Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/77

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73
COMMERCIALISM

oil. That city at the time of her greatest intellectual splendor can be compared in modern times only with cities such as London and New York. Long centuries hence there will be men who too will grieve over decadence of the race and the love of pelf. They will hark back to the days when London, Boston and New York produced such marvelous intellects.

That commerce brings wealth and that wealth brings luxury with eventually moral and physical decadence are propositions which, separately, admit of no dispute; but they must not be united, for wealth, not commerce, is responsible for the luxury and in part for the decadence. Babylon, Tyre, Athens, Corinth and Alexandria were commercial cities; each, after reaching the zenith of prosperity, showed that decay which so delights some students. But the morality of Persia sank to wretched depths in the time of Xerxes, when the vast wealth of many lands had been gathered by conquest; Nineveh, alike commercial and warlike, was enervated by luxury in the time of Assurbanipal and soon sank into obscurity; while commerce-despising Rome, enriched by the spoils of war, became, even before the Christian era, a veritable sink of moral pollution. At the same time one must note the all-important fact that though luxury eventually brings about decadence, still its first fruits among commercial peoples have always been intellectual and esthetic growth. The grandeur of Egypt attained its maxima under luxurious Amenemhat, Thothmes III. and Rameses II.; luxurious, unwarlike Assurbanipal gathered the literature of ancient Babylonia and of Assyria into his vast library at Nineveh; luxury-loving Athens and Corinth, not luxury-hating Sparta, produced the Grecian sculpture and architecture; luxury-loving Bagdad and Cordova encouraged literature and science and, in Spain, built the Alhambra.

Commerce brings wealth; the possession of wealth leads to luxury; a luxurious community is corrupt. This, according to moralists, is the sequence, and the belief in its truth is of such hoary antiquity that to contest it is as though one doubted the law of gravitation. But the belief only proves poor human nature's readiness to shift the blame for its inherent weaknesses. The corruption of a wealthy community differs from that of a savage community not so much in kind as in degree. The clerk who pilfers from a cross-roads shop is in the same class with a bank officer who "appropriates" several millions of dollars. The difference is only in opportunity. Dishonesty in one form or another is so much part of human nature that its spores, so to speak, are breathed out into the atmosphere. A reformer, aggrieved by its constant reappearance, is as unreasonable as the amateur gardener who is perplexed by reappearance of weeds in his carefully tended garden. There will always be enough to give occasion for the philosopher's