A More Perfect Union
AMERICA'S PREDESTINED TASK
By DEAN PAUL SHIPMAN ANDREWS, Syracuse University College of Law
Delivered at the Annual Dinner of the New York State Bar Association, New York City, January 24, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 238-241.
MR. PRESIDENT, guests of the Association, ladies and gentlemen, fellow students today in the wide university of war and peace, fellow citizens and pioneers tomorrow of an unpredictable new world: it is a great honor to be invited here tonight as the successor for a moment of distinguished men who have addressed this assembly in years gone by. One who cannot offer you what they did of wit, philosophy and learning, may none the less, perhaps, be permitted a sense of pride and gratitude for the privilege of standing for a little while where they have stood.
To the members of the Bar a lawyer may speak as he could speak to few with a sense of the continuity of a great tradition. The lawyers of today as counsel or on the Bench do not claim perfection. We know that our profession falls short of its hopes and dreams. But we know too that it is our task as it was of old to shape the framework of government and of business in which we live. Numbering perhaps one-eighth of one per cent of the population, we have furnished four- or five-sevenths of the membership of the state and national legislatures. Two-thirds of the presidents of this country have been lawyers, and a higher ratio still of secretaries of state and cabinet officers. In great numbers lawyers have occupied commanding places in business. We carry forward the mission of the common law, distilling new law constantly from the customs and conditions of a fast-changing economy, in the alembic of history and precedent. The Bar is in large part composed of men whose minds, toughened and edged by an exacting discipline, are tools fit for working those most rewarding but most intractable materials, ideas. From the beginnings of the country, men have looked to the Bar for leadership. More than any other group it has influenced the development of our institutions and our economy.
Today in so far as the Bar represents the leadership of America, it is about to meet what may prove its greatest responsibility. The United States of America is destined to take the helm of great affairs. A creditor nation, with gigantic industries, with gigantic economic and military power, the world will call on us for all the help and guidance that our power implies. Then, unless the Bar of America has lost the strength it has always shown, the minds of law-trained men will be needed to meet great problems and business and government will seek out men of our profession to help guide the nation through the formative years of a change perhaps so great that it will amount almost to an act of creation. In this room tonight and at other gatherings like this throughout the nation, it must be that there are men who will be ready to answer the call—men perhaps who will have theprivilege of helping to write as it were a new Book of Genesis—men who will so guide the peoples of the earth that generations yet unborn will be marching to the cadence they have set. In the past no other group of men has shown capacity for leadership comparable to the Bar. No other group possesses minds so trained to think. No other group stands to a degree apart, as does the Bar, from the pulling and hauling of disruptive selfishness. If we prove ourselves fit for the undertaking, as great lawyers have done before, the Bar of America may have no small share in the shaping of a future world.
There is a grave urgency for Americans in the thought that the mantle of the world's leadership is falling on the shoulders of the land we love. Some qualities our country has already to help in that vast undertaking. John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, believes that today America is the chief exponent of a creed which he thought "on the whole, to be the best in this imperfect world," the exponent of the spiritual "testament of democracy." In America the ordinary man "believes in himself and in his ability, along with his fellows, to govern his country," and America possesses "the belief, which is fundamental also in Christianity, of the worth of every human soul—the worth, not the equality."
"The democratic testament," Lord Tweedsmuir said, "is one lesson that America has to teach the world. A second is a new reading of nationalism. Some day, and somehow, the peoples must discover a way to brigade themselves for peace. . . . The United States was the conscious work of men's hands, and a task which has once been performed can be performed again. . . . If the world is ever to have prosperity and peace, there must be some kind of federation—I will not say of democracies, but of states which accept the reign of Law. In such a task she seems to me to be the predestined leader."
If this is America's predestined task, truly it is an Act of Creation, no less. We shall need to see visions and dream dreams. We shall need strength and courage and sacrifice. We must not hope for perfection, but it is a task to engage the best we have, one into which Abraham Lincoln would have rejoiced to pour his heart's blood. For if we succeed, America and the freedom-loving nations, history will write of the generation now living, something that history has not written before. It will write that in this decade men did more to bring about peace on earth, good will to men, than all that had been accomplished in the nineteen hundred years before since the Herald Angels sang.
We believe, then, that America more than other nationshas qualifications for the task remaining before us. She has learned, too, with finality, certain indispensable lessons. She had begun to learn them a year ago. She has learned them fast in the last few months, and paid high for the learning.
She has learned, first, that the new order of Nazism is only an age-old barbarism, savage and bestial like its predecessors of an older time, but with all the power of destruction given it by modern science and machines. It is a creature with a mighty body but a tiny, undeveloped head, and a diseased mind devoid of moral sense; child of an immature rationalization of racial superiority, by a profound national inferiority complex, and seeking psychological escape by self-aggrandizement through domination of the world. We have learned, too, I think, that no appeasement, no compromise is possible with such a thing. Either it is stamped out, or the free peoples are. One does not negotiate a peace, someone said, between a fire department and a fire.
We are learning for ourselves anew what every page of history records, that freedom must be earned and kept by struggle and sacrifice; that it has been won only when men and women were willing to give up for it things they held dear, because they held it dearer still. Call the roll of the free people: Greece with its two thousand year old tradition of freedom, still vivid today and safe in the end, we know, in the hands of its gallant people; the little states of the Netherlands struggling today as they did before for liberation from the invader; Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1617 beating back the Russians; the little ships of England against the great Armada of mighty Spain and later England standing alone against a conquered Europe under Napoleon; the Revolution in France and the declarations of independence in the great countries of Latin America! not least, the American Revolution. Always and everywhere, when men have struck for freedom they were ready to give up all else if only they might be free. It is said that of old there was a prayer used by the Polish Legions which so often fought in the service of other nations while their homeland was enslaved: "Grind us to dust, Oh Lord, but let that dust be free."
For one thing, Americans need no lesson. Every school child should know the story, should know how truly it was one of the miracles of history that the United States ever became a nation. When the American Revolution was over, the thirteen separate nation-states fell apart. There was sectional greed and hate. They passed protective tariffs against each other, laid embargoes, raised armies. In 1784 Connecticut and Pennsylvania were on the verge of war over the brutal treatment by Pennsylvania militia of Connecticut settlers in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania. John Adams, Ambassador in London, was refused a loan of only three hundred thousand dollars on the credit of the United States. In 1786 a desperate inflation brought trade and commerce almost to a standstill. Half of the states were jealously asserting conflicting claims to western territory. The Continental Congress was impotent at home and ignored by foreign nations. Every statesman in Europe was sure that the United States were disintegrating and would fall easy prey to the strongest European nation which would step in and occupy. Nearly every reason for bitterness, jealousy or hostility which can exist between nations today, existed then between the thirteen colonies. But just as disaster seemed irretrievable, the miracle happened. The Constitution was drawn, and by a second miracle it was ratified. Here, too, was an act of creation. Men can hardly realize today how much the colonists were asked to give up in order to form a "more perfect union." They were asked to give up to a strange, new form of super-government much of the independence, much of the sovereignty to win which they hadjust fought a bitter war. Somehow, enough of them had a vision of a united nation; somehow they came to realize that, divided, they could not stand.
We have learned for ourselves anew today that freedom is a jealous mistress and will not remain except with those ready to fight for her and guard and tend her altars. Her enemies are always waiting, sometimes insidious, sometimes brazen but always threatening and well-armed. If each civilization, as it emerged throughout history, had been ruled by pacifists, its first green shoots that appeared above the mold would have been stamped back into the dirt by the enemies alert to destroy them. In Athens of old, when Demosthenes three hundred and fifty years before Christ was vainly preaching to his fellow-citizens the menace of isolation; in Rome when the great city and its people had lost the spirit that forged the Empire and were too complacent and involved in business and in pleasure to be interested in the menace of a remote barbarian enemy in the forests of Germany, men no longer were willing to give up even their conveniences and their selfishnesses to preserve their liberty. Liberty took flight, and Athens and Rome fell. The vision had departed. The people were divided, and perished.
Something else I think America has learned, something which I think one can state without being guilty of recrimination. It has been written plain for all to see that in this close-knit world of steamships and railroads, of airplanes and radio, no nation can live to itself alone. The great concerns of every country are inescapably the concerns of all; ideas, like pestilences, are not stopped by ships and shells, nor by bayonets at boundary lines. No longer can we retire behind a cool indifference when a conflagration starts in our neighbor's house, anywhere in the world. As isolationism which, for fear of where a more generous emotion might lead, seeks to insulate against the impact of moral values and schools us to subdue alike our hatred of cruel bestiality and aggressive violence on the one hand and on the other hand to stifle the warm rush of feeling in our hearts for such sublime heroism as that of the common man and woman in the London shelters, is a sterile thing, not good enough for Americans.
There is another and a deeper lesson which is being driven into our understanding. We watch the modern triumphs of science and invention being turned to the uses of a savage violence. Consider a few of the developments of science which we have been taught to think of as servants of humanity typifying the progress of mankind. The railroads-filled with men in uniform; electricity—serving in a thousand ways the armies of war and not of industry; the gasoline motor—and a column of tanks roars by; the airplane—carrying bombs and spitting death instead of linking the nation in a closer bond; the radio—pouring out propaganda like a machine gun of ideas; in every land councils of scientists addressing their erstwhile productive minds to the problem of adapting for the ends of destruction all that the world knows of scientific truth. Is this Progress? Are things in themselves the same as civilization? Or must we not measure progress by the spirit which illuminates their use? Never before has the world commanded the equipment and material facilities such as it has today, to make all men secure in comfort. Never before has the world devoted so great a proportion of its possessions and its energy and knowledge, to destruction. The pace of invention and scientific discovery has been progressively accelerating in the last few decades. In the same measure, it seems, in each recent paroxysm of war human capacity for killing and devastating has been accelerating too.
I would not be misunderstood. I think there has been some true progress. In the freedom of the Greek City Statethere was no place, as now, for the concept of the worth and dignity of the individual human soul. The citizen existed for the State even though he shared in its government. Under Rome, Freedom, and human rights, a limited concept, were for those only who could claim Roman citizenship. The idea of consideration for outsiders was as strange as it would be to Hitler himself. These concepts, I think, came only with Christianity. Again, the ideal of justice slowly freed itself from the weighted scales of respect for place and position, and justice, even in practice, has made a long start toward an ideal. But when so-called Christian civilization after two thousand years can produce as ours has a throwback to the barbarism of pre-Christian eras, it would seem that the world has made less actual progress toward civilization than we hoped and thought.
But there is more. The Christian civilization and it alone, raising as it did the individual man to a central importance and to a freedom beyond what he had known before, gave rise to a stupendous invigoration and release of energy. No other civilization has done this. Out of this came the machine as an instrument of awe-inspiring and rapid change in the social organism, though late in history. It has created the equipment necessary for the peace and happiness, except only the vision, the unity, the generosity, to direct its use for that end. Men of science, inventors, technicians, are the creators of the world we know. But they have created a world with the power the more quickly to destroy itself. This has been a creative process, to be sure; but what it has created, by increasing so greatly the power of material things, is a trend toward the suicide of civilization. Man's mere material progress is not progress at all. It is only an increase in the energy, the power at his disposal. The machine did no more than swiftly to multiply, as it were, the muscular strength of the social organism, without teaching it to use wisely the physical forces at its command. Nazi Germany, that monstrous creature with enormous physical and intellectual strength and the moral and spiritual development of a backward child, is the perfect culmination of the process.
Rousseau saw this two hundred years ago, but the world would not believe him. He saw, further, that the progress of the technical arts and sciences, the multiplication of things, would if left unguided lead naturally to moral decadence. A primitive savage using his bow and arrow for his own selfish interests can do comparatively little harm to his fellow men. His potency for evil, however, is immeasurably greater if you give him a modern bomb with leave to drop it where he will. A Nazi leader, armed with modern science, forcing his opponents to defend themselves by turning their science and inventions also to the ends of war, produces a grave degradation in the social organism of today.
We are learning, then, that more technical progress in material things is no progress at all; that a great effort and adventure in the realm of morals and faith, a great spiritual advance will be required of us when this war is over if we are to stem the strong tide of materialism, leading us toward still another war and still greater destruction of life, of things, and of the spirit. The spiritual development of the world must catch up with the stupendous growth of physical power brought about by the machine. Many thoughtful men believe today, as Rousseau believed two hundred years ago, that so-called material progress unmatched by moral advance, unmatched by a nobility to use wisely the powers vouchsafed mankind, has brought about the greatest crisis in the recorded history of the human race. They believe with James Truslow Adams that what he called "moral rearmament" is not just desirable but an irreducible minimum of necessity if civilization is to survive.
If this sounds unreal, I have but tried to give you thethoughts of wiser men than I. One may suppose that the citizens of ancient Rome disliked as much as do the people of today to face unpleasant possibilities or to believe that the Roman civilization could ever be destroyed. Yet Mr. A. J. Toynbee, the distinguished historian, tells us that there have been twenty-one civilizations in the world's history, of which fourteen have been completely destroyed and are now extinct. I wish I knew some warrant for believing that ours of today deserves so well of history that we can be assured it is the last word. Perhaps it will be. But without that great moral effort of which I spoke, there are those who do not feel sure of this.
There is still further evidence, however, which deserves consideration. We know that in geologic ages past certain of the creatures living at the time when their environment changed, were or became, because of some difference in them from the rest of their species, better adapted to survive under the new conditions. But we know, too, that millions of the less adapted died out and that whole species and races were unable to survive the new environment and disappeared. We had supposed, we humans, that through science and invention and medicine we had succeeded at last in escaping nature's wasteful biological process of natural selection for survival. I wonder if we have. I wonder if in an increasingly materialistic world we should find ourselves exempt from that ancient biologic law. Admittedly the machine has produced already and is continuing to produce at an accelerated rate, profound changes in the material environment of the race. Admittedly too changes in economic environment have in past human history resulted in the selection, for success and domination over their fellows, of certain types or kinds of men, and in plunging others down. Classes, races, civilizations have vanished when others became more adapted than they to meet the new conditions. We know, if we know anything from history at all, that the advent of the machine had made and is making a far-reaching alteration of environment. We know, if we know anything, that the dominant race or type of the future will be the one best adapted to that new environment. Changes of environment sufficiently profound to affect the lives of human beings do not take geologic ages. In the past they have sometimes occurred within a few years. And due to the machine, the rate of change is getting faster and faster.
Two questions which arise, then, may be of practical concern to ourselves and our children. First, is the machine with its vast power of destruction only nature's modern implement for furthering the age-long spendthrift wastefulness of life, for selecting out the few destined to survive and destroying or crushing the many? Is this thing called war, nature's new form of killing off a civilization incapable of learning to make the machine its servant instead of its master? The second question is this: if but one class or kind of people are destined to survive in a world in which great material progress has been matched by no corresponding growth of spiritual power to guide the use of machines for good ends, who then will be the fittest to survive? Oh, the Nazis will not win this war. But neither will we and our allies, unless we manage somehow to create an environment within which the peoples who love peace and justice are adapted to survive. Such an environment will not be found in a world of science, invention and machines whose god is material progress. In such a world the free people could not survive and keep their freedom. They could continue to exist only if they turned themselves permanently into armed camps and submitted as a permanent policy to most of the losses of liberty, the restrictions, the regimentations characteristic of dictatorship and which the free nations had come to think of as unhappy necessities in time of war.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "Man will be ultimately governed by God or by tyrants." And Hitler bears him out. He is quoted: "A German church, a German Christianity, is a distortion. One is either a German or a Christian. You cannot be both."
Man with the machine constitutes his own environment. If therein lies the menace, therein also lies the hope.
The Greeks used to speak of the Peripeteia, the change or reversal of fortune or circumstances which marked the turning point in a drama. Such moments have occurred before in the world's history and in the history of separate nations, and have profoundly affected men's lives for centuries. There was a time, for instance, before the flowering of art and letters and philosophy in ancient Greece, a period it may be of a thousand or five thousand years, during which the human mind reached a point of usefulness as high as it has ever since attained, as a tool of constructive thinking. The rise, and again the fall of Rome left an impression on the world from that day to this. The division of labor and its offspring, the industrial revolution, changed the civilized world. The trend toward science, until just the other day, was leading the world ever deeper into materialism. These things and many others were turning points in history. Sometimes it took long years for the change to become apparent. Sometimes, as in battle, it seemed that the course of events was altered in a moment of time.
That such a time of change is rapidly approaching seems almost self-evident. And probably it will not take long for its result in disruption or readjustment to be evident. I have no blueprint to give you for the unpredictable months and years ahead, no plan for a new world. Whatever we do, whatever we hope, we cannot make it perfect. There will be clouds and storms in that new day. But man has learned to a degree to control his environment. I am certain that if we will, we, the people of the free nations, can hope to build a world more nearly of the kind in which those free nations can survive and still keep free. I am certain too, that unless we address our minds to that task with courage and with vision, with a deep desire for unity and brotherhood, with a generous willingness to give up our personal and our national selfishnesses, with faith that there is a God in Heaven, we shall fail.
Some of the qualities which America possesses, some of the hopes and dreams and character of the Latin-American countries, of the British Empire, of the other free nations, will be helpful toward an attitude of mind which alone will make possible any solution at all. Some of the things which we in America have learned in the last few months will be helpful too.
Throughout what I have said, there have been three ideas recurrent, ideas which form no small part of the lessonsAmerica has been learning. These were not new. They were uttered for the first time for man's guidance, in a country called Judea, at the moment of the chief turning point in the life of the human race.
"Give and it shall be given unto you"; "without vision the people perish"; "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Sayings regarded always as noble ideals, but often to be ignored for more appealing things.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I emphasize tonight what I ventured to foreshadow in the presence of some of you a year ago.
Hitler's new order is not new. But there is a New Order, available for our use if we will try it, which was offered to mankind in that land of Judea.
It is new, because up to now, it has never been tried. But we are being taught in a harsh school that these sayings are not just ideals only, but also coldly practical and inescapable rules of life; that progress in material things is not progress in anything of value; that men and nations are great only in the measure of their spiritual greatness; that for the great effort needed to re-orient history tomorrow, a great faith will be needed in democracy, in its spiritual values, in the improvability of man, in his capacity for humility, his capacity to create in the environment of tomorrow a soil in which freedom can grow. So only, perhaps, will the clouds pass and the new day be bright.
To the challenge of such a new day, what shall be America's reply?
We have made a beginning of vision, of unity, of sacrifice. Let me read you part of some lines of verse.
"Out of snows and out of bayous, out of fields and cities towering,
Rich and poor, from lordly mansions, out of tiny homes like toys
Stream the boys!
Everywhere—oh, my country, everywhere
The harvest of the land we love has ripened to its flowering.
For the God of Hosts has lifted up our soul to be a nation;
He has silenced them who doubted that we knew his trumpet voice;
He has set us on a mountain top to suffer for salvation,
Has crowned us and has cleaned us with suffering and salvation,
And—to answer if our hearts are fixed on riches and on toys—
Lord, the boys!
Not for gain—God Almighty, not for gaining
We are offering our flowering for a bulwark to creation—