Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/146

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for the reason that it is non-human, non-earthly; it never could exist on this earth and among these men. The notion of liberty, and of the things to which it pertains, has changed, even in modern history, from age to age. Never in the history of the world has military service weighed on large bodies of men as it does now on the men of the European continent. It is doubtful if it would ever have been endured; yet the present victims of it do not appear to consider it inconsistent with liberty. Sumptuary laws about dress would raise a riot in any American state; a prohibitory law would have raised a riot among people who did not directly resist sumptuary laws. A civil officer in France, before the Revolution, who had bought or inherited his office, had a degree of independence and liberty in it which the nineteenth-century official never dreams of; the more this nineteenth-century civil and political liberty is perfected, the more it appears, on the contrary, that under it an official has freedom of opinion and independence of action only at the peril of his livelihood.

So far our task has been comparatively easy. It requires only industry to follow out the history of what men have thought about anything. To find out how things have actually taken place in the life of the human race is a task which can never be more than approximately performed, in spite of all our talk about history. To interpret the history is still another task, of a much more difficult character.[1]

  1. The Emperor Paul, of Russia, showed what may be done in the interpretation of history. When he heard of the excesses of the French Revolution, he turned to his sons and said, "Now you see that it is necessary to treat men like dogs." (Masson, "Mémoires sur la Russie," 219). It is true that he was crazy, but we all have our personal limitations, which are most important when we undertake interpretation.