Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/February 1911/Geographic Influences in the Evolution of Nations

1579506Popular Science Monthly Volume 78 February 1911 — Geographic Influences in the Evolution of Nations1911Walter Sheldon Tower


By Professor WALTER S. TOWER


The Study of Nations.—The study of the chief nations of the world, with respect to their history, government, institutions or people, forms the basis of most of the humanitarian, as opposed to the natural, sciences. Yet in many respects the general attitude adopted in the interpretation of national development has not changed with the advances made in the scientific understanding of the earth in its relation to life. Fifty years ago, for example, the belief was prevalent that the earth was made for man's convenience. Since then the students of the natural sciences have adopted the conception that life is the product of evolution, in which physical conditions are at all times important factors. The study of nations, on the contrary, is still largely carried on from the old point of view, with little or no open recognition of the significance of evolutionary factors.

National Evolution.—For the nation, also, as well as for the individuals of which it is composed, physical conditions are at all times important influences. This principle of evolution, therefore, may be applied to the different stages through which human groups pass in their rise from primitive tribes to modern nations, in the same way as it is applied to the human individual in the evolution of man to his present high estate in the animal kingdom. Thus as the course of human progress replaces the isolated, self-dependent savage by the tribe, or any primitive group, the qualities and motives of the group reflect the needs which arise from the surroundings and also the opportunities at hand for satisfying these needs. The organized hunting tribes of forest dwellers, the pastoral nomads of open grassy plains, the fishing folk of barren coast lands, represent great advances beyond the first savage individuals, yet each of these groups is none the less the combined result of human needs and natural opportunities to gratify needs. Physical conditions are for these groups the most important factors in determining both the character of, and the opportunities for satisfying, human needs.

Each of the above groups represents a stage of progress toward national existence, but no one of them, as they stand, possesses the physical conditions necessary to lift the tribe to the higher plane where it might be said to have true national qualities. Before any primitive group can develop into a nation, it must be given an evironment in it may be established and maintained on a permanent basis, with the returns from human efforts exceeding the demands of immediate needs. Under favorable conditions the cultivation of the soil offers such a chance for permanent establishment. Hence agriculture becomes the broad basis on which the development of important nationality may be said to depend, and an environment which permits agriculture is to be considered as a fundamental requirement for a budding nation.

Each nation, in every stage of its development, finds itself confronted by needs which must be satisfied, and it is forced to seek ways of gratifying those needs in order to preserve the national existence. Each nation, occupying its political unit, has in that unit certain natural opportunities which are the result of physical conditions, and which represent the sum total of means available to meet national needs, either directly or indirectly. Hence, each nation in its different stages of past development, in its present organization, and in its future importance, must be considered largely as the product of the physical or geographical conditions by which it has been surrounded.

It does not appear, however, that the operation of these geographic factors is accorded the proper recognition in the study of nations, whatever the guise under which that study is made. Thus, in one of the latest texts at hand, a book designed to complete the course in geography in the schools, a book well thought of generally, widely used, and a fair sample, a half a dozen pages are devoted to the United Kingdom, and less to Germany, A marvelous example, it is, of concentration of facts, but it gives no reasons; no indication of inter-relationship between the nation and its surroundings; no idea or appreciation of the factors which have so closely shaped the whole course of British development; no hint of a real understanding of the nation; it gives simply a collection of statements concerning places and things.

A nation is more than a disorganized array of cities, products and industries. A nation is a living entity: a unit produced by the action of uncompromising physical forces, and its cities, products and industries, at any given time, are but the temporary manifestation of those forces.

The Modifying Factors.—No two nations have been identical in all aspects of their evolution, for no two nations have had identical geographical surroundings. In numerous cases, nations, unlike in important respects, have been composed of people of common origin, as in the case of England and Australia. On the other hand, similarities in physical surroundings have, in every case, produced similarities in development in nations composed of people of different origin, as indicated by Argentine and Australia, or by England and modern Japan. National evolution, therefore, is not a simple question of race, but a more complex question of surroundings and opportunities.

The real understanding of a nation and its evolution depends on an appreciation of the particular combination of physical conditions by which its course has been influenced in the different stages of development. Consequently each nation must be interpreted in terms of its own physical forces, and its strength or weakness may be measured by those forces. The chief physical factors which are important in shaping national development may be grouped, roughly in descending order of importance,[1] under the following general heads: (1) Position with respect to physical relations, (2) position climatically, (3) surface area, (4) surface configuration, (5) productivity of the soil and climate, (6) the possession of potential mechanical energy, (7) mineral wealth.

Physical Position: Separation.—If the conditions necessary for agriculture are assumed to exist, position with respect to physical relations may, on general grounds, be accorded first importance in its effect on national evolution. In the early stages of development of all the older nations, the degree of isolation or separation appears to have been the one significant feature common to all the national territories. This striking similarity may be explained on the ground that unless the primitive group was afforded some degree of protection by natural barriers to attack, the problem of successful establishment and maintenance materially hampered continuity of progress.

A survey of the physical relations surrounding the seats of the early nations of the world indicates the value of separation, since, without exception, they all possessed that quality to a marked degree. Thus, Egypt in the Nile valley, highly favored as it was in soil and climate as a basis for agriculture, may be regarded as owing its early development of national qualities and culture no less to the surrounding desert barrier which guaranteed a large measure of immunity from molestation. For, at the same time, other regions, like the lower Mississippi valley, no less fertile, but lacking protective barriers of any sort, have shown no national development by native groups.

Similar conditions of separation and security were afforded in one way or another in the fertile valleys of western Asia, and in the Greek and Italian peninsulas. Considering Europe as a whole, for example, there are nine fairly distinct physical subdivisions, of which four, the Greek, Italian and Spanish peninsulas and the British Isles, have more or less complete separation, by natural boundaries, from the adjoining continental areas. Each one of the four stands as the seat of solid national development at a date earlier than any stable national existence prevailed in the other parts of the continent, as in the exposed sections occupied by the modern states of Germany and Russia. The converse of this argument, therefore, suggests the absence of effective separation for any group as an important factor in the failure of primitive tribes to develop nationally on the open plains of eastern Europe or of South and North America. Sections of the last named, at least, were fully as well favored as was the Nile valley, so far as the prosecution of agriculture is concerned.

The measure of separation not only has been a significant factor in the inception of national development, but also appears as one of the chief modifying influences in all the successive stages of evolution. Its effects have been operative both in the case of older nations developing directly from primitive groups, and in the modification of transplanted national civilizations, of which class the Australian colonies and New Zealand may be regarded as typical. Separation has meant more than the security needed in the period of development from the primitive group into a people solidly welded by national qualities and attributes. Through this same lessened liability of molestation, the more perfect the separation, the greater has been the continuity of social and economic evolution, and the more rapid the advance, beyond the preliminary stages of national existence.

Separation, or the lack of it, also determines the absence or presence of the burden of militarism, and hence fixes the extent to which the energies of the population may be profitably occupied or how much of them must be wasted in unproductive military service. Thus the old Prussian maxim that "Empires are made only by the sword" clearly reflects the exposed position of that state, its dependence on armed strength for its existence, and one of the chief factors in its slow development to important nationality.

The sharply contrasted course of events in England, as compared with either France or Germany, must be explained largely on the degree of separation which has always been one of the chief British assets. The early breaking down of feudalism and serfdom in England and the consequent more rapid advance of personal and political liberty, the freedom from invasion and wars on her own soil, the absence of any powerful rival occupying contiguous territory and the resulting freedom from a great military burden, all represent tremendous advantages, possessed by none of her rivals. All these advantages depended on the separation of England from the continental mainland, by a narrow body of water, the crossing of which was rendered difficult and hazardous by its turbulent waves and currents. France, on the contrary, though in many respects naturally better favored than England, was, by her more exposed position, led into the pursuance of continental policies which frequently involved her in wars on her own soil and greatly hampered internal progress. France thereby was held back at times when England, enjoying internal peace, was forging rapidly ahead. Germany, more exposed than either of the others, and less distinctly a separate natural unit, was correspondingly slower in her national development, and may still be regarded as existing largely on a military basis.

Separation and Accessibility.—Separation which amounts to isolalation, however, is a handicap, rather than a benefit, to the best national progress, for the reason that intercourse with other localities offers opportunity for distinct stimulus through contact with new ideas. To be of maximum value to a nation, therefore, the physical position must afford ready accessibility for peaceful intercourse. For this reason, the character and quality of the national boundaries are in many ways factors of prime importance in the whole course of economic progress and national welfare.

Britain again affords an excellent example. So placed that her doors were effectually closed to serious interference with her internal development, Britain could, however, from her station opposite the convergence of the great European highways of communication, profit readily from intimate contact with continental ideas. History shows that the people of Britain were not the pioneers in commerce, in exploration and discovery, in colonization, or in the development of manufactures: all important lines of activity wherein Britain excelled in later years, and whence came much of the importance of the British nation in the affairs of the world. In each ease Britain got the stimulus through her accessibility for peaceful association with continental neighbors, and in each case the superiority of the British position for continuity of internal evolution, readily enabled her to outstrip all others. This same quality of standing somewhat aloof offers a perfectly natural reason for the long-continued preeminence of British influence in the direction of international affairs among the European nations.

China, by contrast, is not to be regarded as a backward nation, because of some inherent lack of ability in her people, but rather as a nation long suffering from too great separation, and consequent lack of new ideas, in much the same way as a single individual, isolated, suffers from lack of stimulus. Japan, much smaller, both in area and in population, and much more readily accessible, shows in her recent rapid developments the effects of intercourse with, and stimulus from, the outside world. China may be expected to show similar results in the future as her greater barriers of isolation are overcome.

Accessibility by Sea.—Ready accessibility from the sea is more important than accessibility by land. It depends on a favorable combination of coast line, surface configuration back of the coast, and climate. Access from the sea means an open route between many nations: a route which is on the whole more easily travelled than the land for the peaceful intercourse of commercial relations, and more difficult for the movement of a hostile expedition. In this last fact are found the peculiar advantages enjoyed by a country possessing coast boundaries on all sides, like Britain. Without this common, easily travelled, highway, the leading European nations of to-day could not live on their present basis. Access by land alone, along the line of, or even at the convergence of, great natural land routes, such as were so important in the early days of Dutch activity, could not meet the modern demands in the exchange of bulky raw materials for the products of mechanical energy. A list of the countries with no access from the sea is a list of the less important countries of the world, as Bolivia, Switzerland, Servia, Abyssinia, Afghanistan and Thibet. Other countries with seacoasts, but coasts of unsatisfactory character, either because of the absence of good harbors, too great ruggedness of surface, or being ice bound, suffer almost to the same degree, as Peru, and Russia both in Europe and in Asia.

The significance of access from the sea is in one way clearly demonstrated by Russia. During more than two centuries the importance of securing a coast affording ready sea communication at all seasons has been the dominating influence in Russian aggression and territorial expansion. Siberia, with its vast resources, loses most of its value to Russian national development as long as satisfactory outlets to the sea are lacking. The Russo-Japanese war may be regarded as an incident in the long-continued effort to remedy this natural defect. It is not too much to say that the failure of Russia to secure a satisfactory coast and easy access to the common highway of the world accounts for much of the slowness of Russian national evolution, a slowness ordinarily, but wrongly, attributed to the fact that the Russians are of the Slavic, rather than of some other, branch of the Caucasic race.

On the other hand, mere possession of this advantage of a sea coast, avails little unless other conditions are such that it may be used to best profit, as illustrated by the results of the failure of France to utilize, at the dawn of modern commerce, her superior access to the coasts of both Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The reason for this failure must be sought in the weakness of the French position in other directions. For had France enjoyed the internal security and aloofness of England, this direct access to both great commercial highways, backed as it was by the greater size and larger population of the country, the better soil and climate, the natural facilities for internal communication by navigable rivers, and the situation of France with reference to the markets of Europe, would have made France, instead of England, the master of commerce and the leader of all Europe.

The significance of position, therefore, does not cease with the inception of national development, but makes its influence manifest throughout the national existence. In advantages derived from physical position, Britain stands close to the ideal, while Germany or Russia may be taken as representative of the opposite extreme.

Position Climatically. Extremes of Climate.—The seats of the early nations of the world, alike in the matter of separation, do not show the same degree of uniformity in climatic characteristics. Their positions climatically, however, do suggest that the extremes of climate are unfavorable to national development. The extremes of cold and of great aridity prohibit cultivation of the soil and thus immediately remove the essential basis of national development. Far northern peoples and desert tribes may utilize their meager opportunities with much greater skill than the most highly civilized man could, hence with respect to their opportunities they are in no sense backward or unprogressive. Yet the burden of satisfying human needs is so great that the people must remain relatively unprogressive and can not develop nationally. They represent a close parallel to the natives of some of the islands of the Pacific Ocean, where the absence of all metals in the coral reefs has prevented a people, highly skilled in many ways, from advancing into a metal age.

The extremes of heat and moisture, when combined, are conducive to the development of extravagant forms of both plant and animal life in superlative abundance. To conquer these rival forms of life and establish himself successfully on an agricultural basis is a difficult task even for the highly civilized man, with every modern appliance at his command. Primitive man, therefore, under these conditions finds himself generally unable to rise above the plane of the forest dweller. At the same time the small need for clothing and shelter, coupled with the ease of gratifying all physical wants from the bounty of nature, favors inaction which is always hostile to progress. For these reasons, national qualities and civilizations have not been developed among the primitive groups of the equatorial rainy sections.

Intermediate Types of Climate.—The intermediate climatic types are the only ones under which national evolution from the primitive group has taken place and where high stages of national civilizations have been developed. In these cases, the climatic conditions impose demands for food, clothing and shelter, beyond the possibilities of the unaided bounty of nature to supply, yet capable of satisfaction through a fair amount of human effort.

This idea of a climatic stimulus as a basis for human progress and the evolution of nations, is commonly expressed in the phrase "spur of the seasons." Too often, however, the spur of the seasons is assumed to mean a winter, or a period when low temperatures cause plant activities to cease temporarily, and therefore require, for the human being, not only the provision of warm clothing and substantial shelter, but also the accumulation of stores of food. This concept is clearly at variance with the fact that the earliest national developments, of Egypt and western Asia, were in the warmer latitudes, where frosty seasons are absent or not very marked, but where periods of dryness produce conditions in the plant world analogous to the effects of a winter. With the less rigorous, but no less effective, spur of a dry, rather than a cold, season, the fertile protected valleys of the Nile and of the Euphrates naturally developed nations earlier than those localities where the hard conditions of cold winters meant a longer struggle to rise above mere physical needs. The constant operation of this factor of degree of rigor in the off season is seen in the successive development of true nationality in the less favored localities, with the least favored advancing slowest of all. Thus the comparatively mild Mediterranean sections of Europe were logical successors of Egypt and western Asia, just as the milder maritime sections of western Europe were the logical predecessors of the more rigorous continental portions, so far as the time of national development was concerned. This climatic factor, therefore, adds another important reason for the slower national evolution in the open plains of north central and eastern Europe, as compared with Britain or France.

Variability of Climate.—Variability of climate may be either periodic, at regular or irregular intervals, or it may be in the nature of apparently permanent change in one direction. Such variation as the latter, whether the change be toward wet, dry, hot or cold, must greatly alter the course of any national evolution already started, as indicated by the evidences of permanent desiccation and consequent depopulation of important sections of the old world. Too much periodic variability of climate, that is, from year to year, or in the form of too long an off season, especially when it is marked by prolonged cold, are almost as great handicaps as the extremes of cold or heat and moisture combined. The unreliability of the Australian climate in practically all the habitable portions, has been, and apparently must be, one of the most important controlling factors in the entire economic development of that country. It is in effect a large scale example of the conditions which brought the Kansas boom, in this country, to a disastrous end two decades ago. The variability of the Indian climate from year to year imposes burdens on the people which hinder greatly the chances for reaching the higher stages in the evolution of India as a nation.

In the same way, too long an off season, particularly a long and cold winter, is a serious obstacle to the best development. Much of the agricultural population of Russia, for example, is forced into idleness through half the year by the length of the Russian winter. Inactivity in itself is hostile enough to progress, but when combined at the same time with the burden of providing against the extreme severities of the long winter, it brings much of Russia close to the border line of those places where the struggle to meet physical needs consumes every energy. For that reason, the character of the winter may be regarded as another factor constantly tending to retard Russian national evolution.

In many instances the value of the climatic variation from season to season, and especially the effect of the cold season, as a stimulus to regularity of effort is over-estimated. In this country, it is true, the cold winters are, to a certain extent an asset, in that during this period of the year great volumes of clear, dry, pure and invigorating air spread eastward from the northwestern highlands. From these "cold waves" comes stimulation, vigor and energy for many of the American people, yet the duration and intensity of the cold, especially in the more northerly sections, impose heavy burdens on a large part of the population. There is such a thing as too harsh a spur of the seasons. Many a Russian peasant is a chronically jaded creature largely on that account; while in this country, the poor are made poorer because of the increased need for woolen clothing, warmer houses and heavier diet. Though commonly passed over lightly, this question of climatic position is at all times of critical importance in the strength and welfare of nations.

Considered from the broad standpoint, the combined influence of physical position and situation climatically determines whether important national evolution may or may not have its inception and advance successfully under the modifying influences of the other physical factors.

Surface.—The configuration of the surface, to which alone so much significance is usually attached, is a consideration of decidedly secondary importance in the evolution of nations, for the reason that similar surfaces, in different positions, show radically unlike results. Thus a national evolution, may in an inhospitable position remain incapable of type of surface which, when well situated, appears most favorable to any real development. On the other hand, a less desirable type of surface in a more advantageous position may serve as the basis for a fairly important nation. The untouched, level Arctic tundras, and the progress of rugged Norway, may be cited as contrasting examples of the importance of position, both physically and climatically, in considering what the surface qualities are likely to induce.

Surface Area.—In the consideration of the surface and its features, the extent of the surface or the area of the national territory, is of primary significance. The influence of mere size varies in the different stages of evolution. During the first steps of national growth a small or restricted area, other things being favorable, quickly produces & condition of compactness, which is at once a source of strength and a material aid in the advancement of national qualities. The familiar description of Britain as "a tight little island" suggests the way in which British separation was supplemented by restriction of area in quickly welding diverse racial elements, especially in England, into a strong national unit. Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Rome, in fact all the earlier nations of the world benefited in varying degree from the same important asset of compactness in a restricted area. Russia, on the other hand, is a conspicuous example of the weakness resulting from an absence of that quality, since one of the great problems confronting Russian advance, as a nation, is the unification of her diverse human elements into a national whole. The perpetuation of the present lack of unity is directly traceable to the vastness of area and the consequent lack of common contact. Great size may also include, at the outset, such strongly opposed interests as to binder or seriously endanger temporarily the permanency of national unity. Thus in both the United States and in Australia the question of differences of climate between the warmer and the colder parts of the national territory introduced issues which threatened to split each nation.

The restriction of area which promotes an early development of national unity and strength is likely, however, to become no less a source of weakness in later stages of evolution. The question of making important, or of perpetuating, a nation hinges on the opportunities available for supplying its population with the primary needs of food, clothing and shelter, and whatever may be required in the shape of utensils and mechanical power. Of these, food, clothing, shelter and utensils depend on the soil and materials to be secured from the earth's crust. Mechanical power alone may be derived elsewhere than from the soil or earth's crust, and power plus human direction may to a certain extent be used to purchase the materials of food, clothing and shelter. But since the greater the area the greater are likely to be the opportunities for supplying all these needs directly, size itself, other things being equal, is always a significant measure of relative strength and permanency of national importance. The relative decline of Holland since 1650, from a position near world leadership to a rank far down in the scale of nations, must be attributed largely to the handicap of small size. Though Holland, as a nation, is now probably more prosperous than ever before in its history, its own physical limitations are too great for it to occupy a leading position among nations.

Here again, Britain serves as an instructive example of the variable effect of size at different times in its national life. Profiting materially in its early days from the fact that it was a "tight little island," that very restriction of area and natural opportunity is now forecasting the relative decline of Britain, no less than the same factor did for Holland two centuries ago. Britain contains at present a population of forty millions in an area less than, and not so richly endowed as, that of the three states of Indiana, Illinois and Iowa; a population living in large part through a process of exchange, which now depends on the comparatively limited supply of British coal, about two thirds as great as the amount available in Illinois alone. Unless some substitute power can be found as the coal is exhausted, this basis of exchange will no longer exist, and Britain must look forward to a future in which her population will be limited to the number which her small area can feed, clothe and shelter by direct return from her own soil. Making generous estimate of the possibilities of Britain in these respects, it does not appear that more than 75 per cent, of the area, or less than sixty million acres, are capable of any kind of profitable agricultural development.

At present Italy is practically maintaining a population equal to three fourth that of Great Britain from an area of about fifty million cultivated acres. Italy, however, has superior climatic advantages in her favor and the standard of living of her population would, on the whole, probably seem to the Englishman to be inferior to his own. Hence it appears safe to conclude that the area of Britain, without the equivalent of her present mechanical power, could not at best maintain any more than the existing population. Consequently, as other nations, more richly endowed, continue to increase in numbers and in power, the relative decline of Britain would become inevitable, through the changing value of the physical forces which have shaped her course. What applied to Holland in the seventeenth century applies to Britain to-day, and must eventually apply to all the nations of restricted size and no capability of securing relief through the utilization of larger contiguous areas.

Size, then, has exactly opposed values at the two ends of national evolution. The small size which affords strength to, and hastens the development of, the incipient nation, if unchanged, becomes subsequently the weak spot in the foundation on which it must stand. On the other hand, the size, which through its bigness, is likely to retard early development, may become later a source of tremendous strength. The nation with vast area, though perhaps slower in reaching its full development, has not only the basis for ultimate importance, but also the basis for permanent greatness in so far as anything may be regarded as permanent. Thus by virtue of their respective sizes, and what size means, the future course of the United States, of Russia, or of China, must be radically different from the future of Britain, of Germany or of France. The consideration of the area of a nation, therefore, must be carried further than the usual bare statement of so many square miles, and those who ignore the question of size fail to appreciate one of the most significant items in national evolution and strength.

Surface Configuration.—The configuration of the surface is a controlling factor which should perhaps be considered earlier in the discussion, since it has more or less of a modifying effect on all the preceding factors. It influences climate, favors or hinders the securing of necessities from the soil and the earth's crust, and has much to do with the important question of accessibility, especially by sea. Yet the direct influence of surface configuration by itself on national evolution is, on the whole, less readily traced than in the case of the factors already discussed, for the reason that surfaces practically identical in all important respects may show radically different conditions of development as the result of difference in position, climatic relations and area.

The extremes of configuration, like the extremes of climatic position, are unfavorable to the best national development. Either great diversity, or great monotony of surface are undesirable, but of the two the latter is preferable. Great diversity of surface features, in any except very large areas, may be regarded as the equivalent of prevailing ruggedness, and as a practical barrier to national development on any important scale. The Balkans district of Europe affords the best case in point; a region of decidely irregular contour, it is so completely broken up by more or less effective mountain barriers that ready communication and intimate contact between the people of one part and those of another are not possible. Under such conditions, local interests are greatly magnified, become dominant and the general growth of strong national attributes is unlikely. Great diversity of surface, then, may be said to favor a permanent establishment of the clannish or tribal organization, rather than to promote evolution toward the national state. The effect of surface configuration is shown also in the case of Britain, where the prevailing ruggedness of Scotland and Wales, served, it is true, as a stronghold of defence for refugee natives, but it did not afford the material strength to cope successfully with the more favored and less rugged England. It might even be said that surface features alone made inevitable the domination of all Britain by the people inhabiting the lowlands of England. The combined significance of area and configuration is shown in a contrast of England and Norway, the one, small, moderately diversified, and long important; the other, over twice as large, prevailingly rugged, and never important.

Too great uniformity of surface, amounting to monotony, means little variety of initiative, hence a tendency toward one-sided development. Where variety of surface is lacking, variety of initiative usually depends on one of two factors, first, on the chance location of useful materials in the earth's crust, and second, on sufficient size to produce critical differences in climatic features. In the case of the first factor, however, the discovery and exploitation of the useful materials is, in most cases, distinctly not favored by a uniform surface; and too great contrasts of climate may prove hostile to national solidarity.

When considered from the standpoint of mature nations, however. the extent of the uniform surface is in large degree the measure of national strength and permanence. Irregular or rugged surfaces, as compared with the uniformity of plains, are naturally less heavily cloaked with soil, and lose that soil much more readily if it is disturbed by cultivation. Furthermore, the rugged surface loses a much larger proportion of its total rainfall through run-off, and for that reason shows more quickly the undesirable effects of scanty precipitation. Hence the more uniform surface is more readily adapted to the production of the necessities of life and is at the same time capable of supplying larger quantities for each unit of area. Assuming, therefore, that the ultimate position of a nation depends mainly on its own ability to produce those things which come directly or indirectly from the soil, it may be said that the strength and permanency of a great nation lies mainly in its agricultural plains.

The ideal configuration of surface, judged with respect to the entire question of national evolution, would include enough diversity to stimulate variety in initiative, and at the same time, a sufficient extent of level area, to give permanent strength in supplying the primary wants of a large population. The United States may well be taken as the nearest approach to this ideal configuration. Estimated on this basis, the great nations of the future will be located on, and derive their strength from, the great plains areas of the world. For that reason one great nation may be expected to appear preeminent in the more favorably situated plains of each of the four major continents.

Productivity of the Soil and Climate.—The importance of the productivity of the soil and climate as one of the factors influencing national evolution has already been implied. Its further consideration, however, is necessary in order to indicate its variable application in the different stages of evolution. Meagerness of returns from a fair amount of human effort, or too great productivity with little or no regularity of effort, do not offer the fundamental conditions necessary for the development of nations, as indicated by the fact that no modern nation has risen to importance without having begun on an agricultural basis. No better evidence of that fact can be found than in the case of Britain and Germany, where to-day agriculture is decidedly secondary, but not very long ago was the main source of national strength. Yet however great importance the agricultural basis may be assumed to have as the foundation of national existence, it must be recognized in the study of individual nations, that beyond the early stages of evolution, the course of events, carrying the nation to the highest rank, may for a time reveal no significant control by the productivity of the soil in its own area.

The unrivaled British supremacy, in practically every respect, in the past century, the commercial and industrial conditions of Germany and of Japan at the present time, furnish examples of national development and importance out of proportion, both to the actual use and to the greatest possible productivity of the soil in each of the national areas mentioned. These cases may be taken as typical of a particular stage of development into which some of the nations of to-day have passed naturally, but which the younger nations of the present, as Argentine, Brazil or Canada, can only approach. The stage of development represented by Britain, Germany or Japan depends on the temporary operation of the sixth and seventh physical factors—the possession of potential energy and useful minerals. Later stages, as will be indicated, may very likely bring once more into prominence the influence of the productivity of the soil in the national territory itself.

Potential Energy.—Under the head of potential energy may be grouped all the natural means of developing mechanical power—coal, running water, wind and even the direct rays of the sun. modern civilization is inseparably associated with the use of two things dependent on potential energy in one form or another: first, the use of heat other than that received direct from the sun; and second, the use of machinery which requires mechanical power either for its making or in its operation. But since heat for any purpose may be secured from mechanical power through the medium of electricity, both needs, for machinery and for heat, hinge on the one question of some single form of potential energy. Coal until recently, at least, has been the one important form of potential energy, for the reason that it furnishes heat directly or supplies power through the medium of steam. These qualities coupled with the possibility of transporting the latent energy to the desired place of utilization, have enabled coal to play perhaps a disproportionate part in directing national development, but its effect may, with some qualification, be taken as indicating the part which mechanical energy, in any form, can play in national evolution.

The value of mechanical power to a nation is best expressed in terms of its equivalent in either animal or man power. One horse power, mechanical energy, may be taken as the equivalent of the power of two average horses or of ten men for a working day of ten hours. A modern steam engine requires not over 2 to 5 pounds of coal for the development of one horse power per hour—a gas engine requires even less—hence a very conservative calculation gives fifty horse power for a working day of ten hours from a single ton of coal. In other words, a ton of coal does in a day the work of at least one hundred horses or of five hundred men. Therefore, one man engaged in mining two tons of coal per day, is producing through the expenditure of one man-power the energy equivalent of a population of 1,000 working men. Calculated on the same basis of values, 80,000 tons of coal produced daily for 300 working days in the year—24,000,000 tons annually—are, in the power they afford, equal to the full energy of a working force greater than the entire population of Britain. The total British coal production at present—290,000,000 tons yearly—consequently represents a working capacity more than ten times that of the whole population in terms of men, while the annual export of coal from Britain is equal to the emigration of ten million laborers.

Every horse power of available mechanical energy, therefore, should be estimated, not simply as a form of power permitting the use of appliances and processes which neither human nor animal energy could make available, but also as so many added members of the population which do not make any increased demands on the soil for food and the materials of clothing or shelter. The possession of this resource in abundance has, in the past, permitted nations to develop at a rate, or to an extent, which bore no relation to their ability to supply locally the necessities of life: the development instead being on a basis of exchanging the products of their mechanical power for the materials of food and clothing. This existence on a basis of exchange, however, involves the operation of two fundamental conditions. First, the important utilization of power does not appear until national development has passed beyond the stage of scanty population, hence it is logically one of the later stages of evolution. Second, the exchange depends on the existence of other national areas still in the early stages of evolution, not taxing their opportunities to their full capacity, and consequently capable of yielding a surplus of the fundamental necessities of life.

Such excessive development through the operation of one physical factor which temporarily overtops all others, as has resulted from the use of coal in Germany, for example, however strong the nation may appear at the time, is not a safe measure of the true strength and permanence of the nation. It may subsequently be greatly reduced by the natural changing of conditions, for unless the nation possesses in itself some ready substitute for coal when its supply is exhausted, as it inevitably will be exhausted comparatively soon for most nations, that nation must look forward to a future in which there are likely to be necessary certain sharp readjustments, with respect to its ability to take care of its own people. Moreover, as the nations now producing a surplus of necessities continue to advance in their own evolution and trend toward the maximum of their own capacity to feed, clothe and shelter a population, other readjustments, of perhaps even more sweeping character, may be necessary in those places where extensive growth has been based primarily on the means of generating mechanical energy. The stage wherein national importance in industry, commerce and population is derived from resources of coal is in any case transitory, and represents only one step in the gradual adjustment of all nations to their physical surroundings.

Water power in abundance, on the contrary, may be regarded as an indication of permanent national importance so far as the advantages derived from mechanical energy are concerned; for the reason that, with intelligent management, the power from running water may be depended on as long as rain continues to fall. Here, however, it is necessary to recall the significance of climatic position, size and surface configuration, since available water power, except in special cases, is the component result of the total quantity of water falling on the land and the proportion of it which runs off through the streams, determined largely by the configuration of the surface. Under the accepted desirable conditions of medium and reliable climatic values, the rainfall on any considerable area would be adequate and sufficiently uniform with respect to the supply in the different seasons of the year. Hence, size of the area and configuration of the surface take on added importance, in that they largely determine the possibilities of water-power development. Both small areas and monotonous uniformity of surface become less desirable, for the reason that in flat regions the fall of the rivers and the condition of their banks do not favor ready or extensive power development; and a small area, whatever its surface, means small actual quantity of water falling on it. Consequently the moderate degree of surface diversity is not simply more desirable through its relation to variety of initiative, but, because of its relation to water power, may be regarded as second in importance only to the conditions permitting agriculture.

For illustration Britain again serves the purpose best, since Britain has for two centuries stood at the forefront of the nations of the world, has developed in a restricted area a large population existing on the basis of exchanging the products of power for the necessities of life, and has, in that development, depended for power almost entirely on a limited supply of coal. Furthermore, Britain is confronted by the realization that the time is not far distant when that coal supply will begin to fail. The question is, therefore, will the small area of Britain with its medium rainfall and moderate diversity of surface offer the means of replacing the steam power now used by power from running water, and through that water power make it possible to maintain, on the existing basis, a population which in the past has increased at the rate of nearly half a million annually? Britain must do that or else be confronted by one of two conditions: either a static population, such as France has exhibited in recent decades; or a declining population due to inability any longer to support the number.

From the standpoint of the power of running water available on the land, the question for Britain probably must be answered in the negative. For example, the average yearly rainfall for Britain, as a whole, is distinctly less than 36 inches; but accepting that figure, for the sake of generosity, and estimating the surface run-off at the high value of 40 per cent, of the total fall, the gross discharge through surface drainage per year from the entire area of Britain is equal only to about one fifth the annual discharge of the Mississippi River system. All of the streams in Britain have the major part of their courses where the land is well under an altitude of 1,000, an elevation less than that of most of the Mississippi drainage basin. In the streams of the latter system the available water power has been estimated to be as high as 25,000,000 horse power. Calculated on the same basis, and in terms of their total discharge, the maximum power capacity of the British streams would not exceed 5,000,000 horse power, which, even if increased by 50 per cent., to give a generous estimate because of the shorter and more rapid descent of some of the British streams, falls far short of meeting the present British needs for mechanical energy. Hence, the dependence of Britain on her streams for power would mean not merely the inability to take care of an increasing population, but also an actual lessening of her ability to support, as at present, the numbers already existing.

This amount of power from streams, however, might be materially supplemented by the utilization of energy in the rise and fall of the ocean waters in the tides, the feasibility of which, under favorable conditions, has already been demonstrated at different places along the coast of this country. Here once more the position of Britain, its size and configuration, are decidedly favorable for the development and general use of such wave and tidal power; practically every locality in the kingdom being so situated as to be able to benefit from its use under the present condition of transmission of power over wires in the form of electricity. Estimates of the extent to which energy of the tides can be utilized for commercial purposes are still largely conjecture, since the need for turning to that source of power has not yet risen, but it seems not unlikely that the future of Britain is to depend, perhaps more closely than ever, on those same physical factors which have been so significant in practically every chapter in the past—her insular position, compactness and configuration of the coast.

Germany, on the other hand, confronted by the same problem of coal exhaustion, has a less hopeful outlook because of her different surroundings. Germany with a large and rapidly increasing population, already grown well beyond the food capacity of the national area, recognizes the necessity for providing for her increasing numbers by increasing commercial and industrial activity—all dependent on mechanical energy. In this respect Germany is less favored than Britain, not only as regards coal,[2] but also as regards water power to replace coal. Calculated on the basis of an average rainfall of 30 inches and a run-off of 40 per cent., both of which figures are high, the total discharge of the German rivers is not above one fourth that of the Mississippi system, as contrasted with one fifth for Britain. Greater ruggedness of surface marks a part of the German territory, but on the other hand, a very large part of the drainage area of the chief streams lies in the North German plain at altitudes under 600 feet, as unfavorable for power development as they have been favorable to river navigation. At the best, therefore, the German streams could hardly be counted on for more than 10,000,000 horse power, or again less than the amount of mechanical energy actually employed at present. The position of Germany offers little prospect for the use of power from the sea on any such important scale as seems feasible in Britain, and other likely sources of water power do not appear to afford the necessary relief. The future of Germany seems, therefore, to present a case in which the question of power and a stage of evolution arising from its use is likely to involve readjustments of a far-reaching character.

The contrast of these two examples, Britain and Germany, may serve to illustrate the extent to which permanent natural sources of mechanical power are factors for national strength, second in importance only to the capacity of the soil to produce food, since under favorable circumstances both afford a solid basis for large national development. It must be recognized, however, that in assuming a logical and permanent stage of evolution based on the possession of power alone, it is necessary to take into account the likelihood of there always being some areas so endowed as to produce surplus necessities of life* while they, or other areas, are unable from their own surroundings to satisfy their needs for the products of power.

Mineral Wealth.—The part played by one sort of mineral supply, in national development, has been indicated in the discussion of coal as a source of energy. With respect to the products of the mines in general and particularly if the term be liberally interpreted, to include all inorganic products of the earth, it may be said that they as a group represent one of the most important of physical factors in the modern progress of nations. Leaving coal entirely aside, it still remains true that the tremendous development of every phase of modern industry, from the cultivation of the soil to the most complex manufacturing process, has become possible only through the constantly increasing employment of mineral products. In fact, the critical difference between the nations of to-day and those of the past is found in the present dependence on materials won from the earth's crust; and it might almost be said that the nations rank to-day and will in the future continue to rank in direct proportion to the wealth of their mineral resources.

The question needs, however, to be considered carefully, since some minerals, popularly accorded great importance, are of distinctly minor significance in their effects on national evolution and strength, and especially since many mineral supplies must be considered as more or less temporary. Gold and silver must be classed among the mineral resources of lesser importance, whatever the merits of their relations to national currency systems, for the reason that they serve man's needs but little when compared with iron, copper or even humble clay products, and consequently their effect on national evolution has been correspondingly less. Gold and silver, it is true, induce men to live where they otherwise would not be found in any large numbers, as in the cold wastes of Alaska and the desert of Australia, but such populations are rarely important or stable. Gold and silver, moreover, when given in exchange, may help to buy necessities for a nation, but all the world's annual output of gold would barely pay for the raw cotton purchased from this country yearly. A nation like Germany, for example, poverty-stricken in its gold and silver deposits, has advanced greatly in every respect in the last forty years despite its necessity of buying food, during the same time that a country like Australia, one of the leading gold localities of the world, has had but unimportant progress. In practically no nation has the possession of the so-called precious metals been a leading, or permanent, determining factor in development.

On the other hand, the use of stone and clay products in providing shelter, and the use of clay or the baser metal products in providing utensils, tools and the like, have lifted a burden from the soil and allowed more of it to be devoted to the production of the materials of food and clothing. They have also at the same time, through their application in machinery, made it possible to produce food and clothing on a far greater scale.

The existing scale of dependence on mineral supplies, however, implies a rate of consumption likely to exhaust any but the richest or most extensive accumulations at no very distant date, considered in terms of historical periods. Hence, once more it appears that restricted area and their limited natural opportunities are of critical significance in the evolution of nations. For such areas as Britain and Germany, already populated to the limit of soil capacity, with little prospect of expanding their power resources, and not over-stocked with supplies of the minerals which are essential to so many branches of industry, the future holds little or no prospect for further sound national growth. Such nations are to be regarded as having reached practically the culminating point in their evolution, with their future likely to be marked by the gradual adjustment of economic conditions to the permanent opportunities for supporting a population.

Conclusions.—It appears, therefore, that three general conclusions may be drawn from this discussion. First, each nation should be regarded as following a regular life course of definite ages, in which it is influenced at all times by the combined effect of the geographical factors of its environment. Second, from the proper valuation of these controlling factors it is possible in any stage of evolution to measure the real strength of a nation. Finally, every nation will arrive eventually at a stage where its physical surroundings set a limit to further development, materially, though not necessarily in culture. It may be expected that each nation as it arrives at this later stage in its existence will exhibit the spectacle of a static population, and such a nation may be said to have attained its full maturity—that is a condition of practically perfect adjustment between national opportunity and national development. France may be taken as an example of a nation which has reached, earlier than any of the others, this stage of full maturity.

It may even be that in individual cases, as perhaps in Germany and Japan, the temporary operation of one or two factors, as coal and some useful minerals, have already induced a condition of development which will necessitate subsequent readjustments, even to the point of actual decadence. A parallel condition might also arise through the misuse and consequent destruction of those national opportunities which should be permanent, as through soil erosion and the destruction of water power by deforestation. Wherever, by one means or the other, the basis for maintaining the national existence is materially lessened or destroyed, the nation must be regarded as old, or physically decadent, having exhausted the forces with which it was naturally endowed, just as in the old age of the human being, it is the breaking down of the individual physical endowment which marks the decline.

This inevitable adjustment of the nations of the world to their environments seems to call for relative decadence, like that of Holland since 1650, on the part of many nations holding a more or less prominent place to-day, especially so in the case of those of small area and restricted opportunity: and a corresponding rise, both relative and absolute, in most of the large units, which, in most cases, are still in the early, or young stages of their national evolution. In this latter group Russia, perhaps, is the most striking example, while the United States is somewhat farther along toward the stage of maturity: it might be described as having passed its adolescence and beginning to feel its strength, while Russia has still to reach the adolescent stage of youth. Thus the great nation of to-day may in one case be the great nation of to-morrow; in another case not. The real measure of fitness lies in the relation of each individual nation to the physical factors by which its evolution and its strength are determined.

  1. For any individual nation at some particular stage in its evolution any one of these factors may stand first in importance, as noted later.
  2. The actual quantity is estimated to be a little larger in Germany, but so much of it is lignite that it has distinctly less industrial value.