The lights of nineteenth-century liberalism that Lord Grey saw going out all over Europe on the night of August 3, 1914, dimmed and sputtered toward extinction during the years of furious war that followed. But new lights flared up during the war itself which have since continued to elaborate an electrified wonderland which no man of 1914 could easily have imagined. The new landscape is still unfamiliar: things change even as we look at them. Remote controls and energies entirely alien to ordinary, age-old sensory experience inform our electric power grids and make them function. The same seems true of modern societies, imparting vastly enlarged capabilities to leaders who sometimes seem not to know how to use them.

Amid bewildering change, global in scope and reaching so deep into the fabric of each human society as to affect almost every living person, reliable guide lines to our understanding, much less to effective action, are hard to find. Still, half a century has now elapsed since Lord Grey's liberal, nineteenth-century world leaped toward its own destruction. With 50 years' perspective it ought to begin to be possible to estimate trends and detect the lines of development in Western civilization that have become important since 1914.

On the other hand, one may argue that the transformation is so profound that even after 50 years the outcome cannot yet be understood. If, for example, mankind is now on the verge of shifting the fundamental rhythms of human life from an agricultural to an urban setting, who can yet say what the patterns of daily experience will become? Problems of social control are even more unfathomable. For if the farmer's simple but well proven equation between hard work in the fields and economic return ceases to have relevance to more than a minority left behind on the land, what new social disciplines will be required to apportion goods to appetites? And if natural laws, exhibited in the elemental vagaries of weather, cease to regulate the economic lives of the majority of human beings, what man-made laws will be required to supply their place? And how will such laws be authenticated or enforced?

The shift from a fundamentally agricultural style of human existence is already an accomplished fact in every important Western country, and Russia likewise has recently reduced her farming population to a minority. But our attitudes and expectations for both ourselves and others are still largely governed by the habits and outlook of an earlier, agricultural life. In time, presumably, the daily experience of office, shop and factory, of city streets and public highways, and of homes open to television and radio, magazines and bulk mailings, will bring profound changes. Indeed, the changes may in time become as great as those which transformed roving bands of hunters into sedentary villagers some eight thousand years ago when agriculture was new. It took several centuries for something approximating a stable agricultural style of village life to evolve in the ancient Near East. Our transition to a post-agricultural style of society may well take longer, since the complexity of the cultural factors to be readjusted to one another has become so very great. Fifty or even a hundred years is certainly too short a time for the acute initial crisis of transition to fade into new routines. It therefore seems entirety too soon to try to discern any definite new stabilization of our emergent industrial-and- leisured urban society-if, indeed, stabilization is ever to be expected.

Nevertheless, in the light of what has happened during the past half century a few observations about where we seem to be going and how recent experience differs from the familiar framework of the deeper past may be warranted.

Most basic of all is the encroachment of conscious management upon realms of human behavior and social relationships formerly assumed to be natural, necessary or sacred, and therefore beyond man's power of deliberate alteration. This, surely, reflects our recent wholesale emancipation from the land. The farmer, after all, lives under the lash of a nature that is sometimes benevolent, sometimes destructive, always uncontrollable, and to be propitiated, if at all, only through prayer. The urban dweller does not quite escape the forces of nature, but they shrink to marginal importance in ordinary, everyday life. What matters far more are the habits, will and orders of other men, for it is these that define social status, daily routines, economic rewards and most other parameters of behavior.

Until recently this fact was disguised by firm customary definitions of most social relationships, and by theories that posited either divine will or natural law as the basis for human society. But in view of what has been done since 1914 to transform economic and social relationships according to arbitrary human will and political plan, the older confidence in the existence of binding laws that unambiguously define either the necessary or the best possible system of society can scarcely be sustained. Even more unsettling is our general if still reluctant recognition of the scope and depth of irrational forces in human behavior-a recognition which at a blow destroys the dogmatic basis of classical and Marxian economics, and calls family as well as all other social institutions and customary codes for private life into question.

Both of these solvents to older certainties deserve elaboration.


During World War I each of the major belligerent states brought manpower and raw materials, public opinion and economic consumption within the scope of official controls. Enormous success was achieved. Social engineers, masquerading as general staff officers, dollar-a-year men, munitions tsars, war information officers and the like concentrated a far larger proportion of the resources of entire nations upon the war effort than had ever been done or even conceived previously.

Successful planning and manipulation on such a scale tended to perpetuate itself, for after millions of men had been rudely and rationally uprooted from their wonted modes of life, spontaneous return to a privately regulated economy keyed to quite different goals was always difficult, and sometimes impossible. The massive unsettlement of habit and custom inherent in the war experience itself, together with new winds of doctrine blowing both from Moscow (after 1917) and from Rome (after 1922), made normalcy precarious, even in the United States, where war mobilization had bitten far less deeply into civil society than was the case in Europe.

Nevertheless, prior to the Great Depression of the early 1930s only devastated and revolutionary Russia attempted any general application of techniques for economic planning and control in time of peace. And even in Russia, Lenin recoiled from the effort to manage the entire economy by proclaiming a new economic policy (N.E.P.) in 1921 that gave considerable scope to private initiative. But in the late '20s and early '30s one country after another responded to prolonged malfunctioning of the privately regulated economy by again beginning to extend the scope of conscious, official direction. The Russians preceded most of the rest of the world by inaugurating the first Five Year Plan in 1928; and as befitted their revolutionary principles, Communist response to N.E.P.'s malfunction was radical and violent, involving a frontal attack upon the economic interests and customary behaviors of the peasant majority. German and American reactions did not manifest their full force before January 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler came to power. France and Britain were slower to tamper with traditional liberal limitations on governmental action, and their responses lacked the confused vigor common to Communist Russia, Nazi Germany and the American New Deal.

Nor was it merely vigor and confusion which these three régimes had in common. Despite their very great ideological differences, Stalin's Five Year Plans, Hitler's New Order and Roosevelt's New Deal all found useful precedents in the war efforts of 1914-21 for peacetime remodeling of social and economic relations on a scale previously unattempted. Hitler's success as a social engineer made Germany again a great and aggressive world power, and promptly precipitated World War II. New and even larger-scale social engineering ensued, for the imperatives of victory were comparatively unambiguous, and required coördination of effort from whole nations and associations of nations. As a result, German, Japanese and Anglo-American authorities undertook economic and military planning on a trans-national scale, as the Russians had been doing within the borders of the U.S.S.R. since 1928.

This was, assuredly, one of the most significant aspects of World War II, for in breaking through national barriers, the war mobilization of Hitler's Festung Europe, Japan's Co-Prosperity Sphere and the Allied Lend-Lease and postwar aid programs all dramatized the decay of separate national sovereignties. World War II clearly announced to all the power wielders and would-be power wielders of the world the technical feasibility of trans- national (and prospectively of world-wide) direction of human behavior, roughly according to plan.

To be sure, after the end of major military operations in 1945 came a general retreat from the full rigor of wartime controls. Yet the retreat was partial. Trans-national economic planning in both the Communist and non- Communist worlds continued to engage official attention. Success was particularly striking in Western Europe where postwar emergency arrangements soon gave way to longer-term organizations like the Coal and Steel Community and the Common Market. These perpetuate in peace-time the sort of intimate trans-national economic integration that Nazi jack boots first stamped across a prostrate Europe. Under the new economic and military régime which Western nations have shaped for themselves, old intra- European national rivalries seem sure to weaken and may eventually fade from political importance. The world wars of our time may prove, among other things, to be Western Europe's last civil conflict.

In other parts of the world the trend of political development in recent years appears exactly opposite to that prevailing in Europe. Fragmentation rather than integration has characterized the political and economic development of all the lands in Asia and Africa where local independence movements have overthrown European imperial tutelage. In trying to understand what is taking place in these complex and little-known parts of the world, it is instructive to compare African and Asian experience since World War II with the history of Eastern Europe between the two wars. In Eastern Europe, World War I opened the way for local nationalisms to create, in the name of national self-determination, a series of smaller but still ethnically mixed states from the once imposing hulks of the Austrian, Russian and Ottoman empires. The success of these nationalist movements rested on effective political appeal to local peasantries. And once in office, nationalist leaders regularly disappointed their peasant followers. To keep power they or their successors without exception resorted to authoritarian police rule.

The political dynamic of the various independence movements of ex-colonial territories since World War II is strikingly similar. The fundamental axis of public affairs seems generally to be the eruption of peasant discontent upon the political stage. Ancient rural grievances against landlords, usurers or even tribal chiefs, together with city idlers, corrupt politicians, overbearing foreigners and outsiders of every sort are no longer nursed in private. Instead the peasantries of the earth, sometimes driven by over-population and land shortage and always drawn by the glitter of urban modernity from which traditional social arrangements shut them out, have listened eagerly to preachers of revolution; and wherever such preachers have attained a modicum of cohesion, the peasants stand ready to lend their massive weight of numbers to the revolutionary movement.

In this connection it is both instructive and ironic to note that since 1923, when proletarian revolution in Germany definitively failed, Marxism has won all of its important successes by appealing to angry peasantries. The fact that Marxist terminology and ideals are urban and industrial scarcely constitutes a handicap, for these are also the ideals of the excluded peasantries. To enjoy freedom from landlords, tax collectors and cheating merchants, together with access to the goods and gadgets of modern industry, precisely defines the peasant aspiration. Traditional Marxism lends itself admirably to such a dream. The only difficulty arises after the revolutionaries have taken power and confront the task of trying to implement a basically contradictory program.

The nub of the contradiction lies in this: if peasants are left to their own devices without coercion from landlords or tax collectors they tend to consume most of what they produce and will not spontaneously part with nearly enough foodstuffs to feed the cities, much less to pay for what a modernizing government needs or wishes to import.

In any such confrontation, city folks have a strategic advantage that has frustrated peasant protest throughout history. Urban crowds resent starvation and will riot against any régime that allows peasants to refrain from feeding them. And since city crowds are concentrated and ever-present around the seat of government, whereas any particular village is isolated and need be visited only occasionally by tax collectors, there can be small question as to which side will normally prevail. To remain in office, the government must do something to get food into the towns. If such official efforts fail, the government simply dissolves, leaving other, more local régimes to confront the same dilemma. The unchecked ravaging of small irregular armed bands represents the ultimate devolution of public power. Such bands survive only by taking food at the point of a gun from those who have it, thus in an elementally brutal fashion resolving the dilemma that an angry and aroused peasantry presents to any and all government.

Ultimate devolution to violent and unmitigated localism is scarcely possible today, since even the weapons of guerrilla war are usually the products of industrially advanced societies. Any more orderly and centralized régime requires a vast array of equipment like repeating rifles and machine guns, trucks and typewriters, watches and filing cabinets-not to mention tanks, airplanes and electronic computers-to maintain civil peace at home and security against foreign rivals. At least initially, an agrarian society must import practically every such item. It is hard indeed to pay for such expensive toys, yet to produce them at home is even more expensive, since this requires large capital expenditures and the acquisition of new and sometimes recondite skills.

Communist experience in Russia is here very much to the point. Only by exploiting peasant villages through the simple device of seizing all the grain that could be found at harvest time, and doling out minimal seed supplies when the planting season came around, was it possible to feed the towns and the growing labor force required for industrial construction. Moreover, Russia's Five Year Plans directed industrial construction first and foremost to the support of an armaments industry that could make the state and its administration secure against foreign and domestic dangers.

Harsh though such a régime was toward its peasant subjects, the reasoning behind Stalin's policies seems sound. For in general, a government ruling an agrarian population today must need choose between two very awkward alternatives: either to accept (whether by gift, loan or purchase) the accoutrements of military power from the government of some other, more industrialized society, in which case full independence may be endangered, and the régime may expose itself to devastating criticism for being a mere puppet in the hands of foreigners; or else to contravene the immediate will and interests of the peasant majority in order to create at home the necessary industrial establishment wherewith to produce the sinews of military power, which can be done only by forcible capital accumulation drawn mainly from the agricultural segment of the economy. The acute embarrassment likely to arise from either of these positions needs no elaboration. It explains much of the irritability and systematic ingratitude with which American and other foreign aid programs have been received by the governments of still predominantly agrarian societies.

Régimes that must either oppress their own people severely or somehow manage simultaneously to fawn and frown on foreign benefactors are necessarily fragile. By contrast, the trans-national economic consolidation of the industrialized nations of Europe appears solid and likely to become lasting. Integration of manpower and resources within larger and larger territories seems clearly to cut with the grain of the industrial process, permitting economies of scale and allowing modern techniques of industrial planning fuller geographic and technical scope. Indeed, nothing short of the globe entire seems at all likely to allow optimal range for modern administrative skill. Even with existing methods of communication and transport, world-wide coordination at least on a crude political-military level is clearly within bounds of possibility. Electronic computers and other new devices for data processing and calculation make it seem likely that in time to come far more precise and delicate techniques for social management and economic planning will emerge toward full practicability, on a trans-national and, eventually, on a genuinely global scale.


Whether such potentialities will ever be brought to reality depends in large part on a second major characteristic of our time: our new consciousness of the human unconscious. This is shot through with paradox. In what sense can anyone be conscious of the unconscious? How can we penetrate the dark animal depths of our psyche? Only by reasoning, whose very success in discovering the pervasiveness of human irrationality clearly calls its own adequacy into question!

Nevertheless, even crude and vague recognition of the role irrational drives may have in shaping human behavior opens the door on another paradox. For only by coping rationally with mass irrationality can social engineering become really successful. Yet, if such skills should ever develop, the human status of those subjected to manipulation would be rather horrifyingly infringed. Who, under such circumstances, manages whom? And for whose benefit?

Recoiling from the prospect of the division of humanity into a small company of calculating managers and a mass of more or less completely irrational followers, one may even wonder whether the age-old, blind and brutal arbitrament of force is not to be preferred to the rationalities allowing a superior few to exploit human animality in the mass. In our atomic age, this, however, is surely the counsel of despair. We are caught by our own cleverness. Once having deliberately set hand upon the levers that affect human behavior, it is hard to stop short of a far more complete mastery of the art of manipulating others than men have anywhere yet achieved. For it seems clear that many well-meant schemes for social melioration will fail without much greater control of the irrational than now is embodied in rules of thumb, individual charisma and ritualized gestures of political and social leadership. The Alliance for Progress, for example, may well be destined to crumble through collision with deep-seated frustrations and angers latent among the peoples of Latin America. If so, hate and violence may be expected to eclipse the imperfect administrative rationality and blundering good will that inspire social planning in that part of the world today. Would not more skillful psychological manipulation, if anyone knew how to divert mass frustrations into less disruptive channels, therefore justify itself?

These are truly difficult dilemmas, and their urgency is not lessened by the fact that all over the globe, and not least in the industrially more advanced nations, traditional definitions of how to behave are rapidly losing precision and persuasiveness. How far such disruption can go remains to be seen. A human society can probably exist only by virtue of an elaborate "cake of custom" that channels behavior into a restricted number of acceptable and roughly predictable patterns. What seems to threaten the whole post-1914 world is a general dissolution of local cakes of custom, leaving millions without reasonably precise convictions as to what they should do, and under what circumstances they should do it.

This is psychologically a very trying position in which to live; but deliberate affirmation of what one does not naïvely believe is almost as difficult as chronic indecision. Either posture, because of its inherent inadequacy, invites sporadic eruptions of the irrational upon the plane of overt behavior, making social as well as personal relations distinctly less predictable than in more stable societies.

No doubt the rational examination of man and society is partly responsible for the decay of old certainties. Psychologists, for example, have been known to discount traditional mores as mere "repression," and the whole company of those who have sought to anatomize modern society scientifically- Marxians, historicists, social Darwinists, cultural anthropologists and others-also tend to call the validity of any particular set of rules and sanctions into question.

Nevertheless it seems safe to suggest that it is not ideas that act as the most powerful solvents to traditional society, but the massive upheaval of daily routines provoked mainly by war and industrialization. For such upheavals have planted new aspirations and opened windows upon new ambitions for almost the whole mass of living humanity, with consequences still unforeseeable. As traditional relationships and acquiescence in longstanding inequities and inequalities weaken, hope and hate struggle for mastery in the hearts of millions, and scope both for rationalistic planners and for gusts of atavistic irrationality enormously enlarge.

Such polarities between heights and depths, thought and passion, culture and animality, are, presumably, normal to the human condition. What gives the past half century its unusual character is the scale, mass and range of the phenomenon. In an age when all familiar customary and institutional landmarks are called into question, the range of the possible widens. Choice becomes both more difficult and more imperative. Vast consequences may flow from a single act; yet prolonged effort may utterly fail. Every quality of human life is heightened, every dimension enlarged, since in a more radical sense than was true of any civilized age of the past, we hold the future in our hands, to mold it one way or another until somehow, sometime, the acute crisis of transition from an agricultural to a post- agricultural style of human life fades before the accomplished fact-or some man-made catastrophe either wipes us all out or, through the destruction of our cities, sets back the process for a few decades or centuries.

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