Darkness and the Light, by Olaf Stapledon

3 — Mankind at the Cross Roads

i. Rise and Fall of a German Reich

OF THE detailed historical events of this age of fluctuation I cannot recover much. Of the war which is present to me as I write this book I remember almost nothing. A few shreds of recollection suggest that it resulted in a British victory of sorts, but I place no reliance on this surmise. If it is correct, the great opportunity afforded by this victory, the opportunity of a generous peace and a federal order in Europe, must have been missed; for rival imperialisms continued to exist after that war and real peace was not established. Subsequent wars and upheavals come rather more clearly into my mind. For instance, I seem to remember a defeat of the democratic peoples, led at first by the British, but later by the North Americans, against a totalitarian Europe. For a while the struggle was between Britain alone and the whole of Europe, martialled once more by Germany. Not till the remnant of the British forces had been driven into Scotland, and were desperately holding a line roughly equivalent to the Roman Wall, did the American power begin to make itself felt, and then only for a while; for in America, as elsewhere, the old order was failing, its leaders had neither the imagination nor the courage to adjust themselves to the new world-conditions. Consequently, when at last their turn came they were quite incapable of organizing their haphazard capitalism for war. The American people began to realize that they were the victims of incompetence and treachery, and the population of the Atlantic seaboard demanded a new regime. In this state of affairs resistance became impossible. Britain was abandoned, and North America reverted to a precarious isolationism knowing that the struggle would very soon begin again.

This Euro–American war was certainly not the war which is being waged while I write this book, in spite of obvious similarities. At this time the Germans had recovered from that extravagant hooliganism which had turned the world against them in an earlier period. They had in a manner reverted from Nazism to the more respectable Prussianism. Other facts also show that this was not our present war. Both India and South Africa had left the British Empire and were already well-established independent states. Moreover, weapons were now of a much more lethal kind, and the American coast was frequently and extensively bombarded by fleets of European planes. In this war Scotland had evidently become the economic centre of gravity of Britain. The Lowlands were completely industrialized, and huge tidal electric generators crowded the western sounds. Tidal electricity had become the basis of Britain’s power. But the British, under their effete financial oligarchy, had not developed this new asset efficiently before the German attack began.

After the defeat of the democracies it seemed that the cause of freedom had been lost for ever. The Russians, whose initial revolutionary passion had long since been corrupted by the constant danger of attack and a consequent reversion to nationalism, now sacrificed all their hard-won social achievements for a desperate defence against the attempt of the German ruling class to dominate the planet. China, after her victory over Japan, had split on the rock of class strife. Between the Communist North and the Capitalist South there was no harmony. North America became a swarm of ‘independent’ states which Germany controlled almost as easily as the Latin South. India, freed from British rule, maintained a precarious unity in face of the German danger.

But the Totalitarian world was not to be. The end of the German power came in an unexpected manner, and through a strange mixture of psychological and economic causes. Perhaps the main cause was the decline of German intelligence. Ever since the industrial revolution the average intelligence of the European and American peoples had been slowly decreasing. Contraception had produced not only a decline of population but also a tendency of the more intelligent strains in the population to breed less than the dullards and half-wits. For in the competition for the means of comfort and luxury, the more intelligent tended in the long run to rise into the comfortable classes. There they were able to avail themselves of contraceptive methods which the poorer classes could less easily practise. And because they took more forethought than the dullards for their personal comfort and security, they were more reluctant to burden themselves with children. The upshot was that, while the population as a whole tended to decline, the more intelligent strains declined more rapidly than the less intelligent; and the European and American peoples, and later the Asiatics, began to suffer from a serious shortage of able leaders in politics, industry, science, and general culture.

In Germany the process had been intensified by the persecution of free intelligences by the former Hitlerian Third Reich, and by the subsequent Fourth Reich, which had defeated America not by superior intelligence but superior vitality and the resources of an empire which included all Europe and most of Africa.

The Fourth Reich had persecuted and destroyed the free intelligences in all its subject lands, save one, namely Norway, where it had been necessary to allow a large measure of autonomy.

The Norwegians, who many centuries earlier had been the terror of the European coastal peoples, had in recent times earned a reputation for peaceable common sense. Like several others of the former small democracies, they had attained a higher level of social development than their mightier neighbours. In particular they had fostered intelligence. After their conquest by the Fourth Reich their remarkable fund of superior minds had stood them in good stead. They had successfully forced their conquerors into allowing them a sort of ‘dominion status’. In this condition they had been able to carry on much of their former social life while fulfilling the functions which the conquerors demanded of them. Two influences, however gradually combined to change their docility into energy and berserk fury. One was the cumulative effect of their experience of German domination. Contact with their foreign masters filled them with contempt and indignation. The other influence was the knowledge that, under German exploitation, their country had become the world’s greatest generator of tidal power, and that this power was being used for imperial, not human, ends.

The German dictatorship had, indeed, treated the Norwegians in a very special manner. Other conquered peoples had been simply enslaved or actually exterminated. The British, for instance, had been reduced to serfdom under a German landed aristocracy. The Poles and Czechs and most of the French had been persecuted, prevented from mating and procreating, and finally even sterilized, until their stock had been completely destroyed. But the Scandinavian peoples were in a class apart. The Nordic myth had a strong hold on the German people. It was impossible to pretend that the Norwegians were not Nordic, more Nordic than the Germans, who were in fact of very mixed stock. Moreover Norwegian maritime prowess was necessary to the German rulers; and many Norwegian sailors were given responsible positions for the training of Germans and even the control of German ships. Finally, the exploitation of tidal power in the fjords had produced a large class of Norwegian technicians with highly specialized skill. Thus little by little the small Norwegian people attained for itself a privileged position in the German Empire. Prosperity and relative immunity from German tyranny had not brought acceptance of foreign domination. The Norwegians had preserved their independent spirit while other subject peoples had been utterly cowed by torture.

The initial fervour of the old Hitlerian faith had long since spent itself. Gone was the crazy zeal which had led millions of carefully indoctrinated young Germans to welcome death for the fatherland to drive their tanks not only over the fleeing refugees but over their own wounded, and to support a cruel tyranny throughout Europe. The German ruling minority was by now merely a highly organized, mechanically efficient, ruthless, but rather dull-witted and rather tired and cynical bureaucracy. The German people, who claimed to have taken over from the British the coveted ‘white man’s burden’, were in fact the docile serfs of a harsh and uninspired tyranny.

There came a time when the Reich was seriously divided over the question of succession to the semi-divine post of Fuhrer. (The original Fuhrer, of course, was by now a mythical figure in the past, and the empire was sprinkled with gigantic monuments to his memory.) Suddenly the Norwegians, seizing the opportunity afforded by dissension in the German aristocracy, set in action a long-prepared system of conspiracy. They seized the tidal generators and military centres, and declared Norway’s independence. They also issued a call to all freedom-loving peoples to rise against their tyrants. The Norwegians themselves were in a very strong position. Not only did they control the Reich’s main source of power, but also a large part of the mercantile marine and Imperial Navy. The huge sea-plane force was also mainly on their side. Though at first the rebellion seemed a forlorn hope, it soon spread to Britain and Northern France. Insurrection then broke out in Switzerland, Austria, and southern Germany. The decisive factors were the revived passion for freedom and for human kindness, and also the new, extremely efficient and marvellously light accumulator, which enabled not only ships but planes to be driven electrically. The new accumulator had been secretly invented in Norway and secretly manufactured in large quantities in Spitsbergen. Even before the insurrection many ships and planes had been secretly fitted with it. After the outbreak of war a great fleet of electric planes, far more agile than the old petrol planes, soon broke the nerve of the imperial force. Within a few weeks the rebels were completely victorious.

With the fall of the German Reich the human race was once more given an opportunity to turn the corner from barbarism to real civilization. Once more the opportunity was lost. The free Federation of Europe, which was expected to bring lasting peace, was in fact no free federation at all. Germany was divided into the old minor states, and these were disarmed. This would have been reasonable enough if the victorious Norwegians, realizing the precariousness of the new order, had not insisted on retaining control of their own tidal generators and their air fleet, which, though disarmed, could very easily be turned into bombers. Thus, they hoped, they would be able to control and guide the Federation during its delicate infancy. Inevitably the demand for ‘the disarmament of Norway’ was used by the secret enemies of the light in their effort to dominate the Federation. After a period of uncertain peace, full of suspicion and intrigue, came the great European Civil War between the Scandinavian peoples and the rest of the European Federation. When the federated peoples had reduced one another to exhaustion, Russia intervened, and presently the Russian Empire stretched from the Behring Straits to the Blasket Islands.

During the first, confused phase of my post-mortal experience I failed to gain any clear vision of events in Russia. I have an impression of alternating periods of light and darkness. Sometimes the truly socialistic and democratic forces dominated, sometimes the totalitarian and despotic. In spite of the grave perversion of the original generous revolutionary impulse, so much of solid worth had been achieved that the Soviet system of states was never in serious danger of disintegration. During the long peril from the German Fourth Reich the Russian dictator, who was now known as the ‘Chief Comrade’, enforced a very strict military discipline on the whole people. When Germany had fallen, a wave of militant communist imperialism swept over the vast Russian territories. Hosts of ‘Young Communists’ demanded that ‘the spirit of Lenin’ should now be spread by tank and aeroplane throughout the world. The conquest of Europe was the first great expression of this mood. But other forces were also at work in Russia. After the destruction of German power, true socialistic, liberal, and even reformed Christian tendencies once more appeared throughout European Russia and in Western Europe. The Western peoples had by now begun to sicken of the sham religion of ruthless power. Christian sects, experimental religious movements, liberal-socialist and ‘reformed communist’ conspiracies were everywhere leading a vigorous underground life. It seemed to me that I must be witnessing the turning-point of human history, that the species had at last learnt its lesson. But in this I was mistaken. What I was observing was but one of the many abortive upward fluctuations in the long age of inconclusive struggle between the will for the light and the will for darkness. For, though men utterly loathed the hardships of war, their moral energy remained slight. Their loyalty to the common human enterprise, to the spiritual task of the race, had not been strengthened.

Thus it was that the movement which had seemed to promise a regeneration of Russia succeeded only in creating an under-current of more lucid feeling and action. The power of the dictatorship remained intact and harsh; and was able, moreover, to inspire the majority, and particularly the young, with superb energy and devotion in the spreading of the Marxian ideals which the regime still claimed to embody, but had in fact sadly perverted.

ii. North America

I shall not pause to recount all the wars and social tumults of this age. I could not, if I would, give a clear report on them. I can remember only that waves of fruitless agony spread hither and thither over the whole planet like seismic waves in the planet’s crust. Fruitless the agony seemed to me because time after time hope was disappointed. The door to a new world was thrust ajar, then slammed.

Thus in India, when freedom had at last been gained, and under the stress of external danger Hindus and Mohammedans had sunk their differences, it seemed for a while that out of these dark Aryan peoples the truth was coming which could save mankind. For the ancient Indian wisdom, which permeated all the faiths, now came more clearly into view, stripped of the irrelevances of particular creeds. The new India, it seemed, while armed with European science and European resolution, would teach mankind a quietude and detachment which Europe lacked. But somehow the movement went awry, corrupted by the surviving power of the Indian princes and capitalists. The wealthy controlled the new state for their own ends. Public servants were venal and inefficient. And the ancient wisdom, though much advertised, became merely an excuse for tolerating gross social evils. When at last the armies of the Russian Empire poured through the Himalayan passes, the rulers of India could not cope with the attack, and the peoples of India were on the whole indifferent to a mere change of masters. Not until much later were the Indians to make their great contribution to human history.

There were other hopeful movements of regeneration. Obscurely I can remember a great and promising renaissance in North America. Adversity had purged Americans of their romantic commercialism. No longer could the millionaire, the demi-god of money power, command admiration and flattering imitation from the humble masses. Millionaires no longer existed. And the population was becoming conscious that personal money power had been the main cause of the perversion of the old civilization. For a while the Americans refused to admit to themselves that their ‘hundred per cent Americanism’ had been a failure; but suddenly the mental barrier against this realization collapsed. Within a couple of years the whole mental climate of the American people was changed. Up and down the continent men began to re-examine the principles on which American civilization had been based, and to sort out the essential values from the false accretions. Their cherished formulation of the Rights of Man was now supplemented by an emphatic statement of man’s duties. Their insistence on freedom was balanced by a new stress on discipline in service of the community. At the same time, in the school of adversity the former tendency to extravagance in ideas, either in the direction of hard-baked materialism or towards sentimental new-fangled religion, was largely overcome. The Society of Friends, who had always been a powerful sect in North America, now came into their own. They had been prominent long ago during the earliest phase of colonization from England, and had stood not only for gentleness and reasonableness towards the natives but also for individual courage, devotion, and initiative in all practical affairs. At their best they had always combined hard-headed business capacity with mystical quietism. At their worst, undoubtedly, this combination resulted in self-deception of a particularly odious kind. A ruthless though ‘paternal’ tyranny over employees was practised on weekdays, and on Sundays compensation and self-indulgence was found in a dream-world of religious quietism. But changed times had now brought about a revival and a purging. The undoctrinal mysticism of the Young Friends and their practical devotion to good works became a notable example to a people who were by now keenly aware of the need for this very combination.

Under the influence of the Friends and the growing danger from Russia, four North American states, Canada, the Atlantic Republic, the Mississippi Republic, and the Pacific Republic, were once more unified. North America became once more a great, though not the greatest, power. For a while, moreover, it looked as though North America would become the model community, destined to save mankind by example and by leadership. Here at last, it seemed, was the true though inarticulate and undoctrinal faith in the spirit. Here was the true liberalism of self-disciplined free citizens, the true communism of mutually respecting individuals. Rumour of this new happy society began to spread even in conquered Europe in spite of the Russian imperial censorship, and to hearten the many secret opponents of the dictatorship. Between the new North America and the new India there was close contact and interchange of ideas. From the Indian wisdom the Friends learned much, and they gave in return much American practical skill.

But it became clear that the American renaissance somehow lacked vitality. Somehow the old American forcefulness and drive had waned. On the surface all seemed well, and indeed Utopian. The population lived in security and frugal comfort. Class differences had almost wholly vanished. Education was consciously directed towards the creation of responsible citizens. European classical and Christian culture was studied afresh, with a new zeal and a new critical judgment; for it was realized that in the European tradition lay the true antidote to the new-fangled barbarism. Yet in spite of all this manifestation of sanity and good will, something was lacking. The American example appealed only to those who were already well-disposed. The great mass of mankind remained unimpressed. Many observers conceded that North America was a comfortable and amiable society; but it was stagnant, they said, and mediocre. It was incapable of giving a lead to a troubled world. No doubt this general ineffectiveness was partly due to the decline of average intelligence which North America shared with Europe. There was a lack of able leaders and men of far-reaching vision; and the average citizen, though well trained in citizenship, was mentally sluggish and incapable of clear-headed devotion to the ideals of his state. The new Russian imperialism, on the other hand, in spite of all its faults, combined the crusading and at heart mystical fervour of the short-lived German Fourth Reich with some measure at least of the fundamental rightness the original Russian revolution. In competition with the vigour and glamour of Russia, the American example had little power to attract men. Even in the South American continent the lead given by the North Americans proved after all ineffective. One by one the Southern states turned increasingly to Russia for guidance, or were forcibly annexed.

In the Northern Continent itself disheartenment was spreading. One of its causes, and one of its effects, was an increasingly rapid decline of population. Every inducement was made to encourage procreation, but in vain. The state granted high maternity subsidies, and honorific titles were offered to parents of large families. Contraception, though not illegal, was morally condemned. In spite of all this, the birth rate continued to decline, and the average age of the population to increase. Labour became a most precious commodity. Labour-saving devices were developed to a pitch hitherto unknown on the planet. Domestic service was completely eliminated by electrical contraptions. Transport over the whole country was carried out mainly by self-regulating railways. The predominantly middle-aged population felt more at home on the ground than in the air. There was no shortage of power, for the deeply indented north western coast-line afforded vast resources of tidal electricity. But in spite of this wealth of power and other physical resources North American society began to fall into disorder simply through its mediocre intelligence and increasing shortage of young people. Every child was brought up under the anxious care of the National Fertility Department. Every device of education and technical training was lavished upon him, or her. Every young man and every young woman was assured of prosperity and of a career of skilled work in service of the community. But the increasing preponderance of the middle-aged gave an increasingly conservative tilt to the whole social policy. In spite of lip-service to the old pioneering spirit and the old ideal of endless progress, the effective aim of this society was merely to maintain itself in stability and comfort. This was no satisfying ideal for the young. Those young people who were not cowed by the authority of their elders were flung into violent opposition to the whole social order and ideology of the Republic. They were thus very susceptible to the propaganda of Russian imperial communism, which under the old heart-stirring slogans of the Revolution was now making its supreme effort to dominate the world, and was able to offer great opportunities of enterprise and courage to its swarms of vigorous but uncritical young.

The fall of India dismayed the middle-aged North American community. When at last the Soviet dictatorship picked a quarrel with it, internal dissensions made resistance impossible. The regime of the middle-aged collapsed. The youthful minority seized power and welcomed the Russian aerial armada. The Hammer and Sickle, formerly the most heartening emblem of the will for the light, but now sadly debased, was displayed on the Capitol.

The whole double American continent now fell under the control of Russia, and with it Australia and New Zealand. In Southern and Central Africa, meanwhile, the Black populations, after a series of abortive and bloody rebellions, had at last overthrown their white masters, avenging themselves for centuries of oppression by perpetrating the greatest massacre of history. If the Negroes had been politically experienced they might now have become one of the most formidable states in the world, for the inland water power of their continent was immense. Even under European domination this had been to a large extent exploited, but vast resources remained to be tapped. Unfortunately the Black populations had been so long in servitude that they were incapable of organizing themselves and their country efficiently. The Negro states which emerged in Africa were soon at loggerheads with one another. When foreign oppression had been abolished, unity of purpose ceased; and the condition of Africa was one of constant petty wars and civil wars. Little by little however, Russian imperialism, profiting by Negro disunity, annexed the whole of Africa.

iii. Russia and China

One power alone in all the world now remained to be brought within the Russian grasp, and this was potentially the greatest power of all, namely China. It was in the relations between Russia and China that the discrepancy in my experience first became evident, and the two parallel histories of mankind emerged. Since these two great peoples bulk so largely in my story, I shall dwell for a while on the forces which had moulded them.

The first Russian revolution, under Lenin, had been mainly a groping but sincere expression of the will for true community, and also an act of vengeance against a cruel and inefficient master class. When the leaders of the Revolution had established their power, they proceeded to remake the whole economy of Russia for the benefit of the workers. Foreign hostility, however, forced them to sacrifice much to military necessity. Not only the physical but also the mental prosperity of the population suffered. What should have become a population of freely inquiring, critical, and responsible minds became instead a mentally-regimented population, prone to mob enthusiasm and contempt for unorthodoxy. Danger favoured the dictatorship of one man and the dominance of a disciplined and militarized party. The will for true community tended more and more to degenerate into the passion for conformity within the herd and for triumph over the herd’s enemies.

For a long while, for many decades or possibly a few centuries, the struggle between the light and the darkness in Russia fluctuated. There were periods when it seemed that discipline would be relaxed for the sake of liberal advancement in education. But presently foreign danger, real or fictitious, or else some threat of internal conflict would become an excuse for the intensification of tyranny. Thousands of officials would be shot, the army and the factories purged of disaffected persons. Education would be cleansed of all tendency to foster critical thought.

The two military regimes which now vied with one another for control of the planet were in many respects alike. In each of them a minority held effective power over the whole society, and in each a single individual was at once the instrument and the wielder of that power. Each dictatorship imposed upon its subjects a strict discipline and a stereotyped ideology which, in spite of its much emphasized idiosyncracies, was in one respect at least identical with the ideology of its opponent; for both insisted on the absolute subordination of the individual to the state, yet in both peoples there was still a popular conviction that the aim of social planning should be fullness of life for all individuals.

Between the two world powers there were great differences. Russia had been first in the field, and had triumphed largely through the mental bankruptcy of European civilization. Though the Russian culture was itself an expression of that civilization, the Russians were relatively an uncivilized race, which had found no great difficulty in breaking away from a lightly imposed alien ideology. China, on the other hand, boasted the oldest civilization of the planet, and one which was more conservative than any other. Moreover, while the Russians had asserted themselves against a decadent but partially civilized Europe, and had always been secretly overawed by Europe’s cultural achievement, the Chinese had asserted themselves against a people whom they regarded as upstarts and barbarians, the Japanese. More consciously than the Russians they had fought not only for social justice but for civilization, for culture, and the continuity of their tradition.

Whatever the defects of the Chinese tradition, in one respect it had been indirectly of immense value. Among both rich and poor the cult of the family had persisted throughout Chinese history, and had survived even the modern revolutionary period. In many ways this cult, this obsession, had been a reactionary influence, but in two respects it had been beneficial. It had prevented decline of population; and, more important, it had prevented a decline of intelligence. In China as elsewhere the more intelligent had tended to rise into the more comfortable circumstances. But whereas in Europe and America the more prosperous classes had failed to breed adequately, in China the inveterate cult of family ensured that they should do so. In post-revolutionary China the old love of family was a useful stock on which to graft a new biologically-justified respect not merely for family as such but for those stocks which showed superior intelligence or superior social feeling. Unfortunately, though public opinion did for a while move in this direction, the old financial ruling families, seeing their dominance threatened by upstart strains, used all their power of propaganda and oppression to stamp out this new and heretical version of the old tradition. Thus, though on the whole the Chinese Empire was richer in intelligence than the Russian, it seriously squandered its resources in this most precious social asset. And later, as I shall tell, the reactionary policy of the ruling caste threatened this great people with complete bankruptcy of mental capacity.

In social organization there were differences between imperial Russia and imperial China. In Russia the heroic attempt to create a communist state had finally gone astray through the moral deterioration of the Communist Party. What had started as a devoted revolutionary corps had developed as a bureaucracy which in effect owned the whole wealth of the empire. Common ownership theoretically existed, but in effect it was confined to the Party, which thus became a sort of fabulously wealthy monastic order. In its earlier phase the Party was recruited by strict social and moral testing, but latterly the hereditary principle had crept in, so that the Party became an exclusive ruling caste. In China, under the influence partly of Russian communism, partly of European capitalism, a similar system evolved, but one in which the common ownership of the ruling caste as a whole was complicated by the fact that the great families of the caste secured a large measure of economic autonomy. As in Japan at an earlier stage, but more completely and definitely, each great department of production became the perquisite of a particular aristocratic, or rather plutocratic, family. Within each family, common ownership was strictly maintained.

There was a deep difference of temper between the two peoples. Though the Russian revolutionaries had prided themselves on their materialism, the Russian people retained a strong though unacknowledged tendency towards mysticism. Their veneration of Lenin, which centred round his embalmed body in the Kremlin, was originally simple respect for the founder of the new order; but little by little it acquired a character which would have called from Lenin himself condemnation and ridicule. The phraseology of dialectical materialism came to be fantastically reinterpreted in such a way as to enable the populace to think of ‘matter’ as a kind of deity, with Marx as the supreme prophet and Lenin as the terrestrial incarnation of the God himself. Marx’s system was scientific in intention, and it claimed to be an expression of intelligence operating freely on the data of social life. But the early Marxists had insisted, quite rightly, that reason was no infallible guide, that it was an expression of social causes working through the individual’s emotional needs. This sound psychological principle became in time a sacred dogma, and during the height of Russian imperial power the rejection of reason was as complete and as superstitious as it had been in Nazi Germany. Men were able, while accepting all the social and philosophical theories of Marx, to indulge in all kinds of mystical fantasies.

In this matter the Chinese were very different from the Russians. Whatever the truth about ancient China, the China that had freed itself from Japan was little interested in the mystical aspect of experience. For the Chinese of this period common sense was absolute. Even in regard to science, which for so many Russians had become almost a religion, the Chinese maintained their common-sense attitude. Science for them was not a gospel but an extremely useful collection of precepts for gaining comfort or power. When the educated Russian spoke of the far-reaching philosophical significance of materialistic science, the educated Chinese would generally smile and shrug his shoulders. Strange that the fanatical materialist was more addicted to metaphysical speculation and mystical fantasy, and the unspeculative adherent of common sense was in this respect capable of greater piety towards the occult depth of reality.

The culture of the new China was often regarded as ‘Eighteenth Century’ in spirit, but at its best it included also a tacit intuitive reverence for the mystery which encloses human existence. Even after the bitter struggle against the Japanese there remained something eighteenth century about the educated Chinese, something of the old urbanity and liking for decency and order. The old respect for learning, too, remained, though the kind of learning which was now necessary to the aspiring government official was very different from that which was required in an earlier age. Then, all that was demanded was familiarity with classical texts; now, the candidate had to show an equally minute acquaintance with the lore of physics, biology, psychology, economics, and social science. In the new China as in old, the supreme interest of the intellectuals was not theoretical, as it had been with the Greeks, nor religious, as with the Jews, nor mystical, as with the Indians, nor scientific and industrial, as with the Europeans, but social. For them, as for their still-revered ancestors, the all absorbing problem was to discover and practise the right way of living together.

To understand the Chinese social ideas of this period with their emphasis at once on freedom and self-discipline for the common task, one must bear in mind the effects of the Japanese wars. At the outset the Chinese had been hopelessly divided against themselves, and the Japanese had profited by their discord. But invasion united them, and to the surprise of the world they showed great skill and devotion in reorganizing their whole economy to resist the ruthless enemy. Though their armies were driven inland, they contrived to create a new China in the west. There, great factories sprang up, great universities were founded. There, the young men and women of the new China learned to believe in their people’s mission to free the world from tyranny and to found a world-civilization which should combine the virtues of the ancient and the Modern.

During the first phase of the resistance against Japan, during the emergence of the new national consciousness which was also a new consciousness of mankind, the whole resources of the state and the whole energy of the people were concentrated on defence. Arms had to be bought or made, armies raised. And the new soldiers had to be politically trained so that each of them should be not merely an efficient fighter but also a radiating centre of the new ideas. Education, military and civilian, was one of the state’s main cares. Under the influence of a number of brilliant minds there appeared the outline of the old new culture. Based on the ethics of the ancient China, but influenced also by Christianity, by European democracy, by European science, by Russian communism, it was at the same time novel through and through.

Unfortunately, though the ideas that inspired the new China included common service, common sacrifice, and common ownership, the structure of Chinese society was still in part capitalist. Though under the stress of War the commercial and financial oligarchy sacrificed much, freely or under compulsion, it managed to retain its position as the effective power behind the throne of the people’s representatives, and later behind the dictator. In the period of acute danger this power had been exercised secretly, and had effected intrigues with the similar power in Japan. Later, when the tide had turned, when the Japanese armies were either surrounded or in flight to the coast, the plea of national danger was no longer sufficiently urgent to subdue or disguise the efforts of finance to re-establish itself. A period of violent internal strain was followed by a civil war. Once more the rice plains were overrun by troops and tanks, railways were destroyed, cities bombed, savage massacres perpetrated in the name of freedom or justice or security.

The result of the war was that Communism triumphed in the North, Capitalism in the South. For a while the two states maintained their independence, constantly intriguing against one another. The North, of course, depended largely on Russian support, and as Russia was at this time triumphantly expanding over Europe, it looked as though South China must soon succumb. But Russia, though by now the greatest military power in the world, was no longer a revolutionary and inspiring influence. The jargon of communism was still officially used, but its spirit had vanished; much as, in an earlier age, the jargon of liberal democracy was used in support of capitalist exploitation. Consequently the leaders of the South were able to defeat communist propaganda both in their own country and in the North by ardent appeals to Chinese nationalism. The result was that after a while the nationalists seized power in the North. There followed a solemn act of union between the North and South Chinese states. And thus was created the formidable Chinese financial-military dictatorship.

While the Russian Empire was busy digesting America and Africa, the Chinese would-be empire was consolidating itself throughout eastern Asia. In the north, Japan, Korea, Manchuria and Mongolia, in the south, Assam, Siam, Burma and the East Indies, were one by one brought within the new empire. Tibet, which had formerly been part of the ancient Chinese Empire, was able to maintain a precarious independence by playing off each of its formidable neighbours against the other.

The period of human history that I have been describing may seem to have been one in which the will for darkness triumphed, but in fact it was not. It was merely as I have said, a phase in the long age of balance between the light and the dark. Neither of the two empires that now competed for mastery over the planet was wholly reactionary. In each great group of peoples a large part of the population, perhaps the majority, still believed in friendliness and reasonableness, and tried to practice them. When the sacrifice was not too great, they even succeeded. In personal contacts the form and often the spirit of Christian behaviour or of the ancient Chinese morality were still evident. Even in indirect social relations liberal impulses sometimes triumphed. Moreover in, both empires an active minority worked vigorously for the light, urging humane conduct and propagating the idea of a just social order in which all might find fulfilment. In fact on both sides the more intelligent of the adherents of the light confidently looked forward to a great and glorious change, if not in the near future, at least in the lifetime of their children. Even the rulers themselves, the military-political groups which controlled the two empires, believed sincerely not indeed in radical change, but in their mission to rule the world and lead it to a vaguely conceived Utopia of discipline and martial virtue. In neither empire was there at this time the ruthless lust for power and delight in cruelty which had for a while dominated Germany. Between the rulers of the two empires there was an ambiguous relationship. Though each desired to conquer the other by diplomacy or war, and though to each the social ideas and the forms of social behaviour propagated by the other were repugnant, yet, both agreed in regarding something else as more repugnant, namely the overthrow of their own state by their own progressive minority. Consequently their policy was guided not only by fluctuations in their power in relation to the enemy but also by the strength or weakness of their own progressives. Sincerely, and sometimes even with sincere reluctance, they used the plea of external danger to enforce stricter discipline at home. Yet at times when social upheaval seemed imminent they would not scruple to ask the external enemy to ease his pressure for a while. And invariably the request was granted; for neither of the ruling groups wished to see its opponents overthrown in revolution.

iv. The Rise of Tibet

The life and death struggle which at last broke out between the empires of Russia and China centred upon Tibet. More important, it was seemingly in Tibet that the balance between the will for darkness and the will for the light was finally destroyed. It is necessary therefore to examine the fortunes of the Tibetans in some detail.

Although their lofty, secluded, and mainly arid land had formerly been an outpost of the ancient Chinese Empire, it had always maintained a measure of independence. During China’s long struggle with Japan this independence had become absolute, and henceforth the clerical oligarchy of Tibet maintained its freedom by playing off Russia and China against one another. Within the Tibetan frontiers there was a constant struggle between the secret propagandists of Russia and those of China, but the Tibetan government put up a strong resistance against both. Ever since the age of the commercial expansion of Europe Tibet had fought for the preservation of native culture. Foreigners had been excluded from the country. Foreign loans for exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources had been refused. Little by little, however, the barriers had broken down. European and American, and subsequently Russian and Chinese, goods and ideas had found their way into the high valleys and plains. Modern aids to agriculture, modern methods of transport, the cinema, the radio, seemed to threaten to destroy the individuality of this last stronghold of unmechanized culture.

But in the case of Tibet, forewarned was indeed forearmed. After a period of internal conflict an economically progressive, but culturally conservative, party was able to seize power and effect a revolution in the economic life of the country. The new rulers, the new advisers of the Grand Lama, wisely distinguished between the material achievements of modernism and its social and moral absurdities. They undertook to modernize their country materially and even to some extent mentally, while preserving the essentials of the native cultural life. In this they were but following in the footsteps of the Japanese, but with the tragic example of that upstart modern society ever before them. Moreover in the Tibetan culture there was something far deeper, more spiritual and more hardy than in the culture of Japan. The natural poverty of the country, too, had proved a blessing. Powerful neighbours regarded Tibet as not worth systematic exploitation or conquest; and the belated native attempt to develop the country without foreign aid could not produce, even if it had been intended to do so, anything like the flood of luxury and the insane lust for commercial power which had enervated the dominant class in Europe. Physically Tibetan resources were indeed negligible. Save for certain remaining deposits of gold, mostly in the eastern part of the country, there was little mineral wealth, and agriculture was hobbled by severe shortage of water. Even pasture was at first desperately meagre. Sheep and cattle, however, and particularly the hardy native yak, formed the mainstay of the population. The government undertook a great irrigation scheme; with the willing and even heroic co-operation of the people. Within a few decades, it was hoped, much of the country would be capable of intensive cultivation.

But the main resources of Tibet were the people themselves. A pacific, industrious, and sturdy folk, they had been encouraged to regard themselves not as a backward race doomed to succumb to foreign powers, but as the custodians of the ancient wisdom in a period of worldwide darkness. Some of their recent leaders had suggested also that the Tibetan people must now become the pioneers of a new and comprehensive wisdom in which ancient and modern should be combined more significantly than was possible, for instance, in the depraved communities of Russia and China.

The leaders of the first Tibetan revolution, though they saw vaguely the need to modify the native culture, were not in practice able to carry forward the great process of development which they had started. There had to be a second revolution, which was led by the forward-looking section of the Lama class, with the backing of the people. This new class of leaders had come into being through the first revolution. A measure of frugal prosperity had increased the people’s leisure and thoughtfulness. Though they were eager for certain physical improvements to their country, they had escaped the dangerous spell of modern industrialism, for that simple faith had by now been discredited among thoughtful people throughout the world. Though these ‘servants of the light’, as they called themselves, welcomed the scientific education which the government offered them, they also welcomed its insistence on the ancient wisdom. Indeed the young began flocking into the monasteries, and particularly to the houses of the reformed, modernistic monastic orders. The leaders of this new Lama class were persons who, after being well grounded in the principles of Buddhism, had in their maturity been greatly influenced by modern ideas without being false to the essence of the native culture. Most of them had spent a year or two in China or India, many in Russia, some in America, where they had been impressed by the Friends. Foreign contacts had made them realize fully the superstition and hypocrisy of the worst type of Lamas and the shallow pretentiousness of much of the orthodox learning. But this disillusionment had merely brought out more clearly the truth which had been perverted. This, they affirmed, was a truth not of intellect but of intuition. It was a feeling or apprehension of something which put all things into their true perspective. The whole intellectual edifice of Buddhism, they said, was an attempt, sometimes sound sometimes false, to elucidate this inarticulate discovery. And the discovery itself was to be won not at a stroke but progressively, through a long discipline of actual life. In modernism also they found a truth of feeling. The real achievement of modern culture, apart from science, they summarized under three headings; first, its insistence on action, individual and social, as opposed to Eastern quietism; second, its demand for equality of opportunity for all human beings; and, finally, its understanding of the primitive unconscious sources of all human thought and feeling.

The new monastic orders were at first tolerated and even encouraged by the Lhasa oligarchy, but presently they were reprimanded for stirring up unrest. For though each had its headquarters in some craggy monastery, the inmates travelled periodically, exhorting the people. They were in fact something between monks, friars, and revolutionaries. They preached a sort of religious communism, and demanded the abdication of the ruling class, the wealthy monastic orders. The crisis came when the new Lamas renounced the celibacy which for centuries had been accepted by the monastic class. The motive of this change was a thoroughly modernistic motive. It was realized in the new monasteries that the two most precious innate social capacities were the disposition for genuine community and the capacity for intelligent action. It was realized also that, although the average level of intelligence had not sunk so far in Tibet as in more advanced countries, there was a steady drain of the more intelligent into the celibate monastic orders. This, said the servants of the light, must stop. Recognizing the importance of self-denial for spiritual discipline, they recognized also the importance of propagating intelligence. They therefore boldly affirmed their intention of striving for complete spiritual discipline and insight though ‘unsupported by the prop of celibacy’. Biological responsibility, they said, must not be shirked by the servants of the light, even though they must assume other weighty responsibilities. Not only so, but the experience of family life, with all its trials and all its mental enrichment, must not be shirked by those who undertook to lead and govern the people. They recognized that family life must not be allowed to absorb too much attention, but to avoid this they advocated that the state should assume the final responsibility for the upbringing of all children.

The renunciation of celibacy and the attack on the ruling class inevitably caused a serious conflict between the old and the new monastic orders. Inevitably the Grand Lama excommunicated the servants of the light, and finally outlawed them. Civil war followed. Since the Young Lamas, the servants of the light, were strongly supported by the people, their victory was decisive. It happened that at this critical moment of Tibetan history neither Russia nor China was in a position to interfere effectively, because a move by either would have precipitated an attack by the other; and since internal unrest in both empires was grave, war would have turned into civil war. So the second Tibetan revolution was successfully accomplished, and a new Tibet was founded, a society which to all earlier statesmen would have seemed a fantastic dream.

While modest economic development was continued, the main work of the new government was to educate the people in citizenship and in the new, purged version of the ancient culture. At the same time equality of opportunity for the rising generation, opportunity both economic and educational, was made absolute. In the new constitution ultimate power lay with the whole adult population. The constitution could be altered only by their elected assembly, which also could depose the government or withhold supplies. Current legislation, however, was carried out not by the general assembly but by a body elected by a section of the population known as the Active Citizens. These were men and women who had qualified by undertaking certain kinds of social service and by passing certain intelligence tests and academic examinations. The Active Citizens elected representatives from among themselves, but only those who had completed a rigorous political training, practical and theoretical, could stand for election. Parallel with this system there was a kind of Soviet system, based on occupation. All important legislation had to be sanctioned both by the representatives of the Active Citizens and by the body which formed the elected apex of this occupational system. This constitution could never have been put into action had there not already existed throughout the country a high standard of political education and a body of trusted leaders, proved in the revolution.

The new government at once passed a mass of progressive legislation. Ownership of all means of production was vested in the state, but delegated, with suitable checks, to the occupations themselves. In particular, the peasants were assured of ownership of their land. For some purposes their control was individualistic, and for other purposes co-operative. The government also issued ‘an appeal to all persons of goodwill throughout the world’ to work with new courage to found a new and unified world order, ‘to establish freedom and the rule of the spirit’. The Tibetans, it declared, dedicated themselves absolutely to this end.

It is to this point of the history of man that I shall return when I begin to tell of the triumph of the will for light. Meanwhile I must from this point pursue the story of increasing darkness; for at this very moment, when seemingly the will for the light had gained unprecedented power, the will for darkness gathered its strength for final triumph.

The actual bifurcation of history may have begun long before this date. It may have begun in China, in Russia, in America, in Britain, or in all these countries at different dates. But equally it may well be that Tibet was the crucial point. Whatever the truth about the actual bifurcation, the relations of the new Tibet with its two mighty neighbours constituted the occasion on which the great duplication became unmistakable and irrevocable. Henceforth my experience was dual. On the one hand I witnessed the failure of the Tibetan renaissance, and the destruction of the Tibetan people. This was followed by the final Russo–Chinese war which unified the human race but also undermined its capacity. On the other hand I saw the Tibetans create, seemingly in the very jaws of destruction, a community such as man had never before achieved. And this community, I saw, so fortified the forces of the light in the rival empires that the war developed into a revolutionary war which spread over the whole planet, and did not end until the will for the light had gained victory everywhere.


Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30