A Horizontal and Vertical Peace
THE GOLDEN AGE BROUGHT UP TO DATE
By EDWARD J. MEEMAN, Editor, Memphis Press-Scimitar
Delivered to Graduates of Delta State Teachers College, Cleveland, Miss., May 27, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 605-608.
I CONGRATULATE you on graduating. I congratulate you on being at the end of the beginning." I congratulate you also on entering a world which will demand of you more than of any previous generation. I congratulate you on the enormous tasks you must undertake; on the enormous difficulties you must face. I congratulate you that you must fight with the odds against you.
The post-war generation which preceded yours was pitied that it was born at such a time. It pitied itself. Self-pity is a destructive and paralyzing emotion. The result was that a worse time came to that self-pitying generation and to the world. That generation lamented that it was born into a world disrupted by war, and the result was that that world was swept by paganism, communism, fascism and barbarism and a bigger and worse war.
You are not to be pitied that you are called upon to play a hero's role. The greatest souls in modern civilization, after looking at the ages and the spheres, have told us that the opportunity to be a hero is the best that can come to Man.
Browning bids us to
". . . welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!"
Emerson, who covered the entire range of human values, saves for heroism his strongest statements:
"Our culture . . . must not omit the arming of the man. Let him hear in season, that he is born into the state of war, and that the commonwealth and his own well-being require that he should not go dancing in the weeds of peace; but warned, self-collected, and neither defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both reputation and life in his hand, and, with perfect urbanity, dare the gibbet and the mob by the absolute truth of his speech, and the rectitude of his behavior.
"Toward all . . . external evil, the man within the breast assumes a warlike attitude, and affirms his ability to cope single-handed with the infinite army of enemies. To this military attitude of the soul we give the name of Heroism. . . .
"The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbance can shake his will; but pleasantly, and as it were, merrily, he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness."
You who graduate today must heed the call of "frightful alarms." You must win the war. You must do more than that. The experience of the past tells us that floods of "universal dissoluteness" will follow the war, and you must build levees of conviction and character which will be strong enough to prevent these destructive floods from overwhelming the fertile valleys of our civilization.
If you are to succeed where that other generation failed, you must understand your world better than they understood theirs. I can only give you my view of that world, my appraisal and diagnosis, in the hope, that it will help you to form your own view, and to make your own appraisal and diagnosis.
The world of today is one that has been riven by war and revolution. You who are receiving diplomas today have never known a world of order, stability and peace, for the world has been torn by war, or disturbed by revolutionary movements, since 1914. Our task, and it is a task that is especially yours, is to establish peace both horizontally and vertically—horizontally between the nations, and vertically between the groups, ideologies, and so-called classes within the nations; to recapture the good of the pre-1914 world which has been lost in the period of disturbance, and also to conserve whatever good has come to the world during the revolution.
First let us consider the world before 1914 and see what good it contained that we have lost awhile. An American humorist said that the trouble is that people know so many things that ain't so. Revolutions are brought about by propaganda; they then establish their own propaganda as truth. Revolutions, to justify their violence, must whitewash themselves and smear the preceding age. The western world is still taught in its schools an estimate of the French revolution which is very largely the revolution's own self-justification. The Communist Revolution of our time, and its offspring, the Fascist and Nazi revolutions, which though illegitimate and unwanted offspring, so closely resemble their parent as to leave their fatherhood in no doubt, has gravely affected the thinking of our time.
It is the intellectual fashion of the day, set by the revolutionists, and followed unwittingly by many, to picture the pre-1914 society as a society so diseased that it resulted inevitably in a collapse in 1914. It is a false picture. The world before 1914, though far from perfect, was healthier than it has been since.
When I picture that world to you, it may seem to you lute a golden age. Before 1914, one could travel from one end of Europe to another without interference; one could travel to most parts of the world without danger. Men, goods, money, and ideas passed freely over international boundary lines. There was freedom of thought even in many despotic countries; in the democratic countries freedom of speech and press were taken for granted as permanent, their future was seen as expanding, not contracting. The processes of majority rule were everywhere being perfected and refined, as popular rale was extending itself ever more widely.
Science and religion were going forward together under the dictum of Tennyson:
"Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell
That mind and soul, according well
May make one music as before."
People could not have conceived that in their lifetime the government of one of the world's great Christian nations would sponsor atheism, and that of another, pre-historic paganism.
The standard of living was rising through the enterprise of capital, prodded by a growing labor movement. Some of the harshness of the laissez-faire system was being modified by a socialist movement which was content to improve by peaceful means rather than to tear down the existing society. There were even the beginnings of international agreements to raise labor standards.
The British Empire had grown strong, and, shielded by its strength, the world had gone a hundred years without a cataclysmic war. British rule was so generous that smaller empires such as the United States, its rebellious but forgiven child, and The Netherlands, could grow great with but a small investment in armament. Even the growth of rivals, Germany and Japan, was not interfered with. My friends, if the small countries find as much freedom and security under the aegis of whatever League of Nations we are to have, as they found under the aegis of the British Empire before 1914, I shall be content.
Before 1914 the condition of backward peoples was improving, but it was nothing to be complacent about, and the civilized world in the days before 1914 was not complacent. Reform in this field, as in all fields, was going forward.
The world before 1914 had some social ills, but it also contained within itself the elements to throw off or cure those ills, as the healthy body has.
The pre-1914 world failed in but one respect, but that failure was tragic. It failed to perfect the machinery of war prevention in time to prevent the outbreak of World War I, though it had seen the need and was working in that direction. The pre-1914 world broke down, not because of its faults or false standards, but because of what it failed to achieve—the goal of world peace that it had set for itself. The pre-1914 world was moving in the right direction; it simply did not reach the goal in time to avert catastrophe. It is vitally important to understand that the pre-1914 society was not diseased; for it is on that falsehood that revolutionists of today justify their brutal philosophy and ruthless program.
It was the war that opened the door to disease, and the disease was revolution. German militarists sent the Russian Communist Lenin across Germany in a sealed train. They thought he would make trouble in Russia and get Russia out of the war; he did. But he has made trouble for all the world as well. Until the Bolshevist revolution, European nations did not always tell the truth; but they never exalted the lie; they did not always live up to their code, but they had a code of right and wrong. With the coming of Bolshevism to Russia came the downfall of conceptions of morality which centuries of Christian civilization had established in Europe. The cynical Lenin philosophy that the end justifies the means did not long lack for imitators in other countries. In Italy, a radical socialist with a will to power, Benito Mussolini, saw how a small group of men, if unscrupulous enough, could seize control of as great a country as Russia, and establish that control by propaganda, a secret police, terror, and blood purges. He saw no reason why the same thing could not be done in Italy, and he did it with what he called Fascism. In Germany, one Adolph Hitler went Mussolini one better, or rather one worse, with another version of the proletarian revolution, which he called National Socialism. These three revolutionary governments have some differences, but they are more alike than they are different; they are alike in that they contain more darkness than light; they are more reactionary than progressive. Itis important that we recognize them as such if we are to preserve our own way of life and continue our own evolutionary progress.
I am not suggesting that we would be content, or should be content, today with the world of 1914. We have made progress since 1914 as well as retrogression. But I believe we would have made truer and greater progress, and been spared the retrogression, if we could have averted World War I, the violent revolution that war unleashed, and the second World War which in turn was generated by that revolution. Evidence of this is that no countries made greater social progress between the wars than did the Scandinavian countries which managed to remain out of World War I and were not engulfed by the proletarian revolution.
One of the things that society has recognized since 1914 is that unemployment is intolerable. Never again shall a man able and willing to work go hungry "because no man hath hired him." If private enterprise cannot give employment, the state will. Private enterprise has a right to insist that the state regard such employment a regrettable necessity rather than an end to be desired, and adopt policies which will encourage rather than depress private enterprise. Private enterprise, in turn, must assume more responsibility for permanency of employment and the welfare of its employees than it was willing to do in 1914.
Communism has promised plenty for all, but is unable to deliver it. Capitalism is able to give plenty for all, but it has not cared enough for people to do what it is able to do. Let Capitalism have the will to do what it is able to do, and Communism will lose its deceptive appeal to the masses.
We must not let extremists direct our affairs. There are reactionary employers who would wipe out all the progress which labor has made under the New Deal; they would turn the clock backward; they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Let us give no ear to them. There are labor leaders who have looked upon labor's charter as their own private license to gain power and exploit both labor and the public. Their behavior is very similar to that of certain captains of industry in the earlier days of this country. The captains of industry were put in their place by an aroused public opinion and the swashbuckling captains of labor will be put in their place also.
What kind of society do we want? We should want a society that will be best suited to the development of individuality and the growth of personal character. Such a society will establish freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of radio, and freedom of worship. It will have political democracy and economic diversity. Let us not have a single economic pattern to which we compel all to conform. America is big enough to contain all forms of economic life. Let us have both private enterprise and public ownership, big business and little business, big plantations and little farms; chain stores and neighborhood grocers. There is room for both corporations and cooperatives.
Let these varied economic forms exist side by side. Let government be the regulator and arbiter between them, to see that none have special privileges, so that competition between them is fair. Then each economic form will be on its mettle to do the best possible job for the service of society; let the fittest survive. It is my own belief that we shall find that there is some held for each of these forms; that we shall find that a particular form is suited for one field, but not for another. For instance, public ownership is suited for the manufacture and distribution of electric power, but not for the manufacture of radio sets or refrigerators.
The ownership of private property is necessary to the dignity and freedom of man; let us therefore encourageit and make it secure. Let us associate with the ownership of property our highest ethical considerations, for ethical considerations that are divorced from property are airy nothings that have no substance or reality. In the early days of Christianity some men were so overcome with the revelation of man's spiritual nature that they came to regard the body as vile and of no account. Today such asceticism is deemed erroneous. The claims of the body are generally recognized; "nor soul helps flesh more now, than flesh helps soul." Yet an error similar to that of asceticism is widespread today among radical thinkers. Because ownership of private property has sometimes been subject to abuse, they would abolish private property. They would throw out the baby with the bath. They fail to see that just as spiritual man cannot function without a body, so social man cannot function without material possessions. Whoever owns property is the master. If individuals do not own property, then all property is owned by the State, and the State becomes master of Man, and Man becomes a slave of the State.
What a mistake, then, reformers have made, and are still making, when, to cure the ills of society, they look to the State, and seek to make the State, or as Americans would say, the Government, ever more powerful! If power is to be widely distributed among many men, rather than concentrated in the hands of one man, or a few men, then property must be widely distributed. For property is power.
Perhaps it will not be wise to talk of the defense and restoration of Capitalism, for the word "capitalism" has been associated with the high finance, stock watering, and exploitation which are not essential to the private enterprise system, but are abuses of it. Let us call the individualistic way of life we favor by a more accurate name, Distributism. Under Distributism, power is widely distributed, because property is widely distributed—not by being "divided up," but because men have been given the opportunity to acquire it through hard work and to retain it through thrift. Distributism may also imply that population shall be widely distributed through the encouragement of a healthy and prosperous rural life, rather than herded into congested cities which have become too large for human well-being.
If well-meaning efforts to reform have unwittingly led to the building of too-powerful national states, let us beware lest our search for world peace through collective security lead to the building of a too-powerful international superstate.
Let us remember that the majority of the nations of the world today are not democratic, and that therefore any superstate they would erect would not be democratic. Let us be slow, therefore, to promise to submit our democracy to the edicts of a super-state. We can never return to isolation, our part in international affairs is permanent, but it should be planned thoughtfully.
Thomas Jefferson taught us that government is best which governs least. We have not always remembered that lesson. Let us remember it now when we frame our international policy. Let us have only the very minimum of international government. That world government will be best which governs least. Let us have nations free to do as they please in all respects except one: they will not be permitted to make war. Let every other matter be one of voluntary agreement between nations. Let there be but one compulsion; to keep the peace. The world has been deluged with sentimentality, but the truth is that no nation can ever have a grievance that is intolerable except the use of force by another nation. Every other grievance needs but time and patience to be settled by voluntary agreement. Does a nation lack raw materials? Then let it make a trade agreement to obtain them. Does a nation have too many people ? Then let it limit its population to what it can support over and above
the immigrants which some other nation will voluntarily accept as desirable. The cry of so-called have-not nations Germany, Italy and Japan, was a phony one. They were not shot off from raw materials. Germany deliberately shut off foreign trade in order to become self-contained and ready to make war on other nations so as to dominate them. Sweden has demonstrated that there is nothing to prevent a "have-not" nation from importing raw materials and selling the manufactured product.
The cry of "over-population" was likewise phony. While Germany and Italy were crying for more living space, their dictators were also pleading for more babies.
A nation needs but one international guarantee: that it will not be attacked by any other nation or forced by another nation under threats of attack to accept its goods or its immigrants against its will. There is no need of a nation which cannot wait for time and the conscience of the world to see that it is met. If once we admit that by threat of war a nation can compel international arbitration of its dispute with another nation, with a resulting compromise that compels the threatened nation to yield something, we may have aggressors imposing on their neighbors peacefully as successfully as they have hitherto done by war.
I suggest an international organization of great simplicity:
1. Ever-growing liberalization of trade through reciprocal trade treaties.
2. Encouragement of the International Labor Office to raise working conditions by international voluntary agreement, thus permitting wider trade by removing fear of the competition of sub-standard nations.
3. A binding agreement among nations to suppress any armed aggression.
More than that, I believe, will be too much, and lead to the loss of national freedom in exchange for national security, which I believe would be a sorry bargain, and one which it is not necessary to make.
Whatever our course in international affairs, we should draw closer to the British Commonwealth of Nations. No other great power speaks our language; no other great power protects individual freedom and is governed by the democratic process. Britain and ourselves are such close relatives that we sometimes become irritated with each other. We should never allow those irritations to divide us or to hide from ourselves the need we have for each other and the profound respect and affection we have at heart's bottom for each other.
If either of us were threatened with conquest, the other would come to the rescue; why not then, stand firmly together in the international councils of peacetime?
* * *
Democracy today is threatened by dictators from without Democracy is always threatened by dictators or would-be dictators from within. Beware of the man with the will-to power. He will constantly be sticking his head up; knock it down. The Master told us that he that would be greatest among us should be the servant of all. That is the counsel of religion. The counsel of democracy is the same truth stated negatively: we can safely permit only those who wish to serve us to become great among us. Do not give power to those who wish to dominate you. Beware of the Father Coughlins, the Huey Longs, and the John L. Lewises, talk about the masses, but they care nothing for them. Like Hitler, they only desire to dominate the people. They loudly voice indignation against wrongs, not because they hate wrong, but because they love power.
Learn to spot the power-seeker. He will turn his personality upon you to charm you; look for the cruel coldnessbeneath the pretended warmth. He will voice hatred of wrong and love of you; but be not deceived, he cares nothing for you, you are only the means to his end. Sometimes, somewhere, he will betray himself, and he will let the bully in him show; he will try to scare you, or someone else. That is the give-away. No man worthy to lead a democracy will put his fellow citizens in fear of him. Such a man wants to be a dictator; knock him down, before he can knock you down, and your democracy.
When the would-be bully, the would-be dictator shows himself, that is the time for good citizens to form a united front. The political dictator seeks to divide the good citizens. He first buys off with favors; when he gains enough power by that means, he applies the screws. The political dictator can never get started if the good citizens will stand in an unbreakable union to maintain a government of principle.
To make our democracy work, we must work our democracy. Everything we hold dear, our safety, our liberties, our homes, our prosperity, depends on our democracy. Let us then make it the first interest of our lives. We Americans are great joiners; we have social organizations, charitable organizations, civic organizations, but the one thing which underlies all else, and on which all these activities depend, our democracy, we have not organized.
Piddling so-called "civic" work is not enough. "Projects" are all right, if we do not neglect the great project, America. Let us have an unselfish, public-spirited organization of citizens and taxpayers which would be the basis of our political system and underlie everything else. Let this extend to every precinct.
Let this organization have charge of the choosing of local government—non-political, merit system government of the city manager type. For there is no use for political parties in city and county government. The charter parties of Knoxville, Tenn., Cincinnati, Ohio, and other cities have shown that this can be done. They have shown that there is a powerful unselfish enthusiasm among citizens that needs only to be organized to be effective.
Let each precinct of this non-partisan citizens' organization elect delegates to a community committee which would draft public spirited citizens for city and county councils. Let the office seek the man and let the office be the highest token of honor that the community can confer on the citizen.
Let this organization see that our election machinery functions honestly.
There is need for political parties in national affairs; for the present, also, perhaps, in state affairs. But party politics should be under-girded with a non-partisan organization of the processes of democracy so strong, so unselfishly public-spirited and patriotic that our party politics itself will take on this high character.
Let us not despair of democracy. Democracy seems to be quite lonely in a world, most of which cares nothing about her. Democracy has her back to the wall, with the powers of self-seeking, of brutality, of cynicism arrayed against her, at home and abroad.
But let us take courage from the example of Britain. After the fall of France it was "impossible" that tiny Britain could hold out against Nazi might. But Britain did that impossible. Her courage brought allies to her side, allies with whom she is moving toward victory.
Let us emulate Britain. Let us have serene confidence that political democracy cannot be defeated, finally; that no battle we may lose is the last one.
To you, young men and women who will fight and sacrifice for the cause of embattled democracy at home and abroad, I wish for each of you a personal triumph and for all of you, a common victory.