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| Chapter 6
"HOW are you getting on with 'The Case,' Mrs. J.?" I asked Ellador one evening when she seemed rather discouraged. "What symptoms are worrying you most now?"
She looked at me with wide anxious eyes, too much in earnest to mind the "Mrs. J.," which usually rather teased her.
"It's, an awfully important case, Van dear," she answered soberly, "and a serious one — very serious, I think. I've been reading a lot, had to, to get background and perspective, and I feel as if I understood a good deal better. Still —. You helped me ever so much by saying that you were not new people, just mixed "Europeans. But the new country and the new conditions began to make you all into a new people. Only — ."
"These pauses are quite terrifying," I protested. "Won't you explain your ominous 'still,' and sinister 'only'!"
She smiled a little. "Why the 'still' should have been followed by the amount which I did not understand, and the 'only' — ." She stopped again.
"Well, out with it, my dear. Only what?" "Only you have done it too fast and too much in the dark. You weren't conscious you see."
"Not conscious — America not conscious?"
"Not self-conscious, I mean, Van."
This I scouted entirely, till she added patiently: "Perhaps I should say nationally conscious, or socially conscious. You were plunged into an enormous social enterprise, a huge swift, violent experiment; the current of social evolution burst forth over here like a subterranean river finding an outlet. Things that the stratified crust of Asia could not let through, and the heavy shell of European culture could not either, just burst forth over here and swept you along. Democracy had been — accumulating, through all the centuries. The other nations forced it back, held it down. It boiled over in France, but the lid was clapped on again for awhile. Here it could pour forward — and it poured. Then all the people of the same period of social development wanted to come too, and did, — lots of them. That was inevitable. All that 'America' means in this sense is a new phase of social development, and anyone can be an American who belongs to it."
"Guess you are right so far, Mrs. Doctor. Go ahead!"
"But while this was happening to you, you were doing things yourselves, some of them in line with your real position and movement, some dead against it. For instance, your religion." "Religion against what? Expound further."
"You don't mean the Christian religion, do you?" I urged, rather shocked.
"Oh, no, indeed. That would have been a great help to the world if they had ever taken it up."
I was always entertained and somewhat startled by Ellador's detached view. She knew the same facts so familiar to us, but they had not the same connotations.
"I think Jesus was simply wonderful," she went on. "What a pity it was he did not live longer!"
This was a new suggestion to me. Of course I no longer accepted that pitiful old idea of his being a pre-arranged sacrifice to his own father, but I never deliberately thought of his having continued alive, and its possible effects.
"He is supposed to have been executed at about the age of thirty-three, was he not?" she went on. "Think of it — hardly a grown man! He should have had thirty or forty more years of teaching. It would all have become clearer, more consistent. He would have worked things out, explained them, made people understand. He would have made clear to them what they were to do. It was an awful loss."
I said nothing at all, but watched the sweet earnest face, the wise far-seeing eyes, and really agreed with her, though in my mind rose a confused dim throng of horrified objections belonging not to my own mind, but to those of other people.
"Tell me how you mean that our religion was against democracy," I persisted.
"It was so personal," she said, "and so unjust. There must have crept into it, in early times, a lot of the Buddhist philosophy, either direct or filtered, the 'acquiring merit' idea, and ascetism. The worst part of all was the idea of sacrifice — that is so ancient. Of course what Jesus meant was social unity, that your neighbor was yourself — that we were all one humanity — 'many gifts, but the' same spirit.' He must have meant that — for that is so.
"What I mean by 'your religion' is the grade of Calvinism which dominated young America, with the still older branches, and the various small newer ones. It was all so personal. My soul — my salvation. My conscience — my sins. And here was the great living working truth of democracy carrying you on in spite of yourselves — E Pluribus Unum.
"Your economic philosophy was dead against it too — that foolish laissez-faire idea. And your politics, though what was new in it started pretty well, has never been able to make much headway against the highest religious sanction, the increasing economic pressure, and the general drag of custom and tradition — inertia."
"You are somewhat puzzling," my fair Marco Polo," I urged. "So you mean to extol our politics, American politics?"
"Why of course!" she said, her eyes shining. "The principles of democracy are wholly right. The law of federation, the method of rotation in office, the stark necessity for general education that the people may understand clearly, the establishment of liberty — that they may act freely — it is splendidly, gloriously right! But why do I say this to an American!"
"I wish you could say it to every American man, woman, and child," I answered soberly. "Of course we used to feel that way about it, but things have changed somehow."
"Yes, yes," she went on eagerly. "That's what I mean. You started right, for the most part, but those high-minded brave old ancestors of yours did not understand sociology — how should they? it wasn't even born. They did not know how society worked, or what would hurt it the most. So the preachers went on exhorting the people to save their own souls, or get it done for them by imputed virtues of someone else — and no one understood the needs of the country.
"Why, Van! Vandyke Jennings! As I understand more and more how noble and courageous and high-minded was this Splendid Child, and then see it now, bloated and weak, with unnatural growth, preyed on by all manner of parasites inside and out, attacked by diseases of all kinds, sneered at, criticized, condemned by the older nations, and yet bravely stumbling on, making progress in spite of it all — I'm getting to just love America!"
That pleased me, naturally, but I didn't like her picture of my country as bloated and verminous. I demanded explanation.
"Do you think we're too big?" I asked. "Too much country to be handled properly?"
"Oh, no!" she answered promptly. "Not too big in land. That would have been like the long lean lines of youth, the far-reaching bones of a country gradually rounding out and filling in as you grow. But you couldn't wait to grow, you just — swelled."
"What on earth do you mean, Ellador?"
"You have stuffed yourself with the most ill-assorted and unassimilable mass of human material that ever was held together by artificial means," she answered remorselessly. "You go to England, and the people are English. Only three per cent. of aliens even in London, I understand. And in France the people are French — bless them! And in Italy, Italian. But here — it's no wonder I was discouraged at first. It has taken a lot of study and hard thinking, to see a way out at all. But I do see it. It was simply awful when I begun.
"Just look! Here you were, a little band of really promising people, of different nations, yet of the same general stock, and like-minded — that was the main thing. The real union is the union of idea; without that — no nation. You made settlements, you grew strong and bold, you shook off the old government. you set up a new flag, and then — !"
"Then," said I proudly, we opened our arms to all the world, if that is what you are finding fault with. We welcomed other people to our big new country — 'the poor and oppressed of all nations!' I quoted solemnly.
"That's what I mean by saying you were ignorant of sociology," was her I cheerful reply. "It never occurred to you, that the poor and oppressed were not necessarily good stuff for a democracy."
I looked at her rather rebelliously.
"Why just study them," she went on, in that large sweeping way of hers. "Hadn't there been poor and oppressed enough in the past? In Chaldaea and Assyria and Egypt and Rome — in all Europe — every where? Why, Van, it is the poor and oppressed who make monarchy and despotism — don't you see that?'
"Hold on, my dear — hold on! This is too much. Are you blaming the poor helpless things for their tyrannical oppression?"
"No more than I blame an apple-tree for bearing apples," she answered. "You don't seriously advance the idea that the oppressor began it, do you? Just one oppressor jumping on the necks of a thousand free men? Surely you see that the general status and character of a people creates and maintains its own kind of government?"
"Y-e-es," I agreed. "But all the same, they are human, and if you give them proper conditions they can all rise — surely we have proved that."
"Give them proper conditions, and give them time — yes."
"Time! They do it in one generation. We have citizens, good citizens, of all races, who were born in despotic countries, all equal in our democracy."
"How many Chinese and Japanese citizens have you?" she asked quietly. "How are your African citizens treated in this 'equal' democracy!"
This was rather a facer.
"About the first awful mistake you made was in loading yourself up with those reluctant Africans," Ellador went on. "If it wasn't so horrible, it would be funny, awfully funny. A beautiful healthy young country, saddling itself with an antique sin every other civilized nation had repudiated. And here they are, by millions and millions, flatly denied citizenship, socially excluded, an enormous alien element in your democracy."
"They are not aliens," I persisted stoutly. "They are Americans, loyal Americans; they make admirable soldiers."
"Yes, and servants. You will let them serve you and fight for you — but that's all, apparently. Nearly a tenth of the population, and not part of the democracy. And they never asked to come!"
"Well," I said, rather sullenly. "I admit it — everyone does. It was an enormous costly national mistake, and we paid for it heavily. Also it's there yet, an unsolved question. I admit it all. Go on please. We were dead wrong on the blacks, and pretty hard on the reds; we may be wrong on the yellows. I guess this is a white man's country, isn't it? You're not objecting to the white immigrants, are you?"
"To legitimate immigrants, able and willing to be American citizens, there can be no objection, unless even they come too fast. But to millions of deliberately imported people, not immigrants at all, but victims, poor ignorant people scraped up by paid agents, deceived by lying advertisements, brought over here by greedy American ship owners and employers of labor — there are objections many and strong."
"But, Ellador — even granting it is you say, they too can be made into American citizens, surely?"
"They can be, but are they? I suppose you all tacitly assume that they are; but an outsider does not see it. We have been all over the country now, pretty thoroughly. I have met and talked with people of all classes and all races, both men and women. Remember I'm new to 'the world,' and I've just come here from studying Europe, and Asia, and Africa. I have the hinterland of history pretty clearly summarized, though of course I can't pretend to be thorough, and I tell you, Van, there are millions of people in your country who do not belong to it at all."
She saw that I was about to defend our foreign born, and went on:
"I do not mean the immigrants solely. There are Bostonians of Beacon Hill who belong in London; there are New Yorkers of five generations who belong in Paris; there are vast multitudes who belong in Berlin, in Dublin, in Jerusalem; and there are plenty of native Sons and Daughters of the Revolution who are aristocrats, plutocrats, anything but democrats."
"Why of course there are! We believe in having all kinds — there's room for everybody — this is the 'melting-pot,' you know."
"And do you think that you can put a little of everything into a melting-pot and produce a good metal? Well fused and flawless? Gold, silver, copper and iron, lead, radium, pipe clay, coal dust, and plain dirt?"
A simile is an untrustworthy animal if you ride it too hard. I grinned and admitted that there were limits to the powers of fusion.
"Please understand," she urged gently. "I am not looking down on one kind of people because they are different from others. I like them all. I think your prejudice against the black is silly, wicked, and — hypocritical. You have no idea how ridiculous it looks, to an outsider, to hear your Southern enthusiasts raving about the horrors of 'miscegenation' and then to count the mulattos, quadroons, octoroons and all the successive shades by which the black race becomes white before their eyes. Or to see them shudder at 'social equality' while the babies are nourished at black breasts, and cared for in their most impressionable years by black nurses — their children!"
She stopped at that, turned away from me and walked to the opposite window, where she stood for some time with her hands clenched and her shoulders heaving.
"Where was I?" she asked presently, definitely dropping the question of children. "Black — yes, and how about the yellow? Do they 'melt'? Do you want them to melt? Isn't your exclusion of them an admission that you think some kinds of people unassimilable? That democracy must pick and choose a little?"
"What would you have us do?" I asked rather sullenly. "Exclude everybody? Think we are superior to the whole world?"
Ellador laughed, and kissed me. "I think you are," she whispered tenderly. "No — I don't mean that at all. It would be too great a strain on the imagination! If you want a prescription — far too late — it is this: Democracy is a psychic relation. It requires the intelligent conscious co-operation of a great many persons all 'equal' in the characteristics required to play that kind of a game. You could have safely welcomed to your great undertaking people of every race and nation who were individually fitted to assist. Not by any means because they were 'poor and oppressed,' nor because of that glittering generality that 'all men are born free and equal,' but because the human race is in different stages of development, and only some the races — or some individuals in a given race — have reached the democratic stage."
"But how could we discriminate?"
"You mustn't ask me too much, Van. I'm a stranger; I don't know all I ought to, and, of course I'm all the time measuring by my background of experience in my own country. I find you people talk a good bit about the Brotherhood of Man, but you haven't seemed to think about the possibilities of a sisterhood of women."
I looked up alertly, but she gave a mischievous smile and shook her head. "You do not want to hear about the women, I remember. But seriously, dear, this is one of the most dangerous mistakes you have made; it complicates everything. It makes your efforts to establish democracy like trying to make a ship go by steam and at the same time admitting banks of oars, masses of sails and cordage, and mere paddles and outriggers."
"You can certainly make some prescription for this particularly dreadful state, can't you?" I urged. "Sometimes 'an outsider' can see better than those who are — being melted."
She pondered awhile, then began slowly: "Legitimate immigration is like the coming of children to you, — new blood for the nation, citizens made, not born. And they should be met like children, with loving welcome, with adequate preparation, with the fullest and wisest education for their new place. Where you have that crowded little filter on Ellis Island, you ought to have Immigration Bureaus on either coast, at ports so specified, with a great additional department to definitely Americanize the newcomers, to teach them the language, spirit, traditions and customs of the country. Talk about offering hospitality to all the world! What kind of hospitality is it to let your guests crowd and pack into the front hall, and to offer them neither bed, bread nor association? That's what I mean by saying that you are not conscious. You haven't taken your immigration seriously enough. The consequence is that you are only partially America, an American clogged and confused, weakened and mismanaged, for lack of political compatibility."
"Is this all?" I asked after a little. "You make me feel as if my country was a cross between a patchwork quilt and a pudding stone."
"Oh, dear, no!" she cheerfully assured me. "That's only a beginning of my diagnosis. The patient's worst disease was that disgraceful out-of-date attack of slavery, only escaped by a surgical operation, painful, costly, and not by any means wholly successful. The second is this chronic distension from absorbing too much and too varied material, just pumping it in at wild speed. The third is the most conspicuously foolish of all — to a Herlander."
"Oh — leaving the women out?"
"Yes. It's so — so — well, I can't express to you how ridiculous it looks.
"We're getting over it," I urged. "Eleven states now, you know — it's getting on."
"Oh, yes, yes, it's getting on. But I'm looking at your history, and your conditions, and your loud complaints, and then to see this great mass of fellow-citizens treated as if they weren't there — it is unbelievable!"
"But I told you about that before we came," said I. "I told you in Herland — you knew it."
"I knew it, truly. But, Van, suppose anyone had told you that in Herland women were the only citizens — would that have prevented your being surprised?"
I looked back for a moment, remembering how we men, after living there so long, after "knowing" that women were the only citizens, still never got over the ever recurring astonishment of realising it.
"No wonder it surprises you, dear, — I should think it would. But go on about the women."
"I'm not touching on the women at all, Van. This is only in treating of democracy — of your country and what ails it. You see: "
"Well, dear? See what?"
"It is so presumptuous of me to try to explain democracy to you, an American citizen. Of course you understand, but evidently the country at large doesn't. In a monarchy you have this one allowed Ruler, and his subordinate rulers, and the people submit to them. Sometimes it works very well, but in any case it is something done for and to the people by someone they let do it.
"A democracy, a real one, means the people socially conscious and doing it themselves — doing it themselves! Not just electing a Ruler and subordinates and submitting to them — transferring the divine right of kings to the divine right of alderman or senators. A democracy is a game everybody has to play — has to — else it is not a democracy. And here you people deliberately left out half!"
"But they never had been 'in'; you know, in the previous governments."
"Now, Van — that's really unworthy of you. As subjects they were the same as men, and as queens they were the same as kings. But you began a new game — that you said must be 'by the people' — and so on, and left out half."
"It was — funny," I admitted, "and unfortunate. But we're improving. Do go on.
"That's three counts, I believe," she agreed. "Next lamentable mistake, — failure to see that democracy must be economic."
"No, not exactly. Meaning what Socialism means, or ought to mean. You could not have a monarchy where the king was in no way different from his subjects. A monarchy must be expressed not only in the immediate symbols of robe and crown, throne and sceptre, but in the palace and the court, the list of lords and gentlemen-in-waiting. It's all part of monarchy.
"So you cannot have a democracy while there are people markedly differentiated from the others, with symbolism of dress and decoration, with courts and palaces and crowds of servitors."
"You can't except all the people to be just alike, can you?"
"No, nor even to be 'equal.' Some people will always be more valuable than others, and some more useful than others; but a poet, a blacksmith, and a dancing master might all be friends and fellow-citizens in a true democratic sense. Your millionaires vote and your day-laborers vote, but it does not bring them together as fellow citizens. That's why your little old New England towns and your fresh young western ones, have more of 'America' in them than is possible — could ever be possible — in such a political menagerie as New York, for instance.
"Meaning the Tiger?" I inquired.
"Including the Tiger, with the Elephant, the Moose and the Donkey — especially the Donkey! No — I do not really mean those — totems. I mean the weird collection of political methods, interests, stages of growth.
"New York's an oligarchy; it's a plutocracy; it's a hierarchy; it reverts to the clan system with its Irishmen, and back of that, to the patriarchy, with its Jews. It's anything and everything you like — but it's not a democracy."
"If it was, what would it do to prove it? Just what do you expect of what you call democracy? Don't you idealize it?" I asked.
"No." She shook her head decidedly. "I do not idealize it. I'm familiar with it, you see — we have one at home, you know."
So they had. I had forgotten. In fact I had not very clearly noticed. We had been so much impressed by their all being women that we had not done justice to their political development."
"It's no miracle," she said. "Just people co-operating to govern themselves. We have universal suffrage, you know, and train our children in the use of it before they come to the real thing. That farseeing Mr. Gill is trying to do that in your public schools, I notice, and Mr. George of the Junior Republics. It requires a common knowledge of the common need, local self-management, recognizing the will of the majority, and a big ceaseless loving effort to make the majority wiser. It's surely nothing so wonderful, Van, for a lot of intelligent people to get together and manage their common interests."
It certainly had worked well in Herland. So well, so easily, so smoothly, that it was hardly visible.
"But the people who get together have got to be within reach of one another," she went on. "They've got to have common interests. What united action can you expect between Fifth Avenue and — Avenue A?"
"I've had all I can stand for one dose, my lady," I now protested. "From what you have said I should think your 'Splendid Child' would have died in infancy — a hundred years ago. But we haven't you see. We're alive and kicking — especially kicking. I have faith in my country yet."
"It is still able to lead the world — if it will," she agreed. "It has still all the natural advantages it began with, and it has added new ones. I'm not despairing, nor blaming, Van — I'm diagnosing, and pretty soon I'll prescribe. But just now I suggest that we change politics for tennis."
We did. I can still beat her at tennis — having played fifteen years to her one — but not so often as formerly.