Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/May 1896/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


PATRIOTISM is one of those virtues which have suffered so much from counterfeit and alloy that the word has come to have a very doubtful sound to experienced ears. So seriously, indeed, has it been damaged that one would in general prefer to use some other term to convey whatever respectable meaning it has hitherto covered. To a large section of the community, there is too much reason to fear, patriotism means little else than a vicious hatred of other countries, in so far as they come into any kind of rivalry or competition with our own. It stands for noisy, offensive, and vulgar national self-glorification, for truculence in the discussion of international questions, and a readiness to cast justice to the winds in any transaction with a foreign state. Patriotism of this type commends itself only too readily to boyhood with its as yet undeveloped moral sentiments, and therefore to adopt any special measures for inculcating it on the youthful citizen is, to say the least, most unnecessary. The true view of patriotism embraces none of the elements mentioned. To he a patriot a man does not need to hate or despise foreign nations; he does not need to indulge in vainglorious language, or even in vainglorious thoughts in regard to his own country; nor does he require to cultivate an insensibility to justice in regard to any international dispute in which his country may be engaged. Patriotism in the true sense implies simply such a love for one's country as inclines to disinterested service at all times and under all circumstances—a love which does not need the stimulus of quarrel with a foreign state to call it into activity.

To get a true measure and comprehension of the subject we should compare patriotism with certain other recognized virtues. The father of a family owes love and protection to his family. What should we think, then, of the father who, neglecting or even abusing his family at other times, showed his paternal feeling chiefly in espousing their quarrels, just or unjust, with other families, and greedily embracing every opportunity thus afforded for acts of hostility to his neighbors? We could only say that he was a man of a very low type, whose actions were mainly determined and governed by hatred and malice. Quite in the same way we are entitled to judge the citizen's love for his country, not by the blindness of his partisanship in questions in which his country is involved, nor by the rancor he displays in speaking or writing of foreign states, but by the interest he takes at other times, and at all times, in his country's welfare, and the service he renders to the cause of good government, and the general amelioration of the social and political life of the nation. We think it will in general be found that the citizen who is earnestly engaged in useful social work, and whose ordinary course of life affords an example worthy of imitation, will not be a patriot of the malignant type. His voice will not be cast for war on trivial occasions, nor will he take a ferocious delight in thinking of the disasters and humiliations which his country could inflict on a foreign foe. The man who truly loves his own country will find it impossible to hate any other. The good father of a family is a man who can be counted on for friendly offices beyond the limits of his family. He enters into the feelings of other fathers, and considers family life in general, a sacred thing. So with the man who has a true feeling of devotion to his own country: he learns through it to love humanity at large.

Who, then, is likely to be what we have called the malignant patriot? The spoilsman makes a good one. Living as he does on the corruption of politics, the least he can do is to shout for the flag, and pour contempt on foreigners on every occasion, suitable or unsuitable. If he did not thus protest his love for his native land, people might think he was a parasite or saprophyte pure and simple; but thus he makes an effort, which we may take for what it is worth, to redeem his character. And with the spoilsman we find, vociferous for war and cynically indifferent to justice and humanity, a large body of individuals who, without being spoilsmen in the full political sense, are spoilsmen in a general everyday sense, in that they live by arts more or less inimical to the general welfare. These have no sense of organic union with the community, and the expression of hatred toward other nations affords them an emotional outlet which they could ill spare. Then we have the considerable number of those who, though they may, in their way, be tolerably useful citizens, are persons whose moral and intellectual natures are but poorly developed, and who perhaps sincerely think that hatred of the foreigner is at least a function of love of one's own fellow-citizens. These constitute a class of whom, perhaps, better might be made, but who in the meantime raise their voices very vigorously and inconsiderately for every aggressive foreign policy which mischief-making demagogues may suggest.

If patriotism in the true sense were more common throughout the civilized world, wars would cease, because patriotism would induce those reasonable, humane, and pacific feelings which are wholly opposed to injustice and aggression, whether practiced by individuals or by states. Unfortunately, the type of feeling which is most in evidence to-day is not patriotism, but militarism, a very different thing. The true patriot wishes his country to be in the right and to do the right in all international questions: the devotee of militarism wishes his country to be strong, so that, whether right or wrong, she may be able to impose her will upon others. It is not too much to say that the military spirit is fundamentally inconsistent with a love of justice for its own sake. It is a very tame business for enormous force to be always tied to exact rules of right; the temptation is almost overwhelmingly strong to blow right some fine day from the mouth of an eight-inch gun, and so set the war fiends dancing. The nation that sets out to have enormous armaments does not thereby intimate to the world, nor yet to its own citizens, its desire and intention to be always in the right, to pursue undeviatingly the path of justice, but a desire and intention to be able to pursue whatever course may be indicated by national ambition. No one can doubt that in our own country the disposition to trust to right in our dealings with other nations has been growing feebler just as our armaments have been growing stronger. Every new battleship makes it a matter of less account—in the eyes of a large part of the nation at least—that we should be in the right at all. By and by, if things advance much further in the same direction, national honor will be held to demand that we commit some great wrong, and prove at the cannon's mouth that we are able to stand by it.

We confess that this is not what we were hoping for. Some twenty or twenty-five years ago, when the minds of our people seemed turning in the direction of a sound philosophy, we were very far from anticipating that at this date there would be a recrudescence of the spirit which derides philosophy and enthrones brute force in its place. We feel like asking what our schools and universities have been doing all this time. Have they been teaching our youth that, in the matter of citizenship, the highest honor any man can enjoy is to belong to a state whose respect for itself binds it to respect for others, and whose aim is far more to show the possibilities of civilized life at home than to make an imposing display of strength abroad? Do they teach that, if a nation can, without sacrifice of honor or betrayal of the just interests of its citizens, live at peace with all the world, it is its bounden duty, both for its own sake and as an example to mankind, to do so? Do they teach that war and liberty are essentially antagonistic, and that, only by parting with a large share of domestic liberty, can any nation take its place among the great fighting powers of the world? We fear that, whatever has been done in the way of inculcating these truths, the instruction has been far from adequate. At the same time it is satisfactory to note that, so far as men of scholarship and learning have spoken in the recent discussions of international questions, their voices have almost uniformly been raised on behalf of wide, humane, and reasonable views of national policy.

It was with special pleasure that we noted not long ago a "Symposium on Patriotism in the Public Schools" in the Interstate School Review, of Chicago, in which some excellent sentiments were expressed. One writer, U. J. Hoffman, says: "Let children study the lives of patriots, let them read the thoughts of patriots, such as Hawthorne, Bryant, Longfellow, and love of our native land will take care of itself. The requirement of the flag law, that the flag shall float every day, has caused the purpose of the law to be defeated." Another, William D. Kelley, says most excellently: "In our selection of subjects for hero worship we need not choose war heroes rather than those who are eminent in the acts of peace and charity. The man who stands up resolutely in the common council or the town meeting for what is right and against what is corrupt and wrong, is a patriot, and often a hero, and may be made as truly an example for children as those far removed from them in time, and whose fame is national or world-wide. The teacher should show that governments can commit sins as well as individuals. I would teach a love for the Revolutionary principles and a dislike for our country's attitude in the Mexican War." A third writer, A, Califf, says: "I believe in teaching patriotism, but I do not believe in trying to legislate patriotism into people. I consider the 'flag law' a total failure, so far as the teaching of patriotism is concerned." A fourth, M. W. Marvin, gets to the root of the matter in the observation that "the teaching which tends to develop properly the pupil's sense of right and wrong, of humanity and justice, that which makes him better acquainted with his duty to himself, his neighbor, and his country, better prepares him for the future duties of a patriotic citizen."

If the teaching given in our schools and other educational institutions on the subject of patriotism were all on these lines, there would be nothing to complain of; on the contrary, there would be much cause for congratulation, and much reason to hope for good results at no distant day. Unfortunately, what with flag laws and other nonsense, it is difficult for the schools in some of our States not to be made subservient to the spirit and aims of militarism; and if the mind of youth is thus perverted, what will the harvest be? These are times when well-disposed citizens should take earnest and frequent counsel together as to the best means to antagonize the hurtful influences that are abroad, and to uphold the ideal of peaceful civilization as the true goal of national progress.


Prof. Röntgen's discovery of the X ray crowns two as alluring courses of investigation as ever called forth the resources of experimental skill. One of the pillars from which sprang the achievement of the Bavarian teacher rose from the observation by an Italian cobbler, Vincenzo Cascariolo, who three hundred years ago picked up near Bologna a bit of sulphate of barium. It might, he hoped, have some value in alchemy, for it glowed in the dark as if with sunshine it had stored by day. This singular property of phosphorescence has since been noted in a wide diversity of minerals, in nasturtium and other blossoms, in fungi and decayed wood, in a host of flying and creeping things of kin to the common firefly and glow-worm. As means of detection are refined, it becomes more and more probable that phosphorescence, while highly characteristic of but a few substances, really manifests itself in matter of all kinds. In this it may share the universality of many other properties.

And phosphorescence, half a century ago, was discovered in direct alliance with other curious qualities. Of high importance was the discovery, in which Prof. Stokes took an honored part, that rays which enter the eye only to prove it blind can be brought within the compass of vision if suitably modified; that when ultra-violet rays of the spectrum traverse solutions of sulphate of quinine and other compounds, or take their way through uranium glass, they are so reduced in refrangibility as to fall within the range of perception. The light thus indirectly brought to view is fluorescence, the continuous phase of what in brief and fitful gleams is phosphorescence. Among the compounds fluorescent in an eminent degree is the platinocyanide of that same barium whose sulphate aroused the wonder of the Bologna cobbler.

While one group of explorers was running down the facts of phosphorescence and fluorescence, another group was examining the behavior of attenuated gases when excited by electricity of high tension. The familiar tubes of Geissler now shone with a radiance resembling the aurora of the northern sky. After Geissler came Prof. Crookes, and other physicists, who varied their queries in many ingenious ways. They replaced air with other gases, they brought exhaustion to a close approach to perfection, they changed the forms of tubes, the material of the electrode or current carriers, they increased and diminished the intensity of the electric discharge. Most significant of all, they placed fluorescent substances in the tubes, and brought them to vivid radiance.

Now came the epoch-making experiments of Hertz, which demonstrated Maxwell's theory that light is an electro-magnetic phenomenon; that light and electricity move through the same medium and at the same rate. Incidentally, Hertz produced electric waves of new amplitudes, which readily took their way through wooden doors and stone walls. In his vacuum tubes, by their capacity to excite fluorescence, he found that cathode rays penetrated thin sheets of gold, copper, aluminum, and other metals, while, strange to say, they were arrested by the glass of the tube itself. Hertz had abundant reason to think that, given a concordant ray, any substance whatever offers it a free and open path. His researches, cut short by his lamented death, were continued by his assistant. Prof. Paul Lenard, who inserted in the wall of a vacuum tube a tiny window of aluminum. Through this window he succeeded in bringing a cathode ray into the outer air for a distance of some three inches. This ray had all the characteristic tokens of light; it was capable of reflection, refraction, and polarization; it excited fluorescence; it had photographic power.

At this point Prof. Röntgen comes upon the scene, repeats the experiments of Prof. Lenard, and, by such a stroke of good fortune as befalls only the man who earns it, he incloses an excited vacuum tube in blackened cardboard treated with barium platinocyanide. To his delight he discovers that the cathode beam is accompanied by a radiance hitherto unknown, which, although of fluorescent and photographic quality, can scarcely be any form of light. It is not susceptible of refraction or polarization; indeed, it seems as if it might be a stream of infinitesimal particles, since its path is less impeded in a light metal, aluminum, than in a dense one, such as platinum.

Thus culminate the experiments of two companies of students—those devoted to inquiry regarding phosphorescence, and fluorescence and those who investigated the conduct of attenuated gases excited by electricity in vacua. It was many a weary day before the explorers came within sight of each other, before they could join hands on the common ground where all research meets at last in Nature's fundamental unity. At every step but the final one, the observer intent solely on "results" might well have asked, "What's the good?" And yet results of profound import to science and art lay bound up in quests not to be suspected of the most averted wooing of utility. The eye and its wonderful supplement, the photographic plate, now find disclosed what had been deemed forever hidden from sight and light. The physician and the surgeon rejoice in new powers of relieving pain and saving life. The physicist enlarges his conceptions of both matter and energy; he explores by a new path the mazes of molecular structure and motion. Once more it is emphasized that Truth is won only by her disinterested lovers, who, nevertheless, ever find her dowered with wealth greater than fortune-hunter ever dared pursue.

In practical applications of the Röntgen ray America is taking a leading part. But is it to her credit that here, as in so many other cases, she should be willing to have the pioneer work of science performed abroad? Do the planters and waterers of American universities fully realize that if there is to be applied science there must first of all be science to apply, that original research has the first claim upon their regard? "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty."


Nordau has been answered. An anonymous author has done it in a book entitled Regeneration.[1] This champion declares pretty nearly everything sound which Nordau finds degenerate, and charges Nordau himself with German, philistine, and irreligious bias, though conceding value as telling factors in the development of our race "to him and his work. With this critic's discussion of literary and artistic matters we will not concern ourselves; but he has one chapter, or, more accurately, a chapter heading, which we hope will not be taken too seriously. This is The Bankruptcy of Science. The charge that science is bankrupt—that it has not redeemed its promises—arose with the French symbolists. In his examination of these writers Nordau repels the charge, and cites a considerable list of scientific achievements as evidence of the solvency of science. Our author does not find this conclusive; for, he says: "The promises which the symbolists refer to as being dishonored by science are not of the kind that could possibly be redeemed by the achievements referred to in Nordau's splendid list. They allude to promises not really made by science, but by rash and prejudiced scientists." In other words, these promises are forgeries, and any one who would call science bankrupt because of its inability to redeem all the forgeries made in its name must be degenerate indeed. The fact that such fraudulent promises have been made and accepted, and of sufficient numbers and face value to attract attention, is really as impressive a testimony to the high standing of science as anything that Dr. Nordau has advanced in its behalf. No knave is ever fool enough to forge large drafts upon a concern that has not proved its ability to meet heavy obligations.

Our author next tells what these unauthorized promises were—that science was to furnish substitutes for religion and morality and to lead the human race into an ideal mode of life—and goes on through a dozen pages charging evil consequences to their nonfulfillment, and denouncing the scientists who made them. Although he says all this under the heading The Bankruptcy of Science, he is careful everywhere not to charge the dishonored promises in question to science itself, but to the "rash and prejudiced scientists," before mentioned, with whom he declares Nordau to be in sympathy. Our author's aggressive chapter heading is, therefore, merely a convenient phrase borrowed from the symbolists, and he is guilty of a petty deceit in using it without quotation marks or other qualification over pages which do not prove nor even charge bankruptcy against science itself.

In discussing the promises of the "rash and prejudiced scientists," which he does at length and with much vigor, our author shows that he can not or will not understand the ethics which the scientists are developing. He says: "As to morality, the religion of humanity seemed extremely untrustworthy; for the removal of all personal responsibility, and the certainty of complete annihilation after death, seemed to give the strong-minded and clever people the strongest possible inducement to make their fellow-beings tools for their own happiness." Going on, he draws a dreadful picture of the effect which the ethics of the scientists has produced upon ordinary mortals who, "caring little for what would happen to the next generation, or still less to generations thousands of years hence," have lived for self-gratification. He returns to this subject in a later chapter and instances "the case of a poor laborer who, in the usual course, will work and suffer during his whole life and die in poverty. To escape such a destiny," says our author, "many roads are open to him if he have courage, exceptional ability, and no belief in a hereafter. . . . He might even avoid violent and vulgar crimes and operate in a safer manner. He might blackmail a rich man. . . . He might turn first a usurer, then a financier. He might keep a degrading public house or a gigantic immoral place of amusement. He might issue a debasing newspaper, write corrupting books and dramatic pieces." A careful revision of his manuscript or a sense of humor, such as he denies to Max Nordau, ought to have shown our author that he has here created an impossible character. A "poor laborer" with the "courage" and "exceptional ability" to do any one of these things, would not "in the usual course work and suffer during his whole life and die in poverty" He could secure ease and a competency in many an entirely moral calling.

We feel well enough acquainted with the ethics of the scientists which our author denounces to say that one of its cardinal principles is the inevitable sequence of cause and effect. From this law it follows that no one can do evil without evil being returned. Circumstances may postpone the effects of his acts until after his death, but he can never count on this, and every one sees cases in which the reaction is swift and terrible. Even if he were sure that the consequences of his evil deeds would be borne mainly or wholly by the next generation, there would still be a restraining influence upon him. How can a more agonizing punishment be inflicted upon a mother than through her children, Or a stronger appeal be addressed to her than one for their welfare? And it is a question whether the love of a father for his offspring is not as strong as that of a mother, even if less intense. But aside from ties of blood we do care for those who are to survive or come after us. The conduct and labors of many a person have been avowedly governed by the desire that men should speak well of him after his death. Countless lives have been heroically sacrificed through devotion to fellow-creatures or native land, perhaps mingled with a wild delight in conquering obstacles, but without thought of reward hereafter.

The central idea of the ethics of the scientists, as we understand it, is conformity to the order of the universe. Any one who violates this order in his relations to his fellowmen is just as sure of provoking a punitive reaction as when he comes in conflict with the law of gravitation. This truth would be more evident if scientific ethics were more generally taken as a guide. The only reason why the man whom our author supposes as preying upon his fellows can be presumed to succeed at all in his career is that he would be alone in a community which had a different moral code. If we suppose him to be surrounded by men like himself, as many depredations would be committed upon him as he committed upon others, and he would quickly abandon his policy as unprofitable. To accept the dictum that nothing but a belief in reward or punishment after death can keep a man from taking every possible advantage of his fellows is to put human beings lower than the beasts. It is not a hope of immortal happiness that causes ants of the same colony or bees of the same swarm to be just, considerate, and even generous toward one another, that constrains the old males of herbivorous quadrupeds to stand guard over the rest of the herd, or that makes it practicable for certain carnivores to hunt in packs. Experience, individual or inherited, has given them a controlling sense of what conduct pays best in the long run. Those creatures which do not co-operate in communities are yet far from trespassing upon others of the same species in the manner of our author's "poor laborer." If the beasts can perceive so much of the order of the universe as to keep their conduct from becoming unduly egoistic, is not man capable of learning the same lesson? The ethics of the scientists is far from being such an empty husk as our author represents. It is imperfect, to be sure, but can a complete solution of so great a problem be expected in a few short years? Moreover, some allowance for any partial failure that may be observed in its application should be made on account of the frailty of human nature and the disturbing influence of unsympathetic associates.

Nordau being one of the scientists who upholds the new ethical theory must, his critic thinks, have a bias against the adherents of revealed religion. The critic claims to find evidence of such a bias in Nordau's book, and a large part of his criticism is based upon this claim. Regeneration is largely an effort to impeach the fairness of Nordau's judgment, and to discredit his diagnosis by an appeal to religious prejudice. As such it should be estimated.

  1. London: Archibald Constable & Co.; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.