The Larger Synthesis

We have seen that the essential process arising out of the growth of science and mechanism, and more particularly out of the still developing new facilities of locomotion and communication science has afforded, is the deliquescence of the social organizations of the past, and the synthesis of ampler and still ampler and more complicated and still more complicated social unities. The suggestion is powerful, the conclusion is hard to resist, that, through whatever disorders of danger and conflict, whatever centuries of misunderstanding and bloodshed, men may still have to pass, this process nevertheless aims finally, and will attain to the establishment of one world-state at peace within itself. In the economic sense, indeed, a world-state is already established. Even to-day we do all buy and sell in the same markets—albeit the owners of certain ancient rights levy their tolls here and there—and the Hindoo starves, the Italian feels the pinch, before the Germans or the English go short of bread. There is no real autonomy any more in the world, no simple right to an absolute independence such as formerly the Swiss could claim. The nations and boundaries of to-day do no more than mark claims to exemptions, privileges, and corners in the market—claims valid enough to those whose minds and souls are turned towards the past, but absurdities to those who look to the future as the end and justification of our present stresses. The claim to political liberty amounts, as a rule, to no more than the claim of a man to live in a parish without observing sanitary precautions or paying rates because he had an excellent great-grandfather. Against all these old isolations, these obsolescent particularisms, the forces of mechanical and scientific development fight, and fight irresistibly; and upon the general recognition of this conflict, upon the intelligence and courage with which its inflexible conditions are negotiated, depends very largely the amount of bloodshed and avoidable misery the coming years will hold.

The final attainment of this great synthesis, like the social deliquescence and reconstruction dealt with in the earlier of these anticipations, has an air of being a process independent of any collective or conscious will in man, as being the expression of a greater Will; it is working now, and may work out to its end vastly, and yet at times almost imperceptibly, as some huge secular movement in Nature, the raising of a continent, the crumbling of a mountain-chain, goes on to its appointed culmination. Or one may compare the process to a net that has surrounded, and that is drawn continually closer and closer upon, a great and varied multitude of men. We may cherish animosities, we may declare imperishable distances, we may plot and counter-plot, make war and "fight to a finish;" the net tightens for all that.

Already the need of some synthesis at least ampler than existing national organizations is so apparent in the world, that at least five spacious movements of coalescence exist to-day; there is the movement called Anglo-Saxonism, the allied but finally very different movement of British Imperialism, the Pan-Germanic movement, Pan-Slavism, and the conception of a great union of the "Latin" peoples. Under the outrageous treatment of the white peoples an idea of unifying the "Yellow" peoples is pretty certain to become audibly and visibly operative before many years. These are all deliberate and justifiable suggestions, and they all aim to sacrifice minor differences in order to link like to like in greater matters, and so secure, if not physical predominance in the world, at least an effective defensive strength for their racial, moral, customary, or linguistic differences against the aggressions of other possible coalescences. But these syntheses or other similar synthetic conceptions, if they do not contrive to establish a rational social unity by sanely negotiated unions, will be forced to fight for physical predominance in the world. The whole trend of forces in the world is against the preservation of local social systems however greatly and spaciously conceived. Yet it is quite possible that several or all of the cultures that will arise out of the development of these Pan-this-and-that movements may in many of their features survive, as the culture of the Jews has survived, political obliteration, and may disseminate themselves, as the Jewish system has disseminated itself, over the whole world-city. Unity by no means involves homogeneity. The greater the social organism the more complex and varied its parts, the more intricate and varied the interplay of culture and breed and character within it.

It is doubtful if either the Latin or the Pan-Slavic idea contains the promise of any great political unification. The elements of the Latin synthesis are dispersed in South and Central America and about the Mediterranean basin in a way that offers no prospect of an economic unity between them. The best elements of the French people lie in the western portion of what must become the greatest urban region of the Old World, the Rhine-Netherlandish region; the interests of North Italy draw that region away from the Italy of Rome and the South towards the Swiss and South Germany, and the Spanish and Portuguese speaking halfbreeds of South America have not only their own coalescences to arrange, but they lie already under the political tutelage of the United States. Nowhere except in France and North Italy is there any prospect of such an intellectual and educational evolution as is necessary before a great scheme of unification can begin to take effect. And the difficulties in the way of the pan-Slavic dream are far graver. Its realization is enormously hampered by the division of its languages, and the fact that in the Bohemian language, in Polish and in Russian, there exist distinct literatures, almost equally splendid in achievement, but equally insufficient in quantity and range to establish a claim to replace all other Slavonic dialects. Russia, which should form the central mass of this synthesis, stagnates, relatively to the Western states, under the rule of reactionary intelligences; it does not develop, and does not seem likely to develop, the merest beginnings of that great educated middle class, with which the future so enormously rests. The Russia of to-day is indeed very little more than a vast breeding-ground for an illiterate peasantry, and the forecasts of its future greatness entirely ignore that dwindling significance of mere numbers in warfare which is the clear and necessary consequence of mechanical advance. To a large extent, I believe, the Western Slavs will follow the Prussians and Lithuanians, and be incorporated in the urbanization of Western Europe, and the remoter portions of Russia seem destined to become—are indeed becoming—Abyss, a wretched and disorderly Abyss that will not even be formidable to the armed and disciplined peoples of the new civilization, the last quarter of the earth, perhaps, where a barbaric or absentee nobility will shadow the squalid and unhappy destinies of a multitude of hopeless and unmeaning lives.

To a certain extent, Russia may play the part of a vaster Ireland, in her failure to keep pace with the educational and economic progress of nations which have come into economic unity with her. She will be an Ireland without emigration, a place for famines. And while Russia delays to develop anything but a fecund orthodoxy and this simple peasant life, the grooves and channels are growing ever deeper along which the currents of trade, of intellectual and moral stimulus, must presently flow towards the West. I see no region where anything like the comparatively dense urban regions that are likely to arise about the Rhineland and over the eastern states of America, for example, can develop in Russia. With railways planned boldly, it would have been possible, it might still be possible, to make about Odessa a parallel to Chicago, but the existing railways run about Odessa as though Asia were unknown; and when at last the commercial awakening of what is now the Turkish Empire comes, the railway lines will probably run, not north or south, but from the urban region of the more scientific central Europeans down to Constantinople. The long-route land communications in the future will become continually more swift and efficient than Baltic navigation, and it is unlikely, therefore, that St. Petersburg has any great possibilities of growth. It was founded by a man whose idea of the course of trade and civilization was the sea wholly and solely, and in the future the sea must necessarily become more and more a last resort. With its spacious prospects, its architectural magnificence, its political quality, its desertion by the new commerce, and its terrible peasant hinterland, it may come about that a striking analogy between St. Petersburg and Dublin will finally appear.

So much for the Pan-Slavic synthesis. It seems improbable that it can prevail against the forces that make for the linguistic and economic annexation of the greater part of European Russia and of the minor Slavonic masses, to the great Western European urban region.

The political centre of gravity of Russia, in its resistance to these economic movements, is palpably shifting eastward even to-day, but that carries it away from the Central European synthesis only towards the vastly more enormous attracting centre of China. Politically the Russian Government may come to dominate China in the coming decades, but the reality beneath any such formal predominance will be the absorption of Russia beyond the range of the European pull by the synthesis of Eastern Asia. Neither the Russian literature nor the Russian language and writing, nor the Russian civilization as a whole have the qualities to make them irresistible to the energetic and intelligent millions of the far East. The chances seem altogether against the existence of a great Slavonic power in the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century. They seem, at the first glance, to lie just as heavily in favour of an aggressive Pan-Germanic power struggling towards a great and commanding position athwart Central Europe and Western Asia, and turning itself at last upon the defeated Slavonic disorder. There can be no doubt that at present the Germans, with the doubtful exception of the United States, have the most efficient middle class in the world, their rapid economic progress is to a very large extent, indeed, a triumph of intelligence, and their political and probably their military and naval services are still conducted with a capacity and breadth of view that find no parallel in the world. But the very efficiency of the German as a German to-day, and the habits and traditions of victory he has accumulated for nearly forty years, may prove in the end a very doubtful blessing to Europe as a whole, or even to his own grandchildren. Geographical contours, economic forces, the trend of invention and social development, point to a unification of all Western Europe, but they certainly do not point to its Germanization. I have already given reasons for anticipating that the French language may not only hold its own, but prevail against German in Western Europe. And there are certain other obstacles in the way even of the union of indisputable Germans. One element in Germany's present efficiency must become more and more of an encumbrance as the years pass. The Germanic idea is deeply interwoven with the traditional Empire and with the martinet methods of the Prussian monarchy. The intellectual development of the Germans is defined to a very large extent by a court-directed officialdom. In many things that court is still inspired by the noble traditions of education and discipline that come from the days of German adversity, and the predominance of the Imperial will does, no doubt, give a unity of purpose to German policy and action that adds greatly to its efficacy. But for a capable ruler, even more than for a radiantly stupid monarch, the price a nation must finally pay is heavy. Most energetic and capable people are a little intolerant of unsympathetic capacity, are apt on the under side of their egotism to be jealous, assertive, and aggressive. In the present Empire of Germany there are no other great figures to balance the Imperial personage, and I do not see how other great figures are likely to arise. A great number of fine and capable persons must be failing to develop, failing to tell, under the shadow of this too prepotent monarchy. There are certain limiting restrictions imposed upon Germans through the Imperial activity, that must finally be bad for the intellectual atmosphere which is Germany's ultimate strength. For example, the Emperor professes a violent and grotesque Christianity with a ferocious pro-Teutonic Father and a negligible Son, and the public mind is warped into conformity with the finally impossible cant of this eccentric creed. His Imperial Majesty's disposition to regard criticism as hostility stifles the public thought of Germany. He interferes in university affairs and in literary and artistic matters with a quite remarkable confidence and incalculable consequences. The inertia of a century carries him and his Germany onward from success to success, but for all that one may doubt whether the extraordinary intellectuality that distinguished the German atmosphere in the early years of the century, and in which such men as Blumenthal and Moltke grew to greatness, in which Germany grew to greatness, is not steadily fading in the heat and blaze of the Imperial sunshine. Discipline and education have carried Germany far; they are essential things, but an equally essential need for the coming time is a free play for men of initiative and imagination. Is Germany to her utmost possibility making capable men? That, after all, is the vital question, and not whether her policy is wise or foolish, or her commercial development inflated or sound. Or is Germany doing no more than cash the promises of those earlier days?

After all, I do not see that she is in a greatly stronger position than was France in the early sixties, and, indeed, in many respects her present predominance is curiously analogous to that of the French Empire in those years. Death at any time may end the career of the present ruler of Germany—there is no certain insurance of one single life. This withdrawal would leave Germany organized entirely with reference to a Court, and there is no trustworthy guarantee that the succeeding Royal Personality may not be something infinitely more vain and aggressive, or something weakly self-indulgent or unpatriotic and morally indifferent. Much has been done in the past of Germany, the infinitely less exacting past, by means of the tutor, the Chamberlain, the Chancellor, the wide-seeing power beyond the throne, who very unselfishly intrigues his monarch in the way that he should go. But that sort of thing is remarkably like writing a letter by means of a pen held in lazy tongs instead of the hand. A very easily imagined series of accidents may place the destinies of Germany in such lazy tongs again. When that occasion comes, will the new class of capable men on which we have convinced ourselves in these anticipations the future depends—will it be ready for its enlarged responsibilities, or will the flower of its possible members be in prison for lèse majesté, or naturalized Englishmen or naturalized Americans or troublesome privates under officers of indisputably aristocratic birth, or well-broken labourers, won "back to the land," under the auspices of an Agrarian League?

In another way the intensely monarchical and aristocratic organization of the German Empire will stand in the way of the political synthesis of greater Germany. Indispensable factors in that synthesis will be Holland and Switzerland—little, advantageously situated peoples, saturated with ideas of personal freedom. One can imagine a German Swiss, at any rate, merging himself in a great Pan-Germanic republican state, but to bow the knee to the luridly decorated God of His Imperial Majesty's Fathers will be an altogether more difficult exploit for a self-respecting man....

Moreover, before Germany can unify to the East she must fight the Russian, and to unify to the West she must fight the French and perhaps the English, and she may have to fight a combination of these powers. I think the military strength of France is enormously underrated. Upon this matter M. Bloch should be read. Indisputably the French were beaten in 1870, indisputably they have fallen behind in their long struggle to maintain themselves equal with the English on the sea, but neither of these things efface the future of the French. The disasters of 1870 were probably of the utmost benefit to the altogether too sanguine French imagination. They cleared the French mind of the delusion that personal Imperialism is the way to do the desirable thing, a delusion many Germans (and, it would seem, a few queer Englishmen and still queerer Americans) entertain. The French have done much to demonstrate the possibility of a stable military republic. They have disposed of crown and court, and held themselves in order for thirty good years; they have dissociated their national life from any form of religious profession; they have contrived a freedom of thought and writing that, in spite of much conceit to the contrary, is quite impossible among the English-speaking peoples. I find no reason to doubt the implication of M. Bloch that on land to-day the French are relatively far stronger than they were in 1870, that the evolution of military expedients has been all in favour of the French character and intelligence, and that even a single-handed war between France and Germany to-day might have a very different issue from that former struggle. In such a conflict it will be Germany, and not France, that will have pawned her strength to the English-speaking peoples on the high seas. And France will not fight alone. She will fight for Switzerland or Luxembourg, or the mouth of the Rhine. She will fight with the gravity of remembered humiliations, with the whole awakened Slav-race at the back of her antagonist, and very probably with the support of the English-speaking peoples.

It must be pointed out how strong seems the tendency of the German Empire to repeat the history of Holland upon a larger scale. While the Dutch poured out all their strength upon the seas, in a conflict with the English that at the utmost could give them only trade, they let the possibilities of a great Low German synthesis pass utterly out of being. (In those days Low Germany stretched to Arras and Douay.) They positively dragged the English into the number of their enemies. And to-day the Germans invade the sea with a threat and intention that will certainly create a countervailing American navy, fundamentally modify the policy of Great Britain, such as it is, and very possibly go far to effect the synthesis of the English-speaking peoples.

So involved, I do not see that the existing Germanic synthesis is likely to prevail in the close economic unity, the urban region that will arise in Western Europe. I imagine that the German Empire—that is, the organized expression of German aggression to-day—will be either shattered or weakened to the pitch of great compromises by a series of wars by land and sea; it will be forced to develop the autonomy of its rational middle class in the struggles that will render these compromises possible, and it will be finally not Imperial German ideas, but central European ideas possibly more akin to Swiss conceptions, a civilized republicanism finding its clearest expression in the French language, that will be established upon a bilingual basis throughout Western Europe, and increasingly predominant over the whole European mainland and the Mediterranean basin, as the twentieth century closes. The splendid dream of a Federal Europe, which opened the nineteenth century for France, may perhaps, after all, come to something like realization at the opening of the twenty-first. But just how long these things take, just how easily or violently they are brought about, depends, after all, entirely upon the rise in general intelligence in Europe. An ignorant, a merely trained or a merely cultured people, will not understand these coalescences, will fondle old animosities and stage hatreds, and for such a people there must needs be disaster, forcible conformities and war. Europe will have her Irelands as well as her Scotlands, her Irelands of unforgettable wrongs, kicking, squalling, bawling most desolatingly, for nothing that any one can understand. There will be great scope for the shareholding dilettanti, great opportunities for literary quacks, in "national" movements, language leagues, picturesque plotting, and the invention of such "national" costumes as the world has never seen. The cry of the little nations will go up to heaven, asserting the inalienable right of all little nations to sit down firmly in the middle of the high-road, in the midst of the thickening traffic, and with all their dear little toys about them, play and play—just as they used to play before the road had come....

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