Edward Howard Griggs.

The Soul of Democracy The Philosophy of the World War in Relation to Human Liberty online

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Man for the State means autocracy and imperialism;
MAN FOR MANKIND is the soul of democracy.







We are living under the shadow of the greatest world tragedy in the
history of mankind. Not even the overthrow of the old Roman empire was
so colossal a disaster as this. Inevitably we are bewildered by it.
Utterly unanticipated, at least in its world extent, for we had believed
mankind too far advanced for such a chaos of brute force to recur, it
overwhelms our vision. Man had been going forward steadily, inventing
and discovering, until in the last hundred years his whole world had
been transformed. Suddenly the entire range of invention is turned
against Man. The machinery of comfort and progress becomes the enginery
of devastation. Under such a shock, we ask, "Has civilization
over-reached itself? Has the machine run away with its maker?" The
imagination is staggered. We are too much in the storm to see across
the storm.

When the War began, it was over our minds as a dark cloud. It was the
last conscious thought as we went to sleep at night, and the first to
which we awakened in the morning: wakening with a dumb sense of
something wrong, as if we had suffered a personal tragedy, and then as
we came to clear consciousness we said, "O yes, the War!" The days have
passed into weeks, the weeks into months and years: inevitably we become
benumbed to the long continued disaster. It is impossible to think
deaths and mutilations in terms of millions. Even those who stand in
the immediate presence of it and suffer most terribly become calloused
to it: much more must we who stood so long apart and have not yet felt
the brunt of it. Even our entrance into the whirling vortex, drawing
ever nearer our shores, has failed to waken us to a realizing sense of
it. Nevertheless, these years through which we are now living are the
most important in the entire history of the world. It is probable that
the future will look back upon them as the years determining the destiny
of mankind for ages to come.

How this terrible fact of War falls across all philosophies! Complacent
optimisms, so widely current recently, are put out of court by it. The
pleasant interpretations mediocrity formulates of the universe are torn
to tatters. There is at least the refreshment of standing face to face
with brute actuality, though it crash all our "little systems" to the
ground. Philosophy must wait. The interpretations cannot be hastened,
while the facts are multiplying with such bewildering rapidity. The one
certainty is that an entirely new world is being born - _what_ it will
be, no one knows.

Nevertheless, we have gone far enough to recognize that all our thinking
will be transformed under the influence of the struggle. It will be
impossible for us, after the War, to do what we have done so widely
hitherto: proclaim one range of ethical ideals and standards, and live
to something widely different in practice. Either we shall have to
abandon the standards, or bring our conduct measurably into harmony with
them. We shall be unable longer to hold unconsciously in solution
Christianity and the gospel of brute force. One or the other must be
rejected, or both consciously reconstructed. The effect on the thought
life of the world will be even greater - vastly greater - than that of the
French Revolution. The twentieth century will differ from the
nineteenth more than that did from the eighteenth. The effect on the
relations of different social groups throughout the world will be so
far-reaching that possibly the democracy and socialism of the nineteenth
century may look like remote historic phenomena, such as the Athenian
tribal system or mediaeval feudalism.

Thus our whole social philosophy will have to be remolded. We Americans
are still in the patent medicine period of politics, trusting to
political devices on the surface for the cure of any evils that arise.
All across the country, like an epidemic of disease has gone the notion
- if anything is the matter with us, just pass another law. Thus we are
suffering under an ill-considered mass of legislation, while blindly
trusting to it to solve all problems. Legislation is no solution for
moral evils. It is possible, to some extent, to suppress vice by
legislation, but not to create virtue. Virtue can be developed only by
conduct and education. You cannot drive men into the kingdom of heaven
with the whip of legislation; and if you could, you would so change the
atmosphere of the place that one would prefer to take the other road.

If our democracy is to survive, we must think it through; carrying it
down, from these superficial political devices, into our industry and
commerce, still so largely dominated by feudal ideas of the middle age,
into our science and art, far more completely into our education, into
our social relationship, and beyond all else, into our fundamental
attitude of mind. Democracy is, at bottom, not a series of political
forms, but a way of life.

Thus the War will be the supreme test of democracy. The question it
will settle is this: can free men, by voluntary cooperation, develop an
efficiency and an endurance which will make it possible for them to
stand and protect their liberties against the machinery and aggressive
ambitions of autocratic empires where everything is done paternally from
the top? If they can, then democracy will survive and grow as the
highest form of society for ages to come; if not, then democracy will
pass and be succeeded by some other social order.

That is why this War has been our war from the beginning, though we have
entered it so late. As we look back upon the struggle of Athens and the
other free Greek cities with the overwhelming hordes of Asia, at
Marathon and Salamis, as the conflict that saved democracy for Europe
and made possible the civilization of the Occident, so it is probable
that the world will look back upon this colossal War as the same
struggle, multiplied a thousand times in the men and munitions employed,
the struggle determining the future of democracy and civilization for
generations, perhaps for all time.



The world has been confused as to the issue in this War, because of the
multitude of its causes and of the antagonisms it involves; yet under
all the national and racial hatreds, the economic jealousies, certain
great ideas are being tested out.

Apologists for Germany have told us, even with pride, that in Germany
the supreme conception is the dedication of Man to the State. This was
not true of old Germany. Before the formation of the Prussian empire,
her spirit was intensely individualistic. She stood preeminently for
freedom of thought and action. It was this that gave her noble
spiritual heritage. Goethe is the most individualistic of world masters.
Froebel developed, in the Kindergarten, one of the purest of
democracies. Luther and German protestantism represented the
affirmation of individual conscience as against hierarchical control.
It was this spirit that gave Germany her golden age of literature, her
unmatched group of spiritual philosophers, her religious teachers, her
pre-eminence in music.

Nevertheless, the Prussian state, autocratic from its inception,
received philosophic justification in a series of thinkers, culminating
in Hegel, who regarded the individual as a capricious egotist, the
state, incarnate in its sovereign, as the supreme spiritual entity. He
justified war, regarding it as a permanent necessity, and practically
made might, right, in arguing that a conquering nation is justified by
its more fruitful idea in annexing the weaker, while the conquered, in
being conquered, is judged of God. Here is the philosophic
justification of that Prussian arrogance which in Nietzsche is carried
into glittering rhetoric. Thus the Prussian state from afar back was
opposed to the general spirit of old Germany.

Since 1870, it must be admitted, that spirit is gone. With the
formation of the Prussian empire and for the half century of its
existence, every force of social control - press, church, state,
education, social opinion - was deliberately employed to stamp on the
German people one idea - the subordination of the individual to the
state, as the supreme and only virtue. How far has the policy succeeded?
Apparently absolutely. To the outside observer the old spirit seems
utterly gone. How far this policy has been helped by the cultivation of
the fear of the Slav, one cannot say. Looking at the map of Europe, one
sees that the geographical relation of Germany to the great Slavic
empire is not unlike the relation of Holland to Germany. Thus the
deliberate fostering of fear of the vast empire of the East has done
much to strengthen the hands of the Prussian regime in its chosen task.

Nevertheless, when one recalls the spiritual heritage of Germany: when
one thinks of Herder, Schiller and Goethe; Tauler, Luther and
Schleiermacher; Froebel, Herbart and Richter; Kant, Fichte and Novalis;
Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner; one feels that something of the old German
heritage must survive. When the German people find out what has happened
to them and why, that heritage surely ought to show in some reaction
against the present autocratic regime, after the War closes, if not
before, perhaps even to the extent of making Germany a republic. That
would be some compensation for the waste and destruction of the War.
Meantime Germany stands now, ruthlessly, for the dedication of Man to
the State.

One can understand why a Prussian minister forbade the teaching of
Froebel's ideas in Prussia during the latter period of the educator's
life. So one understands the hatred of Goethe because he refused
allegiance to a narrow nationalism and remained cosmopolitan in his
world-view. Similarly Hegel, with his justification of absolute
monarchy and his theory of the German state as the acme of all spiritual
evolution, was the acclaimed orthodox philosopher of Prussia, while the
individualist, Schopenhauer, was neglected and despised.

One must have lived in Germany to realize the absolute control of the
State over the individual - the incessant surveillance, the petty
regulations, the constant interference with private life. It was to
escape just this vexatious control, with the arduous militarism in which
it culminates, that so vast a multitude of Germans left their native
land and came to the United States - not all of whom have shown
appreciation and loyalty to the free land that welcomed them.



In contrast to the idea for which Germany now stands, the Anglo-Saxon
instinctively and tenaciously believes in the liberty and initiative of
the individual. We, of course, are no longer Anglo-Saxon. When De
Tocqueville in 1831 visited our country, surveyed our institutions and,
after returning home, made his trenchant diagnosis of our democracy, he
could justly designate us Anglo-Americans. That time is past; we are
to-day everything and nothing: a great nation in the womb of time,
struggling to be born.

Nevertheless, Anglo-American ideas still dominate and inspire our
civilization. It is, indeed, remarkable to what an extent this is true,
in the face of the mingling of heterogeneous races in our population.
As English is our speech, so Anglo-American ideas are still the soul of
our life and institutions.

This is evident in the jealousy of authority. We resent the intrusion
of the government into affairs of private life, and prefer to submit to
annoyances and even injustice on the part of other individuals, rather
than to have protection at the price of paternalistic regulation by the
state. We resent any law that we do not see is necessary to the general
welfare, and are rather lawless even then. This shows clearly in our
reaction on legislation in regard to drink. The prohibition of
intoxicating liquor is about the surest way to make an Anglo-Saxon want
to go out and get drunk, even when he has no other inclination in that
direction. In Boston, under the eleven o'clock closing law, men in
public restaurants will at times order, at ten minutes of eleven, eight
or ten glasses of beer or whiskey, for fear they might want them,
whereas, if the restriction had not been present, two or three would
have sufficed.

Not long ago we saw the very labor leaders who forced the Adamson law
through congress, threatening to disobey any legislation limiting their
own freedom of action, even though vitally necessary to the freedom of

The general behavior under automobile and traffic regulation illustrates
the tendency evenmore clearly. Thinking over the list of acquaintances
who own automobiles, one finds it hard to recall one who would not break
the speed law at a convenient opportunity. Even a staid college
professor, who has walked the walled-in path all his life: let him get a
Ford runabout, and in three months he is exultant in running as close as
possible to every foot traveler and in exceeding the speed limit at any
favorable chance. These are not beautiful expressions of our national
spirit, but they serve to illustrate our instinctive individualism.

Especially are we jealous of highly centralized authority. De
Tocqueville argued that we would never be able to develop a strong
central government, and that our democracy would be menaced with failure
by that lack. That his prophecy has proved false and our federal
government has become so strong is due only to the accidents of our
history and the exigency of the tremendous problems we have had to

The same individualistic spirit is strong in England. It has been
particularly evident, during the War, in the resentment of military
authority as applied to labor conditions. The artisans and their
leaders dreaded to give up liberties for which they had struggled
through generations, for fear that those rights would not be readily
accorded them again after the War. It must be admitted that this fear is
justified. The same spirit was evident in the fight on conscription.
This attitude has been a handicap to England in successfully carrying on
the War, as it is to us; but it shows how strong is the essential spirit
of democracy in both lands.

In France, the Revolution was at bottom an affirmation of individualism
- of the right of the people, as against classes and kings, to seek life,
liberty and happiness. The great words, _Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,_
that the French placed upon their public buildings in the period of the
Revolution, are the essential battle-cry of true democracy, - as it is to
be, rather than as it is at present.

Through her peculiar situation, threatened and overshadowed by potential
enemies, France has been forced to a policy of militarism, with a large
subordination of the individual to the state. The subordination,
however, is voluntary. That is touchingly evident in the beautiful
fraternization of French officers and men in the present War. With our
Anglo-Saxon reserve, we smile at the pictures of grave generals kissing
bearded soldiers, in recognition of valor, but it is a significant
expression of the voluntary equality and brotherhood of Frenchmen in
this War. The reason France has risen with such splendid courage and
unity is the consciousness of every Frenchman that complete defeat in
this War would mean that there would be no France in the future, that
Paris would be a larger Strassburg, and France a greater
Alsace-Lorraine. While the subordination has been thus voluntary,
surely the French soldiers, man for man, have proved themselves the
equal of any soldiers on earth.

The anomaly of the first two years of the War was the presence of the
vast Russian autocratic empire on the side of the allied democracies.
For Russia, however, the War was of the people, rather than of the
autocracy at the top, and one saw that Russia would emerge from the War
changed and purified. What one could not foresee was that, under the
awakening of the people, Russia could pass, in a day, through a
Revolution as profound in its character and consequences as the great
explosion in France. It would be almost a miracle if so complete a
Revolution, in such a vast, benighted empire, were not followed by
decades of recurrent chaos and anarchy. If Russia avoids this fate, she
will present a unique experience in history. The tendency to abrogate
all authority, the spectacle of regiments of soldiers becoming debating
societies to discuss whether or not they shall obey orders and fight,
are ominous signs for the next period. Emancipated Russia must learn,
if necessary through bitter suffering, that liberty is not license, that
democracy is not anarchy, but voluntary and intelligent obedience to
just laws and the chosen executors of those laws. Meantime, whatever
her immediate future may be, Russia's transformation has clarified the
issue and justified her place with the allied democracies. However long
and confused her struggle, there can be no return to the past, and, in
the end, her Revolution means democracy.

Thus, in democracy, the State exists for Man. Other forms of society
seek the interest or welfare of an individual, a group or a class,
democracy aims at the welfare, that is, the liberty, happiness, growth,
intelligence, helpfulness of _all the people_. Under all the welter of
this world struggle, it is therefore these great contrasting ideas that
are being tested out, perhaps for all time. What is their relative
value for efficiency, initiative, invention, endurance, permanence;
beneath all, what is their final value for the happiness and helpfulness
of all human beings?



There is only one moral order of the universe - one range of moral as of
physical law. For instance, the law of gravitation - simplest of
physical principles - holds the last star in the abyss of space, rounds
the dew-drop on the petal of a spring violet and determines the symmetry
of living organisms; but it is one and unchanging, a fundamental pull in
the nature of matter itself. So with moral laws: they are not
superadded to life by some divine or other authority. They are simply
the fundamental principles in the nature of life itself, which we must
obey to grow and be happy.

If the moral order is one and unchanging, man does change in relation to
it, and moral standards are relative to the stage of his growth.
History is filled with illustrations of this relativity of ethical

For instance: human slavery doubtless began as an act of beneficence on
the part of some philanthropist well in advance of his age. The first
man who, in the dim dawn of history, said to the captive he had made in
war, "I will not kill you and eat you; I will let you live and work for
me the rest of your life": that man instituted human slavery; but it was
distinctly a step upward, from something that had been far worse.

Homer represents Ulysses as the favorite pupil of Pallas Athena, goddess
of wisdom: why? Baldly stated, because Ulysses was the shrewdest and
most successful liar in classic antiquity. If Ulysses were to appear in
a society of decent men to-day, he would be excluded from their
companionship, and for the same reason that led Homer to glorify him as
the favorite pupil of the goddess of wisdom. Thus what is a virtue at
one stage of development becomes a vice as man climbs to higher
recognition of the moral order.

Just because the moral standard is relative, it is absolutely binding
where it applies. In other words, if you see the light shining on your
path, you owe obedience to the light; one who does not see it, does not
owe obedience in the same way. If you do not obey your light, your
punishment is that you lose the light - degenerate to a lower plane, and
it is the worst punishment imaginable.

Thus the same act may be for the undeveloped life, non-moral, for the
developed, distinctly immoral. Before the instincts of personal modesty
and purity were developed, careless sex-promiscuity meant something
entirely different from what a descent to it means in our society. When
a man of some primitive tribe went out and killed a man of another
tribe, the action was totally different morally from .the murder by a
man of one community of a citizen of a neighboring town to-day.

This gradual elevation of moral standards, or growth in the recognition
of the sacredness of life and the obligation to other individuals, can
be traced historically as a long and confused process. There was a
time, in the remote past, when no law was recognized except that of the
strong arm. The man who wanted anything, took it, if he was strong
enough, and others submitted to his superior force. Then follows an age
when the family is the supreme social unit. Each member of the family
group feels the pain or pleasure of all the others as something like his
own, but all outside this circle are as the beasts. This is the
condition among the Veddahs of Ceylon, studied so interestingly by
Haeckel. Living in isolated family groups, scattered through the
tropical wilderness: one man, one woman and their children forming the
social unit: they as nearly represent primitive life as any other body
of people now on the earth.

Then follows a long roll of ages when the tribe is the highest social
unit. Each member of the tribe is conscious of the sacredness of life of
all the other members and of some obligation toward them; but men of
other tribes may be slain as freely as the beasts. Then comes a period
when appreciation of the sacredness of life is extended over all those
of the same race, tested generally by their speaking somewhat the same
language. That was the condition in classic antiquity: it was "Jew and
Gentile," "Greek and barbarian" - the very word "barbarous" coming from
the unintelligible sounds, to the Greeks, of those who spoke other than
the Hellenic tongue. Even Plato, with all his far-sighted humanism,
says, in the _Republic_, that in the ideal state, "Greeks should deal
with barbarians as Greeks now deal with one another." If one remembers
what occurred in the Peloponnesian war - how Greek men voted to kill all
the men of military age in a conquered Greek city and sell all the women
and children into slavery - one will see that Plato's dream of humanity
was not so very wide.

From that time on, there has been further extension of the appreciation
of the sacredness of life and of the consciousness of moral obligation
toward other human beings. We are far from the end of the path. Our
sympathies are still limited by accidents of time and place, race and
color; but we have gone far enough to see what the end would be, were we
to reach it: a sympathy so wide, an appreciation of the sacredness of
life so universal, that each of us would feel the joy or sorrow of every
other human being, alive to-day or to be alive to-morrow, as something
like his own. Moreover, in all civilized society, we have gone far
enough to renounce the right to private vengeance and adjustment of
quarrels: we live under established courts of law, with organized civil
force to carry out their judgments. This gives relative peace and
security, and a general, if imperfect, application of the moral law.



The astounding anomaly of modern civilization is the way we have lagged
behind in applying to groups and nations of men the moral laws,
universally recognized as binding over individuals. For instance, about

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Online LibraryEdward Howard GriggsThe Soul of Democracy The Philosophy of the World War in Relation to Human Liberty → online text (page 1 of 7)