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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/301

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293
INTERNATIONAL PREJUDICES.

has made us do things to be proud of. But how can we be proud if we don't hold that we are better than our neighbors? This is, no doubt, the final difficulty which perplexes us, and yet the answer seems to be very simple. A man, for example, may respect himself without holding that he is of more value than his neighbors. He may take an honest pride in doing his duty and exerting his talents without holding that he ought to be prime minister, or that he is the intellectual equal of Shakespeare and Newton. Or, to come nearer to the point, a man may love his wife and children; he may be ready to fight for them to the death, to work himself to the bone, to prefer their society to that of the best people in the land, and may yet be quite ready to admit that they are not far removed from the average standard. Undoubtedly it is difficult to keep our affections from prejudicing our reason; to judge things by their intrinsic value, and yet to value them in practice by their importance to ourselves; and, in short, to refrain from declaring our own favorite geese to be swans. But that is just one of the lessons which we all have to learn in our private relations, on peril of hitter disappointment to ourselves and serious injury to those we love. A man who is capable of learning by experience finds out that the face of one whom he loves need not be the most beautiful in the world in order to be the most delightful to his eyes and that he may admit that the maternal instinct which proportions affection to the weakness of its object instead of to its abstract merit is so far from being irrational that it represents the great condition of domestic happiness. The paradox of patriotism is precisely the same. A man may hold that Frenchmen or Americans are every whit as good as Englishmen in all essentials; that virtue and wisdom are fortunately not confined by the four seas or the horizon visible from his parish steeple; and he may yet be as ready as his neighbors to die for his country, to do his best to carry the English flag to the North Pole or Timbuctoo, or to give his whole strength to remedy the many evils which threaten our social welfare. In this sense, indeed, the worse his country may be, the greater its demands upon him; and the more convinced he is that it is behind its neighbors, the greater should be his efforts to bring it up to their level.

The whole difficulty, in fact, lies in this persistent assumption that because I love a country or a person I must logically hold it to be the best of all countries or persons. That is the temptation, not the legitimate inference. My country is or ought to be dear to me, because I am tied down to it by a thousand bonds of birth, connection, and tradition; because it is that part of the world in which I can labor to most purpose; because my affections are governed by all kinds of associations which have no connection whatever with my intellectual estimate of its value. But this is just what people in general refuse to see. They insist upon my drawing an illogical inference. If I am forced to admit by evidence that another race is in any respect better than my own, they declare that I am unpatriotic. They do not condescend to enquire whether my recognition of that fault leads me to love my country less. That is taken for granted; and therefore the test of patriotism is taken to be my persuasion of the truth of certain conclusions about matters of which, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, I am an utterly incompetent judge. It is sought to make patriotism rational by insisting that my emotions shall have a logical basis which may or may not exist. The only result is that I make a factitious basis by inventing the proposition which gratifies my vicarious vanity, and then assuming that it is the cause instead of the effect of the vanity.

I must, for my part, decline to stake my patriotism upon any such test whatever. Something may prove to-morrow morning that another nation is better than mine, and then I must either believe a lie or cease to be patriotic. I claim the right, on the contrary, of expressing such opinions as I can form, with absolute freedom, and without admitting any inference as to my sentiment. I believe that Englishmen are in many and important respects at the rear instead of being in the van of civilized races. As a mere matter of taste, I generally prefer the society of intelligent Americans, because they are not hidebound by British prejudice. I never go to Paris or travel in Germany or Italy without being impressed by the great superiority of foreigners in many respects, intellectually, artistically, and socially. But, for all that, I may be just as patriotic as the Briton who makes his first trip to the Continent when he is already soaked to the core with native prejudices, and swears that all foreigners are filthy barbarians because he does not find soap by his basin in the first hotel. Why not? A man may love his children better than