« ElőzőTovább »
since England would certainly not conform to my views. Moreover, the Boers seemed to me a people thoroughly capable of defending themselves and who would not accept any intervention, unless on condition that it were favorable to them. I add that I did not feel equal to the task, and if my effort were to prove merely that of a poet and be productive of no practical result, I would consider it ridiculous. It would indeed be nothing more than a platonic protestation, the dream of a visionary. And a last consideration withheld me. I had but just spent eleven months in England, where I received the most touching hospitality, and I felt that it would ill become me to interfere and thereby displease the English people, who had treated me with such sympathy and discretion. And I do not regret remaining silent because, as I have said, my mediation would have counted for naught and I consider that the Boers did not require it; they are shrewd and smart enough to manage their own affairs.
Nevertheless, I am following up the war with great attention, and in it I behold, as I said before, a revival of the warlike spirit, of the grand poetry of heroism and death, and likewise of those abominable massacres which strew the battle-field with the wounded and the slain. I know what a hold warlike exploits take upon the imagination of different peoples, and in vain do we endeavor to advance in civilization, since we must inevitably drift back to our primitive instinct: to the admiration of valor, to the heroworship of those who fight, who kill or are killed. Therein danger and bravery are both exalted. War brings all men's passions into play, and the champions who consent to die stir the innermost emotions of our souls. Peaceful philosophers, poets, confined within their sanctums, quiet men like myself, writers who believe in the superiority of the pen over the sword, who are convinced that civilization is the result not of battles, but of books—in a word, the passions of all studious men are irresistibly appealed to when they read the account of a battle. In vain do we aspire after universal peace, in vain do we seek to encourage fraternity among people, when there is in our very blood a sort of atavism which agitates and excites us as soon as a new war is announced; when we are seized with a species of delirium upon hearing that one nation attacks another, fights, exults and finally flaunts the flag of victory. We repudiate all this as a return of barbarism, thinking rather that humanity should advance toward a future city of
peace and goodness; but I repeat that in our blood is that old warlike atavism which prompts us to applaud the conqueror even though he be in fault.
This fact is certainly ominous, and yet I believe that, sooner or later, warfare will have become a thing of the past. As I have stated, many reasons seem to indicate that it is being gradually eliminated from civilization; it will end by costing too high a price and being too murderous in its effects. Europe, not to mention a country which I know well, will be on the fair road to bankruptcy if she persist in keeping all nations on a war footing, if she continue the manufacture of guns that are becoming daily more costly and more destructive, and if she stock her arsenals with shells, which, when such missiles are required, must be discarded for those of later manufacture, the deadly secrets of which are as yet unknown to neighboring nations.
The chief reason for the eventual disappearance of war is that it will have become useless. When speaking thus, I have in mind the democratic movement, the great socialist movement which, within the last hundred years, has made such advancement. In my way of thinking, the real human struggle is no longer on the field of battle, but on that of labor; in industry, in agriculture, in fact in every human effort for production and prosperity. The mighty contest going on to-day is that between capital and remunerative labor. I am convinced that now, in our day, there is in progress as important and decisive a social transformation as took place in olden times, when slavery was abolished and paid labor introduced. It required a great change to bring about such an issue, a change which caused the overthrow of the Roman Empire. The idea of having no slaves for manual and agricultural labor, industrial and domestic work; the thought of abolishing slavery and replacing it by something else, could not be entertained, and called forth the most vehement protestations even from the intellectual and liberal-minded. It was deemed impossible to live without slaves, and the hue and cry arose: “By what can you replace them ? How live without them?” And when slavery was superseded by paid labor, a new state of things was created, even empires being carried away. And therein Christianity played a great part. It declared all men equal, helped to destroy slavery and created, to a certain extent, the modern laborer, thereby immensely benefiting humanity.
Well, to-day the situation is pretty much the same. They say: “How can a nation exist without paid workmen? How can work be accomplished unless the workmen be remunerated ? And by what can you replace workmen?” There have been precursors, apostles, like Saint Simon, Auguste Comte, Proudhon and above all, Fourier, who have sketched or outlined a future society in which the question of wages and salaries was not considered even by workmen themselves; in which there was co-operation, community of interests and responsibilities; in fact, an entirely new state of affairs which was destined to replace actual pay. And it is evident that we are tending toward just such a state. The contention that we witness is really between capital and labor, and will eventually lead us to that other state which, as yet, is not clearly defined, but which will surely exact a total reorganization of labor and bring about a new distribution of riches. Yes, I maintain that this state of future society is the object for which we are now struggling, the new ideal toward which we are advancing, in direct opposition to the ideal of war which has so long stirred the passions of nations.
It is certain that in this future society war will be unheard of because the reorganization of labor will everywhere beget greater solidarity, bind the different nations closer together, either by arbitration or some other means of which we have, as yet, formed no conception. War cannot be a factor in this future state which the struggles of a closing century will link to the century about to dawn. It will be doomed to disappear, for it will be incompatible with the new condition of things.
Is it a dream to believe that we are witnessing war's last agony? Do not a thousand symptoms indicate the fact? May not the furore caused by the question of military equipment and so forth, be regarded as the last fitful glow in the dying embers of war? Would it not be impossible for the men of to-day to engage in combat similar to that into which their ancestors ruthlessly plunged, combat which could bring about no good but would do much harm?
Perhaps in France we suffer more than do our neighbors from the war footing we are obliged to maintain. One of the most serious causes of the crisis in which for several years past we have been writhing, is the antagonism existing between the ti publican institutions of a democracy, and the support of an im
mense standing army. It seems impossible thus to live. On the one hand there is the strict discipline exacted of the nation, for in our land the nation is the army; and, on the other hand, the liberty allowed the citizen, the liberty of voting, thinking and writing
If our troops were hired or even picked, this contradiction would be less pronounced, or perhaps might not exist at all. But when our whole nation is in arms, when, on the one side, strict obedience is demanded of it, while on the other it is told: “Thou art free; thou mayest vote as thou pleasest; think and write as thou pleasest;" is there not a formal contradiction which may be held responsible for the annoyances and trouble that beset us?
And, for all that, there is no one in all France, even among revolutionists and the avowed enemies of militarism, who would dream of asking for the disbanding of our troops. People may read in our newspapers of violent attacks upon some of our generals; they may sometimes see standing armies assailed; but, notwithstanding all this, we uphold the maintenance of the army as it is to-day. This is because we clearly understand our position, because we Frenchmen know and fully admit that, living in the midst of our enemies, it is impossible for us to lay down our arms unless these enemies do likewise. We are therefore simply submitting to a necessity—that of being on the alert, as is the rest of the world. I repeat, there is not a Frenchman who would be willing to take a soldier from the ranks of our army.
However, I also believe that there is not a Frenchman who dreams of a war of conquest. We may read in our newspapers of men who, under cover of patriotism, daily sally forth to battle, but their attitude is merely political; at heart no one is anxious to fight, and, above all, no one thinks of a war of conquest. It would be only some deplorable mistake, a stray spark, that could now cause a conflagration. The best guarantee of peace lies in the fact +hat not a' nation is inclined to fight; and France, in her present situation, will not be so foolish as to desire war.
Therefore, even in France, despite the military passion we show, the martial ideal is on the wane, and this betokens a change of spirit in us, because we have always been a warlike and extremely turbulent people. Our ancestors wandered into all parts of the ancient world. They went to Asia, Greece and Rome. Then came the time of the Crusades, which expeditions may be said to have been born of our disputatious inclination, our adventurous spirit. In the French temperament there has been implanted from the beginning, a craving for battle, a desire to go out among others, achieve feats of prowess, conquer lands, amass fortunes, please women and flaunt our standards of victory before the world.
One needs but to read our romances of chivalry in order to hear our warlike valor praised. The knights-errant leave their castles and, on mischief bent, go out into the world; and when there is no direct question of conquest, they pretend to espouse the cause of justice, to redress wrongs, deliver imprisoned princesses, kill traitorous knights, tyrants and the tormentors of women. But, in the story, there is always an adventurer, a cavalier who tramps the highways in search of a fortune, who starts out to seek a treasure and hopes that he may not return empty-handed, but bequeath to history a thrilling account of his daring exploits.
Ours is indeed a warlike past. Our history is replete with accounts of our secular combats with England, combats the memory of which is still with us; because, into the hatred which we are accredited with having for England, there evidently enters the recollection of our long struggle, all the rancor that could have been harbored against a neighbor with whom we fought for centuries. There were also our conflicts with Austria, Italy, Germany and Spain; in fact we were never known to remain quiet. France, the most turbulent nation of Europe, was constantly rekindling the flame of war. Our neighbors always considered us, and I think they hold the same opinion still, a people who could not remain quietly at home, but were ever looking after others and ready to interfere in their behalf; who, when we had no war question of our own to settle, felt that we must deliver Greece or Poland, and went meddling in foreign affairs, showing a truly chivalrous, but very restless, spirit, and remaining a constant menace to the peace of Europe.
This reputation of ours was well confirmed during the Napoleonic campaigns. These abounded in historic exploits to which I shall not now revert, but there was at length a supreme outburst of warlike sentiment in France; certain events helped it out, and, at a given moment, France was seen setting out to war against the combined nations of Europe, threatening and fighting them and acquiring vast lands. But it must be confessed that Napoleon failed to realize France's old dream-European domination. More