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there was a third element with which contemporary America had been created — liberty. It is from liberty that man has drawn the strength with which he has conquered matter; it is she who has removed the obstacles in his path; it is she who has opened to all, down to the humblest members of the community, the same prospects in the "pursuit of happiness”; it is liberty which has welded the component parts of the Union; for the first time in the history of the world an amalgam of peoples, of races, of religions, of tongues, had been made otherwise than by the force of arms, and that motley assemblage, rivalling the confusion of the Tower of Babel, has formed a body with a soul, under the life-giving breath of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. In an indictment which an illustrious historian has recently brought against American democracy he quotes, with certain reservations however, the following passage from Ernest Renan: "If it were necessary that Italy, with her past, or America, with her future, should be blotted out of existence, which would leave the greater void in the breast of humanity? What has all America produced that can compare with a ray of that infinite glory that adorns an Italian town of the second or third order, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Perugia?”This view, though inspired by idealism, is due to a narrow conception of the ideal, and bears the stamp of the epicurean and aristocratic intelligence of the admirable writer and of the materialized spiritualism of the former fervent Catholic who entered into communion with the unseen by means of painted Madonnas and sculptured saints. The Most High dwelleth not only in Gothic cathedrals. America has not been able to serve the ideal by “le grand art,” with which Renan consoles himself even for the degradation of a society in which it can be enjoyed, but she has served it in another way. The Declaration of American Independence, like the Declaration of the Rights of Man, has not lifted fewer souls heavenward than all the monuments of Pisa and Siena. Like the French Revolution, America, by bringing the good tidings to the world, has solaced humanity
1 W. H. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, Vol. I. 2 Etudes d'Histoire Religieuse, p. 394.
8 Renan has explained in the preface, written subsequently, that his views on America had been suggested to him by a concern for the higher culture imperilled by democratic materialism (ibid., IV, V).
for a space and has filled it with immense hopes, however great the disappointments and disillusions which the future had in store. Besides, the moral springs which both have set flowing are still there, and it is enough to be willing and able to drink at them.
It is all very well to say, with every appearance of reason, that the United States have been not so much a democracy as a great company for the exploration and exploitation of a vast territory, offering liberty and a share in political sovereignty as a sort of bounty to the workmen of whom the uncultivated New World stood in need. What difference in the value of the effects produced is made by the hidden motives of the acts which stir the human heart, which thrill it? Even in a theatre where everybody is aware of stage convention, does the spectator before shedding tears over the corpse of Cordelia carried by King Lear ask himself what were the intentions of Shakespeare or those of the theatrical manager who has produced the play ? From the Pilgrim Fathers, who crossed the ocean amid storm and tempest within the frail timbers of the Mayflower, down to the poor wretches two centuries and a half later, penned up like cattle in the "emigrant steamers," all journeyed in quest of liberty, without always understanding it as we understand it, often without being able to bring a clear definition of it out of their heavy-laden hearts; they went in search of it as towards an “unknown God," and they found that God. It is in vain that good observers, but who dwell too much on the surface of things, like Michel Chevalier, have declared that "American liberty is not a mystic, undefined liberty; it is a special liberty corresponding to the special genius of the people and their special mission; it is a liberty of work and locomotion of which the American takes advantage to spread over the vast territory ... and turn it to profitable account.” ? It was a mystic, it was an undefined liberty. This, too, is “written over the Falls of Niagara”: “And then the rainbows hovering over and about the scene, do they not signify the promise which America
1 Cf. the observations made on this subject by E. Boutmy, in his Etudes de Droit Constitutionnel, pp. 200-210, with the acuteness and penetration that characterize this writer.
2 Lettres sur l'Amérique du Nord, Paris, 1838, Vol. II, p. 203.
gives to mankind, the hope which it implants in weary-laden hearts, the home which it furnishes to the outcast and wanderer from governmental oppression and social villany elsewhere?" Abraham Lincoln, who embodied the best of the American character, did not view the stream of American destiny otherwise than as flowing in this channel of universal human liberty, dug by the authors of the Declaration of Independence: such was "their majestic interpretation of the economy of the universe. ... In their enlightened belief nothing stamped with the divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on and degraded and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of men then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children, and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages.” How is it that the work of the “Fathers ” has lasted? “I have often inquired of myself,” said Lincoln, "what great principle or idea it was that kept this confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland, but that sentiment of the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world for all future time.”
But, on the other hand, while granting that liberty - I repeat, a mystic and undefined liberty - is entitled to figure in the American escutcheon, one must admit that it has become materialized by use. Having served not to beautify an old home, but to build up a new one, as it were with bricks and mortar, it has almost lost its spiritual nature in this rough handiwork. That nature was not utterly destroyed, but it was etherealized, it was consigned to the sphere of a national cult rising above the cares of daily life and opening to men's minds, like a temple to the faithful, only at the hour of prayer.
Ideal liberty thus contracted and set within the halo with which the intoxication of material successes had surrounded the image of the Union, did but sanctify the national pride that was inspired by these successes ; it did but develop that patriotic sensibility which absorbed the political conscience. The inflated national sentiment grew more and more like the nationalist enthusiasm of which,
under different circumstances, many a country of the Old World had furnished, or still furnishes, an example, and which makes the worship of country a pagan cult from which the living God is absent. In the United States that cult found its dogmatic formula in the cry: "Our country, right or wrong!”
The American citizen, attracted by the material side of things, could thenceforth give himself up to it with all the less scruple that he had discharged his debt to the ideal by the patriotic sentiment which he carried in his breast. Yet the daily course of public life demanded more than this general tribute, it claimed the performance of regular moral duties towards the commonwealth. The busy citizen thereupon found new resources, by providing himself with a patriotism of the second degree, that of party. He put into it the same fetishism which satisfied his idealist requirements at small expense, and he gave to it the same dogmatic expression as to his worship of country with a slight variation: "My party, right or wrong!” Invested with a more ritual character, the cult of party enabled the citizen to pay off his every-day civic obligations more easily with the outward observances of devotion.
This coarse formalism was not only a more or less unconscious or more or less hypocritical bargain that the citizen made with his conscience, to which he had not the time to pay its due. It also forced itself on him through certain special tendencies of the American character, developed by religious tradition and by the moral position of the individual in society. The spirit of party, like that of fetishistic patriotism, is made up of contempt and dislike for those who are on the other side of the frontier line, and of mechanical attachment to those who are on this side of it. The first sentiment came in a direct line from the Puritan mind which had helped to mould the character of New England. The notions of orthodoxy and of heterodoxy, which made people look with holy horror on all those who were outside the pale of the Church, of the sect, passed straight into the life of the political parties as soon as the latter were formed. They set their mark on the contests
of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, and even on their innermost feelings in the face of death itself; Ebenezer Webster, the father of Daniel Webster, the illustrious statesman, on his death-bed begged not to be left to die in a non-Federalist city. The reciprocal sentiments of the adherents and the opponents of Jackson and Clay, of the Republicans and the Democrats, not only during the Civil War, but long afterwards, bore the same stamp.
The second factor to which I have alluded, and which impelled the American to herd with his fellows in the party fold, is one of the primordial facts of American social existence — the isolation of the individual. True, nowhere is man more unfettered in his movements, nowhere can the individual launch forth more freely, nowhere are political and, to all appearances, social barriers brought so low as in the United States, and yet nowhere else is man reduced to that atomic condition, so to speak, in which he finds himself on the other side of the Atlantic. His deliverance from the bonds of space and time, which has had the effect of narrowing the mind of the American, of making him a man of short views, recoils on him once more and makes him pay a fresh penalty for his liberty. For the yoke of locality and heredity, heavily as it weighs on the denizen of the Old World, offers him at the same time a moral support. The American lives morally in the vagueness of space; he is, as it were, suspended in the air, he has no fixed groove. The levelled society, without traditions, without a past, in which he lives, does not provide him with one. The only traditional social groove which did exist, and which was supplied by the churches, has been almost worn down by the incessant action of material civilization and the advance of knowledge. To construct, or wait for the construction of new, permanent grooves, the American has neither the time nor the inclination. Obeying the national genius he creates mechanical ones, in the form of associations, as numerous and varied as they are superficial, but all revealing the uneasiness of the American mind assailed by a sort of fear of solitude and, again, by the desire felt by the individual to give himself a special status in the midst of the community at large. Such are the "patriotic" societies of Colonial Dames, Daughters of the Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Order