The inextricably linked concepts of utilitarianism as a concept of human destiny and egalitarian mediocrity as a norm for social relationships compose the formula for what Europe has tended to call the spirit of Americanism. It is impossible to ponder either inspirationfor social conduct, or to compare them with their opposites, without their inevitable association with that formidable and productive democracy to our North. Its display of prosperity and power is dazzling testimony to the efficacy of its institutions and to the guidance of its concepts. If it has been said that "utilitarianism" is the word for the spirit of the English, then the United States can be considered the embodiment of the word. And the Gospel of that word is spread everywhere through the good graces of its material miracles. Spanish America is not, in this regard, entirely a land of heathens. That powerful federation is effecting a kind of moral conquest among us. Admiration for its greatness and power is making impressive inroads in the minds of our leaders and, perhaps even more, in the impressionable minds of the masses, who are awed by its incontrovertible victories. And from admiring to imitating is an easy step. A psychologist will say that admiration and conviction are passive modes of imitation. "The main seat of the imitative part of our nature is our belief," said Bagehot. Common sense and experience should in themselves be enough to establish this simple relationship. We imitate what we believe to be superior or prestigious. And this is why the vision of an America de-Latinized of its own will, without threat of conquest, and reconstituted in the image and likeness of the North, now looms in the nighmares of many who are genuinely concerned about our future. This vision is the impetus behind an abundance of similar carefully thought-out designs and explains the continuous flow of proposals for innovation and reform. We have our USA-mania. It must be limited by the boundaries our reason and sentiment jointly dictate.
When I speak of boundaries, I do not suggest absolute negation. I am well aware that we find our inspirations, our enlightenment, our teachings, in the example of the strong; nor am I unaware that intelligent attention to external events is singularly fruitful in the case of a people still in the process of forming its national entity. I am similarly aware that by persevering in the educational process we hope to modulate the elements of society that must be adapted to new exigencies of civilization and new opportunities in life, thus balancing the forces of heritage and custom with that of innovation. I do not, however, see what is to be gained from denaturalizing the character--the personality--of a nation, from imposing an identification with a foreign model, while sacrificing irreplaceable uniqueness. Nor do I see anything to be gained from the ingenuous belief that identity can somehow be achieved through artificial and improvised imitation. Michelet believed that the mindless transferral of what is natural and spontaneous in one society to another where it has neither natural nor historical roots was like attempting to introduce a dead organism into a living one by simple implantation. In a social structure, as in literature and art, forced imitation will merely distort the configuration of the model. The misapprehension of those who believe they have reproduced the character of a human collectivity in its essence, the living strength of its spirit, as well as the secret of its triumphs and prosperity, and have exactly reproduced the mechanism of its institutions and the external form of its customs, is reminiscent of the delusion of naive students who believe they have achieved the genius of their master when they have merely copied his style and characteristics.
In such a futile effort there is, furthermore, an inexpressible ignobility. Eager mimicry of the prominent and the powerful, the successful and the fortunate, must be seen as a kind of political snobbery; and a servile abdication--like that of some snobs condemned by Thackeray in The Book of Snobs to be satirized for all eternity--lamentably consumes the energies of those who are not blessed by nature or fortune but who impotently ape the caprices and foibles of those at the peak of society. Protecting our internal independence--independence of personality and independence of judgment--is a basic form of self-respect. Treatises on ethics often comment on one of Cicero's moral precepts, according to which one of our responsibilities as human beings is zealously to protect the uniqueness of our personal character--whatever in it that is different and formative--while always respecting Nature's primary impulse: that the order and harmony of the world are based on the broad distribution of her gifts. The truth of this precept would seem even greater when applied to the character of human societies. Perhaps you will hear it said that there is no distinctive mark or characteristic of the present ordering of our peoples that is worth struggling to maintain. What may perhaps be lacking in our collective character is a sharply defined "personality." But in lieu of an absolutely distinct and autonomous particularity, we Latin Americans have a heritage of race, a great ethnic tradition, to maintain, a sacred place in the pages of history that depends upon us for its continuation. Cosmopolitanism, which we must respect as a compelling requisite in our formation, includes fidelity both to the past and to the formative role that the genius of our race must play in recasting the American of tomorrow.
More than once it has been observed that the great epochs of history, the most luminous and fertile periods in the evolution of humankind, are almost always the result of contemporaneous but conflicting forces that through the stimulus of concerted opposition preserve our interest in life, a fascination that would pale in the placidity of absolute conformity. So it was that the most genial and civilizing of cultures turned upon an axis supported by the poles of Athens and Sparta. America must continue to maintain the dualism of its original composition, which re-creates in history the classic myth of the two eagles released simultaneously from the two poles in order that each should reach the limits of its domain at the same moment. Genial and competitive diversity does not exclude but, rather, tolerates, and even in many aspects favors, solidarity. And if we could look into the future and see the formula for an eventual harmony, it would not be based upon the unilateral imitation--as Gabriel Tarde would say--of one people by another, but upon a mutual exchange of influences, and the fortuitous fusion of the attributes that gave each its special glory.
In addition, a dispassionate examination of the civilization that some consider to be the only perfect model will reveal no less powerful reasons to temper the enthusiasms of those who demand idolatrous devotion, reasons other than those based on the thesis that to reject everything original is both unworthy and unjustifiable. And now I come to the direct relation between the theme of my talk and the spirit of imitation.
Any criticism of the Americans to our north should always be accompanied, as in the case of any worthy opponent, with the chivalrous salute that precedes civilized combat. And I make that bow sincerely. But to ignore a North American's defects would seem to me as senseless as to deny his good qualities. Born--calling upon the paradox that Baudelaire employed in a different context--with the innate experience of freedom, they have remained faithful to the laws of their origins and with the precision and sureness of a mathematical progression have developed the basic principles of their formation. Subsequently, their history is characterized by a uniformity that, although it may lack diversity in skills and values, does possess the intellectual beauty of logic. The traces of their presence will never be erased from the annals of human rights. From tentative essays and utopian visions, they were the first to evoke our modern ideal of liberty, forging imperishable bronze and living reality from concepts. With their example they have demonstrated the possibility of imposing the unyielding authority of a republic upon an enormous national organism. With their federation they have demonstrated--recalling de Tocqueville's felicitous expression--how the brilliance and power of large states can be reconciled with the happiness and peace of thesmall. Some of the boldest strokes in the panorama of this century, deeds that will be recorded through all time, are theirs. Theirs, too, the glory of having fully established--by amplifying the strongest note of moral beauty in our civilization--the grandeur and power of work, that sacred power that antiquity degraded to the abjectness of slave labor, and that today we identify with the highest expression of human dignity, founded on the awareness of its intrinsic worth. Strong, tenacious, believing that inactivity is ignominious, they have placed in the hands of the mechanic in his shop and the farmer in his field the mythic club of Hercules and have given human nature a new and unexpected beauty by girding onto it the blacksmith's leather apron. Each of them marches forward to conquer life in the same way the first Puritans set out to tame the wilderness. Persevering devotees of that cult of individual energy that makes each man the author of his own destiny, they have modeled their society on an imaginary assemblage of Crusoes who, after gaining their crude strength by looking out for their self-interests, set to weaving the stout cloth of their society. Without sacrificing the sovereign concept of individualism, they have at the same time created from the spirit of association the most admirable instrument of their grandeur and empire. Similarly, from the sum of individual strengths subordinated to a plan of research, philanthropy, and industry, they have achieved marvelous results that are all the more remarkable, considering that they were obtained while maintaining the absolute integrity of personal autonomy. There is in these North Americans a lively and insatiable curiosity and an avid thirst for enlightenment. Professing their reverence for public education with an obsessiveness that resembles monomania--glorious and productive as it may be--they have made the school the hub of their prosperity, and a child's soul the most valued of all precious commodities. Although their culture is far from being refined or spiritual, it is admirably efficient as long as it is directed to the practical goal of realizing an immediate end. They have not added a single general law, a single principle, to the storehouse of scientific knowledge. They have, however, worked magic through the marvels of their application of general knowledge. They have grown tall as giants in the domains of utility; and in the steam engine and electric generator they have given the world billions of invisible slaves to serve the human Aladdin, increasing a hundredfold the power of the magic lamp. The extent of their greatness and strength will amaze generations to come. With their prodigious skill for improvisation, they have invented a way to speed up time; and by the power of will in one day they have conjured up from the bosom of absolute solitude a culture equal to the work of centuries. The liberty of Puritanism, still shedding its light from the past, joined to that light the heat of a piety that lives today. Along with factories and schools, their strong hands have also raised the churches from which rise the prayers of many millions of free consciences. They have been able to save from the shipwreck of all idealisms the highest idealism, keeping alive the tradition of a religion that although it may not fly on wings of a delicate and profound spiritualism does, at least, amid the harshness of the utilitarian tumult, keep a firm grip on the reins of morality. Surrounded by the refinements of civilized life, they have also been able to maintain a certain robust primitivism. They have a pagan cult of health, of skill, of strength; they temper and refine the precious instrument of will in muscle; and obliged, by their insatiable appetite for dominance, to cultivate all human activities with obsessive energy, they build an athlete's torso in which to shelter the heart of free man. And from the concord of their civilization, from the harmonious mobility of their culture, sounds a dominant note of optimism and confidence and faith that expands their hearts; they advance toward the future under the power of a stubborn and arrogant expectation. This is the note of Longfellow's "Excelsior" and "A Psalm of Life," which their poets, in the philosophy of strength and action, have advocated as an infallible balm against all bitterness.
Thus their titanic greatness impresses even those who have been forewarned by the enormous excesses of their character or the recent violence of their history. As for me, you have already seen that, although I do not love them, I admire them. I admire them, first of all, for their formidable strength of volition and, as Philarète Chasles said of their English forebears, I bow before the "school of will and work" they have instituted.
In the beginning was Action. A future historian of that powerful republic could begin the still-to-be-concluded Genesis of their national existence with these famous words from Faust. Their genius, like the universe of the Dynamists, could be defined as force in motion. Above all else, they have the capacity, the enthusiasm, and the blessed vocation for action. Will is the chisel that has sculptured these peoples in hard stone. Their outstanding characteristics are the two manifestations of the power of will: originality and boldness. Their history, in its entirety, has been marked by paroxysms of vigorous activity. Their typical figure, like Nietzsche's superman, is named I Will It. If something saves him, collectively, from vulgarity, it is that extraordinary show of energy that leads to achievement and that allows him to invest even the struggles of self-interest and materialism with a certain aura of epic grandeur. Thus Paul Bourget could say that the speculators of Chicago and Minneapolis are like heroic warriors whose skills of attack and defense are comparable to those of Napoleon's veteran grognards. And this supreme energy that seems to permit North American genius--audacious and hypnotic as it is--to cast spells and the power of suggestion over the Fates is to be found even in those peculiarities of their civilization that we consider exceptional or divergent. For example, no one will deny that Edgar Allan Poe is one such anomalous and rebellious individual. He is of the elect who resist assimilation into the national soul, a person who successfully, if in infinite solitude, struggled among his fellows for self-expression. And yet--as Baudelaire has so tellingly pointed out--the basic characteristic of Poe's heroes is still the superhuman persistence, the indomitable stamina, of their will. When Poe conceived Ligeia, the most mysterious and adorable of his creatures, he symbolized in the inextinguishable light of her eyes the hymn of the triumph of Will over Death.
With my sincere recognition of all that is luminous and great in its genius, I have won the right to complete a fair appraisal of this powerful nation; one vital question, however, remains to be answered. Is that society achieving, or at least partially achieving, the concept of rational conduct that satisfies the legitimate demands of intellectual and moral dignity? Will this be the society destined to create the closest approximation of the "perfect state"? Does the feverish restlessness that seems to magnify the activity and intensity of their lives have a truly worthwhile objective, and does that stimulus justify their impatience?
Herbert Spencer, voicing his sincere and noble tribute to American democracy at a banquet in New York City, identified this same unrestrainable restiveness as the fundamental characteristic of the lives of North Americans, an agitation manifest in their infinite passion for work and their drive toward material expansion in all its forms. And then he observed that such an atmosphere of activity exclusively subordinated to the immediate proposals of utility denoted a concept of life that might well be acceptable as a provisional quality of a civilization, or as the preliminary stage of a culture. Such a concept, however, demands subsequent revision, for unless that tendency is curbed, the result will be to convert utilitarian work into an end, into the supreme goal of life, when rationally it can be only one among numbers of elements that facilitate the harmonious development of our being. Then Spencer added that it was time to preach to North Americans the "gospel of relaxation." And as we identify the ultimate meaning of those words with the classic concept of otium, as it was dignified by the moralists of antiquity, we would include among the chapters of gospel those tireless workers should heed, everything concerned with the ideal, the use of time for other than selfish purposes, and any meditation not directed toward the immediate ends of utility.
North American life, in fact, perfectly describes the vicious circle identified by Pascal: the fervent pursuit of well-being that has no object beyond itself. North American prosperity is as great as its inability to satisfy even an average concept of human destiny. In spite of its titanic accomplishments and the great force of will that those accomplishments represent, and in spite of its incomparable triumphs in all spheres of material success, it is nevertheless true that as an entity this civilization creates a singular impression of insufficiency and emptiness. And when following the prerogative granted by centuries of evolution dominated by the dignity of classicism and Christianity we ask, what is its directing principle, what its ideal substratum, what the ultimate goal of the present Positivist interests surging through that formidable mass, we find nothing in the way of a formula for a definitive ideal but the same eternal preoccupation with material triumphs. Having drifted from the traditions that set their course, the peoples of this nation have not been able to replace the inspiring idealism of the past with a high and selfless concept of the future. They live for the immediate reality, for the present, and thereby subordinate all their activity to the egoism of personal and collective well-being. Of the sum of their riches and power could be said what Bourget said of the intelligence of the Marquis de Norbert, a figure in one of his books: that it is like a well-laid fire to which no one has set a match. What is lacking is the kindling spark that causes the flame of a vivifying and exciting ideal to blaze from the abundant but unlighted wood. Not even national egoism, lacking a higher motivation, not even exclusiveness and pride of nationhood, which is what in antiquity transfigured and exalted the prosaic severity of Roman life, can engender glimmers of idealism and beauty in a people in whom cosmopolitan confusion and the atomism of a poorly understood democracy impede the formation of a true national consciousness.
It could be said that when the Positivism of the mother country was transmitted to her emancipated children in America, it suffered a distilling process that filtered out the emollient idealism, reducing it to the harshness that previous excessive passion and satire had attributed to English Positivism. But beneath the hard utilitarian shell, beneath the mercantile cynicism, beneath the Puritanical severity the English spirit masks--you must never doubt it--a poetic genius and a profound veneration for sensitivity. All this, in Taine's opinion, reveals that the primitive, the Germanic, essence of that people, later diluted by the pressures of conquest and commercial activities, was one of an extraordinary exaltation of sentiment. The American spirit did not inherit the ancestral poetic instinct that bursts like a crystalline stream from the heart of Britannic rock when smitten by an artistic Moses. In the institution of their aristocracy--as anachronistic and unjust as it may be in the realm of politics--the English people possess a high and impregnable bulwark against the attacks of mercantilism and the encroachment of the prosaic. This bulwark is so high and so impregnable that Taine himself states that, since the age of the Greek city-states, history has not seen an example of a way of life more propitious to heightening a sense of human nobility. In the ambience of American democracy, the spirit of vulgarity encounters no barriers to slow its rising waters, and it spreads and swells as if flooding across an endless plain.
Sensibility, intelligence, customs--everything in that enormous land is characterized by a radical ineptitude for selectivity which, along with the mechanistic nature of its materialism and its politics, nurtures a profound disorder in anything having to do with idealism. It is all too easy to follow the manifestations of that ineptitude, beginning with the most external and apparent, then arriving at those that are more essential and internal. Prodigal with his riches--because in his appetites, as Bourget has astutely commented, there is no trace of Molière's miserly Harpagon--the North American has with his wealth achieved all the satisfaction and vanity that come with sumptuous magnificence--but good taste has eluded him. In such an atmosphere, true art can exist only in the form of individual rebellion. Emerson and Poe, in that situation, are like plants cruelly uprooted from their natural soil by the spasms of a geologic catastrophe. Bourget, in Outre mer, speaks of the solemnity with which the word art trembles on the lips of the North Americans who have courted fortune. In such sycophancy, the hearty and righteous heroes of self-help hope to crown, by assimilating refinement, the labor of their tenaciously won eminence. But never have they conceived of the divine activity they so emphatically profess as anything other than a new way to satisfy their pervading restiveness, and as a trophy for their vanity. They ignore in art all that is selfless and selective. They ignore it, in spite of the munificence with which private fortunes are employed to stimulate an appreciation of beauty; in spite of the splendid museums and exhibitions their cities boast; in spite of the mountains of marble and bronze they have sculptured into statues for their public squares. And if a word may some day characterize their taste in art, it will be a word that negates art itself: the grossness of affectation, the ignorance of all that is subtle and exquisite, the cult of false grandeur, the sensationalism that excludes the serenity that is irreconcilable with the pace of a feverish life.
The idealism of beauty does not fire the soul of a descendant of austere Puritans. Nor does the idealism of truth. He scorns as vain and unproductive any exercise of thought that does not yield an immediate result. He does not bring to science a selfless thirst for truth, nor has he ever shown any sign of revering science for itself. For him, research is merely preparation for a utilitarian application. His grandiose plans to disseminate the benefits of popular education were inspired in the noble goal of communicating rudimentary knowledge to the masses; but although those plans promote the growth of education, we have seen no sign that they contain any imperative to enhance selective education, or any inclination to aid in allowing excellence to rise above general mediocrity. Thus the persistent North American war against ignorance has resulted in a universal semi-culture, accompanied by the diminution of high culture. To the same degree that basic ignorance has diminished in that gigantic democracy, wisdom and genius have correspondingly disappeared. This, then, is the reason that the trajectory of their intellectual activity is one of decreasing brilliance and originality. While in the period of independence and the formation of their nation many illustrious names emerged to expound both the thought and the will of that people, only a half century later de Tocqueville could write of them, the gods have departed. It is true, however, that even as de Tocqueville was writing his masterpiece, the rays of a glorious pleiad of universal magnitude in the intellectual history of this century were still beaming forth from Boston, the Puritan citadel, the city of learned traditions. But who has come along to perpetuate the bequest of a William Ellery Channing, an Emerson, a Poe? The bourgeois leveling process, ever-swifter in its devastation, is tending to erase what little character remains of their precarious intellectualism. For some time now North American literature has nor been borne to heights where it can be perceived by the rest of the world. And today the most genuine representation of American taste in belle lettres is to be found in the gray pages of a journalism that bears little resemblance to that of the days of the Federalist.
In the area of morality, the mechanistic thrust of utilitarianism has been somewhat regulated by the balance wheel of a strong religious tradition. We should not, nevertheless, condude that this tradition has led to true principles of selflessness. North American religion, a derivation from and exaggeration of English religion, actually serves to aid and enforce penal law that will relinquish its hold only on the day it becomes possible to grant to moral authority the religious authority envisioned by John Stuart Mill. Benjamin Franklin represents the highest point in North American morality: a philosophy of conduct whose ideals are grounded in the normality of honesty and the utility of prudence. His is a philosophy that would never give rise to either sanctity or heroism, one that although it may--like the cane that habitually supports its originator--lend conscience support along the everyday paths of life is a frail staff indeed when it comes to scaling the peaks. And these are the heights; consider the reality to be found in the valleys. Even were the moral criterion to sink no lower than Franklin's honest and moderate utilitarianism, the inevitable consequence--already revealed in de Tocqueville's sagacious observation--of a society educated in such limitations of duty would not inevitably be that state of proud and magnificent decadence that reveals the proportions of the satanic beauty of evil during the dissolution of empires; it would, instead, result in a kind of pallid and mediocre materialism and, ultimately, the lassitude of a lusterless enervation resulting from the quiet winding-down of all the mainsprings of moral life. In a society whose precepts tend to place the demonstration of self-sacrifice and virtue outside the realm of obligation, the bounds of that obligation will constantly be pushed back. And the school of material prosperity--always an ordeal for republican austerity--that captures minds today has carried the simplistic concept of rational conduct even farther. In their frankness other codes have surpassed even Franklin as an expression of the national wisdom. And it is not more than five years ago that in all of North America's cities public opinion consecrated, with the most unequivocal demonstration of popular and critical acclaim, the new moral law: from the Boston of the Puritans, Orison Swett Mardin wrote a learned book entitled Pushing to the Front, solemnly announcing that success should be considered the supreme goal of life. His "revelation" echoed even in the bosom of Christian fellowship, and once was cited as being comparable to Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ.
Public life, of course, does not escape the consequences of the spread of the germ of disorganization harbored in the entrails of that society. Any casual observer of its political customs can relate how the obsession of utilitarian interests tends progressively to enervate and impoverish the sense of righteousness in the hearts of its citizens. Civic valor, that venerable Hamiltonian virtue, is a forgotten sword that fies rusting among the cobwebs of tradition. Venality, which begins in the polling places, spreads through the workings of the institution. A government of mediocrity discourages the emulation that exalts character and intelligence and relates those qualities to the efficacy of power. Democracy, which consistently has resisted the regulator of a noble and instructive notion of human excellence, has always tended toward an abominable slavishness to numbers that undervalues the greatest moral benefits of liberty and nullifies respect for the dignity of others. Today, furthermore, a formidable force is rising up to emphasize the absolutism of numbers. The political influence of a plutocracy represented by the all-powerful allies of the trust, the monopolizers of production and masters of the economy, is undoubtedly one of the most significant features in the present physiognomy of that great nation. The formation of this plutocracy has caused some to recall, with good reason, the rise of the arrogant andwealthy class that in the waning days of the Roman republic was one of the visible signs of the decline of liberty and the tyranny of the Caesars. And the exclusive concern for material gain--the numen of that civilization-imposes its logic on political life, as well as on all other areas of activity, granting the greatest prominence to Alphonse Daudet's bold and astute Struggle for-lifer, become, by dint of brutal efficiency, the supreme personification of national energy: a postulant for Emerson's representative man, or for Taine's peronnage rignant [leading personage].
There is a second impulse corresponding to the one that in the life of the spirit is speeding toward utilitarian egoism and the disintegration of idealism, and that is the physical impulse the multitudes and the initiatives of an astounding population explosion are pushing Westward toward the boundless territory that throughout the period of the Independence was still a mystery hidden by the forests of the Mississippi. In fact, it is in this extemporaneous West--beginning to be so formidable to the interests of the original Atlantic states, and threatening in the near future to demand its hegemony--that we find the most faithful representation of contemporary North American life. It is in the West that the definitive results, the logical and natural fruits, of the spirit that has led this powerful democracy away from its origins stand out so clearly, allowing the observer to picture the face of the immediate future of this great nation. As a representative type, the Yankee and Virginian have been replaced by the tamer of the only-yesterday-deserted Plains, those settlers of whom Michel Chevalier said, prophetically, a half-century ago, "the last shall be first." In that man of the West, a utilitarianism void of any idealism, a kind of universal indefinition and the leveling process of an ill-conceived democracy will reach their ultimate triumph. Everything noble in that civilization, everything that binds it to magnanimous memories and supports its historic dignity-the heritage of the Mayflower, the memory of patrician Virginians and New England gentry, the spirit of the citizens and the legislators of the emancipation--will live on in the original States, there where in Boston and Philadelphia "the palladium of Washingtonian tradition" is still upheld. It is Chicago that now rears its head to rule. And its confidence in its superiority over the original Atlantic states is based on the conviction that they are too reactionary, too European, too traditional. History confers no titles when the election process entails auctioning off the purple.
To the degree that the generic utilitarianism of that civilization assumes more defined, more open, and more limiting characteristics, the intoxication of material prosperity increases the impatience of its children to propagate that doctrine and enshrine it with the historical importance of a Rome. Today, North Americans openly aspire to preeminence in universal culture, to leadership in ideas; they consider themselves the forgers of a type of civilization that will endure forever. The semi-ironic speech that Réné Lefebvre Laboulaye places in the mouth of a student in his Americanized Paris to signify the superiority that experience has conceded to whatever favors the pride of nationalism would today be accepted by any patriotic North American as absolute truth. At the base of the Americans' open rivalry with Europe there is an ingenuous disdain, and the profound conviction that Americans will in a very brief time obscure the intellectual superiority and glory of Europe, once again fulfilling in the evolution of human civilization the harsh law of the ancient mysteries in which the initiate always killed his initiator. It would be futile to attempt to convince a North American that, although the contribution his nation has made to the evolution of liberty and utility has undoubtedly been substantial, and should rightly qualify as a universal contribution, indeed, as a contribution to humanity, it is not so great as to cause the axis of the world to shift in the direction of a new Capitol. It would be similarly futile to attempt to convince him that the enduring achievements of the European Aryans, who dwelt along the civilizing shores of the Mediterranean that more than three thousand years ago jubilantly displayed the garland of its Hellenic cities--achievements that survived until today, and whose traditions and teachings we still adhere to--form a sum that cannot be equaled by the formula Washington plus Edison. Given the opportunity, they would gladly revise Genesis, hoping to gain a place "in the beginning." But, in addition to the relative modesty of their role in the enlightenment of humanity, their very character denies them the possibility of hegemony. Nature has not gifted them either with a genius for persuasion or with the vocation of the apostle. They lack the supreme gift of amiability, given the highest meaning of the word, that is, the extraordinary power of sympathy that enables nations endowed by Providence with the gift and responsibility for educating to instill in their culture something of the beauty of classic Greece, beauty of which all cultures hope to find some trace. That civilization may abound--undoubtedly it does abound--in proposals and productive examples. It may inspire admiration, amazement, and respect. But it is difficult to believe that when a stranger glimpses their enormous symbol from the high seas--Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty, triumphantly lifting her torch high above the port of New York City--it awakens in his soul the deep and religious feeling that must have been evoked in the diaphanous nights of Attica by the sight of Athena high upon the Acropolis, her bronze sword, glimpsed from afar, gleaming in the pure and serene atmosphere.
I want each of you to be aware that when in the name of the rights of the spirit I resist the mode of North American utilitarianism, which they want to impose on us as the summa and model of civilization, I do not imply that everything they have achieved in the sphere of what we might call the interests of the soul has been entirely negative. Without the arm that levels and constructs, the arm that serves the noble work of the mind would not be free to function. Without a certain material wellbeing, the realm of the spirit and the intellect could not exist. The aristocratic idealism of Renan accepts this fact when it exalts--in relation to the moral concerns of the species and its future spiritual selection--the importance of the utilitarian work of this century. "To rise above necessity," the master adds, "is to be redeemed." In the remote past, the effects of the prosaic and self-interested actions of the merchant who first put one people in contact with others were of incalculable value in disseminating ideas, since such contacts were an effective way to enlarge the scope of intelligence, to polish and refine customs, even, perhaps, to advance morality. The same positive force reappears later, propitiating the highest idealism of civilization. According to Paul de Saint-Victor, the gold accumulated by the mercantilism of the Italian republics financed the Renaissance. Ships returning from the lands of the Thousand and One Nights laden with spices and ivory to fill the storehouses of the Florentine merchants made it possible for Lorenzo de Medici to renew the Platonic feast. History clearly demonstrates a reciprocal relationship between the progress of utilitarianism and idealism. And in the same way that utility often serves as a strong shield for the ideal, frequently (as long as it is not specifically intended) the ideal evokes the useful. Bagehot, for example, observed that mankind might never have enjoyed the positive benefits of navigation had there not in primitive ages been idle dreamers-surely misunderstood by their contemporaries--who were intrigued by contemplating the movement of the planets. This law of harmony teaches us to respect the arm that tills the inhospitable soil of the prosaic and the ordinary. Ultimately, the work of North American Positivism will serve the cause of Ariel. What that Cyclopean nation, with its sense of the useful and its admirable aptitude for mechanical invention, has achieved directly in the way of material well-being, other peoples, or they themselves in the future, will effectively incorporate into the process of selection. This is how the most precious and fundamental of the acquisitions of the spirit--the alphabet, which lends immortal wings to the word--was born in the very heart of Canaanite trading posts, the discovery of a mercantile civilization that used it for exclusively financial purposes, never dreaming that the genius of superior races would transfigure it, converting it into a means of communicating mankind's purest and most luminous essence. The relationship between material good and moral and intellectual good is, then, according to an analogy offered by Fouillee, nothing more than a new aspect of the old equivalence of forces; and, in the same way that motion is transformed into heat, elements of spiritual excellence may also be obtained from material benefits.
As yet, however, North American life has not offered us a new example of that incontestable relationship, nor even afforded a glimpse of a glorious future. Our confidence and our opinion must incline us to believe, however, that in an inferred future their civilization is destined for excellence. Considering that under the scourge of intense activity the very brief time separating them from their dawn has witnessed a sufficient expenditure of life forces to effect a great evolution, their past and present can only be the prologue to a promising future. Everything indicates that their evolution is still very far from definitive. The assimilative energy that has allowed them to preserve a certain uniformity and a certain generic character in spite of waves of ethnic groups very different from those that have until now set the tone for their national identity will be vitiated in increasingly difficult battles. And in the utilitarianism that so effectively inhibits idealism, they will not find an inspiration powerful enough to maintain cohesion. An illustrious thinker who compared the slave of ancient societies to a particle undigested by the social system might use a similar comparison to characterize the situation of the strong Germanic strain now identifiable in the Mid- and Far West. There, preserved intact--in temperament, social organization, and customs--are all the traits of a German nature that in many of its most profound and most vigorous specificities must be considered to be antithetical to the American character. In addition, a civilization destined to endure and expand in the world, a civilization that has not, in the manner of an Oriental empire, become mummified, or lost its aptitude for variety, cannot indefinitely channel its energies and ideas in one, and only one, direction. Let us hope that the spirit of that titanic society, which has until today been characterized solely by Will and Utility, may one day be known for its intelligence, sentiment, and idealism. Let us hope that from that enormous crucible will ultimately emerge the exemplary human being, generous, balanced, and select, whom Spencer, in a work I have previously cited, predicted would be the product of the costly work of the melting pot. But let us not expect to find such a person either in the present reality of that nation or in its immediate evolution. And let us refuse to see an exemplary civilization where there exists only a clumsy, though huge, working model that must still pass through many corrective revisions before it acquires the serenity and confidence with which a nation that has achieved its perfection crowns its work-the powerful ascent that Leconte de Lisle describes in "Le sommeil du condor" [The Dream of the Condor] as an ascent that ends in Olympian tranquillity.