The psychology of Nations by G.E. Partridge - HTML preview

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This book contains two closely related studies of the consciousness of

nations. It has been written during the closing months of the war and

in the days that have followed, and is completed while the Peace

Conference is still in session, holding in the balance, as many

believe, the fate of many hopes, and perhaps the whole future of the

world. We see focussed there in Paris all the motives that have ever

entered into human history and all the ideals that have influenced

human affairs. The question must have arisen in all minds in, some

form as to what the place of these motives and ideals and dramatic

moments is in the progress of the world. Is the world governed after

all by the laws of nature in all its progress? Do ideals and motives

govern the world, but only as these ideals and motives are themselves

produced according to biological or psychological principles? Or,

again, does progress depend upon historical moments, upon conscious

purposes which may divert the course of nature and in a real sense

create the future? It is with the whole problem of history that we are

confronted in these practical hours. At heart our problem is that of

the place of man in nature as a conscious factor of progress. This is

a problem, finally, of the philosophy of history, but it is rather in

a more concrete way and upon a different level that it is to be

considered here,--and somewhat incidentally to other more specific

questions. But this is the problem that is always before us, and the

one to which this study aims to make some contribution, however small.

The first part of the book is a study of the motives of war. It is an

analysis of the motives of war in the light of the general principles

of the development of society. We wish to see what the causes of past

wars have been, but we wish also to know what these motives are as

they may exist as forces in the present state of society. In such a

study, practical questions can never be far away. We can no longer

study war as an abstract psychological problem, since war has brought

us to a horrifying and humiliating situation. We have discovered that

our modern world, with all its boasted morality and civilization, is

actuated, at least in its relations among nations, by very unsocial

motives. We live in a world in which nations thus far have been for

the most part dominated by a theory of States as absolutely sovereign

and independent of one another. Now it becomes evident that a logical

consequence of that theory of States is absolute war. A prospect of a

future of absolute war in a world in which industrial advances have

placed in the hands of men such terrible forces of destruction, an

absolute warfare that can now be carried into the air and under the

sea is what makes any investigation of the motives of war now a very

practical problem.

If the urgency of our situation drives us to such studies and makes us

hasten to apply even an immature sociology and psychology, it ought

not to prejudice our minds and make us, for example, fall into the

error of wanting peace at any price--an ideal which, as a practical

national philosophy, might be even worse than a spirit of militarism.

What we need to know, finally, in order to avoid these errors which at

least we may imagine, is what, in the most fundamental way, progress

may be conceived to be. If we could discover that, and set our minds

to the task of making the social life progressive, we might be willing

to let wars take care of themselves, so to speak, without any radical

philosophy of good and evil. We ought at least to examine war fairly,

and to see what, in the waging of war, man has really desired. A study

of war ought to help us to decide whether we must accept our future,

with its possibility of wars, as a kind of fate, or whether we must

now begin, with a new idea of conscious evolution, to apply our

science and our philosophy and our practical wisdom seriously for the

first time to the work of creating history, and no longer be content

merely to live it.

As to the details of the study of war--we first of all consider the

origin and the biological aspects of war; then war as related to the

development, in the social life and in the life of the individual, of

the motive of power. The instincts that are most concerned in the

development of this motive of power are then considered, and also the

relations of war to the æsthetic impulses and to art.


national honor and patriotism are studied as causes of war. The

various "causes" that are brought forward as the principles fought for

are examined; also the philosophical influences, the moral and

religious motives and the institutional factors among the motives of

war. Finally the economic and political motives and the historical

causes are considered. The conclusion is reached that the motive of

power, as the fundamental principle of behavior at the higher levels,

is the principle of war, but that in so general a form it goes but a

little way toward being an explanation of war. We find the real causes

of war by tracing out the development of this motive of power as it

appears in what we call the "intoxication impulse," and in the idea of

national honor and in the political motives of war. It is in these

aspects of national life that we find the motives of war as they may

be considered as a practical problem. But we find no separate causes,

and we do not find a chain of causes that might be broken somewhere

and thus war be once for all eliminated. Wars are products of the

whole character of nations, so to speak, and it is national character

that must be considered in any practical study of war.

It is by the

development of the character of nations in a natural process, or by

the education of national character, that war will be made to give

way to perpetual peace, if such a state ever comes, rather than by a

political readjustment or by legal enactments, however necessary as

beginnings or makeshifts these legal and political changes may be.

The second part of the book is a study of our present situation as an

educational problem, in which we have for the first time a problem of

educating national consciousness as a whole, or the individuals of a

nation with reference to a world-consciousness. The study has

reference especially to the conditions in our own country, but it also

has general significance. The war has brought many changes, and in

every phase of life we see new problems. These may seem at the moment

to be separate and detached conditions which must be dealt with, each

by itself, but this is not so; they are all aspects of fundamental

changes and new conditions, the main feature of which is the new

world-consciousness of which we speak. Whatever one's occupation, one

cannot remain unaffected by these changes, or escape entirely the

stress that the need of adjustment to new ideas and new conditions

compels. What we may think about the future--about what can be done

and what ought to be done, is in part, and perhaps largely, a matter

of temperament. At least we see men, presumably having access to the

same facts, drawing from them very different conclusions. Some are

keyed to high expectations; they look for revolutions, mutations, a

new era in politics and everywhere in the social life.

For them, after

the war, the world is to be a new world. Fate will make a new deal.

Others appear to believe that after the flurry is over we shall settle

down to something very much like the old order. These are conservative

people, who neither desire nor expect great changes.

Others take a

more moderate course. While improvement is their great word, they are

inclined to believe that the new order will grow step by step out of

the old, and that good will come out of the evil only in so far as we

strive to make it. We shall advance along the old lines of progress,

but faster, perhaps, and with life attuned to a higher note.

The writer of this book must confess that he belongs in a general way

to the third species of these prophets. There is a natural order of

progress, but the good must, we may suppose, also be worked for step

by step. The war will have placed in our hands no golden gift of a new

society; both the ways and the direction of progress must be sought

and determined by ideals. The point of view in regard to progress, at

least as a working hypothesis, becomes an educational one, in a broad

sense. Our future we must make. We shall not make it by politics. The

institutions with which politics deals are dangerous cards to play.

There is too much convention clinging to them, and they are too

closely related to all the supports of the social order.


industrial system, the laws, the institutions of property and rights,

the form of government, we change at our own risk.

Naturally many

radical minds look to the abrupt alteration of these fundamental

institutions for the cure of existing evils, and others look there

furtively for the signs of coming revolution, and the destruction of

all we have gained thus far by civilization. But at a different level,

where life is more plastic--in the lives of the young, and in the vast

unshaped forms of the common life everywhere, all this is different.

We do not expect abrupt changes here nor quick and visible results.

Experimentation is still possible and comparatively safe. There is no

one institution of this common and unformed life, not even the school

itself, that supports the existing structures, so that if we move it

in the wrong way, everything else will fall. When we see we are wrong,

there is still time to correct our mistakes.

Our task, then, is to see what the forces are that have brought us to

where we stand now, and to what influences they are to be subjected,

if they are to carry us onward and upward in our course.


what the changes in government or anywhere in the social order should

be is not the chief interest, from this point of view.

The details of

the constitution of an international league, the practical adjustments

to be made in the fields of labor, and in the commerce of nations,

belong to a different order of problems. We wish rather to see what

the main currents of life, especially in our own national life, are,

and what in the most general way we are to think and do, if the

present generation is to make the most of its opportunities as a

factor in the work of conscious evolution.

The bibliography shows the main sources of the facts and the theories

that have been drawn upon in writing the book. Some of the chapters

have been read in a little different form as lectures before President

G. Stanley Hall's seminar at Clark University. More or less of

repetition, made necessary in order to make these papers, which were

read at considerable intervals, independent of one another, has been

allowed to remain. Perhaps in the printed form this reiteration will

help to emphasize the general psychological basis of the study.