The Choice We Must Face
Democracy and Imperialism,
Or Democracy and Standards?

Irving Babbitt

Irving Babbitt, who taught French and Comparative Literature atHarvard from 1894 to 1933, was one of the leading social and cultural thinkersof his time. This article, adapted from the chapters entitled "Democracyand Imperialism" and "Democracy and Standards" in Babbitt's1924 classic, Democracy and Leadership, may be even more pertinentto the dilemmas of the contemporary, post-Cold War world than to thoseof Babbitt's own time.

In our recent crusade to make the world safe for democracy [World WarI] it was currently assumed that democracy is the same as liberty and theopposite of imperialism. The teachings of history are strangely different.Democracy in the sense of direct and unlimited democracy is, as was pointedout long ago by Aristotle, the death of liberty; in virtue of its tyrannicaltemper, it is likewise, in the broad sense in which I have been using theterm, closely akin to imperialism.* Nowthe distinction of Rousseau is, as we have seen, to have been the mostuncompromising of all modern theorists of direct democracy. How far havethe actual results of Rousseauism justified Aristotle rather than thosewho have anticipated from the diffusion of the Rousseauistic evangel, aparadise of liberty, equality, and fraternity? The commanding positionof Rousseau in the democratic movement is at all events beyond question,though even here it is possible to exaggerate. "Democracy," saysM. de Vogüé, "has only one father--Rousseau. . . . Thegreat muddy stream which is submerging us flows from the writings and thelife of Rousseau like the Rhine and the Po from the Alpine reservoirs whichfeed them perpetually."1 It isinteresting to place alongside of this and similar passages which mightbe multiplied indefinitely, passages2from German authorities, likewise very numerous, to the effect that Rousseauis more than any other person the father of their Kultur. Here,too, one must allow for an element of exaggeration. Much in Germany thatis often ascribed to Rousseau may be traced to English influences, thesame influences that acted on Rousseau himself.

Passages of the kind I have just cited seem to establish a first connectionbetween Kultur, which has come to be regarded as in its essenceimperialistic, and Rousseauistic democracy. Kultur, when closelyscrutinized, breaks up into two main elements--on the one hand, scientificefficiency, and on the other, a nationalistic enthusiasm to which thisefficiency is made to minister. The relationship to Rousseauism must evidentlybe looked for first of all in the second of these elements, that of nationalisticenthusiasm. . . . According to the new ethics, virtue is not restrictivebut expansive, a sentiment and even an intoxication. In its unmodifiednatural form, it has its basis in pity which may finally develop into thevirtue of the great cosmopolitan souls of whom he speaks in the SecondDiscourse, who transcend national frontiers and embrace the whole ofthe human race in their benevolence. We are here at the headwaters of thesentimental internationalism of the past century. But Rousseau, as I havealready said, distinguishes sharply between the virtue of man simply asman and the virtue of the citizen. When man is "denatured" byentering the state, his virtue is still a sentiment and even an intoxication,but is very far from being cosmopolitan. Rousseau oscillates between thetwo types of virtue, that of the man and that of the citizen, and can scarcelybe said to have attempted a serious mediation between them. According ashe wants the one or the other type of "virtue," he devises differentsystems of education. In Emile, for example, he sets out to makea man, in the "Considerations on the Government of Poland," acitizen. The love of country and the love of mankind are, he declares,incompatible passions.3 What is Rousseau'sown choice, one may ask, as between an emotional nationalism and an emotionalinternationalism? On this point no doubt is possible. The love of countryhe takes to be the more beautiful passion. The virtuous intoxication ofthe internationalist seems to him pale and ineffectual compared with thevirtuous intoxication of the citizen; and herein history has certainlyconfirmed him. The fact that l'ivresse patriotique may make thecitizens of one country ruthless in their dealings with the citizens ofother countries seems to him a matter of small moment.4In his schemes for inbreeding patriotic sentiment, he seems to be lookingforward to the type of nationalism that has actually emerged during thelast century, especially perhaps in Germany. The question of war becomesacute if Europe, and possibly the world, is thus to be made up of states,each animated by what one is tempted to term a frenzied nationalism, withoutany countervailing principle of unity. That the new nationalism is morepotent than the new internationalism was revealed in August 1914 when millionsof socialists, in response to the call of country, marched away to theslaughter of their fellow socialists in other lands. That Protestant unityhas likewise proved inadequate seems sufficiently clear from the fact thatthe men of the two chief Protestant countries, at the same time that theywere blowing one another to pieces with high explosives, sought to starveone another's women and children en masse. The papacy again, representingthe traditional unity of European civilization, has also shown itself unableto limit effectively the push of nationalism.

Furthermore, nationalities of the kind that have grown up in modernEurope will not, as Rousseau points out, be kept from fighting with oneanother by treaties and alliances. He warns the Poles that among the Christiannations, treaties and alliances are only scraps of paper . . . . Rousseaushows much shrewdness in reviewing . . . the problem of peace and war inEurope from the Middle Ages down. One institution, he admits, had donemuch in the past to lessen political conflicts. It is undeniable, he says,that Europe owes to Christianity above all, even today, the species ofunion that has survived among its members. He goes on to say, anticipatingHeine and following Hobbes, that Rome, having suffered material defeat,sent her dogmas instead of her legions into the provinces. To this spiritualRome, medieval and modern Europe has owed what small equivalent it hasenjoyed of the Pax romana. The ultimate binding element in the medievalorder was subordination to the divine will and its earthly representatives,notably the pope. The latter Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw a weakeningof this principle of union and the rise of great territorial nationalities.According to the school of Grotius, the relations of these nationalitiesare to be regulated primarily not by will in any sense, but by reason.The Abbé de Saint-Pierre, perhaps the earliest complete French exampleof the professional philanthropist, has a still more naive confidence inreason. He saw well enough, says Rousseau, how his schemes would work ifthey were once established, but was childish (and herein he resembled other"reformers" down to the present day) in his notions of the meansfor getting them established. His fundamental error, Rousseau complains,was in thinking that men are governed by their reason, when they are inreality governed by their passions.5. . .

Though Rousseau can speak on occasion with positive contempt of cosmopolitans,he can be shown to have exercised his main influence on those who beganby standing, both nationally and internationally, for fraternity, a fraternitythat was to be ideally combined with liberty and equality. We need to tracebriefly the imperialistic upshot of this evangel, especially in the FrenchRevolution, and then, turning away from the more peripheral aspects ofthe relation between democracy and imperialism, to try to get at the rootof the whole matter in the psychology of the individual.

Rousseau, we have seen, seeks to discredit not merely a particular aristocracy,but the aristocratic principle in general. "The people," he says,"constitute the human race": all that is not the people is parasiticand "scarcely deserves to be counted were it not for the harm it does."Perhaps no doctrine has ever been more cunningly devised to fill the poorman and the plebeian with self-righteous pride, and at the same time toinflame him with hatred and suspicion of those who enjoy any social oreconomic superiority. It is a curious fact, known to all students of theperiod, that those who perhaps did the most to promote Rousseauism, andin general the new philanthropy, were the members of the privileged classesthemselves. The causes of this strange phenomenon are complex, but havebeen traced with sufficient accuracy by Taine in his Ancien Regime.The members of the French aristocracy, and that as far back as Richelieuand Louis XIV, had largely ceased to perform the work of an aristocracy.They had become drawing-room butterflies and hangers-on at court. Now theenemy of those who have ceased to work, in some sense or other of the word,has always been ennui; and in addition, the denizens of the drawing-roomsuffered during the first half of the eighteenth century from rationalisticdryness and an excess of artificial decorum. They finally sought reliefin a return to nature and the simple life. An idyllic element had beenpresent in the life of the drawing-room from the start, as all know whohave studied the influence of d'Urfé's Astrée on theMarquise de Rambouillet and her group; and this perhaps made the way easierfor another form of pastoralism. "The fops," as Taine phrasesit, "dreamt between two madrigals of the happiness of sleeping nakedin the virgin forest." Marie Antoinette milked her own cows and livedthe pastoral dream at the Petit Trianon. Many of the nobles and higherclergy, won over to the new enthusiasm, took oath to divest themselvesof all the privileges of rank in favor of the new equality which was itselfto be only a preliminary to the golden dawn of brotherhood. The adventof this brotherhood was actually celebrated in the Federation of the Champde Mars (1790) which was meant to symbolize the melting of all Frenchmentogether in a fraternal embrace. Anacharsis Cloots, the "orator ofhumankind," had representatives of the different races and nationsof the Earth, each appropriately garbed, parade before the National Assemblyas the symbol of a still more universal fraternity. "Never,"says the Comte de Ségur, "were more delightful dreams followedby a more terrible awakening." Instead of universal brotherhood therewas a growing mania of suspicion. The malady of Rousseau became epidemic,until, at the height of the Terror, men were "suspect of being suspect."The very persons who had rushed into one another's arms at the Federationof the Champ de Mars began to guillotine one another. In the number ofthose who thus perished was the "orator of mankind." Among theearliest victims were the members of the privileged classes who had beenso zealous in promoting the new philanthropy, just as the parlor socialistsof our own day would be among the first to suffer if the overturn theyare preaching should actually occur. As Chesterton says, if the socialrevolution takes place, the streets will run red with the blood of philanthropists.

If one wishes to enter into the psychology of the later stages of theRevolution, one should devote special attention to avowed disciples ofRousseau like Robespierre. He adopts in a rather uncompromising form Rousseau'sview of "virtue," and so is led to set up an "ideal"France over against the real France, and this "ideal" Franceis largely a projection of what I have termed the idyllic imagination.The opposition that he established between the virtuous and the viciousis even less an opposition between virtuous and vicious individuals thanbetween whole classes of individuals. The judging of men by their socialgrouping rather than by their personal merits and demerits, that seemedto Burke so iniquitous, has as a matter of fact, been implicit in the logicof this movement from the French to the Russian Revolution. Danton alreadysays: "These priests, these nobles are not guilty, but they must die,because they are out of place, interfere with the movement of things, andwill stand in the way of the future." Danton, so far as he was responsiblefor the September Massacres, made some application of this revolutionarylogic. Leaders like Robespierre and Saint-Just, however, developed it farmore than Danton into a program of wholesale proscription. The actual Francewas too rich and populous. Robespierre and Saint-Just were ready to eliminateviolently whole social strata that seemed to them to be made up of parasitesand conspirators, in order that they might adjust this actual France tothe Sparta of their dreams; so that the Terror was far more than is commonlyrealized a bucolic episode.6 It lendscolor to the assertion that has been made that the last stage of sentimentalismis homicidal mania.

In theory, Robespierre is, like Rousseau, rigidly egalitarian. He isnot a real leader at all -- only the people's "hired man." Butat critical moments, in the name of an ideal general will, of which heprofesses to be only the organ, he is ready to impose tyrannically hiswill on the actual people. The net result of the Rousseauistic movementis thus not to get rid of leadership, but to produce an inferior and eveninsane type of leadership, and in any case leadership of a highly imperialistictype. This triumph of force can be shown to be the total outcome of liberty,equality, and fraternity in the Rousseauistic sense. Rousseau himself .. . would force people to be free. The attempt to combine freedom withequality led, and, according to Lord Acton, always will lead, to terrorism.As for Jacobinical fraternity, it has been summed up in the phrase: "Bemy brother or I'll kill you." Moreover, the clash of a leader likeRobespierre is not only with enemies of the Revolution, but with othermore or less sincere revolutionary fanatics whose imaginations are projectingdifferent "ideals." The sole common denominator of leaders thusobstinate, each in the pursuit of a separate dream, is force. The movementhad repudiated the traditional controls, and so far as any new principleof cohesion was concerned, had turned out to be violently centrifugal.The only brotherhood the Jacobinical leaders had succeeded in foundingwas, as Taine puts it, a brotherhood of Cains.

Robespierre, however, was not the type of leader finally destined toemerge from the Revolution. As early as 1790 Burke had predicted that theRevolution would turn at last to the profit of some military adventurer.The doctrine of popular sovereignty as developed from the Social Contracthad been found to encourage a sort of chronic anarchy. Inasmuch as societycannot go on without discipline of some kind, men were constrained, inthe absence of any other form of discipline, to turn to discipline of themilitary type. In the army it was still possible to find the orderly subordinationand loyalty to acknowledged merit that the Jacobins had, on principle,been undermining in civil France. Bonaparte is therefore no accident. Heis the true heir and executor of the Revolution. After his grenadiers hadchased members of the Cinq-Cents through the doors and out of the windowsof the Orangerie at Saint-Cloud (18 Brumaire), and when he had revealedhimself more and more nakedly as the imperialistic superman, it is notto be supposed that the Jacobins as a body stood aloof. What became apparent,on the contrary, was the affinity that has always existed between an unlimiteddemocracy and the cult of ruthless power. No one crawled more abjectlyat the feet of Napoleon than some of the quondam Terrorists. "On thepoint of becoming barons and counts, the Jacobins spoke only of the horrorsof 1793, of the necessity of punishing the proletarians and of repressingpopular excesses. From day to day there was taking place the transformationof republicans into imperialists and of the tyranny of all into the despotismof a single man." 7 . . .

I have been trying to make clear the relation between Rousseauisticdemocracy and imperialism in France itself. The same relationship appearsif we study the Rousseauistic movement internationally. Perhaps no movementsince the beginning of the world has led to such an inbreeding of nationalsentiment of the type that in the larger states runs over very readilyinto imperialistic ambition. I have said that the Revolution almost fromthe start took on the character of a universal crusade. The first principlesit assumed made practically all existing governments seem illegitimate.The various peoples were invited to overthrow these governments, basedupon usurpation, and, having recovered their original rights, to join withFrance in a glorious fraternity. What followed is almost too familiar toneed repetition. Some of the governments whose legitimacy was thus calledinto question took alarm and, having entered into an alliance, invadedFrance.8 This foreign menace movedFrance to the first great burst of national enthusiasm in the modern sense.The cry of the revolutionary army--Vive la nation--heard by Goethein a pause of the cannonading of Valmy--was rightly taken by him to markthe dawn of a new era.9 The beginningsof the very type of warfare we have recently been witnessing in Europe,that is, the coming together of whole nations for mutual massacre (lalevée en masse), go back to this period. The new national enthusiasmsupplied France with soldiers so numerous and so spirited that she notonly repelled her invaders, but began to invade other countries in turn,theoretically on a mission of emancipation. In the actual stress of events,however, the will to power turned out to be stronger than the will to brotherhood,and what had begun as a humanitarian crusade ended in Napoleon and imperialisticaggression. This aggression awakened in turn the new national sentimentin various countries, and did more than all other agencies combined toprepare the way for a powerful and united Germany.10France ceased to be the "Christ of nations" and became the traitorto humankind universally denounced by the disillusioned radicals of thetime, especially after the invasion of Switzerland (1798).11

Anyone who rejects the humanitarian theory of brotherhood runs the riskof being accused of a lack of fraternal feeling. The obvious reply of theperson of critical and experimental temper is that, if he rejects the theory,it is precisely because he desires brotherhood. After an experience ofthe theory that has already extended over several generations, the worldwould seem at times to have become a vast seething mass of hatred and suspicion.What Carlyle wrote of the Revolution has not ceased to be applicable: "Beneaththis rose-colored veil of universal benevolence is a dark, contentious,hell on-earth." One is finally led to the conviction that the contrastbetween the ideal and the real in this movement is not the ordinary contrastbetween the willingness of the spirit and the weakness of the flesh; thaton the contrary this particular field of union among men actually promotesthe reality of strife that it is supposed to prevent. One might withoutbeing too fanciful establish a sort of synchronism between the prevalenceof pacifistic schemes and the actual outbreak of war. The propaganda ofthe Abbé de Saint-Pierre was followed by the wars of Frederick theGreat. The humanitarian movement of the end of the eighteenth century,which found expression in Kant's treatise on "Perpetual Peace,"was followed and attended by twenty years of the bloodiest fighting theworld has ever known. The pacifist agitation of the early twentieth century,that found outer expression in the Peace Palace at The Hague, was succeededby battle lines hundreds of miles long. The late M. Boutroux, whom no onewill accuse of being a cynic, said to a reporter of the Temps in1912 that from the amount of peace talk abroad, he inferred that the futurewas likely to be "supremely warlike and bloody." . . .

From a strictly psychological point of view,** themovement we are studying had not only produced all its characteristic fruitsover a hundred years ago, but also its two outstanding and truly significantpersonalities--Rousseau and Napoleon. If there had been no Rousseau Napoleonis reported to have said, there would have been no Revolution, and withoutthe Revolution, I should have been impossible. Now Rousseau maybe regarded as being more than any other one person the humanitarian Messiah.Napoleon, for his part, may be defined, in Hardy's phrase, as the Christof War. So that the humanitarian Messiah set in motion forces that ledby a process that I have attempted to sketch in rough general outline tothe rise of a Christ of War.

A remarkable feature of the humanitarian movement, on both its sentimentaland utilitarian sides, has been its preoccupation with the lot of the masses."All institutions," says Condorcet, for example, "oughtto have for their aim the physical, intellectual, and moral ameliorationof the poorest and most numerous class." But on the utilitarian noless than on the sentimental side of the movement, the contrast betweenthe ideal and the real is so flagrant as to suggest some central omissionin humanitarian psychology. If the Rousseauist set up an ideal of universalbrotherhood that led actually to universal conscription, the utilitarianfor his part has put prime emphasis on material organization and efficiencyand so, with the aid of physical science, has gradually built up an enormousmass of interlocking machinery which was, in theory, to serve humanityand promote the greatest good of the greatest number, but has in practicebeen pressed into the service of the will to power of individuals and socialgroups and nationalities. As a result of the coming together of the variousfactors I have enumerated, war has become almost inconceivably maleficent.The chief victims have been the very masses whom both Rousseauist and Baconianhave professed themselves so eager to benefit. The clashes between statesand coalitions of states have, under existing conditions, become clashesbetween Frankenstein monsters. . . .

The whole Occident, and increasingly, indeed, the whole world, is nowfaced with a similar problem as to the quality of the "soul"that animates the vast mechanism of material efficiency, to the buildingup of which the Occident has for several generations past been devotingits main effort. Is this "soul" a Rousseauistic or a genuinelyethical "soul"? One is tempted to define the civilization (orwhat we are pleased to term such) that has been emerging with the declineof the traditional controls as a mixture of altruism and high explosives.If anything is amiss with the altruism, the results may prove to be ratherserious. The idealists affirm either that man is so lovely in his naturalself that he needs no control at all, or else that he can be induced toexercise the necessary control with reference to the good of his fellows.Everything hinges, in either case, on the presence in the natural man ofan element of love or will to service that is of itself a sufficient counterpoiseto the natural man's will to power. Here is the dividing line between egoistsand altruists, and not merely in the appeal to utility. . . .

A gross and palpable error of the era that is just closing has beenthe confusion of mechanical and material progress with moral progress.Physical science is excellent in its own place, but when supreme moralissues are involved, it is, as has been rightly remarked, only a multiplyingdevice.12 If there is rightness atthe center, it will no doubt multiply the rightness. If, on the other hand,there is any central error, the peripheral repercussion, with men boundtogether as they are at present, will be terrific. With the developmentof inventions like the radio and the wireless telephone, the whole worldis becoming, in a very literal sense, a whispering-gallery. It is hardlynecessary to dilate on what is likely to follow if the words that are whisperedare words of hatred and suspicion. An increasing material union among menwho remain spiritually centrifugal means . . . a triumph . . . of the lawof cunning and the law of force . . . on a scale to which the past hasseen no parallel. Superlatives are dangerous things, but one is perhapsjustified in describing the present situation as one of unexampled gravity.

In dealing with democracy and the special type of fraternity it haspreached, as related to imperialism, I have thus far been confining myselffor the most part to the national and international phases of this relationship.It is time to fulfill my promise, and, working in from the periphery towardthe center, seek to get at the root of the whole matter in the psychologyof the individual. For behind all imperialism is ultimately the imperialisticindividual, just as behind all peace is ultimately the peaceful individual.

I have already made a distinction of the first importance for the studyof the question of war or peace in terms of the individual, and that isthe distinction between the traditional Christian conception of liberty,which implies spiritual subordination, and the Rousseauistic conceptionwhich, whether we take it in the no-state of the Second Discourseor the all-state of the Social Contract, is resolutely egalitarian.At the end of his "Prometheus Unbound" Shelley has portrayedin the very spirit of the Second Discourse the paradise that isto result from the abolition of the traditional subordinations and inequalities:

The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains
Scepterless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
Equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree.

But on any attempt to carry out this program, the enormous irony andcontradiction at the very heart of this movement becomes manifest. It leadsone to break down standards in the real world in favor of purely chimericalideals. For what actually follows the attempt to establish egalitarianliberty, we need to turn from Shelley to Shakespeare:

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite.

This last line reminds one of a remark of Jeremy Taylor that, in theabsence of ethical control, "men know no good but to please a wild,indetermined, infinite appetite." The word infinite adds an essentialidea. Other animals have appetite, but within certain definite bounds,whereas man is, either in good or bad sense, the infinite animal. Machiavelliis very metaphorical when he speaks of his prince as combining the virtuesof the lion and the fox. The lion and the fox do not put forth their poweror cunning beyond what is needed for the satisfaction of their actual physicalwants. They do not strive to set up a vulpine or leonine empire over otheranimals. One cannot truthfully say of them, as Carlyle says of his boot-black,that, if given half the universe, they will soon be quarreling with theowner of the other half. To be sure, as Swift remarks,

Now and then
Beasts may degen'rate into men.

But, as a rule, the man who is infinite after the fashion of Carlyle'sboot-black is in a fair way to become not beastly, but fiendish. As a resultof his infinitude, man is almost necessarily either better or worse thanother animals. His prime need is not, as in the case of other animals,to satisfy certain limited physical wants, but to keep in good conceitwith himself. Now it is of the essence of conceit, a word which, as onceused, was synonymous with imagination in general, and as now used is nearlyrelated to the egocentric type of imagination, to strain out toward theunlimited. This conceit is, it is to be feared, closely associated in unregenerateman with envy and jealousy of anyone whose conceit seems to set up rivalpretensions to his own. Conceit also determines largely man's attitudetoward the truth. Truth according to the natural law***he welcomes because it ministers to his power or comfort and in any casepiques his wonder and curiosity. Spiritual truth is less welcome becauseit diminishes his conceit. Truth in this sense, as Goethe says, is lesscongenial to human nature than error, because it imposes limitations, whereaserror does not. Tell the average person that some one is planning to getinto wireless communication with Mars, or to shoot a rocket at the moon,and he is all respectful interest and attention at once. Tell him, on thecontrary, that he needs, in the interest of his own happiness, to walkin the path of humility and self-control, and he will be indifferent, oreven actively resentful.

Man's conceit, and the tendency toward unlimited expansion that it givesto the impulses of the natural man is of various types. Perhaps as gooda classification as any of the main types is that of the three lusts distinguishedby traditional Christianity--the lust of knowledge, the lust of sensation,and the lust of power. It is interesting to study the lust of power asit has appeared in the conquerors and great military adventurers of history.Saint-Evremond has made some penetrating observations on this form of imperialisticpsychology in his "Dissertation on the Word Vast." The vastnessthat the great dominators have displayed in their projects and ambitionsis due, as he points out, to the quality of their imaginations. The outwardstraining of the imagination toward the unlimited Saint-Evremond takesto be the weakness and not the strength of a Pyrrhus, an Alexander anda Richelieu. It is a pity that Saint-Evremond was not able to extend hisscrutiny to a Napoleon. Napoleon plainly displayed two entirely differenttypes of vision: in dealing with the natural order, in planning a battle,for instance, he showed himself capable of a tremendous concentration uponthe facts; but in his political ambitions, where factors of a more purelyhuman order came into play, he revealed an inability to limit his imaginationthat was destined sooner or later to result in disaster. The coming togetherof the two kinds of vision I have just defined gives a type with whichwe have become very familiar, not only in our political and military, butin our commercial leaders--that of the efficient megalomaniac. A surprisingnumber of these leaders have been, in intention at least, supermen, andlittle Napoleons.

Assuming that Napoleon's imagination is of the general type that Saint-Evremondascribes to various great dominators of the past, we still have to explain,if we are to understand the triumph of the imperialistic push for powerover Rousseauistic idealism, why a Napoleon so captivates the imaginationof other men; for this sort of leader would evidently be helpless unlesshe had many accomplices. The Rousseauist, I have said, breaks down traditionalcontrols without setting up new ones. What emerges in the many men whohave as a result lapsed to the naturalistic level is not the will to brotherhood,but the will to power; so that in this sense the Rousseauist is actuallypromoting what he is in theory seeking to prevent. For what follows weneed to make an application of Freudian psychology to a libido even morefundamental perhaps than the libido with which the Freudians themselveshave thus far been chiefly concerned--namely, the libido dominandi.In a naturalistic era, the average man finds himself more or less in thestate of Carlyle's boot-black, but is at the same time hampered on everyside and kept from expanding freely along the lines of power, and is thusdiminished in his conceit of himself. He suffers from repressed and thwarteddesire. But what he is unable to get directly, he may secure vicariously.At this point one begins to perceive the meaning of Hardy's descriptionof Napoleon as the Christ of War. The spell that Napoleon exercised wasnot merely over the former Jacobins . . . but over the French masses. Letone reflect on the way these masses rallied to him on the return from Elba,and that, too, after he had wrought them almost incalculable evil:

Bien, dit-on, qu'il nous ait nut,
Le peuple encore le révère, etc.

I have said that to look on the state of Burke with its ethical leadershipas merely "pooled self-esteem" is misleading. The phrase hasa certain relevancy, however, when applied to the state that is under Napoleonicleadership. The intrusion of this imperialistic element is strong not onlyin all secular establishments, but also in the churches of the world, ifonly because these churches, however immaculate they may be in theory,are administered by human beings. It is not easy to overlook this elementin the papacy, even though one does not go so far as to say roundly withTyrrell: "Rome cares nothing for religion--only for power." Thevery divinities that men have set up often impress one as being in a considerablemeasure their pooled self-esteem. "We are glad," as Dryden says,'"to have God on our side to maul our enemies, when we cannot do thework ourselves." Jonathan Edwards has genuine religious elevation;but the Jehovah in whose "fierceness" he plainly rejoices, andwho tramples sinners under his feet until their blood is "sprinkledon his garments," might lead some to dismiss Edwards as a theologicalimperialist. . . .

It goes without saying that the imperialistic element I have noted inreligious beliefs, as well as in those who administer them, is not thewhole story. Above all, it is not the whole story in the case of Christianity.Christianity has actually done much to curb the expansive lusts of thehuman heart, and among its other lusts, the lust for power. . . . Christianityin its medieval form actually did secure for Europe no small degree ofspiritual unity and cohesion . . .

Judged by any quantitative test, the American achievement is impressive.We have ninety percent of the motors of the world and control seventy-fivepercent of its oil; we produce sixty percent of the world's steel, seventypercent of its copper, and eighty percent of its telephones and typewriters.This and similar statistical proof of our material preeminence, which wouldhave made a Greek apprehensive of Nemesis, seems to inspire in many Americansan almost lyrical complacency. They are not only quantitative in theirestimates of our present accomplishment, but even more so if possible inwhat they anticipate for the future. . . .

If quantitatively the American achievement is impressive, qualitativelyit is somewhat less satisfying. What must one think of a country, asksone of our foreign critics, whose most popular orator is W. J. Bryan, whosefavorite actor is Charlie Chaplin, whose most widely read novelist is HaroldBell Wright, whose best-known evangelist is Billy Sunday, and whose representativejournalist is William Randolph Hearst? What one must evidently think ofsuch a country, even after allowing liberally for overstatement, is thatit lacks standards. Furthermore, America suffers not only from a lack ofstandards, but also not infrequently from a confusion or an inversion ofstandards. . . .

The problem of standards, though not identical with the problem of democracy,touches it at many points and is not therefore the problem of any one country.Europeans, indeed, like to look upon the crudity and chaotic impressionismof people who are no longer guided by standards as something specificallyAmerican. . . . The deference for standards has, however, been diminishedby a certain type of democracy in many other countries besides America.The resulting vulgarity and triviality are more or less visible in allof these countries . . . . If we in America are perhaps preeminent in lackof distinction, it is because of the very completeness of our emancipationfrom the past. Goethe's warning as to the retarding effect of the commonplaceis well known (Was uns alle bändigt, das Gemeine). His explanationof what makes for the commonplace is less familiar: "Enjoyment,"he says, "makes common" (Geniessen macht gemein). Sinceevery man desires happiness, it is evidently no small matter whether heconceives of happiness in terms of work or of enjoyment. If he work inthe full ethical sense that I have attempted to define, he is pulling backand disciplining his temperamental self with reference to some standard.In short, his temperamental self is, in an almost literal sense, undergoingconversion. The whole of life may, indeed, be summed up in the words diversionand conversion. Along which of these two main paths are most of us seekingthe happiness to the pursuit of which we are dedicated by our Declarationof Independence? The author of this phrase, Thomas Jefferson, remarks ofhimself: "I am an Epicurean."13It cannot be gainsaid that an increasing number of our young people are,in this respect at least, good Jeffersonians. The phrase that reflectsmost clearly their philosophy of life is perhaps "good time.". . .

One is inclined, indeed, to ask, in certain moods, whether the net resultof the movement that has been sweeping the Occident for several generationsmay not be a huge mass of standardized mediocrity; and whether in thiscountry in particular we are not in danger of producing in the name ofdemocracy one of the most trifling brands of the human Species that theworld has yet seen. To be sure, it may be urged that, though we may sufferloss of distinction as a result of the democratic drift, by way of compensationa great many average people will, in the Jeffersonian sense at least, bemade "happy." If we are to judge by history, however, what supervenesupon the decline of standards and the disappearance of leaders who embodythem is not some egalitarian paradise, but inferior types of leadership.We have already been reminded by certain developments in this country ofByron's definition of democracy as an "aristocracy of blackguards."At the very moment when we were most vociferous about making the worldsafe for democracy the citizens of New York refused to reelect an honestman as their mayor and put in his place a tool of Tammany, an action followedin due course by a "crime wave"; whereupon they returned thetool of Tammany by an increased majority. The industrial revolution hastended to produce everywhere great urban masses that seem to be increasinglycareless of ethical standards. In the case of our American cities, theproblem of securing some degree of moral cohesion is further complicatedby the presence of numerous aliens of widely divergent racial stocks andcultural backgrounds.14 . . .

We are assured, indeed, that the highly heterogeneous elements thatenter into our population will, like various instruments in an orchestra,merely result in a richer harmony; they will, one may reply, provided that,like an orchestra, they be properly led. Otherwise the outcome may be anunexampled cacophony. This question of leadership is not primarily biological,but moral. Leaders may vary in quality from the man who is so loyal tosound standards that he inspires right conduct in others by the sheer rightnessof his example, to the man who stands for nothing higher than the law ofcunning and the law of force, and so is, in the sense I have sought todefine, imperialistic. If democracy means simply the attempt to eliminatethe qualitative and selective principle in favor of some general will,based in turn on a theory of natural rights, it may prove to be only aform of the vertigo of the abyss. As I have tried to show in dealing withthe influence of Rousseau on the French Revolution, it will result practically,not in equality, but in a sort of inverted aristocracy. One's choice maybe, not between a democracy that is properly led and a democracy that hopesto find the equivalent of standards and leadership in the appeal to a numericalmajority, that indulges in other words in a sort of quantitative impressionism,but between a democracy that is properly led and a decadent imperialism.One should, therefore, in the interests of democracy itself seek to substitutethe doctrine of the right man for the doctrine of the rights of man.

The opposition between traditional standards and an egalitarian democracybased on the supposed rights of man has played an important part in ourown political history, and has meant practically the opposition betweentwo types of leadership. The "quality" in the older sense ofthe word suffered its first decisive defeat in 1829 when Washington wasinvaded by the hungry hordes of Andrew Jackson. The imperialism latentin this type of democracy appears in the Jacksonian maxim: "To thevictors belong the spoils." In his theory of democracy Jackson had,of course, much in common with Thomas Jefferson. If we go back, indeed,to the beginnings of our institutions, we find that America stood fromthe start for two different views of government that have their originin different views of liberty and ultimately of human nature. The viewthat is set forth in the Declaration of Independence assumes that man hascertain abstract rights; it has therefore important points of contact withthe French revolutionary "idealism." The view that inspired ourConstitution, on the other hand, has much in common with that of Burke.If the first of these political philosophies is properly associated withJefferson, the second has its most distinguished representative in Washington.The Jeffersonian liberal has faith in the goodness of the natural man,and so tends to overlook the need of a veto power either in the individualor in the state. The liberals of whom I have taken Washington to be thetype are less expansive in their attitude toward the natural man. Justas man has a higher self that acts restrictively on his ordinary self,so, they hold, the state should have a higher or permanent self, appropriatelyembodied in institutions, that should set bounds to its ordinary self asexpressed by the popular will at any particular moment. The contrast thatI am establishing is, of course, that between a constitutional and a directdemocracy. There is an opposition of first principles between those whomaintain that the popular will should prevail, but only after it has beenpurified of what is merely impulsive and ephemeral, and those who maintainthat this will should prevail immediately and unrestrictedly. The Americanexperiment in democracy has, therefore, from the outset been ambiguous,and will remain so until the irrepressible conflict between a Washingtonianand a Jeffersonian liberty has been fought to a conclusion. The liberalof the type of Washington has always been very much concerned with whatone may term the unionist aspect of liberty. This central preoccupationis summed up in the phrase of Webster: Liberty and union, one and inseparable.The liberty of the Jeffersonian, on the other hand, makes against ethicalunion like every liberty that rests on the assertion of abstract rights.. . .

Jefferson . . . associated his liberty, not with God, but with "nature."He admired, as is well known, the liberty of the American Indian.15He was for diminishing to the utmost the role of government,but not for increasing the inner control that must, according to Burke,be in strict ratio to the relaxation of outer control. When evil actuallyappears, the Jeffersonian cannot appeal to the principle of inner control;he is not willing again to admit that the sole alternative to this typeof control is force; and so he is led into what seems at first a paradoxicaldenial of his own principles; he has recourse to legislation. It shouldbe clear at all events that our present attempt to substitute social controlfor self-control is Jeffersonian rather than puritanical. . . .

Standardization is . . . a less serious menace to standards than whatare currently known as "ideals." The person who breaks down standardsin the name of ideals does not seem to be impelled by base commercial motives,but to be animated, on the contrary, by the purest commiseration for thelowly and the oppressed. We must have the courage to submit this humanitarianzeal to a close scrutiny. We may perhaps best start with the familiar dictumthat America is only another name for opportunity. Opportunity to do what?To engage in a scramble for money and material success, until the multimillionaireemerges as the characteristic product of a country dedicated to the propositionthat all men are created equal? According to Napoleon, the French Revolutionwas also only another name for opportunity (la carrière ouverteaux talents). Some of our commercial supermen have evidently been makinguse of their opportunity in a very Napoleonic fashion. In any case, opportunityhas meaning only with reference to some true standard. The sentimentalist,instead of setting up some such standard by way of protest against thewrong type of superiority, inclines rather to bestow an unselective sympathyon those who have been left behind in the race for economic advantage.Even when less materialistic in his outlook, he is prone to dodge the questionof justice. He does not ask whether a man is an underdog because he hasalready had his opportunity and failed to use it, whether, in short, theman that he takes to be a victim of the social order is not rather a victimof his own misconduct16 or at leastof his own indolence and inattention. He thus exposes himself to the penaltiesvisited on those who set out to be kinder than the moral law.

At bottom the point of view of the "uplifter" is so popularbecause it nourishes spiritual complacency; it enables a man to look onhimself as "up" and on some one else as "down." Butthere is psychological if not theological truth in the assertion of JonathanEdwards that complacent people are a "particular smoke" in God'snostrils. A man needs to look, not down, but up to standards set so muchabove his ordinary self as to make him feel that he is himself spirituallythe underdog. The man who thus looks up is becoming worthy to be lookedup to in turn, and, to this extent, qualifying for leadership. Leadershipof this type, one may add, may prove to be, in the long run, the only effectualcounterpoise to that of the imperialistic superman.

No amount of devotion to society and its supposed interests can takethe place of this inner obeisance of the spirit to standards. The humanitarianwould seem to be caught here in a vicious circle. If he turns from theinner life to serve his fellow men, he becomes a busy-body. If he setsout again to become exemplary primarily with a view to the benefit of others,he becomes a prig. Nothing will avail short of humility. Humility, as Burkesaw, is the ultimate root of the justice that should prevail in the secularorder, as well as of the virtues that are specifically religious. The modernproblem, I have been insisting, is to secure leaders with an allegianceto standards, now that the traditional order with which Burke associatedhis standards and leadership has been so seriously shaken. Those who havebroken with the traditional beliefs have thus far shown themselves singularlyineffective in dealing with this problem of leadership, even when theyhave admitted the need of leaders at all. The persons who have piqued themselvesespecially on being positive have looked for leadership to the exponentsof physical science. Auguste Comte, for example, not only regarded menof science as the true modern priesthood, but actually disparaged moraleffort on the part of the individual. I scarcely need to repeat here whatI have said elsewhere--that the net result of a merely scientific "progress"is to produce efficient megalomaniacs. . . .

One cannot grant that an aristocracy of scientific intellectuals orindeed any aristocracy of intellect is what we need. This would mean practicallyto encourage the libido sciendi and so to put pride in the placeof humility. Still less acceptable would be an aristocracy of artists;as the word art has come to be understood in recent times, this would meanan aristocracy of aesthetes who would attempt to base their selection onthe libido sentiendi. The Nietzschean attempt, again, to found thearistocratic and selective principle on the sheer expansion of the willto power (libido dominandi) would lead in practice to horrible violenceand finally to the death of civilization. . . .

The democratic idealist is prone to make light of the whole questionof standards and leadership because of his unbounded faith in the plainpeople. How far is this appeal to the plain people justified and how faris it merely demagogic? There is undoubted truth in the saying that thereis somebody who knows more than anybody, and that is everybody. Only onemust allow everybody sufficient time to sift the evidence and add that,even so, everybody does not know very much. Burke told the electors ofBristol that he was not flattering their Opinions of the moment, but utteringthe views that both they and he must have five years thence. Even in thistriumph of the sober judgment of the people over its passing impression,the role of the true leader should not be underestimated. Thus in the year1795 the plain people of America were eager to give the fraternal accoladeto the French Jacobins. The great and wise Washington opposed an alliancethat would almost certainly have been disastrous. . . .

A democracy, the realistic observer is forced to conclude, is likelyto be idealistic in its feelings about itself, but imperialistic aboutits practice. The idealism and the imperialism, indeed, are in pretty directratio to one another. For example, to be fraternal in Walt Whitman's senseis to be boundlessly expansive, and a boundless expansiveness, is, in aworld like this, incompatible with peace. Whitman imagines the United Statesas expanding until it absorbs Canada and Mexico and dominates both theAtlantic and the Pacific--a program that would almost certainly involveus in war with the whole world. If we go, not by what Americans feel aboutthemselves, but by what they have actually done, one must conclude thatwe have shown ourselves thus far a consistently expansive, in other words,a consistently imperialistic, people.17We have merely been expanding, it may be replied, to our natural frontiers;but we are already in the Philippines, and manifestly in danger of becominginvolved in Asiatic adventures. Japan, a country with fifty-seven millioninhabitants (increasing at the rate of about six hundred thousand a year),on a group of islands not as large as the state of California, only seventeenpercent of which is arable, has at least a plausible pretext for reachingout beyond her natural frontiers. But for us, with our almost limitlessand still largely undeveloped resources, to risk the horrors of war undermodern conditions for anything we are likely to gain from expanding eastward,would be an extreme example of sheer restlessness of spirit and of an intemperatecommercialism. . . . We are willing to admit that all other nations areself-seeking, but as for ourselves, we hold that we act only on the mostdisinterested motives. We have not as yet set up, like revolutionary France,as the Christ of Nations, but during the late war we liked to look on ourselvesas at least the Sir Galahad of Nations. If the American thus regards himselfas an idealist at the same time that the foreigner looks on him as a dollar-chaser,the explanation may be due partly to the fact that the American judgeshimself by the way he feels, whereas the foreigner judges him by what hedoes.

This is not, of course, the whole truth. Besides our tradition of idealismthere is our unionist tradition based on a sane moral realism. "Itis a maxim," says Washington, "founded on the universal experienceof mankind, that no nation is to be trusted further than it is bound byits interests; and no president, statesman or politician will venture fromit." All realistic observation confirms Washington. Those who areinspired by his spirit believe that we should be nationally prepared, andthen that we should mind our own business. The tendency of our idealists,on the other hand, is to be unprepared and then to engage in more or lessgeneral meddling. A third attitude may be distinguished that may properlybe associated with [Theodore] Roosevelt. The follower of Roosevelt wantspreparedness, only he cannot, like the follower of Washington, be countedon to mind his own business. The humanitarian would, of course, have usmeddle in foreign affairs as part of his program of world service. Unfortunately,it is more difficult than he supposes to engage in such a program withoutgetting involved in a program of world empire. The term sentimental imperialismmay be applied to certain incidents in ancient Roman history.18Some of the motives that we professed for entering the Great War remindone curiously of the motives that men like Flamininus professed for goingto the rescue of Greece. Cicero, writing over a century later and onlya few months before his assassination by the emissaries of the Triumvirs,said that he himself had once thought that Rome stood for world servicerather than for world empire, but that he had been bitterly disillusioned.He proceeds to denounce Julius Caesar, the imperialistic leader parexcellence, as a demon in human form who did evil for its own sake.But Caesar had at least the merit of seeing that the Roman ethos was changing,that as the result of the breakdown of religious restraint (for which Stoical"service" was not an adequate substitute), the Romans were rapidlybecoming unfit for republican institutions. . . .

Are we witnessing a similar moral deliquescence in this country, and,if so, how far has it gone? One of our foreign critics asserts that wehave already reached the "Heliogabalus stage" -- which is absurd.But at the same time it is not to be denied that the naturalistic notionof liberty has undermined in no small measure the two chief unifying influencesof the past -- the church and the family. The decline in the disciplineof the family has been fairly recent. Persons are still living who canremember the conditions that prevailed in the Puritan household.19The process of emancipation from the older restraint has not usually presenteditself as a lapse into mere materialism. Idealism in the current senseof that term has tended to take the place of traditional religion. Thedescendants of the Puritans have gone in for commercialism, to be sure,especially since the Civil War, but it has been commercialism temperedby humanitarian crusading. As I have pointed out, the humanitarian doesnot, like the genuine Puritan, seek to get at evil in the heart of theindividual, so that he is finally forced to resort to outer regulation.The egoistic impulses that are not controlled at their source tend to prevailover an ineffectual altruism in the relations of man with man and classwith class. The special mark of materialism, which is to regard property,not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself, is more and more visible.The conservative nowadays is interested in conserving property for itsown sake and not, like Burke, in conserving it because it is an almostindispensable support of personal liberty, a genuinely spiritual thing.As for the progressive, his preoccupation with property and what he conceivesto be its just distribution amounts to a morbid obsession. Orderly partygovernment will become increasingly difficult if we continue to move inthis direction, and we shall finally be menaced by class war, if, indeed,we are not menaced by it already. Every student of history is aware ofthe significance of this particular symptom in a democracy. One may sumup what appears to be our total trend at present by saying that we aremoving through an orgy of humanitarian legalism toward a decadent imperialism.


1. Introduction & l'Iconographie deJ.-J. Rousseau, pp. vii-viii.[Back]

2. I have cited some of these passages in Rousseauand Romanticism, p. 194 n. [Back]

3. See Political Writings (Vaughan), II, p.172. [Back]

4. See the opening paragraphs of Emile ("Toutpatriote est dur aux étrangers," etc.). [Back]

5. Political Writings (Vaughan), I, p. 392 n.[Back]

6. Cf. Chateaubriand, Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe,II, pp. 12-14. [Back]

7. Ibid., p. 243. [Back]

8. Both monarchists and revolutionary idealists hadof course other motives in addition to those they professed. For this wholeperiod, see E. Bourgeois, Manuel historique de politique étrangère,II, pp. 1-184. [Back]

9. According to M. Chuquet, the remark of Goethe towhich I refer dates from 1820 and not from the evening of the battle (September20, 1792). See article in Revue hebdomadaire, December 18, 1915.[Back]

10. "La Révolution française futle fait générateur de l'idée de l'unité allemande."Renan, Réforme intellectuelle et morale, p. 130. [Back]

11. See Coleridge's France: An Ode. For correspondingGerman developments, see G. P. Gooch, Germany and the French Revolution,passim. [Back]

12. This point has been well made by Mr. J. MiddletonMurry in his essay on "The Nature of Civilization" (The Evolutionof an Intellectual, p. 168). [Back]

13. Works (ed. Ford), x, p. 143. [Back]

14. For example, 41 percent of the residents of NewYork City are actually foreign-born; if we add those whose father or motheror both were born abroad, the more or less foreign element in its populationamounts to 80 percent. [These figures refer to the early 1920s.--ed.] [Back]

15. See Works (ed. Ford), III, p. 195. [Back]

16. "This is a chain of galley slaves,"cried Sancho, "who are going to the galleys." Be it how it may,"replied Don Quixote, "these people, since they are being taken, goby force and not of their own will. . . . Here comes in the exercise ofmy office, to redress outrages and to succor and aid the afflicted.""Let your worship reflect," said Sancho, "that justice,which is the King's self, does no violence or wrong to such people, butchastises them in punishment of their crimes." (Don Quixote,Part I, ch. XXII.). [Back]

17. This consistent imperialism has been traced byH. H. Powers in his volume America Among the Nations. [Back]

18. See Tenney Frank's Roman Imperialism, especiallychap. 8 ("Sentimental Politics"). [Back]

19. Professor G. H. Palmer has written from his ownmemories an article on "The Puritan Home" (Atlantic Monthly,November 1921). [Back]

*By "imperialism" Babbitt refers to arbitraryassertiveness not only among nations but also among individuals and groups.[Back]

**Here as elsewhere Babbitt uses the word "psychological"in a sense roughly equivalent to "philosophical," indicatingthat the evidence involved is not metaphysical but a matter of concreteand universal human experience. [Back]

***By the term "natural law" Babbitt refersto the principles of the natural sciences. What moral philosophers havetraditionally termed the "natural law" Babbitt calls the "lawfor man." [Back]