Biographies & Memoirs

12. “Was Europe a Success?”

THE HUMANITARIAN IDEAL of Europe appears indeed to be unalterably bound up with the free expression of opinion, to some extent with the free-will of the individual, with the effort toward objectivity in thought without consideration of mere utility, and with the encouragement of differences in the realm of mind and taste. These requirements and ideals comprise the nature of the European spirit. One cannot establish with reason the worth of these values and maxims, for they are matters of fundamental principle in the approach to life and are points of departure which can only be affirmed or denied by emotion. I only know that I affirm them with my whole soul, and would find it intolerable to belong to a society which consistently denied them.

I do not share the pessimism of those who believe that full intellectual growth is dependent on the foundation of open or concealed slavery. That may be true for eras of primitive technical development, where the production of the necessaries of life requires physical work by a majority of the people to the point of total exhaustion. In our time of high technical development, with a reasonably equitable division of labor and adequate provisions for all, the individual would have both time and strength to participate receptively and productively in the finest intellectual and artistic efforts his abilities and inclinations allowed. Unfortunately nothing approaching such conditions exist in our society. But everyone devoted to the specific European ideals will do his utmost to achieve aims of whose desirability and practicability an increasing number of right-minded persons are convinced.

Is it justifiable to set aside for a time the principles of individual freedom in deference to the high endeavor to improve economic organization? A fine and shrewd Russian scholar very skilfully defended this point of view to me in comparing the success of compulsion and terror—at least at the outset—in a functioning Russian Communism with the failure of German Social Democracy after the war. He did not convince me. No purpose is so high that unworthy methods in achieving it can be justified in my eyes. Violence sometimes may have cleared away obstructions quickly, but it never has proved itself creative.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!