America Today

A Freehand Sketch

IT IS a remarkable thing that as soon as a nation begins to assemble and exploit sources of wealth and power it begins at the same time, as with the instinct of a unitary organism, to secrete dynamic cultural forces within itself. There are many examples in history of this process, that of Elizabethan England being merely the most striking. Equally remarkable is that when a nation, out of such beginnings, attains to world leadership, it preserves that rank only so long as its culture--which is to say not merely its achievements in the humanities but also its manners and beliefs and civil institutions--commands respect and some degree of emulation. For though leadership is conquered by power it is maintained over a significant span of time only with the free assent of the led; and free assent is given only to moral and not to material authority. Of this, too, history furnishes multiple examples. It was with the aid of her fleet, her imperial outposts, her world-wide network of finance and trade that Britain made herself leader of the nineteenth century world; but she could not have maintained that leadership without her reputation for fair play, honest accounts, incorruptible law courts and administrators, and a political system that was the admiration of the world. Louis XIV reigned over the richest and most populous nation in the Europe of his age; he commanded the services of the most brilliant generals and cabinet secretaries; but he could not have continued master of the Continent for 40 years if all Europe had not been eager to speak and write French, if every German princeling had not been ambitious to build a little Versailles of his own, if the French court had not set the standard of polite intercourse. The power the Germans might have wielded in our time, had they not been governed under Wilhelm II by conceited and impatient vulgarians, was better attested by their learning, their science, and their reputation as strummers of

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