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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/304

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prepossessions, and often posing as a paragon of virtue in the guise of patriotism, even the most advanced and enlightened peoples have not yet fully emancipated themselves. The Hebrews thought they were doing the will of their tribal god (the personification of the tribal conscience) by borrowing jewels and fine raiment from their too-obliging Egyptian acquaintances and then running away with them. That this mean abuse of neighborly confidence and civility was not a mere momentary freak of fraudulence or sudden succumbing to temptation, but the outcome of settled principles of morality and a general rule of policy, is evident from the approval with which it is recorded, as well as from the laws subsequently enacted, which permitted them to take usury of aliens and to sell murrain meat to the strangers in their gates.

This is the kind of ethics which finds expression in the legislation of all barbaric and semi-civilized races, from the Eskimos to the Hottentots. The Balantis of Africa punish with death a theft committed to the detriment of a tribesman, but encourage and reward thievery from other tribes. According to Cæsar's statement (De Bello Gallico, lib. vi, c. 23), the Germans did not deem it infamous to steal outside of the precincts of their own village, but rather advocated it as a means of keeping the young men of the community in training and rendering them vigilant and adroit. But we need not go to African kraals or American wigwams or primeval Teutonic forests for illustrations of this rule of conduct. Quite recently a Frenchman succeeded as commis-voyageur in swindling a number of German tradesmen out of large sums of money, and was applauded for his exploit by Parisian shopkeepers, who readily condoned his similar but slighter offenses against themselves on account of the satisfaction they derived from the more serious injury done to their hereditary foes on the Rhine. This incident proves how easy it is for the primitive feeling of clanship, euphemistically styled patriotic sentiment, to put in abeyance all the acquisitions of culture and set the most elementary principles of honesty and morality at defiance. International conscience is a product of modern civilization, but it is still a plant of very feeble growth—a sickly shrub, whose fruits are easily blasted, and for the most part drop and decay before they ripen.

Sir Henry Sumner Maine, in his Lectures on the Early History of Institutions, has shown with admirable force and suggestiveness that rude and savage tribes uniformly regard consanguinity as the only basis of friendship and moral obligation and the sole cement of society. The original human horde was held together by the same tie of blood-relationship that produces and preserves the consciousness of unity in the animal herd or causes ants and