Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/75

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71
COMMERCIALISM

something is this term commercialism, eluding definition, but evidently including all that is evil. It is the spirit of business. To denounce commercialism is the duty of every "high thinker"; the defender of business men can rarely obtain fair hearing. If in modest position, he is liable to be treated with mingled pity and contempt; if in responsible position, he is likely to learn that he is biased by self-interest; if a college officer, he is cast out of court at once as a hireling, because at some time or other a business man has done something for the college. The "high thinkers" can be described only by Job's reply to his similarly self-sufficient and equally ill-informed friends—"No doubt but ye are the people and wisdom shall die with you."

These critics of our day in their denunciation of commercialism are merely plagiarists of not very high order. The ancient Persians avoided commerce as a baneful pursuit, fatal to integrity; the Roman held commerce in slight esteem and mocked the gold-worshipping Athenians with the sneer, Græcia semper mendax. Yet those peoples, seeing so clearly the mote in their neighbor's eye, were blind to the beam in their own; while they despised the arts of peace they saw no sin in the arts of war, the wiles of diplomacy or the treachery of conflict. One can understand the Persian's position, but it is difficult to understand how an educated Roman could fail to recognize that his nation's culture had been absorbed from Grecian colonies on the Italian coasts. The Roman contempt for merchants was ingratitude matched only by that of some would-be philosophers of our time. For, be it remembered, civilization and commerce are twin sisters, never antagonistic, but always advancing hand in hand.

The world's greatest debt is due to civilizations born on the Nile and on the Euphrates, six or seven thousand years ago, both of them commercial. The Babylonians, inhabitants of the lower Euphrates area and intermediaries of commerce between India and the Mediterranean peoples, attained to a civilization prior to 2500 b.c. apparently comparable to that of Great Britain in the eighteenth century. It was marked by studies in science, by literature, by a noteworthy system of laws and by prosperity of the common people as well as of the rich. It dominated the whole of southwestern Asia and by 1500 b.c. its language had become that of the court even in Egypt and Asia Minor. When the course of commerce was diverted to the Red Sea and Alexandria, the glory of the Euphrates departed, to return only for a little when commerce revived under the caliphs of Bagdad.

Close intercommunication and the interchange of products along fifteen hundred miles of the Nile, conjoined with a vast caravan and sea trade with Arabia, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, as intermediaries of the whole region drained by the upper Niles, led to the development in Egypt of a civilization whose remains are even more notable than