taken in the rough, his position on this point is undoubtedly correct. Progressive societies, and the most progressive portions of society, fail to increase as fast as the others, and often positively decease. The great commanders, great statesmen, great poets, great men of science of any period taken together do not average as many children who reach years of maturity as a similar number of mechanics, workmen, and farmers, taken at random. Nevertheless, society progresses, the improvement being due mainly to the transmission of acquired characters, a process which in every civilized State operates so strongly as to counterbalance the operation of that baleful law of natural selection which tells against the survival of some of the most desirable classes. Mr. Balfour, by the way, whose forecast for the race is in some respects not unlike Mr. Pearson’s, seems inclined to adopt the view that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited; a position which, even though supported by a few eminent names, is hardly worth serious refutation.
The point I wish to dwell upon here, however, is that it is precisely in those castes which have reached the stationary state, or which are positively diminishing in numbers, that the highest culture and best training, the keenest enjoyment of life, and the greatest power of doing good to the community, are to be found at present. Unquestionably, no community that is actually diminishing in numbers is in a healthy condition: and as the world is now, with huge waste places still to fill up, and with much of the competition between the races reducing itself to the warfare of the cradle, no race has any chance to win a great place unless it consists of good breeders as well as of good fighters. But it may well be that these conditions will change in the future, when the other changes to which Mr. Pearson looks forward with such melancholy are themselves brought about. A nation sufficiently populous to be able to hold its own against aggression from without, a nation which, while developing the virtues of refinement, culture, and learning, has yet not lost those of courage, bold initiative, and military hardihood, might well play a great part in the world, even though it had come to that stationary state already reached by the dominant castes of thinkers and doers in most of the dominant races.
In Mr. Pearson’s third chapter he dwells on some of the dangers of political development, and in especial upon the increase of the town at the expense of the country, and upon the growth of great standing armies. Excessive urban development undoubtedly does constitute a real and great danger. All that can be said about it is that it is quite impossible to prophesy how long this growth will continue. Moreover, some of the evils, as far as they really exist, will cure themselves. If townspeople do, generation by generation, tend to become stunted and weak, then they will die out, and the problem they cause will not be permanent; while on the other hand, if the cities can be made healthy, both physically and morally, the objections to them must largely disappear. As for standing armies, Mr. Pearson here seems to have too much thought of Europe only. In America and Australia there is no danger of the up-growing of great standing armies: and, as he well shows, the fact that every citizen must undergo military training is by no means altogether a curse to the nations of Continental Europe.
There is one point, by the way, although a small point, where it may be worth while to correct Mr. Pearson’s statement of a fact. In dwelling on what is undoubtedly the truth, that raw militia are utterly incompetent to make head against trained regular forces, he finds it necessary to explain away the defeat at New Orleans. In doing this, he repeats the story as it has been told by British historians from Sir Archbald Alison to Goldwin Smith. I hasten to say that the misstatement is entirely natural on Mr. Pearson’s part; he was simply copying, without sufficient careful investigation, the legend adopted by one side to take the sting out of defeat. The way he puts it is that six thousand British under Pakenham, without artillery, were hurled against strong works defended by twice their numbers, and were beaten, as they would have been beaten had the works been defended by almost any troops in the world. In the first place, Pakenham did not have six thousand men; he had almost ten thousand. In the second place, the Americans, instead of being twice as numerous as the British, were but little more than half as numerous. In the third place, so far from being without artillery, the British were much superior to the Americans in this respect. Finally, they assailed a position very much less strong than that held by Soult when Wellington beat him at Toulouse with the same troops which were defeated by Jackson at New Orleans. The simple truth is that Jackson was a very good general, and that he had under him troops whom he had trained in successive campaigns against Indians and Spaniards, and that on the three occasions when he brought Pakenham to battle—that is, the night attack, the great artillery duel, and the open assault—the English soldiers, though they fought with the utmost gallantry, were fairly and decisively beaten.
This one badly-chosen premise does not, however, upset Mr. Pearson’s conclusions. Plenty of instances can be taken from our war of 1812 to show how unable militia are to face trained regulars; and an equally striking example was that afforded at Castlebar, in Ireland, in 1798, when a few hundred French regulars attacked with the bayonet and drove in headlong flight from a very strong position, defended by a powerful artillery, five times their number of English, Scotch, and Irish militia.
In Mr. Pearson’s fourth chapter he deals, from a very noble standpoint, with some advantages of national feeling. With this chapter and with his praise of patriotism, and particularly of that patriotism which attaches itself to the whole country, and not to any section of it, we can only express our hearty agreement.
In his fifth chapter, on “The Decline of the Family” he sets forth, or seems to set forth, certain propositions with which I must as heartily disagree. He seems to lament the change which is making the irresponsible despot as much of an anomaly in the family as in the State. He seems to think; that this will weaken the family. It may do so, in some instances, exactly as the abolition of a despotism may produce anarchy; but the movement is essentially as good in one case as in the other. To all who have known really happy family lives, that is to all who have known or have witnessed the greatest happiness which there can be on this earth, it is hardly necessary to say that the highest ideal of the family is attainable only where the father and mother stand to each other as lovers and friends, with equal rights. In these homes the children are bound to father and mother by ties of love, respect, and obedience, which are simply strengthened by the fact that they are treated as reasonable beings with rights of their own, and that the rule of the household is changed to suit the changing years, as childhood passes into manhood and womanhood. In such a home the family is not weakened; it is strengthened. This is no unattainable ideal. Everyone knows hundreds of homes where it is more or less perfectly realized, and it is an ideal incomparably higher than the ideal of the beneficent autocrat which it has so largely supplanted.
The final chapter of Mr. Pearson’s book is entitled “The Decay of Character.” He believes that our world is becoming a world with less adventure and energy, less brightness and hope. He believes that all the great books have been written, all the great discoveries made, all the great deeds done. He thinks that the adoption of State socialism in some form will crush out individual merit and the higher kinds of individual happiness. Of course, as to this, all that can be said is that men differ as to what will be the effect of the forces whose working he portrays, and that most of us who live in the American democracy do not agree with him. It is to the last degree improbable that State socialism will ever be adopted in its extreme form, save in a few places. It exists, of course, to a certain extent wherever a police force and a fire department exist; and the sphere of the State’s action may be vastly increased without in any way diminishing the happiness of either the many or the few. It is even conceivable that a combination of legislative enactments and natural forces may greatly reduce the inequalities of wealth without in any way diminishing the real power of enjoyment or power for good work of what are now the favored classes. In our own country the best work has always been produced by men who lived in castes or social circles where the standard of essential comfort was high; that is, where men were well clothed, well fed, well housed, and had plenty of books and the opportunity of using them; but where there was small room for extravagant luxury. We think that Mr. Pearson’s fundamental error here is his belief that the raising of the mass necessarily means the lowering of the standard of life for the fortunate few. Those of us who now live in communities where the native American element is largest and where there is least inequality of conditions, know well that there is no reason whatever in the nature of things why, in the future, communities should not spring up where there shall be no great extremes of poverty and wealth, and where, nevertheless, the power of civilization and the chances for happiness and for doing good work shall be greater than ever before.
As to what Mr. Pearson says about the work of the world which is best worth doing being now done, the facts do not bear him out. He thinks that the great poems have all been written, that the days of the drama and the epic are past. Yet one of the greatest plays that has ever been produced, always excepting the plays of Shakespeare, was produced in this century; and if the world had to wait two thousand years after the vanishing of the Athenian dramatists before Shakespeare appeared, and two hundred years more before Goethe wrote his one great play, we can well afford to suspend judgment for a few hundred years at least, before asserting that no country and no language will again produce another great drama. So it is with the epic. We are too near Milton, who came three thousand years after Homer, to assert that the centuries to come will never more see an epic. One race may grow feeble and decrepit and be unable to do any more work; but another may take its place. After a time the Greek and Latin writers found that they had no more to say; and a critic belonging to either nationality might have shaken his head and said that all the great themes had been used up and all the great ideas expressed; nevertheless, Dante, Cervantes, Moliere, Schiller, Chaucer, and Scott, then all lay in the future.
Again, Mr. Pearson speaks of statecraft at the present clay as offering fewer prizes, and prizes of less worth than formerly, and as giving no chance for the development of men like Augustus Caesar, Richelieu, or Chatham. It is difficult to perceive how these men can be considered to belong to a different class from Bismarck, who is yet alive; nor do we see why any English-speaking people should regard a statesman like Chatham, or far greater than Chatham, as an impossibility nowadays or in the future. We Americans at least will with difficulty be persuaded that there has ever been a time when a nobler prize of achievement, suffering, and success was offered to any statesman than was offered both to Washington and to Lincoln. So, when Mr. Pearson speaks of the warfare of civilized countries offering less chance to the individual than the warfare of savage and barbarous times, and of its being far less possible now than in old days for a man to make his personal influence felt in warfare, we can only express our disagreement. No world-conqueror can arise save in or next to highly civilized States. There never has been a barbarian Alexander or Caesar, Hannibal or Napoleon. Sitting Bull and Rain-in-the-Face compare but ill with Von Moltke; and no Norse king of all the heroic viking age even so much as began to exercise the influence upon the warfare of his generation that Frederick the Great exercised on his.
It is not true that character of necessity decays with the growth of civilization. It may, of course, be true in some cases. Civilization may tend to develop upon the lines of Byzantine, Hindoo, and Inca; and there are sections of Europe and sections of the United States where we now tend to pay heed exclusively to the peaceful virtues and to develop only a race of merchants, lawyers, and professors, who will lack the virile qualities that have made our race great and splendid. This development may come, but it need not come necessarily, and, on the whole, the probabilities are against its coming at all.
Mr. Pearson is essentially a man of strength and courage. Looking into the future, the future seems to him gray and unattractive; but he does not preach any unmanly gospel of despair. He thinks that in time to come, though life will be freer than in the past from dangers and vicissitudes, yet it will contain fewer of the strong pleasures and of the opportunities for doing great deeds that are so dear to mighty souls. Nevertheless, he advises us all to front it bravely whether our hope be great or little; and he ends his book with these fine sentences: “Even so, there will still remain to us ourselves. Simply to do our work in life, and to abide the issue, if we stand erect before the eternal calm as cheerfully as our fathers faced the eternal unrest, may be nobler training for our souls than the faith in progress.”
We do not agree with him that there will be only this eternal calm to face; we do not agree with him that the future holds for us a time when we shall ask nothing from the day but to live, nor from the future but that we may not deteriorate. We do not agree with him that there is a day approaching when the lower races will predominate in the world and the higher races will have lost their noblest elements. But after all, it matters little what view we take of the future if, in our practice, we but do as he preaches, and face resolutely whatever fate may have in store. We, ourselves, are not certain that progress is assured; we only assert that it may be assured if we but live wise, brave, and upright lives. We do not know whether the future has in store for us calm or unrest. We cannot know beyond peradventure whether we can prevent the higher races from losing their nobler traits and from being overwhelmed by the lower races. On the whole, we think that the greatest victories are yet to be won, the greatest deeds yet to be done, and that there are yet in store for our peoples, and for the causes that we uphold, grander triumphs than have ever yet been scored. But be this as it may, we gladly agree that the one plain duty of every man is to face the future as he faces the present, regardless of what it may have in store for him, turning toward the light as he sees the light, to play his part manfully, as a man among men.