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What Babbitt Won't Talk About

Condensed from Harper's Magazine (April '26)
Duncan Aikman

LD MAN BARTON, now past hard work, has come up from the rural county seat where he was born, and in a southern metropolis sits all day in the smart motor-service station kept by his middle-aged sons, sometimes attending to the simpler wants of customers. He probably never had three years of schooling in his life. Yet he keeps alive an ancient American practice from which the institutions of the republic once drew a wholesome vitality, now, it seems, sadly declining: the habit of critically observing and racily discussing what goes on in the world. Indeed, in four years of close acquaintance, I have never yet found Old Man Barton at loss for an opinion on a consequential public issue, based on good critical faculties and well-digested general information, salted with wit, and cogently delivered.

Yet among social and business actquaintances in the same city, I find nothing like it. Most of them are men or women-of infinitely better educational advantages. But when public questions intrude themselves in : a conversation, they are promptly dismissed after a round of apathetic and vaguely polite comments.

"These young people who have been through high school and college think they've been taught everything," Old Man Barton frames the indictment. "So they figure they don't need to learn nothing any more, nor even to think. Us old-timers knew we didn't know much to start with, and so we've #spent our lives mostly trying to study things out."

The old man's grandson-two years out of a state university and the town's youngest proprietor of a motor.

car agency-is the pride of the Barton family. One evening the old man was deep in some shrewd observations on the war-debt question. "Aw, what good will it do us if these frogs and wops do pay up?" the rising young Babbitt inquired disgustedly. "The grafters will get it all anyway. Say, granddad," he went on amiably, "why don't you cut the bull and take up golf?" It was plain that he regarded his grandfather's interest in public affairs as a shameful confession of extreme old age and rather bad form to boot.

...

Once, American talk was different. The mere existence of the republic was a perpetually exciting, almost a unique fact. Our brand-new, and supposedly original institutions, and the whirr of their machinery as they went round, were irresistibly attractive to the average citizen's curiosity and emotions. He devoted to them almost all the powers of observation, speculation, and argument that he had left over from his business and domestic life; and his newspapers rated only the most shattering disasters, the most gruesome murders, as on a par with the discussion of minor political issues.

The issues we have today are hardly more obscure or less intimate and consequential. The average man can surely think his way through to logical conclusions on the questions of government regulation of private conduct and private business initiative; of disproportionate taxation; of American participaticn in world affairs-if he cares to take the trouble. The difference is that the old-time American did care.

As far back as the 1790s, despite the almost total absence of "journals of opinion," men of only the slightest for

mal education had a keener sense of foreign policy and international politics than all but one out of a thousand of our contemporaries seem to have of world affairs today. Men knew rather intimately what their governments, state and federal, were doing all the time, and they cared. They thought of the government as being intimately themselves, and not an extraneous group of experts and political tricksters at Washington.

Today, with facilities for information unexcelled in history, one is confronted on every side with otherwise intelligent people who have no information at all. And instead of interest, one is confronted with their blank apathy. At the height of the 1924 presidential campaign, I overheard a rash elderly gentleman introduce politics into the general conversation of a Pullman smoker.

"Yeah, Coolidge is a good man," a salesman admitted. "Davis is a good man, too," said a vacationist. A. long silence. The conversation was plainly ready to die of malnutrition. "Yeah, the country'll be safe no matter which is elected," another salesman yawned with finality. Thus the company had paid its polite tribute to the elderly man's incomprehensible interest in these tiresome matters.

It is this universal insistence upon simplifying issues that one finds perhaps the most striking sign of our new political decrepitude. The oldtime American was interested in the complexities of issues. They were his means of entrapping his enemies and of impressing his friends with his learning. If the foreign debt question, for example, had arisen 40 years ago, he would have been full of complicated economic theories and statistics, showing the effect of vast international money transactions on export and import trade and the prosperity of the nation.

In the country store, the hotel lobby, the club, the neighborhood drug shop, the friendly dinner party, one can start almost instantly a fairly shrewd and lively conversation about batting

averages, golf scores, Jack Dempsey, Andy Gump, the vicissitudes of homebrewing and buying bootleg, the naughtiness of women's dress, the morals of the movie stars, the social significance of "flappers." But mention public affairs, and the normal group responds with apathetic platitudes or bored cynicism-and a quick change of subject.

When the old man Bartons are all dead, will anybody but stigmatized "highbrows" ever discuss public affairs at all?

Insofar as we cynically pronounce ourselves unable to shake off political incompetence and corruption whether interested or not; insofar as we let ourselves become afflicted with what Bryce called the "fatalism of the multitude" and evade all inquiry into public issues with the philosophy of "What's the use, let George do it while you and I talk about movie plots," we are approaching the borderline of unfitness for self-government.

If less than half of our elegible voters were at the polls in 1920 and barely half at the election of 1924, the fact that nothing in their daily hu man contacts had fired them to any political interest must be held primarily responsible. Of those who did gɔ, how many, during these campaigns of subtle and complex bearing upon the future of the republic, were ever forced to defend their views against shrewd and vigorous opposition, or encouraged to formulate them in any constructive fullness among friends? Probably but an insignificant fraction of those who in 1896 and 1856 met such tests with gallantry and virile delight, and to the improvement of their mental resources and the character of their citizenship.

The danger is, that our apathy of We today may become a fixed habit. can breed up generations of slackers of democracy as easily as the other kind-perhaps more easily. Something of the old instinctive sense of the vitality of our institutions and of the citizen's intimate and individual relation to them must return, or we are likely to do it.

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Mexico Today

Excerpts from The Mentor (April '26) Thomas F. Lee

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N the map Mexico looks like a horn of plenty with its mouth opening to the Rio Grande. Bulging up from its center and running through it from north to south is a high plateau-a mountain desert table, 95 per cent of which cannot be cultivated. This plateau covers by far the greater part of Mexico. Between the walls of this table and the Pacific is a narrow bench of alluvial land. A much wider strip lies between the plateau walls and the Gulf.

Economically the horn of plenty as a symbol of Mexico is misleading. The mass of her people seldom know the satisfaction of a full stomach. This is not so much the fault of soil and climate as of race heritage and government. True, Mexico is rich in mineral products, but great mineral wealth which can be exploited only by large capital has generally demoralized rather than given prosperity to poor and bankrupt nations.

Scarcely five per cent of Mexico's area-an area not so large as Ohiois arable. The 95 per cent is made up of desert, mountains and hot, unhealthful lowlands, in which ordinary farming operations may not be successfully carried on without great capital.

Mexico is not a unified nation; it is a collection of loosely connected communities, each with its own separate customs, folk-ways and life. More than 26 different languages or dialects are spoken in the republic by as many different tribes, each of which refers to its own little valley or locality as "my country." The rest of the country is foreign to them.

These communities belong to various tribes and are worked in common for the general good. Attempts have been

made by certain administrations to buy or subdivide these communities, but the effect upon the Indian has been non-appreciable. Four hundred years of domination by a handful of Spaniards and a larger group of halfbreeds has done little to change the Indian. He is still a pagan barbarian who, even after years of Catholicism, still worships his ancient gods.

Mexico is an Indian country. Most people think of it as Spanish. In Mexico today an estimate of two per cent of the population would greatly exaggerate the number of white people or men of superior race types. Thirty-five per cent of the population would likewise be an exaggerated estimate of the number of half-breedsthose in whom some white blood dilutes the Indian strain. The remaining 63 per cent is an inert, illiterate Indian mass not at all concerned with politics, education or progress.

During the 300 years of Spanish rule the country was cut up into enormous grants which were parceled out to favorites of the crown. Upon each of such tracts there were generally large numbers of Indians who "went with the land." They became serfs

or peons who looked to the master for the petty needs of their sordid lives. These Indians, in addition to producing food for their own livelihood, in the aggregate produced a considerable surplus which helped to enrich the landowner.

Like the feudal system of old, these serfs were called upon to fight for the master-to defend his possessions or to make war upon others. The primitive government really revolved about these feudal lords. Of course in each great section of the country there would develop one man stronger than the rest who came to be the

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powerful headman of that section. These conditions apply today.

The Indian, therefore, never thinks of the government or, above that, of the "president"-he thinks only of his own patron or master and fights for him.

An army in those days and in fact to the present time is not an organization of so many brigades-it is still, in large measure, a group of caciques, or headmen, with their henchmen, peons and Indians. One of the greatest problems of the Mexican "president" always has been to provide sufficient loot or income to keep these caciques, or generals, from turning against him and starting another revolution.

In the great mass of the people there is no national consciousness, there is no patriotism, as we understand it. The common soldier never fights for a principle-always does he give himself for some person, usually the petty official closest to him.

Mexico is an Indian country and the traditions of her masses come down from Toltec and Aztec sources. Her people do not think as we think. They do not react to a given set of circumstances as we would react to them. We never reach right conclusions when we try to judge them by our standards; hence, the conclusions of our government officials and private individuals are often wrong. This accounts for a continuous state of irritation in our relationships.

The Mexican constitution calls for regular elections and democratic gov. ernment, but neither is possible with a 90 per cent population of Indians and peons of the lowest type. Mexico's rulers are not "presidents" as we think of presidents. They are dictators who control lawmaking, law enforcement and the courts. When a "president" fails to monopolize these functions a stronger dictator generally takes his place.

Mexico's rulers reach their office by force or show of force and not by the will of the people. Probably no form of government other than an unlimited dictatorship could control that

overwhelming majority of low race elements.

The president and the land commis. sioners can do pretty much as they please, under the present constitution, in the matter of land distribution. Under these conditions no one will buy or sell land, or lend money on rural properties in Mexico. The American can only buy land under permission of the Mexican president, and then only after having waived his rights as an American citizen. Failure to conform in this makes his property subject to outright confisca tion.

Spanish is the official language of Mexico, but one-third of the population cannot understand it. There are no schools as we know schools. Almost none of the Indian and peon mass receives instruction in public schools. Outside of two dailies, used as publicity mediums for those in power in the capital, Mexico has no independent press in the American sense.

...

The marriage institution in many sections has been all but abolished through a divorce system whose latitude makes marriage a farce. In Yucatan a man might obtain a divorce within 24 hours, without notice to his wife. A large number of the children born in Mexico today are "natural" born. One woman may have four children by as many different fathers. The care and upbringing of this brood devolves upon the mother, the father not even recognizing his parenthood.

Civilization in Mexico as it applies to the greater part of the population is in a semi-barbaric state. A small group of whites and half-breeds, the educated class (and, up to the present era of radicalism, the ruling class), know the same civilization that we have developed. They are highly edu. cated, capable men. This limited group is civilization's only hope in that country today. They for four centuries have attempted to impose an Aryan civilization and culture upon a primitive mass. An observer must report that their effort has left slight imprint.

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America Takes the Lead in Aviation

Condensed from The World's Work (April '26)

Howard Mingos

ITHIN the next few weeks more airplanes (and all of them American-built) will be flying on regular schedules in the United States than in all European countries combined.

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Aircraft investigations of the past five years have been most important, for Congress has become educated in aviation matters. The Kelley bill, passed in February, 1925, went long way toward forming a national air policy in authorizing the Postmaster-General to contract with private parties for flying the mails between designated points. Immediately a group of prominent men nounced the formation of the National Air Transport to operate airplane services between principal cities. The character of the organizers produced striking results immediately. Bankers, capitalists, big business houses, and leaders in rail and water transport commenced talking air traffic and, moreover, investing their personal funds in aviation projects.

The Bingham bill has passed the Senate and is on its way through the House with the promise of members that it will become a law. The meas- ure provides for a bureau of civil aviation in the Department of Commerce which shall control all civilian flying in the United States. All pilots must be licensed, their machines registered and supervised by periodic inspections to prove that they are safe. The de

partment will chart airways for commercial use, procure landing fields, hangar equipment, repair shops, radio stations, aerial beacons, ground and route lights. The government, in short, will maintain public highways of the air, just as it provides lighthouses, harbors, radio service, ice

patrol, and other facilities for the merchant marine.

Secretary Hoover is prepared to place the bureau in operation immediately after receiving authority, and unless the unforeseen occurs the bureau will be functioning within a few months. Mr. Hoover possesses a keen vision of our immediate future in the air. He sees cargo planes operating between all large cities and controlled by financially sound companies organized like the railroads and merchant marine. He knows that the entire industry will become a self-supporting reserve in the defensive establishment. The industry is confident that Mr. Hoover will place American aviation so far on the road to permanent progress that there will be no chance of failure.

The operators now entering the field point to the increasing popularity of the transcontinental air mail route. The Federal air mail service has been developed from a short day line started between New York and Washington in 1918. It is now a day and night service between the coasts and more mail is carried through the air on that one route alone than in all other countries combined.

Night flying equipment has been developed here to a greater extent than in Europe. Recent tests with the radio direction finder show encouraging progress and it is believed that the day is not distant when pilots flying in storm, fog, mist, snow, and at night will be able to keep to the route regardless of their ability to see past the nose of the machine. It will be the greatest safety device in aviation.

The night route between New York and Chicago already returns a profit

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