The Challenge of the Future World


By DR. GEORGE N. SHUSTER, President, Hunter College, New York, N. Y.

Delivered before meeting of Association of the Junior Leagues of America, New York City, May 7, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 555-563.

I PROPOSE to take for my text a sentence from Horace Walpole's epistle to Voltaire, written after the two had debated the merits of Shakespeare: "The admirable letter you have been so good as to send me," said Walpole, "is a proof that you are one of those truly great and rare men who know at once how to conquer and to pardon." The remark comes straight out of the heart ofthe eighteenth century which seems in retrospect, with what legitimacy we shall not attempt to determine, so balanced and wise a time.

Surely as we look forward to the peace which must some day follow the war we are troubled first by what victory ought to mean and second by what it can mean. Shall we know how to conquer? And how to pardon? Obviously

human society would not now be in so dire a condition if th se who have preceded us in modern history had understood how to do either. It is no mere matter of the treaties which have followed armed conflicts—whether of Versailles, or St. Germain, or Brest-Litovsk. These were in all truth unsuccessful enough. But we must look deeper if we would discover the full import of our heritage of trouble.

The French Revolution was no doubt the threshold of our era. Behind those who made that Revolution stood millions, ranging all the way from poets and thinkers to the commonest of the common people, who desired in one way or another to see at last the social realization of ideals long since implicit in Christian civilization. They all believed in the dignity of the human person, they all wanted none of what Charles Peguy called "a charity which is constantly capitulating before princes and rich men, before the might of money." The Revolution itself ended in massacre and abomination. And the middle class which eventually emerged from the troubled warfare of the early nineteenth century did quite as badly. It had at its disposal unrivalled instruments of economic and social power—improved means of transportation, industrial technology, widely disseminated and cheap journalism. Not only had it triumphed over the older feudalism, but in its lap there had fallen treasures greater than any of which mankind had dreamed. But the victorious middle class understood neither how to conquer nor how to pardon.

Of what use were the shibboleths of the Revolution to the great proletarian masses whom every shift in the business cycle plunged into absolute poverty, and whom not even the relatively stable decades of "good times" brought enough to eat and to drink? The old words "liberty, equality and fraternity" literally made millions of men in all lands of Europe see red. Yes, the middle class did not know how to conquer. But it also did not understand the meaning of pardon. It squandered the spiritual and moral patrimony which had after all been conserved by the older feudal ages. Of the things which were sacred and true and beautiful there remained to many of these Philistines virtually nothing at all. The bourgeois often became a rank opportunist. He believed in power and profit only, because these were "natural" and there was nothing above nature. Had he known how to pardon the feudalism against which the Revolution had justly rebelled, he might have kept a better philosophy and no doubt even a better religion.

When in the end the Nazi appeared upon the European stage, what was he but the dramatic impersonation of everything which had been deduced logically from the mistakes and the corruption of the preceding years? The Nazi knew how to use all the modern technological instruments cleverly and craftily. His opportunism was unqualified and brutal. The thing that mattered to him was solely and simply the survival of the fittest. Nor was the Nazi a German only, though he was primarily a German. You could find him everywhere in Europe. Indeed he sometimes existed without knowing that he existed. He was in Hyde Park and in Vienna. He was the man who believed that suppression was his birthright. He brought the Moors to Spain; he made the trains run on time in Italy; he staged sham trials in Moscow; he sold arms to the Arabs of the Near East; he invaded Manchuria and China.

The day on which Hitler is defeated will of course be the day on which the inevitable and appalling consequences of Nazism will be made plain. In your Mind's eye you can see what Europe will look like when peace comes. Bombers will have laid waste nearly every ancient and modern city. Somewhere amidst the rubble of Essen andBerlin of Turin and Naples, of Munich and Vienna, of Warsaw and Budapest, the wheels of industry will still feebly turn. But round about them homes and churches, shops and schools, will have been transformed into gaping, windowless ruins. Countless millions will sit shivering and starving in a squalor not even the cave men knew. There will be scarce a place in all the Old World, once dotted with wayside shrines and images of the Madonna, which women will not hesitate to pass because of walls against which the blood of hostages was spattered, because of mass graves, because of some infamy wrought by the Gestapo. Haggard peasant girls will doubtless kneel before the Virgin of Czestahowa or the Notre Dame of Chartres, but from their faces everything will have gone save the stony gaze of incomprehensible resignation, of mourning that is beyond all endurable mourning, of a knowledge of death grown greater than knowledge of life. Will food be found even for the little ones? And who shall speak to the widows and orphans of consolation?

Nor will matters be different in the Orient. Unless all signs are deceptive, years of conflict must pass before China, Japan, the Philippines and other regions can proceed to dig their way out of the ruins of war. The cost will be frightful. It required forty years to bring the Philippines to the position of relative prosperity which characterized the days before Pearl Harbor. It may take longer than that to restore what has been lost. No doubt the cities and hamlets of Japan will lie in ruins. But what will happen to the people of Japan? I do not believe that the majority of the simple folk resident there have any personal responsibility for this conflict, but it will engulf each and every mother's son. And what one knows of the great plains and cities of China is too horrible to contemplate for very long. There the standard of living will have crept so close to the level of general destitution that it will be difficult to look reality in the face. That—all of that—is what war means, and that—all of that—is why war must not break out again.

It may be that under such circumstances literati who have dwelt in safe places will still be able to speak of revolution. Perhaps some can talk to you of where the geographical boundaries which sunder nations ought to be. But for my part, I can conceive of there being in the initial years of the peace only indescribable need—need of literally everything of which civilization is compounded. Even in the Americas there will be shortages of many goods. But though in every neighborhood and village we shall mourn in relative poverty the sons and brothers who have fallen on the field of battle, the countries of the New World will be literally Edens compared with the lands across which the tide of conflict has moved. It will be desperate, bitter need of the body and the spirit. An enormous lassitude will fall upon those who survive, and perhaps that lassitude will be the most challenging peril of all. What, we may well ask, may happen if men and women are too tired and broken, too weary and hopeless, to continue the struggle to live?

Under such circumstances liberated mankind as we know it will be torn by two conflicting emotions. On the one hand there will be the legitimate desire to seek out the immediate authors of all this boundless pain. It will be pleasant to place the knife against Hitler's throat, to line a row of filthy Gauleiter beneath the gibbet, to exact the last ounce of justice from the men who bade the German armies move, to shoot the war-lords and barons of Japan. I think that for the sake of righteousness we shall have to exact retribution in that coin of the world's realm. But on the other hand, we shall be equally tormented by thedesire to rebuild human society. The orphans, even of the enemy, will twine their fingers in ours. We shall feel to the full the beauty of forgiving and forgetting—sense the thrill of the sportsmanship which is so integral a part of our illustrious tradition. It would be futile to predict which of these emotions will be uppermost in our minds.

But if in those days it shall be given us to have wisdom, we shall remember that the difference between barbarism and civilization is the law. It so happens that I have a great personal regard for Mr. Wendell Willkie. He seems to me to have brought into American political life what has long been needed there—candor and freedom of mind, a liberal spirit in the great tradition of liberalism, and a readiness to weigh the good and evil in men other than those to whom one has been immediately sympathetic. Nevertheless I seem to detect even in Mr. Willkie's recent thinking traces of a very perilous error—the error that strength, initiative and a love for the untried horizon of themselves constitute the greatness of mankind. To me it seems that, whatever may be the impression momentarily given, the happiness and virility of humanity resides in the law. This law is not edict but recognition of the lines of demarcation which have been set for justice. The dignity of man is not primarily a question of the things to which man is entitled but rather of the things to which he cannot descend. Law is the right to a fair trial. It is courtesy. It is not taking indecent advantage of the weak. It is firmness but not hardness. It is liberty but not addiction to riot and upheaval.

Thus we lost the last peace, but it was certainly not because of the gallant officers who led our armies of occupation. I am sure that General Allen, who commanded our forces in the Rhineland after 1918, was perhaps the major reason why Hitler could never garner many votes in that region. And that was so because under General Allen's leadership the people of the United States were never identified with arbitrary cruelty and perfidious malevolence. He was firm and just. He was for millions of folk who had no direct knowledge of America the incarnation of the supreme American principle, namely belief in those age-old conceptions of political righteousness which are enshrined in the Declaration and the Constitution. That principle had been luminously manifest in General Grant at Appomattox and General Lee at Gettysburg.

Yet though it is our principle, it has not always been our practice. Last time our statesmen believed—if their action was any indication of their belief—that the automatic application of economic law would put everything right. They assumed that pumping money into the crumbling reservoirs of European productive enterprise was all we needed to do; and with them we kept on assuming with equal shortsightedness after the breakdown of 1933 that since Hitler no longer had a lien on our check books, he could not possibly succeed. In 1938, after the invasion of Austria, it was still only too completely taken for granted that Germany could not survive the economic storm and would therefore collapse. It was a fatal mistake to have failed in the task of building up a viable system of political law. We suffered both League Covenant and Court of Nations to become mere empty formulae. And as we were mistaken then we shall be mistaken again if we assume that mere possession of military strength will automatically guarantee the peace. It will not, however important such strength may be, any more than economic energy sufficed last time. The only possible foundation for peace in the world is law and respect for the law, is an institutionalized world government based upon the consent of the governed to the integrity and immutability of principle.

Here it is necessary to differentiate between world government and a world state. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that when peace comes national feeling will be dead in the world. Indeed, anyone who reads history will conclude that this feeling is one of the oldest and most permanent emotions. Perhaps there was no nationalism in our sense during the ages of antiquity and of medieval Europe. But what else was Augustine's fondness for Rome than national sentiment, and what else kept the Franks together except a feeling for what was then France? If by world government we mean acceptance of norms of international conduct which conform with the rules already accepted for conduct between individuals we are being realistic But if we mean a single state to which Frenchmen and Russians, Americans and New Zealanders, Chinese and Arabs, owe their sole allegiance we are being as romantic as were the strange poets who assumed that love would last only if it were not love for somebody in particular.

World government, therefore, is going to be—if it is to be at all—international legislation by common consent. It is true, of course, that such consent cannot be universal. It must be the will of the majority which decides, and not unanimous agreement. No law on any statute book ever satisfied everybody. I should be inclined to say that even if the vanquished peoples did not accede to the establishment of international legal institutions, these might still be valid and inviolable, if the rest of mankind ruled in the spirit of justice. But every juridical system functions well or poorly in accordance with the amount of benevolent good will upon which it can depend.

Therefore it is much too early to decide upon the form of the constitution which is to determine the complex structure of future world society. All we can do is to agree upon certain preparatory actions and attitudes, carefully designed all of them to make possible the development of political order. Furious debate rages and will continue to rage about those actions and attitudes; and I do not profess to any special wisdom on the subject. It merely seems to me obvious that, confronting a problem so enormously difficult, we need to observe realism and restraint. It is far better to try to do the few things that seem to lie within our power than to attempt to carry the whole staggering load of a bright future on shoulders by no means prepared for the task.

The simple things are, of course, not so simple at all. They are:

I. To establish military government throughout the reconstruction area. Such government will be necessary not merely in Germany, Italy and Japan, but in most of the countries which have been overrun and despoiled. Let us not fancy that civil rule can be restored over night. Europe in particular will lack the most elementary means of transportation—even horses and wagons. It will be famished and infected with pestilence. Private and public feuds will rock families, communities and regions.

II. To provide for the extension of lend lease assistance for all the devastated countries. No other kind of financing is possible. What point is there in talking about peace if one is not willing to consider the cost of preventing brigandage and pillage on a scale unknown before?

III. To establish as quickly as we can a society in which employment will be obtainable. This means, of course, the rapid and orderly organization of reconstruction forces,which may even have to be maintained as semi-military bodies.

IV. To set up immediately the most intelligent agencies of monetary and credit control it is possible to devise. V. To disarm Germany and Japan.

These are difficult tasks, and there is not a soul alive who can predict that they can be performed speedily or efficiently enough to prevent enormous disaster. I wish there were more talk amongst us of these matters, and less of fatuous proposals to inoculate other peoples with the germs of what is far too flippantly termed "democracy." Democracy rightly understood is a grave and holy thing. It is the political and social association of men and women who have earned through many generations the bitterly fought for right to brook no tyrant claiming dominion over either the body or the soul. Democracy is not, decidedly not, something one compresses into verbal pills of sweetness and light, to be administered more or less painlessly to the ideological heathen.

We must remember that even in the countries which we shall eventually defeat in war there are tens of thousands of persons, men, women and children, whose bloody sweat and agony have testified to their allegiance to the democratic faith. In all probability over 150,000 have died fighting Nazism in Germany itself. Many of them suffered torture of which the American imagination cannot even conceive. Think of what it means, for instance, that a man should be deliberately trampled to death by the nailed boots of prison guards, and then ask yourself whether another who risks that kind of torment in order to serve the cause of freedom is not your compatriot and mine in the kingdom of the spirit. I shall permit myself to hope that if we do send young ladies overseas to spread the gospel of democratic enlightenment, they will call on Bishop von Galen, for example, and learn from him what it costs to defend the liberty of the conscience against all the odds of earth and bell.

But if we can as a victorious people muster the sobriety, the firmness and the intelligent industry to see human society through the dolorous suffering of the postwar years, I believe we can create a century of progress for mankind. And by progress is not meant merely the utilization of technological resources, important though these are. Of course we shall strive earnestly to stamp out ignorance and disease, to raise the standard of living of the submerged masses of men, to build great new industrial and social projects which will spread well-being.

Even so out most important task will be to develop everywhere a desire for international solidarity—a solidarity out of which support for world government can grow. This desire is everywhere present, but it is not what I should like to term organic. It seems to me this deficiency is attributable to the fact that it has been couched in too abstract and formalists terms. What we must seek to begin with it not a League of Nations which will do all the work for us, but rather naturally given opportunities for collaboration across the boundaries of nations and peoples. If we learn to collaborate with and to respect one another, there will be so many of us that a League of Nations with teeth in it will seem the most natural, most inevitable, thing in the world. And if we do not learn, the League will—in whatever shape it eventually reappears—remain a powerless machine.

What steps can be taken to insure this organic desire for world government? Perhaps we can answer as follows:

First, the constitution of world society must be subjectedto very severe criticism before it is adopted. This criticism must be invited from all the nations and peoples who are expected to underwrite it. There must be a fair hearing for everybody.

Second, no progress can be made unless the stability of the major powers interested can be assumed. Unless, for example, the foreign policy of the United States reacquires its older quality of firmness, the very existence of any international constitution will remain continuously in doubt.

Third, the groups, movements and interests which are subsidiary to the broad declaration of national and international policy must endeavor to establish solidarity.

Let me say just a word on each point. It is clear that the structure of the League of Nations was based upon an idea and a concept of organization having considerable grandeur. But there were flaws which could have been discussed profitably, if the atmosphere surrounding the discussion had been less tense. Had President Wilson been less obstinate and Senator Lodge less obstructionist, a compromise might perhaps have been reached which would have permitted the United States to commit itself to action transcending party cleavages. Today the situation is, perhaps, a little different. There is danger lest an attempt on the part of the major victorious powers to impose a solution on the smaller states may lead these in turn to resent the proposed solution and therefore to band together against it. These smaller states would thereby acquire a definite role in the inevitable struggle for the balance of power, and our progress would be hampered from the very outset. Therefore I maintain that whatever may be our individual "plans" for the future, none of these ought to be considered at the present time as being more than a modest contribution to an eventual solution.

Second, the only guarantee of stability is that which the United States can give. Whether or not we can rely upon the promises of Russia is a conundrum about which you may argue if you enjoy doing so; and whether or not we can expect Britain to revise completely its traditional interest in maintaining a favorable balance of power on the European Continent is a question nobody can answer. But there is a fair chance that if the United States can bring itself to insist resolutely on a foreign policy which has for its aim the establishment of an international legislature and an international court to regulate intercourse among the nations, such a legislature and such a court will come into being, and slowly acquire a prestige so great that recourse to war rather than to these institutions will be proved a losing game. I do not know whether the United States can do this. Certainly it cannot if we do not start with a few simple principles to which all can assent, and insist instead upon efforts to give away the moon we do not have. No Congress and no President will ever see this grain and difficult job through if everybody insists upon building his own pet private ideology into the platform of the future.

Third,—and the point is of the utmost importance,—the many groups, movements and interests which cannot help being internationally minded must for their own sakes, if for no other reason, set out resolutely to foster international solidarity. The schools, the churches, the labor movements, the professional associations, the scientific bodies, the fraternal organizations, are now all in the same boat. None of them can survive another onslaught of totalitarianism. But it is equally true that unless they wake up and dedicate themselves to realistic activity in behalf of humanity as a whole that onslaught is bound to come. For today what remains ofdecency, of freedom, of human brotherhood in its most elemental sense, has rallied precariously around such groups. The Churches, universities, business and labor organizations of France and Belgium, not to mention Germany and Hungary, Italy and Poland, are rallying grounds. On those grounds we must meet with the rest of men. There we shall find the spirits with whom we can work for the reconstruction of society. There and there alone. The Churches in America must seek out and aid the Churches of the Old World and of the Orient. Labor must, without sentimentalism or unnecessary class feeling, seek to help labor abroad. Signs are multiplying that beginnings have already been made.

I conclude that a stable foreign policy in the United States must seek to accord the fullest amount of freedom in the discussion of what international government is to be. Nothing easy, nothing dreamy and romantic, will do here. But no government will succeed even on the basis of the best conceivable policy unless the citizenry in its various groups, is imbued with unflagging dedication to its own task of international conciliation and collaboration. At this point I shall permit myself to illustrate. It seems to me that the attitude of the Russian Communist Party towards either freedom of assembly or freedom of conscience cannot be condoned on any ground whatsoever. There has been and there is tyranny in Russia. But if Christians in America were to counsel retreat from international solidarity by reason of the fact that the Russian people will have earned on the battle-led the right to share in the peace, they will do nothing less than write the doom of Christianity in Europe. Surely the way to overcome eventually the blight of Bolshevism is not toretreat from the task of helping to shape a new society, but rather to resolve to make that new society so worthy of man's estate and heritage that its glory and beauty will express our deep collective spiritual conviction.

Unless we ourselves in America can unite in the resolve to create such a society, there is not the slightest chance that our victory over totalitarianism will endure. Let us not suppose that by turning on any number of gadgets we can regulate the shape of things to come. It is we ourselves, we with our limited minds and our sometimes half-hearted convictions, who will be mankind. And so there must be profound searching of the heart while there is still time. That we are the "last great hope of earth" is easily said. But it happens, unfortunately, to be true. Neither Europe nor the Far East can recover from the crushing impact of tragedy unless we are determined that they shall recover. What a challenge that is! What a breath-taking, almost numbing responsibility!

As I see the matter, the odds are about even that we shall succeed. No more than even certainly.

The outlook is no better than this not merely because there remains a strong group of isolationists who may elect a majority in the Senate, or because political and economic divisions are so marked. The reason is primarily that we lack the spirit of dedication which the situation demands. I do not say this in criticism. I mean very simply that we are called upon to discipline ourselves, to do things that go against the grain of human nature, to carry other people's burdens through times which have become difficult even for ourselves. We shall give, and give beyond the point of hurting. There will have to be taken from us much that we have been given. And even then the staggering need will sicken us, there will seem to be no end of it. Disappointments will come, and after them disillusionment. We shall be dealing with very common people in a commonplace world, for many days and years. But if God gives to us the will to do and the strength, we shall come out of the storm knowing that we are a great people—a great democracy in a world made safe for democracy at last.