Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/74

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70
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

COMMERCIALISM
By Professor JOHN J. STEVENSON
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

THE pessimistic streak, woven into every man's nature, becomes a broad band in the community when industrial interests are prostrate. During the past year, the men who during prosperous times lived in the solitude of their sorrows have come forth and have found appreciative listeners as they denounce our country's sins and despair of its salvation. For a year they have gloated over the frailties of society, the corruption of politics, the degradation of business morals; they have pictured the gloomy future of a country sunk in materialism, a prey to commercialism; they have sung in minor key of the purer days when a man was counted for his worth, when mere wealth carried no weight, when mind was more than matter, when dishonor was unknown.

Every unprejudiced observer sees that affairs are sadly out of joint and he longs for some mighty surgeon to adjust them; but he sees no ray of hope, no cure for human woes in these jeremiads; he recognizes only the old wailing, the old discord, with here and there a new note to catch the ear of passers-by. It is as old as the race itself. Doubtless poor old Adam thought sadly of his bachelor days, untried by any Eve of speculative temperament. The Prisse papyrus, written during the twelfth dynasty and copied from one of the fifth, carries us back to at least 2500 b.c.; its aged author grieved over the degeneracy of his times and longed for those better days of the past. More than fifteen hundred years afterwards the author of Ecclesiastes, pessimist himself, rebuked querulous men who asked why the older days had been better than these; Greek and Roman literature is full of laments and the poets sang wearily of a golden age, long past and past forever. Our own Washington had little hope for his country as he considered the decadence of public and private honor, the selfish anxiety for advancement and the corruption prevailing everywhere toward the close of the eighteenth century. Yet that was our age of gold, when corporations were unknown, when railroads had not been conceived, when petroleum had not soaked the land with its slime and Wall Street had not come to crush the people's energies.

Commercialism is the superabounding cause of all troubles; a vague