Book excerpts

Wondering which Utopia Roger Kimball read

I had intended to just post a snarky comment about the communist media and this bit from Peter Blake’s No Place Like Utopiawhich I’ve been reading at lunch the last few days, the beginning of chapter 9:

In the summer of 1947, I came back to New York from overseas, having spent some four years in the U.S. Army — most of them in Europe. Like many ex-GI’s, I now faced two problems: first, how to find a job; and second, how to finish my education, interrupted when I was drafted in 1943

The problem of finding a job turned out to be rather more difficult than I had expected. I called my friend Howard Myers, the Architectural Forum’s editor and publisher, as soon as I got off the boat and dropped by to see him the next day. He was full of enthusiasm — but there seemed to be something wrong. Finally, he came to the point: I had written several letters to him from Germany during my stint as an intelligence officer there, and some of these letters dealt with the sobering encounters I had with our Soviet allies, both in the last weeks of the war, when my armored division was on the Elbe River, and in the months following the German surrender, when much of my work brought me in contact with various forms of Soviet oppression throughout Eastern Europe. “I showed your letters to some of the people on our editorial staff,” Howard told me, “and I couldn’t believe my ears — they told me that it would be ‘disruptive’ of staff morale if you came back, in the light of your political views!” Howard still seemed in a state of shock as he tried to explain. He was quite naive politically and quite unaware of what many of us knew only too well, and from bitter personal experience: that the journalists’ union, known as the Newspaper Guild, was — in New York, at least — under full control of Communist Party members and their fellow travelers; and that the Time Inc. chapter, in which several of the top Forum editors were extremely active, was notorious for its rigid adherence to the party line. Not until a couple of years later, after some bloody internal battles, did the membership of the Newspaper Guild overturn its Stalinist leadership.

But for no particular reason I decided to read a few reviews first, starting with Roger Kimball’s in the New Criterion from 1994, which shows up second in the Google results for the book. It seems to be a remarkable and not particularly review-like piece of writing; Kimball complains that Blake doesn’t have the right facts about public school funding and views about Republican presidents.

He implies that Blake hasn’t really shaken his socialist loyalties:

Mr. Blake speaks of his school’s “atmosphere of socialist euphoria.” It is an aroma that permeates his book.

And there’s this:

The real problem with No Place Like Utopia, however—the thing that ultimately derails it as a serious book about the architecture of the period—is Mr. Blake’s extraordinarily naïve stance as an anti-capitalist crusader and his embrace of utopian socialist politics.

This is a remarkable thing to say, since the whole book is basically a criticism of utopian socialist politics. At the end, Kimball says:

Mr. Blake’s title suggests that he realizes that the word “utopia” means “no place.” But his sentimental embrace of utopian attacks on capitalism and free-enterprise makes one wonder. His “idealism” really is “starry-eyed” and “naïve.”

Now, here’s the bit from Blake’s intro that I’m pretty sure Kimball is quoting:

Initially, the title of this book was to have been When Utopia Was Young, and that title was to have implied a decline in modern architecture and modern art over the past fifty years or so. Or a decline in the idealism that motivated so many of us when we started out. For various reasons I decided to change that original title — but the original message, alas, has remained unchanged … The loss of idealism that concerns me in this book is perhaps more fundamental. It seems to me that the generation of young architects who, like myself, came out of World War II, was motivated by certain passions: we were determined to change the world, nothing less. We realized that mankind was faced by all sorts of predictable disasters … We believed, quite sincerely, that modern architecture could do something about all these things — especially about housing the poor, and about creating viable, healthy, democratic (and incidentally, beautiful) communities. We believed that we could slay the automobile, defeat fascism, and abolish disease. We were starry-eyed, and beautifully naive.

Does it sound like he’s failing to scrutinize his socialist past, to you?

How about this, does his discussion of IIT Institute of Design teachers Mies van der Rohe, Konrad Wachsmann, and Buckminster Fuller sound like he’s succumbed to a “sentimental embrace of utopian attacks on capitalism”? (Chapter 9):

All of these notions [of the three professors] suggested, or at least implied, the establishment of a planned society. But while Mies had briefly flirted with socialism in the early 1920s, neither he nor Bucky nor Konrad Wachsmann seemed to have any special interest in radical politics when I met them in the years after the war. Still, it seemed clear to me that they assumed, without ever bothering to pursue the notion, that some sort of planned society would have to be established … The fact that there seemed not the slightest intention in America to establish a planned society in the traditional Marxist sense, didn’t seem to have been noticed by any of them, or by any of the other avant-garde architect and planners demanding to be heard. Yet clearly the fact that American free enterprise, with its dedication to unfettered chaos, was in no immediate danger of overthrow would profoundly challenge many basic assumptions made by the avant-gardists.

For example, it would become clear that unplanned, chaotic free-enterprise competition was infinitely more productive than planned order of the sort implied or assumed by the avant-garde; that it would produce a kind of cityscape — colorful, varied, chaotic, without any semblance of order — that might be infinitely more stimulating than the deadly visions of Ideal Cities drawn up, painstakingly and humorlessly, by the bureaucratic Hilbs and his driven disciples; and that unfettered competition, in housing and in all other forms of construction, might well produce qualitative advances in areas that really mattered to ordinary people (for example, efficient kitchens, sleek bathrooms, compact laundries)., and that would outpace anything and everything produced by single-minded socialist planners.

And it would further become clear that a democratic, egalitarian society — as opposed don an elitist, authoritarian order — might produce a very different urban and suburban image of itself than that imagined and built by the kings of France and Prussia and the princes and dukes of Italy; that an ordered society — however rational, however logical, however seemingly productive of a more humane environment — was hardly expressive of the kind of chaotic, creative anarchy represented by American capitalism.

None of this, I suspect, ever occurred to the leaders of the post-war avant garde — at least notuntil the 1960s, when such ideas began to surface in the writings of Jane Jacobs and Robert Venturi. It certainly did not occur to me until I had been exposed to their ideas.

Who reads this and thinks, ‘well, sounds alright, but look what he thinks about Ronald Reagan!’?

*****

Apropos of nothing, this is a great read.

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‘Une bouffée de mitraille’

Isegoria explains:

As a young Brigadier General, Napoleon once dispersed a mob of Royalists with “a whiff of grapeshot” — although it’s not quite clear how to translate that very Anglo-Saxon phrase back into French. Une bouffée de mitraille?

The phrase likely sounds so Anglo-Saxon because it was coined by Scottish essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle, in The French Revolution: A History.

Mitraille is the French word for grapeshot, and it is also the root of the French word for machine gun, mitrailleuse, because the original French proto-machine gun was a multi-barrel affair meant to deliver a volley of rifle rounds, as a new and improved form of grapeshot, and the term stuck, even as true machine guns arrived on the scene.

More on that unusual phrase here. And more from Carlyle here:

`It is false,` says Napoleon, `that we fired first with blank charge; it had been a waste of life to do that.` Most false: the firing was with sharp and sharpest shot: to all men it was plain that here was no sport; the rabbets and plinths of Saint-Roch Church show splintered by it, to this hour.–Singular: in old Broglie`s time, six years ago, this Whiff of Grapeshot was promised; but it could not be given then, could not have profited then. Now, however, the time is come for it, and the man; and behold, you have it; and the thing we specifically call French Revolution is blown into space by it, and become a thing that was!– …

On the whole, therefore, has it not been fulfilled what was prophesied, ex- postfacto indeed, by the Archquack Cagliostro, or another? He, as he looked in rapt vision and amazement into these things, thus spake: (Diamond Necklace, p. 35.) `Ha! What is this? Angels, Uriel, Anachiel, and the other Five; Pentagon of Rejuvenescence; Power that destroyed Original Sin; Earth, Heaven, and thou Outer Limbo, which men name Hell! Does the EMPIRE Of IMPOSTURE waver? Burst there, in starry sheen updarting, Light-rays from out its dark foundations; as it rocks and heaves, not in travail-throes, but in death-throes? Yea, Light-rays, piercing, clear, that salute the Heavens,–lo, they kindle it; their starry clearness becomes as red Hellfire!

`IMPOSTURE is burnt up: one Red-sea of Fire, wild-billowing enwraps the World; with its fire-tongue, licks at the very Stars. Thrones are hurled into it, and Dubois mitres, and Prebendal Stalls that drop fatness, and– ha! what see I?–all the Gigs of Creation; all, all! Wo is me! Never since Pharaoh`s Chariots, in the Red-sea of water, was there wreck of Wheel-vehicles like this in the Sea of Fire. Desolate, as ashes, as gases, shall they wander in the wind. Higher, higher yet flames the Fire-Sea; crackling with new dislocated timber; hissing with leather and prunella. The metal Images are molten; the marble Images become mortar-lime; the stone Mountains sulkily explode. RESPECTABILITY, with all her collected Gigs inflamed for funeral pyre, wailing, leaves the earth: not to return save under new Avatar. Imposture, how it burns, through generations: how it is burnt up; for a time. The World is black ashes; which, ah, when will they grow green? The Images all run into amorphous Corinthian brass; all Dwellings of men destroyed; the very mountains peeled and riven, the valleys black and dead: it is an empty World! Wo to them that shall be born then!–A King, a Queen (ah me!) were hurled in; did rustle once; flew aloft, crackling, like paper-scroll. Iscariot Egalite was hurled in; thou grim De Launay, with thy grim Bastille; whole kindreds and peoples; five millions of mutually destroying Men. For it is the End of the Dominion of IMPOSTURE (which is Darkness and opaque Firedamp); and the burning up, with unquenchable fire, of all the Gigs that are in the Earth.` This Prophecy, we say, has it not been fulfilled, is it not fulfilling?

The other famous usage is attributed to the Duke of Wellington: “Pour la canaille: Faut la mitraille.” For the mob, use grapeshot.

Four American Anti-Imperialisms

A useful taxonomy from the introduction of David Mayers’ excellent Dissenting Voices in America’s Rise To Power:

Four strands of dissent are discernible amid the personalities, competing ideas, and rival interests that shaped debate on foreign affairs from Louisiana to Korea. These strands can be labeled as prophetic, republican, nationalist, and cosmopolitan. They interlaced even as they wove through the deeper fabrics of American society and polity: capitalist economy, technological change, population growth, racial-ethnic-religious diversity, class stratification, party competition, and regional tugging.

The prophetic is the most venerable of the four strands. It was nourished by the religious temper and puritan core of the colonial/early independence period. More precisely, this orientation originated in the outlook of seventeenth-century New England theocrats such as John Winthrop. Themselves dissenters — from Anglican ecclesiolatry — they feared God’s wrath at creatures who strayed from His edicts or purpose. Pronounced still in the nineteenth century, before the popular success of Charles Darwin’s biology, the prophetic strand stemmed from belief in God (often depicted in anthropomorphic terms) who judges nations no less than individual souls. A number of dissenters, mainly reared in Protestant tradition, accepted in earnest this idea once expressed by the religiously unconventional Jefferson. This deist said (referring to slavery): “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” From such anxiety, resolve could follow to put matters right, evident in voices opposed to enlarging the slave zone via the Louisiana acquisition, evicting Native Americans from their lands, or attacking Mexico in 1846. The idea that God reflexively enlisted on America’s side constituted theological error — blasphemy — for the prophetically minded recusant.

The republican strand sprang from the country’s democratic ethos and distrust of empire, inherited from the 1776 rebellion. This strand of dissent has manifested most frequently and vividly. It gained rhetorical power and influence from America’s being a self-conscious republic — fed by the idea, as self-evident, that representative institutions and liberal values were superior to, also incompatible with, overweening power. In this case, the United States should not substitute the sham of imperium for estimable virtues. Possession of immense power was thought to be disorienting, even disabling. Americans must not lose their way in hubris or worship of imperial idols, against which the 1776 generation had properly mutinied. Republican-minded dissenters thus objected to Louisiana empire, the 1848 Mexican cession, the buying of Alaska, Filipino occupation after the Spanish-American war, and subsequent bids for hegemony. This preference did not recommend national introversion and eschewed sulky isolationism; republican dissenters emphasized instead the power of US example — accountable government, domestic tranquility — as a guarantor of Washington’s influence abroad.

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Four selections from Wyndham Lewis’s Rude Assignment

Feeling pretty accomplished in my beach reading this vacation; I finished Bend of the World, read Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men, Padgett Powell’s short but masterful Lost-Cause-as-senior-daydream novel, and plowed through most of Wyndham Lewis’s “intellectual autobiography” Rude Assignment. I’ve got  the Black Sparrow Press edition, which has six of Ezra Pound’s letters to Lewis regarding the work, which are very entertaining and some really great intellectual sparring. Anyway, here are some selections. On socialism as a bourgeois fad:

The worst blemish in the English character is not, as many people would have it, hypocrisy: it is that the Englishman is a congenital snob. This fact seems to me of importance to socialism — though I am often told it is not. Will the Englishman divest himself of his snobbery, as he passes over into the new social order: or will he take it with him — assuming, in its new environment, horrible and unexpected forms? Will the Stalin of England insist that he is of an awfully good family, and will it be high treason to remind him that his papa hawked fish in the New Cut? Will the shoddy genius of the Old School Tie go hand in hand with the British version of the Commissar?

There has been ‘Labour,’ but in England socialism has mostly existed as salon-socialism, up till now: a middleclass monopoly. I know and have met great numbers of socialists but only two or three issuing from the working-class. You would think that a young middleclass man, when he decided to dedicate himself to the emancipation of the working-class, would lay aside for good the old school tie, and with it the degrading emotions of idiot-pride in the not very interesting fact that his ‘people’ floated at a respectable middleclass distance above the gutter. You would think he would dump all that into the trash-can and try and be serious.

But this as a rule does not happen: among Popular Front acquaintances I have met with more straight social snobbery than anywhere else. Where one had thought only to find a passion for social justice, one so often discovers nothing but an unlovely little power-complex. Snob and socialist are not regarded as mutually exclusive terms in England. And this feudal atavism, or, as it usually is, hangover from the Servants-hall, has not been by any means confined to the small-fry. — When, many years ago, I met Prince Kropotkin, I detected no sign that he remembered that once he had been a prince. That he had left behind, along with his fortune, when he went into a most honourable exile. Perhaps this is easier for an aristocrat: it is easier to leave a great deal, possibly, than to turn your back upon something insignificant.

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Virginia vs. America

One of the best anecdotes in Virginian-Pilot columnist Guy Friddell’s charming little pitch for Virginia tourism, 1966’s What Is It About Virginia?is a walk he takes through Colonial Williamsburg with Arnold Toynbee in 1961. Toynbee was not optimistic about the Old Dominion, and Friddell makes his case for how progressive and hopeful things are, in light of, especially, recent successes of the civil rights movement. The chapter begins, however, with a story about a different historian:

The most thorough recent investigation of Virginia was by Dr. Gottmann, a French economic geographer commissioned by philanthropist Paul Mellon to diagnose the Old Dominion.

The doctor took stock of us for 18 months, visiting every county and city, a latter-day Tocqueville, perceptive and balanced in his judgments.

At the conclusion of his research, state officials honored him at luncheon in the Hotel Richmond. The geographer had an interesting face, the listening sort, with merry quickness in his features that promised a deft riposte when he chose, a fencer’s face.

The meal droned along, the conversation about as distinctive as the mashed potatoes, and, in a lull, I leaned forward and called down the table to ask Dr. Gottmann what impressed him most about America.

“The waste!” he called back.

“I mean,” he added, “the creative waste.”

Europe, his thesis went, tends to revere things as they are simply because they have always been there. At every turn, a thousand-year-old building bars the way. But Americans, with eyes on the future, do not hesitate to turn a river, level a mountain, fill a canyon, and pull down a skyscraper only recently built to build a bigger one.

“Willingness to change is the outstanding characteristic of America,” he said.

As the company was digesting this, I asked what he found to be the outstanding characteristic of Virginia.

“Reluctance to change,” said the little Frenchman, smiling.

He viewed Virginia as an oasis of calm. Perhaps its leisurely way of life had a mission in the mellowing of America, but, fortunately for the Western World, America’s Promethian tradition had prevailed.

Fortunately?

(Above, James Kilpatrick on the left and Friddell on the right, at the Richmond News-Leader in 1952)

John T. Flynn on American imperialism

From Part 3: “The Good Fascism: America,” in As We Go Marching, published in 1944Forgive the length, but this is important. Key bits bolded for your convenience:

Embarked, as we seem to be, upon a career of militarism, we shall, like every other country, have to find the means when the war ends of obtaining the consent of the people to the burdens that go along with the blessings it confers upon its favored groups and regions. Powerful resistance to it will always be active, and the effective means of combating this resistance will have to be found. Inevitably, having surrendered to militarism as an economic device, we will do what other countries have done: we will keep alive the fears of our people of the aggressive ambitions of other countries and we will ourselves embark upon imperialistic enterprises of our own.

Two words have come into extensive use since the present war began. One is “isolationism”; the other is “internationalism.” Curiously internationalism has come to be a synonym for interventionism. Intervention was a word used to describe the policy of those who insisted that America should intervene in the European war. There were many lifelong and sincere internationalists—men who were warm supporters of the League of Nations or similar plans for world co-operation—who were opposed to American entry into the war. The two words represent wholly different ideas.

Imperialism, too, has come to describe a kind of internationalism, so that one who opposes it is scornfully called an isolationist. Imperialism is an institution under which one nation asserts the right to seize the land or at least to control the government or resources of another people. It is an assertion of stark, bold aggression. It is, of course, international in the sense that the aggressor nation crosses its own borders and enters the boundaries of another nation and what results is an international clash—a clash between two nations. It is international in the sense that war is international. An imperialist nation, therefore, is one which acquires interests as a result of its aggression in territories outside of its own boundaries. These interests by their very nature bring the aggressor nation into clash with other nations across whose aggressive ambitions it cuts. We have clashes between Germany and England and France and Japan over their respective aggressive ambitions in Asia. We have clashes between Germany and Russia over their respective ambitions in the Balkans; between Italy and France over their hostile objectives in northern Africa, and so on. This is internationalism in a sense, in that all the activities of an aggressor are on the international stage. But it is a malignant internationalism. 

There is another internationalism which finds its extremist view in the dreams of those who look for the Parliament of Man and the Federation of the World. Pacifists, for instance, who see in the possibility of a world government the hope of world peace are internationalists of this type, and they look upon imperialism as its greatest foe. A curious confusion has arisen out of all this, which should be simple enough to understand. There are several nations which have engaged in extensive imperialist aggression. As a result these nations have colonies all over the world. Having gotten possession of their prizes and acquired a kind of semi-legal claim upon them and having perfected a kind of international tolerance for them through a sort of squatter’s sovereignty, they are now interested in preserving the status quo. This status quo is the result of aggression, is a continuing assertion of aggression, an assertion of malignant internationalism. Now they appeal to this other benevolent type of internationalism to establish a world order in which they, all leagued together, will preserve a world which they have divided among themselves and in which the combined forces and might of the allied aggressors will hold for each what they have. This benevolent internationalism is taken over by the aggressors as the mask behind which the malignant internationalism will be perpetuated and protected. And it is now offered to the world in all the phrases of benevolence and as a dream of world peace.

I have outlined these views chiefly for the purpose of clearing up the ideas and the meaning of words which I am using here. I wish to speak of imperialism and internationalism, but I want to be sure that the two ideas are kept separate and are understood.

I do not see how any thoughtful person watching the movement of affairs in America can doubt that we are moving in the direction of both imperialism and internationalism and that this internationalism is curiously, indeed incredibly, mixed up with the wholly contradictory idea of autarchy. Who can doubt that with the planned economy which is being fabricated for the United States, similar to the planned economies already existing in other countries, we will have an autarchy like our international neighbors and allies? As we have seen, autarchy is very nearly the last word in isolationism—a nation enclosed in a completely planned and managed economic system, whose planning must be protected as of necessity from the impact of external economies. These planned economies will all be brought together into a great international planned economy the members of which will be autarchial states. The problem will be to maintain the isolated autarchial system in each constituent state and to unite all these autarchies in an international economy. This is not the place to discuss the feasibility of this hybrid system. But I throw the idea out here for the benefit of those who think they see a world order based, at least roughly, on the league of American states in the United States of America. The union of the American states was a union of free economies from which all possibility of autarchy was banished by the terms of the Constitution. If tomorrow these states of ours, despite their long union, could be transformed into self- planned autarchies, this union would not last half-a-dozen years. Yet it is an administration in Washington which from the beginning has been struggling toward autarchy here, and which broke up the London Economic Conference in 1933 because it threatened our own autarchial arrangements, which now calls itself a great international regime and actually smears its critics as “isolationists.”

And now of imperialism. This is, of course, nothing more, as I have said, than a form of bald and naked assertion of might. Its origin in the human mind is by no means clear. It does not find its roots wholly in the greed of the merchant adventurers or in the ambitions of military leaders or the dreams of dynasts for extension of their glory. It has had an abundance of support at the hands of gentlemen who hold themselves out as philosophers. Certainly it is unnecessary here to repeat the innumerable declarations made by British historians, philosophers, poets, and publicists in support of Britain’s divine right to seize land anywhere. There is not a statement that has ever been made by a German imperialist that cannot be matched from the pen of a highly respected and highly honored British imperialist. You will find an acquisitive industrialist like Rhodes saying “We are the first race in the world, and the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.” But you can also find a liberal statesman like Earl Grey saying “In so far as an Englishman differs from a Swede or a Belgian he believes he represents a more perfectly developed standard of general excellence — and even those nations like ourselves in mind and sentiment — German and Scandinavian—we regard as not so excellent as ourselves.” And a scholar like Ruskin, who spent so much time weeping over the poor, could say that England “must found colonies as fast and as far as she is able; seizing every rod of waste ground she can set her foot upon and then teaching these her colonies that their chief virtue is fidelity to their country and that their first aim is to advance the power of England by land and sea.”

But we need not go to England. Professor Washburn Hopkins of Yale said in 1900, when America was considering her first feeble steps in imperialism, “What seems criminal aggression in a large nation against a weak one is justifiable if it conduces to the advantage of the race,” and with characteristic American piety he called this the “higher morality.” We need not suppose that the seeds of this dangerous and malignant philosophy do not lurk deeply in our own national nature. America broke very definitely with her great democratic tradition in 1900 when she decided to hold the Philippine Islands. This was an assertion of power, the power of conquest, the right based wholly on might. At the time some of America’s most distinguished men, statesmen like Senator George Hoar, for instance, warned America that she was introducing a poisonous organism into her system, that she was throwing away principles of human justice which she had asserted with complete confidence and belief in the past, and that, furthermore, she was pushing her western frontier like a long, thin salient into the Orient where every cat-and-dog fight in the future between aggressor nations of Europe and Asia might involve her in a war.

The Philippines turned out to be a very bad bargain from the point of view of imperialist profit, which is the basis on which we remained there, though the bargain was wrapped up in moral gold paper. It was more than thirty years later that we decided to leave the Islands, fixing five years as a period of our departure. But we were too late. We are at war, and we are at war in Asia because we possessed the Philippine Islands. That was the break with our great tradition, and that break had the approval of the American people in 1900 when the presidential campaign was fought almost exclusively on that issue. 

Americans of today can hardly realize the nature of the chauvinistic elation which came to us as a result of our new colonial world. I listened to almost all the debates in Congress on that subject. For the first time in our history men began to roll under their tongues the phrase “American empire.” It would be an interesting example of verbal statistics if someone were to go through those debates and number the times the imperialists of that day referred with growing pride to the great American “empire.” The advocates of that policy scoffed at the attempts to apply the principles of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution to our new situation. There was no end of statements by the leaders of the day calling attention to the fact that the new American empire had outgrown these simple-minded illusions of the fathers who uttered them. The world had changed and grown and America had expanded and was now an empire. There was a great deal of solid pride in that fact.

As an example of this let me quote what one of the leaders in this movement had to say. Senator Albert Beveridge, on January 9, 1900,made his first speech in the Senate. He began it with this extraordinary sentence:

The times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever — country belonging to the United States — as the Constitution calls them, and just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon one opportunity in the Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee under God, of the civilization of the world. And we will move forward to our work, not howling out our regrets, like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people to lead in the regeneration of the world.

Here is the whole complex gospel. Our duty under God to lead in the regeneration of the world on one side, and to stay in the archipelago “beyond which are China’s illimitable markets.” He told the Senate that the Pacific is “our ocean” although half a dozen other large nations had extensive territories along that ocean. And then the senator proceeded with a dramatic and eloquent catalogue of the magnificent resources, extent, and wealth of the Philippine Islands “beyond which lies China’s trade” which he valued at $285,- 738,000 of which we were getting only 9 per cent and of which “under God,” as we “regenerate the world,” we should get 50 per cent. Lifting his arm aloft, holding a lump of gold in his hand, he exclaimed dramatically: “I have a nugget of pure gold picked up in its present form on the banks of a Philippine creek. I have gold dust washed out by the crude process of careless natives from the sands of a Philippine stream.” And then he said that it must be our great objective “to establish the supremacy of the American race throughout the Pacific and throughout the East to the end of time.” Self-government for Asiatics, people with savage blood, Oriental blood, Malay blood, and Spanish example — this was not to be thought of. He prophesied that “self-government and the internal development of the country have been the dominant notes of our first century; administration and development of other lands will be the dominant notes of our second century.” And he ended with this rhetorical flourish:

This question is elemental. It is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic people for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle contemplation and self-administration. No! He has made us the master organizers of this world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress, to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. . . . And of all our race He has marked the American people as the chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America. . . . We are the trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us: “Ye have been faithful over few things. I will make you ruler over many things.”

When the senator had finished this strange melange of world duty, world glory, world opportunity, regeneration of savage and senile peoples, 50 per cent of the trade of China and gold nuggets on the banks of streams, imperial destiny and treasure, the venerable Senator Hoar of Massachusetts, who had been shocked at the spectacle of the eloquent young senator summoning America to her imperial destiny and duty and holding aloft a torch of gold to light the way, rose in the Senate and said:

I could hear much calculated to excite the imagination of the youth charmed by the dream of empire. . . . I could think as this brave young republic of ours listened to what the senator had to say of but one sentence:

“And the Devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.

“And the Devil said unto Him, ‘All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’

“Then saith Jesus unto him: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.'”

But, alas, the American people did not make the reply to Senator Beveridge that Jesus made to the devil. Indeed as Beveridge ended his address he was greeted with “long and continued applause” in good earnest and senators crowded around him to shake his hand. I have chosen the Beveridge statement because it was the clearest and most eloquent of numerous speeches made in the House and Senate at the time. For instance, Representative Gibson of Tennessee said what others were saying on the stump and in the pulpit:

Our race has a mission. No devout student of history can misread it. We are the preachers of a new evangel of government; we are the missionaries of a new and higher civilization; we are the apostles of the New World to the Old; and a part of our mission is to evangelize Asia and the islands of the sea.

But this was to be only a beginning, as the congressman made abundantly clear. He continued:

The progress of our race can never be stayed. You can never fix its bounds. No one continent can suffice it. No one ocean can satisfy it. No one zone can contain it. No one hemisphere can circumscribe its powers and activities.

The world is its area and the lands of the world its only boundary. Its destiny is to dominate the entire face of the earth, to include all races and all countries and all lands and all continents.

The Springfield Republican lamented that the religious press of the country was almost a unit in support of the imperialism of which these gentlemen were the spokesmen. Dean Farrar said that “imperialism is a natural evolution of vital and aggressive Christianity.” These were not the utterances of black reactionaries. Beveridge became a leader of the rising progressive movement. And here is a singular collection of views from one who can by no stretch of the imagination be called a reactionary. 

Related:

Time, “American Malvern”

Father Edward Duff, S.J., “Social Thought of the World Council of Churches

Thomas C. Leonard, “American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: Its Foundational Beliefs and Their Relation to Eugenics

Unqualified Reservations, on conservatives and the “conquest of America by Massachussets”