The Spirit of the Herd
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The Spirit of the Herd book
THE war has been " a school of character" in more than one sense. Its "bracing experience" shook the upper classes of our people out of the mood of reckless hedonism which insecure prosperity engendered, and drew out their rich endowments for adventure and leadership. It sobered the fractious unrest of the workers, laid the rising passion of " a class struggle," and inspired a fresh sentiment of national unity. The continuous efforts and sacrifices of whole peoples, consciously devoted to the achievement of a national end of novel and transcendent value, seemed to disclose and educate new powers of unselfish co-operation capable of achieving great and lasting improvements in the character and conduct of society. The war showed that our wealthy leisured classes were not so sunk in luxury and ease, our business men not so immersed in selfish greed, our working classes not so reckless of the commonweal, the nation as a whole not so abandoned to materialism and intellectual inefficiency, as their enemies and some of their censorious friends had depicted them. The tough fibre, the indomitable courage and endurance, the high adaptability and power of initiative, the
comradeship, which our fighting men displayed on land, at sea, in air, our civil population also showed in meeting the strains of war upon their spiritual and physical resources. Our powers to improvise and "carry on," in the formation and equipment of our new forces, in the conduct of industries, the economy of our consumption and notably in the organization of the numerous home services, exceeded all our expectations. In dispelling the notion that we had become a soft, a frivolous, a luxurious and in general a "decadent" nation, the war may thus be said to have re-established our moral self-confidence, if indeed this process was necessary. We now recognize that our stock still retained unimpaired those capacities and energies of body and mind which have enabled us as a nation to play so great a part in history. This recognition probably suffices for the careless many who, contented with this supreme example of our power to rise to an emergency, would return, learning nothing more, to the loose pre-war life of business and amusement. But those who know how near our country came to irretrievable disaster at several junctures, owing to lack of the finer qualities of intelligence and judgment in our generalship and statecraft, are dismayed at the sell-complacency which would stake the national existence upon this rough capacity to meet emergencies by improvising remedies for dangers which better mental and moral discipline would have averted.