It would seem that, owing to the spread of education, of speedier locomotion, of greater intercourse between different nations, to the widening of literature, and chiefly to the decrease of danger from other nations, the fraud of patriotism ought daily to become more difficult and at length impossible to practice.
But the truth is that this same spread of general external education, facilitated locomotion, intercourse, and widening of literature, being captured by, and constantly more and more under the control of Government, confers on the latter such possibilities of exciting a feeling of mutual animosity between nations, that in degree as the uselessness and harmfulness of patriotism has become manifest, so also has increased the power of the Government and ruling class to excite patriotism among the people.
The difference between that which was and that which is consists solely in the fact that now a much larger number of men participate in the advantages which patriotism confers on the upper classes, hence a much larger number of men are employed in spreading and sustaining this astounding superstition.
The more difficult the Government finds it to retain its power, the more numerous are the men who share it.
In former times a small band of rulers held the reins of power, emperors, kings, dukes, their soldiers and assistants; whereas now the power and its profits are shared not alone by Government officials and by the clergy, but by capitalists—great and small, landowners, bankers, members of Parliament, professors, village officials, men of science, and even artists, but particularly by authors and journalists.
And all these people, consciously, or unconsciously, spread the deceit of patriotism, which is indispensable to them if the profits of their position are to be preserved.
And the fraud, thanks to the means for its propagation, and to the participation in it of a much larger number of people, having become more powerful, is continued so successfully, that, notwithstanding the increased difficulty of deceiving, the extent to which the people are deceived is the same as ever.
A hundred years ago the uneducated classes, who had no idea of what their Government was composed, or by what nations they were surrounded, blindly obeyed those local Government officials and nobles by whom they were enslaved, and it was sufficient for the Government, by bribes and rewards, to remain on good terms with these nobles and officials, in order to squeeze from the people all that was required.
Whereas now, when the people can, for the most part, read, know more or less of what their Government is composed, and what nations surround them; when working men constantly and easily move from place to place, bringing back information of what is happening in the world, the simple demand that the orders of the Government must be accomplished is not sufficient; it is needful as well to cloud those true ideas about life which the people have, and to inculcate unnatural ideas as to the condition of their existence, and the relationship to it of other nations.
And so, thanks to the development of literature, reading and the facilities of travel, Governments which have their agents everywhere, by means of statutes, sermons, schools, and the Press, inculcate everywhere upon the people the most savage and erroneous ideas as to their utility, the relationship of nations, their quatities and intentions; and the people, so crushed by labor that they have neither the time nor the power to deliberate upon and test the truth of the ideas which are forced upon them or of demands made upon them in the name of their welfare, put themselves unmurmuringly under the yoke.
Whereas working men who have freed themselves from unremitting labor and become educated, and who have therefore, it might be supposed, the power of seeing through the fraud which is practiced upon them are subjected to such a coercion of threats, bribes, and all the hypnotic influence of Governments, that, almost without exception, they desert to the side of the Government, and by entering some well paid and profitable employment as priest, schoolmaster, or other official, become participators in spreading the deceit which is destroying their comrades.
It is as though nets were laid at the entrances to education, in which those who, by some means or other, escape from the masses bowed down by labor are inevitably caught.
At first, when one understands the cruelty of all this deceit, one feels indignant in spite of oneself against those who from personal ambition or greedy advantage propagate this cruel fraud which destroys the souls as well as the bodies of men, and one feels inclined to accuse them of a sly craftiness; but the fact is that they are deceitful with no wish to deceive, but because they cannot be otherwise. And they deceive, not as Machiavelli, but with no consciousness of their deceit, and usually with the naive assurance r lat they are doing something excellent and elevated, a view in which they are persistently encouraged by the sympathy and approval of all who surround them.
It is true that, being dimly aware that on this fraud is founded their power and advantageous position, they are unconsciously drawn toward it; but their action is not based on any desire to delude the people, but because they believe it to be of service to the people.
Thus emperors, kings, and their ministers, with all their coronations, manœuvres, reviews, visiting each other, dressing up in various uniforms, going from place to place, and deliberating with serious faces as to how they may keep peace between nations supposed to be inimical to each other—nations who would never dream of quarreling—feel quite sure that what they are doing is very reasonable and useful.
In the same way the various ministers, diplomatists, and officials—dressed up in uniforms, with all sorts of ribbons and crosses, writing and docketing with great care, upon the best paper, their hazy, involved, altogether needless communications, advice, projects—are quite assured that, without their activity, the entire existence of nations wouldl halt or become deranged.
In the same manner miitary men, got up in ridiculous costumes, arguing seriously with what rifle or cannon men can be most expeditiously destroyed, are quite certain that their field days and reviews are most important and essential to the people.
So likewise the priests, journalists, writers of patriotic songs and class books, who preach patriotism and receive liberal remuneration, are equally satisfied.
And no doubt the organizers of festivities—like the Franco-Russian fetes—are sincerely affected while pronouncing their patriotic speeches and toasts.
All these people do what they are doing unconsciously, because they must; all their life being founded upon deceit, and because they know not how to do anything else: and coincidently these same acts call forth the sympathy and approbation of all those people among whom they are done. More than this, being all linked together, they approve and justify each other's acts—emperor and king those of the soldiers, officials and clergy ; and these latter in their turn the acts of emperor and king. The populace, and especially the town populace, seeing nothing comprehensible in what is being done by all these men, unwittingly ascribe to them a special, almost a supernatural, significance.
The people see, for instance, that a triumphal arch is being erected; that men bedeck themselves with crowns, uniforms, robes; that fireworks are let off, cannons fired, bells rung, regiments paraded with their bands; that papers, telegrams, messengers fly from place to place; and being unable to believe that all this is being done (as is indeed the case) without the slightest necessity, attribute to it all a special mysterious significance, and gaze with shouts and hilarity or with silent awe. And reciprocally, this hilarity or silent awe confirms the assurance of those people who are responsible for all these foolish deeds.
So, for instance, not long ago, Wilhelm II. ordered a new throne for himself, with some special kind of ornamentation, and having dressed up in a white uniform, with a cuirass, tight breeches, and a helmet with a bird on the top, and enveloped himself in a red mantle, came out to his snbjects, and sat down on this new throne, perfectly assured that his act was most necessary and important; and his subjects not only saw nothing ridiculous in it, but thought the sight most imposing.
For some time the power of the Government over the people has not been maintained by force, as was the case when one nation conquered another and ruled it by force of arms, or when the rulers of an unarmed people had separate legions of janissaries or guards.
The power of the Government has for some time been maintained by what is termed public opinion.
A public opinion exists that patriotism is a fine moral sentiment, and that it is right and our duty to regard one's own nation, one's own State as the best in the world; and flowing naturally from this public opinion is another, namely, that it is right and our duty to acquiesce in the control of a Government over ourselves, to subordinate ourselves to it, to serve in the army and submit ourselves to discipline, to give our earnings to the Government in the form of taxes, to submit to the decisions of the law-courts, and to consider the edicts of the Government as divinely right. And when such public opinion exists, a strong govermental power is formed possessing milliards of money, an organized mechanism of administration, the postal service, telegraph, telephone, army, law-courts, police, submissive clergy schools, even the Press; and this power maintains in the people the public opinion which it finds necessary to its own existence.
The power of the Government is maintained by public opinion, and with this power the Government, by means of its organs—its officials, law-courts, schools, churches, even the Press—can always maintain the public opinion which they need. Public opinion constitutes the power, and the power public opinion. And there appears to be no escape from this position.
Nor indeed would there be, if public opinion were something fixed, unchangeable, and Governments able to manufacture the exact opinion they were in need of.
But, fortunately, such is not the case; and public opinion is not, to begin with, permanent, unchangeable, stationary; but, on the contrary, constantly changing, moving with the advance of humanity; and public opinion not only cannot be produced at will by a Government, but is that which produces Governments and gives them power, or deprives them of it.
It may seem that public opinion is at present stationary, and the same to-day as it was ten years ago; that in relation to certain questions it merely fluctuates, but returns again—as when it replaces a monarchy with a republic, and then the republic with a monarchy; but it has only that appearance when we examine merely the external manifestation of public opinion which is produced artificially by the Government.
But we need only take public opinion in its relation to the life of mankind to see that, as with the day or the year, it is never stagnant, but always proceeds along the way by which all humanity advances, as, notwithstanding delays and hesitations, the spring advances by the same path as the sun.
So that, although, judging from external appearances, the position of European nations to-day is almost as it was fifty years ago, the relationship of the nations to these appearances is quite different from what it was then.
Though the same rulers, troops, taxes, luxury and poverty, Catholicism, orthodoxy, Lutheranism, exist now as then; in former times these existed because demanded by public opinion, whereas now they exist only because the Governments artificially maintain what was once a vital public opinion.
If we as seldom remark this movement of public opinion as we notice the movement of water in a river when descending ourselves with the current, this is because the imperceptible changes in public opinion influence ourselves as well.
Constant and persistent movement is in the nature of public opinion. If it appears to us to be stationary it is because there are always some who have utilized a certain phase of public opinion for their own profit, and who, in consequence, use every effort to give it an appearance of permanence, and to conceal the manifestations of real opinion, which is already alive, though not yet perfectly expressed, in the consciousness of men. And such people, who adhere to the outworn opinion and conceal the new one, are at the present time those who compose Governments and ruling classes, and who preach patriotism as an indispensable condition of human life.
The means which these people can control are immense; but as public opinion is constantly pouring in upon them their efforts must in the end be in vain: the old falls into decrepitude, the new grows.
The longer the manifestations of nascent public opinion is restrained, the more it accumulates, the more energetically will it burst forth.
Governments and ruling classes try with all their strength to conserve that old public opinion of patriotism upon which their power rests, and to smother the expression of the new, which would destroy it.
But to preserve the old and to check the new is possible only up to a certain point; just as, only to a certain extent, is it possible to check running water with a dam.
However much Governments may try to arouse in the people a public opinion, of the past unnatural to them, as to the merit and virtue of patriotism, those of our day believe in patriotism no longer, but espouse more and more the solidarity and brotherhood of nations.
Patriotism does not promise any future that is not terrible, but the brotherhood of nations represents an ideal which is becoming ever more intelligible and more desirable to humanity. Hence the progress of mankind from the old outworn opinion to the new must inevitably take place. This progression is as inevitable as the falling in the spring of the last dry leaves and the appearance of the new from swollen buds.
And the longer this transition is delayed, the more inevitable it becomes, and the more evident its necessity.
And indeed, one has only to remember what we profess, both as Christians and merely as men of our day, those fundamental moralities by which we are directed in our social, family, and personal existence, and the position in which we place ourselves in the name of patriotism, in order to see what a degree of contradiction we have placed between our conscience and what, thanks to an energetic Government influence in this direction, we regard as our public opinion.
One has only thoughtfully to examine the most ordinary demands of patriotism, which are expected of us as the most simple and natural affair, in order to understand to what extent these requirements are at variance with that real public opinion which we already share. We all regard ourselves as free, educated humane men, or even as Christians, and yet we are all in such a position that were Wilhelm to-morrow to become offended by Alexander, or Mr. N. or M. to write a lively article on the Eastern Question, or Prince So-and-So to plunder some Bulgarians or Servians, or some Queen or Empress to be put out by something or other, all we educated humane Christians must go and kill people of whom we have no knowledge, and towards whom we are as amicably disposed as to the rest of the world.
And if such an event has not come to pass, it is owing, we are assured, to the love of peace which controls Alexander, or because Nicolas Alexandrovitch has married the grand-daughter of Victoria.
But if another happened to be in the room of Alexander, or if the disposition of Alexander himself were to alter, or if Nicolas Alexandrovitch had married Amalia instead of Alice, we should rush at each other like wild beasts, and rip up each other's bellies.
Such is the supposed public opinion of our time, and such arguments are coolly repeated in every Liberal and advanced organ of the Press.
If we, Christians for a thousand years, have not already cut each other's throats, it is merely because Alexander III. does not permit us to.
But this is awful!
No feats of heroism are needed to achieve the greatest and most important changes in the existence of humanity; neither the armament of millions of soldiers nor the construction of new roads and machines, nor the arrangement of exhibitions, nor the organization of workmen's unions, nor revolutions, nor barricades, nor explosions, not the perfection of aerial navigation; but a change in public opinion.
And to accomplish this change no exertions of the mind are needed, nor the refutation of anything in existence, nor the invention of any extraordinary novelty; it is only needful that we should not succumb to the erroneous, already defunct, public opinion of the past, which Governments have induced artificially; it is only needful that each individual should say what he really feels or thinks, or at least, that he should not say what he does not think.
And if only a small body of the people were to do so at once, of their own accord, outworn public opinion would fall off us of itself, and a new living real opinion would assert itself. And when public opinion should thus have changed without the slightest effort, the internal condition of men's lives which so torments them would change likewise of its own accord.
One is ashamed to say how little is needed for all men to be delivered from those calamities which now oppress them: it is only needful not to lie.
Let people only be superior to the falsehood which is instilled into them; let them decline to say what they neither feel nor think, and at once such a revolution of all the organization of our life will take place as could not be attained by all the efforts of revolutionists during centuries even were complete power within their hands.
Could people only believe that strength is not in force but in truth, could they only not shrink from it either in word or deed, not say what they do not think, not do what they regard as foolish and as wrong!
"But what is of so grave importance in shouting Long live France! or, Hurrah for some emperor, king, or conqueror?" Or, "Why is the writing of an article in defense of the Franco-Russian alliance, or of the war of tariffs, or in condemnation of Germans, Russians, or Englishmen, of such moment?" Or, "What is of such moment in attendance at some patriotic festivity, or in drinking the health and making a speech in favor of people whom one does not love, and with whom one has no business?" Or, "What is of such importance in admitting the use and excellence of treaties and alliances, or in keeping silence when one's own nation is belauded in one's hearing, and other nations abused and maligned; or when Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Lutheranism are bepraised; or some hero of war as Napoleon, Peter, Boulanger, or Skobeleff, is admired?"
All these things seem so unimportant. Yet in these ways which seem unimportant to us, in our reframing from them, in our proving, as far as we can, the unreasonableness that is apparent to us, in this is our chief, our irresistible might, of which that unconquerable force is composed which constitutes real genuine public opinion, that opinion which, while itself advancing, moves all humanity.
The Governments know this, and tremble before this force, and strive in every way they can to counteract or become possessed of it.
They know that strength is not in force, but in the action of the mind, and in its clear expression, and, therefore, they are more afraid of the expression of independent thought than of armies; hence they institute cenorships, bribe the Press, and monopolize the control of religion and of the schools. But the spiritual force which moves the world eludes them; it is neither in books nor in papers; it cannot be trapped, and is always free; it is in the depths of consciousness of mankind. The most powerful force of freedom which cannot be imprisoned is that which asserts itself in the soul of man when he is alone, and in the sole presence of himself reflects on the facts of the universe, and then naturally communicates his thoughts to wife, brother, friend, with all those with whom he comes in contract, and from whom he would regard it as sinful to conceal the truth.
No milliards of rubles, no millions of troops, no organization, wars, nor revolutions will produce what the simple expression of a free man may, on what he regards as just, independently of what exists or was instilled into him.
One free man will say with truth what he thinks and feels among thousands of men who by their acts and words attest exactly the opposite. It would seem that he who sincerely expressed his thought must remain alone, whereas it generally happens that everyone else, or the majority at least have been thinking and feeling the same things but without expressing them.
And that which yesterday was the novel opinion of one man, to-day becomes the general opinion of the majority.
And as soon as this opinion is established, immediately by imperceptible degrees, but beyond power of frustration, the conduct of mankind begins to alter.
Whereas, at present, every man, even if free, asks himself "What can I do alone against all this ocean of evil and deceit which overwhelms us? Why should I express my opinion? Why indeed possess one? It is better not to reflect on these misty and involved questions. Perhaps these contradictions are an inevitable condition of our existence. And why should I struggle alone with all the evil in the world? Is it not better to go with the stream which carries me along? If anything can be done, it must be done not alone but in company with others."
And leaving the most powerful of weapons—thought and its expression—which move the world, each man employs the weapon of social activity, not noticing that every social activity is based on the very foundations against which he is bound to fight, and that upon entering the social activity which exists in our world every man is obliged, if only in part, to deviate from the truth and to make concessions which destroy the force of the powerful weapon which should assist him in the struggle. It is as though a man, who was given a blade so marvelously keen that it would sever anything, should use its edge for driving in nails.
We all complain of the senseless order of life, which is at variance with our being, and yet we refuse to use the unique and powerful weapon within our hands—the consciousness of truth and its expression; but on the contrary, under the pretext of struggling with evil, we destroy the weapon, and sacrifice it to the exigencies of an imaginary conflict.
One man does not assert the truth which he knows, because he feels himself bound to the people with whom he is engaged; another, because the truth might deprive him of the profitable position by which he maintains his family; a third, because he desires to attain reputation and authority, and then use them in the service of mankind; a fourth, because he does not wish to destroy old sacred traditions; a fifth, because he has no desire to offend people; a sixth, because the expression of the truth would arouse persecution, and disturb the excellent social activity to which he has devoted himself.
One serves as emperor, king, minister. Government official, or soldier, and assures himself and others that the deviation from truth indispensable to his condition is redeemed by the good he does. Another, in the office of a spiritual pastor, does not in the depth of his soul believe all he teaches, but permits the deviation from truth in view of the good he does. A third instructs men by means of literature, and notwithstanding the silence he must observe with regard to the whole truth, in order not to stir up the Government and society against himself, has no doubt as to the good he does. A fourth struggles resolutely with the existing order as revolutionist or anarchist, and is quite assured that the aims he pursues are so beneficial that the neglect of the truth, or even of the falsehood, by silence, indispensable to the success of his activity, does not destroy the utility of his work.
In order that the conditions of a life contrary to the consciousness of humanity should change and be replaced by one which is in accord with it, the outworn public opinion must be superseded by a new and living one.
And in order that the old outworn opinion should yield its place to the new living one, all who are conscious of the new requirements of existence should openly express them. And yet all those who are conscious of these new requirements, one in the name of one thing, and one in the name of another, not only pass them over in silence, but both by word and deed attest their exact opposites.
Only the truth and its expression can establish that new public opinion which will reform the ancient obsolete and pernicious order of life; and yet we not only do not express the truth we know, but often even distinctly give expression to what we ourselves regard as false.
If only free men would not rely on that which has no power, and is always fettered—upon external aids; but would trust in that which is always powerful and free—the truth and its expression!
If only men were boldly and clearly to express the truth already manifest to them of the brotherhood of all nations, and the crime of exclusive devotion to one's own people, that defunct, false public opinion would slough off of itself like a dried skin—and upon it depends the power of Governments, and all the evil produced by them—and the new public opinion would stand forth, which is even now but awaiting that dropping off of the old to put forth manifestly and powerfully its demand, and establish new forms of existence in conformity with the consciousness of mankind.
It is sufficient that people should understand that what is enunciated to them as public opinion, and maintained by such complex, energetic, and artificial means, is not public opinion but only the lifeless outcome of what was once public opinion; and what is more important, it is sufficient that they should have faith in themselves, that they should believe that what they are conscious of in the depths of their souls what in everyone is pressing for expression, and is only not expressed because it contradicts the public opinion supposed to exist, is the power which transforms the world, and to express which is the mission of mankind: it is sufficient to believe that truth is not what men talk of, but what is told by his own conscience, that is, by God—and at once the whole artificially maintained public opinion will disappear, and a new one be established in its place.
If people would only speak what they think, and not what they do not think, all the superstitions emanating from patriotism would at once drop away with the cruel feelings and violence founded upon it. The hatred and animosity between nations and peoples, fanned by their Governments, would cease, the extolling of military heroism, that is of murder, would be at an end, and, what is of most importance, respect for authorities, abandonment to them of the fruits of one's labor, and subordination to them would cease, since there is no other reason for them but patriotism.
And if merely this were to take place, that vast mass of feeble people who are controlled by externals would sway at once to the side of the new public opinion, which should reign henceforth in place of the old.
Let the Government keep the schools, Church, Press, its milliards of money and millions of armed men transformed into machines: all this apparently terrible organization of brute force is as nothing compared to the conciousness of truth, which surges in the soul of one man who knows the power of truth, which is communicated from him to a second and a third, as one candle lights an innumerable quantity of others.
The light needs only to be kindled and, like wax in the face of fire, this organization, which seems so powerful, will melt, and be consumed.
Only let men understand the vast power which is given them in the word which expresses truth; only let them refuse to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage; only let people use their power, and their rulers will not dare, as now, to threaten at their discretion to cast men into a trough of universal slaughter, nor dare before the eyes of a peaceful populace to hold reviews and manœuvres of disciplined murderers; nor would the Governments dare for their own profit and the advantage of their assistants to arrange and derange custom-house agreements, nor to collect from the people those millions of rubles which they distribute among their assistants, and by the help of which their murders are planned.
And such a transformation is not only possible, but it is as impossible that it should not be accomplished as that a lifeless, decaying tree should not fall, and a younger takes its place.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid," said Christ. And this peace is indeed among us, and depends on us for its attainment.
If only the hearts of individuals would not be troubled by the seductions with which they are hourly seduced, nor afraid of those imaginary terrors by which they are intimidated; if people only knew wherein their chiefest, conquering power consists—a peace which men have always desired, not the peace attainable by diplomatic negotiations, imperial or kingly progresses, dinners, speeches, fortresses, cannon, dynamite, and mélinite, by the exhaustion of the people under taxes, and the abduction from labor of the flower of the population; but the peace attainable by a voluntary profession of the truth by every man, would long ago have been established.
From The Daily Chronicle.
By permission of the Editor.
- ↑ Thus I am aware of the following protest which was made by Russian students and sent to Paris, but not accepted by any of the papers:—
"A Open Letter to French Students.
"A short time back a small body of Moscow law students, headed by its inspector, was bold enough to speak in the person of the university concerning the Toulon festivities.
"We, the representatives of the united students of various provinces, protest most emphatically against the pretensions of this body, and in substance against the interchange of greetings which has taken place between it and the French students. We likewise regard France with warm affection and deep respect, but we do so because we see in her a great nation which has always been in the past the introducter and announcer of the high ideals of freedom, equality, and brotherhood for all the world; and first also in the bold attempts to incorporate these high ideals into life. The better part of Russian youth has always been prepared to acclaim France as the foremost fighter for a loftier future for mankind. But we do not regard such festivities as those of Constadt and Toulon as appropriate occasions for such greetings.
"On the contrary, these receptions represent a sad, but, we hope, a temporary condition—the treason of France to its great historical role of the past. The country which at one time invited all the world to break the chains of despotism, and offered its fraternal aid to any nation which might revolt in order to obtain its freedom, now burns incense before the Russian Government, which systematically impedes the normal organic growth of a people's life, and relentlessly crushes without consideration every aspiration of Russian society towards light, freedom and independence. The Toulon manifestations are one act of a drama in the antagonism between France and Germany created by Bismarck and Napoleon III.
This antagonism keeps all Europe under arms, and gives the deciding vote in European affairs to Russian despotism, which has ever been the support of all that is arbitrary and absolute against freedom, and of tyrants against the tyrannized.
"A sense of pain for our country, of regret at the blindness of so great a portion of French society, these are the feelings called forth in us by these festivities.
"We are persuaded that the younger generation in France is not allured by national Chauvinism, and that, ready to struggle for that better social condition towards which humanity is advancing, it will know how to interpret present events, and what attitude to adopt towards them. We hope that our determined protest will find an echo in the hearts of the French youth.
"(Signed), The United Council of Twenty-four Federate Societies of Moscow Students."