Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/497

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IS THIS A DEGENERATE AGE?.

munity. As the whole commercial system is based upon buying and selling, men have come to regard all things as fairly objects for barter and to look upon honor as something transcendental. This conception, the foundation for so many pessimistic forebodings, reflects no credit upon the knowledge or good sense of those who accept it and it may be dismissed as purely à priori. There never was a time when business honor was so high as now; the whole commercial fabric is based upon it. Whether the moral sense has been quickened or experience has taught that honesty is the best policy, matters not—the fact remains that in business a man must be honest and honorable; dishonest dealing is fatal. Dishonesty certainly exists as it always has existed and as it always will exist until mans nature changes. It is no novelty, for long ago it was asserted that every man has his price. But there is proportionately less now than ever before.

If 'commercialism' be that which destroys man's better part and makes him ready to subordinate everything to success in his ventures, which induces a soulless indifference to the welfare and even rights of neighbors, competitors and employees, surely we have here no nineteenth century disease over whose discovery so great ado should be made. If perverted ambition, selfishness, lack of principle and indifference to the rights of others be what is meant by 'commercialism,' we have but a new name for that which is as old and as widespread as the human race. It is the same thing, whether in the merchant's counting room or in the clergyman's study. When Napoleon asked contemptuously 'What are the lives of a thousand men to me?' his spirit was the same as that of an oppressive employer; the efforts made by the great 'trusts' of to-day to overcome competition differ in no wise from the cutting of prices between cross-road stores of fifty years ago, or the tricky manipulation of ecclesiastical councils in Constantine's time—or even later.

Inordinate anxiety for wealth and for the power which its possessor can wield is not peculiar to the commercialism of our time. It was quite as inordinate in the quiet days of one hundred years ago as in the golden days of Rome. It has always led to oppression and it has always contaminated society and politics. The satirists of Rome inveighed against its evils as bitterly as do the moralists of our day; the Israelites knew the burden long enough before Solomon's day to make proverbs respecting it; it led the Assyrians along many a bloody path in western Asia; the patrician of ancient Italy lusted for gold as earnestly as did the merchant and in modern Italy one can find no distinction in this respect between the noble and the contemned 'commerciante.' Avarice corrupted politics in the golden age of Rome and in the Elizabethan age of England as thoroughly as during the Second Empire of France or during the Croker Empire in commercial New