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Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

Boston: Badger, 1919



WHEN in 1909 "Philistine and Genius" was delivered by me in the form of a Commencement address before the Harvard Summer School, my prediction of the coming European war storm was regarded by everybody as dream and fancy. My best friends and sympathisers thought my foreboding unjustified and ill-founded. I was an alarmist, a Cassandra, when I spoke of the coming catastrophe which was to shake Europe to its very foundation. When "Philistine and Genius" was published in 1911 the American and European press, dealing with the views advanced in this little volume, completely ignored the following warning given by me:

        "About the middle of the nineteenth century Buckle made the prediction that no war was any more to occur among civilized nations. Henceforth peace was to reign supreme. 'The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . . Nations shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift up swords against nations, nor shall they learn war any more.' This prophecy was rather hasty. We have had since the Civil war, the Franco-Prussian war, the Spanish-American war, the Boer war, the Russo-Japanese war, not counting the ceaseless wars of extermination carried on by civilized nations among the various semi-civilized and primitive tribes. Civilized nations do not as yet beat their swords into ploughshares, but keep on increasing the strength of their 'armed peace,' and are ready to fight bloody battles in the quest of new lands and the conquest of new markets.

        "In spite of the Hague conference, convoked by the peace-loving Czar, no other age has had such large standing armies provided with such costly and efficient weapons of execution ready for instant use. The red spectre still stalks abroad claiming its victims. We still believe in the baptism of fire and redemption by blood. The dogma of blood redemption is still at the basis of our faith, and, consciously or unconsciously, we brand that sacred creed on the minds of the young generation."

        The present European upheaval has finally disclosed to the impartial observer the fearful state of Europe as the final outcome of its "armed peace." Instead of realizing the dangers of armed peace or of "preparedness," we are ready to become a military democracy in which every able-bodied man is a soldier or a sailor, every child is a scout, and every woman a nurse or a munition worker. We are anxious to waste our resources on preparedness rather than on the education of the young. We hanker for the greatest navy in the world at a cost of several billions of dollars. We aspire after a million headed, billion armed navy and army. We clamor for universal, compulsory, military service in which our children should be drilled for murder and slaughter at the decree of a few autocratic officials and officers. We imitate Europe slavishly, in spite of the fact that the policy of preparedness or of "armed peace" has kept Europe in a state of turmoil for generations, has brought her to the brink of ruin, and has plunged her into the most cruel and most destructive war ever waged by man.

        The recent estimate of Count von Roedern, Secretary of the Imperial German Treasury, puts the total cost of the war to date, the end of 1916, for all the belligerents, at fifty-nine and a half billions of dollars. The Mechanics and Metals National Bank of New York City figures that seventy-five billion dollars will be spent for direct military purposes, if the war lasts another year. The enormity of that expenditure can only be realized if we consider that the total wealth of Great Britain and Ireland is eighty-five billions of dollars, that of Germany eighty billions, that of France fifty billions, that of Russia forty billions, that of Austria-Hungary twenty-five billions, and that of Italy twenty billions. Such waste is appalling.

        According to the figures given by Mr. Frank H. Simonds, eighteen and a half million casualties, of which deaths make up nearly one-quarter, is the toll already levied on the fighting men of all the belligerent nations by twenty-six months of war. More than any other war the present European struggle squanders the wealth of empires and sacrifices the lives of nations.

        Our social status is a reversion to savagery of the most degenerate type, an atavistic lapse towards the paleolithic and neolithic man, only more brutal, on account of the greater power for evil possessed by modern man. What Hun or Vandal ever dreamt of such colossal destruction! The fame of Attila, Jenghiz Khan, Batu, and Tamerlane pales and fades before the glory of' the Kaiser. In a couple of years the aggressive German "Kultur" has caused more ruin to humanity than all the invasions of the yellow peril in the history of mankind. Can we take issue with the late Professor Royce of Harvard when he declares the German Empire to be "the willful and the deliberate enemy of the human race"?

        Some future historian in describing our times will place us below the moral level of our contemporaries, the Bushman and the Hottentot. He may say: "Towards the end of the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century there took place a vast accumulation of wealth, due to a rapid development of science and practical arts. Instead, however, of improving their condition, European nations deteriorated morally and intellectually.

        "Liberal education gave way to technical training. Science served greed. Education became mechanical and military in character. The successful banker, the greedy usurer, the commonplace store-keeper, the mediocre shopkeeper, the philistine patriotic business man became the patterns, the ideals, the guides, and leaders of commercialized nations. Advertising and notoriety became the rage and the bane of society". The thinker gave way to the tinker, the scientist to the mechanic, the artist to the artisan, the genius to the philistine. False patriotism of the jingo type, controlled and animated by industrial and commercial interests, became the standard of nations. An insane frenzy of militarism seized on the minds of nations. Blind obedience became a virtue.

        "The state enslaved the individual. Drill and discipline stupefied people. Nations boasting of scientific efficiency and 'kultur' broke treaties, attacked, destroyed, deported, enslaved whole populations of small, weak, neighboring countries. Women and babes were drowned like rats in the middle of the ocean. Aeroplanes and Zeppelins showered explosive missiles on defenceless people. For such cowardly, inhuman, and diabolical acts the miscreants were decorated and honored as heroes by their alleged superiors. Man could not have fallen to any lower level.

        "The elements of nature were let loose for the ruin of nations. Man gloried in his devilish, military, inventive power of destruction. Professors, carrying high the banner of 'kultur,' exulted in the degrading, vicious process of training by which the individual is hypnotized and narcotized into submission to a brutal organization of military junkers, hallowed by the name of State. All conception of free, individual development was lost among the Germanic tribes of Central Europe. It was the darkest period in the history of mankind. Assaults on countries, massacres of nations, deportation of populations into slavery for powerful munition interests, all such outrages, dignified by the name of war for the defense of the Fatherland, had not their parallel even in the most degrading period of the history of humanity. Man was crazed with the lust of blood, frenzied with rapine and slaughter."

        Such will be the just estimate of our times by a future impartial historian.

        We possess indeed vast stores of wealth, but we have not as yet learned their use. Like silly upstarts, we use our wealth for dissipation and ruin. Our greed and cruelty seem to grow with our possessions. Greed with its army and navy is like the Biblical horseleech that "hath two daughters crying, 'Give, give.'" Human life, man's genius, we hold in no esteem. We sink the value of man in the price of his product. We raise the value of stock, but lower the worth of man. Our young generation is trained by fear into discipline and obedience. We suppress the genius in the child, raise mediocrity, and cultivate the philistine.

        "Obedience and discipline arc the mainstay of family and school," told me an otherwise intelligent schoolmaster. "I control my children with kindness, if possible, and if needs be, with force." The child is trained to act not by the light of reason, but by the command of superior force. The child is ruled by fear!

        As a protection against fear the child learns to be secretive, evasive of truth, and cowardly of action. These traits of character, acquired in early childhood, become basic. The child will never fully rid himself of fear and its distressing consequences. Fear will stay with him, and dog his steps all his life long.

        Fear is one of the most fundamental of animal instincts, it is the companion of the most primitive impulse of self-preservation. Once this fear instinct is aroused, it grows like an avalanche in its downward course. In later life this fear instinct becomes manifested in various ways, giving rise to the most distressing nervous and mental symptoms. In my medical practice, as specialist of nervous and mental diseases, I have traced again and again the worst forms of maladies to the fear instinct aroused in early childhood.

        Training by fear, submission, and obedience opens the door wide to all kinds of nervous and mental germs, weakening the mental and moral constitution of man. Man becomes unreasonable, capricious, driven by the impulse of self-preservation, and by the furies of the fear instinct. The impulse of self-preservation with its satellite the fear instinct becomes predominant in character which lacks the stamina of sturdiness, frankness, openmindedness and independence.

        A person brought up in the school of fear and blind obedience lacks steadiness of purpose, courage, independence, critical judgment, becomes bigoted and intolerant. He falls an easy prey to the suggestions of his times and surroundings, succumbs to the influence of unscrupulous leaders. Such a person lacks mental and moral poise, he is wanting in the true courage of reason, present in the fully developed man and woman. He can not withstand the pressure of social opinion, being unable to stand by his post in the face of threatening social opposition. Ruled by fear at home, he is governed by terror in society. He is afraid of social punishment, "of losing face," as the Chinese say, with his neighbors, gossips, circles and clubs. He dreads above all the judgment of the crowd, and is scared by the jeers and ridicule of the mob. Human life interests become limited by the narrow horizon of a mob-ruled personality. The unceasing obedience to the suggestions of the crowd weakens and loosens the reasoning and moral fibre, reduces the energies of the mind to the animal level, controlled by self-preservation and fear.

        With reduced and impoverished energies, the person, in case of trouble and misfortune, is unable to fall back on his inner resources, he falls a prey to worry, fear, anxiety, and disease. In other cases the intellectual and moral powers are enfeebled by the rigid discipline and by the course of enforced obedience, the person falls a victim to all forms of temptations. With no principle to guide him, with no will to stay him, the person drifts helplessly on the stream of life. Lured by seductive sirens, his life is finally wrecked on the rocks and reefs of vice, sin, crime, and disease.

        Where stumbling on vice, disease, and crime is avoided, the person inevitably lands on the dull shores of the Lotophagi. Ideas and ideals are forgotten and forsaken in the routine of animal existence. This is the land of Philistinism, a land where all human, humane interests, independent thought, and courageous action are wanting. Philistines are uncritical, unconscious of defects and faults, living in the mire of self-contented stupidity and mediocrity. They cease to grow mentally and morally. Their intellectual and moral capacities become paralyzed, atrophied. Man becomes the equal of the brute.

        With a philistine education and training, man is fit to become one of those unfortunate and pitiful European pawns and automata who obey blindly the commands of their superior officers. Philistines shoot, stab, poison, pillage, burn, outrage, and murder at the command of unscrupulous, self-seeking leaders, brutal junkers, bloodhounds of empires.

        Brought up in a school of fear, obedience, and suggestibility, the philistine, like Cain, murders his brother without aim and without understanding the full significance of the awful deed. He is no more responsible than is the machine gun which he accurately trains and points at his supposed enemies. Philistines are led to the battlefield like cattle to the slaughter house. Philistines have no personality, no individuality, they are cogs in wheels, links in chains of monster mechanisms.

        The philistine, the product of our home and school" is suggestible and gullible, he is always on the lookout for authority, for a leader whom he should worship, by whose opinions and conviction he is ready to swear, whose command he is ready and proud to follow. The philistine is good material for mobs, for mental epidemics, for religious crazes, and for all kinds of hysterical movements in which not reason but emotional automatism is in the foreground. Philistinism, stupidity, and implicit obedience of a monstrous, efficient war machine are intimately interrelated. The individual becomes a private, the nation an army, and the country a camp.

        Do we as parents wish to bring up our children as soulless, willless machines? Do we wish them to be without good judgment, without personal convictions? Do we wish them to be led about like cattle? We certainly wish them to be of strong nature and sturdy character, able to stand by their convictions, able to use their critical judgment, able to discriminate the right from the wrong, able to love the good and avoid the evil.

        In The Psychology of Suggestion, published by me in 1897, I arrive at the conclusion that "Personality is suppressed by the rigidity of social organization; the cultivated, civilized individual is an automaton, a mere puppet. . . Again, "Under the enormous weight of the sociostatic press. . . the personal self sinks, the suggestible, subconscious, social, impersonal self rises to the surface, gets trained and cultivated, and becomes the hysterical actor in all the tragedies of historical life." . . . In recent European events the suggestible, social self plays the chief rôle.

        In the same work I come to the following conclusion: "When social conditions are of such a nature as to charge society with strong emotional excitement, or when institutions dwarf individuality, when they arrest personal growth, when they hinder the free development and exercise of the personal, controlling consciousness, then society falls into a hypnoid condition, the social mind gets disaggregated. The gregarious self begins to move within the bosom of the crowd, and becomes active the demon of the demos emerges to the surface of social life, and throws the body politic into convulsions of demoniac fury."

        The European horrors, atrocities, and brutalities, dignified by the stupefying and hypnotizing slogan "Kultur, Patriotism," are due to the early training, by fear and force, of the individual into submission to superior authority. Such pernicious training sacrifices the genius of the child, the originality of the man, to a highly efficient, but brutal and bloodthirsty Moloch State. The European war is a mental plague which attacks gigantic, social aggregates when their ultimate constituent units, the individuals, are deprived of independent thought and liberty of decision and action, when men are swayed by hypnotizing suggestions of "superior leaders" who represent the interests not of every individual at his best, but of high noble castes and of commercial classes. The organized murder of European nations is due to the stifling of human genius by the cultivation of mob spirit which is the cause of all forms of social insanity and mental epidemics.

        In the stifling of the genius of the child and the cultivation of the mob spirit America does not lag behind Europe. Mental epidemics, excited by the fear instinct and by the impulse of self-preservation, are prevalent in the States. As described by me in The Psychology of Suggestion: "American society oscillates between acute financial mania and attacks of religious insanity. No sooner is the business fever over than the delirium acutum of religious mania sets in. Society is thrown from Scylla into Charybdis. From the heights of financial speculation society sinks into the abyss of revivalism. American society seems to suffer from circular insanity."

        Revivalism, a mental frenzy to which the American mob mind is specially prone, is a resurrection of Greek Bacchanalia and Roman Saturnalia. Revivals are emotional debauches, religious orgies. As I had pointed out in the same work: "Revivalism is far more dangerous to the life of society than drunkenness. . . As a sot man falls below the brute; as a revivalist he sinks lower than the sot."

        If Europe is in violent convulsions of war insanity, America suffers from no less serious mental maladies,―speculation frenzies, revival manias, and preparedness plagues. Mental epidemics are ineradicable afflictions of the highly evolved mob spirit characteristic of the philistine. The evolution of the philistine is the involution of genius. Philistinism is social decay. The progress of humanity is from brute to man, from Philistine to Genius.
                                                                            Boris Sidis

    Sidis Institute
        Maplewood Farm,
            Portsmouth, New Hampshire





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