What's Wrong With The World
Part 1 out of 4
(Scanned by Georges Allaire )
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WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD
by G.K. Chesterton
PART ONE: THE HOMELESSNESS OF MAN
I The Medical Mistake
II Wanted: An Unpractical Man
III The New Hypocrite
IV The Fear of the Past
V The Unfinished Temple
VI The Enemies of Property
VII The Free Family
XIII The Wildness of Domesticity
IX History of Hudge and Gudge
X Oppression by Optimism
XI The Homelessness of Jones
PART TWO: IMPERIALISM, OR THE MISTAKE ABOUT MAN
I The Charm of Jingoism
II Wisdom and the Weather
III The Common Vision
IV The Insane Necessity
PART THREE: FEMINISM, OR THE MISTAKE ABOUT WOMAN
I The Unmilitary Suffragette
II The Universal Stick
III The Emancipation of Domesticity
IV The Romance of Thrift
V The Coldness of Chloe
VI The Pedant and the Savage
VII The Modern Surrender of Woman
VIII The Brand of the Fleur-de-Lis
IX Sincerity and the Gallows
X The Higher Anarchy
XI The Queen and the Suffragettes
XII The Modern Slave
PART FOUR: EDUCATION, OR THE MISTAKE ABOUT THE CHILD
I The Calvinism of To-day
II The Tribal Terror
III The Tricks of Environment
IV The Truth About Education
V An Evil Cry
VI Authority the Unavoidable
VII The Humility of Mrs. Grundy
VIII The Broken Rainbow
IX The Need for Narrowness
X The Case for the Public Schools
XI The School for Hypocrites
XII The Staleness of the New Schools
XIII The Outlawed Parent
XIV Folly and Female Education
PART FIVE: THE HOME OF MAN
I The Empire of the Insect
II The Fallacy of the Umbrella Stand
III The Dreadful Duty of Gudge
IV A Last Instance
I On Female Suffrage
II On Cleanliness in Education
III On Peasant Proprietorship
* * *
To C. F G. Masterman, M. P.
My Dear Charles,
I originally called this book "What is Wrong," and it would
have satisfied your sardonic temper to note the number of social
misunderstandings that arose from the use of the title.
Many a mild lady visitor opened her eyes when I remarked casually,
"I have been doing 'What is Wrong' all this morning."
And one minister of religion moved quite sharply in his chair
when I told him (as he understood it) that I had to run upstairs
and do what was wrong, but should be down again in a minute.
Exactly of what occult vice they silently accused me I
cannot conjecture, but I know of what I accuse myself; and that is,
of having written a very shapeless and inadequate book, and one
quite unworthy to be dedicated to you. As far as literature goes,
this book is what is wrong and no mistake.
It may seem a refinement of insolence to present so wild
a composition to one who has recorded two or three of the really
impressive visions of the moving millions of England. You are
the only man alive who can make the map of England crawl with life;
a most creepy and enviable accomplishment. Why then should I
trouble you with a book which, even if it achieves its object
(which is monstrously unlikely) can only be a thundering
gallop of theory?
Well, I do it partly because I think you politicians are none
the worse for a few inconvenient ideals; but more because you
will recognise the many arguments we have had, those arguments
which the most wonderful ladies in the world can never endure
for very long. And, perhaps, you will agree with me that
the thread of comradeship and conversation must be protected
because it is so frivolous. It must be held sacred, it must
not be snapped, because it is not worth tying together again.
It is exactly because argument is idle that men (I mean males)
must take it seriously; for when (we feel), until the crack
of doom, shall we have so delightful a difference again?
But most of all I offer it to you because there exists not
only comradeship, but a very different thing, called friendship;
an agreement under all the arguments and a thread which,
please God, will never break.
G. K. Chesterton.
* * *
THE HOMELESSNESS OF MAN
* * *
THE MEDICAL MISTAKE
A book of modern social inquiry has a shape that is somewhat
sharply defined. It begins as a rule with an analysis, with statistics,
tables of population, decrease of crime among Congregationalists,
growth of hysteria among policemen, and similar ascertained facts;
it ends with a chapter that is generally called "The Remedy." It is
almost wholly due to this careful, solid, and scientific method
that "The Remedy" is never found. For this scheme of medical question
and answer is a blunder; the first great blunder of sociology.
It is always called stating the disease before we find the cure.
But it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social
matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease .
The fallacy is one of the fifty fallacies that come from the modern
madness for biological or bodily metaphors. It is convenient
to speak of the Social Organism, just as it is convenient to
speak of the British Lion. But Britain is no more an organism
than Britain is a lion. The moment we begin to give a nation
the unity and simplicity of an animal, we begin to think wildly.
Because every man is a biped, fifty men are not a centipede.
This has produced, for instance, the gaping absurdity of
perpetually talking about "young nations" and "dying nations,"
as if a nation had a fixed and physical span of life.
Thus people will say that Spain has entered a final senility;
they might as well say that Spain is losing all her teeth.
Or people will say that Canada should soon produce a literature;
which is like saying that Canada must soon grow a new moustache.
Nations consist of people; the first generation may
be decrepit, or the ten thousandth may be vigorous.
Similar applications of the fallacy are made by those who see
in the increasing size of national possessions, a simple
increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
These people, indeed, even fall short in subtlety of the parallel
of a human body. They do not even ask whether an empire is growing
taller in its youth, or only growing fatter in its old age.
But of all the instances of error arising from this
physical fancy, the worst is that we have before us:
the habit of exhaustively describing a social sickness,
and then propounding a social drug.
Now we do talk first about the disease in cases of bodily breakdown;
and that for an excellent reason. Because, though there may be doubt
about the way in which the body broke down, there is no doubt at all
about the shape in which it should be built up again. No doctor proposes
to produce a new kind of man, with a new arrangement of eyes or limbs.
The hospital, by necessity, may send a man home with one leg less:
but it will not (in a creative rapture) send him home with one leg extra.
Medical science is content with the normal human body, and only seeks
to restore it.
But social science is by no means always content with the normal
human soul; it has all sorts of fancy souls for sale. Man as a
social idealist will say "I am tired of being a Puritan; I want
to be a Pagan," or "Beyond this dark probation of Individualism I
see the shining paradise of Collectivism." Now in bodily ills
there is none of this difference about the ultimate ideal.
The patient may or may not want quinine; but he certainly
wants health No one says "I am tired of this headache;
I want some toothache," or "The only thing for this Russian
influenza is a few German measles," or "Through this dark
probation of catarrh I see the shining paradise of rheumatism."
But exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems
is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would
regard as worse maladies; are offering ultimate conditions
as states of health which others would uncompromisingly
call states of disease. Mr. Belloc once said that he would
no more part with the idea of property than with his teeth;
yet to Mr. Bernard Shaw property is not a tooth, but a toothache.
Lord Milner has sincerely attempted to introduce German efficiency;
and many of us would as soon welcome German measles.
Dr. Saleeby would honestly like to have Eugenics; but I would
rather have rheumatics.
This is the arresting and dominant fact about modern
social discussion; that the quarrel is not merely about
the difficulties, but about the aim. We agree about the evil;
it is about the good that we should tear each other's eyes cut.
We all admit that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing.
We should not by any means all admit that an active aristocracy would
be a good thing. We all feel angry with an irreligious priesthood;
but some of us would go mad with disgust at a really religious one.
Everyone is indignant if our army is weak, including the people
who would be even more indignant if it were strong.
The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case.
We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature
of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health.
On the contrary, we all agree that England is unhealthy, but half
of us would not look at her in what the other half would call blooming
health . Public abuses are so prominent and pestilent that they
sweep all generous people into a sort of fictitious unanimity.
We forget that, while we agree about the abuses of things,
we should differ very much about the uses of them.
Mr. Cadbury and I would agree about the bad public house.
It would be precisely in front of the good public-house that our
painful personal fracas would occur.
I maintain, therefore, that the common sociological method
is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty
or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty;
but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent
and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution;
but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss
the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal.
We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity?
I have called this book "What Is Wrong with the World?"
and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated.
What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.
* * *
WANTED, AN UNPRACTICAL MAN
There is a popular philosophical joke intended to typify
the endless and useless arguments of philosophers; I mean
the joke about which came first, the chicken or the egg?
I am not sure that properly understood, it is so futile an inquiry
after all. I am not concerned here to enter on those deep
metaphysical and theological differences of which the chicken
and egg debate is a frivolous, but a very felicitous, type.
The evolutionary materialists are appropriately enough
represented in the vision of all things coming from an egg,
a dim and monstrous oval germ that had laid itself by accident.
That other supernatural school of thought (to which I
personally adhere) would be not unworthily typified in the fancy
that this round world of ours is but an egg brooded upon
by a sacred unbegotten bird; the mystic dove of the prophets.
But it is to much humbler functions that I here call the awful
power of such a distinction. Whether or no the living bird
is at the beginning of our mental chain, it is absolutely
necessary that it should be at the end of our mental chain.
The bird is the thing to be aimed at--not with a gun, but a
life-bestowing wand. What is essential to our right thinking is this:
that the egg and the bird must not be thought of as equal cosmic
occurrences recurring alternatively forever. They must not become
a mere egg and bird pattern, like the egg and dart pattern. One is
a means and the other an end; they are in different mental worlds.
Leaving the complications of the human breakfast-table out
of account, in an elemental sense, the egg only exists to produce
the chicken. But the chicken does not exist only in order
to produce another egg. He may also exist to amuse himself,
to praise God, and even to suggest ideas to a French dramatist.
Being a conscious life, he is, or may be, valuable in himself.
Now our modern politics are full of a noisy forgetfulness;
forgetfulness that the production of this happy and conscious
life is after all the aim of all complexities and compromises.
We talk of nothing but useful men and working institutions; that is,
we only think of the chickens as things that will lay more eggs.
Instead of seeking to breed our ideal bird, the eagle
of Zeus or the Swan of Avon, or whatever we happen to want,
we talk entirely in terms of the process and the embryo.
The process itself, divorced from its divine object, becomes doubtful
and even morbid; poison enters the embryo of everything;
and our politics are rotten eggs.
Idealism is only considering everything in its practical essence.
Idealism only means that we should consider a poker in reference
to poking before we discuss its suitability for wife-beating;
that we should ask if an egg is good enough for practical
poultry-rearing before we decide that the egg is bad enough
for practical politics. But I know that this primary pursuit
of the theory (which is but pursuit of the aim) exposes one
to the cheap charge of fiddling while Rome is burning.
A school, of which Lord Rosebery is representative, has endeavored
to substitute for the moral or social ideals which have hitherto
been the motive of politics a general coherency or completeness
in the social system which has gained the nick-name of "efficiency."
I am not very certain of the secret doctrine of this sect in the matter.
But, as far as I can make out, "efficiency" means that we ought
to discover everything about a machine except what it is for.
There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy:
the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man.
It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we
need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist.
A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice,
to the way things commonly work. When things will not work,
you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why
they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning;
but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while
Rome is burning.
It is then necessary to drop one's daily agnosticism
and attempt rerum cognoscere causas. If your aeroplane
has a slight indisposition, a handy man may mend it.
But, if it is seriously ill, it is all the more likely that some
absent-minded old professor with wild white hair will have to be
dragged out of a college or laboratory to analyze the evil.
The more complicated the smash, the whiter-haired and more
absent-minded will be the theorist who is needed to deal with it;
and in some extreme cases, no one but the man (probably insane)
who invented your flying-ship could possibly say what was
the matter with it.
"Efficiency," of course, is futile for the same reason
that strong men, will-power and the superman are futile.
That is, it is futile because it only deals with actions after
they have been performed. It has no philosophy for incidents
before they happen; therefore it has no power of choice.
An act can only be successful or unsuccessful when it is over;
if it is to begin, it must be, in the abstract, right or wrong.
There is no such thing as backing a winner; for he cannot be a
winner when he is backed. There is no such thing as fighting on
the winning side; one fights to find out which is the winning side.
If any operation has occurred, that operation was efficient.
If a man is murdered, the murder was efficient. A tropical
sun is as efficient in making people lazy as a Lancashire
foreman bully in making them energetic. Maeterlinck is
as efficient in filling a man with strange spiritual tremors
as Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell are in filling a man with jam.
But it all depends on what you want to be filled with.
Lord Rosebery, being a modern skeptic, probably prefers the
spiritual tremors. I, being an orthodox Christian, prefer the jam.
But both are efficient when they have been effected; and inefficient
until they are effected. A man who thinks much about success must
be the drowsiest sentimentalist; for he must be always looking back.
If he only likes victory he must always come late for the battle.
For the man of action there is nothing but idealism.
This definite ideal is a far more urgent and practical matter in our
existing English trouble than any immediate plans or proposals.
For the present chaos is due to a sort of general oblivion
of all that men were originally aiming at. No man demands
what he desires; each man demands what he fancies he can get.
Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after
a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself.
The whole is an extravagant riot of second bests, a pandemonium
of pis-aller. Now this sort of pliability does not merely prevent any
heroic consistency, it also prevents any really practical compromise.
One can only find the middle distance between two points
if the two points will stand still. We may make an arrangement
between two litigants who cannot both get what they want;
but not if they will not even tell us what they want.
The keeper of a restaurant would much prefer that each customer
should give his order smartly, though it were for stewed ibis
or boiled elephant, rather than that each customer should
sit holding his head in his hands, plunged in arithmetical
calculations about how much food there can be on the premises.
Most of us have suffered from a certain sort of ladies who, by their
perverse unselfishness, give more trouble than the selfish; who almost
clamor for the unpopular dish and scramble for the worst seat.
Most of us have known parties or expeditions full of this seething
fuss of self-effacement. From much meaner motives than those of such
admirable women, our practical politicians keep things in the same
confusion through the same doubt about their real demands.
There is nothing that so much prevents a settlement as a tangle
of small surrenders. We are bewildered on every side by politicians
who are in favor of secular education, but think it hopeless
to work for it; who desire total prohibition, but are certain
they should not demand it; who regret compulsory education,
but resignedly continue it; or who want peasant proprietorship
and therefore vote for something else. It is this dazed and
floundering opportunism that gets in the way of everything.
If our statesmen were visionaries something practical might be done.
If we ask for something in the abstract we might get something
in the concrete. As it is, it is not only impossible to get
what one wants, but it is impossible to get any part of it,
because nobody can mark it out plainly like a map. That clear
and even hard quality that there was in the old bargaining has
wholly vanished. We forget that the word "compromise" contains,
among other things, the rigid and ringing word "promise."
Moderation is not vague; it is as definite as perfection.
The middle point is as fixed as the extreme point.
If I am made to walk the plank by a pirate, it is vain
for me to offer, as a common-sense compromise, to walk
along the plank for a reasonable distance. It is exactly
about the reasonable distance that the pirate and I differ.
There is an exquisite mathematical split second at which the plank
tips up. My common-sense ends just before that instant;
the pirate's common-sense begins just beyond it.
But the point itself is as hard as any geometrical diagram;
as abstract as any theological dogma.
* * *
THE NEW HYPOCRITE
But this new cloudy political cowardice has rendered useless
the old English compromise. People have begun to be
terrified of an improvement merely because it is complete.
They call it utopian and revolutionary that anyone should really
have his own way, or anything be really done, and done with.
Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread.
Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf
is better than a whole loaf.
As an instance to sharpen the argument, I take the one case
of our everlasting education bills. We have actually contrived
to invent a new kind of hypocrite. The old hypocrite,
Tartuffe or Pecksniff, was a man whose aims were really worldly
and practical, while he pretended that they were religious.
The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious,
while he pretends that they are worldly and practical.
The Rev. Brown, the Wesleyan minister, sturdily declares
that he cares nothing for creeds, but only for education;
meanwhile, in truth, the wildest Wesleyanism is tearing his soul.
The Rev. Smith, of the Church of England, explains gracefully,
with the Oxford manner, that the only question for him is
the prosperity and efficiency of the schools; while in truth
all the evil passions of a curate are roaring within him.
It is a fight of creeds masquerading as policies.
I think these reverend gentlemen do themselves wrong; I think
they are more pious than they will admit. Theology is not
(as some suppose) expunged as an error. It is merely concealed,
like a sin. Dr. Clifford really wants a theological atmosphere
as much as Lord Halifax; only it is a different one.
If Dr. Clifford would ask plainly for Puritanism and Lord Halifax
ask plainly for Catholicism, something might be done for them.
We are all, one hopes, imaginative enough to recognize the dignity
and distinctness of another religion, like Islam or the cult
of Apollo. I am quite ready to respect another man's faith;
but it is too much to ask that I should respect his doubt,
his worldly hesitations and fictions, his political bargain
and make-believe. Most Nonconformists with an instinct for
English history could see something poetic and national about
the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Archbishop of Canterbury. It is
when he does the rational British statesman that they very
justifiably get annoyed. Most Anglicans with an eye for pluck
and simplicity could admire Dr. Clifford as a Baptist minister.
It is when he says that he is simply a citizen that nobody can
possibly believe him.
But indeed the case is yet more curious than this.
The one argument that used to be urged for our creedless
vagueness was that at least it saved us from fanaticism.
But it does not even do that. On the contrary, it creates
and renews fanaticism with a force quite peculiar to itself.
This is at once so strange and so true that I will ask the reader's
attention to it with a little more precision.
Some people do not like the word "dogma." Fortunately they are free,
and there is an alternative for them. There are two things,
and two things only, for the human mind, a dogma and a prejudice.
The Middle Ages were a rational epoch, an age of doctrine.
Our age is, at its best, a poetical epoch, an age of prejudice.
A doctrine is a definite point; a prejudice is a direction.
That an ox may be eaten, while a man should not be eaten,
is a doctrine. That as little as possible of anything should be
eaten is a prejudice; which is also sometimes called an ideal.
Now a direction is always far more fantastic than a plan.
I would rather have the most archaic map of the road to
Brighton than a general recommendation to turn to the left.
Straight lines that are not parallel must meet at last; but curves
may recoil forever. A pair of lovers might walk along the frontier
of France and Germany, one on the one side and one on the other,
so long as they were not vaguely told to keep away from each other.
And this is a strictly true parable of the effect of our modern
vagueness in losing and separating men as in a mist.
It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference
of creed unites men--so long as it is a clear difference.
A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader
must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists,
than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel.
"I say God is One," and "I say God is One but also Three,"
that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship.
But our age would turn these creeds into tendencies. It would tell
the Trinitarian to follow multiplicity as such (because it was
his "temperament"), and he would turn up later with three hundred
and thirty-three persons in the Trinity. Meanwhile, it would
turn the Moslem into a Monist: a frightful intellectual fall.
It would force that previously healthy person not only to admit
that there was one God, but to admit that there was nobody else.
When each had, for a long enough period, followed the gleam
of his own nose (like the Dong) they would appear again;
the Christian a Polytheist, and the Moslem a Panegoist, both quite mad,
and far more unfit to understand each other than before.
It is exactly the same with politics. Our political vagueness
divides men, it does not fuse them. Men will walk along the edge of a
chasm in clear weather, but they will edge miles away from it in a fog.
So a Tory can walk up to the very edge of Socialism, if he knows
what is Socialism. But if he is told that Socialism is a spirit,
a sublime atmosphere, a noble, indefinable tendency, why, then he keeps
out of its way; and quite right too. One can meet an assertion
with argument; but healthy bigotry is the only way in which one can
meet a tendency. I am told that the Japanese method of wrestling
consists not of suddenly pressing, but of suddenly giving way.
This is one of my many reasons for disliking the Japanese civilization.
To use surrender as a weapon is the very worst spirit of the East.
But certainly there is no force so hard to fight as the force which it
is easy to conquer; the force that always yields and then returns.
Such is the force of a great impersonal prejudice, such as possesses
the modern world on so many points. Against this there is no weapon
at all except a rigid and steely sanity, a resolution not to listen
to fads, and not to be infected by diseases.
In short, the rational human faith must armor itself with prejudice
in an age of prejudices, just as it armoured itself with logic in
an age of logic. But the difference between the two mental methods
is marked and unmistakable. The essential of the difference is this:
that prejudices are divergent, whereas creeds are always in collision.
Believers bump into each other; whereas bigots keep out of each other's
way. A creed is a collective thing, and even its sins are sociable.
A prejudice is a private thing, and even its tolerance is misanthropic.
So it is with our existing divisions. They keep out of each other's way;
the Tory paper and the Radical paper do not answer each other;
they ignore each other. Genuine controversy, fair cut and thrust
before a common audience, has become in our special epoch very rare.
For the sincere controversialist is above all things a good listener.
The really burning enthusiast never interrupts; he listens to the enemy's
arguments as eagerly as a spy would listen to the enemy's arrangements.
But if you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite
politics, you will find that no medium is admitted between violence
and evasion. You will have no answer except slanging or silence.
A modern editor must not have that eager ear that goes with the
honest tongue. He may be deaf and silent; and that is called dignity.
Or he may be deaf and noisy; and that is called slashing journalism.
In neither case is there any controversy; for the whole object of modern
party combatants is to charge out of earshot.
The only logical cure for all this is the assertion of a human ideal.
In dealing with this, I will try to be as little transcendental
as is consistent with reason; it is enough to say that unless we
have some doctrine of a divine man, all abuses may be excused,
since evolution may turn them into uses. It will be easy for
the scientific plutocrat to maintain that humanity will adapt itself
to any conditions which we now consider evil. The old tyrants
invoked the past; the new tyrants will invoke the future evolution
has produced the snail and the owl; evolution can produce a workman
who wants no more space than a snail, and no more light than an owl.
The employer need not mind sending a Kaffir to work underground;
he will soon become an underground animal, like a mole.
He need not mind sending a diver to hold his breath in the deep seas;
he will soon be a deep-sea animal. Men need not trouble
to alter conditions, conditions will so soon alter men.
The head can be beaten small enough to fit the hat.
Do not knock the fetters off the slave; knock the slave until
he forgets the fetters. To all this plausible modem argument
for oppression, the only adequate answer is, that there is a permanent
human ideal that must not be either confused or destroyed.
The most important man on earth is the perfect man who is not there.
The Christian religion has specially uttered the ultimate sanity of Man,
says Scripture, who shall judge the incarnate and human truth.
Our lives and laws are not judged by divine superiority, but simply
by human perfection. It is man, says Aristotle, who is the measure.
It is the Son of Man, says Scripture, who shall judge the quick
and the dead.
Doctrine, therefore, does not cause dissensions;
rather a doctrine alone can cure our dissensions.
It is necessary to ask, however, roughly, what abstract and
ideal shape in state or family would fulfil the human hunger;
and this apart from whether we can completely obtain it or not.
But when we come to ask what is the need of normal men,
what is the desire of all nations, what is the ideal house,
or road, or rule, or republic, or king, or priesthood,
then we are confronted with a strange and irritating difficulty
peculiar to the present time; and we must call a temporary halt
and examine that obstacle.
* * *
THE FEAR OF THE PAST
The last few decades have been marked by a special cultivation
of the romance of the future. We seem to have made up our minds
to misunderstand what has happened; and we turn, with a sort of relief,
to stating what will happen--which is (apparently) much easier.
The modern man no longer presents the memoirs of his great grandfather;
but is engaged in writing a detailed and authoritative biography
of his great-grandson. Instead of trembling before the specters
of the dead, we shudder abjectly under the shadow of the babe unborn.
This spirit is apparent everywhere, even to the creation of a form
of futurist romance. Sir Walter Scott stands at the dawn of
the nineteenth century for the novel of the past; Mr. H. G. Wells
stands at the dawn of the twentieth century for the novel
of the future. The old story, we know, was supposed to begin:
"Late on a winter's evening two horsemen might have been seen--."
The new story has to begin: "Late on a winter's evening two aviators
will be seen--." The movement is not without its elements of charm;
there is something spirited, if eccentric, in the sight of so many
people fighting over again the fights that have not yet happened;
of people still glowing with the memory of tomorrow morning.
A man in advance of the age is a familiar phrase enough.
An age in advance of the age is really rather odd.
But when full allowance has been made for this harmless
element of poetry and pretty human perversity in the thing,
I shall not hesitate to maintain here that this cult of
the future is not only a weakness but a cowardice of the age.
It is the peculiar evil of this epoch that even its pugnacity
is fundamentally frightened; and the Jingo is contemptible
not because he is impudent, but because he is timid.
The reason why modern armaments do not inflame the imagination
like the arms and emblazonments of the Crusades is a reason
quite apart from optical ugliness or beauty. Some battleships
are as beautiful as the sea; and many Norman nosepieces were
as ugly as Norman noses. The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds
our scientific war is an emanation from that evil panic which is
at the heart of it. The charge of the Crusades was a charge;
it was charging towards God, the wild consolation of the braver.
The charge of the modern armaments is not a charge at all.
It is a rout, a retreat, a flight from the devil, who will catch
the hindmost. It is impossible to imagine a mediaeval knight
talking of longer and longer French lances, with precisely
the quivering employed about larger and larger German ships The
man who called the Blue Water School the "Blue Funk School"
uttered a psychological truth which that school itself would
scarcely essentially deny. Even the two-power standard,
if it be a necessity, is in a sense a degrading necessity.
Nothing has more alienated many magnanimous minds from Imperial
enterprises than the fact that they are always exhibited as stealthy
or sudden defenses against a world of cold rapacity and fear.
The Boer War, for instance, was colored not so much by the creed
that we were doing something right, as by the creed that Boers
and Germans were probably doing something wrong; driving us
(as it was said) to the sea. Mr. Chamberlain, I think,
said that the war was a feather in his cap and so it was:
a white feather.
Now this same primary panic that I feel in our rush towards patriotic
armaments I feel also in our rush towards future visions of society.
The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense
of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past.
It is propelled towards the coming time; it is, in the exact words
of the popular phrase, knocked into the middle of next week.
And the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation
for futurity Futurity does not exist, because it is still future.
Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of
the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also.
The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind.
There have been so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold;
so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate; so many
great efforts of monumental building or of military glory
which seem to us at once sublime and pathetic. The future
is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers.
The older generation, not the younger, is knocking at our door.
It is agreeable to escape, as Henley said, into the Street
of By-and-Bye, where stands the Hostelry of Never. It is
pleasant to play with children, especially unborn children.
The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own
name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered
with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare,
Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself;
the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity.
And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this:
that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals.
They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid
to look back.
Now in history there is no Revolution that is not a Restoration.
Among the many things that Leave me doubtful about the modern
habit of fixing eyes on the future, none is stronger than this:
that all the men in history who have really done anything
with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past.
I need not mention the Renaissance, the very word proves my case.
The originality of Michael Angelo and Shakespeare began with
the digging up of old vases and manuscripts. The mildness
of poets absolutely arose out of the mildness of antiquaries.
So the great mediaeval revival was a memory of the Roman Empire.
So the Reformation looked back to the Bible and Bible times.
So the modern Catholic movement has looked back to patristic times.
But that modern movement which many would count the most
anarchic of all is in this sense the most conservative of all.
Never was the past more venerated by men than it was by the
French Revolutionists. They invoked the little republics of
antiquity with the complete confidence of one who invokes the gods.
The Sans-culottes believed (as their name might imply) in a return
to simplicity. They believed most piously in a remote past;
some might call it a mythical past. For some strange reason
man must always thus plant his fruit trees in a graveyard.
Man can only find life among the dead. Man is a misshapen monster,
with his feet set forward and his face turned back. He can make
the future luxuriant and gigantic, so long as he is thinking
about the past. When he tries to think about the future itself,
his mind diminishes to a pin point with imbecility, which some
call Nirvana. To-morrow is the Gorgon; a man must only see it
mirrored in the shining shield of yesterday. If he sees it directly
he is turned to stone. This has been the fate of all those who
have really seen fate and futurity as clear and inevitable.
The Calvinists, with their perfect creed of predestination,
were turned to stone. The modern sociological scientists
(with their excruciating Eugenics) are turned to stone.
The only difference is that the Puritans make dignified,
and the Eugenists somewhat amusing, statues.
But there is one feature in the past which more than all
the rest defies and depresses the moderns and drives them
towards this featureless future. I mean the presence in
the past of huge ideals, unfulfilled and sometimes abandoned.
The sight of these splendid failures is melancholy to a restless
and rather morbid generation; and they maintain a strange silence
about them--sometimes amounting to an unscrupulous silence.
They keep them entirely out of their newspapers and almost entirely
out of their history books. For example, they will often tell you
(in their praises of the coming age) that we are moving on towards
a United States of Europe. But they carefully omit to tell
you that we are moving away from a United States of Europe,
that such a thing existed literally in Roman and essentially in
mediaeval times. They never admit that the international hatreds
(which they call barbaric) are really very recent, the mere
breakdown of the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. Or again,
they will tell you that there is going to be a social revolution,
a great rising of the poor against the rich; but they never rub it
in that France made that magnificent attempt, unaided, and that we
and all the world allowed it to be trampled out and forgotten.
I say decisively that nothing is so marked in modern writing
as the prediction of such ideals in the future combined with the
ignoring of them in the past. Anyone can test this for himself.
Read any thirty or forty pages of pamphlets advocating peace
in Europe and see how many of them praise the old Popes or Emperors
for keeping the peace in Europe. Read any armful of essays
and poems in praise of social democracy, and see how many of them
praise the old Jacobins who created democracy and died for it.
These colossal ruins are to the modern only enormous eyesores.
He looks back along the valley of the past and sees a perspective
of splendid but unfinished cities. They are unfinished,
not always through enmity or accident, but often through fickleness,
mental fatigue, and the lust for alien philosophies.
We have not only left undone those things that we ought to have done,
but we have even left undone those things that we wanted to do
It is very currently suggested that the modern man is the heir of all the
ages, that he has got the good out of these successive human experiments.
I know not what to say in answer to this, except to ask the reader
to look at the modern man, as I have just looked at the modern man--
in the looking-glass. Is it really true that you and I are two starry
towers built up of all the most towering visions of the past?
Have we really fulfilled all the great historic ideals one after
the other, from our naked ancestor who was brave enough to till
a mammoth with a stone knife, through the Greek citizen and the
Christian saint to our own grandfather or great-grandfather, who may
have been sabred by the Manchester Yeomanry or shot in the '48?
Are we still strong enough to spear mammoths, but now tender enough
to spare them? Does the cosmos contain any mammoth that we have
either speared or spared? When we decline (in a marked manner)
to fly the red flag and fire across a barricade like our grandfathers,
are we really declining in deference to sociologists--or to soldiers?
Have we indeed outstripped the warrior and passed the ascetical saint?
I fear we only outstrip the warrior in the sense that we should
probably run away from him. And if we have passed the saint,
I fear we have passed him without bowing.
This is, first and foremost, what I mean by the narrowness
of the new ideas, the limiting effect of the future.
Our modern prophetic idealism is narrow because it has undergone
a persistent process of elimination. We must ask for new
things because we are not allowed to ask for old things.
The whole position is based on this idea that we have got
all the good that can be got out of the ideas of the past.
But we have not got all the good out of them, perhaps at this
moment not any of the good out of them. And the need here is
a need of complete freedom for restoration as well as revolution.
We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some
rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition.
There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary
or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight
one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies
tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh
as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose
intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.
He cares as little for what will be as for what has been;
he cares only for what ought to be. And for my present
purpose I specially insist on this abstract independence.
If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things
that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption
that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor
of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying,
"You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer
is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction,
can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour.
In the same way society, being a piece of human construction,
can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed.
There is another proverb, "As you have made your bed,
so you must lie on it"; which again is simply a lie.
If I have made my bed uncomfortable, please God I will make it again.
We could restore the Heptarchy or the stage coaches if we chose.
It might take some time to do, and it might be very inadvisable to do it;
but certainly it is not impossible as bringing back last Friday
is impossible. This is, as I say, the first freedom that I claim:
the freedom to restore. I claim a right to propose as a solution
the old patriarchal system of a Highland clan, if that should seem
to eliminate the largest number of evils. It certainly would
eliminate some evils; for instance, the unnatural sense of obeying
cold and harsh strangers, mere bureaucrats and policemen.
I claim the right to propose the complete independence of the small
Greek or Italian towns, a sovereign city of Brixton or Brompton,
if that seems the best way out of our troubles. It would be a way
out of some of our troubles; we could not have in a small state,
for instance, those enormous illusions about men or measures which
are nourished by the great national or international newspapers.
You could not persuade a city state that Mr. Beit was an Englishman,
or Mr. Dillon a desperado, any more than you could persuade
a Hampshire Village that the village drunkard was a teetotaller
or the village idiot a statesman. Nevertheless, I do not as a
fact propose that the Browns and the Smiths should be collected
under separate tartans. Nor do I even propose that Clapham should
declare its independence. I merely declare my independence.
I merely claim my choice of all the tools in the universe;
and I shall not admit that any of them are blunted merely because
they have been used.
* * *
THE UNFINISHED TEMPLE
The task of modern idealists indeed is made much too easy for them
by the fact that they are always taught that if a thing has been
defeated it has been disproved. Logically, the case is quite
clearly the other way. The lost causes are exactly those which
might have saved the world. If a man says that the Young Pretender
would have made England happy, it is hard to answer him.
If anyone says that the Georges made England happy, I hope we all know
what to answer. That which was prevented is always impregnable;
and the only perfect King of England was he who was smothered.
Exactly be cause Jacobitism failed we cannot call it a failure.
Precisely because the Commune collapsed as a rebellion we cannot
say that it collapsed as a system. But such outbursts were brief
or incidental. Few people realize how many of the largest efforts,
the facts that will fill history, were frustrated in their full
design and come down to us as gigantic cripples. I have only
space to allude to the two largest facts of modern history:
the Catholic Church and that modern growth rooted in
the French Revolution.
When four knights scattered the blood and brains of St. Thomas
of Canterbury, it was not only a sign of anger but of a sort
of black admiration. They wished for his blood, but they wished
even more for his brains. Such a blow will remain forever
unintelligible unless we realise what the brains of St. Thomas were
thinking about just before they were distributed over the floor.
They were thinking about the great mediaeval conception that the church
is the judge of the world. Becket objected to a priest being
tried even by the Lord Chief Justice. And his reason was simple:
because the Lord Chief Justice was being tried by the priest.
The judiciary was itself sub judice. The kings were themselves
in the dock. The idea was to create an invisible kingdom,
without armies or prisons, but with complete freedom to condemn
publicly all the kingdoms of the earth. Whether such a supreme
church would have cured society we cannot affirm definitely;
because the church never was a supreme church. We only know
that in England at any rate the princes conquered the saints.
What the world wanted we see before us; and some of us call it
a failure. But we cannot call what the church wanted a failure,
simply because the church failed. Tracy struck a little too soon.
England had not yet made the great Protestant discovery that
the king can do no wrong. The king was whipped in the cathedral;
a performance which I recommend to those who regret the unpopularity
of church-going. But the discovery was made; and Henry VIII scattered
Becket's bones as easily as Tracy had scattered his brains.
Of course, I mean that Catholicism was not tried;
plenty of Catholics were tried, and found guilty.
My point is that the world did not tire of the church's ideal,
but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for
the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks.
Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility,
but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the
church failed it was largely through the churchmen.
But at the same time hostile elements had certainly begun
to end it long before it could have done its work.
In the nature of things it needed a common scheme of life and
thought in Europe. Yet the mediaeval system began to be broken
to pieces intellectually, long before it showed the slightest
hint of falling to pieces morally. The huge early heresies,
like the Albigenses, had not the faintest excuse in moral superiority.
And it is actually true that the Reformation began to tear Europe
apart before the Catholic Church had had time to pull it together.
The Prussians, for instance, were not converted to Christianity
at all until quite close to the Reformation. The poor
creatures hardly had time to become Catholics before they
were told to become Protestants. This explains a great deal
of their subsequent conduct. But I have only taken this
as the first and most evident case of the general truth:
that the great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived
(which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough.
Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind
has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout.
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult; and left untried.
It is, of course, the same in the case of the French Revolution.
A great part of our present perplexity arises from the fact
that the French Revolution has half succeeded and half failed.
In one sense, Valmy was the decisive battle of the West,
and in another Trafalgar. We have, indeed, destroyed the largest
territorial tyrannies, and created a free peasantry in almost all
Christian countries except England; of which we shall say more anon.
But representative government, the one universal relic,
is a very poor fragment of the full republican idea.
The theory of the French Revolution presupposed two things
in government, things which it achieved at the time, but which it
has certainly not bequeathed to its imitators in England, Germany,
and America. The first of these was the idea of honorable poverty;
that a statesman must be something of a stoic; the second was
the idea of extreme publicity. Many imaginative English writers,
including Carlyle, seem quite unable to imagine how it was
that men like Robespierre and Marat were ardently admired.
The best answer is that they were admired for being poor--
poor when they might have been rich.
No one will pretend that this ideal exists at all in the haute
politique of this country. Our national claim to political
incorruptibility is actually based on exactly the opposite argument;
it is based on the theory that wealthy men in assured
positions will have no temptation to financial trickery.
Whether the history of the English aristocracy, from the spoliation
of the monasteries to the annexation of the mines, entirely supports
this theory I am not now inquiring; but certainly it is our theory,
that wealth will be a protection against political corruption.
The English statesman is bribed not to be bribed.
He is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, so that he may
never afterwards be found with the silver spoons in his pocket.
So strong is our faith in this protection by plutocracy,
that we are more and more trusting our empire in the hands of
families which inherit wealth without either blood or manners.
Some of our political houses are parvenue by pedigree;
they hand on vulgarity like a coat of-arms. In the case of
many a modern statesman to say that he is born with a silver
spoon in his mouth, is at once inadequate and excessive.
He is born with a silver knife in his mouth. But all this
only illustrates the English theory that poverty is perilous
for a politician.
It will be the same if we compare the conditions that have
come about with the Revolution legend touching publicity.
The old democratic doctrine was that the more light that was let
in to all departments of State, the easier it was for a righteous
indignation to move promptly against wrong. In other words,
monarchs were to live in glass houses, that mobs might throw stones.
Again, no admirer of existing English politics (if there is
any admirer of existing English politics) will really pretend
that this ideal of publicity is exhausted, or even attempted.
Obviously public life grows more private every day.
The French have, indeed, continued the tradition of revealing
secrets and making scandals; hence they are more flagrant
and palpable than we, not in sin but in the confession of sin.
The first trial of Dreyfus might have happened in England;
it is exactly the second trial that would have been
legally impossible. But, indeed, if we wish to realise
how far we fall short of the original republican outline,
the sharpest way to test it is to note how far we fall
short even of the republican element in the older regime.
Not only are we less democratic than Danton and Condorcet,
but we are in many ways less democratic than Choiseul
and Marie Antoinette. The richest nobles before the revolt
were needy middle-class people compared with our Rothschilds
and Roseberys. And in the matter of publicity the old French monarchy
was infinitely more democratic than any of the monarchies of today.
Practically anybody who chose could walk into the palace and see
the king playing with his children, or paring his nails.
The people possessed the monarch,, as the people possess Primrose Hill;
that is, they cannot move it, but they can sprawl all over it.
The old French monarchy was founded on the excellent principle
that a cat may look at a king. But nowadays a cat may not look
at a king; unless it is a very tame cat. Even where the press
is free for criticism it is only used for adulation.
The substantial difference comes to something uncommonly like this:
Eighteenth century tyranny meant that you could say "The K__
of Br__rd is a profligate." Twentieth century liberty really
means that you are allowed to say "The King of Brentford is
a model family man."
But we have delayed the main argument too long for the parenthetical
purpose of showing that the great democratic dream, like the great
mediaeval dream, has in a strict and practical sense been
a dream unfulfilled. Whatever is the matter with modern England
it is not that we have carried out too literally, or achieved
with disappointing completeness, either the Catholicism of Becket
or the equality of Marat. Now I have taken these two cases merely
because they are typical of ten thousand other cases; the world
is full of these unfulfilled ideas, these uncompleted temples.
History does not consist of completed and crumbling ruins; rather it
consists of half-built villas abandoned by a bankrupt-builder. This
world is more like an unfinished suburb than a deserted cemetery.
* * *
THE ENEMIES OF PROPERTY
But it is for this especial reason that such an explanation
is necessary on the very threshold of the definition of ideals.
For owing to that historic fallacy with which I have just dealt,
numbers of readers will expect me, when I propound an ideal, to propound
a new ideal. Now I have no notion at all of propounding a new ideal.
There is no new ideal imaginable by the madness of modern sophists,
which will be anything like so startling as fulfilling any one
of the old ones. On the day that any copybook maxim is carried
out there will be something like an earthquake on the earth.
There is only one thing new that can be done under the sun;
and that is to look at the sun. If you attempt it on a blue day
in June, you will know why men do not look straight at their ideals.
There is only one really startling thing to be done with the ideal,
and that is to do it. It is to face the flaming logical fact,
and its frightful consequences. Christ knew that it would be
a more stunning thunderbolt to fulfil the law than to destroy it.
It is true of both the cases I have quoted, and of every case.
The pagans had always adored purity: Athena, Artemis, Vesta. It was
when the virgin martyrs began defiantly to practice purity that they
rent them with wild beasts, and rolled them on red-hot coals.
The world had always loved the notion of the poor man uppermost;
it can be proved by every legend from Cinderella to Whittington,
by every poem from the Magnificat to the Marseillaise. The kings
went mad against France not because she idealized this ideal,
but because she realized it. Joseph of Austria and Catherine
of Russia quite agreed that the people should rule; what horrified
them was that the people did. The French Revolution, therefore,
is the type of all true revolutions, because its ideal is as old
as the Old Adam, but its fulfilment almost as fresh, as miraculous,
and as new as the New Jerusalem.
But in the modern world we are primarily confronted with the
extraordinary spectacle of people turning to new ideals because they
have not tried the old. Men have not got tired of Christianity;
they have never found enough Christianity to get tired of.
Men have never wearied of political justice; they have wearied
of waiting for it.
Now, for the purpose of this book, I propose to take only one
of these old ideals; but one that is perhaps the oldest.
I take the principle of domesticity: the ideal house;
the happy family, the holy family of history. For the moment
it is only necessary to remark that it is like the church
and like the republic, now chiefly assailed by those who have
never known it, or by those who have failed to fulfil it.
Numberless modern women have rebelled against domesticity in theory
because they have never known it in practice. Hosts of the poor
are driven to the workhouse without ever having known the house.
Generally speaking, the cultured class is shrieking to be let
out of the decent home, just as the working class is shouting
to be let into it.
Now if we take this house or home as a test, we may very
generally lay the simple spiritual foundations or the idea.
God is that which can make something out of nothing. Man (it may
truly be said) is that which can make something out of anything.
In other words, while the joy of God be unlimited creation,
the special joy of man is limited creation, the combination
of creation with limits. Man's pleasure, therefore, is to
possess conditions, but also to be partly possessed by them;
to be half-controlled by the flute he plays or by the field he digs.
The excitement is to get the utmost out of given conditions;
the conditions will stretch, but not indefinitely. A man can write an
immortal sonnet on an old envelope, or hack a hero out of a lump of rock.
But hacking a sonnet out of a rock would be a laborious business,
and making a hero out of an envelope is almost out of the sphere
of practical politics. This fruitful strife with limitations,
when it concerns some airy entertainment of an educated class,
goes by the name of Art. But the mass of men have neither time
nor aptitude for the invention of invisible or abstract beauty.
For the mass of men the idea of artistic creation can only be expressed
by an idea unpopular in present discussions--the idea of property.
The average man cannot cut clay into the shape of a man;
but he can cut earth into the shape of a garden; and though
he arranges it with red geraniums and blue potatoes in alternate
straight lines, he is still an artist; because he has chosen.
The average man cannot paint the sunset whose colors be admires;
but he can paint his own house with what color he chooses, and though
he paints it pea green with pink spots, he is still an artist;
because that is his choice. Property is merely the art of the democracy.
It means that every man should have something that he can shape
in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven.
But because he is not God, but only a graven image of God,
his self-expression must deal with limits; properly with limits
that are strict and even small.
I am well aware that the word "property" has been defied in our
time by the corruption of the great capitalists. One would think,
to hear people talk, that the Rothchilds and the Rockefellers
were on the side of property. But obviously they are the enemies
of property; because they are enemies of their own limitations.
They do not want their own land; but other people's. When they
remove their neighbor's landmark, they also remove their own.
A man who loves a little triangular field ought to love it
because it is triangular; anyone who destroys the shape,
by giving him more land, is a thief who has stolen a triangle.
A man with the true poetry of possession wishes to see the wall
where his garden meets Smith's garden; the hedge where his farm
touches Brown's. He cannot see the shape of his own land unless
he sees the edges of his neighbor's. It is the negation of property
that the Duke of Sutherland should have all the farms in one estate;
just as it would be the negation of marriage if he had all our
wives in one harem.
* * *
THE FREE FAMILY
As I have said, I propose to take only one central instance;
I will take the institution called the private house or home;
the shell and organ of the family. We will consider cosmic
and political tendencies simply as they strike that ancient and
unique roof. Very few words will suffice for all I have to say
about the family itself. I leave alone the speculations about
its animal origin and the details of its social reconstruction;
I am concerned only with its palpable omnipresence.
It is a necessity far mankind; it is (if you like to put it so)
a trap for mankind. Only by the hypocritical ignoring of a huge
fact can any one contrive to talk of "free love"; as if love
were an episode like lighting a cigarette, or whistling a tune.
Suppose whenever a man lit a cigarette, a towering genie arose from
the rings of smoke and followed him everywhere as a huge slave.
Suppose whenever a man whistled a tune he "drew an angel down"
and had to walk about forever with a seraph on a string.
These catastrophic images are but faint parallels to the earthquake
consequences that Nature has attached to sex; and it is perfectly
plain at the beginning that a man cannot be a free lover;
he is either a traitor or a tied man. The second element that creates
the family is that its consequences, though colossal, are gradual;
the cigarette produces a baby giant, the song only an infant seraph.
Thence arises the necessity for some prolonged system of co-operation;
and thence arises the family in its full educational sense.
It may be said that this institution of the home is the one
anarchist institution. That is to say, it is older than law,
and stands outside the State. By its nature it is refreshed
or corrupted by indefinable forces of custom or kinship.
This is not to be understood as meaning that the State has no
authority over families; that State authority is invoked and ought
to be invoked in many abnormal cases. But in most normal cases
of family joys and sorrows, the State has no mode of entry.
It is not so much that the law should not interfere, as that
the law cannot. Just as there are fields too far off for law,
so there are fields too near; as a man may see the North Pole
before he sees his own backbone. Small and near matters
escape control at least as much as vast and remote ones;
and the real pains and pleasures of the family form a strong
instance of this. If a baby cries for the moon, the policeman
cannot procure the moon--but neither can he stop the baby.
Creatures so close to each other as husband and wife,
or a mother and children, have powers of making each other
happy or miserable with which no public coercion can deal.
If a marriage could be dissolved every morning it would not give
back his night's rest to a man kept awake by a curtain lecture;
and what is the good of giving a man a lot of power where
he only wants a little peace? The child must depend on the most
imperfect mother; the mother may be devoted to the most
unworthy children; in such relations legal revenges are vain.
Even in the abnormal cases where the law may operate, this difficulty
is constantly found; as many a bewildered magistrate knows.
He has to save children from starvation by taking away
their breadwinner. And he often has to break a wife's
heart because her husband has already broken her head.
The State has no tool delicate enough to deracinate the rooted
habits and tangled affections of the family; the two sexes,
whether happy or unhappy, are glued together too tightly
for us to get the blade of a legal penknife in between them.
The man and the woman are one flesh--yes, even when they are
not one spirit. Man is a quadruped. Upon this ancient and
anarchic intimacy, types of government have little or no effect;
it is happy or unhappy, by its own sexual wholesomeness and
genial habit, under the republic of Switzerland or the despotism
of Siam. Even a republic in Siam would not have done much
towards freeing the Siamese Twins.
The problem is not in marriage, but in sex; and would be felt
under the freest concubinage. Nevertheless, the overwhelming mass
of mankind has not believed in freedom in this matter, but rather
in a more or less lasting tie. Tribes and civilizations differ about
the occasions on which we may loosen the bond, but they all agree
that there is a bond to be loosened, not a mere universal detachment.
For the purposes of this book I am not concerned to discuss
that mystical view of marriage in which I myself believe:
the great European tradition which has made marriage a sacrament.
It is enough to say here that heathen and Christian alike have
regarded marriage as a tie; a thing not normally to be sundered.
Briefly, this human belief in a sexual bond rests on a principle
of which the modern mind has made a very inadequate study.
It is, perhaps, most nearly paralleled by the principle of the second
wind in walking.
The principle is this: that in everything worth having,
even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that
must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure.
The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death;
the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him;
the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath;
and the success of the marriage comes after the failure
of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are
so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point,
this instant of potential surrender.
In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a
stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor.
It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him
on to the firmer ground ahead. Whether this solid fact of human
nature is sufficient to justify the sublime dedication of Christian
marriage is quite an other matter, it is amply sufficient to
justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing,
dissolution of which is a fault or, at least, an ignominy.
The essential element is not so much duration as security.
Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice;
for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage
In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first
five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy.
Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what
some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is
essentially discouraging. If we all floated in the air like bubbles,
free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would
be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation.
It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper,
and then have to shout the last half of it because the other
party was floating away into the free and formless ether
The two must hold each other to do justice to each other.
If Americans can be divorced for "incompatibility of temper"
I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced.
I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.
The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive
the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.
For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.
* * *
THE WILDNESS OF DOMESTICITY
In the course of this crude study we shall have to touch on what is
called the problem of poverty, especially the dehumanized poverty
of modern industrialism. But in this primary matter of the ideal
the difficulty is not the problem of poverty, but the problem of wealth.
It is the special psychology of leisure and luxury that falsifies life.
Some experience of modern movements of the sort called "advanced" has
led me to the conviction that they generally repose upon some experience
peculiar to the rich. It is so with that fallacy of free love of which I
have already spoken; the idea of sexuality as a string of episodes.
That implies a long holiday in which to get tired of one woman,
and a motor car in which to wander looking for others; it also implies
money for maintenances. An omnibus conductor has hardly time
to love his own wife, let alone other people's. And the success with
which nuptial estrangements are depicted in modern "problem plays"
is due to the fact that there is only one thing that a drama
cannot depict--that is a hard day's work. I could give many other
instances of this plutocratic assumption behind progressive fads.
For instance, there is a plutocratic assumption behind the phrase
"Why should woman be economically dependent upon man?"
The answer is that among poor and practical people she isn't;
except in the sense in which he is dependent upon her.
A hunter has to tear his clothes; there must be somebody to mend them.
A fisher has to catch fish; there must be somebody to cook them.
It is surely quite clear that this modern notion that woman is a mere
"pretty clinging parasite," "a plaything," etc., arose through the somber
contemplation of some rich banking family, in which the banker, at least,
went to the city and pretended to do something, while the banker's
wife went to the Park and did not pretend to do anything at all.
A poor man and his wife are a business partnership. If one partner
in a firm of publishers interviews the authors while the other
interviews the clerks, is one of them economically dependent?
Was Hodder a pretty parasite clinging to Stoughton? Was Marshall
a mere plaything for Snelgrove?
But of all the modern notions generated by mere wealth the worst is this:
the notion that domesticity is dull and tame. Inside the home (they say)
is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety.
This is indeed a rich man's opinion. The rich man knows that his own
house moves on vast and soundless wheels of wealth, is run by regiments
of servants, by a swift and silent ritual. On the other hand, every sort
of vagabondage of romance is open to him in the streets outside.
He has plenty of money and can afford to be a tramp.
His wildest adventure will end in a restaurant, while the yokel's
tamest adventure may end in a police-court. If he smashes a window
he can pay for it; if he smashes a man he can pension him. He can
(like the millionaire in the story) buy an hotel to get a glass of gin.
And because he, the luxurious man, dictates the tone of nearly
all "advanced" and "progressive" thought, we have almost forgotten
what a home really means to the overwhelming millions of mankind.
For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only
place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy.
It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter
arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim.
Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules
of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.
He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes.
I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic,
picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried
to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown
and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be
permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point.
If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on
the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them.
But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock
tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man
the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure.
It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.
The home is the one place where he can put the carpet
on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to.
When a man spends every night staggering from bar to bar or from
music-hall to music-hall, we say that he is living an irregular life.
But he is not; he is living a highly regular life,
under the dull, and often oppressive, laws of such places.
Some times he is not allowed even to sit down in the bars;
and frequently he is not allowed to sing in the music-halls.
Hotels may be defined as places where you are forced to dress;
and theaters may be defined as places where you are forbidden
to smoke. A man can only picnic at home.
Now I take, as I have said, this small human omnipotence,
this possession of a definite cell or chamber of liberty,
as the working model for the present inquiry.
Whether we can give every English man a free home of his own
or not, at least we should desire it; and he desires it.
For the moment we speak of what he wants, not of what he
expects to get. He wants, far instance, a separate house;
he does not want a semi-detached house. He may be forced
in the commercial race to share one wall with another man.
Similarly he might be forced in a three-legged race to share
one leg with another man; but it is not so that he pictures
himself in his dreams of elegance and liberty. Again, he does
not desire a flat. He can eat and sleep and praise God in a flat;
he can eat and sleep and praise God in a railway train.
But a railway train is not a house, because it is a house on wheels.
And a flat is not a house, because it is a house on stilts.
An idea of earthy contact and foundation, as well as an
idea of separation and independence, is a part of this
instructive human picture.
I take, then, this one institution as a test. As every
normal man desires a woman, and children born of a woman,
every normal man desires a house of his own to put them into.
He does not merely want a roof above him and a chair
below him; he wants an objective and visible kingdom;
a fire at which he can cook what food he likes, a door
he can open to what friends he chooses. This is the normal
appetite of men; I do not say there are not exceptions.
There may be saints above the need and philanthropists below it.
Opalstein, now he is a duke, may have got used to more than this;
and when he was a convict may have got used to less.
But the normality of the thing is enormous. To give nearly
everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody;
that is what I assert without apology. Now in modern England
(as you eagerly point out) it is very difficult to give nearly
everybody houses. Quite so; I merely set up the desideratum;
and ask the reader to leave it standing there while he turns
with me to a consideration of what really happens in the social
wars of our time.
* * *
HISTORY OF HUDGE AND GUDGE
There is, let us say, a certain filthy rookery in Hoxton,
dripping with disease and honeycombed with crime and promiscuity.
There are, let us say, two noble and courageous young men,
of pure intentions and (if you prefer it) noble birth; let us call
them Hudge and Gudge. Hudge, let us say, is of a bustling sort;
he points out that the people must at all costs be got out
of this den; he subscribes and collects money, but he finds
(despite the large financial interests of the Hudges) that the thing
will have to be done on the cheap if it is to be done on the spot.
Her therefore, runs up a row of tall bare tenements like beehives;
and soon has all the poor people bundled into their little
brick cells, which are certainly better than their old quarters,
in so far as they are weather proof, well ventilated and supplied
with clean water. But Gudge has a more delicate nature.
He feels a nameless something lacking in the little brick boxes;
he raises numberless objections; he even assails the celebrated
Hudge Report, with the Gudge Minority Report; and by the end
of a year or so has come to telling Hudge heatedly that the people
were much happier where they were before. As the people preserve
in both places precisely the same air of dazed amiability,
it is very difficult to find out which is right. But at least
one might safely say that no people ever liked stench or starvation
as such, but only some peculiar pleasures en tangled with them.
Not so feels the sensitive Gudge. Long before the final quarrel
(Hudge v. Gudge and Another), Gudge has succeeded in persuading
himself that slums and stinks are really very nice things;
that the habit of sleeping fourteen in a room is what has made
our England great; and that the smell of open drains is absolutely
essential to the rearing of a viking breed.
But, meanwhile, has there been no degeneration in Hudge? Alas, I fear
there has. Those maniacally ugly buildings which he originally
put up as unpretentious sheds barely to shelter human life,
grow every day more and more lovely to his deluded eye.
Things he would never have dreamed of defending, except as crude
necessities, things like common kitchens or infamous asbestos stoves,
begin to shine quite sacredly before him, merely because they reflect
the wrath of Gudge. He maintains, with the aid of eager little books
by Socialists, that man is really happier in a hive than in a house.
The practical difficulty of keeping total strangers out of your
bedroom he describes as Brotherhood; and the necessity for
climbing twenty-three flights of cold stone stairs, I dare say he
calls Effort. The net result of their philanthropic adventure is this:
that one has come to defending indefensible slums and still more
indefensible slum-landlords, while the other has come to treating
as divine the sheds and pipes which he only meant as desperate.
Gudge is now a corrupt and apoplectic old Tory in the Carlton Club;
if you mention poverty to him he roars at you in a thick,
hoarse voice something that is conjectured to be "Do 'em good!"
Nor is Hudge more happy; for he is a lean vegetarian with a gray,
pointed beard and an unnaturally easy smile, who goes about telling
everybody that at last we shall all sleep in one universal bedroom;
and he lives in a Garden City, like one forgotten of God.
Such is the lamentable history of Hudge and Gudge; which I merely
introduce as a type of an endless and exasperating misunderstanding
which is always occurring in modern England. To get men out of a rookery
men are put into a tenement; and at the beginning the healthy human
soul loathes them both. A man's first desire is to get away as far
as possible from the rookery, even should his mad course lead him
to a model dwelling. The second desire is, naturally, to get away from
the model dwelling, even if it should lead a man back to the rookery.
But I am neither a Hudgian nor a Gudgian; and I think the mistakes
of these two famous and fascinating persons arose from one simple fact.
They arose from the fact that neither Hudge nor Gudge had ever thought
for an instant what sort of house a man might probably like for himself.
In short, they did not begin with the ideal; and, therefore, were
not practical politicians.
We may now return to the purpose of our awkward parenthesis
about the praise of the future and the failures of the past.
A house of his own being the obvious ideal for every man, we may now ask
(taking this need as typical of all such needs) why he hasn't got it;
and whether it is in any philosophical sense his own fault.
Now, I think that in some philosophical sense it is his own fault, I think
in a yet more philosophical sense it is the fault of his philosophy.
And this is what I have now to attempt to explain.
Burke, a fine rhetorician, who rarely faced realities,
said, I think, that an Englishman's house is his castle.
This is honestly entertaining; for as it happens the Englishman
is almost the only man in Europe whose house is not his castle.
Nearly everywhere else exists the assumption of peasant proprietorship;
that a poor man may be a landlord, though he is only lord
of his own land. Making the landlord and the tenant the same
person has certain trivial advantages, as that the tenant
pays no rent, while the landlord does a little work.
But I am not concerned with the defense of small proprietorship,
but merely with the fact that it exists almost everywhere except
in England. It is also true, however, that this estate of small
possession is attacked everywhere today; it has never existed
among ourselves, and it may be destroyed among our neighbors.
We have, therefore, to ask ourselves what it is in human
affairs generally, and in this domestic ideal in particular,
that has really ruined the natural human creation,
especially in this country.
Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden;
but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for.
Every man has a house somewhere in the elaborate cosmos;
his house waits for him waist deep in slow Norfolk rivers
or sunning itself upon Sussex downs. Man has always been
looking for that home which is the subject matter of this book.
But in the bleak and blinding hail of skepticism to which he has
been now so long subjected, he has begun for the first time
to be chilled, not merely in his hopes, but in his desires.
For the first time in history he begins really to doubt the object
of his wanderings on the earth. He has always lost his way;
but now he has lost his address.
Under the pressure of certain upper-class philosophies
(or in other words, under the pressure of Hudge and Gudge)
the average man has really become bewildered about the goal of
his efforts; and his efforts, therefore, grow feebler and feebler.
His simple notion of having a home of his own is derided as bourgeois,
as sentimental, or as despicably Christian. Under various
verbal forms he is recommended to go on to the streets--
which is called Individualism; or to the work-house--which is
called Collectivism. We shall consider this process somewhat
more carefully in a moment. But it may be said here that Hudge
and Gudge, or the governing class generally, will never fail for
lack of some modern phrase to cover their ancient predominance.
The great lords will refuse the English peasant his three acres
and a cow on advanced grounds, if they cannot refuse it longer
on reactionary grounds. They will deny him the three acres
on grounds of State Ownership. They will forbid him the cow
on grounds of humanitarianism.
And this brings us to the ultimate analysis of this singular influence
that has prevented doctrinal demands by the English people. There are,
I believe, some who still deny that England is governed by an oligarchy.
It is quite enough for me to know that a man might have gone to sleep
some thirty years ago over the day's newspaper and woke up last week over
the later newspaper, and fancied he was reading about the same people.
In one paper he would have found a Lord Robert Cecil, a Mr. Gladstone,
a Mr. Lyttleton, a Churchill, a Chamberlain, a Trevelyan, an Acland.
In the other paper he would find a Lord Robert Cecil, a Mr. Gladstone,
a Mr. Lyttleton, a Churchill, a Chamberlain, a Trevelyan, an Acland.
If this is not being governed by families I cannot imagine what it is.
I suppose it is being governed by extraordinary democratic coincidences.
* * *
OPPRESSION BY OPTIMISM
But we are not here concerned with the nature and existence
of the aristocracy, but with the origin of its peculiar power,
why is it the last of the true oligarchies of Europe; and why does
there seem no very immediate prospect of our seeing the end of it?
The explanation is simple though it remains strangely unnoticed.
The friends of aristocracy often praise it for preserving
ancient and gracious traditions. The enemies of aristocracy
often blame it for clinging to cruel or antiquated customs.
Both its enemies and its friends are wrong. Generally speaking
the aristocracy does not preserve either good or bad traditions;
it does not preserve anything except game. Who would dream
of looking among aristocrats anywhere for an old custom?
One might as well look for an old costume! The god of the aristocrats
is not tradition, but fashion, which is the opposite of tradition.
If you wanted to find an old-world Norwegian head-dress, would you
look for it in the Scandinavian Smart Set? No; the aristocrats
never have customs; at the best they have habits, like the animals.
Only the mob has customs.
The real power of the English aristocrats has lain in exactly
the opposite of tradition. The simple key to the power of our upper
classes is this: that they have always kept carefully on the side
of what is called Progress. They have always been up to date,
and this comes quite easy to an aristocracy. For the aristocracy are
the supreme instances of that frame of mind of which we spoke just now.
Novelty is to them a luxury verging on a necessity. They, above all,
are so bored with the past and with the present, that they gape,
with a horrible hunger, for the future.
But whatever else the great lords forgot they never forgot that it
was their business to stand for the new things, for whatever was
being most talked about among university dons or fussy financiers.
Thus they were on the side of the Reformation against the Church,
of the Whigs against the Stuarts, of the Baconian science
against the old philosophy, of the manufacturing system
against the operatives, and (to-day) of the increased power
of the State against the old-fashioned individualists.
In short, the rich are always modern; it is their business.
But the immediate effect of this fact upon the question we
are studying is somewhat singular.
In each of the separate holes or quandaries in which the ordinary
Englishman has been placed, he has been told that his
situation is, for some particular reason, all for the best.
He woke up one fine morning and discovered that the public things,
which for eight hundred years he had used at once as inns
and sanctuaries, had all been suddenly and savagely abolished,
to increase the private wealth of about six or seven men.
One would think he might have been annoyed at that;
in many places he was, and was put down by the soldiery.
But it was not merely the army that kelp him quiet.
He was kept quiet by the sages as well as the soldiers;
the six or seven men who took away the inns of the poor told him
that they were not doing it for themselves, but for the religion
of the future, the great dawn of Protestantism and truth.
So whenever a seventeenth century noble was caught pulling
down a peasant's fence and stealing his field, the noble
pointed excitedly at the face of Charles I or James II
(which at that moment, perhaps, wore a cross expression)
and thus diverted the simple peasant's attention. The great Puritan
lords created the Commonwealth, and destroyed the common land.
They saved their poorer countrymen from the disgrace of paying
Ship Money, by taking from them the plow money and spade money
which they were doubtless too weak to guard. A fine old English
rhyme has immortalized this easy aristocratic habit--
You prosecute the man or woman Who steals the goose from off the common,
But leave the larger felon loose Who steals the common from the goose.
But here, as in the case of the monasteries, we confront the strange
problem of submission. If they stole the common from the goose,
one can only say that he was a great goose to stand it.
The truth is that they reasoned with the goose; they explained
to him that all this was needed to get the Stuart fox over seas.
So in the nineteenth century the great nobles who became
mine-owners and railway directors earnestly assured everybody
that they did not do this from preference, but owing to a newly
discovered Economic Law. So the prosperous politicians of our own
generation introduce bills to prevent poor mothers from going
about with their own babies; or they calmly forbid their tenants
to drink beer in public inns. But this insolence is not (as you
would suppose) howled at by everybody as outrageous feudalism.
It is gently rebuked as Socialism. For an aristocracy
is always progressive; it is a form of going the pace.
Their parties grow later and later at night; for they are trying
to live to-morrow.
* * *
THE HOMELESSNESS OF JONES
Thus the Future of which we spoke at the beginning has
(in England at least) always been the ally of tyranny.
The ordinary Englishman has been duped out of his old possessions,
such as they were, and always in the name of progress.
The destroyers of the abbeys took away his bread and gave him
a stone, assuring him that it was a precious stone, the white
pebble of the Lord's elect. They took away his maypole and his
original rural life and promised him instead the Golden Age
of Peace and Commerce inaugurated at the Crystal Palace. And now
they are taking away the little that remains of his dignity
as a householder and the head of a family, promising him
instead Utopias which are called (appropriately enough)
"Anticipations" or "News from Nowhere." We come back, in fact,
to the main feature which has already been mentioned.
The past is communal: the future must be individualist.
In the past are all the evils of democracy, variety and violence
and doubt, but the future is pure despotism, for the future
is pure caprice. Yesterday, I know I was a human fool,
but to-morrow I can easily be the Superman.
The modern Englishman, however, is like a man who should
be perpetually kept out, for one reason after another,
from the house in which he had meant his married life to begin.
This man (Jones let us call him) has always desired
the divinely ordinary things; he has married for love,
he has chosen or built a small house that fits like a coat;
he is ready to be a great grandfather and a local god.
And just as he is moving in, something goes wrong.
Some tyranny, personal or political, suddenly debars him from
the home; and he has to take his meals in the front garden.
A passing philosopher (who is also, by a mere coincidence, the man
who turned him out) pauses, and leaning elegantly on the railings,
explains to him that he is now living that bold life upon
the bounty of nature which will be the life of the sublime future.
He finds life in the front garden more bold than bountiful, and has
to move into mean lodgings in the next spring. The philosopher
(who turned him out), happening to call at these lodgings,
with the probable intention of raising the rent, stops to explain
to him that he is now in the real life of mercantile endeavor;
the economic struggle between him and the landlady is the only thing
out of which, in the sublime future, the wealth of nations can come.
He is defeated in the economic struggle, and goes to the workhouse.
The philosopher who turned him out (happening at that very moment
to be inspecting the workhouse) assures him that he is now at
last in that golden republic which is the goal of mankind;
he is in an equal, scientific, Socialistic commonwealth,
owned by the State and ruled by public officers; in fact,
the commonwealth of the sublime future.
Nevertheless, there are signs that the irrational Jones still
dreams at night of this old idea of having an ordinary home.
He asked for so little, and he has been offered so much.
He has been offered bribes of worlds and systems; he has been offered
Eden and Utopia and the New Jerusalem, and he only wanted a house;
and that has been refused him.
Such an apologue is literally no exaggeration of the facts
of English history. The rich did literally turn the poor out
of the old guest house on to the road, briefly telling them
that it was the road of progress. They did literally force them
into factories and the modern wage-slavery, assuring them all
the time that this was the only way to wealth and civilization.
Just as they had dragged the rustic from the convent food and ale
by saying that the streets of heaven were paved with gold,
so now they dragged him from the village food and ale by
telling him that the streets of London were paved with gold.
As he entered the gloomy porch of Puritanism, so he entered
the gloomy porch of Industrialism, being told that each of them
was the gate of the future. Hitherto he has only gone from prison
to prison, nay, into darkening prisons, for Calvinism opened
one small window upon heaven. And now he is asked, in the same
educated and authoritative tones, to enter another dark porch,
at which he has to surrender, into unseen hands, his children,
his small possessions and all the habits of his fathers.
Whether this last opening be in truth any more inviting than the old
openings of Puritanism and Industrialism can be discussed later.
But there can be little doubt, I think, that if some form
of Collectivism is imposed upon England it will be imposed,
as everything else has been, by an instructed political
class upon a people partly apathetic and partly hypnotized.
The aristocracy will be as ready to "administer" Collectivism as they
were to administer Puritanism or Manchesterism; in some ways such
a centralized political power is necessarily attractive to them.
It will not be so hard as some innocent Socialists seem to
suppose to induce the Honorable Tomnoddy to take over the milk
supply as well as the stamp supply--at an increased salary.
Mr. Bernard Shaw has remarked that rich men are better than poor men
on parish councils because they are free from "financial timidity."
Now, the English ruling class is quite free from financial timidity.
The Duke of Sussex will be quite ready to be Administrator of Sussex
at the same screw. Sir William Harcourt, that typical aristocrat,
put it quite correctly. "We" (that is, the aristocracy)
"are all Socialists now."
But this is not the essential note on which I desire to end.
My main contention is that, whether necessary or not,
both Industrialism and Collectivism have been accepted as necessities--
not as naked ideals or desires. Nobody liked the Manchester School;
it was endured as the only way of producing wealth.
Nobody likes the Marxian school; it is endured as the only way
of preventing poverty. Nobody's real heart is in the idea
of preventing a free man from owning his own farm, or an old
woman from cultivating her own garden, any more than anybody's
real heart was in the heartless battle of the machines.
The purpose of this chapter is sufficiently served in indicating
that this proposal also is a pis aller, a desperate second best--
like teetotalism. I do not propose to prove here that Socialism
is a poison; it is enough if I maintain that it is a medicine
and not a wine.
The idea of private property universal but private, the idea of families
free but still families, of domesticity democratic but still domestic,
of one man one house--this remains the real vision and magnet of mankind.
The world may accept something more official and general, less human
and intimate. But the world will be like a broken-hearted woman who makes
a humdrum marriage because she may not make a happy one; Socialism may
be the world's deliverance. but it is not the world's desire.
* * *
IMPERIALISM, OR THE MISTAKE ABOUT MAN
* * *
THE CHARM OF JINGOISM
I have cast about widely to find a title for this section; and I confess
that the word "Imperialism" is a clumsy version of my meaning. But no
other word came nearer; "Militarism" would have been even more misleading,
and "The Superman" makes nonsense of any discussion that he enters.
Perhaps, upon the whole, the word "Caesarism" would have been better;
but I desire a popular word; and Imperialism (as the reader will perceive)
does cover for the most part the men and theories that I mean to discuss.
This small confusion is increased, however, by the fact that I
do also disbelieve in Imperialism in its popular sense,
as a mode or theory of the patriotic sentiment of this country.
But popular Imperialism in England has very little to do
with the sort of Caesarean Imperialism I wish to sketch.
I differ from the Colonial idealism of Rhodes' and Kipling;
but I do not think, as some of its opponents do, that it
is an insolent creation of English harshness and rapacity.
Imperialism, I think, is a fiction created, not by English hardness,
but by English softness; nay, in a sense, even by English kindness.
The reasons for believing in Australia are mostly as sentimental
as the most sentimental reasons for believing in heaven.
New South Wales is quite literally regarded as a place where the wicked
cease from troubling and the weary are at rest; that is, a paradise
for uncles who have turned dishonest and for nephews who are born tired.
British Columbia is in strict sense a fairyland, it is a world where
a magic and irrational luck is supposed to attend the youngest sons.
This strange optimism about the ends of the earth is an English weakness;
but to show that it is not a coldness or a harshness it is quite
sufficient to say that no one shared it more than that gigantic
English sentimentalist--the great Charles Dickens. The end
of "David Copperfield" is unreal not merely because it is an
optimistic ending, but because it is an Imperialistic ending.
The decorous British happiness planned out for David Copperfield and Agnes
would be embarrassed by the perpetual presence of the hopeless tragedy
of Emily, or the more hopeless farce of Micawber. Therefore, both Emily
and Micawber are shipped off to a vague colony where changes
come over them with no conceivable cause, except the climate.
The tragic woman becomes contented and the comic man becomes responsible,
solely as the result of a sea voyage and the first sight of a kangaroo.
To Imperialism in the light political sense, therefore, my only
objection is that it is an illusion of comfort; that an Empire whose
heart is failing should be specially proud of the extremities,
is to me no more sublime a fact than that an old dandy whose
brain is gone should still be proud of his legs. It consoles men
for the evident ugliness and apathy of England with legends of fair
youth and heroic strenuousness in distant continents and islands.
A man can sit amid the squalor of Seven Dials and feel that
life is innocent and godlike in the bush or on the veldt.
Just so a man might sit in the squalor of Seven Dials and feel that
life was innocent and godlike in Brixton and Surbiton. Brixton and
Surbiton are "new"; they are expanding; they are "nearer to nature,"
in the sense that they have eaten up nature mile by mile.
The only objection is the objection of fact. The young men of Brixton
are not young giants. The lovers of Surbiton are not all pagan poets,
singing with the sweet energy of the spring. Nor are the people
of the Colonies when you meet them young giants or pagan poets.
They are mostly Cockneys who have lost their last music of real things
by getting out of the sound of Bow Bells. Mr. Rudyard Kipling,
a man of real though decadent genius, threw a theoretic glamour
over them which is already fading. Mr. Kipling is, in a precise
and rather startling sense, the exception that proves the rule.
For he has imagination, of an oriental and cruel kind, but he has it,
not because he grew up in a new country, but precisely because he grew
up in the oldest country upon earth. He is rooted in a past--
an Asiatic past. He might never have written "Kabul River"
if he had been born in Melbourne.
I say frankly, therefore (lest there should be any air of evasion),
that Imperialism in its common patriotic pretensions appears to me both
weak and perilous. It is the attempt of a European country to create
a kind of sham Europe which it can dominate, instead of the real Europe,
which it can only share. It is a love of living with one's inferiors.
The notion of restoring the Roman Empire by oneself and for oneself
is a dream that has haunted every Christian nation in a different shape
and in almost every shape as a snare. The Spanish are a consistent
and conservative people; therefore they embodied that attempt at Empire
in long and lingering dynasties. The French are a violent people,
and therefore they twice conquered that Empire by violence of arms.
The English are above all a poetical and optimistic people;
and therefore their Empire is something vague and yet sympathetic,
something distant and yet dear. But this dream of theirs of being
powerful in the uttermost places, though a native weakness, is still
a weakness in them; much more of a weakness than gold was to Spain
or glory to Napoleon. If ever we were in collision with our real
brothers and rivals we should leave all this fancy out of account.
We should no more dream of pitting Australian armies against German than
of pitting Tasmanian sculpture against French. I have thus explained,
lest anyone should accuse me of concealing an unpopular attitude,
why I do not believe in Imperialism as commonly understood.
I think it not merely an occasional wrong to other peoples,
but a continuous feebleness, a running sore, in my own.
But it is also true that I have dwelt on this Imperialism that is
an amiable delusion partly in order to show how different it is from
the deeper, more sinister and yet more persuasive thing that I have
been forced to call Imperialism for the convenience of this chapter.
In order to get to the root of this evil and quite un-English Imperialism
we must cast back and begin anew with a more general discussion
of the first needs of human intercourse.
* * *
WISDOM AND THE WEATHER
It is admitted, one may hope, that common things are never commonplace.
Birth is covered with curtains precisely because it is a staggering
and monstrous prodigy. Death and first love, though they happen
to everybody, can stop one's heart with the very thought of them.
But while this is granted, something further may be claimed.
It is not merely true that these universal things are strange;
it is moreover true that they are subtle. In the last analysis
most common things will be found to be highly complicated.
Some men of science do indeed get over the difficulty by dealing
only with the easy part of it: thus, they will call first
love the instinct of sex, and the awe of death the instinct
of self-preservation. But this is only getting over the difficulty
of describing peacock green by calling it blue. There is blue in it.
That there is a strong physical element in both romance and
the Memento Mori makes them if possible more baffling than if they
had been wholly intellectual. No man could say exactly how much
his sexuality was colored by a clean love of beauty, or by the mere
boyish itch for irrevocable adventures, like running away to sea.
No man could say how far his animal dread of the end was mixed
up with mystical traditions touching morals and religion.
It is exactly because these things are animal, but not
quite animal, that the dance of all the difficulties begins.
The materialists analyze the easy part, deny the hard part and go
home to their tea.
It is complete error to suppose that because a thing is vulgar
therefore it is not refined; that is, subtle and hard to define.
A drawing-room song of my youth which began "In the gloaming,
O, my darling," was vulgar enough as a song; but the connection
between human passion and the twilight is none the less an exquisite
and even inscrutable thing. Or to take another obvious instance:
the jokes about a mother-in-law are scarcely delicate,
but the problem of a mother-in-law is extremely delicate.
A mother-in-law is subtle because she is a thing like the twilight.
She is a mystical blend of two inconsistent things--
law and a mother. The caricatures misrepresent her;
but they arise out of a real human enigma. "Comic Cuts"
deals with the difficulty wrongly, but it would need
George Meredith at his best to deal with the difficulty rightly.
The nearest statement of the problem perhaps is this:
it is not that a mother-in-law must be nasty, but that she must
be very nice.
But it is best perhaps to take in illustration some daily
custom we have all heard despised as vulgar or trite.
Take, for the sake of argument, the custom of talking about
the weather. Stevenson calls it "the very nadir and scoff
of good conversationalists." Now there are very deep reasons
for talking about the weather, reasons that are delicate as well
as deep; they lie in layer upon layer of stratified sagacity.
First of all it is a gesture of primeval worship.
The sky must be invoked; and to begin everything with the weather
is a sort of pagan way of beginning everything with prayer.
Jones and Brown talk about the weather: but so do Milton
and Shelley. Then it is an expression of that elementary
idea in politeness--equality. For the very word politeness
is only the Greek for citizenship. The word politeness is akin
to the word policeman: a charming thought. Properly understood,
the citizen should be more polite than the gentleman; perhaps the
policeman should be the most courtly and elegant of the three.
But all good manners must obviously begin with the sharing of
something in a simple style. Two men should share an umbrella;
if they have not got an umbrella, they should at least share
the rain, with all its rich potentialities of wit and philosophy.
"For He maketh His sun to shine...." This is the second element
in the weather; its recognition of human equality in that we all have
our hats under the dark blue spangled umbrella of the universe.
Arising out of this is the third wholesome strain in the custom;
I mean that it begins with the body and with our inevitable
bodily brotherhood. All true friendliness begins with fire
and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost.
Those who will not begin at the bodily end of things are already
prigs and may soon be Christian Scientists. Each human soul
has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility
of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh
to meet mankind.
Briefly, in the mere observation "a fine day" there is the whole
great human idea of comradeship. Now, pure comradeship is another
of those broad and yet bewildering things. We all enjoy it;
yet when we come to talk about it we almost always talk nonsense,
chiefly because we suppose it to be a simpler affair than it is.
It is simple to conduct; but it is by no means simple to analyze.
Comradeship is at the most only one half of human life;
the other half is Love, a thing so different that one might fancy
it had been made for another universe. And I do not mean mere
sex love; any kind of concentrated passion, maternal love,
or even the fiercer kinds of friendship are in their nature alien
to pure comradeship. Both sides are essential to life; and both
are known in differing degrees to everybody of every age or sex.
But very broadly speaking it may still be said that women stand
for the dignity of love and men for the dignity of comradeship.
I mean that the institution would hardly be expected if the males
of the tribe did not mount guard over it. The affections
in which women excel have so much more authority and intensity
that pure comradeship would be washed away if it were not rallied
and guarded in clubs, corps, colleges, banquets and regiments.
Most of us have heard the voice in which the hostess tells her
husband not to sit too long over the cigars. It is the dreadful
voice of Love, seeking to destroy Comradeship.
All true comradeship has in it those three elements which I have
remarked in the ordinary exclamation about the weather. First, it has
a sort of broad philosophy like the common sky, emphasizing that we
are all under the same cosmic conditions. We are all in the same boat,
the "winged rock" of Mr. Herbert Trench. Secondly, it recognizes
this bond as the essential one; for comradeship is simply
humanity seen in that one aspect in which men are really equal.
The old writers were entirely wise when they talked of the equality
of men; but they were also very wise in not mentioning women.
Women are always authoritarian; they are always above or below;
that is why marriage is a sort of poetical see-saw. There are
only three things in the world that women do not understand;
and they are Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. But men (a class
little understood in the modern world) find these things the breath
of their nostrils; and our most learned ladies will not even begin
to understand them until they make allowance for this kind of
cool camaraderie. Lastly, it contains the third quality of the weather,
the insistence upon the body and its indispensable satisfaction.
No one has even begun to understand comradeship who does not accept
with it a certain hearty eagerness in eating, drinking, or smoking,
an uproarious materialism which to many women appears only hoggish.
You may call the thing an orgy or a sacrament; it is certainly
an essential. It is at root a resistance to the superciliousness
of the individual. Nay, its very swaggering and howling are humble.
In the heart of its rowdiness there is a sort of mad modesty; a desire
to melt the separate soul into the mass of unpretentious masculinity.
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