162 THE FORERUNNERS
German writer's conclusion (which I am content to record without comment), is that " we have proof that ordinary idealistic morality, whether Kantian or Christian, is abso- lutely useless, for it is unable to lead any of those who profess it to act morally." In view of the manifest impossi- bility of founding moral action upon a purely idealistic basis, Nicolai considers that our first duty is to seek some other basis. He wishes that Germany, schooled by her ignominious fall, by her " moral Jena," should work at this task whose fulfilment is so indispensable to mankind should work at it for herself even more than for any other nation, seeing that her need is the greatest. " Let us see," he says, " if it be not possible to find in nature, scientifically studied, the conditions of an objective ethic, of an ethic that shall be independent of our personal sentiments, good or bad, always vacillating."
��In the first part of the volume we have learned that war is a transitional phenomenon in human evolution. What, then, is the true and eternal principle of humanity ? Is there such a principle ? Is there a higher imperative, valid for all men alike ?
Yes, answers Nicolai. This higher imperative is the very law of life, which governs the entire organism of humanity. Natural law has only two bases, only two which can never be shaken : the individual, separately considered ; and the human universality. All inter- mediaries, like the family and the state, are organised groupings, 1 subject to change, and they do actually change with changing customs ; they are not natural organisms. Egoism and altruism, the two powerful sentiments which give life to our moral world, acting therein like the con- trasted forces of positive and negative electricity, are the respective expressions of the individual and of the collec- tivity. Egoism is the natural outflow of our individuality.
1 Nicolai terms them " chance products " (sind nur zufallige Produkte).