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Extract from Nationalism and Culture
Chapter XV. Nationalism - a political religion
Fascism as the last result of nationalistic ideology. Its fight against the world of liberal ideas. Mussolini as opponent of the state. His political change. Giovanni gentile, the philosopher of Fascism. Nationalism as will for the State. The Fascist State idea and modern monopoly Capitalism. Contemporary economic barbarism. The state as destroyer of the community. Freedom as social cement. The education of modern massman in leading strings. The fight against personality, the Totalitarian State. Nationalism as a political revealed religion. Submersion of culture. Decline or rise?
Modern nationalism, which has found its fullest expression in Italian fascism and German National Socialism, is the mortal enemy of every liberal thought. The complete elimination of all libertarian thought is for its advocates the first preliminary to the "awakening of the nation," whereby in Germany, most strangely, liberalism and Marxism are thrown into one pota fact which, however, need no longer surprise us when we know how violently the heralds of the Third Reich deal with facts, ideas and persons. That Marxism, like democracy and nationalism, proceeds in its fundamental ideas from a collective concept, namely from the class, and for this very reason can have no relationship with liberalism, does not trouble its pious Hitlerite opponents of today in the least.
That modern nationalism in its extreme fanaticism for the state has no use for liberal ideas is readily understandable. Less clear is the assertion of its leaders that the modern state is thoroughly infected with liberal ideas and has for this reason lost its former political significance. The fact is that the political development of the last hundred and fifty years was not along the lines that liberalism had hoped for. The idea of reducing the functions of the state as much as possible and of limiting its sphere to a minimum has not been realised. The state's field of activity was not laid fallow; on the contrary, it was mightily extended and multiplied, and the so-called "liberal parties," which gradually got deeper and deeper into the current of democracy, have contributed abundantly to this end. In reality the state has not become liberalised but only democratised Its influence on the personal life of man has not been reduced; on the contrary it has steadily grown. There was a time when one could hold the opinion that the "sovereignty of the nation" was quite different from the sovereignty of the hereditary monarch and that, therefore, the power of the state would be awakened. While democracy was still fighting for recognition, such an opinion might have had a certain justification. But that time is long past; nothing has so confirmed the internal and external security of the state as the religious belief in the sovereignty of the nation, confirmed and sanctioned by the universal franchise. That this is also a religious concept of political nature is undeniable. Even Clemenceau when, innerly lonely and embittered, he reached the end of his career, expressed himself in this wise: "The popular vote is a toy of which one soon tires; but one must not say this aloud, for the people must have a religion. Sad it is. . . . Sad but true." 1
Liberalism was the outcry of the human personality against the all-levelling endeavours of absolute rule, and later against the extreme centralism and blind belief in the state of Jacobinism and its various democratic offshoots. In this sense it was still conceived by Mill, Buckle and Spencer. Even Mussolini, now the bitterest enemy of liberalism, was not so long ago one of the most passionate advocates of liberal ideas; he wrote:
The state, with its monstrous terrific machine, gives us a feeling of suffocation. The state was endurable for the individual as long as it was content to be soldier and policeman; today the state is everything, banker, usurer, gambling den proprietor, shipowner, procurer, insurance agent, postman, railroader, entrepreneur, teacher, professor, tobacco merchant, and countless other things in addition to its former functions of policeman, judge, jailer, and tax collector. The state, this Moloch of frightful countenance, receives everything, does everything, knows everything, and ruins everything. Every state function is a misfortune. State art is a misfortune, state ownership of shipping, state victualizingthe litany could be extended indefinitely.... If men had but a faint idea of the abyss toward which they are moving the number of suicides would increase, for we are approaching a complete destruction of human personality. The state is that frightful machine which swallows living men and spews them out again as dead ciphers. Human life has now no secrets, no intimacy, neither in material affairs nor in spiritual; all corners are smelled into, all movements measured; everyone is locked into his cell and numbered, just as in a prison. 2
"No man fights against freedom; at the most he fights against the freedom of others. Every kind of freedom has, therefore, always existed; sometimes as special privilege, at other times as general right."
Mussolini has in fact made of freedom a privilege for himself, and to do this has brought about the most brutal suppression of all others; for freedom which tries to replace man's responsibility towards his fellow men by the senseless dictum of authority is sheer wilfulness and a denial of all justice and all humanity. But even despotism needs to justify itself to the people whom it violates. To meet this necessity the state concept of fascism was born.
At the meeting in Berlin of the International Hegel Congress in 1931, Giovanni Gentile, the statephilosopher of fascist Italy, developed his conception of the nature of the state, culminating in the idea of the socalled "totalitarian state." Gentile hailed Hegel as the first and real founder of the state concept, and compared his state theory with the concept of the state as based on natural right and mutual agreement. The state, he maintained, is in the light of the latter concept merely the limit with which the natural and immediate freedom of the individual must be content if anything like a communal life is to be made possible. According to this doctrine the state is only a means for the improvement of man's condition, which in its natural origin is not maintainableis, therefore, something negative, a virtue born of necessity. Hegel overthrew this centuriesold doctrine. He was the first to regard the state as the highest form of the objective intellect. He was the first to understand that only in the state can truly ethical selfconsciousness be realised. But Gentile was not content with this endorsement of Hegel's state concept; he tried even to excel it. He criticised Hegel because, while he regarded the state as the highest form of the objective intellect, he still placed over the objective intellect the sphere of the absolute intellect; so that art, religion, philosophy, which according to Hegel belong to the latter intellectual realm, were in a certain conflict with the state. The modern state theory, Gentile held, should so work out these conflicts that the values of art, religion and philosophy would also be the property of the state. Only then could the state be regarded as the highest form of the human intellect, being founded not on separateness, but on the common, the eternal, will and the highest form of generality. 3
The purpose of the fascist state-philosopher is quite clear. If for Hegel the state was "God on earth," then Gentile would like to raise it to the position of the eternal and only God, who will endure no other gods above him, or even beside him, and absolutely dominates every field of human thought and human activity. This is the last word of a trend of political thought which in its abstract extreme loses sight of everything human and has concern for the individual only in so far as he serves as a sacrifice to be thrown into the glowing arms of the insatiable Moloch. Modern nationalism is only willtowardthestate-atanyprice and complete absorption of man in the higher ends of power. It is of the utmost significance that modern nationalism does not spring from love towards one's own country or one's own people. On the contrary, it has its roots in the ambitious plans of a minority lusting for dictatorship and determined to impose upon the people a certain form of the state, even though this be entirely contrary to the will of the majority. Blind belief in the magic power of a national dictatorship is to replace for man the love of home and the feeling of the spiritual culture of his time; love of fellow man is to be crushed by "the greatness of the state," for which individuals are to serve as fodder.
Here is the distinction between the nationalism of a past age, which found its representatives in men like Mazzini and Garibaldi, and the definitely counterrevolutionary tendencies of modern fascism which today raises its head ever more threateningly. In his famous manifesto of June 6, 1862, Mazzini opposed the government of Victor Emmanuel, accusing it of treason and counterrevolutionary efforts against the unity of Italy, thus clearly making a distinction between the nation and Italian unity. Hts slogan, "God and the People!"whatever one may think of itwas meant to inform the world that the ideas he followed emanated from the people and were endorsed by them. Undoubtedly Mazzini's doctrine contained the germ of a new form of human slavery, but he acted in good faith and could not foresee the historic development of his work for national democracy. How honestly he was devoted to this is most clearly shown by the difference between him and Cavour, who fully realised the significance of the national unification movement and therefore on principle opposed the "political romanticism" of Mazzini. Mazzini, Cavour said, forgot the state in his constant affirmation of freedom.
It is certain that the patriots of that time regarded the state and the nationalistic aims of the people as quite different things. This attitude doubtless sprang from an erroneous interpretation of historical facts, but it is just this erroneous conclusion which brings these men of "Young Europe" humanly closer to us, for no one will doubt their sincere love of the people. Modern nationalism is wholly lacking in such love, and though its representatives utter the word ever so frequently one always perceives its false ring and realises that there is no genuine feeling in it. The nationalism of today swears only by the state and brands its own fellowfolk as traitors to their country if they resist the political aims of the national dictatorship or even merely refuse to endorse its plans.
The influence of the liberal ideas of the last century had at least brought it about that even the conservative elements in society were convinced that the state existed for the citizens. Fascism, however, announces with brutal frankness that the purpose of the individual consists in being useful to the state. "Everything for the state, nothing outside of the state, nothing against the state!" as Mussolini has expressed it. This is the last word of a nationalist metaphysics which in the fascist movements of the present has assumed a frightfully concrete form. While this has always been the hidden meaning of all nationalist theories, it has now become their clearly expressed aim. That they have so definitely outlined this aim is the only merit of its present representatives, who in Italy, and even more in Germany, are so dearly loved and so freely supported by the owners of the capitalistic economic systembecause they have been so subservient to the new monopoly capitalism and have with all their power furthered its plans for the erection of a system of industrial serfdom.
For along with the principles of political liberalism the ideas of economic liberalism are also to be abrogated. Just as the political fascism of today tries to preach to man the new gospel that he can claim a right to live only in so far as he serves as raw material for the state, so also the modern industrial fascism tries to demonstrate to the world that industry does not exist for man, but man for industry, and that he exists merely to be useful to it. If fascism has assumed in Germany its most frightful and inhuman forms, this is largely the result of the barbaric ideas of German economic theoreticians and leading industrialists who have, so to speak, shown that fascism is the road. German captains of industry of worldwide fame, like Hugo Stinnes, Fritz Thyssen, Ernst von Borsig and many others, have by the brutal frankness of their opinions again furnished a proof into what abysses of cold contempt of humanity the human spirit can sink itself when it has abandoned all social feeling and deals with living men as if they were dead ciphers. In German scholarship there were always to be found "unprejudiced minds" who were ready to give the most monstrous and inhuman theories a "scientific basis."
Thus Professor Karl Schreber of the Institute of Technology at Aachen said that for the modern worker the standard of living of the prehistoric Neanderthal man is quite appropriate and that for him the possibility of development cannot be considered at all.
"The danger of the social movement can only be obviated by a division among the masses. Life's table is occupied to the very last place, and consequently industry can never guarantee to its employees anything more than bare existence. This is an unbreakable natural law. Hence all social politics is unspeakable stupidity."
Herr Horneffer has since made these humanitarian doctrines unmistakably clear in a special essay, Socialism and the Death Struggle of German Industry) in which he reaches the following conclusions:
I maintain that the economic condition of the worker, basically and essentially, by and large, can in reality not be changed. The workers will once and for all have to be content with their economic condition, that is, with a wage only sufficient for the most necessary, the most urgent, the most indispensable requirements of life, in fact barely sufficient to sustain life. A fundamental change in the workers' economic status, their rise to an essentially different state of economic welfare, can never happen; this is a desire impossible of fulfilment for all time.
To the objection that under these circumstances it might easily happen that the wage would not suffice even for the most necessary demands of life the learned professor replies, with enviable peace of soul, that in such a case public charity would have to help, and if this did not suffice then the state as representative of the moral spirit of the people must step into the breach. Dr. F. Giese of the Technical High School of Stuttgart, who is an especially urgent advocate of the rationalisation of industry according to "scientific methods," dealt with the early elimination of the modern labourer from every calling with these dry words:
The directors of industry can view it as a simple biological law that today everywhere man's capacity for production in the competitive struggle must soon reach its end. The dyeing of the hair is customary in America, but we do not mistake this for a natural evolution toward which pity and patience would in practice perhaps be the worst sort of procedure for a technical treatment of men. 4
The phrase, "technical treatment of men," is especially significant; it shows with frightful clearness into what byways capitalistic industrialism has already led. Reading a heart effusion like the above, one comes to realise the deep significance of what Bakunin said regarding the prospects of government by pure scientists. The consequences of such an experiment would indeed be unthinkable.
That a system of mental gymnastics as senseless as it is brutal can today proudly proclaim itself as scientific knowledge is a proof of the asocial spirit of the time, which by the extremity of its system of mass exploitation and by its blind belief in the state has suppressed all of man's natural relations with his fellow men and forcibly torn the individual from the environment in which he had his deepest roots. For the assertion of fascism that liberalism, and man's need of freedom incorporated in it, atomised society and resolved it into its elements, while the state, so to speak, surrounded human groupings with a protective frame and thereby prevented the community from falling apart, is a specious fraud based at best on a gross self-deception.
Not the desire for freedom has atomised society and awakened asocial instincts in man, but the shocking inequality of economic conditions and, above all, the state, which bred the monopoly whose festering, cancerous growth has destroyed the fine cellular tissue of social relationships. If the social urge were not a natural need of man which he received at the very threshold of humanity as a legacy from hoary ancestors and which he has since uninterruptedly developed and extended, then not even the state would have been able to draw men into a closer union. For one can create no community by forcibly chaining elements which are basically antagonistic. It is true that one can compel men to fulfil certain duties if one has the necessary power, but one will never be able to induce them to perform the compulsory task with love and from inner desire. These are things no state can compel, be its power ever so greatfor these there is necessary above all the feeling of social union and of the innate relationship of man to man.
Compulsion does not unite, compulsion only separates men; for it lacks the inner drive of all social unions -- the understanding which recognises the facts and the sympathy which comprehends the feeling of the fellow man because it feels itself related to him. By subjecting men to a common compulsion one does not bring them closer to one another; rather one creates estrangements between them and breeds impulses of selfishness and separation. Social ties have permanence and completely fulfil their purpose only when they are based on good will and spring from the needs of men. Only under such conditions is a relationship possible where social union and the freedom of the individual are so closely intergrown that they can no longer be recognised as separate entities.
Just as in every revealed religion the individual has to win the promised heavenly kingdom for himself and does not concern himself too greatly about the salvation of others, being sufficiently occupied with achieving his own, so also within the state man tries to find ways and geans of adjusting himself without cudgeling his brain too much about whether others succeed in doing so or not. It is the state which on principle undermines man's social feeling by assuming the part of adjuster in all affairs and trying to reduce them to the same formula, which is for its Supporters the measure of all things. The more easily the state disposes of the personal needs of the citizens, the deeper and more ruthlessly it dips into their individual lives and disregards their private rights, the more successfully it stifles in them the feeling of social union, the easier it is for it to dissolve society into its separate parts and incorporate them as lifeless accessories into the gears of the political machine.
Modern technology is about to construct the "mechanical man" and has already achieved some very pretty results in this field. We already have automatons in human form which move to and fro with their iron limbs and perform certain servicesgive correct change, and other things of that sort. There is something uncanny about this invention which gives the illusion of calculated human action; yet it is only a concealed clockwork that without opposition obeys its master's will. But it would seem that the mechanical man is something more than a bizarre notion of modern technology. If the people of the EuropeanAmerican cultural realm do not within reasonable time revert to their best traditions there is real danger that we shall rush on to the era of the mechanical man with giant strides.
The modern "mass man," this uprooted fellow traveller of modern technology in the age of capitalism, who is almost completely controlled by external influences and whirled up and down by every mood of the momentbecause his soul is atrophied and he has lost that inner balance which can maintain itself only in a true communionalready comes dangerously close to the mechanical man. Capitalistic giant industry, division of labour, now achieving its greatest triumph in the Taylor system and the so-called rationalisation of industry, a dreary barracks system drilled into the drafted citizens, the connected modern educational drill and all that Is related to itthese are phenomena whose importance must not be underestimated while we are inquiring about the inner connections among existing conditions. But modern nationalism with its outspoken antagonism to freedom and its senseless, utterly extreme militaristic attitude, is only the bridge to a great and soulless automatism which would really lead to the already announced "Decline of the West" if not halted in time. Or the present, however, we do not believe in such a gloomy future; rather, we are firmly convinced that even today mankind carries within it a multitude of hidden forces and creative impulses which will enable it victoriously to surmount the calamitous crisis now threatening all human culture.
What today surrounds us on all sides is comparable to a dreary chaos in which all the germs of social decay have fully ripened. And yet there are within the mad whirl of events also numerous beginnings of a new order developing apart from the ways of parties and of political life, hopefully and joyfully pointing toward the future. To further these new beginnings, to nurse and strengthen them so that they may not untimely perish, is today the noblest task of every fighting man, of every man who, though convinced of the instability of present conditions, refuses in tame submission to let fate take its course, but is ever on the lookout for something that promises a new upsurge of spiritual and social culture. But such an upsurge can occur only under the sign of freedom and social union, for only out of these can grow that deepest and purest yearning for social justice which finds expression in the social collaboration of men and smooths the way for a new community. The leaders of the fascist and nationalist reactions know this very well; hence, they hate freedom as a sin against the holy spirit of the nation, which is in fact but their own evil spirit. So, Mussolini declares:
Men are tired of freedom. They have celebrated an orgy with it. Freedom is today no longer the chaste and severe virgin for which the generations of the first half of the last century fought and died. For the enterprising, restless, rough youth now appearing in the dawn of modern history there are other values which have a much greater magic: Order, Hierarchy, Discipline. One must recognise once and for all that fascism knows no idols, worships no fetishes. Over the more or less decayed corpse of the goddess of freedom it has already marched, and it will if necessary return and march over it again.... Facts speak louder than the book; experience means more than a doctrine. The great experience of the after effects of the war now appearing before our eyes shows the decline of liberalism. In Russia and Italy it has been shown that one can rule without, over, and against the whole liberal ideology. Communism and fascism stand apart from liberalism. 5
This is quite clear, even though the conclusions which Mussolini draws from this, his latest understanding, are open to refutation. That "one can rule against the whole liberal ideology" was known long before him; every rulership based on force had adopted this principle. The Holy Alliance was founded only for the purpose of eliminating from Europe the liberal ideas of I789, in which year the first "declaration of human and civil rights" had been announced, and Metternich left no means untried to transform this tacit wish of the despots into reality. But in the long run his antihumanitarian attempts had as little success as those of Napoleon before him, who had expressed opinions about freedom quite similar to those of Mussolini, and who had worked like one possessed towards the end of making every human emotion, every pulsebeat of social life, conform to the rhythm of his gigantic state machine.
But even the proud boast of fascism that it "knows no idols, worships no fetishes," loses all significance; for fascism has only thrown the idols from their pedestals, tumbled the pedestals into the dust, and put in their place a gigantic Moloch which seizes on the soul of man and bends his spirit beneath a Caudine yoke: The state everything; man nothing! The citizen's life aim is to find fulfilment in being employed by the state"swallowed by the machine and spewed out again as dead ciphers." This constitutes the whole task of the so-called "totalitarian state" which has been set up in Italy and Germany. To achieve this end the spirit has been violated, all human feeling enchained, and the young seed from which the future was to grow crushed with shameless brutality. Not alone labour movements of whatever tendency became victims of the fascist dictatorship; everyone who dared to kick against the pricks or even to assume a neutral attitude towards the new rulers had to learn in his own person how fascism "marches over the body of freedom."
Art, the theatre, science, literature and philosophy came under the shameful guardianship of a regime whose ignorant leaders hesitated at no crime to achieve power and confirm themselves in their new positions. The number of victims who in those bloody days when fascism seized power in Italy (and later on in both Italy and Germany) were murdered by inhuman wretches, runs into the thousands. Many thousands of innocent men were expelled from their homes and chased into exile, among them a long line of prominent scholars and artists of worldwide reputation, who in any other nation would have been regarded as honours to the land. Barbaric hordes forced themselves into the homes of peaceful citizens, plundered their libraries, and publicly burned hundreds of thousands of the best books. Other thousands were torn from the bosoms of their families, dragged into concentration camps where their human dignity was daily trodden under foot, and many were slowly tortured to death by cowardly hangmen or driven to suicide.
In Germany this madness assumed especially vicious forms because of the artificially trained racial fanaticism, directed mainly against the Jewish people. The barbarism of past centuries awoke suddenly to new life. A regular flood of vulgar incendiary pamphlets appealing to men's lowest instincts descended on Germany and muddied all the channels of public opinion. 6
Realms which the wildest despotism had up to now left untouched, as, for example, the relations between the sexes, are now in Germany subject to the supervision of the state. Special "race officials" are appointed to guard the people from "racial shame," and to brand marriages between Jews or coloured people and socalled "Aryans" as crimes, and to punish them. So that sexual ethics have at last happily arrived at the level of cattlebreeding. Such are the blessings of Hitler's totalitarian state.
Fascism has been hailed as the beginning of an antiliberal epoch in European history springing from the masses themselves, and hence a proof that the "time of the individual" is past. But in reality there stands also behind this movement only the striving for political power of a small minority which has been clever enough to seize upon an exceptional situation for its special purposes. In this instance also the words of the youthful General Bonaparte prove themselves true: "Give the people a toy; they will pass the time with it and allow themselves to be led, provided that the final goal is cleverly hidden from them.'' And cleverly to hide this final goal there is no better means than to approach the mass from the religious side and imbue it with the belief that it is a specially selected tool of a higher power and serves a holy purpose which really gives its life content and colour. This interweaving of the fascist movement with the religious feeling of the masses constitutes its real strength. For fascism also is only a religious mass movement in political guise, and its leaders neglect no means to preserve this character for it also in the future.
The French Professor Verne of the medical faculty of the Sorbonne, who was a delegate to the International Congress for the Advancement of Science meeting in Bologna in 1927, described in a French paper, Le Quotidien, the strange impression he received in Italy:
In Bologna we had the impression of being in a city of ecstasy. The city's walls were completely covered with posters, which give it a mystical character: Dio ce l'ha dato; quai a chi lo tocca! ("God has sent him to us; woe to him who attacks him!") The picture of Il Duce was to be seen in all shop windows. The symbol of fascism, a shining emblem, was erected on all monuments, even on the celebrated tower of Bologna.
In these words of the French scholar is mirrored the spirit of a movement which finds its strongest support in the primitive devotional needs of the masses and can only affect large sections of the population so powerfully because it most nearly satisfies their belief in miracles after they had felt themselves disillusioned of all the others.
We now observe the same phenomenon in Germany, where nationalism in an astonishingly short time developed into a gigantic movement and imbued millions of men with a blind ecstasy, wherein with faithful ardour they hoped for the coming of the Third Reich, expecting from a man who was totally unknown a few years ago, and had up to then given not the slightest proof of any creative capacity, that he would end all their distress. This movement also is in the last analysis but an instrument for the acquisition of political power by a small caste. For retrieving the position they had lost after the war every means was proper to them by which they might hope "cleverly to hide the final goal," as the cunning Bonaparte had liked to put it.
But the movement itself has all the marks of a religious mass delusion consciously fostered by its instigators to frighten their opponents and to drive them from the field. Even a conservative paper like the Tagliche Rundschau) some time before Hitler reached power, characterised the religious obsession of the National Socialist movement thus:
But as to degree of veneration, Hitler leaves the Pope far behind. Just read his national organ, the Volkische Beobachter. Day after day tens of thousands worship him. Childish innocence heaps flowers on him. Heaven sends him "Hitler weather." His airplane defies the threatening elements. Every number of his paper shows the Fuhrer in new attitudes under the spotlight. Happy he who has looked into his eyes! In his name we today in Germany wish one another and Germany "Good Luck!" "Heil Hitler!" Babies are given his auspicious name. Before his image fond souls seek exaltation at their domestic altars. In his paper we read about "Our Most Exalted Leader," with careful capitalisation of these words designating Hitler. All this would be impossible if Hitler did not encourage this apotheosis.... With what religious fervour his masses believe in his mission to his coming Reich is shown by this version of the Lord's Prayer circulated among groups of Hitlerite girls:
"Adolf Hitler, thou art our Great Leader. Thy name makes thy foes tremble. Thy Third Reich come. Thy will alone be law on earth. Let us daily hear thy voice, and command us through thy leaders, whom we promise to obey at the forfeit of our lives. This we vow thee! Heil Hitler!"
One might calmly overlook this blind religious fervour, which in its childish helplessness seems almost harmless; but this apparent harmlessness disappears immediately when the fanaticism of the enthusiasts serves the mighty and the powerseeking as a tool for their secret plans. For this deluded faith of the immature fed from the hidden sources of religious feeling, is urged into wild frenzy and forged into a weapon of irresistible power, clearing the way for every evil. Do not tell us that it is the frightful material need of our day which is alone responsible for this mass delusion, robbing men weakened by long years of misery of their reasoning power and making them trust anyone who feeds their hungry longing with alluring promises. The war frenzy of 1914, which set the whole world into a crazy whirl and made men inaccessible to all appeals of reason, was released at a time when the people were materially much better off and the spectre of economic insecurity was not haunting them all the time. This proves that these phenomena cannot be explained solely on economic grounds, and that in the subconsciousness of men there are hidden forces which cannot be grasped logically. It is the religious urge which still lives in men today, although the forms of faith have changed. The Crusaders' cry, "God wills it!" would hardly raise an echo in Europe today, but there are still millions of men who are ready for anything if the nation wills it! Religious feeling has assumed political forms and the political man today confronts the natural man just as antagonistically as did the man of past centuries who was held in the grip of the church's dogmatism.
By itself the mass delusion of the faithful would be rather unimportant; it always delves among the springs of the miraculous and is little inclined toward practical considerations. But the purposes of those to whom this delusion serves as means to an end are more important, even though in the whirl of mass events their secret motives are not generally recognised. And here lies the danger. The absolute despot of past times might claim to have his power by the grace of God, but the consequences of his acts always reacted on his own person; for before the world his name had to cover everything, both right and wrong, since his will was the highest law. But under cover of the nation everything can be hid. The national flag covers every injustice, every inhumanity, every lie, every outrage, every crime. The collective responsibility of the nation kills the sense of justice of the individual and brings man to the point where he overlooks injustice done; where, indeed, it may appear to him a meritorious act if committed in the interest of the nation.
"And the idea of the nation," says the Indian poetphilosopher, Tagore, "is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has ever invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic program of the most virulent selfseeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion -- in fact, feeling dangerously resentful when it is pointed out." 7
Tagore called the nation "organised selfishness." The term is well chosen, but we must not forget that we are always dealing with the organised selfishness of privileged minorities which hide behind the skirts of the nation, hide behind the credulity of the masses. We speak of national interests, national capital, national spheres of interest, national honour, and national spirit; but we forget that behind all this there are hidden merely the selfish interests of powerloving politicians and money loving business men for whom the nation is a convenient cover to hide their personal greed and their schemes for political power from the eyes of the world.
The unexpected development of capitalist industrialism has furthered the possibility of national mass suggestion in a measure undreamed of before. In the modern great cities and centres of industrial activity live, closely crowded, millions of men who by the pressure of the radio, cinema, education, party, and a hundred other means are constantly drilled spiritually and mentally into a definite, prescribed attitude and robbed of their personal, independent lives. In the processes of capitalistic giant industry labour has become soulless and has lost for the individual the quality of creative joy. By becoming a dreary endinitself it has degraded man into an eternal galley slave and robbed him of that which is most precious, the inner joy of accomplished work, the creative urge of the personality. The individual feels himself to be only an insignificant element of a gigantic mechanism in whose dull monotone every personal note dies out.
While man was subduing the forces of nature, he forgot to give to his actions an ethical content and to make his mental acquisitions serviceable to the community. He himself became the slave of the tool he had created. It is this steady, enormous burden of the machine which weighs us down and makes our life a hell. We have ceased to be men and have become instead professional men, business men, party men. To preserve our "national individuality," we have been forced into the straitjacket of the nation; our humanity has gone to the dogs; our relation to other nations has been changed into suspicion and hate. To protect the nation we sacrifice year by year enormous sums of our income, while the people sink into deeper and deeper misery. Every country resembles an armed camp and watches with inner fear and deadly suspicion every movement of its neighbour, but is always ready to participate in a conspiracy against him or to enrich itself at his expense. Hence, it must always be careful to entrust its affairs to men of elastic conscience, for only those have a fair prospect of maintaining themselves in the eternal cabals of internal and external politics. SaintSimon recognised this clearly when he said: "Every people which embarks on conquest is compelled to let loose its most evil passions, is compelled to give its highest positions to men of violent character, to those who display the most cunning."
And added to all this is the constant dread of war, whose horrible consequences become every day more unimaginable and dreadful. Even our reciprocity treaties and agreements with other nations bring us no relief, for they are as a rule made with definite ulterior motives. Our national politics are supported by the most dangerous selfishness and can, therefore, never lead to effective weakening of national antagonisms, let alone to their longdesired total elimination.
On the other hand, we have increased and developed our technical ability to a degree which appears almost fantastic, and yet man has not become richer thereby; on the contrary he has become poorer. Our whole industry is in a state of constant insecurity. And while billions of wealth are criminally destroyed in order to maintain prices, in every country millions of men live in the most frightful poverty or perish miserably in a world of abundance and so-called "overproduction." The machine, which was to have made work easier for men, has made it harder and has gradually changed its inventor himself into a machine who must adjust himself to every motion of the steel gears and levers. And just as they calculate the capacity of the marvellous mechanism to the tiniest fraction, they also calculate the muscle and nerve force of the living producers by definite scientific methods and will not realise that thereby they rob him of his soul and most deeply defile his humanity. We have come more and more under the dominance of mechanics and sacrificed living humanity to the dead rhythm of the machine without most of us even being conscious of the monstrosity of the procedure. Hence we frequently deal with such matters with indifference and in cold blood as if we handled dead things and not the destinies of men.
To maintain this state of things we make all our achievements in science and technology serve organised mass murder; we educate our youth into uniformed killers, deliver the people to the soulless tyranny of a bureaucracy, put men from the cradle to the grave under police supervision, erect everywhere jails and penitentiaries, and fill every land with whole armies of informers and spies. Should not such "order," from whose infected womb are born eternally brutal power, injustice, lies, crime and moral rottennesslike poisonous germs of destructive plaguesgradually convince even conservative minds that it is order too dearly bought?
The growth of technology at the expense of human personality, and especially the fatalistic submission with which the great majority surrender to this condition, is the reason why the desire for freedom is less alive among men today and has with many of them given place completely to a desire for economic security. This phenomenon need not appear so strange, for our whole evolution has reached a stage where nearly every man is either ruler or ruled; sometimes he is both. By this the attitude of dependence has been greatly strengthened, for a truly free man does not like to play the part of either the ruler or the ruled. He is, above all, concerned with making his inner values and personal powers effective in a way as to permit him to use his own judgment in all affairs and to be independent in action. Constant tutelage of our acting and thinking has made us weak and irresponsible; hence, the continued cry for the strong man who is to put an end to our distress. This call for a dictator is not a sign of strength, but a proof of inner lack of assurance and of weakness, even though those who utter it earnestly try to give themselves the appearance of resolution. What man most lacks he most desires. When one feels himself weak he seeks salvation from another's strength; when one is cowardly or too timid to move one's own hands for the forging of one's fate, one entrusts it to another. How right was Seume when he said: "The nation which can only be saved by one man and wants to be saved that way deserves a whipping!"
No, the way to health can only lie in the direction of freedom, for every dictatorship is based on an extreme attitude of dependence which can never further the cause of liberation. Even when dictatorship is regarded as only a transitional state necessary to reach a desired goal, the practical activity of its leaders, even if they really have the honest intention to serve the cause of the people, forces them always farther from their original aim; not only because every provisional government, as Proudhon says, always strives to make itself permanent, but most of all because all power is inherently uncreative and therefore incites to misuse. One may think of using power as a means to an end, but the means itself soon grows into a selfish end before which all others vanish. It is just because power is unfruitful and cannot give birth to anything creative itself that it is compelled to draft the creative forces of society into its service. It is compelled to put on a false garment to hide its own weakness, and this circumstance seduces its leaders into false promises and conscious deception. By striving to make the creative force of the community subservient to its special ends it kills the deepest roots of this force and chokes the sources of all creative activity, which, while it welcomes stimulation, will not endure compulsion.
A people cannot be liberated by subjecting it to a new and greater power and thus starting again around the vicious circle of stupidity. Every form of dependency leads inevitably to a new system of slavery -- dictatorship more than any other form of government, because it forcibly suppresses every adverse judgment upon the activity of its leaders and so inhibits in advance any better understanding. Every condition of dependence, however, has its roots in man's religious consciousness and cripples his creative powers, which can only develop properly in freedom. The whole of human history has up to now been a constant struggle between the cultural, creative forces of society and the power aims of particular castes whose leaders put definite bounds to cultural efforts, or at least tried to do so; Culture gives man consciousness of his humanity and creative strength, but power deepens in him the sense of dependence and of slavish bondage.
It is necessary to free man from the curse of power, from the cannibalism of exploitation, in order to release in him those creative forces which can continually give his life new meaning. Power degrades man into a dead part of a machine set in motion by a superior will. Culture makes him the master and builder of his own destiny and deepens in him that feeling of communion from which everything great is born. Man's liberation from the organised force of the state and the narrow bondage of the nation is the beginning of a new humanity, which feels its wings grow in freedom and finds its strength in the community. Lao Tse's gentle wisdom holds good also for the future:
To rule according to the Way is to rule without force:
Just and equal giveandtake rules in the community.
Where there is war, there grow thorns, and the year is without harvest.
The good man
Is and does not need force,
Is and does not rely on splendour,
Is and does not boast or glory,
Is and does not support himself on his deed,
Is and does not found himself on severity,
Is and does not strive after power.
Zenith means decline.
All outside of the way is apart from the way.
- 1. Jean Martet, Clemenceau Speaks, Berlin, 1930, p. 151.
- 2. Popolo d'Italia, April 6, 1920.
- 3. We are here following the reports of the Congress in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, evening edition of October 21, 1931.
- 4. The meaning of the last sentence is far from clear in the German original.translator's note.
- 5. "Compulsion and Consent," in the fascist periodical, Gerarchia, April, 1922.
- 6. Here is one little specimen from among thousands: There are two sorts of antiSemitism, the higher and the lower. The first is intellectual, human, is a palliative, and consists in making laws which limit the Jewish sphere of influence. These laws make it possible for Jews and Gentiles to live together. Such measures are comparable to a board which is tied to the horns of cattle so that they may not hurt the others. There is another sort of antisemitism which consists in the Gentiles who have reached the limit of pain, poverty, and patience simply killing the Jews. This antisemitism may be terrible, but its consequences are blessed. It simply cuts the knot of the Jewish question by destroying everything Jewish. It always arises from below, from the mass of the people, but is given from above, from God himself, and its effects have the enormous power of a natural force whose secret we have not yet fathomed." Marianne Obuchow, Die Internationale Pest, Berlin, p. 22.
- 7. Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism. New York, 19 17, p. 57.