Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations (1957, 1978).
THE GLORY OF THE SMALL
'Yet it was here in the nameless constellation of city states on the mainland east of the Aegean . . . that for the first time and almost the last time in history all the major problems of human society to seem have been simultaneously solved.'
What drives small-state rulers to become patrons of the arts? Wolf Dietrich of Salzburg. Reason why small states provide time and leisure for artistic activity. Exacting social demands of large powers. Why large powers honour their mechanics rather than their poets. Toynbee on the withdrawal of creative individuals from social life. Why small states give greater opportunity for acquiring knowledge than large ones. Modern specialised talents, ancient universal genius. Historic examples of small-state productivity: Greek city-states, Italian city-states, German city-states. English civilisation created in period of England's political smallness. End of cultural productivity as a result of political unification. Toynbee on political unification as a token of cultural decline.
The Cultural Argument
The only impressive thing in great powers is their excessive physical strength. As a result they can claim a place of honour only in a world that has greater veneration for physical prowess than for intellectual values, and is basically coUectivist rather than individualist. To an individualist excessive strength signifies nothing but a threat to his integrity, and an invitation to ignore the development of his intellect. He abhors physical power beyond the degree that is necessary for the enjoyment of a healthy life. He will delight in the strength that enables him to engage in athletic competition or in fights such as those fouglht by medieval knights, which were noble because they were personal. But he will find no enchantment in the accumulation of massive power such as is produced by well-organized, mindless masses, and is capable of running against other well-organized, mindless masses.
Wherever the element o>f mass is introduced, the individual is killed even if he survives physically. Man's life lies in the spirit, and the spirit can develop only in the umoppressive shelter of a small society. It is no coincidence, therefore, thait the world's culture has been produced in little states. Not by little states -- a point that cannot be enough emphasized in our community-worshipping age, since states, communities, nations, or people of any sort, form, or size are here to furnish us with street cars or. sewage-dispo>sal plants, not with thoughts; with material facilities, not with ideas -- but in little states. This is their greatness and their glory. And there are iseveral reasons for this.
1. Cultural Diversion of Aggressive Energies
The citizen of a small sitate is not by nature either better or wiser than his counterpart in a lairge power. He, too, is a man full of imperfections, ambitions, and stocial vices. But he lacks the power with which he could gratify them in a dangerous manner, since even the most powerful organizatioin from which he could derive his strength -- the state -- is permanently reduced to relative ineffectualness. While the wings of his imaginatiom remain untouched, the wings of his vicious deeds are clipped. A small-state individual may still murder, attack, or rape, but not in the voracious and unbalanced way possible in large powers, since he is kept in easy check during most of his lifetime by numerous and always ready and mobile balancing forces.
Political power games in small states are, therefore, rarely anything but actual games, never absorbing the ambitions of individuals to the exclusion of all other interessts. What if someone succeeds in intriguing himself into the position of president, prince, prime minister, or dictator? He cannot do very mucih with it, however great his title. He would, of course, adore to shake the world in the grand historic manner, creating terror and futile horror as did Hitler or Stalin -- if he only could. But, helas, he can not;. Where should he get the weapons? Where the armies? He may be able to stage a few murders with impunity, but even that would not make Hiim a historic figure, and could not occupy his talents long enough to s»ave him from boredom. He is a master, but has not enough submissive citizens to master. A barmaid will have enough courage to resist his advances if he should rely on his power instead of his gallantry. And there will be few of his prospective victims who, like Dante, Schiller, or Wagner, could not withdraw themselves from his jurisdiction by walking or riding a few miles by night, arriving an hour later in a different state. The job of exercising power in grand style in a little state carries little satisfaction.
But human ambition ravages in the small-state politician's heart none the less. Seeing the conventional road to historic eminence blocked, such as the road of battle glory for which one needs no mind at all, and which can be trodden without intellectual equipment by an Afghan water-carrier, an Austrian paperhanger, or a Byzantine whore as successfully as by a graduate from any military academy, he has no other way of sneaking into the coveted pages of history than by applying his intelligence to man's higher aspirations. This is harder, but it is the only chance of obtaining honourable mention besides the conquerors.
Thus Wolf Dietrich, a famous prince-archbishop of Salzburg -- to give one of a myriad of examples -- reputedly put the torch to his cathedral as Goering did to the Reichstag, not to create an issue, however, but to build a monument to his taste that should outlast the victories of Alexander. With no chance of enlarging his possessions, his aggressiveness was diverted into the construction of a magnificent Renaissance cathedral whose facade became the incomparable backdrop of Everyman, the still flourishing central attraction of the Salzburg festivals. His successors built other churches, all wholly unnecessary but each more beautiful than the other, blew tunnels through rocks, hewed theatres out of mountainsides, built lovely fountains and gorgeous marble pools in which their horses could bathe in the heat of summer, and lovingly created enchanting forest castles for their fertile mistresses. They turned Salzburg, the tiny capital of a state of less than two hundred thousand inhabitants, into one of the world's architectural gems. This is nothing, of course, compared with the construction of autostradas, Maginot and Siegfried lines, battle cruisers, rockets, or atom bombs, producible only in large powers which, because they can produce them, seem to be driven into producing nothing elss.
The first reason for the intense cultural productiveness found in little states lies thus in the fact that the absence of power will almost invariably turn rulers who might otherwise have become common arsonists and aggressors into patrons of learning and the arts. They cannot afford the maintenance of an army of soldiers, but the maintenance of a dozen artists is within the fiscal reach of even the poorest local prince. And since in a small-state world, every country is surrounded by multitudes of other small states, each artistic achievement in one will kindle in all the others the fierce flame of jealousy that cannot be quenched except by accomplishments which surpass those of all the neighbours. Since this, in turn, produces new jealousies, the process of creative production can never come to an end in a small-state system. To realize this we need only glance at Europe's countless little cities. It is there, not in the great metropolitan additions in which some of them have been drowned, that we find the main part of our cultural heritage, since nearly every little city has at one time or other been the capital of a sovereign state. The overwhelming number, splendour, and wealth in'palaces, bridges, theatres, museums, cathedrals, universities, and libraries we do not owe to the magnanimity of great empire builders or world unifiers, who usually prided themselves on their ascetic modes of life, but to those ever-feuding rulers who wanted to turn their capital into another Athens or another Rome. And since each of them imposed the imprint of his particular personality on his creations, we find, instead of the giant dullness and uniformity of later colossalism, as many fascinating differences in architectural pattern and artistic styles as there were rulers and little states.
2. Relief from Social Servitude
A second reason for their cultural fertility is that small states, with their narrow dimensions and insignificant problems of communal living, give their citizens the time and leisure without which no great art could be developed. So negligible is the business of government that only a fraction of an individual's energies needs to be diverted into the channel of social service. Society runs almost on its own momentum and thus permits the dedication of the principal part of the citizen's life to the improvement of the individual rather than to the service of the state.
This is quite different in the case of large powers whose enormous social demands are such that they consume practically all the available energy not only of their direct servants but of the citizens as well in the mere task of keeping their immobile, clumsy societies going, and preventing their social services from collapsing. Forever afraid of breaking underneath their own weight, they can never release their populations from the servitude of pressing their collective shoulders to the wheels of their stupendous enterprise. Their purpose must by force of circumstance turn away from the grace of individual living to the puritan virtue of co-operation which is the law of some highly efficient animal societies but was not originally meant to be the piimary concern of human living.
As a result, in large powers it is no longer the cultivation of learning and art in an atmosphere free of the issues of the day that counts, but the breeding of social analysts, mass specialists, efficiency experts, and engineers. It is no longer the great poet or great architect who reaps society's principal honours, but the socially useful mechanic, the organizer or what is so appropriately called the engineer of human relations.
True, artists and writers may still share in the applause of the masses, but only if they produce things of social significance. If they fail to do so, if they cannot be interpreted except in the antiquated terms of individual accomplishment, they are considered reckless parasites. A singer may still be appreciated, but only if he produces mass swooning. His art, whatever it is, is then obviously socially important, affecting as it does such vast numbers. But the principal honours will be reserved to those who acquit themselves of the chief task of a large society, which is: to keep it materially alive. This is not unjustified, because this is indeed a task which, as Aristotle said, is in a large power comparable to the job of'holding together the universe'. With our dependence on massive existence for individual survival, every occupation disposing of a multiplying element becomes important on that account alone, while quality ceases to be a criterion of value altogether. A public utility director, whose task would be considered menial in a little state, thus .emerges as a social leader of first rank in a large one. A raiser of livestock, if the number of his cattle exceeds five hundred, ceases to be a peasant and takes on the glamour of royalty. A washroom attendant, as already pointed out, dresses in tails, rents a box at the opera, and assumes the title of Excellency if the number of toilet seats he has to maintain in hygienic condition runs into the millions. Even crooks, if they cheat in impressive totals, are treated with awestruck respect, which again brings to mind Saint Augustine, that saintly deprecator of the big, who tells in the City of God (Book IV, Chapter IV) the following charming story:'. . . for elegant and excellent was that pirate's answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him: the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit, "How darest thou molest the whole world? But because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; thou doing it with a great navy, art called an emperor."
With modern society so completely absorbed by the task of surviving physically the choking crowd conditions it has created, it is not surprising that it should consider the achievements in the fields of the social sciences, technology, hygiene, and so forth, as the ultimate accomplishment of civilization.1 But civilization has nothing to do with this. Tubes, furnaces, and bathrooms are all essential and useful for material comfort and collective vitality, but they are not monuments of what we call culture. Culture is the portrait of an angel or a street urchin, which a modern would be allowed to paint only with a heavy social issue in mind but which a true artist paints for its own sake. Culture lies in cathedrals and lofty spires whose sole purpose is to be beautiful. Socially they are completely useless. One cannot use their floor space as a garage, nor their wind-swept rooms high in the towers as offices, nor their weird gargoyles as iced-water fountains. So they can no longer be built, for where could anyone find the time and leisure in our exacting age to create something whose sole value is the pleasure it gives to the discerning eyes of his maker or his God? The few monuments which mass society still does sponsor -- and even these are not for the glory of God but its own glorification, such as the monuments at erects to those who died so that the community might live, and who are symbolized characteristically not by some heart-broken mother's son but by a callously depersonalized unknown soldier -- must be utilitarian in nature. So, instead of baroque fountains wasting precious water, or statues wasting precious metals, we now build memorial hospitals, memorial parks, and memorial community halls. Everything, everything has to be subordinated to social needs. Culturally, vast-scale living has become sterile. What the populous nations of the world still possess in true civilization is not their own creation but the heritage of a past that granted the essentials to artistic creation: time for musing, slowness of pace, and, above all, relief from stultifying social service.
Arnold J. Toynbee, in his A Study of History, has indicated this vital connection between cultural productivity and relief from exacting social tasks by tracing the development of intellectual greatness not to participation in, but withdrawals from, social living. He finds this to be the case'... in the lives of mystics and saints and statesmen and soldiers and historianis and philosophers and poets, as well as in the histories of nations and states and churches. Walter Bagehot expressed the truth we are seeking to establish when he wrote: "All the great nations have been prepared in privacy and in secret. They have been composed far away from all distraction." '2
In other words, all that is great in great nations is not the product of their period of power which kept them busy with occupying die limelight on the stage of history, but of the time when they were insignificant and little. No powerful country, being itself the chief distraction, could, of course, have stayed away from 'all distraction' or developed any genius 'in privacy and in secret'.
Toynbee mentions as examples of his theory men such as Saint Paul, Saint Benedict, Saint Gregory the Great, Buddha, Mohammed, Machiavelli, Dante, and he might have added practically every great artist up to Gauguin or Shaw. The ivory tower, from which our time wants to drag every artist so that he may earn his living by facing the issues of the day and contributing to the collective efforts of war and peace or whatever else it may be, is nothing but the place of withdrawal where the true monuments of civilization are created in defiance of the clamour of the masses.
3. The Variety of Human Experience
There is a third reason for the intense cultural productivity of the small, and the intellectual sterility of the large, state. This is the most important reason of all. Societies may have patrons of the arts as rulers. But even so they could do little without artists. And they may provide the facilities for leisure and musing. But, again, these alone might not produce the creative impulse. What is needed in addition is the opportunity for creative individuals to learn die truth without which neither art, nor literature, nor philosophy can be developed. But to learn the truth in a world that is as manifold as ours and which manifests itself in such countless forms, incidents, and relationships, a creative individual must be able to participate in a great variety of personal experiences. Not in a great number, but in a great variety. And this is infinitely easier in a little state than a large one.
In a large state, we are forced to live in tightly specialized compartments, since populous societies not only make large-scale specialization possible but also necessary.3 As a result, our life's experience is confined to a narrow segment whose borders we almost never cross, but within which we become great single-purpose experts. Shattered into the spectrum's varied colours, we begin to see life as all red, all blue, or all green, while it appears in its true colour, white, only to those who sit on the high controlling towers of government and are alone in a position to see the wheel of society actually turning. But they are so busy with the task of co-ordination that they cannot communicate to us the facts they perceive. The rest of us are condemned to be segment dwellers, unblended and unblending, moving on moving particles which we consider motionless, and knowing the screw we shape but not the engine of which it is part.
Instead of experiencing many different things within surveyable limits, as did our enviable ancestors, we experience only one thing on a colossal plane. But this we experience innumerable times. Mechanics now meet only mechanics, doctors doctors, commercial artists commercial artists, garment workers garment workers, journalists journalists. Furnishing an existence within functionalized homogeneous little subnationalities, our modern labour unions and professional organizations pride themselves that their members can nowadays have everything from entertainment to education, hospitalization, vacations, and burial without ever stepping outside the cosy shelter of their organizations. It is considered snobbish, indecent, or treasonable to mix with anyone not of one's kind. If a historian knows a psychoanalyst, he is suspected of being a lunatic. If a business man knows a sculptor, he is suspected of being a sex pervert. If an engineer knows a philosopher, he is suspected of being a spy. If an economist makes a pronouncement on a question which, by definition, belongs to the field of political science, he is considered a fake. One of my own students accused me in open class of fraud when I ventured to correct a statement by him concerning a fact of English political life. He rejected my correction by stating sternly that an economist could not possibly have authoritative knowledge in a field outside his own. If he claimed this nevertheless, he was either a genius or an impostor, indicating strongly that he considered me the latter. And he was right, of course. Even as an economist I am a fraud. The only field in which I really know something concerns the documentation of international customs unions. There, I know everything, and, meaningless as it is, am probably the world's foremost authority. In every other field I have to trust to what other specialists have dug out.
Because modern life makes it technically impossible to participate in manifold experiences, anything written nowadays in the massive crowd states is drawn not from life, but from the co-ordinated study of life. The world no longer crosses an author's path. He must go out of his way and discover it indirectly and laboriously from encyclopedias and monographs, or from the writings of other hard-working students. If he can afford it, he keeps a staff of researchers who do the learning and experiencing for him without knowing what all their work is for, while he himself does nothing but act as the mechanical computer of the figures which are fed into his system and whose results are as much of a surprise to him as to anybody.1 No single individual, unless he is indeed a supergenius, has the opportunity to experience the multitude of social and human problems that constitute life. But since culture is the product of individual perception of the whole scope of existence, the large state, which deprives the creative individual of his fullness and dimensions in favour of a mechanically efficient but intellectually sterile community, can never be the proper soil on which true civilization can flourish.
The great advantage of the little state then is that, once it has 'attained a population sufficient for a good life in the political community', it offers not only the advantages of a reasonable degree of specialization but also the opportunity for everybody to experience everything simply by looking out of the window. There is no passion or problem disturbing the heart of man or the peace of a large empire that would not exist also in a small country. But in contrast to the large empire, where their meaning lies hidden under the weight of countless duplications and in a multitude of disjointed specialized realms, they unfold themselves without the intermediary of analysts and experts before the eyes of everybody, and with a clarity of outline and purpose that cannot be perceived elsewhere. A small state has the same governmental problems as the most monumental power on earth, even as a small circle has the same number of degrees as a large one. But what in the latter cannot be discerned by an army of statisticians and specialized interpreters, could be perceived by every leisurely stroller in ancient Athens. As a result, if we really want to go to the bottom of things, we have even today no other recourse after having tried Harvard and Oxford than to take down from their dusty shelves Plato or Aristotle. Indeed, the worth of Harvard and Oxford lies largely in the fact that they keep on their shelves the great men of little states.
Yet these were no supermen. The secret of their wisdom was that they lived in a small society that displayed all the secrets of life before everybody's eyes. They saw each problem not as a giant part of an unsurveyable tableau, but as a fraction of the composite picture to which it belonged. Philosophers, as also poets and artists, were by nature universal geniuses because they always saw the totality of life in its full richness, variety, and harmony without having to rely on secondhand information or to resort to superhuman efforts. Without going out of their way or making a special job of it, they could witness in a day's passing jealousy, murder, rape, magnanimity, and bliss. Their life was a constant participation in human and political passions. It was not spent in modern one-dimensional incestuous intercourse with individuals sharing one's own interests, but in daily contact with everybody ranging from peasant wenches to rulers. As a result, they could write as competently on the subtleties of political doctrines as on the nature of the universe or the tribulations of love. And the characters they created in marble or in verse were not synthetic carriers of mass issues but human beings so full, true, and earthly that their unsurpassable veracity still captivates our imagination.
4. The Testimony of History
It is for these three reasons that the overwhelming majority of the creators of our civilization were the sons and daughters of little states. And it is for the same reasons that, whenever productive small-state regions were united and moulded into the formidable frame of great powers, they ceased to be centres of culture.
History presents an irrefutable chain of evidence in this respect. All the great empires of antiquity, including the famous Roman Empire, have not created a fraction of the culture in all the thousands of years of their combined existence which the minuscule ever-feuding Greek city-states produced in a few decades. Having lasted so long, they did of course produce a few great minds and impressive imitators, but their chief accomplishments were technical and social, not cultural: They had administrators, strategists, road builders, and amassers of stones in giant structures whose forms could be designed by every two-year-old playing in the sand. They had great law-givers and masters of government, but so had the Huns. As far as true culture was concerned, they obtained what they did from Greeks, Jews, or other members of small, disunited, and quarrelsome tribes whom they bought on the slave markets like chattels and who lectured and mastered them like the barbarians they were. Underlining the connection between cultural productivity and the smallness of the social unit, Kathleen Freeman writes in her book on Greek City States:5'The existence of these hundreds of small units . . . seems uneconomic nowadays ... But certain of these small units created the beginnings of movements which transformed the world, and ultimately gave Man his present control over Nature ... It was the small unit, the independent city-state, where everybody knew all that was going on, that produced such intellectual giants as Thucydides and Aristophanes, Heraclitus and Parmenides. If these conditions were not in part responsible, how is it that philosophy, science, political thought, and the best of the literary arts, all perish with the downfall of the city-state system in 322 B.C., leaving us with the interesting but less profound and original work of men such as Epicurus and Menander? There is only one major poet after 322: Theocritus of Cos, a lyric genius of the first rank, who nevertheless (unlike Sappho) wrote much that was second-rate also, when he was pandering to possible patrons like the rulers of Alexandria and Syracuse. The modern nation that has replaced the polls as the unit of government is a thousand times less intellectually creative in proportion to its size and resources; even in building and the arts and crafts it lags behind in taste, and relatively in productivity.'6
Similarly, England produced a glittering string of eternal names, but when? When she was so small and insignificant that she had the hardest time winning a few battles against the Irish or Scots. True, she won a historic victory against Spain, but the greatness of this victory, as in the case of the wars between ancient Greece and Persia, lies precisely in the fact that it was won not by a great power but by one of the minor states of Europe over the then principal power on earth. But it was during this period of quarrelsome insignificance and with a population of about four million that she produced the principal share of her great contribution to our civilization -- Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Lodge, and many others who are unsurpassed in the world of literature. As she grew mightier, her talents were diverted into the fields of war, administration, colonization, and economics. If she still continued to contribute outstanding names to art and literature, it was because of tenaciously surviving small groups within her expanding empire such as the Scots and Irish. It is no coincidence that many of the most eminent and fertile contributors to modern English literature, Shaw, Joyce, Yeats, or Wilde, were Irish, members of one of the world's smallest nations.
But no two countries illustrate better the cultural productivity of small, and the sterility of large, units than Italy and Germany. Both have in relatively recent times undergone the transformation from small-state organizations to powerful unified empires. Up to 1870, both were split into countless little principalities, duchies, republics, and kingdoms. Then, under the applause of the world, and to its subsequent terror, they were unified into big, rich, and pacified countries. Though the two world wars have somewhat dampened the enthusiasm of our intellectuals with regard to the unity of Germany, they are still apt t6 break into raves when they hear the name of the Italian Bismarck and unifier, Garibaldi.
As long as the Italians and Germans were organized, or disorganized, in little comic-opera states, they not only gave the world the greatest masters of comic opera but, as in England during her time of Elizabethan political insignificance, an unrivalled string of immortal lyricists, authors, philosophers, painters, architects, and composers. The mess of states that were Naples, Sicily, Florence, Venice, Genoa, Ferrara, Milan, produced Dante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Tasso, and hundreds of others of whom even the least outstanding seems greater than modern Italy's greatest artist, whoever that may be. The mess of states that were Bavaria, Baden, Frankfurt, Hesse, Saxony, Nuremberg, produced Goethe, Heine, Wagner, Kant, Diirer, Holbein, Beethoven, Bach, and again hundreds of whom the least known seems to outrank even the greatest artist of unified Germany, whoever that might be.7 Some, like Richard Strauss, have reached eminence in modern Germany, but their origin reaches back to particularism which continued to exist in Germany and Italy as it did in England and France even after their union and is responsible for a few final creative stragglers.
This is what the reactionary little states of Italy and Germany have given to the world -- beautiful cities, cathedrals, operas, artists, princes, some enlightened, some bad, some maniacs, some geniuses, all full-blooded, and none too harmful. What have the same regions given us as impressive great powers? As unified empires, both Italy and Germany continued to boast of the monuments of a great civilization on their soil. But neither of them produced these. What they did produce were a bunch of unimaginative rulers and generals, Hitlers and Musso-linis. They, too, had artistic ambitions and wanted to embellish their capital cities but, instead of hundreds of capitals, there were now only two, Rome and Berlin, and instead of thousands of artists, there were now only two, Hitler and Mussolini. And their prime concern was not the creation of art but the construction of the pedestal on which they themselves might stand. This pedestal was war.
From the moment the small interstate strife had ceased amongst the Italian and German principalities and republics, they began to cultivate imperial ambitions. With physical and military glory within their grasp, they forgot about their great intellects and artists, and began to flush with excitement when some conqueror was resurrected from their remote history for purposes of imitation. They began to neglect Goethe in favour of Arminius, a Teutonic general who beat the Romans. They began to forget Dante in favour of Caesar, a Roman war reporter who beat the Teutons, Celts, and Britons. Having the choice between a great tradition of culture and a great tradition of aggressiveness they chose, as every great power does, the latter. The Italy and Germany of poets, painters, thinkers, lovers, and knights, became factories of boxers, wrestlers, engineers, racers, aviators, footballers, road builders, generals, and dehydrators of swamps. Instead of annoyed defenders of little sovereignties, they became the virile rapers and back-stabbers first of the countries around them and then of the entire world.
And we, of our time, so taken with the glory of mass, unity, and power, just adored it. Before our intellectuals called the dictators criminals, murderers, and maniacs, they called them geniuses. Only when the latter began to play with their own throats did they revise their estimates. So they began to vilify the dictators. But by no means did tliey revise their general abject submissiveness to power which they continued to glorify. Not being decently able to worship Hitler and Mussolini while the dictators won whopping victories over us, they shifted their affection from the contemporary conquerors to their predecessors. What they now praised less in Hitler, they praised all the more in Napoleon -- that he wanted to unify Europe. To this day they are reluctant to realize that all our degradation as individuals is due to social unification beyond the limits required for a pleasant life.
5. Romans or Florentines
I have with some purpose chosen the comparison between Germany and Italy, and shown the identity of the development of both from cultural refinement to barbarian aggressiveness, from designers of cathedrals to builders of empires, from intellectual greatness combined with political weakness to political greatness combined with intellectual mongolism. The reason for this is that all too many authors still differentiate between German and Italian characteristics and cultural productivity as if one nation had special talents and the other had not. Outwardly both are assumed to have behaved equally abominably under their respective dictators. But, it is said, the Italians did not really mean it. In contrast to the Germans, they are artistic, sanguine, light-hearted, and not at all militaristic or imperialistic. Yet this darling people to which our infatuated commentators attribute such collective appreciativeness of everything artistic, has as a group cared so little about its cultural heritage that it left most of its ancient architectural glory to fall to dust. What was saved for our delighted eyes was dug back from oblivion by Prussian and English professors, not by the artistic Italian people who used the stones of Roman temples to build outhouses and, when they realized that money could be made, sold whatever they could in coins and statuettes to eager foreigners. What every Medici would have guarded with jealousy, the Garibaldis gave away for profit. And as to their anti-militarism and anti-imperialism, their whole political treachery was due to the fact that they were not given enough colonies after World War I. And hardly were they defeated in World War II, when they began to press for colonies again.
Ever since their emergence as a great power in 1871, the Italians as a people no longer wanted to be known as artists but as masters, not as peace sissies but as conquerors, not as Florentines but as Romans. Power has turned them into Prussians as it did the Prussians, and goose-stepping, which Mussolini appropriately introduced in his army, was by no means alien to Italian mentality after 1871, even as gentleness, artistry, gracefulness, and delicacy were by no means alien to the Germans before that date, when a large part of them still lived in a medley of little states. Culture is the product not of peoples but of individuals and, as we have seen, creative individuals cannot flourish in the consuming atmosphere of large powers. It makes no difference whether the people concerned are Germans, French, Italians, or English. Wherever the process of union comes to its logical conclusion, their cultural fertility withers away. As long as democracy, with its system of divisions, factions, and small-group balances, exists, or as long as the process of internal consolidation has not reached its end, even seemingly large powers may benefit from an afterglow of intellectual vitality without, however, being responsible for it. Great power and democracy, as the previous chapter has shown, are mutually exclusive in the long run, since bigness in its ultimate form cannot be maintained except by totalitarian organization.
6. The Universal State -- Symbol and Cause of Cultural Decline
Toynbee, in his A Study of History, which is a study of the rise and decline of civilizations, has portrayed a similar relationship between political unification and intellectual decay. He refers to the 'phenomenon' that the last stage but one of every civilization is characterized by 'its forcible political unification in a universal state'.8 He understands by this what I understand by great power, a state comprising all members of a specific civilization, not all nations of the earth. But he overlooks the all-important causal connection when he considers the universal state simply a symptom, a 'phenomenon', a 'token of decline', rather than the cause and ratification of cultural collapse. Apart from this, however, his analysis penetrates to the centre of the problem when he writes:'For a Western student the classic example is the Roman Empire into which the Hellenic Society was forcibly gathered up in the penultimate chapter of its history. If we now glance at each of the living civilizations, other than our own, we notice that the main body of Orthodox Christendom has already been through a universal state in the Ottoman Empire; that the offshoot of Orthodox Christendom in Russia entered into a universal state towards the end of the fifteenth century, after the political unification of Muscovy and Novgorod; and that the Hindu Civilization has had its universal state in the Mughal Empire and its successor, the British Raj; the main body of the Far Eastern Civilization in the Mongol Empire and its resuscitation at the hands of the Manchus; and the Japanese offshoot of the Far Eastern Civilization in the shape of the Tokugawa Shogunate. As for the Islamic Society, we may perhaps discern an ideological premonition of a universal state in the Pan-Islamic Movement.'9
To escape the 'slow and steady fire of a universal state where we shall in due course be reduced to dust and ashes',10 Toynbee suggests the establishment, not of an all-embracing unitarian arrangement, 'but of some form of world order, akin perhaps to the Homonoia or Concord preached in vain by certain Hellenic statesmen and philosophers'.11 But there is only one way of establishing such Homonoia or harmony, and that is by restoring the little-state world from which our individualistic Western civilization has sprung, and without which it cannot continue. For large-power development drives us inevitably into the age of control, tyranny and collectivism.
Mistaking the cause for a symptom, Toynbee has not quite reached this conclusion which his own monumental argumentation seems to force upon the reader. That is why he ends his work on a note of unjustified but characteristically modern optimism. He thinks 'that there is no known law of historical determinism' that would compel the Western world to go the same road of destruction that has been trodden by every other civilization, the road of a Western universal state, or empire, which would be the better name for it. He fails to see that this development has become inevitable from the moment states have grown beyond the Aristotelian optimum size into great-power complexes. From then on further growth meant closer ruin. Today, pushed by the United Nations and their cultural agency, UNESCO, the Western universal state has advanced far beyond the dim outlines of an 'ideological premonition'; in fact, our statesmen seem to have nothing at all on their minds except our unification that will preserve our existence, but doom our civilization.
Social size appears thus once more at the root of things, of the good as well as the bad; of cultural productivity and human wisdom, if it is limited, of specialized ignorance and meaningless excellence in social utilitarianism, if it is too big. And again, while historic and economic factors such as great leaders, national traditions, or the mode of production may explain a great deal, the theory of size seems to explain more.
1 'For that reason,' writes Ortega y Gasset, 'as Spengler has very well observed, it was necessary, just as in our day, to construct enormous buildings. The epoch of the maisses is the epoch of the colossal. We are living then under the brutal empire of the masses.' (Op. cit., p. 13.)
2 Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, abridged version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1947, p. 224.
3 This does not mean that specialization as such is undesirable. On the contrary, the purpose of every community, as indicated in the preceding chapter, is to foster it. But when it begins to obliterate the diversity of man which, at a lesser degree of perfection, it cultivates, its advantage turns into ruin. This happens in the excessive large-scale specialization made possible in large states.
4 A characteristic illustration of the new ways in which modern authors tackle the task of writing a book has been provided in the following account by Ramon Cuthrie, a friend and associate of Sinclair Lewis, describing the latter's effort to write a novel on the problems of labour: 'It was in 1929 that Red [Sinclair Lewis] made his first attempt to write the labour novel. He and Dorothy were living on their farm in Vermont. A number of authorities on labour, economics, etc. were in residence as a consultant staff. One of the experts was the late Ben Stolberg; I have forgotten who the others were. Everybody except Red was buckled down to the job of writing the book. Red himself seemed rather baffled and disconcerted by the invasion. He would take naps, go for walks, read detective stories, get quietly but purposefully drunk, turn out pot-boilers for "The Saturday Evening Post", while the board of experts sat in solemn conclave laying out the novel.' (Ramon Cuthrie, 'The Labor Novel that Sinclair Lewis Never Wrote', New York Herald Tribune Book Review, 10 February 1952.
5 New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1950, p. 270.
6 Seton Lloyd, in an article in The Listener of 19 April 1951, makes a similar point when he writes: 'Yet it was here in this nameless constellation of city states on the mainland east of the Aegean, even in the days before Athens had become famous, that for the first time and almost the last time in history all the major problems of human society seem to have been simultaneously solved. For a time group-life on a national scale became possible, with a full complement of those freedoms to which we in our time aspire with such limited success. To quote Dr. Keith Monsarrat, "Not only was there peace between city and city, but the men of the cities seem to have given peace to each other. They found leisure to concern themselves with the adornment of their own way of living, and in the course of this they found harmonies of relation as no men had ever done before." It is strange in these circumstances to realize that there was no sense of unity among the states themselves. Throughout the coastal provinces of Asia Minor, from Cicilia to the Plain of Troy, every valley and sheltered upland seems to have been a miniature state, contributing to the economy of a single large city. And each state had a strong individual character.' The only comment to this is that it is not at all strange that 'there was no sense of unity'. The reason of that paradisical situation was that it consisted of a harmony produced by states, neither big nor united, because they were neither united nor big.
7 As Bertrand Russell has pointed out: 'In the ages in which there were great poets, there were also large numbers of little poets, and when there were great painters there were large numbers of little painters. The great German composers arose in a milieu where music was valued, and where numbers of lesser men found opportunities. In those days, poetry, painting, and music were a vital part of the daily life of ordinary men, as only sport is now. The great prophets were men who stood out from a host of minor prophets. The inferiority of our age in such respects is an inevitable result of the fact that society is centralized and organized to such a degree that individual initiative is reduced to a minimum. Where art flourished in the past it has flourished as a rule amongst small communities which had rivals among their neighbours, such as the Greek City States, the little Principalities of the Italian Renaissance, and the petty Courts of German eighteenth-century rulers.... There is something about local rivalry that is essential in such matters. . . . But such local patriotisms do not readily flourish in a world of empires. ... In those who might otherwise have worthy ambitions, the effect of centralization is to bring them into competition with too large a number of rivals, and into subjection to an unduly uniform standard of taste. If you wish to be a painter you will not be content to pit yourself against the men with similar desires in your own town; you will go to some school of painting in a metropolis where you will probably conclude that you are mediocre, and having come to this conclusion you may . . . take to money-making or to drink. ... In Renaissance Italy you might have hoped to be the best painter in Siena, and this position would have been quite sufficiently honourable.' (Bertrand Russell, Authority and the Individual)
8 Arnold J. Toynbee, op. cit., p. 244. 130
9 Ibid., p. 244.
10 Ibid., p. 553.
11 Ibid., p. 552.