IN your Homeric saga the human conflict is observed and swayed by invisible but mighty presences. The achievement of each hero is the issue not simply of his own virtue but of the inspiration and machination of some favouring divinity. The gods and goddesses take sides, some with the Greeks, others with the Trojans.
In the war which I am to describe, the European War, the War to End War, which played so great a part in setting your species toward decline, every turn of events was noted by invisible presences, but these unseen observers were neither divine nor partisan. As on the Trojan plains, so on the plains of Flanders, the hills of Picardy and Champagne and Argonne, Tyrol’s wild heights, the bogs and steppes of Russia, so equally in Arabia, Mesopotamia and Salonika, on the sea and in the upper air, in fact, wherever war was present or indirectly felt, there watched invisible and unsuspected presences. These were not gods and goddesses mentally inferior to the humanity that had created them, interested in men only to use them for their own petty though celestial strife; they were actual human minds. They strove not to give victory to one side or the other; they were concerned only to record and relish the ineluctable course of events, and to kindle in such of you as were open to their influence some glimpse of their own high zest.
When first we examined your war, it was not uncommon for us to observe in that epoch features which, inexplicable at the time, suggested that some still future influence of our own must be at work upon them, influences which we had not yet, from the Neptunian point of view, been able to exert. Thus to take the most striking example, in our earliest study we had been perplexed by the fact that the Salonika episode did not develop on the scale that might have been expected. Later in Neptunian time, we discovered that we ourselves were responsible. For it now turned out that certain persons in high military and naval posts were open to our influence. We accordingly swayed them toward inertia, and thus deliberately prevented a sequence of events which would have been far more repugnant to us than those which actually occurred. But such large-scale influence is very seldom possible. Moreover we have become extremely chary of indulging in it; for not infrequently we have come later to regret our meddling.
In our world, as I have said elsewhere, the mature individual has wholly escaped the snares of private egoism. His will is for the racial good. But his heart may still be torn asunder in respect of conflicts between loyalty to the spirit of man and piety toward the actual issue of fate. Even as individuals, but far more clearly as the race mind, we pass beyond the human loyalty which is the spring of all our action, and see in the form of the cosmos a beauty superior to any human triumph.
Now although we regard events in your epoch with complete detachment from your many archaic aims, we do feel with you in your racial struggle to become more fully human. When you fail, or when we fail to help you, we grieve. When we take action in your world, we are often torn by doubt as to whether we shall in fact improve or mar the fortune of the race. But in us pity and doubt are tempered by our intuition that in the highest view the whole, although severe, is excellent. Even as individuals, we have this conviction of the superlative beauty of the cosmos. But in the unique racial experience this insight is far more developed, and has a very curious and beatific effect upon us as individuals. For, if our memory is to be trusted, the race mind, when it looks back on the texture of events accomplished in the past, finds each one of them to be a needed feature in the cosmical beauty. In that supreme experience, seemingly, man looks upon the cosmos with a new discerning vision, and would not have any past event to be other than in fact it is. Thus it seems that, in so far as we ourselves have influenced the course of events, our influence has indeed contributed to the cosmical beauty; yet in so far as we have refrained or failed to achieve what we planned, that inaction and that failure were also for the best, were contributory to that supernal excellence which is clearly seen only by the racial mind.
But do not suppose that, since apparently whatever has occurred is cosmically right, therefore human endeavour is unnecessary. Only by means of endeavour can the great theme of the cosmos proceed. But also, by some influence which is not revealed to us, the issue of all human endeavour is seemingly controlled so that in its failures no less than in its triumphs it does in fact contribute to the excellent and perfect form of the Whole. I say ‘seemingly’; for even to us it is not clear that it must be so; although hitherto, the more we have increased in spiritual stature, the more often and the more clearly have we experienced instances of its being in fact so.
Let us now revert to your war. It is perhaps needless to say that, on those rare occasions when we have influenced the course of events in your war, we have never been concerned merely to give victory to one side, or to the other; save when, as has sometimes befallen, an unhappy observer has become so infected by the terrestrial mentality that he has lost completely his Neptunian integrity and understanding. Such disasters are rare. For the most part our observers maintain their sanity and their detachment perfectly. .
You may be tempted to suppose that the great concentration of our observers in and around the period of your first world war implies that we are interested in your war for the same reasons as you yourselves are normally interested in it. In this you would be mistaken. We do indeed enter into your feelings in regard to the war. No less fully than you yourselves have felt them, we feel your agony and despair, your glory and shame; for we have participated in them directly. But throughout, we have normally preserved our own detachment. Events which through your minds we have savoured as world-shattering and God-condemning we have seen also in their wider relations, and recognized as but microscopic features in the great whole. And so we have been able to regard your agony and passion with that blend of sympathy and irony which, upon a lowlier plane, the adult feels towards the ardours of children in their games, or the grief of children in their nursery troubles.
The strategy of your generals, for instance, has for us only the kind of interest which your own psychologists have found in watching apes baffled by the simplest problems of intelligence. As chimpanzees, tantalized by fruit which lies beyond their reach, may achieve or miss insight into the potentialities of sticks, packing-cases or ropes, so your commanders painfully achieved, or more often missed, insight into military potentialities which lay all the while patent to every Neptunian intelligence. Time after time we saw these gilt-edged commanders frustrated by problems which even your own brighter minds might well have surmounted. Again and again we saw thousands of lives destroyed, and hard-won military gains abandoned, through the stupidity, or even the mere personal conceit, of some single strategist or tactician. And though this kind of betrayal was the very stuff that we had come to study, and normally we could regard it with equanimity, there have been, for all of us, occasions when such lapses have kindled a certain amused exasperation, or, if we have been too long subjected to the terrestrial mentality, even a momentary rage.
Your war-time politicians, perhaps more clearly than your generals, displayed for us the essential weakness of your kind. We are not greatly interested in the political aspects of your war, save as expressions of factors in your nature much deeper than politics. In the antics of your political leaders, even more clearly than in humbler lives, we saw the insidious, devastating struggle between private interest, patriotism, and that newer, more difficult allegiance which serves before all else the race, or the essential spirit that is man. In the commonalty, public and private interest stood in less dramatic and less momentous conflict than in those who framed national and military policy. It might have been expected that those upon whose acts great issues hung would hold their self-regarding propensity the more firmly under control, that the vast public import of their conduct would induce them constantly to scrutinize their motives with relentless penetration. But no. Decisions which were ostensibly concerned only with the national good were determined in fact by envy, jealousy, or pride. Yet in most cases the agent himself, we discovered, never doubted his own honesty. Similarly, as you yourselves later came to recognize, policies which were expressed in the language of cosmopolitan idealism or of religion, were in fact inspired by nothing but national aggressiveness or fear, or by some even more disreputable private motive. This being so, the diplomatic history of your war period interests us not at all as a record of high policy, but solely as a tangle of psychological data.
With yourselves, interest in your war is often the mere lust of horror, the fascination of bloodshed and destruction. To us, your horrors are unimpressive; for, ranging up and down the aeons of human history, we have observed many more complete and harrowing devastations. We have seen races, civilized beyond your dreams, completely annihilated in swift, or again in long-drawn-out, disaster. We have seen whole populations writhing and shrieking in physical agony. Your restricted and aseptic mutual slaughter, almost homely and kindly in comparison with that which lies a few decades ahead of you, has therefore no horrific interest for us. It has of course the appeal of every human tragedy; but neither in magnitude nor in intensity of suffering is it at all remarkable. Through your minds and your flesh we do, indeed, experience it as unique, world-shattering and world-condemning. We savour very thoroughly the agony of despair which oppressed so many of you in the years of war. Imaginatively we contract our vision within the limits of your war-bound vision, and enter fully into your consequent world-disgust. Indeed, having entered there, we are sometimes shocked that you do not feel more deeply. For even the most sensitive of you is protected from suffering the full agony appropriate to your own short-sighted world-disgust by the mere crudity of his nervous organization, and the consequent obtuseness and callousness of his mentality.
If it was not horror nor yet political or military interest that caused us to flock in thousands to observe your war, what was it? Was it perhaps your acts of individual heroism, your self-transcendence in devotion to a cause? Or was it your rare impulses of generosity toward the enemy, your groping efforts to escape the obsession of nationalism, and to feel the unity of man? We have indeed watched respectfully whatever in your war was truly heroic, devoted. Even when we have been forced to smile at the ends upon which that heroism was squandered, we have recognized that in its degree it was indeed heroism, a virtue which to beings of your stature is precious and difficult. We have also recorded faithfully every occasion on which any of you has transcended nationalism. But we cannot agree with you in regarding your heroism as the very flower of human achievement, or t your generosity and your timid cosmopolitanism as sublime triumphs of the spirit. In our world we are accustomed to a completely relentless self-abnegation in all situations which demand it. Any failure in this respect we attribute to insanity. And as for cosmopolitanism, to put the interest of one nation before that of another seems to any member of any of our thousand Neptunian nations no less preposterous than for a man to favour his left eye against his right.
If even your heroism is commonplace to us, seeming no more remarkable than nursery pluck, what is it that we find in your war to attract our interest? The answer can be simply stated, but its full significance needs some further development. We came to see your species face a situation such as it had never hitherto needed to face. We came to see it fail to grapple with that situation in any manner which could have saved it from a fatal spiritual poison, or auto-intoxication. We knew that this failure was inevitable. We had watched your nature evolve and your world situation develop. We had watched these two factors cooperate to produce at a certain date a violent acceleration of world -change, and subsequently a tangle of problems with which you could not cope. We had observed a neck-and-neck race between your developing nature and the developing world, which your nature itself kept stimulating into constant advance. The world won. We had seen far back in your history the first stirrings of a new capacity in you, which, given time, might well have so matured as to master even the kind of world in which you now find yourselves. But your ‘modern’ world came too soon. In the century before the war it developed with increasing acceleration. You had neither the intelligence nor the moral integrity to cope with your brave new world. When at last in 1914 accident posed you with a crucial choice, you chose wrongly. It was inevitable that you should do so. Being such as you were, you would most certainly choose as you did. But you have only yourselves to blame, for your choice was a considered expression of your own essential nature. The newer kind of behaviour, which alone was really appropriate to the new world-situation, did indeed make here and there a tentative appearance, and no doubt in very many persons there was at least some leaning toward that behaviour; but everywhere a rigorous suppression, both by governmental authority and by the primitive disposition within each individual mind, prevented the more courageous and the only sane behaviour from occurring; save here and there, spasmodically and ineffectively. And so inevitably you took the first step toward disaster.
This was the drama which we came to watch, and not your horrors or your heroics or your strategic prowess or your policies. The actors were the millions of Europeans and Americans. The dramatic conflict took place at first within each mind. It then became a struggle between those many in whom the archaic disposition was victorious, and those few in whom it was defeated. The immediate upshot of your choice was war; but in that choice you set in motion a sequence of causes and effects destined to develop throughout your future. During the war itself we saw your more percipient minds tortured and warped, not only by physical pain and fear, but by the growing though unacknowledged conviction that they had acquiesced in a great and irrevocable treason against the still-slumbering spirit of man; that through blindness or cowardice or both, they had betrayed that which was the only hope of the future. Very often, of course, this betrayal was at the same time itself an heroic transcendence of mere self-regard for the supposed good of a nation; but it was none the less betrayal of that half-formed and nobler nature upon which alone depended man’s future well-being. During the war itself the working of this poison this profound and almost unrecognized shame, was obscured by the urgency of the military situation. But after the war it acted with ever-increasing effect. This effect we have observed in detail, and I shall describe it. When I have told you of the war itself as it appears to us through your eyes, I shall tell how, after the war, a subtle paralysis and despair fastened upon your best minds, and percolated throughout your social organism. I shall tell how both in theory and in affairs you produced a spate of symptoms which your psychologists would call ‘defence-mechanisms’, designed unwittingly to conceal from yourselves the full realization of your treason and the clear perception of its effects.
That you may appreciate this drama in all its poignancy, I must first report briefly our findings in respect of the nature and the past career of your species, and of the delicate balance of forces which issued inevitably in this betrayal.
Your historians, when they seek to trace the origin of your war, refer only to events which took place within the previous century. They single out such accidents as the murder of an archduke, the ambition of an emperor, the vendetta of two jealous nations, the thrusting growth of a new empire and the resistance of an old, the incompatibility of racial cultures, the debasing effects of materialism, or the inevitable clash of rival economic systems. Each of these factors was in some sense a cause of your war; but to assert that any of them or all of them together constituted the essential cause would be scarcely more profound than to say that the war was brought about by the movement of the pen that signed the first mobilization order. The Neptunian observer, though he duly notes these facts, seeks behind them all for the more general and more profound cause, by virtue of which these lesser causes were able to take effect. He looks further even than the birth of the nations of Europe many centuries before the war. He finds the explanation of your mutual slaughter by regarding it as a crucial incident in the long-drawn-out spiritual drama of your species.
Our observers have traced by direct inspection all the stages in the awakening of man out of his ape-like forerunner. Indeed, as our technique advances we are able to press back our exploration even along the generations of man’s presimian ancestors. Our most brilliant workers have actually succeeded in entering a few isolated individuals of a much more remote past, when the mammal had not yet emerged from the reptile. They have savoured the sluggish and hide-bound mentality that alone was possible to the cold-blooded forefathers of all men and beasts. They have also savoured by contrast th new warmth and lambent flicker of experience which was kindled when the first tentative mammal began living in a chronic fever. But for the understanding of your war it is unnecessary to go further into the past than the emergence of the ape from the presimian.
Even at that early age we observe two themes of mental growth which together constitute the vital motif of the career of the first human species, and the key to your present plight. These themes are the increasing awareness of the external world, and the more tardily increasing insight into the nature of the human spirit itself. The first theme is one of fluctuating but triumphant progress, since it was but the mental aspect of the intelligent mastery of physical nature which brought your species to dominance. The second theme depended on the application of intelligence to another sphere, namely the inner world of desires and fears. Unlike apprehension of the external, it had no survival value, and so its progress was halting. Because this inner wisdom had long ago been outstripped by the outer knowledge, there came at last your war and all its consequences.
Our observers have studied minutely all the crucial events of this age-long drama. Searching even among the dark presimian minds, we have singled out in every generation every individual that has been in advance of his kind in respect either of outward prowess and apprehension or of inward self-knowledge. As one may extract any fragments of iron from a heap of rubbish by passing a magnet over its surface, so we, with our minds set to a slightly higher degree of practical intelligence or of self-consciousness than that of the generation under study, have been able to single out from the mass those rare individuals whose minds were definitely in advance of their contemporaries. We find, of course, that of these geniuses some few have succeeded in handing on their achievement to the future, while many more have been defeated by adverse circumstance.
Roaming among the presimian minds, we discovered one surprising efflorescence of mentality whose tragic story is significant for the understanding of your own very different fate. Long before the apes appeared, there was a little great-eyed lemur, more developed than the minute tarsier which was ultimately to produce ape and man. Like the tarsier, it was arboreal, and its behaviour was dominated by its stereoscopic and analytic vision. Like the tarsier also, it was gifted with a fund of restless curiosity. But unlike the tarsier, it was prone to spells of quiescence and introversion. Fortune favoured this race. As the years passed in tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands it produced large individuals with much larger brains. It passed rapidly to the anthropoid level of intelligence, and then beyond. Among this race there was once born an individual who was a genius of his kind, remarkable both for practical intelligence and for introspection. When he reached maturity, he discovered how to use a stick to’ beat down fruit that was beyond his reach. So delighted was he with this innovation, that often, when he had performed the feat, and his less intelligent fellows were scrambling for the spoils, he would continue to wave his stick for very joy of the art. He savoured both the physical event and his own delight in it. Sometimes he would pinch himself, to get the sharp contrast between his new joy and a familiar pain. Then he would fall into a profound and excited meditation, if such I may call his untheorized tasting of his new mental processes. One evening, while he was thus absorbed, a tree-cat got him. Fortunately this early philosopher left descendants; and from them arose, in due course and by means of a series of happy mutations, a race of large-brained and non-simian creatures whose scanty remains your geologists have yet to unearth, and catalogue as an offshoot of the main line of evolution.
These beings have intrigued our explorers more than anything else in the whole terrestrial field. Their capacity for self-knowledge and mutual insight sprang from the vagaries of mutation, and was at first biologically useless. Yet, merely because in this species it was genetically linked to the practical intelligence which had such great survival value, it developed; until at last it justified itself in an event which from the human point of view seems almost miraculous. At an early stage the new race threatened to break up into a confusion of warring tribes, each jealously preserving its own fruit groves and raiding its neighbours. There was wholesale destruction of fruit. Starvation and mutual slaughter began to tell upon the nerves of this highly strung race. Population declined. Then it was that the miracle occurred. A certain remarkable female, the supreme genius of her race, organized a truce, and a concourse of all the tribes in the trees around a forest glade. Here, with the help of confederates and a heap of fruit, she performed an amazing pantomime, which might be called the forerunner of all sermons and of all propaganda plays. First, by means of dance and ululation, she put the spectators into an hypnoidal state of tense observation. She then evoked in them, by mere gesture and emotive sounds, a fury of tribal passion. At the moment when the companies in the tree-tops seemed about to fling themselves upon one another in battle, she suddenly changed the tone of her pantomime. By sheer histrionic ability she revealed to her bewildered but comprehending fellows her own agony of revulsion from hate, her own heart-searching and self-analysis, her own discovery of profound cravings which had hitherto been ignored. With no medium but the language of gesture and tone which she had in part to improvise, she praised love and beauty, she praised pure cognizance and spiritual peace. The enthralled spectators followed her every movement with unconscious mimicry. Each one of them recognized in his own heart that deeper nature which she was expressing. The result was something like a revivalist meeting, though shorn of the supernatural. In the midst of it the exhausted prophetess, overwhelmed by the emotional strain, succumbed to heart-failure, and thus sealed her gospel with death The whole incident was miraculous enough, but still more amazing was the issue. Seemingly at one stride, the race passed to a level of self-knowledge and mutual loyalty which the first human specie: was to seek in vain, and which therefore it is not possible for me to describe to you.
At their height these amiable lemurs attained also a crude material culture. They had wattle dwellings, set in the forks of trees. They used rough wooden tools, and earthenware vessels, which hung from the branches like fruit. They even learned to plant trees so as to extend their forest. They dried their fruits, and stored them in clay-lined baskets. But to our observers this practical ability was less interesting than the precocious inner life with which it was linked. Nature had favoured these animals by setting them in a great luxuriant island. Their sole enemies, the great cats, they trapped to extinction. Unlike their cousins on the mainland, the ancestors of ape and man, these lemurs were neither over-sexed nor over-aggressive. Consequently their population remained limited in numbers, and united in sentiment. They rivalled the ants in sociality; but theirs was an intelligent, self-conscious sociality; whose basis was not blind gregariousness but mutual insight. When they had attained a very modest standard of amenity and a stationary social order, their native genius for self-knowledge and mutual insight combined with their truly aesthetic relish of acrobatics and of visual perception to open up a whole world of refined adventures. They developed song and articulate speech, arboreal dance, and an abstract art based on wicker-work and clay. The flowers of personality and personal intercourse bloomed throughout the race. They began to generalize and speculate, in a naive but promising manner. By meditation and self-discipline they cultivated mystical experience. It was with amazement, almost with awe, that our earliest observers felt the minds of these tailed, soft-furred arboreals grope toward and even surpass the intuitions of your Socrates and your Jesus. It might be said that these, who flourished millions of years before the Christian era, were the only truly Christian race that ever existed. They were in fact a race of spiritual geniuses, a race which, if only it could have been preserved against the stresses of a savage world, might well have attained a far lovelier mentality than was ever to be attained by the First Men.
This could not be. Nothing but rare good fortune had saved them from extinction throughout the million years of their career. It was by practical intelligence alone that they had won their position, not by self-knowledge, which in the early stages of evolution is indeed rather a hindrance than a help to the battling species. With security and a stereotyped social condition, their practical versatility declined. When at last a submarine upheaval turned their island into a peninsula, the gentle lemurs met their doom. A swarm of the still half-simian ancestors of man invaded the little paradise. Far less percipient than the natives, and less truly intelligent, but larger, more powerful, quarrelsome, and entirely ruthless, these fanged and hirsute brutes overpowered the lemurs by numbers and weight of muscle; by cunning also, for they had a well-established repertoire of foxy tricks. The lemurs had but one weapon, kindliness; and this in the circumstances was ineffective. Moreover they were by now emotionally refined into such fastidiousness that at the sight of blood they fainted. If one of them was caught and slaughtered by the enemy, his horrified companions would drop like ripe fruit from the trees and break their necks. Within a decade the race was extinct.
With the defeat of the lemurs at the hands of a hardier and a more extrovert??species, it was written in the book of fate that, sooner or later, a world-situation such as your own must occur, and give rise to an epoch of world wars such as you are now to suffer. Between the downfall of the lemurs and your own age there has been a slow, but in the long run triumphant, advance of practical intelligence. That other application of intelligence, namely to the inner life, has developed but spasmodically, as an accidental consequence of the growth of intelligence in action. And so it has happened that man’s motives have remained throughout the career of your species almost invariably primitive. Even in your own day, when primitive impulses are intellectually seen to be inadequate, and you struggle pathetically toward loftier desires, your hearts remain the hearts of apes, and your struggle is vain. From the point of view of cosmical perfection, of course, your struggle is not vain at all. By your gallant effort and by your fated downfall also, you fulfil your part well and truly within the drama of existence. But from the point of view of the advancement of the race your struggle is indeed vain, doomed to failure. The profound reorganization of the human will, which you now see to be necessary, cannot be achieved in time to avert disaster. While the world remained primitive, and man’s power over physical nature feeble, this paucity of the inner life, though in itself deplorable, did not imperil the survival of the race. But in your day man has gained considerable power. Not only has he made his world so complex and so explosive that it threatens to break from the control of his practical intelligence but further, and more serious, it is now such that the operation of the old blind motives may destroy it. Nothing could save you but a far more radical exercise of those capacities of self-knowledge which in your species have flowered only in rare circumstances, and in your own feverish epoch are more and more crushed out by the routine of industrial society.
In its earliest phase, then, and throughout its career, your species triumphed by means of pertinacity, quarrelsomeness and practical versatility. Little by little, success has strengthened these qualities. In the early conflict of many intelligent half-simian species, one conquered, the most cunning and courageous of all. The rest vanished. By wit and constancy of purpose the one creature made himself at last the veritable king of beasts, attacking even the great flesh-eating cats, till his very smell became dreadful to them. Thus by extravert?? intelligence did your ancestors come into their kingdom. For savouring their own experience they had neither need nor inclination. They gulped it down, and then sought more. For probing their own hearts they had no capacity. They could never become clearly aware of themselves. Since then, the aptitude for self-knowledge, which in your stock was never great, has not been fostered, save here and there and in a few periods of your history. There came of course a stage when the mere growth of intelligence made man realize that his heart was an unexplored jungle, and forced him to attack it. But this stage came late, too late: The jungle was by then too dense, too well-established.
Our observers have inspected everyone of those great strokes of genius by which man came into his power. We have tasted the surprise and glee of him who first smashed his enemy’s face with a stone, the triumph of him who first shaped a flint-edge to his liking, of him who secured fire and used it, of him who improved the floating log into a boat with paddles, and the rolling log into a wheel, of him who wrought the first metal tools, of him who made a sail, and so on. We have seen these inventions attained, forgotten sometimes even by the individual discoverers, re-invented, again, and again lost and rediscovered, until at last they became the permanent property of the race. In each case we have entered the mind of the innovator, and felt his sudden ecstasy of achievement, his leap into keener being, like the fanned spark’s leap into flame. We have watched him subsequently sink back into the old dream-like routine mentality, forgetful of past insight. Again and again, when a primitive man has stared uncomprehendingly at the very stone with which yesterday he triumphantly cracked the marrow-bones, our observer, being himself but human, has longed to remind the poor fool of his past prowess. As the ages advanced, this intelligence, this power of insight into the potentialities of external objects, evolved from a rare flicker to a constant flame, an established habit of mind. It was formerly intermittent, unreliable. It was like the earliest tools, which were but natural clumsy stones, picked up and used occasionally, and then forgotten. In time it became like the wrought and tempered knife, which is kept ever about the person, used at every turn, used often for mere love of using it, toyed with and applied to all manner of objects which seem at first without any practical significance whatever. Sometimes, indeed, as the ages pass, this keen knife of the mind is even applied to the mind itself. The inventor notices his own inventive activity, and tries to dissect it. The hungry man observes his own hunger, the amorous man his own lust. But the process turns out to be rather bewildering, even painful. Also it distracts one from the actual business of living. In the early stages it is therefore shunned.
Nevertheless, as the epochs unfold, the mind of man becomes more capacious, more unified, more active. It is no longer an ephemeral perception, forgetful of the past, or troubled now and then by a mere gleam of memory. Increasingly it carries the past forward with it, and refers to this stored past for light upon the present and the future. Increasingly every moment of its experience becomes interfused by all the rest of its experience. Today gains meaning from yesterday. Nothing can happen to the mind that does not reverberate, faintly or violently, through its whole nature. Every event is interpreted and valued in relation to other events. The man’s mind becomes increasingly one mind, not a host of disconnected stupid little minds, awakening one after the other in response to special stimuli. Or so it tends to become. But in fact, it remains, in spite of all advances, very far from unified.
Along with this growing art of comprehending things together and taking more and more into account, comes an increasing discrimination of the actual differences in the world. Eyes distinguish new delicacies of shape, new shades of colour, ears detect new modulations of sound, fingers touch with increasing percipience, manipulate with increasing skill. Thus, age by age, man’s experience of his world becomes richer, more coherent. Beasts, trees, one’s fellows, become ever more characteristic, recognizable, reckonable. Space enlarges itself, is measured out in paces, leagues, marches; and time in days, months, seasons, years, generations. There looms a past before the clan was founded, a future for grandchildren’s grandchildren. Meanwhile things that were formerly mere’ brute facts’, shallow, opaque, barren of significance beyond themselves, reveal unexpected depths of meaning, become luminous, pregnant, charged with mysterious power. The sun and moon, darkness, the storm, the seasons, beasts of the chase and hostile beasts, all gather to themselves out of the past a strange, obscure, potent significance.
Meanwhile also another, very different, class of objects is at length gaining precision and significance. The roving curiosity looks sometimes inward. Intelligence is turned more resolutely than of old upon the anatomy of the mind itself. The hunter, in ambush for his prey, is suddenly confronted with his own being. He beholds that strange thing’ himself’, with the surprise and awe which he felt when he encountered for the first time some unfamiliar beast of the forest. But this time he has no clear apprehension of the mysterious quarry, only a most tantalizing glimpse, as of a dark form lurking behind the brushwood. He falls into abstraction. He ruminates his own being. ‘I -am waiting for the stag. I want to kill the stag.’ The strain of stalking himself gives him a kind of vertigo. It even frightens him. Suddenly he wakes from his novel experience, to find that the physical quarry that he proposed to ambush has appeared and escaped. He has missed his dinner. He vows he will never again be bemused in this way. But on another occasion something similar happens. He is courting his young love, with the great brown eyes and gentle voice. She is ready to be taken. But suddenly two strange things loom into his inner vision, himself and herself, very near to one another, very closely entwined into one another’s minds, yet strange to one another, infinitely remote. Once more he falls into abstraction, fascinated, perplexed. ‘I— she. I— she’. As he sinks into this meditation, she sees his face change and fade. She seeks to rouse him by winsome tricks, but he remains for a while abstracted. In sudden fear and resentment she breaks from him and flies.
Thus, little by little, men and women grope toward a certain tentative superficial self-knowledge, and knowledge of one another. And, as they proceed, these strange objects, selves, become charged with ever-greater significance. Individuals come to prize themselves as no less gifted creature could ever do. They are proving that they are mighty selves. And, prizing themselves, they learn at the same time to prize other selves. Woman, whom man once saw merely as a thing to covet and embrace and then to ignore, or at most as a vague’ other’, agreeable or irksome, now gathers to herself the significance of all past intercourse, all subtle passages of lust and love and hate, and reveals herself at last as a spirit, mysterious, potent, tender, ruthless. So also the man to the woman. Children, once mere objects to tend, defend, fondle, or, as the mood changed, to spurn, now become beings in their own right, rightly demanding service, even to the death. The group, once a vague swarm of fluctuating, discontinuous phantoms, companionable, quarrelsome, tyrannous, crystallizes at length into a system of persons. Close around oneself there is discovered a nucleus of well-tried friends and enemies, each one unique, incomparable. Over the heads of all, remote, mysterious, the old man of the tribe, or the tribal mother, or later the king of the whole land, embodies in his own person the ancient impersonal presence of the group, and later ascends heavenward as the tribal god, finally to become the one God of all tribes and all existence.
But long before this apotheosis there begin to appear here and there among the tribes beings of an intenser self-consciousness and a more insistent egoism, heroes, violent men for whom nothing is respect-worthy but their own exultant spirits. The word ‘I’ is ever on their lips and in their deeds. Each one of them is poignantly aware of himself as pitted against a huge, base, reptilian universe; and is confident that he will master it. Each lives for the mere zest of mastery. In his triumphant course each is accompanied by a swarm of jackal followers, not of his own kind, but striving to be of his kind. With them he smites the established powers, changing man’s life for good or bad, making his mark upon the world, for very lust of scribbling. At the close of it all he confidently expects translation into some Valhalla. Often as not, all trace of him vanishes in a generation, save his name and legend on the lips of bards. If in any other manner his work lasts, it is more or less an accident. For, though aware of the superficies of his individuality in a manner impossible to his fellows, the hero has neither inclination nor time nor courage to penetrate within it and explore it. He accepts the bright superficies of himself at its face-value, and cares nothing for its deeper potentiality. In this respect he is typical of your kind.
Not only so, but the glamour of the hero has helped to make you what you now are. The ideal of personal prowess, which he set, though at first helpful to man’s sluggish spirit, became later the curse of your species. With its facile glory it inveigled your forefathers into accepting outworn values, puerile aims. Throughout the whole career of your species the ideal of heroism has dominated you, for good and bad. In the earliest of all human phases, the almost simian mind of man could not yet conceive any ideal whatever, but the hero ideal was none the less already implicit in his behaviour, though unconscious. The best from which man sprang was already self-regarding, quarrelsome, resolute; and his hands were skilled for battle. Since then, epoch by epoch, the glory of innumerable heroes, the spell of innumerable heroic myths have ground the ideal of heroism into men’s hearts so deeply that it has become impossible for you ‘modern’ men, in spite of your growing perception that heroism by itself is futile, to elicit from your hearts any larger ideal. You pay lip-service to other ideals, to love, and social loyalty, and religious possession; but you cannot feel them reverberate in your hearts, as does the ideal of the splendid all-conquering individual. To this ideal alone your hearts have “been tuned by age-long hero-worship. No doubt, throughout your career loyalty has played a part. Y our triumph, such as it is, rests upon the work of brilliant individuals cooperating in the group’s service. But you have never taken the group to your hearts as you have taken the hero. You cannot. Your hearts are strung for the simpler music. They are but one-stringed instruments, incapable of symphonic harmony. Even your groups, even your modern nations,” you must needs personify as heroic individuals, vying with one, another, brandishing weapons, trumpeting their glory.
Our observers, wandering through the ages which you call prehistoric, have watched your kind spread in successive waves into every habitable corner of your planet, multiplying itself in a thousand diversities of race, diversities of bodily form, or temperament, of tradition, of culture. We have seen these waves, as they spread over the plains and along the coasts and up the valleys, every now and again crash into one another, obliterate one another, augment one another, traverse one another. We have seen the generations succeed one another as the leaves of an evergreen tree. As the leaves of a young tree differ from the leaves of an old tree, the early generations differ from the later in bodily and mental configuration. Yet they remain within the limits of their specific type. And so, inevitably, do you, spiked leaves of the holly.
We have watched all the stages, gradual or sudden, by which the common ancestor, crouched, hairy, and pot-bellied, has given place to the more erect Pithecanthropus, to the still almost simian Neanderthalian, and at last to the taller and more human progenitor, of all your races. We have seen the first bare rippled backs, and the first broad upright brows. We have seen woman’s breasts form themselves out of the old simian dugs. We have watched the gradual crystallization of your four great racial beauties, white, yellow, brown and black. We have followed in detail many a minor strand of bodily character, and the many facial types within each race, which blend and part and blend again, generation by generation Similarly we have traced, generation by generation, the infinitely diverse exfoliation of the simian mind into your four great racial temperaments, and all the subtleties of disposition inborn in the many stocks within each race.
There came at length a stage in the career of your species when through the operation of intelligence, men began vaguely to feel that there was something wrong with their own nature. They had already, here and there, acquired a superficial self-knowledge and mutual insight. They had begun to distinguish, though haltingly the lesser and the somewhat greater goods of the spirit. From mere sex, mere parenthood, mere gregariousness, they had passed here and there to a kind of love and a kind of loyalty; but they could not maintain any sure footing on this higher plane. They were for ever slipping into the old bad ways. Increasingly they surmised that the purely animal way of life, even when glorified into heroism, was not the best that men and women could attain. Yet when they anxiously peered into their chaotic hearts to discover what was better, they could see nothing clearly, could find no constant illumination. Our observers, studying your early races, report that for each race there came a phase, early or late, poignant or obscure in which there spread a vague but profound restlessness, a sense of potentialities not exercised, a sense of an insecure new nature struggling to shape itself, but in the main failing to do more than confuse the old brute nature. It is of this phase of your career that I must now speak.
The action of the drama accelerates. With ever-increasing speed the human intelligence masters its world, brings natural forces more and more under control of the still primitive will, and unwittingly prepares a new world, a man-made world, which is destined to become in your day too intricate for the still unfinished intelligence to master, too precariously balanced to withstand the irresponsible vagaries of a will that is still in essence simian, though equipped with dangerous powers. The ape has awakened into a subtler and more potent cunning. He has attained even a vague perception of what it would be like to be truly human in mind and heart. Ineffectually, intermittently, he strives to behave as a true man would behave; and in rare moments he actually achieves thoughts and actions not unworthy of a man. But for the most part he remains throughout the history of your species, and in your own moment of that history, at heart a monkey, though clothed, housed and armed.
Before we look more closely at your ‘modern’ world, let us glance at the hundred centuries preceding it. At the outset we see tribes of hunters settling down to till the valleys, especially the valleys of the Nile, the Euphrates, the Indus, the Ganges, the Yangtze. Millennia pass. Mud huts proliferate along the river-banks, condense into cities, are overhung by megalithic tombs, temples, palaces. The tribes coalesce into kingdoms and empires, and produce the first phases of civilization. Traders score the t continents with their tracks. Little ships creep around the coasts, and sometimes venture beyond sight of land. Heroes gather armies and perform mighty evanescent conquests. Hardy barbarians invade the plains, dominate the empires, and are absorbed by the conquered. Daily life becomes steadily more secure, amenable, regular, complex. Triumphantly the intelligent beast finds new ways to gratify its ancient cravings for food, shelter, safety, adventure, for self-display, amorousness, and herd-activity. Yet at heart it remains a beast, disturbed but seldom by an obscure discontent with its own nature and with the world that it has fashioned around it.
With the increase of security a few exceptional minds begin to explore their environment intellectually, and even to probe their own nature. Increasingly the more awakened individuals become aware of their own inner chaos, both of understanding and of will. Here and there, where circumstance is peculiarly favourable to the life of the spirit, men are almost persistent in their self-searching. In India, where the physical cravings are insurgent and irresistible as the jungle, they strive through asceticism to establish the spirit over the flesh. In Greece they seek harmonious fulfilment of body and mind. For the sake of this fulfilment they seek the truth. They pass beyond the rule-of-thumb devices of medicine men, astrologers, builders, navigators, to make guesses about the inner nature of things, about the stars, the shape of the earth, the human body and soul, about number, space, time, and the nature of thinking. Meanwhile in Palestine others conceive a divine law; and in obeying it they expect a heaven of eternal bliss.
Then at length appear, here and there along the centuries, here and there among the peoples, a few supremely penetrating minds. Mostly their careers are cut short by indifferent fate, or by the vindictive herd. But three triumph, Gautama, Socrates, Jesus. Seeing with the mind’s eye and feeling with the heart more vividly and more precisely than their fellows, they look round them at the world, and within them at their own nature, as none had done before them. It is a strange world that confronts them, a world of beings superficially like themselves, yet different. So uncomprehending are their fellows, so insensitive, so pitifully weak. In rigorous and ceaseless meditation the three great ones strive to formulate their teeming intuitions in a few great principles, a few great precepts. They live out their precepts in their own lives relentlessly. Gautama said: By self-denial, self-oblivion, seek that annihilation of particular being which is the way to universal being. Socrates said: Let us fulfil ourselves to the uttermost by embodying in ourselves, and in the world that is our city, the true and the good. Jesus said: Love one another; love God; God is love.
From these three greatest of your kind, these three vital germs issue three vast ramifications of spiritual influence, three widespread endemic infections of the minds of men, passing from generation to generation. The tragedy of your species may be said, to lie in its complete failure to embody, rather than merely to mimic, the spirit of these three men. Our observers, as I have already said, have never been able to establish themselves in any of these three. As the single racial mind of the Last Men we do indeed, if the obscure recollection of that experience is to be trusted, savour and even influence them. But to each individual observer they remain impenetrable. We can, however, study them through their contemporaries, and have done so, very minutely. We have seen those great ones face to face, listened to every word that they have spoken, watched every act they have performed in the presence of any spectator. Through dying eyes we have observed Gautama contemplating death. In the mind of the young Plato we have attended to the quiet ironical voice of Socrates and been confronted by his disturbing gaze. We have heard Jesus preaching on the mount, with dark face kindled. We have stood around the cross and heard him cry out on the God whom he had misconceived.
In such experiences three facts invariably impress us, and fill us with a sense of the pathos of your kind. We are amazed both at the unique genius of these men and at the world-imposed limitation of their genius. We are pressed also by the inability of their fellow-men to grasp even that part of their vision which found expression. For neither their immediate fellows nor you, with all your complacent historical knowledge, can ever understand them. How should you? They themselves strove in vain to comprehend their own profound, unique, intuitions, within terms of their world’s naive beliefs. But though the flame burned brightly in their hearts, they could neither understand it not express it. For neither their conception nor their language was adequate to such a task.
But even if they could have expressed their vision, they would have been misunderstood. For each of these three, though sorely cramped and bewildered by his archaic world, was a veritable man; while his fellows, like the rest of you, were but half-human apes. And so, inevitably, these great ones are misinterpreted even by their own chosen followers. Socrates, who is so much more fortunate in Plato than Jesus in his disciples and Gautama in his interpreters, is seen by us, not only to be more profound in intellect than the great Plato, but to have also a vision, an illumination, perplexing to himself and utterly incommunicable to any of his associates. The lemurs might have understood him. The lemurs might have understood Jesus, and Gautama also. But they, too innocent, could not maintain themselves against the muscle and cunning of man’s progenitors.
It is clear to our observers that in your three great minds there occurred an identical insight into the nature of man and of the world. But each interpreted his vision differently, and expressed it differently in action. And from each a very different influence was selected by his followers.
We have traced that influence, that spreading ferment in men’s minds. The three proliferations are very diverse. But in the early stages of each, during the first and even the second generation, there occurs a new intensity of experience, an increased though still confused self-knowledge, mutual insight and apprehension of the world. There is also a gloriously increased pertinacity of the will to be man rather than ape. Tidal waves of a new enthusiasm now begin to surge across the peoples, lifting up men’s hearts, spreading over the continents. And, spreading, they fade. They multiply into a thousand meandering variations. They are deflected hither and thither, traversing one another again and again.. They confuse, annihilate or augment one another. In your day there is not a mind anywhere on your planet which does not pulse, however faintly, to the endlessly wandering reverberations of your three true men.
But long before your day the character of the influence is changed. At first it stormfully resounds in the secret places of men’s hearts, and even wrenches their poor ape-hearts into something of the human form. But in the end the simian nature triumphs. Those crude instruments, forced for a while to reverberate in response to a music too subtle and too vast for them, presently relapse into the archaic mode.
The ape nature corrupts the new, precarious, divinely human will, turning it into a lofty egoism, a new heroism.
Here, there is heroism of the intellect, loyal only to the truth-seeking self; there, heroism of the heart, determined to embrace all men in indiscriminate brotherliness, through mere loyalty to the love-proud self; there, heroism of the spirit, domineering over the flesh, proclaiming as the supreme affirmation mere negation.
But there remains a memory, a tradition, a legend, an obscure yearning in the hearts of men for a way of life that is too difficult for them. And so there are formed various mighty associations, whose office is to preserve one aspect or another of the fading illumination. The Christian and the Buddhist churches spread far and wide their hierarchies and their monastic orders. Institutions of learning, schools and universities, are precipitated around the Mediterranean coasts and over the European lands. Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Latins, Franks, thus preserve amongst themselves Some smouldering embers. But the flame is vanished.
Yet now and again, once in a few generations, now in this land, now in that, the coals break once more into conflagration. There is a spreading revival of the original ecstasy. Once more, but not for long, the ape-hearts resound obscurely with counterfeit echoes of an experience whose true form they cannot support. Once more it seems to them that they are merged in one another and gathered into God in a mystic communion, that they have pierced behind appearances to the eternal truth, that by self-annihilation they have escaped the limitation of the flesh and individual consciousness, to be gathered into the absolute being. But once more, though the few attain some genuine illumination, the many misunderstand, ignore what is essential and mimic what is accidental; or in frank hostility persecute. Once more, as the insight fades, the institution flourishes, and takes up its place in the established order. Once more the ape triumphs over the man.
Our observers have savoured the minds of the First Men in all these wave-crests of the spirit, these religious revivals, protestations, counter-reformations, these fervours of heart-searching, stampedes of soul-saving, these martyrdoms for an inner light so precious and so misperceived. Everywhere we detect an identical fact. Vaguely aware of his own blindness and incoherence, man yearns toward vision and toward harmony; but he yearns in vain. Vision, indeed, he does now and again achieve, fleetingly, misleadingly; but harmony never. Here and there men see obscurely what they should be doing with themselves, but always their conduct, and their vision also, is distorted by preconceptions and predilections forced upon them by their ape nature. They are confused by phantom lures of immortality, of celestial bliss, of abstract righteousness, of divine love.
Nevertheless men do begin, here and there, to feel stirring within them, striving for expression, some strange new life of the spirit. Did they but know, they are in travail for a twin birth. They are troubled with the first movements of a new piety toward fate and a new loyalty toward man. Of the first they know as yet almost nothing, for whenever they experience it, they confuse it with the old complacent love of a loving God. Of the second, they guess only that they must make the best of man, must seek to know ever more truly both the world and the self, must seek to feel ever more delicately, and to will ever more harmoniously. Obscurely they begin to surmise that the whole active duty of men is to live for men; and that man must be made one, a spirit winged perhaps for enterprise unimaginable in their day. But these two conflicting spirits of cosmical piety and human loyalty remain still deeply hidden in their hearts; and men can neither see into their hearts nor bring forth in action what still is hidden. They cannot obey, they cannot even understand, these two seemingly incompatible divine commandments of the future. Blindly they seek vision; but the knowledge that they would have is for power, not piety. And so they are tricked at every turn by their own cravings. Harmony they seek; but neither within the individual nor in the race of individuals can they attain it. Nor can they find harmony with the universe. In each heart there rages the old conflict between the man and the monkey, and also the obscure new conflict between cosmical piety and human loyalty. In the external world, the quarrelsome apes that fought of old for prey, for mates, for kingship, for hunting-grounds, war now for cornlands, mines, trade, for national glory or security, for fantasies of religion. Armies surge hither and thither. Fields and cities are laid waste; and always in a good cause, whether for some royal master, or some burgher caste, or some nation, or for the glory of God.
While all this is afoot, something else which is new is beginning to happen to mankind. The still unrecognized piety toward fate and fact, and toward the actual course of the world, stirs men to observe the daily features of the world with new interest. At the same time loyalty toward man fires them to master the physical world for man’s use, and therefore to understand its working. Some few individuals here and there, fretted by a recrudescence of that curiosity by which the ape had triumphed, begin to pry into the behaviour of physical things. They drop weights from towers, seek new descriptions of planetary motions, peer at the heavens through lenses, observe the workings of flesh and blood, put one stuff with another stuff and watch the issue, brood upon the falling apple, and on the jumping lid of a kettle, devise pistons, cog-wheels, gears, wheels within wheels. Suddenly man puts together a mesh of dangerous little fragments of knowledge, and comes into possession of little dangerous powers. Victoriously, the human ape assimilates the teeming influx of new facts. Decade by decade he discovers new features of the intricacy and majesty of the physical universe. Imagination strains to cope with the very great, the very little, the very complex, the very swift, the very long-enduring. Little by little, the familiar universe crumbles away, and a new stupendous universe forces itself on man’s reluctant fascinated gaze.
Within this new pattern of things man sees himself as among the very little, the very brief, the very impotent, the wholly mechanical. This discovery, which fills him with indignation and despair, should have been a step in his salvation. It should have taught him to value himself no longer as the immortal, precious, unique child of a God whom his own mind had created, but henceforth as a thread in the fair web of the universe, a theme in the great music, and also as one brief sentient focus of cosmical aspects. But, wholly ignorant of his own interior being, he still cherishes the belief that he is something peculiar, distinct from the physical, something uniquely free, vital, spiritual. And so, when he is forced to regard himself as all of a piece with his world, he feels himself degraded. All that he knows of the physical world is shape, movement, resistance, mechanical sequence of changes. These he takes to be no mere superficies, but the very essence of the physical. And these abstractions he now applies to himself, condemning himself as mere ‘matter’. If he knew himself as well as he now begins to know his world, the science of the physical would not dismay him about his own nature, nor remain itself a science of mere appearances. But through inveterate self-blindness the First Men are doomed to misconceive themselves in the light of a physical nature, which, also through self-blindness, they must misconceive. Ignorant of their own interior being, they remain ignorant of the interior being of the world whose gorgeous superficies is now stage by stage terrifyingly revealed.
When the First Men have already firmly grounded their science of the physical world, they begin to direct the same objective study upon their own behaviour. Thus they will acquire in due season a vision of themselves even more devastating, because more precise. They will see themselves at last unambiguously as greedy, self-absorbed, vindictive, timorous apes, cunning and powerful up to a point, yet also incredibly weak and stupid. This knowledge, could they but pursue it relentlessly and to the bitter end, should lead them at last up to the locked door behind which is true self-knowledge. Once there, they should be able by biological control to produce a generation capable of penetrating that interior stronghold. Thus should the First Men arrive at last where the lemurs started, and should proceed to surpass those wise innocents in every activity of the spirit. But in the book of fate it is written that this shall not happen. While men are taking the first few halting steps in the new venture, while they are still debating the course, the storm breaks upon them. A world situation arises which demands for its control more intelligence and far more integrity of will than their half-formed nature can achieve.
While man is becoming less and less confident of his own spiritual dignity, he acquires more and more power over his physical world, and sinks further and further into obsession with the material. Steam drives ships across the oceans without care for winds, drives trains across the lands, carrying great loads at incredible speeds. Later comes electricity, and with it the flashing of messages around the planet on wires or on the ether. The age-old dream of flying is at last realized by aeroplane and airship. Meanwhile by machinery and chemical synthesis innumerable materials and utensils are manufactured for comfort, luxury or power.
What is the upshot? From its germ in Europe a new world spreads, devouring the old world. Formerly events happening in one region had seldom any appreciable effect elsewhere. But now, increasingly, each event in every Part of the world reverberates within all other events. By means of steam and electricity the human world is becoming one system. Its regions become interdependent economically, even in a manner culturally; but not politically, and not socially. The hearts of men are massed against one another in jealous and mistrustful nations. And across this, cleavage runs another, the division in all lands between masters and servants, the economically free and the economically enslaved. The new world should have been a happy and glorious world. But it is not. The new powers should have been organized in service of the human spirit, the one right object of loyalty. But they are not. The First Men can do almost nothing, with their powers, but serve the old ape-cravings for private comfort, safety, self-display and tribal glory.
At the moment of the outbreak of the European War the great majority of mankind are extremely ignorant not only of their own essential nature but of the world. They feel no need that man should be made one, and that all men should cooperate in the supreme racial enterprise. They take the nations to be the true objects of loyalty, and the social classes to be natural elements of the nation. But a minority, mostly in the Western lands, have blindly felt this need of human unity. Their leaders have formulated it obscurely in one manner or another, often discrepantly.??But few can take it at all seriously, very few can live for it passionately. In most cases, however bravely they can talk about it, they cannot act for it. If ever they are put to the test, they shy away, affirming that nationalism is ‘practical’, cosmopolitanism but a remote ideal. Though they see it intellectually, their hearts are not capable of responding to it. If ever the nation is in danger, their cosmopolitanism evaporates, and they stand for the nation in the good old style. Yet intellectually they know that in their modern world this way leads to disaster.
The story of your species is indeed a tragic story, for it closes with desolation. Your Part in that story is both to strive and to fail in a unique opportunity, and so to set the current of history toward disaster. But think not therefore that your species has occurred in vain, or that your own individual lives are futile. Whatever any of you has achieved of good is an excellence in itself and a bright thread woven into the texture of the cosmos. In spite of your failure it shall be said of you, had they not striven as they did, the Whole would have been less fair. And yet also it shall be said, even had they triumphed and not suffered their disaster, the Whole would have been less fair.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00