Saints and Revolutionaries, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 4

Revolutionaries, and Metaphysics

I NOW turn to consider the contribution of a temper and a doctrine, very different both from the saint's and from the sceptic's.

The genuine revolutionary lives wholly for the revolution, as the genuine saint lives wholly for his God. Like the saint, the sincere revolutionary is inspired by generous feeling for his fellow men. He is possessed, obsessed, by the spirit of comradeship, in fact by what Christians claim to be the truly Christian spirit, the spirit of active love. To regard the revolutionary as possessed by hate, as many affect to do, is to miss the truth completely. Can there ever have been a more contemptible spectacle in the sordid history of human affairs than the concerted effort of a wealthy and parasitic class to discredit the revolutionaries by misrepresenting their righteous indignation as mere hate and envy? By their fruits ye shall know them. The fruits of the revolutionary are life-long courageous efforts to defend the oppressed.

I have mainly in mind the sincere kind of Marxian revolutionary, because he is the effective champion of revolution in our day. But much that I shall say about the behaviour, as distinct from the theories, of revolutionaries applies to any kind of genuine revolutionary, whether Marxian or Anarchist or what not. Even among professed advocates of Fascism there are almost certainly many whom I should regard as genuine though terribly misguided revolutionaries. Much that I shall say is true of them also.

The word genuine, of course, is necessary. The sham revolutionary is often a very plausible imitation. It is worth noting that there are two kinds of sham revolutionaries. First, there are some, certainly, in whom the ruling motive is no longer (if it ever was) love or comradeship but simply envy and hate. These glory in hate, and thereby do much harm to the cause. In this they are similar to some sham saints who are more concerned for the damnation of sinners than for the salvation of the elect. Hate can be a disinterested passion, in the sense that a man can sacrifice everything, even his life, for sheer hate. It follows that hate can also be a prodigious source of energy. Some sincere revolutionaries therefore deliberately cultivate it in themselves and others. I believe that this is a short-sighted policy, for in the long run hate poisons the spirit of the individual and of the revolution.

The other kind of sham revolutionary is much the commoner kind. These are the self-seekers, conscious or unconscious, who masquerade as revolutionaries, hoping to secure private advancement or prestige by an appearance of revolutionary zeal. The sham revolutionary of this commoner kind tries to give the impression that he is living wholly for the revolution while he is in fact assiduously avoiding all serious risks. Most of these people do, no doubt, want a revolution, or at least they think they do; but they do not want it whole-heartedly. Some do not really want it at all. They merely want to make profit out of the idea of it, either by talking impressively about it, or by gaining power and prestige through the control of some revolutionary organization, or by actually drawing pay from revolutionary funds. In the sham revolutionary of this type, self-interest and self-respect feed upon the possibility of an ever-unfulfilled revolution. Naturally he is reluctant to set in motion any great change which might destroy his comfortable position. In fact he is a conservative in revolutionary clothing. The genuine revolutionary not only desires the revolution more than anything else; conscious that he would sacrifice himself for it, he is ready to sacrifice others if they stand in the way. The sham revolutionary, on the other hand, though he will sacrifice others, will not when it comes to the point sacrifice himself. Both the genuine revolutionary and the genuine saint habitually and heroically transcend the urge of self-regard; their shams do not.

But between the genuine saint and the genuine revolutionary there is a great gulf, which appears! not only in their professions but in their behaviour. The saint is chiefly concerned with individuals and their personal relations with one another. The revolutionary is interested in groups and their mutual repercussions.

This statement may perhaps seem untrue. The saint himself, of course, is concerned not only with the individual but with masses of individuals. And the revolutionary, the genuine revolutionary, is in a sense concerned primarily not with abstract groups or classes but with the well-being of the individuals that compose them. His controlling motive is a passionate will to relieve hosts of individuals from tyranny and frustration. It is because he so vividly realizes this tyranny, and the day-by-day frustration of John Smith and Joan Brown, that he devotes himself to revolution.

All the same, it is true and important that, while the saint's main interest is in individuals, the revolutionary's is in groups. For the texture of the saint's behaviour is made up largely of acts directed toward the strengthening of individuality in particular individuals, while the revolutionary's behaviour is mainly composed of acts directed toward strengthening group-consciousness in masses of individuals, or toward controlling in one manner or another the thought and action of groups. In fact the saint is more interested in, individuality and the revolutionary in sociality.

This preponderant interest in sociality sometimes leads revolutionaries to disparage individuality and hypostatize society. They realize vividly that the individual mind is an expression of its social environment. And in spite of their fundamental concern for the individual's fulfilment they tend to subordinate him to the large pattern of social relationships. And though their source of inspiration is the will to free the oppressed individual, they seek meanwhile to discipline him for the revolution. The Party members regard themselves as consecrated to the task of spreading a gospel not only of service but of self-abnegation, and moreover of obedience to revolutionary authority. They insist that the individual cannot fulfil himself save as an instrument of society, or a channel for social forces. Idiosyncrasy and eccentricity they tend to condemn. Its expression in culture they are apt to regard as mere "escapism."

In times of desperate social crisis this attitude may be justified. But the fact that revolutionaries incline emotionally in this direction makes it likely that they will too readily conform to revolutionary orthodoxy, and too readily insist on conformity in others.

The genuine saint is not in danger of succumbing to herd-mindedness, or of imposing herd-mindedness on others. He is too self-conscious either to desire to bay with the pack or to seek to be the mouthpiece and leader of the pack. The saint, of course, regards community as the supreme human value; but the community that he applauds is essentially a community of self-aware and other-aware individuals. His particular danger, avoided, of course, by the best of his kind, is not herd-mindedness but a kind of individualism, not selfish individualism, but the individualism which inclines to over-estimate the worth of private moral intuitions. With the revolutionary the reverse is the case. He is impressed by social forces and mass movements of opinion. He distrusts private intuitions and all eccentricity. He has an admirably clear consciousness of the form of existing society, and of its rottenness compared with the society that he desires; but in comparison with the saint he seems to be only superficially self-conscious, and therefore only superficially other-conscious. He may, of course, be intensely, but is not penetratingly conscious of himself; and consequently he cannot be penetratingly conscious of others.

This statement may seem unjustified. The revolutionary, I may be told, is more, not less, penetratingly self-conscious than the saint; since he is more clearly aware of the way in which motives are determined by unconscious influences, such as the pressure of the economic environment. The saint, according to the revolutionary, is the supreme self-deceiver.

This view is surely mistaken. The revolutionary has, of course, a certain kind of knowledge of himself. He has the normal acquaintance with himself as needing food, success, comradeship, and so on. But beyond this his knowledge of himself is a scientific, abstract, theoretical, indirect kind of knowledge. It is not derived from meticulous self-scrutiny, as the saint's is, but from scientific and sociological theories.

In saying this I do not intend to condemn scientific knowledge. Physiology, psychology, anthropology, sociology have an important part to play in clarifying self-knowledge. But they are only aids. Self-knowledge must be founded on minute observation of one's actual experience and motives.

Nor do I intend to condemn the revolutionary. It is no more his function to be deeply conscious of individuality than it is the function of the saint to be an effective politician. Each of them, of course, if he is to be true to his own calling, must to some extent share in the others' special aptitude. The saint must think socially. The revolutionary, on his side, must at least have intense consciousness of certain important but simple aspects of individuality which in the less fortunate classes are grossly frustrated.

Moreover there is, of course, an important identity in the emotional experience of the saint and the revolutionary. Both feel warmly toward the average individual. Not princes, politicians, intellectuals, great ecclesiastics, or great revolutionary leaders do they cherish, but Everyman.

This democratic feeling may be combined, in both saints and revolutionaries, with an aristocratic sense that some individuals are much more developed, more awakened, than others, and more valuable to society. Some, indeed, rise much further than others beyond the merely animal mentality. They are capable of much more precise, subtle and comprehensive awareness, and of much more integrated conduct. But this recognition of the different natural ranks of men is always subordinate. It is a sense of the differences of attainment of the members of one family. Always there is a tacit assumption that even the weakest of the brethren or of the comrades is potentially equal to the leader, the eldest brother.

In the pure aristocrat, on the other hand, whether the social or the intellectual aristocrat, the sense of difference is such that average individuals are regarded as an inferior species. Saints and revolutionaries both reject this cult of the superior person, and find in the experience of common men and women, united in practical comradeship, the great source of inspiration and enlightenment. In their view the life of aristocrats, social or intellectual, is artificial and false. Divorced from the community life of the masses, it develops an exaggerated cult of refinement and of the separate individual. For my part, though I see little value in a social aristocracy, I am convinced that an intellectual, or rather cultural, aristocracy is necessary for the healthy life of a society; but its members must regard themselves as specialists in a particular form of social service, not as superior persons.

Though saints and revolutionaries agree in rejecting the aristocratic view, beyond this point their convictions diverge. The saint must specialize in consciousness of individuality-in-community, and the technique of raising individuality to a higher calibre in himself and others. The revolutionary's source of inspiration and strength is his simpler but no less passionately generous awareness of the frustration of individuality in the masses. This awareness he has to use as a source of energy for a life devoted to changing the social order.

There may be, there probably are, times in the history of a community when nothing whatever should be allowed to stand in the way of revolution. There may be other times when nothing is more important than a direct improving of personal relationship. To-day the need for revolution and the need for better personal relationship are complementary, and must be pursued together. To-day we cannot be saved by saints alone, nor by revolutionaries alone. Saints and revolutionaries must co-operate. Also they must acquire something of one another's nature. Saints must to some extent become revolutionaries, and revolutionaries saints.

When I was considering saints, I said that the true saint's absolute moral principle was respect for individuality and right personal relationship. Kindliness and trustworthiness are for him the supreme virtues. It would be untrue to say that the saint will never, and the revolutionary will sometimes, desert this principle. No doubt many true saints may sometimes in emergency use or countenance violence. No doubt also they may sometimes deceive, namely when they see no other way of preventing greater evil. But the saint, even if his devotion to non-violence and to truthfulness is not absolute, uses violence and deceit only in the most desperate emergency, and with an agony of horror and shame; whereas the revolutionary can use them with equanimity. If it seems to him that violence or deceit is necessary for the advancement of the cause, he will use it without hesitation, sometimes even with relish.

Both revolutionary and saint can be fired with righteous indignation. But whereas the revolutionary hates the enemies of the revolution, and may even glory in doing so, the saint strives never to hate human beings, and regards hate as the very spirit of evil. The saint's danger is that he may allow great harm to be done to one set of individuals because of his overwhelming revulsion from using violence or deceit against another set. The revolutionary's danger is that through lack of this extreme repugnance he may sometimes practise or applaud violence or deceit in order to gain immediate advantage for the cause, when as a matter of fact this advantage is outweighed by a greater hurt in the future, namely damage to the tradition of kindliness and reasonableness.

So far as mere private interest is concerned the true revolutionary, of course, will never use violence or deceit, for he knows very well that these practices are socially harmful. But in the view of the typical sincere revolutionary an occasional act of violence or of deceit is abundantly justified if it is needed for helping the cause in a tight place. Information damaging to the cause must be suppressed. False information favourable to the cause may be propagated. Traitors must be shot. And of course the revolution itself may have to be achieved by fighting in the streets. Even torture, presumably, might in some circumstances seem to the revolutionary a necessary and therefore permissible means of serving the revolution. For, after all, many who can snap their fingers at death are cowed by torture.

Now even the condemnation of torture, I suggest, should be qualified. There may, for all I know, be circumstances in which a man ought to be subjected to some degree of physical or mental pain "for his soul's good", or to save others from great disaster. I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine any such circumstances, but I recognize the abstract possibility that they may occur. The charge, however, against some revolutionaries is not that they refrain from an absolute condemnation of torture, but that sometimes they too readily condone brutality when it is committed for the revolution. The only adequate reply to Fascist ruthlessness, we are sometimes told, is ruthlessness for the revolution. This attitude suggests a dangerous coarseness of feeling. And, indeed, that the consciousness of some revolutionaries is in some important respects obtuse is evident from their startling failure to comprehend the pacifist's position.

In the matter of intellectual honesty also some revolutionaries are very unperceptive. The trouble is not merely that while insisting on free speech for revolutionaries they demand restrictions upon Fascist agitators. It is at least arguable that in times of grave crisis those who advocate the overthrow of the State and vilify the community's most sacred values should be restrained. But it is disturbing that some revolutionaries seem as ready as their opponents to suppress or distort the truth for the sake of some quite trivial gain for the cause.

The revolutionary, in fact, since he is less self-conscious than the saint, is less vividly aware of what the saint would call the "spiritual" damage done by the use of violence and deceit. He does not so clearly realize that these are very dangerous drugs, perhaps necessary at times, but always seriously poisonous, and moreover habit-forming. Their harmfulness, the saint believes, is two-fold. In the man on whom they are used they produce distrust and hate. In the user they breed not only an addiction but guilty suspicion and a protective shell of callousness. Further, rather perversely, they produce hate against the maltreated individual.

The controlling emotional inclination of the saint is toward that aspect of human life which in our day is easily ridiculed with the label "spiritual uplift". That of the revolutionary is in the main toward "de-bunking". Naturally the one thing that the revolutionary does not want to de-bunk is revolution and the social ideal which he hopes to attain by revolution. These are for him just as sacred as righteousness for the saint. But the general texture of his behaviour is one of indefatigable de-bunking. He is out to expose the pretensions of the employers, of the politicians, including right-wing Labour politicians, of the churches, of Liberal Idealism, of capitalist democracy, of philosophy, of intellectual detachment, of "art for art's sake", of bourgeois culture in general.

The psychological roots of this passion for de-bunking are probably very complex. But whatever its causes in individual experience, the common source of iconoclasm in all revolutionaries is the sense of the prodigious injustice of contemporary human society, and of the discrepancy between the much advertized ideals and the shady achievements of our time. The Churches promised us eternal life if we would practise Christian love. They themselves did not practise as they preached. The Liberal idealists promised us the gradual evolution of a better society if only we would give capitalist individualism a fair chance. Injustice increases. Prosperity wanes, and security too.

The craving to de-bunk is associated with the scientific mentality. The revolutionary is well disposed toward science, for this reason. But his temperament is very different from the completely sceptical disillusionment which triumphed after the war of 1914-1918. The genuine revolutionary's ruling passion is essentially a moral passion. Certain conditions of human affairs are in his view wrong. They ought not to be. We ought to get together to put them right. Though theoretically Marxists reject all universal ethical principles, in practice they exhort us to sacrifice ourselves in a cause which is at bottom the cause of justice and righteousness.

Without attempting to summarize the Marxian philosophy, I shall now very briefly discuss certain parts of it which seem to me relevant to the attempt to create a synthesis out of the temper of the saints, the sceptics and the revolutionaries.

From observation of the actual course of history the Marxist infers that the evolution of institutions and ideas is an expression of the impact of the environment on the economic motives of men; that is, on their need for security, food, comfort. These economic motives are not purely individualistic, since a man is concerned largely with the needs of his family. And besides economic needs, men have other motives. But according to the Marxian theory these other motives are much less powerful than the economic motives. Also they are so varied and individual that in relation to large social changes they cancel out and may be neglected.

In saying that history is "determined" in this way Marxists do not deny that it depends on spontaneous human choices. But human choices turn out to be in practice and in the long run very largely predictable. Men do in practice choose in such manners as to justify the theory of economic determinism. Whether they could in any sense behave otherwise is debatable, but in fact they do on the whole behave in this manner. Economic determinism is a true inductive law of the behaviour of masses of men. Being what they are, and wanting what in the main they do want, they cannot but behave in this manner.

The Marxist declares also that even those acts which are not simply expressions of economic motives are none the less very largely determined by economic influences. The desire for fame or power, for instance, must satisfy itself by taking economic factors into account. The economic structure of society determines the direction which the power-lover will pursue.

The Marxist does not deny that personal idiosyncrasies take effect on the course of events. He allows, too, that outstanding individuals may play an important part in history. But he claims that their power is merely to retard or side-track or advance the inevitable effect of massed economic motives. Outstanding individuals, he says, are most powerful when they are the conscious instruments of social evolution, when they see the direction of social growth, and use their abilities to further it.

Not only institutions but also ideas and valuations must be understood in terms of economic forces. The culture of a society is said to be due to the impact of economic, and particularly technological, conditions on successive generations of individuals. The form of men's minds, or more correctly the form of their mental behaviour, is said to be determined by their economic environment. Thus the culture of ancient Greece is to be understood as an expression of the economic and technological conditions which produced it. These conditions stimulated and set a limit to the possible development of Greek culture in the minds of a property-owning and leisured class. Later on, chivalry was an expression of medieval technological development as it effected an owner-class whose power was military and its social structure hierarchical. Puritanism was a system of ideas and values generated in and appropriate to a rising bourgeois class whose power was based on economic individualism. Modern scientific culture could not have appeared till technological development had reached a certain level of complexity and power. Modern science was beyond the reach of feudalism, but within the reach of early industrialism. And now science has increased a thousand-fold man's technological power, which in turn has enabled science to advance beyond all expectation by means of immensely complicated and costly research and world-wide co-ordination. But to-day, says the Marxist, science is outrageously hobbled by the fact that research is directed mainly for private commercial profit. It should be single-mindedly used for the benefit of the community.

Since the dominant class of a society has far greater influence than any other class, a culture is to be understood mainly in terms of the economic conditions of the dominant class. Sometimes however the ideas and values of a subject-class may, through special circumstances, play an important part. For instance, during the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the birth of feudalism, Christianity, which was produced by the proletariat, was a very important influence in the new culture.

Normally, however, culture is in the main a product of the class which controls the productive forces, though it is not originated by the particular individuals who control those forces. The division of society into exploiters and exploited arose long ago when for the first time the technique of production advanced from the most primitive level so far as to enable some men to accumulate a surplus of wealth beyond that which was required for the bare needs of life. The Marxist summarizes the observed course of history since those days by saying that class after class has risen to power and in turn been overthrown by a class rising from beneath it. At any given stage of social development the ruling class is that which controls the economic structure of the society. So long as the structure is favourable to the full and free activity of the society's technique of production, the structure is stable. But technological development continues, and sooner or later the established social order becomes inadequate. It fails to allow full scope to the increasing productive forces. The ruling class tries to maintain the old order against the rising power of a new productive class which has come into being as the wielders of the new productive forces. The strain increases, till at last the new class gains power, and founds a new social order and a new culture adapted to the mental needs of the new society.

Thus the movement of social change, according to the Marxist, is "dialectical". Fundamentally, and apart from complicating accidents, it is like the movement of thought from a "thesis" to an "antithesis", and on to a "synthesis" which unites the truths of "thesis" and "antithesis" in a new conception. But the dialectic of society is a dialectic not primarily of ideas but .of objective conditions.

So long as a culture expresses and serves the trend of social development, it retains its vitality and flexibility. But; when the economic system which generated it ceases to be adequate to the developing powers of the society, the established culture, which is the mental instrument of the established dominant class, begins to grow rigid, formalistic, remote from the actual circumstances of the life of the society. Thus, when the old feudal aristocracy lost its power to the rising bourgeois class, medieval culture withered. In the clash of the two classes there emerged a new society and a new culture. This new, bourgeois culture included, of course, much of the old culture, but it was moulded by the mental needs of the bourgeoisie. In its early days, when it stood for democracy against feudalism, it was vital and flexible. It founded science. It conceived the right of every individual to a full life, to education, to freedom of expression, to a voice in the government. These principles were convenient to a class fighting for power. When the bourgeoisie had obtained control, its ideals were largely accepted, at least in theory, by both political parties. And so long as capitalism was flourishing the ruling class could permit the workers to acquire a number of social benefits in the name of liberal idealism.

But in our day, when the capitalist system is insecure, and the power of the ruling class is everywhere threatened, our rulers are compelled by circumstances to belie their liberal principles. There is a tendency to reverse the process of social amelioration, and to tighten up social discipline. Moreover, says the Marxist, the bourgeoisie is faced with the unpleasant fact that in one great segment of the world, namely Russia, a new, non-capitalist order has been firmly established, By every method of propaganda and strong government, therefore, our rulers will seek to prevent the masses from going "bolshevik",

The plight of capitalism in our day is the supreme example of the way in which an outworn economic system frustrates and actually reverses the proper development of the productive forces, Our individualistic economic system depends on the mass-production of goods by machinery on an ever-increasing scale, and their sale in ever-expanding markets, But by restricting wages for the sake of profits it prevents an adequate rise of purchasing power among its own workers, To keep pace with increasing production it must rely on increasing foreign markets, To secure and regularize those markets, and prevent competitors from seizing them, it is forced into imperialistic annexation of territory.

By selling machinery to "backward" countries, and lending them money at interest, it gradually equips these countries to satisfy their own demand for goods, thus depriving itself of its own foreign markets, Not only so, but as industrialism spreads, rival industrial powers enter the competition for markets and empires. Wars between rival empires and would-be-empires become inevitable. Meanwhile with the failure of foreign markets the social structure of the highly industrialized countries is more and more strained. Wages fall. Unemployment increases. The standard of living declines. Social services are crippled. Discontent breeds disorder, which has to be repressed with ever-increasing harshness.

The dominant class, nurtured in the old system, lacks both the imagination and the courage to conceive and execute the necessary heroic measures of social reconstruction. And the established culture, once vital and fertile, degenerates into a system of rigid and out-worn mental habits. In particular its exponents tend either to hark back to the archaic values of the militant tribe and the heroic tribal leader or to indulge in sheer "escapism". Either they more or less frankly express the ideas which are suited to an increasingly militarized state, or they conceive seductive dreams to distract the mind from the distressing reality.

The present condition of the world may be summarized thus. By increasing the productive forces a thousandfold, modern science has immensely accelerated and intensified the process of social evolution. The discrepancy between the world's actual production and its potentiality of production is Unprecedented. Further, owing to the vast increase in the means of communication, the world has become a single economic field. The dialectical process which formerly occurred in isolated societies is now being enacted on a worldwide scale.

According to the orthodox Marxist this distressing state of the world must lead, through ever-increasing economic disorder and ever more desperate capitalist wars, to social revolution in one state after another, Until the workers of the world have completely destroyed the capitalist class and inaugurated a dictatorship of the proletariat. This will be the prelude to a worldwide classless communistic society.

I believe that there is much truth in this account of the changes of institutions and ideas. How far the movement is strictly dialectical may be doubted. There is of course a loose sense in which it must be so. Every change may be regarded as due to the fact that an initial situation; had generated within itself a conflicting tendency, which subsequently produced a new synthesis. But the Marxian theory implies more than this. It claims that history necessarily moves in alternating phases of stability and crises. I have neither the knowledge nor the aptitude to judge this claim, and it is not relevant to my theme. I merely remark in passing that the dialectical principle, so long as it is not interpreted in a rigid, doctrinaire manner, does seem to cast light on certain movements of history. But there is a danger that devotion to the principle may lead to distortion of the facts of past social change and to rash prophesies about the future. For instance, it seems doubtful whether the world-revolution will occur precisely in the manner prophesied by Marxists. In the highly organized industrial state an orthodox proletarian revolution is becoming less and less possible. The change is more likely to come through the sheer rotting away and collapse of capitalism, and the re-organization of society under the guidance of the highly skilled technicians, stimulated, no doubt, by proletarian pressure; unless, of course, general war comes, and an epidemic of revolutions.

Human nature is a very much more complex and subtle thing than the Marxist supposes. Human history is much more chancy, and much more dependent on the idiosyncrasies of prominent individuals and the sentimentality of the masses. But although I cannot altogether trust the Marxist's prophecies, I recognize that he has seized upon one of the most important sociological principles. Indeed there is a broad sense in which economic determinism is the all-sufficient principle for the understanding of social and cultural change. All ideas spring directly or indirectly from the interaction of individual minds and their environment. Even if some ideas spring not from the economic aspect of experience but from some other aspect, such as the purely aesthetic or the abstractly intellectual or the religious, they will have little chance of survival, of general acceptance, unless they happen to be in harmony with the prevailing economically-determined mental climate of the society and period. The idea of Christian brotherhood, for instance, would never have "caught on" in the ancient world if it had not suited the mental needs of an economically oppressed class, amongst whom circumstances were already forcing individuals to feel communally in the face of common hardship.

Nevertheless, to regard Christianity solely as an expression of economic determinism would be to ignore its essential nature. It was at bottom an apprehension, on the part of Jesus and his followers, of individuality and community as the supreme ends of social action. Economic circumstances set the stage for this new vision, but they were not the whole cause of it. They directed attention to a certain value which hosts of human beings had experienced throughout the ages, but which had not hitherto been clearly apprehended and abstracted from experience. Nor had it been compellingly expressed as a supreme principle of conduct. Thus, though economic determinism affords a true account of cultural changes, its account is external. It does not go to the root of the matter. Economic circumstances control the movement of attention in the individual and in large masses of individuals. They do not create any fundamental values. They incline men to attend more to one set of values than to another. Such values as they do in a manner "create", for instance the value of secure employment or of coal-mines or of money, are derivative.

This qualification of the principle of economic determinism, if true, is very important. It means that, at any rate in exceptional circumstances, other motives than economic motives may playa crucial part in determining the course of history. No doubt the circumstances which call forth these other motives are, in the broadest sense, economic circumstances. Thus the principle of economic determinism is in a sense preserved. But we must allow for the possibility that, just as during the rise of Christianity economic circumstances evoked a will for genuine community, so on other occasions also the distinctively human motives may playa crucial part. Moreover there may come a time, perhaps in a very remote future, when utopian economic circumstances may deprive the economic motives of their urgency, and enable purely cultural motives to become the main determinants of history.

Economic determinism, I should say, is an invaluable key, but not the master-key to all the locks of history. Bertrand Russell has pointed out that when individuals or communities have a fair degree of economic security they will gladly sacrifice economic interest to the sheer will for power; and that the power-lust of outstanding individuals and of whole communities has often been the crucial influence in determining the course of events.

There is one very obtrusive and important factor in the modern world which, I believe, cannot be wholly explained in terms of economic influences, namely Fascism. According to the Marxist, Fascism is simply the extreme development of the reactionary tendency of capitalism. The whole Fascist movement is a machiavellian device on the part of the capitalist class to marshal the people in defence of the capitalist national state against the gathering forces of revolution. It is particularly dangerous because it side-tracks an immense drive of genuine revolutionary zeal and draws it off into channels convenient to the capitalist class. But though in its early stage it is stimulated and used by capitalism, later it becomes a power in itself, and finally it controls individualistic capitalism very thoroughly in the interest of the totalitarian state.

I believe that, though this theory is true so far as it goes, and very important, it is not the whole truth about Fascism. Besides its root in capitalism Fascism has other roots. One of its sources, as I have already suggested, is the emotional revulsion from love and reason, which is spreading over the world in protest against the failure of Christianity and science to create a better world. It springs also, as Marxists themselves admit, from a genuine, even if largely perverted, revolutionary zeal. And further, as Marxists fail to recognize, it draws strength from a deep and widespread yearning for spiritual regeneration, no doubt equally perverted. Fascism as an institution is, of course, largely a capitalist device; but Fascism as a disposition in the hearts of men and women is in part revolutionary and religious. Marxists deny that any motive deserving the adjective "spiritual" can ever be a causal factor in history. In this respect I believe they are profoundly mistaken. All normal human beings are at least feebly and intermittently, and some are strongly and constantly, moved by the disinterested desire to conform to some ideal of conduct, conceived as intrinsically better, more righteous, than the life of impulse and self-seeking. The tragedy is that this desire is sometimes most potent when it is most misguided. To omit this motive from the interpretation of history, or to account for it wholly in terms of economic influences is almost as perverse as to ignore the economic.

The modern desire for regeneration began as a popular revulsion from ethical scepticism and cynical individualism, and indeed from the whole materialistic attitude which for so long had dominated Europe, and was a main factor in post-war disillusion. This revulsion was at bottom a desperate longing to have something to live for, something super-individual and even super-social, which could be the supreme object of devotion, and could raise the tension of the individual's whole life. This longing was muddle-headed and easily turned to evil account, but it was and is at bottom sincere. At bottom it is the desire for right living, for the awakened life.

Excessive faith in economic determinism, I suggest, blinds the Marxist to an essentially religious motive both in Fascism and in Communism itself. Both movements have a root in a genuinely moral, an essentially spiritual, protest against individualism as a way of life, against what the Christian calls "worldliness". Both insist on a life of consecrated service of the community. While Communism takes the community at its face-value, Fascism exalts it to a pseudo-mystical status. Although in this respect Communism is right and Fascism tragically wrong, the need which both attempt to satisfy is at bottom a spiritual need, though Marxists refuse to recognize it as such. It is a need for something not merely super-individual but genuinely universal that can inspire devotion. It is a need that in our day has been desperately frustrated, partly by the vogue of mechanistic metaphysics, partly by the failure of the churches to give a moral lead.

Having said something to the credit of Fascism I must repeat that this spiritual source in it is utterly poisoned and wasted. Fascism inculcates the primitive herd-mentality. It discourages, nay destroys, individuality. It suppresses criticism and all free expression. In place of reason and love it glorifies superstitious dogma and brutal might. It glorifies war. It prostitutes science for research into the means of murder. It is essentially opposed to the spirit of science, which is cosmopolitan, demands free access to facts, free criticism, and the collaboration of mutually respecting individuals.

The sources of Fascism, then, are not wholly economic. But let there be no mistake about the importance of economic determinism. In the case of Fascism it is economic determinism, working through the minds of a declining bourgeois oligarchy that has tapped and directed and perverted the reviving spiritual energy. Moreover the whole of contemporary culture must certainly be regarded in the light of economic determinism, namely as mainly a product of the industrial revolution and the circumstances of the bourgeois class. And because the circumstances of this class have greatly changed since its early days, we find in its culture two different strains, namely Liberalism and Fascism, the products of its rise and of its decline. How many young "executives", conscious of their own efficiency and public spirit, and impatient with the muddle and lethargy and palaver and sheer corruption around them, are to-day looking enviously toward the new Germany? Although in all sincerity they profess horror at Nazi brutality and superstition, and praise the fundamental rightness of democracy, their imagination is kindled by the thought of a great people disciplined, devoted, capable of speedy and resolute action, and full of hope. Who can blame them? But this feeling, if it is not balanced by a passion for the spirit of democracy, leads straight to Fascism.

The Marxist is opposed both to Liberal Democracy and to Fascism. He is opposed to Fascism because it denies his fundamental values. Liberalism he rejects for two reasons. First, since in the end it leads to a desperate defence of capitalism by the bourgeois oligarchy, though logically it is opposed to Fascism it must in practice lead to Fascism, whether veiled or frank; since in the end it produces a situation in which the bourgeois oligarchy is forced into an increasingly ruthless defence of capitalism. Second, though it appears to be founded on the fundamental values which the Marxist himself accepts, it states them in such a manner as to falsify them.

Liberalism is based on the intrinsic value of the human individual, but it does not sufficiently stress the necessity that society shall have the means of restraining powerful individuals who seek self-aggrandisement at its expense. The theory assumes that if every individual seeks his own economic interest in the open market the upshot will be the greatest possible happiness for all. This could only be true if all individuals had equal bargaining power, which they have not. Under laissez faire the inequality of bargaining power has led inevitably to grave social injustice. From the Marxian point of view, liberal democracy, as preached and practised by the privileged class, seems fundamentally insincere. Its doctrine of individualism is no more than an excuse for gross self-seeking on the part of a class composed of powerful individuals.

The Marxist’s intellectual reasons for denying the self-completeness and importance of the individual are derived from Hegel’s view of the individual as something less real than society, because less self-complete. In Hegel’s view the individual mind is a mere excerpt from the "social mind", from the culture of his society. There is nothing in him that is not socially conditioned. His every act, thought and desire are what they are in virtue of the social whole of which he is a particular expression. The whole texture of his mind, for instance, is linguistic, and therefore socially determined. His most sacred loyalties and his most peculiar whimsies are one and all products of social influences focused in him.

Both Marxists and Fascists disparage the individual, but at bottom there is an important difference between their attitudes. The Fascist, following Hegel, tends to regard the State or the race as a super-individual entity. The Marxist, more influenced by analytical science, refrains from what he regards as a mystical hypostatization of society. But Marxists tend to overlook the individualistic aspect of their theory, and to deny individuality almost as ruthlessly as Fascists.

The denial of the importance of the individual is at once the strength and the weakness of Marxism. It is its strength because it impels the individual to live for something more than himself, more even than other individuals to whom he is attached, namely for the ideal of comradeship and for the creating of a world in which comradeship shall be the ruling principle. This is the very essence of Christian brotherhood. The Early Christians experienced community in small groups of individuals living in personal contact and living in devotion to a universal ideal. The same spirit animates the revolutionary cell or society at its best. And in both cases the exaltation of concrete community is an expression of the mutual helpfulness and loyalty which is natural to an oppressed class, and much more difficult for the individuals of a commercial oligarchy.

But this emotional experience of concrete community and of the universal rightness of comradeship, which is the root both of Christianity and of revolutionary zeal, is very different from the denial of the worth and the reality of the individual, and the exaltation of the abstract State, or the abstract world-state, or world-wide communistic social organization. This is the dangerous and perverted element in some expressions of Marxism. The emotional experience of community is of course opposed to individualism, to the cherishing of one individual, namely oneself, at the expense of others. But it is equally opposed to the subjection of all individuals to the abstract form of organization. For essentially the experience of community is the experience of mutual awareness, mutual respect, mutual service and mutual mental enrichment. In the cult of the group and the disparagement of the individual there are grave dangers.

In the first place, though the old view of the individual as a self-complete spiritual substance and initiator of acts must, I think, be rejected, and though the new emphasis on the part played by the environment is wholesome, we must beware of an extravagant swing of the pendulum. Though the individual's behaviour is through and through determined by the social environment, it is also determined by his own nature. And though his own nature at any moment is determined by his past environments and by his biological inheritance, and so by the selective force of ancestral environments, there must at every stage be something (however caused) capable of responding to the environment. No doubt it is a long journey from the unicellular ancestor to Shakespeare, and the whole route is partly determined by environmental influences. But at every stage there must be something capable of behaving, of actively responding to those influences. Moreover, whatever the causes which brought John Smith into being, once he is in being, he is what he is, namely an actual living biological organism with characteristic potentialities of behaviour, physical and mental.

The danger of Marxism is that, though it starts with a protest against tyranny, its emphasis on the social aspect of individuality may lead it to subject the individual to a tyranny not of class but of the community as a whole. In this connection it is interesting to note the difference between the Marxist and the Liberal ideas of liberty. For the Liberal, liberty consists simply of freedom from social constraint. Rightly Marxists have pointed out that liberty should mean something more than this. For, if this is all that liberty is, the most free of all individuals is the "jungle child"; but he, if he survives, grows up an imbecile. Liberty, then, must rather be conceived as the opportunity for free and full exercise of capacity. And since man is essentially social, this involves complex social relations, for stimulus and discipline and full development. What is opposed to liberty, says the Marxist, is not social relations as such but the bad social relations imposed by an unsound and unjust social system. This is true and important. But liberty involves more than fertile social relations and the absence of oligarchical tyranny. Even a thoroughly democratic society, if it had an exaggerated respect for social discipline, might seriously frustrate the development of its individual members, and reduce itself to mental sterility.

The second grave danger in the disparagement of individuality is that it encourages herd-mindedness, and condemns originality of thought and feeling. In all ages the sole instrument of progress has been the original mind, the individual who is to a greater or less degree different from the average individual just because he is more sensitive than others, either to the ever-changing pressure of the environment or to the more obscure or delicate features of human nature itself; or again because he is more capable of heroic self-transcendence.

The denial of the importance of the individual leads the revolutionary to reject individual experience whenever it diverges from the body of doctrine which he has already accepted as the authentic expression of the developing life of his society, namely Marxism; or Fascism, if his revolutionary zeal has been side-tracked in that direction. He tends to subordinate his individual intelligence and conscience to an orthodox ideology, and to the will of "the Party". This is true although revolutionaries are often in disagreement as to the right interpretation of their sacred texts.

Further, the disparagement of individuality, since it leads to neglect of all experiences other than those that are possible to average human beings, disposes revolutionaries to ignore or misinterpret all the subtler or more refined kinds of experience, including those of the artists, intellectuals, and adepts in personal sensibility, and of course those of the saints. He therefore tends to accept a theory of the universe which leaves out of account or explains away all evidence derived from these sources. His strength lies in his rejection of old-fashioned idealism, the arguments for which are mainly verbalistic; and in his firm grip on the facts of common experience. His weakness lies in his obsession with the physical and with the commonplace.

The Marxist, of course, would strongly protest against this criticism, and would point to the fact that artists of all sorts fulfil an important and respected function in the U.S.S.R. True, but artistic expression under the Soviets has been subordinated to the exigences of social propaganda.

The reader may protest that in an age of crisis, when the supreme and urgent need is for radical social change, this neglect of the more developed capacities of our nature does not matter. When the house is on fire we need not poets but firemen. There is some force in the argument, but the analogy is not accurate. Unless the revolution can become clearly conscious that its motive is at bottom a spiritual motive, it will certainly, as soon as its initial enthusiasm wanes, degenerate into a mundane tyranny. There is danger, for instance, that under the influence of Marxism art, instead of being the main instrument for the exercise and development of human sensibility, might degenerate into a mere expression of social cohesion and of such values as fall within the range of average minds.

The Marxian revolutionary claims to adopt a scientific attitude to all intellectual matters.

He accepts scientific positivism, the typical scientist's denial of the possibility of metaphysics. In his view, metaphysical problems, even if not actually meaningless, cannot be solved by human intellect. No theory is to be accepted without the support of positive scientific evidence. And no metaphysical theory can be adequately supported by scientific evidence. This positivistic tendency is sound, so long as it does not become a dogmatic denial of the very possibility of metaphysics, or a cult of the physical and a contempt for all that is most developed in man.

Though the Marxian claims that he rejects all metaphysics, he is apt to accept unwittingly a certain type of metaphysical theory, namely materialism. He claims that his materialism, far from being metaphysical, is simply a scientific generalization from experience. But in practice he is apt to pass on to make far-reaching metaphysical generalizations about the universe.

Though the genuine Marxist is by conscious profession a materialist, subconsciously, as I have said, he seems to me to be moved by a spiritual impulse, the worship of comradeship. And even his theory t though it is professedly a materialistic theory, is elastic, and capable of accommodating all that the saint has any right to demand. The Marxian's materialism is not the old-fashioned crude materialism. He calls it "dialectical", not "mechanical" materialism. Mechanical materialism affirms that everything, including mental phenomena, can be accounted for in terms of physical mechanism. Dialectical materialism denies this. It is materialistic only in the sense that it is not idealistic. It rejects the view that all reality is essentially mental, and that matter is an illusion; but it does not affirm that mechanical principles can explain everything. By "matter" it means simply whatever is objectively real. Matter, of course, is observed to behave physically; but it is also observed to behave mentally. Dialectical Materialism recognizes different spheres or levels of reality, each of which is to be described scientifically in terms of its own special set of laws.

Marx, of course, derived his dialectical principle from Hegel. But he turned Hegel's philosophy inside out. According to Hegel, reality is essentially mental and logical, and its development is dialectical. According to Marx, the dialectical relationship is not in the first instance a movement of ideas but a characteristic of the objective world. And to emphasize the fact that the objective world is not "idea", Marx said that it was "matter". Mind merely reflects the dialectical process of "matter".

But "matter", according to Marx, is not fully described or describable by physical science. Each of the sciences, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, describes some special aspect of matter. And each develops laws of its own, in relation to its special data. The laws of one science cannot be described simply in terms of sciences lower in the hierarchy. All that can be said is that the sciences can be arranged in a certain order, corresponding to the complexity of their subject matter, and that there is a systematic relationship between the laws of all the different sciences. This relationship is dialectical. I find it difficult to form a really clear idea of Dialectical Materialism, but so far as I can grasp it, it is to be understood as follows. Matter in certain physical and chemical conditions may generate within itself a conflict from which arise new qualities and a new kind of behaviour. These novel characters are a necessary outcome of the nature of matter; but for their adequate description special laws must be devised. Thus, within the physical sphere, an .increase of "quantity" (we are told) may produce a new "quality", as when a rise of temperature turns ice into water. Similarly out of a conflict on the physical plane there may emerge a new kind of behaviour, namely biological behaviour, which again is a necessary but unpredictable outcome of the nature of matter. And this biological behaviour in certain conditions may generate another kind of necessary consequence, namely mental behaviour. And out of the clash of individual minds arises yet another necessary manifestation of the potentiality of matter, namely society, the special nature of which is studied by sociology. I do not feel at all sure that I understand the principle correctly. But if I do, then at each superior level a new kind of whole emerges, fully analysable into lower-level parts; yet its own organic form, and therefore, its behaviour as a whole, is novel, and must be described by a new set of laws.

Dialectical Materialism seems to me a very valuable principle. Indeed, if it is interpreted in a liberal, and perhaps heretical, manner, it can provide the ground plan of a comprehensive and satisfying philosophy. But unless I have seriously misunderstood it, it is open to a grave charge of ambiguity. It is said to be distinguished from Mechanical Materialism by its recognition that real novelty occurs in the dialectical process by which the "higher" levels of reality are manifested. The "higher", it is insisted, cannot be explained in terms of the lower. But this contention is the main tenet of those who believe in the theory of "Emergence." According to this theory, in certain very complex physical configurations a new mode of behaviour, namely biological behaviour, "emerges" from the physical. This biological behaviour, it is said, is not logically reducible to the laws of physics, since it is purposive, and physics has no room for purpose. There seem therefore to be two possible interpretations of the Marxian theory of Dialectical Materialism. If the occurrence of novelty is to be taken seriously, the theory seems to become identical with the Emergence theory, at least in this fundamental respect. Yet Marxists emphatically reject the Emergence theory, reviling it as "mystical". If on the other hand the occurrence of novelty is not taken seriously, then Dialectical Materialism becomes identical with Mechanical Materialism, which also is explicitly rejected by Marxists.

I am not concerned to discover which is the true view of Dialectical Materialism. I am concerned merely to say in the most general way what it is in Marxism that seems to me of real importance for anyone who, like myself, is attempting to form a reasonable and helpful world-view, and what seems to me mistaken..

In Marxian metaphysics (if I may use the word without offence to Marxists) two principles seem to be of very great value. The first is the principle of objectivity, according to which the form which mind assumes is to be understood by reference to the impact of the environment. Mind does not spin webs of idea out of its own intrinsic nature.

The second valuable principle is the dialectical principle itself, when it is taken seriously. Science must postulate a hierarchy of spheres of natural laws, dialectically related.

But if this principle is true, we must beware of dogmatically rejecting ideas merely because from the common-sense point of view they are unintelligible or incredible. We must recognize, as Marx himself recognized, that the common sense of one phase of culture may need to be stretched to the breaking point if it is to give rise to the common sense of a more developed phase. For instance we must beware of regarding the mysterious modern theories of space-time with the same unimaginative contempt as was formerly directed against, for example, Galileo's views. Of course we must take all recent advances of science as merely provisional half-truths, and we must be very suspicious of any metaphysical theories based on them. But at the same time we must recognize them as growing points of thought, and try to be sensitive to their mind-stretching power.

Further, if we accept the Dialectical principle, we must recognize its destructive effect on old-fashioned naturalism. We must recognize, for instance, that it makes room for much that would formerly have been regarded as "supernatural". In particular, even though it does not sanction orthodox religious doctrines, it can quite well accommodate the conclusions which I suggested about the testimony of the saints.

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