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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/299

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291
INTERNATIONAL PREJUDICES.

asserts an undeniable fact — that America is a new country. A fourth sets it down to the unprecedented emigration of ignorant foreigners. A Roman Catholic, perhaps, traces it to the demoralizing influences of Protestantism. A Protestant retorts that it is due to the influence of priests upon an ignorant population. A profound philosopher shows his ingenuity by connecting it somehow with the influence of climate. A radical thinks that it is part of the legacy left by slavery. A constitution-monger considers it to be clearly produced by the absence of a system for representing minorities. A sound English constitutionalist remarks upon the want of a House of Lords. An educational reformer thinks that the school system is defective. A believer in race puts it down to Celtic or Teutonic tendencies. A lover of the past says it is caused by the growth of luxury. A "nihilist" says that it is owing to the growth of centralization. An historian says that we were once equally corrupt in England, and regards the disease as a kind of measles incident to all races in certain stages of development. Each of these and a dozen other causes may have something to do with the phenomenon. I only observe that to consider any one of them fully involves a whole series of complicated observations, and to allow to each its due share would be the work of a philosophic lifetime. The connection, for example, between the standard of honor accepted in private life and that recognized in political life suggests innumerable curious questions, upon which volumes might be written. In some cases, the morality of a nation is very high in particular directions — as, for example, in regard to domestic virtues — whilst it is very low in regard to politics ; whilst the reverse is constantly illustrated. One nation, like one man, is more given to drink than its neighbors, or more given to one particular form of drinking, and at the same time less inclined to crimes of violence or to offences against property. To sum up all the lines of inquiry which converge upon such problems is a task of the utmost nicety, for which, perhaps, nobody is fully competent. It implies a combination of the imagination which can see through the eyes of a strange race, with the power of accumulating knowledge which can swallow whole libraries of statistics, and the power of reasoning which can digest them.

When, therefore, a hasty traveller brings out his pet explanation, ascribes the evil to the influence which he happens to dislike, and then ascribes the influence to a natural defect in the character of the people, and, further, infers that we ought to hate them instead of pitying, he is guilty of a whole series of doubtful assumptions. So far from seeing this, he probably gives himself the airs of a philosopher, and henceforward takes his little theory for granted, as though it were a proposition in Euclid. The true moral is surely different. We should blame any vices and praise any virtues proved to exist as heartily as if they were our own. We should sympathize with efforts to reform and denounce the fallacies by which errors are defended. On all such matters we should speak without fear or favor. We are on safe ground, and may treat with contempt any resentment that we may excite. Unluckily, this is just the course which we generally decline. Either we make a show of shutting our eyes to evils, and are despised as insincere sycophants; or we proceed to make hasty inferences as to causes which are as obscure as the consequences are palpable. Bribery and corruption are abominable — that is an undeniable truth. A or B is convicted of corruption; that is often equally clear, and so is the inference that A or B ought to be punished. It is another and quite a different thing to assume that the forty millions of men represented by A or B must all share his faults, and are therefore corrupt by nature or perverted by that particular influence on which we happen to pitch as most offensive to our own tastes. It is by this error in logic and feeling that we give legitimate ground for complaint, and manage to oscillate dexterously between administering unworthy flattery and unprovable imputations.

This or that, we may most properly say, is bad. As to its causes, we can only form some general conjectures, entitled to more or less respect, but always requiring to be carefully tested by experience. Most of us have no right to any opinion whatever. Our rash conjectures about Americans have often little more claim to respect than a schoolboy's fancies about the ancient Trojans. They are founded upon evidence, so far as they have any connection with evidence at all, which is ludicrously insufficient to justify any distinct conclusion, favorable or the reverse. Conversely, we have no right to be angry when people form utterly absurd opinions about ourselves. They do not really hate us, but a figment which happens to be called by our name. Their error is not in