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The Question of the Maximum (A speech)
by [?]

For any social movement or development there must be a maximum limit beyond which it cannot proceed. That civilization which does not advance must decline, and so, when the maximum of development has been reached in any given direction, society must either retrograde or change the direction of its advance. There are many families of men that have failed, in the critical period of their economic evolution, to effect a change in direction, and were forced to fall back. Vanquished at the moment of their maximum, they have dropped out of the whirl of the world. There was no room for them. Stronger competitors have taken their places, and they have either rotted into oblivion or remain to be crushed under the iron heel of the dominant races in as remorseless a struggle as the world has yet witnessed. But in this struggle fair women and chivalrous men will play no part. Types and ideals have changed. Helens and Launcelots are anachronisms. Blows will be given and taken, and men fight and die, but not for faiths and altars. Shrines will be desecrated, but they will be the shrines, not of temples, but market-places. Prophets will arise, but they will be the prophets of prices and products. Battles will be waged, not for honor and glory, nor for thrones and sceptres, but for dollars and cents and for marts and exchanges. Brain and not brawn will endure, and the captains of war will be commanded by the captains of industry. In short, it will be a contest for the mastery of the world’s commerce and for industrial supremacy.

It is more significant, this struggle into which we have plunged, for the fact that it is the first struggle to involve the globe. No general movement of man has been so wide-spreading, so far-reaching. Quite local was the supremacy of any ancient people; likewise the rise to empire of Macedonia and Rome, the waves of Arabian valor and fanaticism, and the mediaeval crusades to the Holy Sepulchre. But since those times the planet has undergone a unique shrinkage.

The world of Homer, limited by the coast-lines of the Mediterranean and Black seas, was a far vaster world than ours of today, which we weigh, measure, and compute as accurately and as easily as if it were a child’s play-ball. Steam has made its parts accessible and drawn them closer together. The telegraph annihilates space and time. Each morning, every part knows what every other part is thinking, contemplating, or doing. A discovery in a German laboratory is being demonstrated in San Francisco within twenty-four hours. A book written in South Africa is published by simultaneous copyright in every English-speaking country, and on the day following is in the hands of the translators. The death of an obscure missionary in China, or of a whiskey-smuggler in the South Seas, is served, the world over, with the morning toast. The wheat output of Argentine or the gold of Klondike are known wherever men meet and trade. Shrinkage, or centralization, has become such that the humblest clerk in any metropolis may place his hand on the pulse of the world. The planet has indeed grown very small; and because of this, no vital movement can remain in the clime or country where it takes its rise.

And so today the economic and industrial impulse is world-wide. It is a matter of import to every people. None may be careless of it. To do so is to perish. It is become a battle, the fruits of which are to the strong, and to none but the strongest of the strong. As the movement approaches its maximum, centralization accelerates and competition grows keener and closer. The competitor nations cannot all succeed. So long as the movement continues its present direction, not only will there not be room for all, but the room that is will become less and less; and when the moment of the maximum is at hand, there will be no room at all. Capitalistic production will have overreached itself, and a change of direction will then be inevitable.