I am told when a gun is fired it recoils with almost as much force as urges forward the projectile. It is the triumph of the military engineer that he anticipates and provides for this recoil when designing the weapon. Nations prepare for war, but do not, as the military engineer in his sphere does, provide for the recoil on society. It is difficult to foresee clearly what will happen. Possible changes in territory, economic results, the effect on a social order receive consideration while war is being waged. But how war may affect our intellectual and spiritual life is not always apparent. Material victories are often spiritual defeats. History has record of nationalities which were destroyed and causes whose followers were overborne, yet they left their ideas behind them as a glory in the air, and these incarnated anew in the minds of the conquerors. Ideas are things which can only be conquered by a greater beauty or intellectual power, and they are never more powerful than when they do not come threatening us in alliance with physical forces. I have no doubt there are many today who watch the cloud over Europe as we may imagine some Israelite of old gazing on that awful cloudy pillar wherein was the Lord, in hope or fear for some revelation of the spirit hidden in cloud and fire. What idea is hidden in the fiery pillar which moves over Europe? What form will it assume in its manifestation? How will it exercise dominion over the spirit? Whatever idea is most powerful in the world must draw to it the intellect and spirit of humanity, and it will be monarch over their minds either by reason of their love or hate for it. It is more true to say we must think of the most powerful than to say we must love the highest, because even the blind can feel power, while it is rare to have vision of high things.
A little over a century ago all the needles of being pointed to France. A peculiar manifestation of the democratic idea had become the most powerful thing in the world of moral forces. It went on multiplying images of itself in men’s minds through after generations; and, because thought, like matter, is subject to the laws of action and reaction, which indeed is the only safe basis for prophecy, this idea inevitably found itself opposed by a contrary idea in the world. Today all the needles of being point to Germany, where the apparition of the organized State is manifest with every factor, force, and entity co-ordinated, so that the State might move myriads and yet have the swift freedom of the athletic individual. The idea that the State exists for the people is countered by the idea that the individual exists for the State. France in a violent reaction found itself dominated by a Caesar. Germany may find itself without a Caesar, but with a social democracy.
But, if it does, will the idea Europe is fighting be conquered? Was the French idea conquered either by the European confederation without or by Napoleon within? It invaded men’s minds everywhere; and in few countries did the democratic ideas operate more powerfully than in these islands, where the State was a most determined antagonist of their material manifestations in France. The German idea has sufficient power to unite the free minds of half the world against it. But is it not already invading, and Will it not still more invade, the minds of rulers? All Governments are august kinsmen of each other, and discreetly imitate each other in policy where it may conduce to power or efficiency. The efficiency of the highly organized State as a vehicle for the manifestation of power must today be sinking into the minds of those who guide the destinies of races. The State in these islands, before a year of war has passed, has already assumed control over myriads of industrial enterprises. The back-wash of great wars, their reaction within the national being after prolonged effort, is social disturbance; and it seems that the State will be unable easily, after this war, to relax its autocratic power. There may come a time when it would be possible for it to do so; but the habit of overlordship will have grown, there will be many who will wish it to grow still more, and a thousand reasons can be found why the mastery over national organizations should be relaxed but little. The recoil on society after the war will be almost as powerful as the energy expended in conflict; and our political engineers will have to provide for the recoil. By the analogy of the French Revolution, by what we see taking place today, it seems safe to prophesy that the State will become more dominant over the lives of men than ever before.