[時事閒聊] In France before the Revolution

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The schools feed the universities; the universities feed the press, the learned professions, and the higher grades in industry and finance. Private conversation, as well as what is published in newspapers, magazines, and books, bears the impress of the official mint to a degree unthinkable in England or America, Russia or France. Theories of politics are devised by ingenious sophists, exactly as the machinery at Essen is contrived by engineers—for the express purpose of forwarding Prussian policy. History is twisted and distorted in order to prepare the way for imperial ambitions by justifying them in advance inflatable bounce.

It is a signal triumph for the thoroughness of German methods that all the thinkers, dreamers, {129} poets, and prophets, with but a few exceptions, should have been commandeered and set to work thinking, dreaming, poetising, and prophesying to the glory of the Kaiser, and his army, and his navy, and his counsellors, and his world policy, and the conquests and expansion which are entailed therein.


It is somewhat startling, however, to find the intellectuals thus mobilised, and all but unanimous, on the official side; for hitherto in history they have rarely agreed among themselves, and the greater part have usually favoured the Opposition rather than the Government. Nor does this close alliance between learning and the bureaucracy seem altogether satisfactory. For thought loses its fine edge when it is set to cut millstones of state. It loses its fine temper in the red heat of political controversy. By turning utilitarian it ceases to be universal; and what is perhaps even worse, it ceases to be free. It tends more and more to become the mere inventor of things which will sell at a profit; less and less the discoverer of high principles which the gods have hidden out of sight. It would hardly be possible to imagine a more complete reversal of attitude than that which has occurred in Germany between the beginning of the nineteenth century and the present time; and though this change may serve admirably the immediate purposes of the state, it does not augur well for the future of German thought  Zero Moment Of Truth.

The similarities and contrasts of history are interesting to contemplate. In the ferment of thought and action which occurred in France during the generation preceding the battle of Valmy, and that other which has been going on in Germany in the {130} generation preceding the battle of the Marne, there are various likenesses and unlikenesses. , as in Germany to-day, a bureaucracy, responsible solely to the monarch, directed policy and controlled administration. But in France this bureaucracy was incompetent, unpractical, and corrupt. Its machinery was clogged with dead matter of every kind, with prejudices, traditions, and statutes, many of which had outlived their original purposes. The Struldbrugs, discovered by Gulliver during his voyages, were a race of men whose mortal souls were incased in immortal bodies. The French monarchy was of this nature, and the soul of it was long since dead. Inefficiency was everywhere apparent; and, as a natural consequence, the whole system had become a butt, at which each brilliant writer in turn levelled his darts of derision and contempt  Academic alliance.


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