War and Civilization
By Maxim Gorky
[The New York Times/Current History, March 1916]
The noted Russian author wrote this pithy little article for a Stockholm paper. It was copied by a Russian journal, from which the present translation was made.
The effect of the war on the progress of civilization among the nations of the world will be strongly felt for generations to come. The development of civilization will be much less rapid after the war than heretofore. The world is becoming more and more permeated with ill-will, hatred, and passion. The noble emotions give way to the bestial. The infernal forces are awakened and the inhuman has pridefully raised its head.
I believe, however, in the common sense of the nations of Western Europe. I feel that that sense will yet conquer the world, and that the European civilization will become the civilization of all humanity.
The European nations must therefore see to it that the work of civilization is carried on by them in a friendlier and more co-operative spirit. The "must" is based on a very plain point of view: The Anglo-Saxons, Teutons and Latins, all together, constitute but a part of the world's population.
And yet they are the ones that are and have been creating the spiritual treasures of all humanity. The right to the spiritual domination of the world belongs to Western Europe, as she is entitled to that right by virtue of her spiritual wealth, of her many generations of labor on the fields of science and art; she has won that right through her intellectual services to humanity.
This mad, bloody war affords the largest part of the world the opportunity of doubting the moral values of Western European progress, of denouncing her authority in matters spiritual, and of opposing her doctrines and principles. In a measure these doubts are justified. The slaughter in which the foremost European nations are now engaged will enhance barbarism on earth and will doubtless be the cause of many obstacles in the path of civilization's progress in Africa and Asia.
As soon as the European nations end their present criminal activities, a safe and solid ground for common work in behalf of the world will be found by them. The great minds of the neutral countries could even now begin the work of reorganizing European civilization, they could start a campaign against a return to barbarism.
Several years ago Wilhelm Ostwald suggested a union of the great minds of the world. He pointed out the necessity for such a "world-brain," representing all nations. Such a "world-brain" would bring into the political, social, and nationalistic chaos the healthy human thought. Ostwald has proved the possibility of creating such a scientific institution in international politics, an institution composed of the master minds of the age, of scholars and men of affairs. Such a union must become the nervous system of humanity, the brain of the world.
I believe that right now is the time for such a union. We must attempt to embody this idea even if it were only because it would raise us above the every-day struggle for life, ennoble and refine us.
Does it sound Utopian? Not so very long ago the people thought wireless telegraphy, flying machines, and many other facts of today Utopian. The properties of radium remind us of the "philosopher's stone," the dream of the alchemists. Are not all these the attainments of science?
These miracles of science are the products of the human mind, the results of the iron will of man. Why could not the same mind, the same will, work miracles on the field of social and nationalistic relations?
Would it be considered miraculous if all of us were to grasp fully the simple fact that through bloodshed, murder, and destruction our conditions of life will not improve?
It is high time for our mind and will to create the possibilities for a healthier, freer, and more rapid development of civilization. Only through the power of mind and will could man transform the earth into a place worthy of his aspirations and ideals. Only a rational will could create rational conditions of life. And now, when the war has caused us all so much suffering, let our common interests in the destinies of European civilization create a mutual spiritual bond, a union based on our devotion to civilization.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald