AN ADDRESS BY WAITER GORGE SMITH
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
February 21, 1918
The President of the United States in his last address to Congress has stated with perfect precision the principles upon which, and upon which only, peace can be made with the Central Powers of Europe. First that each part of the final settlement must be based upon the essential justice of that particular case. Second, that peoples are not to be bartered from Sovereignty to Sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game. Third, every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the interests of the populations concerned, and not as a compromise of claims amongst rival states. Fourth, that all well defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction possible without introducing elements of discord likely to break peace hereafter.
These are the principles which he sets forth for the attainment of a just and lasting peace. There is something profoundly impressive in this calm, passionless statement, made at a time when after three years of unprecedented carnage, the world cries aloud for peace, if it be possible of attainment. Whatever be the hidden causes that brought about this stupendous war-whether they be traced to racial instincts or the reversion to an
Walter George Smith is a distinguished scholar, and an "eminent Jurist of repute." He is President of the American Bar Association, which powerfully influenced the United States to join the Allies in fighting for International Law. The American Bar Association was a potent factor in fighting the German propaganda, the gravest menace to the Allies.
original type of the Germanic peoples brought about by an undeserved prosperity,-we cannot doubt that the verdict of history will say that in its inception it was based on the motive of robbery, and in its conduct has been marked by an atrocious cruelty unprecedented in modern history. As long as the records of mankind are preserved, the events of the last four years will be handed down by history and tradition as marking the culmination of a half century's preparation on the part of the German statesmen to dominate the world by force and fraud. It is futile now to blame the inept statesmanship of the democratic nations of the world for permitting the monster's power to grow. It is for us whose fellow countrymen are bearing the brunt of conflict, to sustain them by every spiritual and material effort. We cannot doubt the final outcome of this war. France, the various nationalities that make up the British Empire, Italy, Belgium, Roumania, and finally the great republic of the United States must eventually prove too strong for the powers of evil, and peace will come. Whether that peace be but a truce, preparatory to a still more horrible and destructive conflict, or whether it be in the real sense of the term a victorious peace, depends upon how close an approximation is made of the principles defined by President Wilson. The signs of the times give promise that it may not be long delayed; but if it be, if there be still weary months of suffering, if the United States be called upon to pour out the blood of its citizens as Canada has poured out hers and as the gallant Australians, New Zealanders and those of the Mother Country have poured out theirs, still I have faith in the end that right must prevail. But shall we gain a victorious peace? If when the Prussian power is curbed, the sullen monster driven back beyond the Rhine and the nations, relieved of terror, seek to bind up their wounds, if they do not take heed of the defects of our existing civilization in the long run, these sacrifices will have been in vain. And another, and if it be possible, a more frightful war must be fought.
For fifteen hundred years the religion of Christ has been the profession of all but one of the great nations of Europe now engaged in this conflict; and with periods of reaction, little by little Christian principles seem to have modified the savage, selfish instincts of human nature. Though there were but few individuals in any community who approximated to the true Christian ideal, none the less that was the ideal in which we professed to believe, and just in proportion as we approached it, did our civilization advance. It has been said by some philosopher that men never go entirely wrong. It is by an over emphasis on some aspect of truth that their errors come about. It would seem that the defects in our civilization, speaking very broadly and generally, have arisen from our forgetfulness of the spiritualizing power of struggle and sacrifice. We have erected instead of the crucified Son of God whose whole life was a sacrifice and whose death was an atonement, the image of a false humanity which looks upon suffering, physical suffering especially, as a great evil and death the greatest-a religion of humanitarianism. Thus our civilization has presented the curious spectacle on the one side of a vast and rapidly increasing industrialism, receiving constantly accelerating force from the ever widening application of the hidden powers of nature, and on the other a system of corporate charity finding its expression in hospitals, asylums and institutions for the alleviation of the physical ills of humanity of all kinds, and in all places. Obviously, social service, ministering to the sick, all the corporal works of mercy, are among the commands laid upon His followers by the Divine Redeemer, but He never taught that suffering was to be avoided at the expense of principle and never until our day had there come so prevalent a feeling that material well-being should be the end and not the means.
Had there existed a virile Christian faith, the nations of the earth would not have compromised so long as they did with the Prussian evil and would have fought it ere it had gained its enormous strength. A recent writer, criticizing our civilization before 1914, finds in it a negation of all that goes to make high civilization. Comparing it with other periods of the world's history, he sees it without nobility of purpose, without spiritual leadership, following men without vision to a constantly debasing level of sordid equality. He finds in the centuries that produced the cathedrals so wantonly destroyed by the German barbarians, evidence of a democracy more real than our own. He feels that without a complete readjustment, we cannot look for better things. There is force in these criticisms. It is true that great masses of men have lost the virile Christian faith. Such a condition seems to be almost the inevitable concomitant of prosperity, and therefore it is as necessary for modern men as it was for the chosen people of God, that they should be chastized to bring them back to duty. It does seem that only in misfortune do the masses of men look to the aid of the supernatural.
"Men say 'God be merciful' who ne'er said 'God be praised'." Perhaps it may be, though it is not for us to attempt to fathom the mystery, that this awful cataclysm was necessary to make us realize that after all, notwithstanding the marvels of our material civilization, our apparent conquest of the earth, the air and of the sea, we are but men and not gods.
Yet, I do not sympathize with the wholesale criticism of the modern world. If we have laid an over emphasis on humanity, it is something that we have sought to diminish the volume of crime and pauperism by benevolent methods even though we may have carried the principles too far; if all the schemes of reform, all the legislative efforts to bring about a closer approximation to equality in the distribution of the rewards of labor have failed, none the less it redounds to the credit of this generation that the effort is made and it has so far succeeded that it may be safely said that never in the history of the world has so large a number of men lived in comparative comfort and decency as those who have had the good fortune to live on the North American Continent, in the United States and Canada during the past one hundred years. This must be said to the critics, but we cannot deny that danger signals are apparent.
The open attack upon Servia, Belgium, France and Russia which marked the beginning of the war was the culmination of many years of preparation. Dangerous as it was, and awful as have been its consequences, the price paid and to be paid for the overthrow of German power will not be too heavy if with German power, German philosophy falls also. Even before the leadership among European nations was assured to that empire by her triumph over France in 1871, the influence of her materialistic philosophy was spreading with poisonous effect. The doctrine of state supremacy in all the relations of life, reaching down to the regulation of the daily life of the subject, as a component part of a great machine, was winning admiration and imitation. The value of German efficiency was on every lip. German Kultur has for its central object the maintenance of a paramount military caste, with the other ranks of the people held in strict subordination. The American ideal of a state which interferes as little as possible in the private and domestic affairs of its citizens, is the antithesis of the German. Yet we have seen the gradual acceptance of the German theory obscure the old time individualism which, more than anything save the bounty of nature, gave prosperity to the American people. That this prosperity is largely owing to our vast natural resources notwithstanding our national habit of waste and extravagance is not to be denied.
In a recent address before the Iowa Bar Association, it was said that statistics showed that sixty-six out of every one hundred people who die leave no estate whatever; that out of the remaining thirty-four, only nine leave estates larger than five thousand dollars; that the average for the balance is a little less than thirteen hundred dollars; and that at the age of sixty-seven, ninety-seven out of every one hundred in America are partly or totally dependent upon relatives, friends or the public for their daily bread, for their clothing and the roof under which they sleep. According to government statistics, it is said ninety-eight percent of the American people are living from day to day on their wages, which means that a loss of employment would result in pauperism for all but two percent. The learned writer animadverts upon the legislation which is intended to correct these inequalities, caused in the main by laziness, extravagance and sin, and says with truth that,
"Legislation has never, yet assisted the individual one whit in wisely choosing his course in life, in meeting the vicissitudes of life, or in forming habits of work, thrift and self-denial. These essentials of a comfortable, serviceable and successful life are the results of individual effort and sacrifice, rather than legislation which seeks to compel the individual to action and to support him if he loses out in the struggle of life."
He quotes from Herbert Spencer,
"The ultimate result in shielding men from their own folly is to fill the world with a race of incompetents."
(Hon. Burton Hanson. Case & Comment Feb., 1918, P. 707.) Unconsciously perhaps, but none the less really, the German theory has influenced the legislation Mr. Hanson denounces.
I need not give you instances of the various forms of state socialism, part of which is now on the statute books, and part of which is systematically taught to the voters. To denounce it wholesale would be unjust. But the underlying philosophy is false. Every human action is the outcome of some system of philosophic thought. The vague theories of the German metaphysicians have gradually yielded to an all-prevailing materialism. Though their statesmen and soldiers profess faith in the Christian God, it needs but little study of their constant appeals to His name to find lie has been made to appear to their distorted minds rather as a pagan divinity, remorselessly aiding the strong, without pity for weakness or compassion for suffering. All that has been gained to the world in the age-long struggle to tame the selfish passions of human nature, and lift it to higher spiritual levels, is but folly in the view of a people saturated by the teaching of Nietzsche, Treischke, Bernhardi and their compeers. The consequences have appeared in the appalling atrocities of which their soldiers have been guilty, too often it appears with the sympathetic approval of the civilian population.
Therefore when peace comes, to be a victorious peace it will not suffice that stricken Belgium be restored as far as may be possible, that Alsace-Lorraine be returned to France, that Italy be given her true borders, the injuries to Servia repaired and the aspirations of all oppressed peoples be recognized and respected; these physical results of victory are essential. But victory in the higher sense cannot be secure or complete until the world is made safe against the state policy, the materialistic philosophy which in the long run is more dangerous than German arms.
If we profess the democratic faith but follow the autocratic practice, what have we gained for the millions of men who have fallen in battle, for the other millions who must lead their lives maimed, and blinded and suffering, for the enormous expenditures of treasure, for the irretrievable loss of art? We can bear all these catastrophes, hoping that the healing hand of time will soothe the present agony if, out of them all, emerges a better world. It will come, if we do but ponder the causes that have brought about these ills and return as far as we may to the ideals of individual responsibility and individual liberty which our fathers followed.
It is a heresy that we owe no reverence to the past, or duty to the future. We are but trustees here for a brief span to hand on to posterity the great heritage of faith, the noble ideals of liberty which are the fruits of what our forebears suffered from "old unhappy far off things and battles long ago."
Those who teach the doctrine that material wealth belongs morally, as well as legally, to him who can get it without incurring the penalties of criminal law, and that it may be used for selfish purposes alone, are not only untrue in the religion they still profess, but they are sowing the seeds of anarchy and revolution. Those who would seek to establish a state instead of an individual conscience, will bring on the very evils they seek to avoid. It is not through any form of state government but through a common sense of justice pervading all the individuals or the vast majority of those who make up the commonwealth, that security for person and property and the administration of the law of justice is secured. These are the ideals of English liberty; they are based upon the teachings of Christianity; they must pervade the lives and the institutions, political and social, of the world, before we can ever have a victorious peace. When such a peace comes, we may have the condition so well described by the English historian, T. H. Green-
"The maximum of power for all members of human society alike to make the best of themselves."