While reading Mark Twain's autobiography, I came across this remarkable entry a few days ago. (And, finally -- a blistering one about Senator Clark that I will also post eventually.) What would he think about all the entitlements today?
Tuesday, January 15, 1907The process which may turn our republic into a monarchy—
We have the [two] Roman conditions: stupendous wealth, and the corn and oil pensions—that is to say, vote bribes—The amazing additions to the pension list commented upon; also,
letter from “A Union Veteran.
The human race was always interesting, and we know, by its past, that it will always continue so. Monotonously. It is always the same; it never changes. [Its] circumstances change from time to time, for better or worse, but the race’s [character] is permanent, and never changes. In the course of the ages it has built up several great and worshipful civilizations, and has seen [unlooked-for] circumstances slyly [emerge,] bearing deadly gifts [page 371] which looked like [benefits,] and were [welcomed—]whereupon the decay and destruction of each of these stately civilizations has followed. It is not worth while to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible. Whenever man makes a large stride in material prosperity and progress, he is sure to think that he has progressed, whereas he has not advanced an inch; nothing has progressed but his circumstances. [He] stands where he stood before. He knows more than his forebears knew, but his intellect is no better than theirs, and never will be. He is richer than his forebears, but his character is no improvement upon theirs. Riches and education are not a permanent possession; they will pass away, as in the case of Rome, and Greece, and Egypt, and Babylon; and a moral and mental midnight will [follow—with a dull long sleep and a slow re-awakening.] From time to time he makes what looks like a change in his character, but it [is] not a real change; and it is only transitory, [anyway. He] cannot [even] invent a religion and keep it [intact;] circumstances are stronger than he and all his [works; circumstances] and conditions are always changing, and they always compel him to modify his religions to harmonize with the new situation.
For twenty-five or thirty years I have squandered a deal of my time—too much of it perhaps—in trying to guess what is going to be the [process which will turn our republic into a monarchy], and how far off that event might be. Every man is a master and also a servant, a vassal. There is always some one who looks up to him and admires and envies him; there is always some one to whom he looks up and admires and envies. This is his nature; this is his character; and it is unchangeable, indestructible; therefore republics and democracies are not for such as he; they cannot satisfy the requirements of his nature. The inspirations of his character will always breed circumstances and conditions which must in time furnish him a king and an aristocracy to look up to and worship. In a democracy he will try, and honestly, to keep the crown away, but Circumstance is a powerful master, and will eventually defeat him.Republics have lived long, but monarchy lives forever. By our teaching, we [learn] that vast material prosperity [always] brings in its train conditions which debase the morals and enervate the manhood of a [nation—]then the country’s liberties [come into the market and] are bought, sold, squandered, thrown away, and a popular idol is carried to the throne upon the shields or shoulders of the worshiping [people,] and planted there in permanency. We are always being taught—no, formerly we were always being taught—to look at [Rome,] and beware. The teacher pointed to Rome’s stern virtue, incorruptibility, love of liberty, and all-sacrificing patriotism—this when she was young and poor; then he pointed to her later days, when her [sun-bursts] of material [prosperity and spreading dominion came,] and were exultingly welcomed by the people, they not suspecting that these were not fortunate glories, happy benefits, but were a disease, and freighted with death. The teacher reminded us that Rome’s liberties were not [auctioned off] in a day, but were bought slowly, gradually, [furtively,] little by little; first with a little corn and oil for the exceedingly poor and wretched; later with corn and oil for voters who were not quite so poor; later still with corn and oil for pretty much every man that had a vote to sell—exactly our own history over again. At first [we granted deserved pensions, righteously, [page 372] and with a clean and honorable motive, to the disabled soldiers of the [Civil War]. The [clean] motive began and ended there. We have made many and amazing additions to the pension list, but with a motive which dishonors the uniform and the Congresses which have voted the additions—the sole purpose back of the additions being the purchase of votes. It is corn and oil over again, and promises to do its full share in the eventual subversion of the republic and the substitution of monarchy in its place. The monarchy would come, anyhow, without this, but this has a peculiar interest for us, in that it prodigiously hastens the day. We have the two Roman conditions: stupendous wealth, with its inevitable corruptions and moral blight, and the corn and oil pensions—that is to say, [vote-bribes], which have taken away the pride of thousands of tempted men and turned them into willing [alms-receivers] and unashamed.It is curious—curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare. A year or two ago a veteran of the [Civil War] asked me if I did not sometimes have a longing to attend the annual great Convention of the Grand Army of the Republic] and make a speech. I was obliged to confess that I wouldn’t have the necessary moral courage for the venture, for I would want to reproach the old soldiers for not rising up in indignant [protest against] our Government’s vote-purchasing additions to the pension [list, which] is making of the remnant of their brave lives one long blush. [I might try to say the words, but would lack the grit and would fail. It would be one tottering moral coward trying to rebuke a housefull of like breed—men merely as timid as himself, but not any more so.]Well, there it is—I am a moral coward, like the rest; and yet it is amazing to me that out of [the] hundreds and thousands of physically dauntless men who faced death without a quiver of the nerves on a hundred bloody fields, not one solitary individual of them all has had courage enough to rise up and bravely curse the Congresses which have degraded him to the level of the bounty-jumper and the bastards of the same. Everybody laughs at the grotesque additions to the pension fund; everybody laughs at the [grotesquest] of them all, the most shameless of them all, the most transparent of them [all, the only frankly lawless one of them all—][the immortal Executive Order 78]. Everybody laughs—[privately;] everybody scoffs—[privately;] everybody is indignant—[privately;] everybody is [ashamed] to look a real soldier in the [face;] but none of them exposes his feelings publicly. This is perfectly natural, and wholly inevitable, for it is the nature of man to hate to say the disagreeable thing. It is his [character;] it has always been so; his character cannot change; while he continues to exist it will never change by a shade.I have been moved to these uncomfortable reflections by a [communication in this morning’s Sun signed “A Union Veteran.”] It begins with this remark:[I see that the Senate has passed the service pension bill] with no opposing votes. And I suppose that’s all right.[Passed it unanimously—and doubtless with enthusiasm.] Evidently some one has invented a new excuse to [bilk] the Treasury, and at the same time further degrade the [page 373] honorable calling of the real soldier. This veteran thinks it’s all right. It is a pity that he could say that, for the rest of his letter shows that he once had worthier notions, and that the pension [plague] has undermined them and brought them low. He says:Personally I don’t believe in service pensions. I think that if a man incurred any disability in the service he ought to get whatever pension is due him to the last cent. He is entitled to that by the contract; but a service pension strikes me differently.When Uncle Sam settled with me at the end of my term of service I felt that that closed our accounts definitely and finally. I had agreed on my part to serve for so much a month and a bounty of $100 when I was mustered [out;] and I got it all, and I considered that that was the end of it.And indeed it was the end of it, so far as cleanliness goes. After [that,] the [vote-buying] began. It continues to-day; it will continue to continue until the remains of every cat, [with] her descendants, that [has] been owned by a sutler or a soldier, [from Bunker] till [the monarchy] comes in, shall have been added to the pension list. Then there will be more pensioners than population, and we shall be ready for the monarchy as a relief, a refuge, a savior from our vote-buying, mendicant-creating politicians. He continues:[A few years after the war Congress gave to all veteran soldiers an additional bounty of ]$100. Why it did this, I don’t know; politics, maybe; but it passed out $100 apiece all ’round—Then he adds: “and I took mine, though I didn’t feel I was entitled to it.” It was there that the undermining of his manhood began; it was a thing calculated to undermine any one’s manhood to whose not too plenty bread and butter a hundred dollars was an important matter. You would have taken it. I would have taken it. We should have felt [ashamed;] but we could have taken it next time, and afterward, with less and less sense of shame, and by and by we would begin to ask for it; then beg for it; then demand it, and insist upon it. By that time we should have irrevocably lost an inestimably valuable jewel from our character, and the Government would be to blame for it, not us.Hear him again—see his moral disintegration going on; notice his character decay and crumble under the temptations devised for it by a treacherous Government:But now comes the service pension. As I feel about it now I shall not take it. But you can’t tell. I took that $100 additional bounty, and I may take the service pension, but I don’t think so.He doesn’t think so, and it is to his credit, after the assaults which have been made in these twenty or thirty years upon his [self-respect] by a conscienceless Government—but [page 374] when the new bribe [comes,] in the form of visible cash, he will fall again, just as you and I would; and again the Government will be to blame for it. Hear him once more:My service in the army never did me any harm. On the contrary it helped me in many ways and I am prouder of it than of anything else I ever did or ever could do. . . . . I have served in the army in my country’s defence in time of war, and I feel that by that service I have been raised to the highest rank of citizenship; and with that honor I am satisfied.Isn’t it a pity to degrade and demoralize a man with a character like that! What punishment can expiate such a crime committed by the Government and condoned—by silence—by the nation? Perhaps there will be no adequate punishment except the monarchy which it is inviting, and for which it is preparing the way in the sure and effective Roman fashion.I would never venture to talk like this if I were alive. It is only by keeping steadily in my mind that my Autobiography is not to be published until I am dead, that I am enabled to force myself to say the things I [think,] instead of merely saying the things which I wish the reader to think I think—which is the live man’s way, and is a part of every man’s character, and cannot be changed while he is alive.[[The veteran whom I have been quoting makes a suggestion. It is that the pensions be now extended to the Confederate soldiers]. The Government will be grateful for that idea: it will now proceed to dicker for the South’s vote—and its manhood.]