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When everything about a people is for the time growing weak
and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a
man's body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health.
Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims.
There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man
than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world.
And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency
of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end
of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem.
There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health
than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is
in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon.
None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood
what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said
that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church.
Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency,
but for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Even if the ideal
of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs,
they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics.
They did not say, "Efficiently elevating my right leg, using,
you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are
in excellent order, I--" Their feeling was quite different.
They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying
flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest
followed in a flash. In practice, the habit of generalizing
and idealizing did not by any means mean worldly weakness.
The time of big theories was the time of big results. In the era of
sentiment and fine words, at the end of the eighteenth century, men were
really robust and effective. The sentimentalists conquered Napoleon.
The cynics could not catch De Wet. A hundred years ago our affairs
for good or evil were wielded triumphantly by rhetoricians.
Now our affairs are hopelessly muddled by strong, silent men.
And just as this repudiation of big words and big visions has
brought forth a race of small men in politics, so it has brought
forth a race of small men in the arts. Our modern politicians claim
the colossal license of Caesar and the Superman, claim that they are
too practical to be pure and too patriotic to be moral; but the upshot
of it all is that a mediocrity is Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Our new artistic philosophers call for the same moral license,
for a freedom to wreck heaven and earth with their energy;
but the upshot of it all is that a mediocrity is Poet Laureate.
I do not say that there are no stronger men than these; but will
any one say that there are any men stronger than those men of old
who were dominated by their philosophy and steeped in their religion?
Whether bondage be better than freedom may be discussed.
But that their bondage came to more than our freedom it will be
difficult for any one to deny.