Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/132

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
122
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

efforts of the spiritualist school. At the same time he is entitled to the utmost freedom of thought and utterance; and if he believes there is still hope of important gains to humanity from the side of spiritualism, he is justified in holding his position; and while we may think he is sadly misled, we must accord him the respect due to eminent talents and unquestioned sincerity.

 

 

THE CAUSE OF SPAIN'S DECADENCE.

Until account is taken of the effect of war on the thoughts, feelings, and institutions of men, no headway can be made toward a rational explanation of the decadence of Spain. Since the outbreak of hostilities with that country, which has made the topic a favorite one with newspaper and magazine writers, every other explanation has been vouchsafed; but all of them, including the favorite one about the mental and industrial paralysis produced by the Spanish Inquisition, mistake effects for causes. Not one of them, so far as we have seen, has touched the root of the matter and pointed out that Spain has simply gone the way of every other nation that has devoted itself, not to the pursuits of peace, but to the destruction of life and property.

Like all other despotisms, Spanish despotism has been the inevitable product of the necessities of war. Success in that pursuit requires that the subjects of a monarch shall place unreservedly their lives and property at his disposal. He must be permitted to levy conscriptions without let or hindrance, and to impose taxes with the same freedom. The longer and more intense the militant activities, the more unmitigated the despotism. In Spain the conditions for the uninterrupted growth of such irresponsible power have been especially favorable. There were first the long wars with the Moors, then the Italian wars, the wars of the Reformation, the wars of the Spanish Succession, the Napoleonic wars, followed by a period of chronic revolution, and the wars carried on against the natives and other adversaries in the New World. The impulse toward a concentration of power in the hands of one man engendered by these incessant conflicts could not fail to blot out of existence every sentiment and institution of freedom. Only during the past twenty five years of peace has either been able to gain a foothold and to give a promise of regeneration.

But the despotism growing out of war means more than the bare statement that all power over life and property has been placed in the hands of a monarch. It means that his subjects have been deprived of the right to think and act for themselves. He has taken charge of both their consciences and their conduct. In Spain, for some reason not easy to discover, the ecclesiastical despotism that accompanies the growth of political despotism became more potent and deadly than in the other countries of Europe. There the priests were more powerful sometimes than the monarch himself. With the institution of the Inquisition during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella they wrought a havoc to the Spanish intellect that has no parallel outside of the great Oriental despotisms. To them is due the mental torpor of the Spaniards, who, according to U. J. Burke, wrapped themselves in a cloak and "sought safety in dignified silence." How could the spectacle of an auto-da-fé do otherwise than disincline a prudent man to think for himself and to tell what he thought?

That devotion to military pur-