1907 was a so-so year.
The century was just starting out and, frankly, to a somewhat perilous beginning. The dark forces, that would make the 20th century the bloodiest in human history, were getting their groove on and setting up the architecture to unleash pure hell and misery on Earth.
It was also the year that an essay was published giving an unwitting warning to the planet that things were about to get nasty. It was not the author’s intention to delve into international politics… but, ultimately, that is exactly what he did. His message then is as prescient as it is now… and like now, goes largely unheeded.
His name was William George Jordan, and he was an American essayist. He is known as one of the pioneering figures in what would become the self-help genre. This is somewhat of an unfortunate moniker. Think less Tony Robbins, think more Rene Descartes. In reality, Mr. Jordan wrote about a personal, intimate form of philosophy that spoke less about “getting ahead” in life, and more frankly about… well… getting by. He was not particularly concerned with wealth accumulation, or reimagining intimate relationships. He was far more concerned about each person living by an internally-regulated structure that maximized what previous philosophers have articulated as “the good”.
He was also quintessentially American. The arguments put forth come from a unique America-centric context. He was a rugged individualist, insomuch as intellectual curiosity creates the framework for individualism. He also did not tolerate irreverent focus on the past as an excuse for the present. Just as he was antagonistic about the self-limiting aspects of dueling in one’s past, he also railed against too much focus on the future. In one of his famous essays he counsels the reader that “worry” is a fool’s game. Worry creates hesitation and yearns for permission before action. The one who worries is clouded and incapable of perfect execution. The future will be what the future will be; worrying about it will do nothing to alter the outcome. Taking action to shape the outcome might… and if things go south, pivoting to prevent disaster may be necessary… but worry is simply a waste of time.
The other night I was reading one of his essays entitled, “The Dignity of Self-Reliance”. (That does sound like some “old-timey” self-help title, doesn’t it?) There are a couple of passages I want to relate to you in their entirety… perhaps you can see the problems with our own world today in his work:
The nation that is strongest is the one that is most self-reliant, the one that contains within its boundaries all that its people need. If, with its ports all blockaded it has not within itself the necessities of life and the elements of its continual progress then it is weak, held by the enemy, and it is but a question of time till it must surrender. Its independence is in proportion to its self-reliance, to its power to sustain itself from within. What is true of nations is true of individuals. The history of nations is but the biography of individuals magnified, intensified, multiplied, and projected on the screen of the past. History is the biography of a nation; biography is the history of an individual. So it must be that the individual who is most strong in any trial, sorrow, or needs no scaffolding of commonplace sympathy to uphold him. He must ever be self-reliant.
The wealth and prosperity of ancient Rome, relying on her slaves to do the real work of the nation, proved the nation’s downfall. The constant dependence on the captives of war to do the thousand details of life for them, killed self-reliance in the nation and in the individual. Then, through weakened self-reliance and the increased opportunity for idle, luxurious ease that came with it, Rome, a nation of fighters, became a nation of men more effeminate than women. As we depend on others to do those things we should do for ourselves, our self-reliance weakens and our powers and our control of them become continuously less.
And there it is.
We have outsourced what we perceive to be the mundane, the trivial, the dirty, and uncomplicated to the “others” who live outside our borders. Globalism as a way of articling the benefits of international trade and cooperation has merit. Globalism as a way of decreasing the sovereignty of a nation is the physical act of handing a knife to your enemy, or, perhaps, the ability to feed your people to the enemy.
Or, perhaps, globalism is the surrendering of the moral obligation to protect the weak and victimized through the Byzantine structure of international trade.
The world is appalled at the actions of Putin, yet in so many ways the reliance on Russian energy makes meaningful action almost impossible.
Globalism may prevent certain wars… but clearly not all.