The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

But the situation is not without another and less favorable aspect.  France, in becoming a country of small and extremely thrifty property owners, has also become a country of partial economic parasites with very little personal initiative and energy.  Individual freedom has been sacrificed to economic and social equality; and this economic and social equality has not made for national cohesion.  The bourgeois, the mechanic, and the farmer, in so far as they have accumulated property, are exhibiting an extremely calculating individualism, of which the most dangerous symptom is the decline in the birth-rate.  Frenchmen are becoming more than ever disinclined to take the risks and assume the expense of having more than one or two children.  The recent outbreak of anti-militarism is probably merely another illustration of the increasing desire of the French bourgeois for personal security, and the opportunity for personal enjoyment.  To a foreigner it looks as if the grave political and social risks, which the French nation has taken since 1789, had gradually cultivated in individual Frenchmen an excessive personal prudence, which adds to the store of national wealth, but which no more conduces to economic, social, and political efficiency than would the incarceration of a fine army in a fortress conduce to military success.  A nation or an individual who wishes to accomplish great things must be ready, in Nietsche’s phrase, “to lived angerously”—­to take those risks, without which no really great achievement is possible; and if Frenchmen persist in erecting the virtue of thrift and the demand for safety into the predominant national characteristic, they are merely beginning a process of national corruption and dissolution.

That any such result is at all imminent, I do not for a moment believe.  The time will come when the danger of the present drift will be understood, and will create its sufficient remedy; and all good friends of democracy and human advancement should hope and believe that France will retain indefinitely her national vitality.  If she should drift into an insignificant position in relation to her neighbors, a void would be created which it would be impossible to fill and which would react deleteriously upon the whole European system.  But such a result is only to be avoided by the general recognition among Frenchmen that the means which they are adopting to render their personal position more secure is rendering their national situation more precarious.  The fate of the French democracy is irrevocably tied up with the fate of French national life, and the best way for a Frenchman to show himself a good democrat is to make those sacrifices and to take those risks necessary for the prestige and welfare of his country.

V

THE RELATION OF GERMAN NATIONALITY TO DEMOCRACY

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.