Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/656

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Translated from the German of Carl Vogt by A. R. Macdonough.

THE striking feature of the present age is that outcropping of barbarism which has found in the persecution of the Jews an object for the full exercise of its passionate violence. It is our inheritance of centuries, hard to conquer, enduring as adamantine substance in those races that worked themselves out later than the rest into an existence worthy of man. Spite of all contradiction, I hold fast to this view, because it is true in its inmost core.

Just as an organism evolves, out of two mutually hostile tendencies, inheritance of character derived from ancestry, and acquirement of new advantages in the struggle for life through adjustment to its environment, so the special nature of a people builds itself up out of the inheritance bequeathed by its forefathers and the conquests it has won for itself in its contest for being. In a people's life, as in the individual's life, there are times when the one or the other of these striving forces steps into the foreground and thrusts the other back. Development does not advance with even flow, but by fits and starts—oftenest it is like that style of march in which two leaps are made backward after taking three forward.

We do leap—but it is backward, away into the middle ages, which we fancied we had got rid of.

The sign and token of our time contrasted with the middle ages is knowledge in contrast to belief; the exact method of research opposed to the sway of usurped authority; the free movement of forces all over the globe, as against limitation within narrow bounds and spaces; the peaceful, harmonious working of the nations toward high humane ends, as against their hostile rivalry to the end of subjection and ravage; the recognition of common human rights, as against the special claims of isolated castes and ranks. Whatever domain of political life we regard, we note everywhere the same tendency toward that reactionary groping after our inheritance from the middle ages.

Nor is this strange. One who clears his eyes from that whirlwind dust of glory flung abroad by warlike violence, and pictures pure fact to himself, sees that all its substantial results are due only to the systematic development and perfecting of material strength and power. He must logically come to the conclusion that the plant which has been so carefully nurtured and trained to the most vigorous productiveness can not wither down to its very root after this energetic effort. Victory always brings intoxication, and in its paroxysm those spirits are unchained which a sober and quiet life had fettered in the bonds of discretion. We insist on enjoying to the full the inheritance till now only partly spent.