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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/298

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THOUGHTS OF AN OUTSIDER:

portioned to the difference between ourselves and its objects; but to the superficial difference, combined with underlying identity. We are startled by a kind of logical contradiction. Different conclusions seem to follow from the same premises. This man is just like me, yet he acts differently from me. That is the very cause and justification of my offence. To be reasonable, then, we must take account of the implied resemblance as much as of the observed difference. If we really thought that Americans had an inferior nature to our own, we should not blame them, but nature; or rather, we should regard them as an odd phenomenon, not as a standing insult. The very ground of our dislike is that they are about as good as ourselves.

The French, the Germans, and the other European races differ from our own. Nobody will dare to say that any one of these races is intrinsically inferior to its neighbors. Each has its own special aptitudes and deficiencies: but even in the height of national vanity, we don't explicitly hold that an Englishman differs from a Frenchman simply as a superior from an inferior. Americans, again, are descended — the majority within a generation or two — from the European races. Any differences which may appear must therefore be due, not to a radical difference of nature, but to circumstances of climate, social condition, religious persuasion, and so on. We may regard the whole nation, therefore, as the embodiment of a vast and most interesting experiment. We may trace back their characteristics to the circumstances which gave them birth. We have planted offshoots from our own stem in a new and vast territory within historical times. We have poured out these enormous masses of population of our own blood, or of blood closely allied to ours. The existing order of the United States represents the effect of the resulting processes carried on under conditions all of which are tolerably ascertainable. There cannot be a more interesting field of enquiry; and the philosophical remarks of such men as De Tocqueville, for example, are of the highest possible interest. Even De Tocqueville made many blunders, as a foreigner was certain to do; but his conclusions, though they may apply as much to France as to America, marked a distinct stage in political speculation, and indicate the true spirit of the enquirer. He began by admitting that American flesh and blood was like his own. Unluckily, very few writers have shown De Tocqueville's impartiality or acuteness. They have tried to justify their prejudices, good or bad, instead of trying to form their judgments; and it is here that Americans have some ground of complaint. If it should be proved that this vast operation in national chemistry has had an unfortunate result, we might be justified in disliking the race. If, for example, the Americans turned out to be rogues, the plea that their roguery was the result of natural causes would not be valid against our antipathy. I have a strong prejudice against the late Mr. Palmer, though I may hold that Palmer's wickedness was caused by temptations acting upon hereditary predispositions. Metaphysicians may settle the free-will question as they please; however they settle it, hatred of evil propensities will be as natural and rightful as before. If we suppose — purely for the sake of argument — that Americans are greater cheats than Europeans, I should take the liberty of disliking Americans in consequence, though it might be proved by the most invincible logic that their knavery was the inevitable result of their democracy, and that again of their social condition, and that of the conditions of their growth. Trace back the chain of cause and effect as far as you please, and a knave remains a knave, and ought to be a hateful person to the end of the chapter. Scientific observation may to some extent unravel the causes of moral deformity, and thereby teach us very useful lessons, but it certainly should not diminish our disgust at such deformity.

The fact, however, that American vices, whatever they may be, are thus traceable to assignable causes suggests some cautions, though it would not justify indifference. The first is that on which I have already insisted — namely, the utter futility of nine hundred and ninety-nine judgments out of a thousand. To say deliberately that the moral standard of a nation is distinctly lower or higher than that of its neighbors requires an amount of careful observation and candid reasoning which hardly anybody can give. It is said, for example, that American politicians are more corrupt than our own. What is the legitimate inference, supposing the fact to be proved? One man is content to infer that Americans generally have a low standard of honor. Another explains it as a general incident of democracy. A third excuses it by the universal excuse — which indeed