Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/297

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

proposition falls in with a vigorous instinct, it acquires a strength utterly disproportionate to its logical value, and may produce serious mischief.

Does it really produce such mischief? Are these groundless prejudices really more than a harmless amusement? The mutual dislike of Americans and Englishmen has been lamented, but has it done much harm? So far as it has in fact envenomed diplomatic quarrels it has, of course, been objectionable. It may have made the preservation of peace more difficult, or produced discreditable diplomacy. Of that I can here say nothing but there is an allowance or two to be made before we can judge rightly. Nothing, in the first place, is so transitory as a sentiment of this kind. Nations behave to each other like a pair of fickle lovers. They kiss one day, and curse the next. When the Northern States were angry with us during the war, some of their papers vowed eternal vengeance. The eternity has not lasted for ten years. The vows were pretty well forgotten before the ink was dry; and the same writers are as ready to talk the regular series of "Anglo-Saxon" platitudes. The reason is, doubtless, that the antipathy lies on the surface of men's minds, and, owing nothing to logic, may disappear without logic. Washington told his countrymen very sensibly in his last message that the national policy could not be determined by sentimental considerations. It is a cardinal virtue in a nation to guide itself by an exclusive regard to its own interest short of absolute injury to others. The French government did not help the American patriots because it loved them, but because it thought that it could strike at its great rival with their help. Therefore the French had no real claims upon American gratitude. Sympathy or antipathy between two races does not bring them into alliance or collision, but is caused by their collision or alliance. Frenchmen and Germans hate each other because they have been opposed; they have been opposed by force of geography and by tangible religious or political considerations. The hatred is merely the heat developed by the friction of two neighboring powers. We hated the French as long as we were in the habit of fighting them. Since we have fortunately been at peace for two generations, the hatred has died out, and the desire to avenge Waterloo, which some people thought so dangerous, has calmly gone to sleep.

Men are foolish enough and wicked enough in all conscience. But, foolish and wicked as they may be, they are not generally so bad as to cut each other's throats simply because they dislike each other. Some mistaken view of very solid interests generally brings them into hostile contact, and then the hatred develops itself, and may sometimes pass itself off as the pretext. But the more we look at the history of past wars, the less force we shall be inclined to attribute to this superficial feeling, however ugly it may look and however awkward may be the complications which it sometimes introduces. Desire of wealth or of power, religious or political propagandism have caused innumerable wars, but when has a war been caused by antipathy?

Doubtless, it does not follow that the evil is a trifling one. A better mutual understanding would be an important step towards many good things. It would facilitate the disappearance of the countless fallacies arising from our narrow views of national greatness and our inclination to believe that the gain of one people must be the loss of another. It would, therefore, be desirable, if it were possible, to bring reason to bear upon some of the fallacies involved. What, for example, do we mean when we speak of the faults of rival people? Do we mean that the average American, or a Frenchman, is made of intrinsically worse materials than ourselves — that he belongs to a distinctly lower type of the race? Surely not, for then we should not hate him in any sense. Nobody despises a child because it cannot talk, or a woman because she has not the muscular strength of a man. We seldom hate a negro; and that is just because we sincerely hold him to belong to a lower order of development. We don't hate a monkey for his want of a moral sense. Many people have, it is true, a certain prejudice against the monkeys, just in so far as they seem to be caricatures of men. We can pardon the ill behavior of a pig, because he clearly belongs to a different genus from our own; but we are more or less offended when a beast of semi-human appearance behaves himself after a fashion totally inconsistent with human dignity. That is, our antipathies become strong just in proportion as we recognize the essential similarity of the offender to ourselves. We should feel the absurdity of hating an insect because it had six legs; but we should be disgusted by a creature, otherwise like ourselves, which so far diverged from the common style.

Thus, antipathy is avowedly based upon an admission of similarity. It is not pro-