Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


WE observe that Professor Peck has not feared to include, in his lately published collection of essays, the title of which, The Personal Equation, no one has yet been quite able to understand, the paper on American Education which appeared in The Cosmopolitan last year, and for which the editor of that periodical felt compelled, in a manner, to apologize. Some of Professor Peck's utterances, it must be acknowledged, sound rather awful, considering the age and the milieu in which they are given to the world. When he says, for example, that "every really great thing that has been accomplished in the history of man has been accomplished by an aristocracy," he runs the risk of shocking, if not the moral, the political sense of the community no less rudely and painfully than the anarchist does when he passionately pronounces the doom of private property and recommends the treatment of all social diseases by dynamite. We are not sure, however, that Professor Peck means as much harm to our cherished institutions as the average reader might be led to suppose. By an aristocracy he does not mean a privileged caste, but simply a body of men trained to think and having personal gifts of control. Even the most extreme democracy must acknowledge that there are such persons. By whom are our "primaries" dominated if not by individuals trained to think along certain lines which, by an abuse of language, we call political, and who are masterful in council and decisive in action? And how many men, all told, have a really controlling voice in our national politics? We doubt very much if their numerical proportion to the whole community is greater than that borne by the narrowest aristocracies of the past to the communities in which they have severally existed. Yet without these men nothing, substantially, can be done. Their will is law. It is true they rule partly by fawning on the multitude, but they can afford a little of this condescension to secure the reality of power. "Paris is well worth a mass," said Henry of Navarre, when he became a Catholic on succeeding to the throne of France; and the boss does not grudge a little servility when needed to strengthen his hold upon the people. In Professor Peck's sense, then, we have an aristocracy now—that is to say, a ruling class—only it is not one out of which much good can come. It is organized on too bad a principle.

It is apropos of education that the professor gave expression to this shocking sentiment. He does not believe in compulsory education, and evidently thinks that the state goes too far now in facilitating education for all. It is not, if we understand him aright, that begrudges education to any, but simply that he thinks the present system, from a strictly practical point of view, is not working well. "A sounder policy," he says, "would be to make the way to education easy, but not free, to all." As we have before expressed our general adherence to this view, we must be. content to share whatever odium attaches to the professor for his remarks. A recent writer in a French review[1] has been discussing what he calls "the intellectual proletariat" in France. The facts and figures he furnishes in regard to the moral and economic condition of a large proportion of the educated class are not at all encouraging. "Our poverty-stricken mandarins" he says, "are starving in their tracks" He remarks that the evil of an intellectual proletariat has not yet manifested itself in America; hut some of us who have a closer view of the facts would not be quite prepared to indorse the statement.

The moral and intellectual progress of a people, it can not be too often repeated, depends largely upon its ideals; and there is reason to fear that universal education, or rather the attempt at universal education made by modern states, tends to lower rather than elevate popular ideals. The one great false thing the system teaches—not advisedly and intentionally, no doubt, but all the same most effectually—is that education is mainly to be desired as a qualification for money-making. That idea alone is enough to poison the popular consciousness. Education means nothing if it does not mean the improvement of the intellectual and moral nature of the person educated; but to what extent can it be shown that the state agencies in operation are really working toward such a result? We do not, therefore, regard Professor Peck, in spite of his audacious and seemingly paradoxical expressions, as an enemy of the people. We believe, on the contrary, that he means right and has at heart, as fully as the intensest democrat of us all, the greatest happiness of the greatest number.


"Are we to become the China of the West?" shouted a United States Senator, indignant because the American people would not fly to arms at his bidding and put an end to the savage struggle between the Spaniards and the Cuban insurgents. The implication was that, unless they did so, they would fall a prey, just as is threatened in the case of China, to the attack of some militant power. Only by cultivating the war spirit, which the Chinese hold in such detestation, could they maintain, to use the glowing language of Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, "our proper position among the nations of the earth, and . . . do the work to which our destiny points"

Since the opinion appears to be general that the sudden assault of the European powers upon China and her apparent impotency to resist them are due to her devotion to pacific pursuits, and that the aggressive policy of her assailants is something that the American people ought to imitate in order to save them from the same fate, it seems needful to call attention to a prophecy that Mr. Spencer makes in the last volume of his Principles of Sociology. It has a very instructive bearing upon the astonishing political phenomena now witnessed in the far East. It makes perfectly clear the absurdity of the interpretation that the Senator in question put upon them. It shows that China is not a victim of her devotion to pacific pursuits, but to militant pursuits, and that her assailants are following in precisely the footsteps that have brought her to her present position of impotency. The conclusion to be reached is that only in imitating them is there the slightest danger of the United States becoming "the China of the West."

In forecasting the future of the peoples that seek social regeneration through the adoption of certain institutions, which are simply the institutions of aggression, Mr. Spencer says that they may hold their place in the world for a long time. But the moment they come in contact with peoples not become degenerate through the sustention of the unfit at the expense of the fit, they will repeat the history of the conflict between the Spaniards on the one hand and the Mexicans and Peruvians on the other, and, like a house of cards, collapse almost without a struggle. Had Mr. Spencer postponed the writing of the chapter in which this prophecy appears, he could have cited as a fulfillment the cowardly and contemptible submission of the Chinese to the militant barbarians from Europe. Enervated by institutions that grew out of militant pursuits, they find themselves unable to resist their more vigorous and progressive assailants.

It is but a commonplace to say that China has the most powerful, conservative, and corrupt bureaucratic system in the world. As may be easily shown, this system, like all other bureaucratic systems, is the natural and invariable product of militant activities. Although it has outlived them many centuries, it has not ceased in any considerable degree, if at all, to exert the restraining and paralyzing influences that come from a crystallization of society. To it is due very largely the extraordinary difficulty now experienced in introducing into China new ideas and new industrial methods. An abandonment of old ideas and old methods would mean a disturbance of its privileges, and a disturbance of its privileges would mean a diminution or abolition of the sources of plunder that it has enjoyed time out of mind. Hence it has opposed the introduction of Western culture. Western modes of production and Western means of communication and transportation. Hence China is what she is to-day—a great, unwieldy mass of ignorance and superstition, destitute of the power of initiative and incapable of lifting a hand against the unscrupulous greed that has all at once encompassed her on every side.

Not less grossly inaccurate than the prevalent theory of China's helplessness is the theory advanced to account for the sudden desire of her assailants to appropriate her territory. It is supposed that the inhabitants of France and Germany, crowded to suffocation at home, are anxious to find an outlet for their energies, and, like the emigrants that have poured out of the harbors of Great Britain during the last three centuries, wish to establish another patrie or fatherland beyond the seas. But there is not the slightest foundation for this enchanting supposition. One of the most melancholy complaints heard in France for many years is that the births do not equal the deaths. Another complaint is that the French people show no desire to leave their country and take up with the life of a pioneer in the new territory acquired in northern and central Africa and in southern China. They prefer to remain at home and live upon the slender incomes they get from a government office in the city or some strip of land in the country. The same is more or less true of the Germans. Although they emigrate in larger numbers than the French, they do not leave their country to establish another fatherland in the colonial empire that German statesmen have attempted to establish in the wilds of Africa. Anxious to escape the intolerable despotism of their own Government, they go to new countries already peopled, chiefly the Argentine Republic and the United States, to swear allegiance to another flag than the one they have lived under all their lives.

What, then, is the explanation of this sudden desire of the French and Germans to get possession of the Chinese Empire? If they do not want it as an outlet for a surplus population or for a population ambitious to improve its condition, what do they want it for? The answer to these questions is to be found in the powerfully aggressive impulse imparted to them by their military and bureaucratic systems. As is well known, these systems inspire a contempt for industrial pursuits, which require private initiative and enterprise, and lead young men anxious to distinguish themselves to seek to do so in the army or the civil service, where they are cared for as recipients of pensions in case of failure. But in both Germany and France the number of places of this kind is necessarily limited, and as a consequence the demand has far exceeded the supply. A further consequence is that the tests applied to candidates for appointment have become very severe. A still further consequence is that after candidates have spent the best part of their lives in preparing themselves for a certain kind of work, and fail, as they often do, to get it, they consider themselves too old to prepare for anything else. Naturally they are inclined to join what Prince Bismarck has fitly stigmatized as the educated proletariat, and begin an agitation for the vague and absurd reforms known under the name of socialism and anarchism. If places could be found for such men and the country relieved of their disquieting presence by the establishment of a colonial empire in a land like China, where there is a vast industrious and docile population to be ruled and exploited, would not an enterprise of this kind appeal, consciously or unconsciously, to the leaders of a nation? Would not a vain and ambitious man, like the German emperor, see in it an opportunity not only to gain an outlet for the military activities of his people, but to make for himself a name that would compare with that of any of his Hohenzollern ancestors? What is true of him in a striking degree is true in a less degree of every other victim of the militant and bureaucratic spirit of France and Germany. China is wanted, therefore, not as a home for landless populations, but as a place for the soldiers and officials of these countries to pillage.

But, unless France and Germany change their policy, China will have her revenge. The time is certain to come with them, as it is certain to come with the American people, if their example be followed, when the same fate will, as Mr. Spencer predicts, overtake them that has overtaken their victim. Great standing armies of soldiers and officials, coupled with constant aggressions upon weaker nations, can not fail to produce again the same paralysis that made the Mexicans and Peruvians such easy prey for the Spaniards. The immutable law of biology, that benefit must always be commensurate with merit, and the equally immutable law of sociology, that militant institutions lead to foreign and domestic aggression and finally to national decay, can not be suspended. Even in the case of Spain, there has been an exemplification of this profound and important truth. Why should not the French, Germans, and Americans exemplify it, if they pursue the same career of shameless aggression?

  1. See Revue des Revues for January 15, 1898, article by M. Henry Berenger.