DOLLARS AND IDEALISM
"Civilization and profits go hand in hand."-- CALVIN COOLIDGE, 1920
SHORTLY BEFORE the middle of the nineteenth century, the British philosopher and economist, John Stuart Mill, referred unpleasantly to the United States as a land where "the life of one sex is devoted to dollar hunting, and of the other to the breeding of dollar hunters." The pursuit of the almighty dollar has long been something of an obsession, partly because in America there were more dollars to be pursued--and the race was to the swift. The American also worships the goddess Success, and money is unquestioned proof of his devotion. We are in fact quick to admit this failing, if it is a failing. Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne), in describing the patriotism of the people of the sixth ward, once remarked: "They love th' eagle on the back iv a dollar."
We may have a reputation for money-grubbing, but despite a certain congenital callousness, we are not the most indifferent of peoples to the sufferings of our neighbors. In any cross section of any population one will find the greedy and the selfish, the generous and the unselfish. The humanitarian standards of a nation cannot be expected to rise above the level of its melting pot, but in some measure we have defied the laws of physics.
The truth is that our national conduct, with a few notable lapses, has on the whole been honorable, at least on a relative basis. The infant United States started with a clean slate in 1776, and was not bound by the precedents of deviousness that had so long characterized monarchical courts. No other major power publishes its diplomatic documents so completely and recently, and no other great foreign office permits scholars such unrestricted access to relatively current archives. Partly because of our democratic professions, the world has come to expect a higher standard of conduct in Washington than elsewhere. A thinly disguised coup like Theodore Roosevelt's "taking" of Panama, which would have passed almost unnoticed among European imperialists at the turn of the century, was received with raised eyebrows in foreign capitals. Most right-thinking Americans were aware of this at the time, and were distressed that the good name of their country should have been blackened with the brush of Old World intrigue.
If it is true that we have an international conscience more sensitive than that of some other nations, what is the explanation?
First of all, many of the early settlers in America, especially those who