In this newly built Spade House I began a book Anticipations which can be considered as the keystone to the main arch of my work. That arch rises naturally from my first creative imaginations, The Man of the Year Million (written first in 1887) and The Chronic Argonauts (in the Science Schools Journal 1888), and it leads on by a logical development to The Shape of Things to Come (1933) and to the efforts I am still making to define and arrange for myself and for a few other people who inhabit my world, the actual factors necessary to give a concrete working expression to a world-wide “Open Conspiracy” to rescue human society from the net of tradition in which it is entangled and to reconstruct it upon planetary lines.
Necessarily this main arch, the structural frame of my life, is of supreme importance to me, and naturally it is of supreme importance in this picture of my world. It is unavoidable therefore that at times I should write as if I imagined that — like that figure of Atlas which stood in my father’s shop window — I sustained the whole world upon my shoulders.
That is the necessary effect of an autobiographical perspective. Every man who has grown out of his infantile faith in the sanity of things about him and developed a social consciousness, carries his whole world upon his shoulders. In an autobiography he is bound to tell about that. He cannot pretend to be unaware of what his mind is doing. He becomes perforce the judge of all the world. He cannot add, “in my opinion” or, “though it is not for me to judge,” to every sentence. If he is afraid to appear self-important and an arrogant prig, he had better leave out the story of his brain altogether. But then, what will remain?
I once met a very eminent American who regaled me with an anecdote. He said, “I once saw Abraham Lincoln.”
“Yes?” I said eagerly.
“He was as close to me as you are. Closer.”
“I saw him.”
“And what did you see?”
“Abraham Lincoln of course. Surely you’ve heard of Abraham Lincoln?”
That was really modest autobiography, a locus and, beyond that, nothing. But the alternative would have been to pronounce a judgment on Abraham Lincoln.
I should probably romance about it, fill in gaps and simplify unduly, if I tried to give an orderly account of how preoccupation with the future became dominant in my conscious life. But I think my contact with evolutionary speculation at my most receptive age played a large part in the matter. I cannot judge, I do not know how to judge, whether the accident of writing those two early pieces about the remote future and mankind and time-travelling gave me a bias in this matter, and whether, having once made a little success in forecasting, it seemed natural to give the public more from the same tap, or whether on the other hand there was an innate disposition to approach things in general from that unusual side. The idea of treating time as a fourth dimension was, I think, due to an original impulse; I do not remember picking that up. But I may have picked it up, because it was in the air. If I did not then the bias was innate.
The future depicted in the Time Machine (1894) was a mere fantasy based on the idea of the human species developing about divergent lines, but the future in When the Sleeper Awakes (1898) was essentially an exaggeration of contemporary tendencies: higher buildings, bigger towns, wickeder capitalists and labour more down-trodden than ever and more desperate. Everything was bigger, quicker and more crowded; there was more and more flying and the wildest financial speculation. It was our contemporary world in a state of highly inflamed distension. Very much the same picture is given in A Story of the Days to Come (1899) and A Dream of Armageddon (1903). I suppose that is the natural line for an imaginative writer to take, in an age of material progress and political sterility. Until he thinks better of it. Michael Arlen betrayed the same tendency in his Man’s Mortality as recently as 1932. But in 1899 I was already beginning to realize there might be better guessing about the trend of things.
Along came the end of the century, just apt to my thoughts, and I arranged with W. L. Courtney, who had succeeded Frank Harris as editor of the Fortnightly Review, to publish a series of papers discussing what was likely to happen in the new century.
Now Anticipations was not only a new start for me, but, it presently became clear, a new thing in general thought. It may have been a feeble and vulnerable innovation, but it was as new as a new-laid egg. It was the first attempt to forecast the human future as a whole and to estimate the relative power of this and that great system of influence. Partial forecasts and forebodings existed in abundance already; we had estimates for instance, of the length of time it would take to exhaust the world’s coal supply, of the prospects of population congestion if the birth-rate remained stable, of the outlook for this planet as the solar system cooled, as it was then supposed to be doing, very rapidly; but most of these conclusions were based on such narrowly conditioned calculations that they could be dismissed quite easily by challenging the validity of the assumptions. A comprehensive attempt to state and weigh and work out a general resultant for the chief forces of social change throughout the world, sober forecasting, that is to say, without propaganda, satire or extravaganza, was so much a novelty that my book, crude though it was and smudgily vague, excited quite a number of people. Macmillan, my English publishers, were caught unawares by the demand and had sold out the first edition before they reprinted. It sold as well as a novel.
Among other people who were excited by Anticipations was myself. I became my own first disciple. Perhaps at the outset of this series I was inspired chiefly by the idea of producing some timely interesting articles. But before I was half way through the series I realized that this sort of thing could not remain simply journalistic. If I was not doing something widely and profoundly important I was at least sketching out something widely and profoundly important. I was carrying on the curves instead of the tangents of history. I was indicating, even if I was not to some extent providing, new data of quite primary importance for rationalized social political and economic effort. I was writing the human prospectus.
One of the things I would like to see done in the world is the foundation of a number of chairs for the teaching of an old subject in a new spirit. If I belonged to the now rapidly vanishing class of benevolent multi-millionaires I would create Professorships of Analytical History. Instead of presenting the clotted masses of un-digested or ill-digested fact which still encumber academic history to-day, my Professors would be doing fully, systematically and soundly, just what I did, though in the flimsiest way, in these Anticipations. From the biological point of view my Professors would be human ecologists; indeed Human Ecology would be a good alternative name for this new history as I conceive it. Then there need be no challenge to those who are still in endowed possession of “history” as such. My new men and the students under them would be working out strands of biological, intellectual, economic consequences. Periods, nations and races they would consider only in so far as these provided them with material facts. They would be related to the older school of historians much as vegetable physiologists ecologists and morphologists are related to the old plant-flattening, specimen-hunting, stamen-counting botanists. The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis. The clearer their new history became the nearer they would be to efficient world-planning. All this is very obvious to-day but it was by no means clear in 1900. It took me some years to grasp the magnitude of my own realization.
Sooner or later Human Ecology under some name or other, will win its way to academic recognition and to its proper place in general education — in America sooner than in Europe, I guess — but the old history made up of time-worn gossip and stale and falsified politics, is deeply embedded in literature and usage. The invasion of the field of history by the scientific spirit is belated and slow. The old history, barbarically copious and classically fruitless, is strongly entrenched in the centres of learning throughout the world; it is closely interwoven with the legal profession and the current politico-social organization, and has all the resistant vigour of hierarchic dignity on the defensive. For years yet, I am afraid, the young will still have to learn the more significant facts about Queen Elizabeth’s doubtful virginity, memorize such legal documents as the Constitutions of Clarendon and the Bill of Rights and discuss those marvellous world policies invented for examination purposes by dons addicted to self-identification with Julius Cæsar or Napoleon Bonaparte or Charles the Fifth or Disraeli or some other of the many exaggerated and inflammatory figures about which history has festered. But this material has no more educational value than the reading of detective stories, until a sound analytical treatment brings it right into the texture of contemporary affairs and points on through their confusion to the broad lines of probability ahead.
I made a first attempt to formulate this idea in my Royal Institution lecture in January 1902. I called this lecture the Discovery of the Future and I drew a hard distinction between what I called the legal (past-regarding) and the creative (future regarding) minds. I insisted that we overrated the darkness of the future, that by adequate analysis of contemporary processes its conditions could be brought within the range of our knowledge and its form controlled, and that mankind was at the dawn of a great change-over from life regarded as a system of consequences to life regarded as a system of constructive effort. I did not say that the future could be foretold but I said that its conditions could be foretold. We should be less and less bound by the engagements of the past and more and more ruled by a realiazation of the creative effect of our acts. We should release ourselves more and more from the stranglehold of past things.
An attack upon the assumption that history is made by “Great Men” is clearly implied in this view. Napoleon and Cæsar were typical “Great Men.” I hold they were as much an outcome of systemic processes as are the pustules that break out through the skin of many growing young people. Just now we are living in a world where such boils are breaking out everywhere; everywhere there are dictators and “leaders”; everywhere there are “movements” festering about anything from the highly distended Mussolini to our own little black-head, Mosley. It is a spotty stage in the adolescence of mankind, a spotty stage that will pass. It is the Great Man idea and method in final pathological decay.
My lecture was printed in Nature (February 6th, 1902) and afterwards reprinted as a pamphlet. I find it, when I re-read it now and measure it by the present certainties of my mind, vague, inexact and rhetorical, but that is the measure of the progress in definition that has been going on in the intervening third of a century. When it was read, that lecture was well abreast of its time.
In 1902 I returned to the Fortnightly Review in which Anticipations had appeared and contributed a second series of papers under the general title of Mankind in the Making, which was published as a book in 1903. This is less in the vein of Analytical History and more in the nature of a general prospectus for the human enterprise. In 1905, I published A Modern Utopia, also after a serialization in the Fortnightly, and in this I presented not so much my expectations for mankind as my desires.
Let me however return to Anticipations for a while. The full title of the book is Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought. It begins with a statement of what is now a matter of world-wide recognition, the fundamental change in the scale of human relationships and human enterprises brought about by increased facilities of communication. It goes on to apply this generalization to one after another of the fundamental human interests, to show how it affects the boundaries of political divisions, the scope and nature of collective organisations, working loyalties and educational necessities. I had discovered no new principle here. It was too obvious a thing to be a discovery, and it had already been applied most illuminatingly by Grant Allen in an unpretending essay on the distances between country towns. I never read anything more germinal in my life, unless it was Lang and Atkinson’s Primal Law and Social Origins, than this particular magazine article. It woke me up to the reciprocal relationship between facilities of locomotion and community-size, and so to a realization of what was happening to the world. I was, I think, the first to apply this relationship comprehensively to historical analysis. If I did not discover this principle I was certainly among the first to call attention to its far-reaching implications.
Anticipations begins with two papers on land-traction and the redistribution of population through the evolution of transport. Then follows an examination of the way in which the change of scale is destroying a long established social order and creating a social confusion in which no new classifications are yet apparent. Here again I was in a region of possible knowledge which was then immensely unexplored. There are two chapters on this social flux, and some guessing at its possible recrystallization, and these lead on naturally to a “Life History of Democracy.” Modern Democracy is shown to be not an organic method of social organization but the political expression of a phase of social liquefaction. This chapter on Democracy, the chapter called the “Great Synthesis” and the concluding chapter on “Faith, Morals and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century” are from my present point of view, the most imperfect and the most interesting parts of Anticipations. The forecasts of modern war, striking as their partial fulfilment has been, of the interplay of languages, of the probability of defeat for Germany in the war that was then already threatening us, the renascence of Poland and the prospective movements of boundaries and predominances, though they show a considerable amount of shrewdness, have now been so much overtaken by events and proved or disproved, that they need not concern me here. My great miss in these early shots at forecasting was that I never guessed at the possibility of a modernized planning régime arising in Russia — of all countries. I saw the approaching decivilization of Ireland but I wrote that Russia would be only another and vaster Ireland. I was quite out about Russia.
The fact that in 1900 I had already grasped the inevitability of a World State and the complete insufficiency of the current parliamentary methods of democratic government is of more than merely autobiographical interest. Everybody in 1900 was shirking the necessity for great political reconstructions everywhere. Even the raising of the question carried my book outside the sphere of “practical politics” as they were then understood.
At that early date I was somehow already alive to the incompatibility of the great world order fore-shadowed by scientific and industrial progress, with existing political and social structures. I was already searching about in my mind, and in the facts about me, for ideas about the political and social will and mentality that were demanded by these inevitable material developments. The fact that I regarded myself as a complete outsider in public affairs, and that I felt debarred from any such conformity as would have given me a career within the established political and educational machinery, probably helped importantly in the liberation of my mind to these realizations, and supplied the disinterested vigour with which I worked them out. I could attack electoral and parliamentary methods, the prestige of the universities and the ruling class, the monarchy and patriotism, because I had not the slightest hope or intention of ever using any of these established systems for my own advancement or protection. For a scientific treatment of the theory of government my political handicap was a release. I had the liberty of that irresponsible child in the fable of the Emperor’s Clothes. I could say exactly what I thought because it was inconceivable that I could ever be a successful courtier.
In Anticipations, I take up the contemporary pretensions of democracy and state the widely unspoken thought of the late Victorians: “This will not work.” I then consider existing governments and ruling influences and say as plainly, “These do not work.” What most active people were saying was, “They will work well enough for a few years more.” And so, through circumstances and simplicity rather than through any exceptional intelligence, I arrived ahead of everyone at the naked essential question, which everyone about me was putting off for to-morrow, “What, then, will work?” And the attempt to answer that has been the cardinal reality of my thought and writing ever since.
The first tentative answer, as I made it in Anticipations, was something I called “The New Republic.” It was an answer in the most general terms and it was given in a thoroughly Nineteenth Century spirit. I have written already, in Chapter the Fifth, § 5 of the peculiar fatuous hopefulness of the Nineteenth Century and here I am — true to my period.
This New Republic was to consist of all those people throughout the world whose minds were adapted to the demands of the big scale conditions of the new time.
“I have sought to show” I wrote “that in peace and war alike a process has been and is at work, a process with all the inevitableness and all the patience of a natural force, whereby the great swollen, shapeless, hyper-trophied social mass of to-day must give birth at last to a naturally and informally organized, educated class, an unprecedented sort of people, a New Republic dominating the world. It will be none of our ostensible governments that will effect this great clearing up; it will be the mass of power and intelligence altogether outside the official state systems of to-day that will make this great clearance, a new social Hercules that will strangle the serpents of war and national animosity in his cradle. . . . It will appear first, I believe, as a conscious organization of intelligent and quite possibly in some cases wealthy men, as a movement having distinct social and political aims, confessedly ignoring most of the existing apparatus of political control, or using it only as an incidental implement in the attainment of these aims. It will be very loosely organized in its earlier stages, a mere movement of a number of people in a certain direction, who will presently discover with a sort of surprise the common object towards which they are all moving.”
After the fatalistic optimistic fashion of the time, you see, I assumed that this “New Republic” would appear of its own accord, would “emerge.” This was Liberalism — after the Tennysonian pattern. But even then some doubt was lurking at the back of my mind whether it might not prove necessary to assist the process of emergence. That there was something to be done about it, and that waiting for the great civilization of the future to arrive was not enough, grew clearer and clearer in my mind, year after year. Destiny, like the God of the Jews, gives no unconditional promises.
In § 5 of Chapter Five of this book I have already made a general criticism of the Socialism of the opening century and told, as one of the newer generation at that time, of my reactions to the assumptions and limitations of the Socialist movement. In several of my books my dawning sense that both Marxism and Fabian Socialism were failing to complete their first intentions and beginning to “date,” found expression. Here I have to touch again upon the issues of that section, but from a new angle. What concerns me now is the story of my own disentanglement and the curious way in which I was using my prestige and possibilities as an imaginative writer, to do the thinking-out of this problem of human will and government, under fantastic forms. Just as Pope found it easier to discuss natural theology in verse, so at this stage, I found it more convenient to discuss sociology in fable. While in the Fabian Society I was raising The Question of Scientific Administrative Areas (1903), I was also writing a story based on exactly the same idea, The Food of the Gods (serialized in 1903 and published as a book in 1904), which began with a wild burlesque of the change of scale produced by scientific men and ended in the heroic struggle of the rare new big-scale way of living against the teeming small-scale life of the earth. Nobody saw the significance of it, but it left some of its readers faintly puzzled. They were vastly amused and thrilled by my giant wasps and rats, but young Caddies was beyond them. And later on in the same way the research for some means of changing the collective drive of human motives threw off the fable of In the Days of the Comet (1906), when an impalpable gas from a comet’s tail sweeps into our atmosphere, does the work of centuries of moral education in the twinkling of an eye, and makes mankind sane, understanding and infinitely tolerant.
The more formal research for the realization of the New Republic was pursued in Mankind in the Making. I was realizing that the correlative of a new republic was a new education and this book is a discursive examination, an all too discursive examination of the formative elements in the social magma. The best part is the criticism and the rejection of selective breeding as giving any immediate hope of human improvement. Much of the rest shirks the harder task of scrutinizing the “man-making forces in society,” in favour of a series of sketchy suggestions and rhetorical passages. Sometimes the text degenerates into mere scolding. Here is the conclusion of this, the most completely forgotten of my books. This stuff, you will observe, is not really getting on with the business at all; it is revivalism, field preaching. It is the exhortation of a man who has not yet been able to establish, at any point, working contacts for the realization of his ideas. Plainly he is exhorting himself as well as others. Just to keep going.
“Assuredly youth will come to us, if this is indeed to be the dawn of a new time. Without the high resolve of youth, without the constant accession of youth, without recuperative power, no sustained forward movement is possible in the world. It is to youth, therefore, that this book is finally addressed, to the adolescents, to the students, to those who are yet in the schools and who will presently come to read it, to those who, being still plastic, can understand the infinite plasticity of the world. It is those who are yet unmade who must become the makers. . . . After thirty there are few conversions and fewer fine beginnings; men and women go on in the path they have marked out for themselves. Their imaginations have become firm and rigid, even if they have not withered, and there is no turning them from the conviction of their brief experience that almost all that is, is inexorably so. Accomplished things obsess us more and more. . . .
“With each year of their lives they come more distinctly into conscious participation with our efforts. Those soft little creatures that we have figured grotesquely as dropping from an inexorable spout into our world; those weak and wailing lumps of pink flesh, more helpless than any animal, for whom we have planned better care, a better chance of life, better conditions of all sorts; those larval souls, who are at first helpless clay in our hands, presently, insensibly, have become helpers beside us in the struggle. In a little while they are beautiful children, they are boys and girls and youths and maidens, full of the zest of new life, full of an abundant, joyful receptivity. In a little while they are walking with us, seeking to know whither we go, and whither we lead them, and why. . . . In a little while they are young men and women, and then men and women, save for a fresher vigour, like ourselves. For us it comes at last to fellowship and resignation. For them it comes at last to responsibility, to freedom, and to introspection and the searching of hearts. . . . To know all one can of one’s self in relation to the world about one, to think out all one can, to take nothing for granted except by reason of one’s unavoidable limitations, to be swift, indeed, but not hasty, to be strong but not violent, to be as watchful of one’s self as it is given one to be, is the manifest duty of all who would subserve the New Republic. For the New Republican, as for his forerunner the Puritan, conscience and discipline must saturate life. He must be ruled by duties and a certain ritual in life. Every day and every week he must set aside time to read and think, to commune with others and himself; he must be as jealous of his health and strength as the Levites of old. Can we in this generation make but a few thousands of such men and women, men and women who are not afraid to live, men and women with a common faith and a common understanding, then, indeed, our work will be done. They will in their own time take this world as a sculptor takes his marble, and shape it better than all our dreams.”
That I think is my style at its worst and my matter at its thinnest, and quoting it makes me feel very sympathetic with those critics who, to put it mildly, restrain their admiration for me. But it is a proper part of the story to record a phase when I did come to the surface and spout like that, before I took breath and went down into things again.
A Modern Utopia goes half way towards the fantastic story for its form, in a fresh attack upon the problem of bringing the New Republic into existence. It is fairly plain to me that I felt I was going ineffectively nowhere, in those discursive utterances in Mankind in the Making, where the only tolerable stuff was the plain and simple squashing of “Positive Eugenics.” But I had still to discover how to get at a fruitful presentation of New Republican organization. I now tried an attack upon my difficulties, so to speak, from the rear, by dropping the study of existing conditions and asking first, “What is it that has to be done? What sort of world do we want?” I took a leaf; in fact I took a number of pages; from Plato in that. Only after the answer to that question had begun to appear, would it be possible to take up the consideration of how to get there with any hope of success.
Of course, as I have already explained in my criticism of Fabian Socialism and classical Marxism, this was flying in the face of potent and sacred dogmas. Both schools were so ignorant of the use of the imagination in scientific exploration, that they thought Utopianism “unscientific”— and their snobbish terror of that word “unscientific” had no limits. That does not alter the fact that my Utopian attack upon the problem of socialist administration was thoroughly worth the making.
In February 1906, I find that I was defending my method of approach to the problem of administration, at a meeting of the Sociological Society, in a paper entitled “The so-called Science of Sociology.” This was afterwards reprinted in An Englishman Looks at the World (1914). In this paper I insisted that in sociology there were no units for treatment, but only one single unit which was human society, and that in consequence the normal scientific method of classification and generalization breaks down. “We cannot put Humanity into a museum, or dry it for examination; our one, single, still living specimen is all history, all anthropology, and the fluctuating world of men. There is no satisfactory means of dividing it, and nothing else in the real world with which to compare it. We have only the remotest ideas of its ‘life-cycle’ and a few relics of its origin and dreams of its destiny. . . . Sociology must be neither art simply, nor science in the narrow meaning of the word at all, but knowledge rendered imaginatively and with an element of personality, that is to say, in the highest sense of the term, literature.”
There were, I argued, two literary forms through which valid sociological work may be carried on; the first, the fitting of “schemes of interpretation” to history and the second, smaller in bulk and “altogether under-rated and neglected,” the creation and criticism of Utopias. This I maintained should be the main business of a sociological society. This essay was a little excursion by the way and the subsequent discussion was entirely inconclusive. Mr. Wilfred Trotter thought it was an “Attack on Science” and Mr. Swinny defended Comte from my ingratitude.
(Probably I am unjust to Comte and grudge to acknowledge a sort of priority he had in sketching the modern outlook. But for him, as for Marx, I have a real personal dislike, a genuine reluctance to concede him any sort of leadership. It is I think part of an inherent dislike of leadership and a still profounder objection to the subsequent deification of leaders. Leaders I feel should guide as far as they can — and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit.)
Although it has never had any great popular sale, A Modern Utopia remains to this day one of the most vital and successful of my books. It is as alive to-day as Mankind in the Making is dead. It was the first approach I made to the dialogue form, and I am almost as satisfied with its literary quality as I am with that of The Undying Fire. The trend towards dialogue like the basal notion of the Samurai, marks my debt to Plato. A Modern Utopia, quite as much as that of More, derives frankly from the Republic.
In this Modern Utopia I made a suggestion for a temperamental classification of citizens as citizens. For the purposes of the state I proposed a division into four types of character, the poietic, the kinetic, the dull and the base. A primary problem of government was to vest all the executive and administrative work in the kinetic class, while leaving the poietic an adequate share in suggestion, criticism and legislation, controlling the base and giving the dull an incentive to kinetic effort.
The device of the order of the Samurai, as I worked it out in this book, does I think solve this problem better than any other method that has ever been suggested. Membership of the Samurai was voluntary, but was made difficult by qualifications and severe disciplinary tests and, on the principle that the bow need not always be strung, could be abandoned and resumed, under proper safeguards, according to the way of living desired by the individual at any time. In the Utopian constitution, free-speech and great fields of initiative were jealously guarded from repressive controls. The kinetic were trained to respect them. The “base” were merely those who had given evidence of a strong anti-social disposition and were the only individuals inalterably excluded from the Samurai. Membership of either of these four classes, was regulated by the filtering processes of education and of the tests of social life, and was never hereditary.
The experience of the thirty years that have passed since I launched this scheme, and particularly the appearance of such successful organizations as the Communist party and the Italian fascists has greatly strengthened my belief in the essential soundness of this conception of the governing order of the future. A Samurai Order educated in such an ideology as I have since tried to shape out, is inevitable if the modern world-state is ever to be fully realized. We want the world ruled, not by everybody, but by a politically minded organization open, with proper safeguards, to everybody. The problem of world revolution and world civilization becomes the problem of crystallizing, as soon as possible, as many as possible of the right sort of individuals from the social magma, and getting them into effective, conscious co-operation.
Before working out my sketch A Modern Utopia, I was disposed to think that this ruling order, which I had called at first the New Republic, would appear of its own accord. After I had published and seen something of the effect of A Modern Utopia, I realized that an Order of the Samurai was not a thing that comes about of itself and that if ever it were to exist, it must be realized as the result of very deliberate effort. After publishing A Modern Utopia in 1906, I went to America and wrote a series of impressions, The Future in America in which I dwelt upon the casual and chaotic elements in American development, noted the apparent absence of any “sense of the State” and speculated on the possibility of supplying that deficiency. Then I returned to begin a confused, tedious, ill-conceived and ineffectual campaign to turn the little Fabian Society, wizened already though not old, into the beginnings of an order, akin to these Samurai in A Modern Utopia, which should embody for mankind a sense of the State.
I envisaged that reconditioned Fabian Society as becoming, by means of vigorous propaganda, mainly carried on by young people, the directive element of a reorganized socialist party. We would attack the coming generation at the high school, technical college and university stage, and our organization would quicken into a constructive social stratum.
The idea was as good as the attempt to realize it was futile. On various occasions in my life it has been borne in on me, in spite of a stout internal defence, that I can be quite remarkably silly and inept; but no part of my career rankles so acutely in my memory with the conviction of bad judgment, gusty impulse and real inexcusable vanity, as that storm in the Fabian tea-cup. From the first my motives were misunderstood, and it should have been my business to make them understandable. I antagonized Shaw and Beatrice Webb for example, by my ill-aimed aggressiveness, yet both these people have since shown by their behaviour towards Fascism and Communism respectively, that their trend of mind is all towards just such a qualification of crude democracy as in 1906 I was so clumsily seeking. I was fundamentally right and I was wrong-headed and I left the Society, at last, if possible more politically parliamentary and ineffective than I found it. If I were to recount the comings and goings of that petty, dusty conflict beginning with my paper The Faults of the Fabian (February 1906) and ending with my resignation in September 1908, the reader would be intolerably bored. Fortunately for him it would bore me far more to disinter the documents, fight my battles over again and write it all down. And nobody else will ever do it.
I can but mention in passing the crowded meetings in Cliffords Inn, the gathered “intelligentsia”— then so new in English life — the old radical veterans and the bubbling new young people; the fine speeches of Shaw; Sidney Webb, with his head down talking fast with a slight lisp, terribly like a Civil Servant dispensing information; the magnificent Bland in a frock-coat and a black ribboned monocle, debating, really debating Sir, in a rococo variation of the front bench parliamentary manner; red-haired Haden Guest, being mercurial, and Edward Pease, the secretary, invincibly dry; myself speaking haltingly on the verge of the inaudible, addressing my tie through a cascade moustache that was no sort of help at all, correcting myself as though I were a manuscript under treatment, making ill-judged departures into parenthesis; the motions, the amendments, the disputes with the chairman, the shows of hands, the storms of applause; the excited Socialists disgorging at last, still disputing, into philistine Fleet Street and the Strand, swirling into little eddies in Appenrodt’s, talking a mixture of politics and personalities. Our seriousness was intense. We typed and printed and issued Reports and Replies and Committee Election Appeals and Personal Statements, and my original intentions were buried at last beneath a steaming heap of hot secondary issues.
The order of the Fabian Samurai perished unborn. I went, discoursing to undergraduate branches and local branches, to Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester and elsewhere pursuing the lengthening threads of our disputes. The society would neither give itself to me to do what I wished with it, nor cast me out. It liked the entertainment of its lively evenings. And at last I suddenly became aware of the disproportionate waste of my energy in these disputes and abandoned my attack. Now there was the New Republic to be discovered. By me at any rate.
Reflections of that queer conflict are to be found in The New Machiavelli (1911). For some time I was a baffled revolutionary. I did not know what to do next. My Theory of Revolution by Samurai hung in the air and I could not discover any way of bringing it down to the level of reality. At the very time when I was failing, Lenin, under the stresses of a more pressing reality, was steadily evolving an extraordinarily similar scheme, the reconstructed Communist Party. Whether there was any genetic connection between his scheme and mine I have never been able to ascertain. But the in-and-out arrangement whereby a man or woman could be a militant member of the organization and then drop out of its obligations and privileges, the imposition of special disciplines and restrictions upon the active members and the recognition that there are types of good citizens who will live best and work best outside the responsible administrative organization, are common alike to my project and the Russian reality. Moreover they resemble each other in insisting upon a training in directive ideas as part of the militant qualification. If Russia has done nothing else for mankind, the experiment of the Communist Party is alone sufficient to justify her revolution and place it upon an altogether higher level than that chaotic emotional release, the first French Revolution.
If for a time I could not get on with the project of an organized “New Republic” as such, this did not prevent my making an occasional attack upon the general problem of social reconstruction. In 1912 Northcliffe asked me to write a series of articles for his Daily Mail on the Labour Unrest. Here again I displayed a certain prophetic quality. I got a year or so ahead of the general movement. “Planning” is a world-wide idea nowadays, but in 1912 this that follows was strange stuff for the readers of the leading half-penny daily to find upon their breakfast tables:
“No community has ever yet had the will and the imagination to recast and radically alter its social methods as a whole. The idea of such a reconstruction has never been absent from human thought since the days of Plato, and it has been enormously reinforced by the spreading material successes of modern science, successes due always to the substitution of analysis and reasoned planning for trial and the rule of thumb. But it has never yet been so believed in and understood as to render any real endeavour to reconstruct possible. The experiment has always been too gigantic for the available faith behind it, and there have been against it the fear of presumption, the interests of all advantaged people, and the natural sloth of humanity. We do but emerge now from a period of deliberate happy-go-lucky and the influence of Herbert Spencer, who came near raising public shiftlessness to the dignity of a national philosophy. Everything would adjust itself — if only it was left alone.
“Yet some things there are that cannot be done by small adjustments, such as leaping chasms or killing an ox or escaping from the roof of a burning house. You have to decide upon a certain course on such occasions and maintain a continuous movement. If you wait on the burning house until you scorch and then turn round a bit or move away a yard or so, of if on the verge of a chasm you move a little in the way in which you wish to go, disaster will punish your moderation. And it seems to me that the establishment of the world’s work upon a new basis — and that and no less is what this Labour Unrest demands for its pacification — is just one of those large alterations which will never be made by the collectively unconscious activities of men, by competitions and survival and the higgling of the market. Humanity is rebelling against the continuing existence of a labour class as such, and I can see no way by which our present method of weekly wages employment can change by imperceptible increments into a method of salary and pension — for it is quite evident that only by reaching that shall we reach the end of these present discontents. The change has to be made on a comprehensive scale or not at all. We need nothing less than a national plan of social development if the thing is to be achieved.
“Now that, I admit, is, as the Americans say, a large proposition. But we are living in a time of more and more comprehensive plans, and the mere fact that no scheme so extensive has ever been tried before is no reason at all why we should not consider one. We think nowadays quite serenely of schemes for the treatment of the nation’s health as one whole, while our fathers considered illness as a blend of accident with special providences; we have systematized the community’s water supply, education, and all sorts of once ‘chaotic services, and Germany and our own infinite higgledy-piggledy discomfort and ugliness have brought home to us at last even the possibility of planning the extension of our towns and cities. It is only another step upward in scale to plan out new, more tolerable conditions of employment for every sort of worker and to organize the transition from our present disorder.”
“I have attempted a diagnosis of this aspect of our national situation. I have pointed out that nearly all the social forces of our time seem to be in conspiracy to bring about the disappearance of a labour class as such and the rearrangement of our work and industry upon a new basis. That rearrangement demands an unprecedented national effort and the production of an adequate National Plan. Failing that, we seem doomed to a period of chronic social conflict and possibly even of frankly revolutionary outbreaks that may destroy us altogether or leave us only a dwarfed and enfeebled nation. . . . ”
(But all this was complicated with an advocacy of “proportional representation” and one or two other minor reforms which I now find myself less willing to revive. Not so much because I have lost faith in them as because I realize that they are of such secondary importance that any insistence upon them distorts the proportions of the general proposition. If ever they are mentioned people say: “So that’s your panacea!” and everything else is ignored.)
The onset of the Great War hung portentously over us all throughout the three years between the Agadir incident (July 1911) and the invasion of Belgium in August 1914. The inevitability of a crash was more and more manifest, and my reluctant attention was swung round to this continually more immediate threat to the structure of civilization. In 1913, in a short series of articles in the Daily Mail, I was writing about the modernization of warfare. (They are reprinted together with the Labour Unrest series and other articles in An Englishman Looks at the World, 1914) and early in 1914 I published a futuristic story The World Set Free, in which I described the collapse of the social order through the use of “atomic bombs” in a war that began, prophetically and obviously enough, with a German invasion of France by way of Belgium.
After this collapse there was to be a wave of sanity — a disposition to believe in these spontaneous waves of sanity may be one of my besetting weaknesses — and a wonderful council at Brissago (near Locarno!) was to set up the new world order. Yet, after all, the popular reception of President Wilson in 1919 was more like a wave of sanity than anything that had ever occurred in history before. Already in 1908 in The War in the Air, written before any practicable flying had occurred, I had reasoned that air warfare, by making warfare three dimensional, would abolish the war front and with that the possibility of distinguishing between civilian and combatant or of bringing a war to a conclusive end. This I argued, must not only intensify but must alter the ordinary man’s attitude to warfare. He can no longer regard it as we did the Boer War for example as a vivid spectacle in which his participation is that of a paying spectator at a cricket or base-ball match.
No intelligent brain that passed through the experience of the Great War emerged without being profoundly changed. Our vision of life was revised in outline and detail alike. To me, as to most people, it was a revelation of the profound instability of the social order. It was also a revelation of the possibilities of fundamental reorganization that were now open to mankind — and of certain extraordinary weaknesses in the collective mentality. I was intensely indignant at the militarist drive in Germany and, as a convinced Republican, I saw in its onslaught the culminating expression of the monarchist idea. This, said I, in shrill jets of journalism, is the logical outcome of your parades and uniforms! Now to fight the fighters!
People forget nowadays how the personal imperialism of the Hohenzollerns dominated the opening phase of the war. I shouted various newspaper articles of an extremely belligerent type. But my estimate of the moral and intellectual forces at large in the world, was out. I would not face the frightful truth. I anticipated an explosion of indignant commonsense that would sweep not simply the Hohenzollerns but the whole of the current political system, the militant state and its symbols, out of existence, leaving the whole planet a confederated system of socialist republics. Even in In the Fourth Year (1918) I denounced the “Krupp-Kaiser” combination and took it almost as a matter of course that such a thing as a private-profit armament industry could not survive the war. Perhaps in the long run its cessation may be the tardy outcome of the cataclysm, but that outcome, I must admit, is still being most tragically delayed. It is being delayed by the general inability to realize that a “sovereign state” is essentially and incurably a war-making state. My own behaviour in 1914-15 is an excellent example of that inability.
The fount of sanguine exhortation in me swamped my warier disposition towards critical analysis and swept me along. I wrote a pamphlet, that weighed, I think, with some of those who were hesitating between participation and war resistance, “The War that will end War.” The title has become proverbial. The broken promise of the phrase is still used as a taunt by the out-and-out pacificist against anyone who does not accept the dogma of non-resistance in its entirety. But in some fashion armed forces that take action have to be disarmed and I remain persuaded that there will have to be a last conflict to inaugurate the peace of mankind. Rather than a war between sovereign governments, however, it is far more likely to be a war to suppress these wherever they are found.
Anatole France in regard to the war was in much the same case as myself. We had met several times before 1914 and formed a very friendly estimate of each other, and when The Book of France was compiled and published, for relief funds in the devastated regions, he contributed an article Debout pour la Dernière Guerre, which he insisted I should translate. I did so under the title of Let Us Arise and End War.
As I reassemble all that I can of my hasty, discursive and copious writings during the early stages of the war, and do my utmost to recover my actual states of mind, it becomes plain to me that for a time — in spite of my intellectual previsions — the world disaster, now that it had come, so overwhelmed my mind that I was obliged to thrust this false interpretation upon it, and assert, in spite of my deep and at first unformulated misgivings, that here and now, the new world order was in conflict with the old. Progress was arrested, its front was shattered under my eyes, so shattered that even to this day (1934) it has not reformed, and I convinced myself that on the contrary it was the old traditional system falling to pieces, and the world state coming into being (as the world alliance) under my eyes. The return to complete sanity took the greater part of two years. My mind did not get an effective consistent grip upon the war until 1916.
I remember distinctly when the first effectual destructive tap came to my delusion. It was a queer and a very little, but, at the same time, very arresting, incident. For some British readers there will be a shock, when they read of it, quite different in its nature from the shock that came to me. But I have given fair warning in this book that I am a Republican, and that the essential disavowals of my soul go deeper than the merely theological beliefs of my fellow country-men. Perhaps they do not get enough of this sort of shock.
I was walking from my flat in St. James’s Court to lunch and talk at the Reform Club. Upon the wall at the corner of Marlborough House as it was then, I saw a large bill; it was an unusual place for an advertisement and I stopped to read it. It was a Royal Proclamation. I forget what matter it concerned; what struck me was the individual manner of the wording. King George was addressing “my people.” There was no official “we” and “our” about it.
I had been so busy with the idea of civilization fighting against tradition, I had become so habituated to the liberal explanation of the monarchy as a picturesque and harmless vestigial structure, that this abrupt realization that the King was placing himself personally at the head of his people, was like a bomb bursting under my nose. My mind hung over that fact for a moment or so.
“Good God!” I said in the greatest indignation, “what has he got to do with our war?”
I went my way digesting it.
“My people”— me and my sort were his people!
So long as you suffer any man to call himself your shepherd sooner or later you will find a crook round your ankle. We were not making war against Germany; we were being ordered about in the King’s war with Germany.
It took me some months of reluctant realization to bring my mind to face the unpalatable truth that this “war for civilization,” this “war to end war” of mine was in fact no better than a consoling fantasy, and that the flaming actuality was simply this, that France, Great Britain and their allied Powers were, in pursuance of their established policies, interests, treaties and secret understandings, after the accepted manner of history and under the direction of their duly constituted military authorities, engaged in war with the allied central powers, and that under contemporary conditions no other war was possible. The World-State of my imaginations and desires was presented hardly more by one side in the conflict than by the other. We were fighting for “King and Country” and over there they were fighting for “Kaiser and Fatherland”; it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, so far as the World-State was concerned.
The efforts of my brain to grasp the vast possibilities of human violence, feebleness and docility that I had neglected and ignored so long in my eagerness to push forward to the modern State, and further to adjust my guiding persona to these reluctant realizations, were, I suppose, paralleled in hundreds of thousands of brains. We couldn’t get out of it for a time and think it out — and, the young men, particularly were given no time to think. They thought it out in the trenches — and in No Man’s Land. And I, exempt from service and free to express myself, had offered them nothing better than the “War to end War”!
Naturally, in my autobiography, my mind must occupy the central position of this story of disillusionment, as a rabbit on the table represents its species, but the conscious and subconscious conflicts I tell on my own behalf were general and not particular to me. I documented the process with exceptional abundance; that is my only distinction. Before the end of 1914, I had already set to work upon a record of my mental phases, elaborated in a novel, Mr. Britling Sees It Through. It is only in the most general sense autobiographical — and I lost no son. But the story of Mr. Britling’s son and Mr. Britling’s grey matter could be repeated with ten thousand variations. Mr. Britling is not so much a representation of myself as of my type and class, and I think I have contrived in that book to give not only the astonishment and the sense of tragic disillusionment in a civilized mind as the cruel facts of war rose steadily to dominate everything else in life, but also the passionate desire to find some immediate reassurance amidst that whirlwind of disaster.
Mr. Britling after much tribulation “found God.” He has lost his son and he sits in his study late at night trying to write to the parents of his boy’s German tutor who is also among the dead.
“’These boys, these hopes, this war has killed.‘
“The words hung for a time in his mind.
“‘No!’ said Mr. Britling stoutly. ‘They live!’
“And suddenly it was borne in upon his mind that he was not alone. There were thousands and tens of thousands of men and women like himself, desiring with all their hearts to say, as he desired to say, the reconciling word. It was not only his hand that thrust against the obstacles. . . . Frenchmen and Russians sat in the same stillness, facing the same perplexities; there were Germans seeking a way through to him. Even as he sat and wrote. And for the first time clearly he felt a Presence of which he had thought very many times in the last few weeks, a Presence so close to him that it was behind his eyes and in his brain and hands. It was no trick of his vision; it was a feeling of immediate reality. And it was Hugh, Hugh that he had thought was dead, it was young Heinrich living also, it was himself, it was those others that sought, it was all these and it was more, it was the Master, the Captain of Mankind, it was God, there present with him, and he knew that it was God. It was as if he had been groping all this time in the darkness, thinking himself alone amidst rocks and pitfalls and pitiless things, and suddenly a hand, a firm strong hand, had touched his own. And a voice within him bade him be of good courage. There was no magic trickery in that moment; he was still weak and weary, a discouraged rhetorician, a good intentioned ill-equipped writer; but he was no longer lonely and wretched, no longer in the same world with despair. God was beside him and within him and about him. . . . It was the crucial moment of Mr. Britling’s life. It was a thing as light as the passing of a cloud on an April morning; it was a thing as great as the first day of creation. For some moments he still sat back with his chin upon his chest and his hands dropping from the arms of his chair. Then he sat up and drew a deep breath. . . .
“For weeks his mind had been playing about this idea. He had talked to Letty of this Finite God, who is the king of man’s adventure in space and time. But hitherto God had been for him a thing of the intelligence, a theory, a report, something told about but not realized. . . . Mr. Britling’s thinking about God hitherto had been like some one who has found an empty house, very beautiful and pleasant, full of the promise of a fine personality. And then as the discoverer makes his lonely, curious explorations, he hears downstairs, dear and friendly, the voice of the Master coming in. . . .
“There was no need to despair because he himself was one of the feeble folk. God was with him indeed, and he was with God. The King was coming to his own. Amidst the darknesses and confusions, the nightmare cruelties and the hideous stupidities of the great war, God, the Captain of the World Republic, fought his way to empire. So long as one did one’s best and utmost in a cause so mighty, did it matter though the thing one did was little and poor?
“‘I have thought too much of myself,’ said Mr. Britling, ‘and of what I would do by myself. I have forgotten that which was with me. . . . ’”
But the exact truth of the matter is that he had forgotten that which was in him, the impersonal, the man in general, which is as much our inheritance as our human frame. He was trying to project his own innate courage so as to feel it external to himself, independent of himself and eternal. Multitudes were doing the same thing at this time.
I went to considerable lengths with this attempt to deify human courage. I shocked many old friends and provoked William Archer’s effective pamphlet God and Mr. Wells. In the long run I came to admit that by all preceding definitions of God, this God of Mr. Britling was no God at all. But before I returned to that completeness of sincerity, there had to be some ingenious theological contortions. I was perhaps too aware of the numbers of fine-minded people who were still clinging not so much to religion as to the comfort of religious habits and phrases. Some lingering quality of childish dependence in them answered to this lapse towards a “sustaining faith” in myself. What we have here is really a falling back of the mind towards immaturity under the stress of dismay and anxiety. It is a very good thing at times to hear such words as “Let not your Heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid” spoken as if with authority. It is a good thing to imagine the still companionship of an understanding Presence on a sleepless night. Then one can get to sleep again with something of the reassurance of a child in its cot. Everywhere in those first years of disaster men were looking for some lodestar for their loyalty. I thought it was pitiful that they should pin their minds to “King and Country” and suchlike claptrap, when they might live and die for greater ends, and I did my utmost to personify and animate a greater, remoter objective in God the Invisible King. So by a sort of coup d’état I turned my New Republic for a time into a divine monarchy.
I cannot disentangle now, perhaps at no time could I have disentangled, what was simple and direct in this theocratic phase in my life, from what was —politic. I do not know how far I was being perfectly straightforward in this phase, how far I was — as the vulgar have it —“codding myself,” and how far I was trying to make my New Republicanism acceptable in a different guise to that multitude which could not, it seemed, dispense with kingship. But what these God-needing people require is the sense of a Father on whom they can have the most perfect reliance. They are straining back to the instinctive faith of “little children,” that ultimately everything is all right. They are frightened people who want to be told that they need not brace up to the grimness before them. With all the will in the world I could not bring myself to present my God as that sort of God. I could invent a heartening God but not a palliating God. At his best my deity was far less like the Heavenly Father of a devout Catholic or a devout Moslem or Jew than he was like a personification of, let us say, the Five Year Plan. A Communist might have accepted him as a metaphor. No mystic could have used him because of the complete lack of miraculous aid or distinctive and flattering personal response. As he is presented in God the Invisible King he is no better than an inspiring but extremely preoccupied comrade, a thoroughly hard leader.
At no time did my deistic phrasing make any concessions to doctrinal Christianity. If my gestures were pious, my hands were clean. I never sold myself to organized orthodoxy. At its most artificial my religiosity was a flaming heresy and not a time-serving compromise. I never came nearer to Christianity than Manicheism — as Sir John Squire pointed out long ago.
I followed up God the Invisible King, with The Soul of a Bishop (also 1917)— in which I distinguish very clearly between the God of the Anglican Church and this new personification of human progressiveness — and both Joan and Peter (1918) and The Undying Fire (1919) are strongly flavoured with deified humanism. Another God indeed, God the Creator, appears for a brief interview with Peter in the hospital — and a very strange untidy God he is. He is evidently the male equivalent, humorous and self exculpatory, of what I have called elsewhere “that old harridan, Dame Nature.” And in the last meditation of Joan and Peter’s Uncle Oswald, “God,” he feels, is “a name battered out of all value and meaning.”
The Undying Fire is artistically conceived and rather brilliantly coloured; I have already expressed my satisfaction with it as the best of my Dialogue-Novels; and it crowns and ends my theology. It is the sunset of my divinity. Here is what Mr. Huss got from his God when at last he met him face to face.
“It was as if the dreamer pushed his way through the outskirts of a great forest and approached the open, but it was not through trees that he thrust his way but through bars and nets and interlacing curves of blinding, many-coloured light towards the clear promise beyond. He had grown now to an incredible vastness so that it was no longer earth upon which he set his feet but that crystalline pavement whose translucent depths contain the stars. Yet though he approached the open he never reached the open; the iridescent net that had seemed to grow thin, grew dense again; he was still struggling, and the black doubts that had lifted for a moment swept down upon his soul. And he realized he was in a dream, a dream that was drawing swiftly now to its close.
“‘Oh God!’ he cried, ‘answer me! For Satan has mocked me sorely. Answer me before I lose sight of you again. Am I right to fight? Am I right to come out of my little earth, here above the stars?’
“‘Right if you dare.’
“‘Shall I conquer and prevail? Give me your promise!’
“‘Everlastingly you may conquer and find fresh worlds to conquer.’
“’May— but shall I?’
“It was as if the torrent of molten thoughts stopped suddenly. It was as if everything stopped.
“‘Answer me,’ he cried.
“Slowly the shining thoughts moved on again.
“‘So long as your courage endures you will conquer. . . .
“‘If you have courage, although the night be dark, although the present battle be bloody and cruel and end in a strange and evil fashion, nevertheless victory shall be yours — in a way you will understand — when victory comes. Only have courage. On the courage in your heart all things depend. By courage it is that the stars continue in their courses, day by day. It is the courage of life alone that keeps sky and earth apart. . . . If that courage fail, if that sacred fire go out, then all things fail and all things go out, all things — good and evil, space and time.’
“‘Nothing,’ he echoed, and the word spread like a dark and darkening mask across the face of all things.”
But before that, Mr. Huss following in the footsteps of Job had said:
“‘I will not pretend to explain what I cannot explain. It may be that God is as yet only foreshadowed in life. You may reason, Doctor Barrack, that this fire in the heart that I call God, is as much the outcome of your Process as all the other things in life. I cannot argue against that. What I am telling you now is not what I believe so much as what I feel. To me it seems that the creative desire that burns in me is a thing different in its nature from the blind Process of matter, is a force running contrariwise to the power of confusion. . . . But this I do know, that once it is lit in a man, then his mind is alight — thenceforth. It rules his conscience with compelling power. It summons him to live the residue of his days working and fighting for the unity and release and triumph of mankind. He may be mean still, and cowardly and vile still, but he will know himself for what he is. . . . Some ancient phrases live marvellously. Within my heart I know that my Redeemer liveth. . . . ’”
Is not that very like prevarication? But I prevaricate in the footsteps of a famous exemplar. Have you ever thought over St. Paul’s ambiguities in his Epistle to the Corinthians (I., xv. 35)? Could the resurrection of the body be more ingeniously evaded and “spiritualized” and adapted to all tastes?
After The Undying Fire, God as a character disappears from my work, except for a brief undignified appearance, a regrettable appearance, dressed in moonshine and armed with Cupid’s bow and arrows in The Secret Places of the Heart (1922). My phraseology went back unobtrusively to the sturdy atheism of my youthful days. My spirit had never left it. If I have used the name of God at all in the past ten years it has been by way of a recognized metaphor as in “God forbid,” or, “At last God wearied of Napoleon.” I have become more and more scrupulous about appropriating the prestige of this name for my own ends.
In What Are We to Do with Our Lives? (1932) I make the most explicit renunciation and apology for this phase of terminological disingenuousness. In spite of the fact that it yielded Peter’s dream of God Among the Cobwebs and The Undying Fire I wish, not so much for my own sake as for the sake of my more faithful readers, that I had never fallen into it; it confused and misled many of them and introduced a barren détour into my research for an effective direction for human affairs.
That theological excursion of mine was not the only détour I made. I made a still longer détour through the tangle of international politics. I attempted amateurish diplomacies, so to speak, in my writings, and they also need explanation. Everyman almost was imagining diplomacies and treaties in those days, but mine, to a quite exceptional degree, were documented.
Let me return first to the disillusionment about the beneficence of our war-making (1915-16-17) that followed my first attempt in 1914 to find a justifying purpose in “our” war. I did not become “anti-war.” I found the simple solution of the conscientious objectors and war resisters generally, too simple for me altogether. My brain was quite prepared for conflict on behalf of the law and order of the world-state. I believe that is necessary to this day. Peace will have to be kept — forcibly. For ages. The distinction people draw between moral and physical force is flimsy and unsound. Life is conflict and the only way to universal peace is through the defeat and obliteration of every minor organization of force. Carrying weapons individually or in crowds, calls for vigorous suppression on the part of the community. The anti-war people made me the more impatient because of the rightness of much of their criticism of the prevailing war motives. I was perhaps afraid, if I yielded to them, of being carried back too far towards the futility of a merely negative attitude. What they said was so true and what they did was so merely sabotage, I lost my temper with them.
And with less stress upon the “perhaps” I was reluctant to admit how gravely I had compromised myself by my much too forward belligerence and my rash and eager confidence in the liberalism, intelligence and good faith of our foreign office and war office in the first month or so of the war. My pro-war zeal was inconsistent with my pre-war utterances and against my profounder convictions. As I recovered consciousness, so to speak, from the first shock of the war explosion and resumed my habitual criticism of government and the social order, I found myself suspect to many of my associates who had become pacificists of the left wing. They regarded me as a traitor who was betraying them to the “war-mongers,” while the reactionists in a position of authority, with equal justification and perhaps a nicer sense of my fundamental quality, were extremely suspicious of me as an ally. The hardest line to take is the middle way, especially if one is not sure-footed oneself, and there can be no doubt my staggering course was perplexing to many a friendly observer. Whatever I wrote or said went to an exasperating accompaniment of incredulity from the left, and I felt all the virtuous indignation natural to a man who has really been in the wrong. I was in the wrong and some of the things I wrote about conscientious objectors in War and the Future were unforgivable. I turned on the pacificists in Joan and Peter, savaged them to the best of my ability, imputed motives, ignored honourable perplexities and left some rankling wounds. Some of those war-time pacificists will never forgive me and I cannot complain of that. I made belated amends in the Bulpington of Blup. But that is a minor matter. The thing that occupied most of my mind was the problem of getting whatever was to be got for constructive world revolution out of the confusion of war, and being pro-German and non-combatant, finding endless excuses for the enemy and detracting from the fighting energy of the allies, seemed to me of no use at all towards my end.
I turn over a number of faded and forgotten writings as I try to judge and summarize my behaviour in these crucial years. There is an illuminating sketch of a story “The Wild Asses of the Devil” in Boon (1915). In 1915 I find I was already writing about the Peace of the World and the End of the Armament Rings. In 1916 I produced What Is Coming? made up of a number of 1915 newspaper articles. The leaves of my copy of this book are already carbonized, copies of it would be hard to find, if anyone wanted to find them, and if I were to put my reputation before my autobiographical rectitude, I think I should just let this little volume decay and char and disappear and say nothing about it. Most of it is very loose-lipped indeed. In it I am feeling my way about not only among ideas but among what I then thought were insurmountable popular prejudices, in a very blind and haphazard fashion. My propagandist and practical drive was still all too powerful for my scientific and critical disposition. I wanted something done and I did not want to seem to propose extravagant and impossible things.
Most of these 1915 articles were written with a curious flavour of clumsy propitiation or still clumsier menace, with an evident sense that they might be quoted in Germany, and there is a powerful flavour of ignorance, inexperience and self-importance about them. But I felt it was better to blurt out some things badly than not have them put about at all. I insist in this book that Germany will lose the struggle through exhaustion and that in the final settlement Britain must work closely with the United States (not then in the war). I also forecast the repudiation of the Hohenzollerns by Germany and the establishment of a German republic, but I did not anticipate that this would happen as soon as it actually did. There are some flashes of intuition. It was less widely recognized then than it is now that the way to liquidate a bankrupt world is through a rise in prices and a revaluation of gold. In some way I have got at that in this early war-book, and I am also clear that for any conclusive settlement there must be a grouping of states in larger systems. I talk of some hypothetical combination, which I call the “Pledged Allies,” which must pursue a policy in common after the war, and I insist that a republican Germany will be altogether more capable of an understanding with such a combination than a monarchy. The Allies — pledged already not to make a separate peace — ought, I argue, to define a policy now before the war ends and pledge themselves to insist upon its realization. The idea of an ultimate Peace Conference becoming a sort of permanent world control is foreshadowed. The boldest paper of all in this amateurish collection of suggestions is a discussion of the possibility of pooling the tropical possessions of the great powers in order to end imperialist rivalries. This particular paper closes with this adumbration of the League of Nations idea, and it shows how far constructive liberal thought had got at that date (1916):
“And so the discussion of the future of the overseas ‘empires’ brings us again to the same realization to which the discussion of nearly every great issue arising out of this war has pointed, the realization of the imperative necessity of some great council or conference, some permanent overriding body, call it what you will, that will deal with things more broadly than any ‘nationalism’ or ‘patriotic imperialism’ can possibly do. That body must come into human affairs. Upon the courage and imagination of living statesmen it depends whether it will come simply and directly into concrete reality or whether it will materialize slowly through, it may be, centuries of blood and blundering from such phantom anticipations as this, anticipations that now haunt the thoughts of all politically-minded men.”
So I was already trying to get the World State recognized as a war objective in 1916.
In the late summer of 1916 I visited the Italian, French and German fronts. There was a fashion in that year of inviting writers and artists to go and see for themselves what the war was like and to report their impressions. I was kept loafing about in Paris for some week or so, I had a talk with Papa Joffre and was presented solemnly with a set of coloured postcards of all the chief French generals, and very good postcards they made. I went through North Italy by Gorizia to the Carso, returned to France to the front near Soissons and then went at my own request to the British front about Arras, to compare the British and French organizations for aerial photography.
It was an interesting but rather pointless trip. At Arras I met and went about with O. G. S. Crawford, whose ingenious readings of the air photographs delighted me very much — he is now largely responsible for that interesting periodical Antiquity, and he has applied all that he learnt in warfare to the nobler uses of scientific survey. At Amiens I was under the wing of C. E. Montague, the author of A Hind Let Loose, Disenchantment and Rough Justice. Montague was a curious mixture of sixth-form Anglican sentimentality (about dear old horses, dearer old doggies, brave women, real gentlemen, the old school, the old country and sound stock: Galsworthyissimus in fact), with a most adventurous intelligence. He was a radical bound, hide bound, in a conservative hide. He was a year younger than I, he had concealed his age and dyed his silvery hair to enlist at the outbreak of the war, he had accepted a commission with reluctance and I had been warned he was not the safest of guides. We got on very well together. I remember vividly walking with him across the shell-hole-dotted, wire-littered open towards the front line trenches. The sun was shining brightly and there was just the faintest whiff of freshness and danger in the air. I doubt if anything was coming over; what shelling was audible overhead was British. We had agreed that blundering up the wet and narrow communication trench was intolerable in such sunshine and we walked bare-headed and carried our shrapnel helmets, like baskets, on our arms. We had confessed to each other what a bore the war had become to us, how its vast inconsequence weighed us down, and we talked as we trudged along very happily of the technical merits of Laurence Sterne.
In the front line although he insisted on my keeping my head below the parapet, he was exposing himself freely, standing up and craning his neck in the hope of seeing a German “out there.”
“At twilight sometimes you can see them hopping about from one shell hole to another.”
But there was nothing doing that day, there had been some “strafing” overnight but that was over, everyone in the trenches was sleeping and we returned through the tranquil desolation disputing whether there was any reason for anticipating a great outburst of literary activity as a result of the war. He thought that there ought to be and I thought that outbursts of literary activity were due to such secondary conditions as to have no directly traceable relation to the great events of history. . . .
At the time of this pointless sight-seeing I might have been doing extremely useful war-work at home. I was still convinced that the war had to be won by the Allies and I was only too eager to give my time and risk my life and fortune in any task that used me effectively. But I meant to be used effectively. I refused absolutely to volunteer and drill and acquire the saluting habit for the protection of railway bridges and culverts against imaginary nocturnal Germans in the byways of Essex, or for sentinel-go in prisoners’ camps or anything of that sort. But an old notion of mine, the Land Ironclads (published in the Strand Magazine in 1903) was being worked out at that time in the form of the Tanks, and it is absurd that my imagination was not mobilized in scheming the structure and use of these contrivances. These obvious weapons were forced upon the army by Winston Churchill against all the conservative instincts of the army; Kitchener had turned them down as “mechanical toys,” and when at length they were put into action, it was done so timidly and experimentally and with so inadequate an estimate of their possibilities that their immense value as a major surprise that might have ended the war, was altogether wasted. Later some were bogged in Flanders mud, to the great delight of the contemporary military mind. If the tanks could not be prevented, the next best thing from the old army point of view was to spoil them. “Can’t use the damned things. Look at that!” Nowadays things have altered in form but not in essence and the British military intelligence, with its unerring instinct for being two decades out of date, is plainly and dangerously tank-mad.
When I heard about the tanks I felt bitter and frustrated, but that did not save me from getting into conflict later with the rigid intelligence of the professional soldiers.
I was lying snug in bed one night and I could not sleep. My window was open and the rain was pouring down outside and suddenly in an imaginative flash I saw the communication trenches swamped and swimming in mud and a miserable procession of overloaded “Tommies” struggling up to the front line along the wet planks. Some stumbled and fell. I knew men were often drowned in this dismal pilgrimage and that everyone who got to the front line arrived nearly worn out and smothered in mud. Moreover the utmost supplies these men could carry were insufficient. Suddenly I saw that this was an entirely avoidable strain. I tumbled out of bed and spent the rest of the night planning a mobile telpherage system. My idea was to run forward a set of T shaped poles with an erector wire, so that they could be all pulled up for use or allowed to lie flat and that two tractor wires could then work on the arms of the T. Power could be supplied by a motor lorry at the base of this line.
Either just before this or just after it I met Winston Churchill at lunch in Clare Sheridan’s studio in St. John’s Wood. I think it was just before. I had aired my grievance about the tanks and so I was able to get going with him about this telpherage project forthwith. He saw my points and put me in touch with capable men to supplement my mechanical insufficiency. Upon his instructions, E. V. Haigh, who was at the Ministry of Munitions, set the Trench Warfare Department in motion, and a temporary lieutenant Leeming — I think from Lancashire — worked out the apparatus with a group of men and made a reality of my dream.
We invented a really novel war accessory — I contributed nothing except the first idea and a few comments — and it was available as a perfected pattern before the end of the war, though never in sufficient quantity to produce perceptible effects. The “tin hats” did not like it. It would have saved multitudes of casualties and greatly facilitated the opening phases of the Allied offensive in 1918.
This telpherage of ours was no mere static transport system. It could be run forward almost as fast as infantry could advance; any part could be carried by a single man, it could be hauled up for action and lie when not in use; an ordinary lorry, the lorry that had brought up the poles and wire, could work it from a protected emplacement and it could carry an endless string of such loads as a wounded man on a stretcher or an equivalent weight of food or ammunition. We worked a rough trial length on Clapham Common and then installed, in Richmond Park, more than a mile which behaved admirably. If the line were disabled by a shell it was easy to repair and replace, and it was extremely light to bring up. It was practically invisible from the air, since its use wore no track and it could be shifted laterally and dismantled as easily as it was erected. (A description of the “Leeming” Portable and Collapsible Aerial Ropeway is documented with prints and photographs, under date November 26th 1917, in the archives of the Ministry of Munitions.)
This work brought me into closer touch with the military caste than I had ever been before. I had known plenty of men, politicians and so forth, who had been in regular regiments for brief periods, but these men I now encountered were the real army and nothing else. They were the quintessence of Service mentality. They impressed me extraordinarily — excessively. My memories of them I am persuaded must be exaggerated. They remain in my memory as an incredible caricature.
I remember vividly a conference we had in a shed upon the Thames embankment. The soldiers came “well groomed” as the phrase goes, in peculiarly beautiful red-banded peaked caps, heavy with gold braid. Crowns and stars, ribbons, epaulettes, belts and bands of the utmost significance, adorned their persons. War was the most important function in life for them and they dressed for it. They sat down, like men who had given some thought to sitting down in the best possible manner. They produced their voices; they did not merely emit audible turbid thoughts as we did. If you had listened only to the sounds they made, you would have felt they were simple clear-headed men, speaking with a sane determination, and yet the things they said were by my standards almost inconceivably silly. Over against them sat my civilian colleagues, and only David Low could convey to you how comparatively ignoble we looked in our untidy every-day costumes, our bowler hats, our wilted collars, our carelessly chosen and carelessly tied war-time cravats. Judged by the way we carried ourselves we might almost as well have had no chests at all. And though our vocabulary was much more extensive there was no click about it. The noises we made came in shambling loose formation — from Scotland and Lancashire and Cockney London.
That contrast stuck in my mind and haunted me. It exercised me profoundly. It set me thinking of the implacable determination of so many types of life — and perhaps of all types of life — not to over-adapt, to make concessions indeed up to a certain extent, but not to make too fundamental concessions — to perish rather. It made me waver towards the dogma of the class war. Here were these fine, handsome, well-groomed neighing gentlemen, the outcome of some century or so of army tradition, conscientiously good to look at but in no way showy or flashy, and they had clear definite ideas of what war was, what was permissible in war, what was undesirable about war, what was seemly, what was honourable, how far you might go and where you had to leave off, the complete etiquette of it. We and our like with our bits of stick and iron-pipe and wire, our test tubes and our tanks and our incalculable possibilities, came to these fine but entirely inconclusive warriors humbly demanding permission to give them victory — but victory at the price of all that they were used to, of all they held dear. It must have been obvious to them for instance, that we hated saluting; we were the sort that might talk shop at mess; we had no essential rigidities, no style; our loyalties were incomprehensible; our effect on “the men” if men had to be instructed, might be deplorable. We had therefore in plain English to be outwitted, cheated, discredited and frustrated; and we were.
It was not a plot against us; it was an instinct. Not one of those soldiers would have admitted, even in his secret heart, that that was what he meant to do. But it was what he did. Damn these contrivances! It was far easier to understand a fellow officer from Berlin or Vienna than these Inventors. It was fundamentally more important for those finished products of our militant sovereign state system to beat us than to beat the Germans; they felt that, even if they did not recognize it clearly. We were trying to get hold of their war and carry it God knows where — it would be the story of those beastly tanks over again. It was a fresh encroachment. At any cost it must not become our war; it must remain theirs. Or it might really turn out to be “the war to end war”— and end all sorts of associated things.
In the behaviour of the War Office and Foreign Office and in the strenuous and intelligent resolve of the Crown to keep itself authoritatively in the limelight, the struggle to keep things in their places and resist novelties became more and more manifest as the war continued. The history of the Great War, regarded as an intensifying clash between old forms and new forces, still remains to be written. And yet that is perhaps the most interesting aspect of all. The war between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers was a war between similars; it was the established proper vertical aspect of the war; it was like any old war except that it was bigger. War had been declared; one side had taken the offensive and the other the defensive according to rule. But within the fighting body of each combatant state, there speedily began this more novel struggle, a horizontal struggle, between class tradition and the insistent need for decisive original inventions and new methods. The soldiers could not invent; it had been drilled out of them. And this struggle again was complicated by the progressive disillusionment of the common man who had neither social nor technical standing. He displayed a deepening dislike to being killed either in the old style or the new. At first he had been fiercely patriotic everywhere and then, as the wilting discipline of 1917 and 1918, the mutinies and refusals showed, more and more desperately recalcitrant. These three elements interacted in different proportions and with varying results in every combatant country, and to trace their interplay would carry me far beyond the region of autobiography into an essay in recent history.
In Britain, as in France, the old order contrived to keep in the saddle and its obstinate loyalty to itself prolonged the struggle through two years of intensified and totally unnecessary waste and slaughter. Radical critics obsessed by Marxist suggestions are apt to ascribe this prolongation of the war simply to the wickedness of armament and financial interests. That is only partially true. It is so much easier to denounce “capitalism” than to denounce real categories and specific governmental institutions capable of reprisal. War industry and financial influences, though unquestionably they were evil influences, could not have worked except through the legal forms of the old order. The steel framework of the obstruction was, everywhere, the self-protective obstinacy of the formal government in control, which would not accept even compromise, much less admit defeat. The profiteers no doubt flattered and used the formal government for their own ends but they were never the masters of it. Much more were they its by-products. They sheltered and did their mischief behind its implacable resistance to efficiency.
To the very end of the war not one of all the generals who prance across the page of history developed the ability to handle the vast armies and mechanisms under his nominal control. Nor was any flexible and effective method of collaboration ever brought into being. The Great War was an All Fools’ War. But there was no admission of this fact. The system just went on with the witless slaughter until discipline dissolved, first in Russia and then — luckily for us and the immobilized French — in Germany. And instantly upon the German collapse our populace forgot its gathering doubts. The monarchy, lest there should be any question about the way in which the War to End War had ended, went in state through the beflagged streets of London, unashamed amidst a blaze of uniforms and a great blare of military music, to thank our dear old Anglican Trinity, Who had been, it seems, in control throughout, in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Girls, children, women, schoolboys, undergraduates, unfit, middle-aged and elderly men, indispensables and soldiers from the home front, thronged the streets rejoicing; glad that the national martyrdom was over and quite uncritical already of either Army, Navy or Crown. There were a million of us dead of course, and half of those deaths, even from the military point of view had been sheer waste, but after all we had won. And the dead were dead. A Grand Inquest on those dead would have been a more reasonable function, but how disagreeable that would have been!
I remember starting out with Jane during one of these pompous, swarming occasions to get from our flat in Whitehall Court to Liverpool Street Station and so escape to the comparative disloyalty of our home at Easton Glebe. Our cab was held up and we had to abandon it and struggle with our bags through the press as well as we could. We squeezed through at last and caught a later train than we intended. It was one of those occasions when my love for my fellow man deserts me. The happy complacency of survivorship shone on every face in that vast crowd. What personal regrets appeared were richly sentimental and easily tearful. “Poor dear Tommy! How he would have loved all this!”
We were going to hang the Kaiser and make the Germans pay. The country was now to be made a country “fit for heroes.” God save the King!
“And this,” thought I, “is the reality of democracy; this is the proletariat of dear old Marx in being. This is the real people. This seething multitude of vague kindly uncritical brains is the stuff that old dogmatist counted upon for his dictatorship of the proletariat, to direct the novel and complex organization of a better world!”
The thought suddenly made me laugh aloud, and after that it was easier to push along and help steer Jane through the crowd about the Royal Exchange. . . .
But I am digressing and telling things out of their proper order.
Aldershot, I presently realized, was resolved not to have anything to do with this telpherage of ours — at least as we had devised it. It was bad enough for soldiers and gentlemen to be bothered with tanks, but this affair of sticks and string was even worse. After mechanical toys — cat’s cradle. It was the sort of contraption any one might make mistakes about — and then where were you? However, in its earnest desire to keep the business in professional hands, Aldershot produced alternative systems. They were much heavier and clumsier than ours and one, much in favour, required men to walk along the track, so — as we had to explain to these professional soldiers — exposing the system to air photography and air-directed fire. A bugbear we could never banish from these inflexible minds was the dread that our lines — which could be lowered in an instant and cleared away in an hour — would interfere with “lateral movements.”
This in no-man’s land with its shell holes and old trenches and jungle thickets of cut wire! The thought of a “line,” any line, hypnotized these warriors, just as a chalk line will hypnotize a hen.
I was baffled and worried beyond measure by these perverse difficulties. I felt my practical incompetence acutely. I did not know whom to get at and how to put the thing through. I had only a dim apprehension of the forces and instincts that were holding back not merely our little contrivance, but a multitude of other innovations that might have changed the face of the war. Meanwhile on every wet night so many poor lads fell and choked in the mud, and the little inadequate offensives squittered forward beyond their supports and succumbed to the counter-attack. I could not sleep for it. I was so worried and my nerves were so fatigued that I was presently afflicted with allopecia areata, well known in the flying corps of those days as an anxiety disease, in which the hair comes out in patches. Ridiculous patches of localized shiny baldness appeared and did not vanish for a year or so, when first they sprouted a down of grey hair and then became normally hairy again. It was not much in the way of a war wound, but in all modesty I put it on record.
I returned from the western front in 1916 with, among other things, a very clear conviction that cavalry was a useless nuisance there. I wrote some disagreeable things about the fodder waggons that choked the roads, about spurs and about our military efficiency generally, in a series of articles which became a book, War and the Future (1917). But there was a war Censorship in existence, and an excellent gentleman, Colonel Swettenham — or General I forget which — who had for some obscure reason been put in authority over the mind of England, presently summoned me to his presence and remonstrated with me over the galley proofs of my book. I went home with these proofs considerably emasculated, blue-pencilled and amended in the Colonel’s handwriting. I meditated over his alterations. They seemed to me to be intended to save rather the prestige of the military authorities than the country, for if people like I were not to chide the military authorities and tell the public about them, who would? These soldiers would go on with their bloody muddle. Muddle until disaster was assured.
I took another set of proofs, made no material changes in what I had said, sent them to my publisher with my explicit assurance that the Censor had seen a set, and then, though it hurt me greatly to destroy many of the painstaking improvements he had made, I burnt the Colonel’s set. The book appeared and he must have read it with a certain astonishment. After some consideration of the situation he wrote me a very nice letter asking me to return the set of proofs that he had corrected. I wrote him an even nicer letter, explaining that that set was not now to be found, and assuring him of my utmost esteem. With quite exemplary civility our correspondence ceased at that point and the censorship troubled me no more.
The chief point of permanent value in that book was my insistence on the fact that the progressive mechanization of war was making war impossible for any countries that did not possess a highly developed industrial organization and adequate natural resources. Five or six countries at most had it in their power to make modern war, and it needed only an intelligent agreement among these powers to end war, if they so wished it, for ever. This is a reality I have never ceased to press upon the attention of people in general. From 1916 to 1933 I have been sprinkling the world with repetitions of this important truth. I was stressing it in the Daily Herald in March 1930, in a series of articles “The A.B.C. of World Peace,” reprinted in After Democracy (1933). The consent of all the sovereign powers of the world to world pacification is quite unnecessary. Indeed, as I point out in the latter series of articles, three or four powers alone could impose an enduring World Pax. This idea will be found very frankly expressed in the Crewe House memorandum I shall presently quote.
War and the Future, however, is a very mixed bag. There is a gusto in some of its war descriptions that suggests that that mighty statesman-strategist, that embryo Hitler-Cromwell (aged 13) who won the various Battles of Martin’s Hill, Bromley, was by no means dead in me, even in 1916.
To return to my education by the Great War; 1917 is marked in my records by a letter published in the Daily Chronicle for June 4th, entitled “Wanted a Statement of Imperial Policy,” by a paper in the Daily News August 14th, “A Reasonable Man’s Peace” and by a third article, in the Daily Mail, which I was invited to write by the editor, “Are we sticking to the Point? A Discussion of War Aims.”
These writings show a very considerable consolidation of my ideas and in that respect they followed the movement that was going on in the general mind. They are collected together in a book called In the Fourth Year (May 1918) which is an immense advance upon What Is Coming?, uncompromising, bolder and more forcible. And in these the idea of a League of Free Nations, a plain anticipation of a federal world-state, is stated with the greatest explicitness. One of these papers, “A Reasonable Man’s Peace” was twice reprinted as a pamphlet and had an issue, in that form, of about a quarter of a million.
The idea of some supernational Union of States for the preservation of peace is a very old one indeed and its history quite beyond my present range, but the way in which it came into my purview has to be told. The origin of the term “League of Nations” is obscure. Theodore Marburg’s Development of the League of Nations Idea (1932), is concerned rather with the voluminous participation of that gentleman in the world’s affairs than with history — and so the precise facts are difficult to disentangle. His book is essentially an autobiography in the form of letters, and as a general history it over-emphasizes the importance of Theodore Marburg in developing what one may call the Wilsonian notion of a League. A “League to enforce Peace” was certainly begotten in the Century Club in New York in January 1915 and it seems to have owed something to the private propaganda of Sir George Paish. But the term “League of Nations” is of English origin and it seems to have been first used by a small group of people meeting in the house of Mr. Walter Rea and including Sir Willoughby (now Lord) Dickinson, G. Lowes Dickinson, Raymond Unwin, J. A. Hobson, Mrs. Claremont and Aneurin Williams. (E. M. Forster in his life of Lowes Dickinson (1934) gives reasons for ascribing the term to that writer, who may have used it for the two possible “leagues” he sketched in the first fortnight of the war.) These people founded a League of Nations Society, with Lord Shaw as president, early in 1915. L. S. Woolf also was associated with this group but not, I think, at the beginning.
The world was ripe for the lead embodied in such a phrase and it caught on very rapidly. I was late in recognizing its value. I do not seem to have used the term before the end of 1916, but then I seem to have taken it up abruptly and noisily; it is all over my war writings in 1917, with a very characteristic emendation for which I think I was wholly responsible, the insertion of the word “Free.” I put in that word Free because I hoped then for republics in Russia and Germany and possibly in Great Britain. I did not believe in world peace without revolution and my efforts to keep the revolutionary impulse in touch with the peace-making movement were very persistent. Early writings to which I make acknowledgment in In the Fourth Year are Marburg’s League of Nations (1917-18), André Mater’s Société des Nations (an excellent French comment first published, I think, about 1917 and translated in its entirety in Sir George Paish’s excellent collection of early projects, The Nations and the League, 1920), and H. N. Brailsford’s A League of Nations (1917). Several organizations using the term, “League of Nations” in their titles, were active in 1917 on both sides of the Atlantic. I joined the London society in 1917 and was later associated with a League of Free Nations Association formed in 1918. My mind fixed upon this word League, as being just the needed formula that might give a World State its first concrete form. It helped pull my outlook together and point it. In the Fourth Year is a crystallization of all the incoherent aspirations of What Is Coming? and of my past generally. It contained a few outspoken phrases about such matters as “The Future of Monarchy,” which were at that time considered extremely indelicate. English people have still to brace themselves up to the obvious fact that there can be no world pax without a practical retirement of monarchy, graceful or graceless as royalty may choose.
During these war years my always friendly relations with Lord Northcliffe became closer. I have told already in Chapter the Sixth § 4 how we first came to know each other and explained how much this remarkable intruder into the British peerage and British public life, had to improvise to meet the colossal opportunities that were thrust upon him. Whenever I met him I talked plainly to him and he respected even when he did not agree with my ideas. He was never at his ease in the old system; his peerage had not bought him; he knew the old social order accepted him, and his newly titled brothers, by duress and with furtive protest and he felt the continual danger of treacheries and obstructions. There were times when he reminded me of a big bumble bee puzzled by a pane of glass. The court, the army people, the Foreign Office treated him with elaborate civility but regarded him with hard, defensive eyes. When the first Russian revolution (March 1917) occurred, I created a small scandal by inducing him to print a letter in The Times in favour of a more explicit appeal to the Republican sentiment in the world. This gave great offence in the highest quarters. “There goes my earldom,” said Northcliffe to me, with a gleam from the ineradicable schoolboy in his make-up. One had a sense of fuss behind the scenes, and the young subalterns of the Third Army, who had been in the habit of playing hockey and taking baths and teas and supper at my house at Easton every Sunday, were suddenly forbidden my now leprous neighbourhood by their superior officers. “King and country” had got them surely enough; it was “his war”— it was the war of the “tin hats.” The war for world civilization had vanished. But one or two of these young men wrote me pleasant notes of apology for this uncivil loyalty imposed upon them.
The government had created two new ministries for the sake of keeping the inquisitive noses of Northcliffe, and his younger competitor Lord Beaverbrook, out of the ancient mysteries of the Foreign Office. This could be done most unobtrusively by busying them elsewhere. The Ministry of Information was devised to prevent Lord Beaverbrook from becoming too well-informed and the Ministry of Propaganda served a similar purpose in occupying and disordering the always rather febrile mind of Lord Northcliffe. Northcliffe asked me to visit him in Crewe House, where the new Ministry of Propaganda was installed, and discussed the general idea of his activities with me.
We sat together in the drawing-room of Crewe House, hastily adapted to the new requirements of ministerial headquarters. “You want a social revolution,” he said. “Isn’t our sitting here social revolution enough for you?”
I might have replied that that depended on the use we made of our time while we were there.
The upshot of our conversation was that in May 1918 in collaboration with that excellent scholar, Dr. J. W. Headlam, (who afterwards became by knighthood and a change of name Sir J. W. Headlam Morley), I became responsible for the preparation of propaganda literature against Germany. This was almost simultaneous with the publication of In the Fourth Year and its exposition of such still admirable common-sense as this that follows:
“The League of Free Nations must, in fact, if it is to be a working reality, have power to define and limit the military and naval and aerial equipment of every country in the world. This means something more than a restriction of state forces. It must have power and freedom to investigate the military and naval and aerial establishments of all its constituent powers. It must also have effective control over every armament industry. And armament industries are not always easy to define. Are aeroplanes, for example, armament? Its powers, I suggest must extend even to a restraint upon the belligerent propaganda which is the natural advertisement campaign of every armament industry. It must have the right, for example, to raise the question of the proprietorship of newspapers by armament interests. Disarmament is, in fact, a necessary factor of any League of Free Nations, and you cannot have disarmament unless you are prepared to see the powers of the council of the League extend thus far. The very existence of the League presupposes that it and it alone is to have and to exercise military force. Any other belligerency or preparation or incitement to belligerency becomes rebellion, and any other arming a threat of rebellion, in a world League of Free Nations.
“But here, again, has the general mind yet thought out all that is involved in this proposition? In all the great belligerent countries the armament industries are now huge interests with enormous powers. Krupp’s business alone is as powerful a thing in Germany as the Crown. In every country a heavily subsidized ‘patriotic’ press will fight desperately against giving powers so extensive and thorough as those here suggested to an international body. So long, of course, as the League of Free Nations remains a project in the air, without body or parts, such a press will sneer at it gently as ‘Utopian,’ and even patronize it kindly. But so soon as the League takes on the shape its general proposition makes logically necessary, the armament interest will take fright. Then it is we shall hear the drum patriotic loud in defence of the human blood trade. Are we to hand over these most intimate affairs of ours to ‘a lot of foreigners?’ Among these ‘foreigners’ who will be appealed to to terrify the patriotic souls of the British will be the ‘Americans.’ Are we men of English blood and tradition to see our affairs controlled by such ‘foreigners’ as Wilson, Lincoln, Webster and Washington? Perish the thought! When they might be controlled by Disraelis, Wettins, Mountbattens and what not! And so on and so on. Krupp’s agents and the agents of the kindred firms in Great Britain and France will also be very busy with the national pride of France. In Germany they have already created a colossal suspicion of England.
“Here is a giant in the path. . . .
“But let us remember that it is only necessary to defeat the propaganda of this vile and dangerous industry in four great countries. . . .
“I am suggesting here that the League of Free Nations shall practically control the army, navy, air forces, and armament industry of every nation in the world. What is the alternative to that? To do as we please? No, the alternative is that any malignant country will be free to force upon all the rest just the maximum amount of armament it chooses to adopt. Since 1871 France, we say, has been free in military matters. What has been the value of that freedom? The truth is, she has been the bond-slave of Germany, bound to watch Germany as a slave watches a master, bound to launch submarine for submarine and cast gun for gun, to sweep all her youth into her army, to subdue her trade, her literature, her education, her whole life to the necessity of preparations imposed upon her by her drill-master over the Rhine. And Michael, too, has been a slave to his imperial master for the self-same reason, for the reason that Germany and France were both so proudly sovereign and independent. Both countries have been slaves to Kruppism and Zabernism —because they were sovereign and free! So it will always be. So long as patriotic cant can keep the common man jealous of international controls over his belligerent possibilities, so long will he be the helpless slave of the foreign threat, and ‘Peace’ remain a mere name for the resting-phase between wars. . . .
“The plain truth is that the League of Free Nations, if it is to be a reality, if it is to effect a real pacification of the world, must do no less than supersede Empire; it must end not only this new German imperialism, which is struggling so savagely and powerfully to possess the earth, but it must also wind up British imperialism and French imperialism, which do now so largely and inaggressively possess it. And, moreover, this idea queries the adjective of Belgian, Portuguese, French, and British Central Africa alike, just as emphatically as it queries ‘German.’ Still more effectually does the League forbid those creations of the futurist imagination, the imperialism of Italy and Greece, which make such threatening gestures at the world of our children. Are these incompatibilities understood? Until people have faced the clear antagonism which exists between imperialism and internationalism, they have not begun to suspect the real significance of this project of the League of Free Nations. They have not begun to realize that peace also has its price.”
With this much on record I went to Crewe House. I think that Northcliffe knew something of what I had in mind. Or to be more accurate I think that at times — in exceptional gleams of lucidity — he knew something of what I had in mind and sympathized with it and wanted to forward it. But his undoubtedly big and undoubtedly unco-ordinated brain was like a weather-chart in stormy times, phases of high and low pressure and moral gradients and depressions chased themselves across his mental map. His skull held together, in a delusive unity, a score of flying fragments of purpose. He was living most of his time in the Isle of Thanet and rushing to and fro between that house of refuge and the excitements of London. I put it to him that we had no clear idea of the work his Ministry of Propaganda had to do, as a whole, and that to make our exertions effective it was necessary that our objectives should be defined.
Before the creation of the ministry, such propaganda as existed had been a business of leaflet distribution by secret agents and by the air, the forging of pseudo-German newspapers with depressing suggestions and the like, and this was already being expanded very energetically when I took up my duties. Descriptions and details are to be found in the Secrets of Crewe House. I did what I could to forward all that and to make such modifications as occurred to me, but these activities did not seem to me to exhaust the possibilities of our organization. Telling lies — and occasionally revealing the concealed truth of the situation — to the German rank and file and the Germans behind the front, “attacking morale” as it was termed, was perhaps a necessary operation in this new sort of warfare we were waging, but it was really much more important now to get to something in the nature of a common understanding between the combatant populations if a genuine peace were to be achieved. The best counter-check to the very vigorous war propaganda sustained by the enemy governments, was honest peace propaganda, and I did my utmost to make Crewe House an organization not merely for bringing the war to a victorious end, but also for defining that end with an explicitness equally binding upon us, our Allies and the enemy.
I had no illusions left about the fundamental wisdom of the British and French Foreign Offices. They were, I realized, in the hands of men of limited outlooks and small motives, whose chief control was their servitude to tradition. They had far less grasp of the world situation than an average intelligent man, and the duty of everyone who had a chance, was to help force their hands towards such a “Reasonable Man’s Peace” as was now everywhere defining itself in the liberal mind.
One great desideratum was that there should be a plain statement of “War Aims” to the whole world. Then the combatants would realize the conditions of cessation. I persuaded Crewe House that our work necessitated such a statement of what we were fighting for, properly endorsed by the Foreign Office and in conjunction with Headlam Morley a memorandum was prepared, submitted to an Advisory Committee and fully discussed. This Committee, by the bye, consisted of the Earl of Denbigh, Mr. Robert Donald (then Editor of the Daily Chronicle), Sir Roderick Jones, Sir Sidney Low, Sir Charles Nicholson, Mr. James O’Grady, Mr. H. Wickham Steed (foreign Editor and later Editor-in-Chief of The Times), Dr. Headlam Morley, Mr. H. K. Hudson (Secretary) and myself, and the memorandum to which we agreed said among other things:
“It has become manifest that, for the purposes of an efficient pro-Ally propaganda in neutral and enemy countries, a clear and full statement of the war aims of the Allies is vitally necessary. What is wanted is something in the nature of an authoritative text to which propagandists may refer with confidence and which can be made the standard of their activities. It is not sufficient to recount the sins of Germany and to assert that the defeat of Germany is the Allied war aim. What all the world desires to know is what is to happen after the war. The real war aim of a belligerent, it is more and more understood, is not merely victory, but a peace of a certain character which that belligerent desires shall arise out of that victory. What, therefore, is the peace sought by the Allies?
“It would be superfluous even to summarize here the primary case of the Allies, that the war is on their part a war to resist the military aggression of Germany, assisted by the landowning Magyars of Hungary, the Turks, and the King of Bulgaria, upon the rest of mankind. It is a war against belligerence, against aggressive war and the preparation for aggressive war. Such it was in the beginning, and such it remains. But it would be idle to pretend that the ideas of the Governments and peoples allied against Germany have not developed very greatly during the years of the war. . . . There has arisen in the great world outside the inner lives of the Central Powers a will that grows to gigantic proportions, that altogether overshadows the boasted will to power of the German junker and exploiter, the will to a world peace. It is like the will of an experienced man set against the will of an obstinate and selfish youth. The war aims of the anti-German Allies take more and more definitely the form of a world of States leagued together to maintain a common law, to submit their mutual differences to a conclusive tribunal, to protect weak communities, to restrain and suppress war threats and war preparations throughout the earth. . . . The thought of the world crystallizes now about a phrase, the phrase ‘The League of Free Nations.’ The war aims of the Allies become more and more explicitly associated with the spirit and implications of that.
“Like all such phrases, ‘The League of Free Nations’ is subject to a great variety of detailed interpretation, but its broad intentions can now be stated without much risk of dissent. The ideal would, of course, include all the nations of the earth, including a Germany purged of her military aggressiveness; it involves some sort of International Congress that can revise, codify, amend and extend international law, a supreme Court of Law in which States may sue and be sued, and whose decision the League will be pledged to enforce, and the supervision, limitation, and use of armaments under the direction of the international congress. . . . The constitution of this congress remains indefinite; it is the crucial matter upon which the best thought of the world is working at the present time. But given the prospect of a suitable congress there can be little dispute that the Imperial Powers among the Allies are now prepared for great and generous limitations of their sovereignty in the matter of armaments, of tropical possessions and of subject peoples, in the common interest of mankind. . . . Among the Allies, the two chief Imperial Powers, measured by the extent of territory they control, are Britain and France, and each of these is more completely prepared to-day than ever it has been before to consider its imperial possessions as a trust for their inhabitants and for mankind, and its position in the more fertile and less settled regions of the world as that of a mandatory and trustee. . . .
“But in using the phrase ‘The League of Nations,’ it may be well to dispel certain misconceptions that have arisen through the experimental preparation, by more or less irresponsible persons and societies, of elaborate schemes and constitutions of such a league. Proposals have been printed and published, for example, of a Court of World Conciliation, in which each sovereign State will be represented by one member — Montenegro, for example, by one, and the British Empire by one — and other proposals have been mooted of a Congress of the League of Nations, in which such States as Hayti, Abyssinia, and the like will be represented by one or two representatives, and France and Great Britain by five or six. All such projects should be put out of mind when the phrase ‘League of Free Nations’ is used by responsible speakers for the Allied Powers. Certain most obvious considerations have evidently been overlooked by the framers of such proposals. It will, for example, be a manifest disadvantage to the smaller Powers to be at all over-represented upon the Congress of any such League; it may even be desirable that certain of them should not have a voting representative at all, for this reason, that a great Power still cherishing an aggressive spirit would certainly attempt, as the beginning of its aggression, to compel adjacent small Powers to send representatives practically chosen by itself. The coarse fact of the case in regard to an immediate world peace is this, that only five or six great Powers possess sufficient economic resources to make war under modern conditions at the present time, namely, the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and doubtfully, Austria-Hungary. Italy suffers under the disadvantage that she has no coal supply. These five or six Powers we may say, therefore, permit war and can prevent it. They are, at present, necessarily the custodians of the peace of the world, and it is mere pedantry not to admit that this gives them a practical claim to preponderance in the opening Congress of the World League. . . . ”
This memorandum was sent, with a covering letter from Lord Northcliffe, to Lord Balfour for the endorsement of the Foreign Office. We had all been kept in the dark as to the cramping secret engagements which had been made by our diplomatists, and we had no suspicion that our broad and reasonable proposals were already impossible. We were not enlightened. Dr. Headlam Morley and I were invited for a conversation with Lord Tyrrell who was then Sir William Tyrrell. Possibly he intended to give us a hint about the secret treaties but, if so, he never did as he intended or the hint was too feeble to register upon our minds. Tyrrell was a compact self-assured little man, who tacitly put our memorandum on one side, rested his elbow on it, so to speak, and delivered a discourse on our relations to France and Germany and on the “characters” of these countries, that would have done credit to a bright but patriotic school-boy of eight, and so having told us exactly where we were, he dismissed biologist and historian together unheard. I suppose he had learnt that stuff for gospel from his governess at his knickerbocker stage, and had never had the wit to doubt it. Most upper-class mentality is founded on governesses. According to such lights as he had acquired in his tender years, he was perfectly honest and patriotic — if a little “pro-French.”
It is terrifying to think that these vast powers, the Foreign Offices of the world, are being run to a very large extent by little undeveloped brains such as Tyrrell’s, that they are immensely protected from criticism and under no real control from educated opinion. And what they do affects and endangers hundreds of millions of lives.
That conversation was the utmost Crewe House got out of the Foreign Office. We assumed rather rashly that our memorandum had been tacitly accepted and pursued our propaganda activities on those lines. That, from the diplomatic point of view was admirable, because in our quasi-official rôle we gave assurances to doubtful Germans, that could afterwards be repudiated. We were in fact decoys. Just as T. E. Lawrence of the “Seven Pillars” was used all unawares as a decoy for the Arabs. And all for nothing! Plainly I had not learnt the A.B.C. of diplomacy.
There were at that time several small organizations promoting the League of Nations idea. I took part in a successful attempt to consolidate these into one League of Nations Union, which would not merely spread but develop the idea. I put the stress upon the development. It was conspicuously evident that, so far, the idea was lacking in detail and definition; it was like a bag into which anything might still be put and there were a number of things that I felt were very undesirable as occupants of that bag and others that were vitally important. I was already alive, as that Crewe House memorandum shows, to the danger of a pseudo-parliamentary organization, with an enfeebling constitution, and I felt we had to get ahead of that by working out some clearer statement of the possibilities of the occasion. We evolved therefore a “Research Committee” which could press on with this necessary preliminary work. It consisted of the following members, most of whom, I must admit, did no work whatever upon it; Mr. Ernest Barker, Mr. Lionel Curtis, Mr. G. Lowes Dickinson, Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Mr. John Hilton, Professor Gilbert Murray, Mr. H. Wickham Steed, Mr. J. A. Spender, Mr. L. S. Woolf, Mr. A. E. Zimmern, and myself, with Mr. William Archer as secretary. It produced only two pamphlets “The Idea of a League of Nations” and “The Way to the League of Nations” before events superseded it.
The former of these pamphlets ends with this passage:
“Negative peace is not our aim. It is something, of course, to have a rest from suffering and the infliction of suffering; but it is a greater thing to be set free, and peace sets people free. It sets them free to live, to think, to work at the work that is best worth doing, to build instead of destroying, to devote themselves to the pursuit or the creation of the things that seem highest, instead of having to spend all their time in trying to avoid being killed. Peace is an empty cup that we can fill as we please; it is an opportunity which we can seize or neglect. To recognize this is to sweep out of one’s mind all dreams of a world peace contrived by a few jurists and influential people in some odd corner of the world’s administrative bureaux. As well might the three tailors of Tooley Street declare the millennium in being. Permanent world peace must necessarily be a great process and state of affairs, greater indeed than any war process, because it must anticipate, comprehend, and prevent any war process, and demand the conscious, the understanding, the willing participation of the great majority of human beings. We, who look to it as a possible thing, are bound not to blind ourselves to, or conceal from others, the gigantic and laborious system of labours, the immense tangle of co-operations, which its establishment involves. If political institutions or social methods stand in the way of this great good for mankind, it is fatuous to dream of compromises with them. A world peace-organization cannot evade universal relationships.
“It is clear that if a world league is to be living and enduring, the idea of it and the need and righteousness of its service must be taught by every educational system in the world. It must either be served by or be in conflict with every religious organization; it must come into the life of every one, not to release men and women from loyalty, but to demand loyalty for itself. The answer to the criticism that world peace will release men from service is, that world peace is itself a service. It calls, not as war does for the deaths, but for that greater gift, for the lives, of men. The League of Nations cannot be a little thing: it is either to be a great thing in the world, an overriding idea of a greater state, or nothing. Every state aims ultimately at the production of a sort of man, and it is an idle and a wasteful diplomacy, a pandering to timidities and shams, to pretend that the World League of Nations is not ultimately a State aiming at that ennobled individual whose city is the world.”
We got as far as that. And then President Wilson essentially ill-informed, narrowly limited to an old-fashioned American conception of history, self-confident and profoundly self-righteous, came to Europe and passed us by on the other side. Men of my way of thinking were left helpless, voiceless and altogether baffled outside the fiasco of Versailles. What had seemed to be the portal of a World Control standing wide open to us, was shut and slammed in our faces.
My friend Philip Guedalla, discussing this period of memorandum-writing with me the other day, recalled a letter which he declared I had sent to President Wilson, at the President’s request, through the hands of Mr. Bainbridge Colby in November 1917. He alleged that through this letter I had contributed materially to the President’s “Fourteen Points.” I think very poorly of the Fourteen Points and at the time I was unable to recall any communication justifying this accusation. A search was made, however, and finally a copy of the following letter was disinterred. The original was conveyed, with Mr. Guedalla’s assistance, past any risks of war-time censorship to Mr. Colby who had gone on to Paris.
I doubt whether this letter was ever actually read by President Wilson though we have Colby’s word for it that it reached his hands. I never heard from President Wilson in the matter. Colonel House came to Easton Glebe while the President was in England, but he and Mrs. House were so anxious to hurry on to “see over” Hatfield, the historical mansion of the Cecils, that there was no possibility of any political talk. A chance to see Hatfield might not recur. My letter therefore has no grain of historical importance, but in the light of the concluding passage of the preceding section it has considerable autobiographical significance.
Dear Mr. Bainbridge Colby,
You asked me, after our conversation at the Reform Club on the evening of November the fourteenth, to set down on paper my views upon the part America might and should play in this war. It was not the military side of the matter that engaged us, though I feel very strongly that by a bold use of scientific inventions the American intelligence, accustomed to a large handling of economic problems and the free scrapping of obsolescent material and methods, may yet be of enormous service and stimulus to the Allied effort; it was rather the political rôle of America about which we talked. I warned you that I was perhaps not to be taken as a representative Englishman, that I was scientifically trained, a republican, and “pro-American.” I repeat that warning now. Here are my views for what they are worth.
They are based on one fundamental conviction. There is no way out of this war process — there may be a peace of sorts but it will only lead to a recrudescence of war — except by the establishment of a new order in human affairs. This new order is adumbrated in the phrase, A League of Nations. It lies behind that vaguer, more dangerous because less definite, phrase, “a Just Peace.” We have, I am convinced, to set our faces towards that order, towards that just peace, irrespective of the amount of victory that falls to us. We may achieve it by negotiations at any point when the German mind becomes open to the abandonment of militant imperialism. If by a sudden change and storm of fortune we found Germany deserted by her allies, prostrate at our feet, our troops in Berlin and her leaders captive, we could do no more, we should do ourselves and the whole future of mankind a wrong if we did more, than make this same “Just Peace” or set up this League of Nations. There is, I hold, a definable Right Thing for most practical purposes in international relations; there are principles according to which boundaries can be drawn and rights of way and privileges of trade settled and apportioned (under the protection of the general League) as dispassionately as a cartographer makes a contour line.
This I believe is the conviction to which a scientific training leads a man. It is the conviction, more or less clearly developed, of rational-minded people everywhere. It is manifestly the idea of President Wilson. It is the conviction that has to be made to dominate the world.
And this conviction of a possible dispassionate settlement is one for which the world is now ready. I am convinced that in no country is there even one per cent of the population anxious to prolong the war. The ninety and nine are seeking helplessly for a way out such as only a dispassionate settlement can give. But they are kept in the war by fear. And by mental habit. Few men have the courage to reach their own convictions. They must be led to them or helped to them. They fear the greed of their antagonists, fresh wars, fresh outrages, and an unending series of evil consequences, if they seem to accept anything short of triumph. No one can read the newspapers of any belligerent country without realizing the overwhelming share of fear in now prolonging the struggle. Germany as much as any country fights on and is helpless in the hands of her military caste, because there is no confidence in Germany in the possibility of a Just Peace. There is an equal want of confidence in London and Paris and New York. To create a feeling of confidence in that possibility of a Just Peace everywhere is as necessary a part of our struggle for a right order in the world as to hold the German out of Calais or Paris.
It is easy to underrate the pacific impulse in men and to overrate their malignity. All men are mixed in their nature and none without a certain greed, baseness, vindictiveness. After the strain and losses of such a struggle as this it is “only in human nature” to prepare to clutch and punish whenever the scales of victory seem sagging in our favour. Too much importance must not be attached to the aggressive patriotism of the Press in the belligerent countries. Let us keep a little humour in our interpretation of enemy motives and remember that though a man has still much of the ape in his composition, that does not make him an irredeemable devil. The same German who will read with exultation of the submarining of a British passenger ship, or pore over a map of Europe to plan a giant Germany reaching from Antwerp to Constantinople, founded on blood and dreadfulness and ruling the earth, will, in his saner moments, be only too ready to accept and submit himself to a scheme of general good will, provided only that it ensures for him and his a tolerable measure of prosperity and happiness. The belligerent element is present in every man, but in most it is curable. The incurably belligerent minority in any country is extremely small. There is a rational pacifist in nearly every man’s brain, and the right end of the war can come only by evoking that.
It is here that the peculiar opportunity of America and of President Wilson comes in. America is three thousand miles from the war; she has no lost provinces to regain, no enemy colonies to capture; she is, in comparison with any of our Allies except China, a dispassionate combatant. (If China can be called a combatant.) No other combatant except America can talk of peace without relinquishing a claim or accepting an outrage. America alone can stand fearlessly and unembarrassed for that rational settlement all men desire. It is from America alone that the lead can come which will take mankind out of this war. It is to America under President Wilson that I look as the one and only medium by which we can get out of this jangling monstrosity of conflict.
What is wanted now is a statement of the Just Peace, a statement without reservations. We want something more than a phrase to bind the nations together. America has said “League of Nations” and everywhere there has been an echo to that. But now we want America to take the next step and to propose the establishment of that League, to define in general terms the nature of the League, to press the logical necessity of a consultative, legislative, and executive conference, and to call together so much of that conference as exists on the Allied side. There will never be such a conference until America demands it. There will never be a common policy for the Allies or a firm proposal of peace conditions, unless America insists. This war may drag on for another year of needless bloodshed and end in mutual recriminations through the sheer incapacity of any Ally but America to say plainly what is in fact acceptable to all.
In addition to the moral advantage of its aloofness, America has a second advantage in having a real head, representative and expressive. Possessing that head, America can talk. Alone in our system America is capable of articulate speech. Russia is now headless, a confusion; Italy is divided against herself; in France and Britain politicians and party leaders make speeches that are welcomed here and abused there. No predominant utterance is possible. It will be no secret to an observant American such as you are, that Britain and France are divided in a quarrel between reactionary and progressive, between aggressive nationalism and modern liberalism. All the European allies are hampered by secret bargains and pacts of greediness. They have soiled their minds with schemes of annexation and exploitation in Syria, in Albania, in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Russia was to have had Constantinople, and so forth and so forth. This ugly legacy of the old diplomacy entangles our public men hopelessly to-day. Even where they are willing to repudiate these plans to-day for themselves they are tied by loyalty to the bright projects of their allies, and silenced. Their military operations have had no real unity because their policy, their war aims, have been diverse. The great alliance against the Central Powers has been a bargain system and not a unification. The allied statesmen, challenged as to their war aims, repeat time after time the same valiant resolution to “end militarism,” free small nations, and the like, standing all the time quite resolutely with their backs to the real issues which are the control of the Tropics, the future of the Ottoman Empire, and international trade conditions. So it seems likely to go on. Any voice that is raised to demand a lucid statement of the Allied aims in these matters is drowned in a clamour of alarmed interests. In Britain and France “hush” in the interests of diplomacy is being organized with increasing violence. Only America can help us out of the tangle by asserting its own interpretation of the common war purpose, and demanding a clear unanimity on the part of the Allies. The war was begun to defeat German imperialist aggression. It is with extreme reluctance that the European powers will accept the one way to salvation, which is the abandonment of all imperialist aggression and the acceptance of a common international method. The League of Nations is a mere phrase until it is realized by a body whose authority is supreme, overriding every national flag in the following spheres, in Africa between the Sahara and the Zambesi, as a trustee in Armenia, Syria and all the regions of the earth whose political status has been destroyed by the war, and permanently upon the high seas and vital channels (such as the Dardanelles) of the world.
America in the last three years has made great strides from its traditional isolation towards a responsible share in framing the common destinies of mankind. But America has to travel further on the same road. The future of America is now manifestly bound up with the peace of Europe, for that peace cannot be secured unless these sources of contention in the supply of tropical raw material and in the transport and trading facilities of the world are so controlled as to be no longer sources of contention. It is easy to argue that America has “no business” in Central Africa or Western Asia, that these are matters for the “powers concerned” to decide. But it is just because America has no “business” in Central Africa and Western Asia that it is necessary that America should have a definite will about Africa and Western Asia. Her aloofness gives her her authority. The “powers concerned” will never of their own initiative decide. They are too deeply concerned, and they will haggle. It is, I fear, altogether too much to expect a generous scheme for the joint settlement of regions by powers who have for a century cultivated a scheming habit of appropriation. But none of these powers can afford to haggle against the clear will for order of America at the present time.
What is suggested here is not a surrender of sovereignty nor a direct “international control” of tropical Africa, but the setting up of an over-ruling board composed of delegates from the powers concerned: Frenchman, Englishman, Africander, Portuguese, Belgian, Italian and (ultimately) German, to which certain functions can be delegated, as powers are delegated to the government of the United States of America by those states. Among these functions would be transport control, trade control, the arms and drink trades, the revision of legislation affecting the native and his land, the maintenance of a supreme court for Central Africa, the establishment of higher education for the native, and the systematic disarmament of all the African possessions. A similar board, a protectorate board, could take charge of the transport, waterways, customs, and disarmament of the former Ottoman empire. Only by the establishment of such boards can we hope to save those regions from becoming at the end of this war, fields of the bitterest international rivalry, seed-beds of still direr conflicts. It is in the creation and support of such special boards, and of other boards for disarmament, international health, produce control and financial control, that the reality of a League of Nations can come into being. But Europe is tied up into a complexity of warring and jostling interests; without an initiative from America it is doubtful whether the world now possesses sufficient creative mental energy to achieve any such synthesis, obvious though its need is and greatly as men would welcome it. In all the world there is no outstanding figure to which the world will listen, there is no man audible in all the world, in Japan as well as Germany and Rome as well as Boston — except the President of the United States. Anyone else can be shouted down and will be shouted down by minor interests. From him, and from him alone, can come the demand for that unity without which the world perishes, and those clear indications of the just method of the League of Nations for which it waits.
There is another area, an area beyond the scope of international controls, which remains an area of incalculable chances because no clear dominant idea has been imposed upon the world. This is Eastern Europe from Poland to the Adriatic. The Allies have no common idea, and they never have had a common idea and do not seem to be capable of developing a common idea about this region. They do not even know whether they wish to destroy or enlarge the Austro-Hungarian system. Vague vapourings about the rights of nationality conceal a formless confusion of purposes. Yet if the Allies have no intention of rending the Austro-Hungarian empire into fragments, if they do not propose to cripple or dismember Bulgaria, it is of the extremest importance that they should say so now. There is no occasion to make the Austrian and Bulgarian fight, as if he fought for his national existence, when he is really only fighting for Germany. All liberal thought is agreed upon the desirability of a practically independent Poland, of a Hungary intact and self-respecting, of a liberated Bohemia, of a Yugo-Slav autonomous state. None of these four countries are so large and powerful as to stand alone, and there are many reasons for proposing to see them linked into a league of mutual protection, mutual restraint and mutual guarantees. Add only to this system the present German states of the Austrian empire, and such a league would be practically a continuation of that empire. But the European Allies lack the collective mental force, lack the mouthpiece, lack the detachment and directness of purpose necessary for the declaration of their intentions in this matter, and they will probably go into the peace conference unprepared with a decision, a divided and so an enfeebled crowd, unless America for her own good and theirs, before the end of the war, gives the lead that will necessitate a definite statement of war aims. Only President Wilson and America can get that statement. To us in Europe our statesmen have become no better than penny-in-the-slot gramophones, who at every challenge for their war aims, say “Evacuate Belgium, restore Alsace-Lorraine to France and Italia Irredenta to Italy, abandon militarism and —Gurrrrr!” The voice stops just when it is beginning to be interesting. And because it stops the war goes on. The war goes on because nothing can be extracted from the Allies that would induce any self-respecting Bulgarian, Austrian or democratic-minded German to regard peace as a practicable proposition. They have their backs up against the wall, therefore, side by side with the German militarist — who is the real enemy — because we will not let them have any alternative to a fight to the death.
There, my dear Mr. Bainbridge Colby, are the views you ask for. You have brought them on yourself. You see the rôle I believe America could play under President Wilson’s guidance, the rôle of the elucidator, the rôle of advocate of the new order. Clear speech and clear speech alone can save the world. Nothing else can. And President Wilson alone of all mankind can speak and compel the redeeming word.
My awakening to the realities of the pseudo-settlement of 1919 was fairly rapid. At first I found it difficult to express my indignant astonishment at the simulacrum of a Peace League that was being thrust upon Europe. I was embarrassed and rather puzzled to find that men I had reckoned upon surely as associates, Gilbert Murray for instance, Zimmern, Ernest Barker and J. A. Spender and that dignified figurehead Grey, were all, it seemed, content with this powerless pedantic bit of stage scenery. In spite of the fact that they had committed their names to the most explicit denunciation of a sham world parliament, of an uncontrolled armament trade and of a weaponless league from which the former enemy states were to be indefinitely excluded, they not only accepted this incredibly defective organization, but became eager apologists for it. I clung to the original demands and promises of Crewe House and the League of Nations Union. This I insisted was not the thing that had to be.
What looked like everyday commonsense but was, in effect, sheer imaginative destitution was all against me. I was rather in the position into which a man would have been put by Dr. Johnson if he had talked to him of the possibility of electric lights and air liners. The fact that in the violent passage that would no doubt have ensued, he would have been right and the great Doctor altogether wrong, would not have prevented him from looking and feeling like an egregious fool. I was invited most urgently to feel that my ideas were preposterous and unacceptable. My futile voice mingled feebly with the feeble protests of a few other intelligent men behind the wainscot while the conference rooms reverberated to the feet of the “statesmen” and the pompous expressions of their “policies.” I think the first intelligent man to emerge from behind the wainscot and make himself really audible was J. M. Keynes in his Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919).
I will not here enter into any discussion of Woodrow Wilson, I never met him, and the quintessence of what I have to say about him is to be found in Book V § 6 of that most discursive novel, The World of William Clissold, in which I contrast his triumphant reception in Rome in January 1919 with the funeral of David Lubin, forced to travel obscurely and circuitously to the cemetery through side streets because of the Wilson parade. Nor will I expatiate again upon the strange phase of docility and expectation in the world at the end of 1918, which mocked the limitations of Wilson and Lloyd George and Clemenceau. That I have conveyed (chiefly by quotations from Dr. Dillon and J. M. Keynes) in the Outline of History (Chapter XXXIX §§ 3 and 4 in the 1932 Edition). Slowly I realized the full significance of that passage cited from The Idea of the League of Nations about the “gigantic and laborious system of labours, the immense tangle of co-operations” demanded of us, and set about seeking how among the new conditions, the still non-existent foundations of a real and enduring World State might yet be planned and laid.
During the various discussions, committee meetings and conferences that occurred in the course of the consolidation of the earlier League of Nations organizations into the League of Nations Union, I had been very much impressed by the perpetually recurring mental divergences due to the fact that everyone seemed to have read a different piece of history or no history at all, and that consequently our ideas of the methods and possibilities of human association varied in the wildest manner. The curious fact dawned upon me that because I was not a “scholar” and had never been put under a pedant to study a “period” intensely and prematurely, and because I had a student’s knowledge of biology and of the archæological record, I had a much broader grasp of historical reality than most of my associates in this mixture of minds which, as the League of Nations Union, was trying to fuse itself into a directive and controlling public opinion. I began to talk more and more decisively of the need for “general history” and to express opinions such as I embodied finally in a pamphlet “History Is One” (1919). I proposed that our Research Committee should organize the writing and publication of a history of mankind which should show plainly to the general intelligence, how inevitable, if civilization was to continue, was the growth of political, social and economic organizations into a world federation.
My idea was at first an outline of history beginning with an account of the Roman and Chinese empires at the Christian era, and coming up to contemporary conditions. It was to be a composite Gibbon, with Eastern Asia included and brought up to date. But it became very speedily plain to me that no such broad but compact historical synthesis by authoritative historians was possible. They lived in an atmosphere of mutual restraint. They would not dare to do anything so large, for fear of incidental slips and errors. They were unused to any effective co-operation and their disposition would be all towards binding together a lot of little histories by different hands, and calling the binding a synthesis; and even if they could be persuaded to do anything of the sort it would certainly be years before it became available. I was already making a note-book for my own private edification and for use in the controversies that I felt were gathering ahead, and the idea of writing up this note-book of how the present human situation had come about and publishing it — if only to demonstrate that there was some other method possible in history than that of sheer indiscriminate aggregation — became more and more attractive.
It did not occur to me that this Note-Book or Outline of History would be a particularly saleable production. I wanted to sketch out how the job might be done rather than to do it. Before I began it I had a very serious talk with my wife about our financial position. The little parcel of securities we had accumulated before 1914 had been badly damaged by the war. Its value had fallen from about £20,000 to less than half that amount. But the success of Mr. Britling had more than repaired that damage and my position as a journalist had improved. We decided that I could afford a year’s hard work on this précis of history, although it might bring in very little and even though I risked dropping for a time below the habitual novel reader’s horizon. As a matter of fact I dropped below that horizon for good. I lost touch with the reviewers and the libraries, I never regained it, and if I wrote a novel now it would be dealt with by itself by some special critic, as a singular book, and not go into the “fiction” class. I set to work, undeterred by my burning boats, with the Encyclopaedia Britannica at my elbow, to get the general shape of history sketched out. It planned itself naturally enough as a story of communications and increasing interdependence. It became an essay on the growth of association since the dawn of animal communities. Its beginning was carried right back before the appearance of viviparous types of life, to those reptiles which shelter their eggs and protect their offspring, and it came on in one story of expanding relationship to the aeroplane-radio-linked human world of to-day. The essay grew beyond expectation, but that stress upon continually more effective communications, upon the gathering co-ordination of lives, is still, as even the reader of the Outline’s List of Contents can see, the gist of it all.
I will not here detail how with the Outline, as with Anticipations, my sense of the importance of my subject grew as I worked upon it. I saw more and more plainly that this was the form, the only right form, in which history should be presented to the ordinary citizen of the modern state, this, and not “King and Country” stuff, was the history needed for general education, and I realized too that even my arrangement of notes, if it was properly “vetted” by one or two more specialized and authoritative helpers, might be made to serve, provisionally at least, for just that general review of reality of which we stood in such manifest need if any permanent political unity was to be sustained in the world. I persuaded Sir Ray Lankester, Sir Harry Johnston, Gilbert Murray, Mr. Ernest Barker, Sir Denison Ross, Philip Guedalla and various other men of knowledge among my friends, to go over my typescript for me, I got J. F. Horrabin, who makes charts that talk, to help me with some exceptionally eloquent maps, and I suggested to Newnes and Co. the possibility of a publication in parts prior to the publication of the Outline in book form by Cassells. In America, Mr. G. P. Brett of The Macmillan Co., was very doubtful about the prospects of the book, but finally he brought it out at the rather odd price of 10 dollars and 10 cents.
The public response was unexpectedly vigorous, both in Britain and America. Edition after edition was sold on both sides of the Atlantic. It made a new and wider reputation for me and earned me a considerable sum of money. Over two million copies of the Outline in English have been sold since 1919, it has been translated into most literary languages except Italian — it is proscribed in Italy because it detracts, they say, from the supreme grandeur of Mussolini’s Rome — and it continues to sell widely. A Short History of the World (1922) has also had an extensive sale. The ordinary man had been stimulated by the war to a real curiosity about the human past; he wanted to be told the story of the planet and of the race, plainly and credibly, and since the “historians” would not or could not do it, he turned to my book. It was quite open to those worthy teachers to do the job over again and do it beyond measure better, but until they could manage to do that, people had either to remain in ignorance of this exciting subject, as one whole, or else go on reading me, or Van Loon, or some other such outsider who had not been sterilized by an excess of scholastic pretension.
Unhappily, though the professional teachers of history could not bar the reading public from access to the new history of all mankind that was now unfolding itself, they were much more successful in keeping it out of the schools. To this day, in school and syllabus, King and Country and Period still prevail and it is still just a matter of luck whether or no an intelligent boy or girl ever comes to the newer rendering of historical fact. Yet beginning history point-blank with mediæval England is as logical and sensible as it would be to begin chemistry with the study of cookery recipes or patent medicines.
The immense popularity of the Outline of History was a very exciting success for me. My self-conceit has always had great recuperative power; it revived bravely now; and I saw a still wider possibility behind the Outline, the possibility of giving Mr. Everyman an account not merely of past events, but of the main facts about the processes of life in general and the social, economic and political state of the world. I gave this possibility a preliminary airing in some lectures I wrote but never delivered — they were intended for America — and which I reprinted in a book The Salvaging of Civilization.
Therein I developed a scheme which I called the “Book of Necessary Knowledge” or the “Bible of Civilization.” That idea was first broached by Comenius, and, some time before me, Dr. Beattie Crozier was insisting that every culture needed its “Bible.” I owe the phrase to him. My League of Nations Union experience had enforced my conviction that for a new order in the world there must be a new education and that for a real world civilization there must be a common basis of general ideas, that is to say a world-wide common-school education presenting the same vision of reality. Someone had to begin upon that restatement of educational ideas. I was in no way qualified for such a beginning, yet no one else was stirring, and presently I found myself casting about for colleagues and collaborators in order to complete that first sketch of a world citizen’s ideology of which my Outline of History was a part. Instead of arguing endlessly about what had to be done, it seemed simpler and more effective to demonstrate, however roughly, what had to be done.
I should have liked to call these books that were taking shape in my mind an Outline of Biology and an Outline of Social and Economic Science. But following the success of the Outline of History a number of so-called “Outlines” of Art — of Literature — of Science — of this and that, had been put upon the market and widely advertised and distributed. They were not really outlines at all; they were miscellanies of articles by various hands with hardly any common thread of interest, but they exhausted the meaning of the word so completely that when at last after much toil and tribulation I got the books I wanted done, I called them The Science of Life and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind respectively.
In organizing the writing of the Science of Life I was greatly helped by my early association with biological work and by the facts that my eldest son was a biological teacher and that the able grandson of my teacher Huxley, Julian Huxley, was my friend. He has an extraordinary full and detailed knowledge of the whole biological field. We three got together in 1927 and we made a scheme that covered every division of our immense subject. We worked very harmoniously throughout and, after a part publication, produced the book in 1930.
I had already been casting about for suitable helpers to collaborate in the same fashion upon a summary of social, political and economic science, but in this I was less successful. I entangled my scheme with an inconvenient associate and it had to be disentangled. I need not go into the particulars of my troubles here. The plan I had in mind for this work was bold and more novel than that of either of its predecessors; it was nothing less than an attempt to fuse and recast all this group of “subjects” into one intelligible review of Man upon his planet. It was to begin with a description of his material life and its evolution and it was then to describe the social, legal, political and educational organizations that had grown up as necessary concomitants of developments. Just as the Outline of History was an experiment in analytical history, so this was to be an experiment in synthetic, descriptive economics and politics. The exactest name for such a synthesis would be the Outline of Human Ecology. But I did not call it that because the word Ecology was not yet widely understood.
Hendrik Van Loon, I may note, has done three books which, in an entirely different manner, approach much the same popular conspectus as my own. They are called The Story of Mankind, The Liberation of Mankind and The Home of Mankind; and if presently he does The Work of Mankind, he will have covered practically all my territory, outside the Science of Life, and with a very useful and desirable extension into the field of topographical geography. I do my work in my own style and so does he, and for many readers his type of survey may prove to be more attractive and stimulating than mine. The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind, I have felt for some time, might very well be supplemented by a broad geographical survey.
My trouble with my hastily selected assistant wasted most of my working time for half a year. Two privately printed pamphlets distributed to the members of the committee of the Authors’ Society embalmed that tiresome dispute. In the end I brought in a number of fresh advisers and helpers and did the Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind as I had done the Outline of History by “mugging up” the material and writing or rewriting practically all of it myself, and then getting the various parts vetted and revised and, in one part, rewritten by specialists. It appeared in 1931 and it has sold very well, but not at all on the scale of the Outline of History. It is only now appearing in a popular edition. On the whole considering the greater novelty of the design, I am quite as well satisfied with it as I am with its two companions.
These three works taken together do, I believe, still give a clearer, fuller and compacter summary of what the normal citizen of the modern state should know, than any other group of books in existence. They shape out something that will presently be better done. Clearly there must be some factor, in the relative unsuccessfulness of the latter two thirds of the trilogy, which escapes me. They must need further simplification and consolidation. I have not, I think any extravagant delusions about their quality, but I have perhaps too high an estimate of the value of their general conception.
I am convinced that the informative framework of a proper education should be presented as the three sides of the triangle I have drawn in them; Biology, History and Human Ecology. A child should begin with Natural History, a History of Inventions, Social Beginnings and Descriptive Geography, that should constitute its first world picture, and the treatment of these subjects should broaden and intensify before specialization. I believe that minds resting on that triple foundation will be equipped for the rôle of world citizens, and I do not believe that a world community can be held together in a common understanding except upon such a foundation. This is not to say that my books are anything more than first exploratory experiments in this foundation work. But they do constitute a very serious first experiment and they foreshadow a new education as it was not foreshadowed until I wrote them.
In this account rendered of the purpose and substance of my life-work I must here insert in a sort of parenthesis one or two other subsidiary books which will otherwise find no place in this story. In 1920 I made a brief visit to Russia, talked to a number of Communist leaders, including Lenin, and published my impressions in a book, Russia in the Shadows, and in 1921 I went to Washington to report upon the Disarmament Conference of that year, in a series of newspaper articles which became Washington and the Hope of Peace. Since these books were incidents in my development they must be mentioned here, but I need not expatiate upon them.
Here too I must mention, though I need not enter at length into the particulars of it, the Decks Case which came to an end, after five years of legal proceedings, in 1933. Miss Deeks was a Canadian spinster who conceived the strange idea that she held the copyright in human history. She was permitted and encouraged to sue me, as the author of the Outline of History, for infringement of copyright and to produce a manuscript, which she alleged had existed in the form in which she produced it before the publication of my Outline, in support of her claim for £100,000 and the suppression of my book. No evidence of the prior existence of her manuscript, as produced, was ever exacted from her, and she was allowed to carry this silly case from court to court — each court dismissing it contemptuously with costs against her — up to the Privy Council. When finally that court disposed of her conclusively, with costs, she declared her inability to pay a penny of the £5,000-worth of fees and charges that these tedious and vexatious proceedings had entailed upon me. And there the matter ended. Life is too short and there is too much to do in it for me to spend time and attention in hunting out whatever poor little assets Miss Deeks may have preserved from her own lawyers and expert advisers. She has to go on living somehow and her mischief is done. I hope she is comfortable and that she is still persuaded she is a sort of intellectual heroine. I saw her once in court, when I had to give sworn evidence in my own defence, and I found her rather a sympathetic figure. She impressed me as quite honest but vain and foolish, with an imagination too inflamed with the idea of being a great litigant for her to realize what an unrighteous nuisance she was making of herself; there was something faintly pathetic, something reminiscent of Dickens’ Miss Flyte, in the way in which she fussed about with her lawyers, with much whispering and rustling of papers, giving her profound and subtle instructions for the undoing of our dire conspiracy; and it is not against her, but against those who encouraged and egged her on, that I am disposed to be resentful.
Since 1914 I had been on very friendly terms with F. W. Sanderson, the headmaster of Oundle, to whom I sent my boys at the outbreak of the war. Sanderson was an original and vigorous teacher, who was feeling his way in a manner all his own, towards a modernized education. He was at the practical end of the business in immediate contact with boys, parents and school governors and I was at the other end in contact with public affairs and the League of Nations, and we converged very interestingly in our talks. My boys, as children at home, had acquired very good French and German and I, just back from my first visit to Russia in 1914 (see Joan and Peter), persuaded him to add a Russian teacher to his staff for their benefit, the first Russian teacher, I believe, in any English public school.
Sanderson was a ruddy plethoric man, with his voice in his throat, and always very keen to talk. His mind found its best expression in his very characteristic school sermons; the actual practice of his school and the ideas of his staff lagged far behind his ambitions. He was greatly occupied with the development of a special building at Oundle when he died, The House of Vision, in which boys were to go and think out life. It was to be a sort of museum displaying universal history and the world as a whole; it was to give very much what my three outline books were designed to give, a unified conception of the world drama in which they had to play their parts.
Sanderson was growing mentally and his reach and boldness were increasing to the very day of his death. That came very suddenly and shockingly to me, for I was in the chair at a lecture at University College in the summer of 1922 when — at the end of a rather wandering discourse, his overtaxed and neglected heart stopped beating and he fell dead on the platform beside me.
This lecture was to have opened new ground and he had made great preparations for it. He had added the toil of a sort of mission to Rotarians and people of that sort, to his already heavy work as a headmaster, and this lecture was to have been a key utterance. Apart from my keen sense of the loss of his intimacy and co-operation I was greatly distressed at this abrupt truncation of his work; he was only sixty-five and he seemed full of a panting vitality that might have gone on for years.
I did all I could to put him on record before his prestige faded. I got together an official Life (1923) and, finding myself hampered by the reserves and suppressions customary in such compilations, I also wrote my own impression of him in The Story of a Great Schoolmaster (1924). It is so personal and affectionate an impression and it is so expressive of my own educational conceptions as well as his, that if I could I would incorporate it, just as I would like to incorporate my introduction to The Book of Catherine Wells, in this already greatly distended autobiography. His successor had none of his distinctive spirit and understanding, and the light of that House of Vision was never lit. In The Story of a Great Schoolmaster, I have described how I visited it and found that lantern for the imagination, empty and abandoned six months after his death. Oundle lacked and still lacks the understanding or the piety to carry out his scheme.
I will merely mention here such other incidental books of mine as A Year of Prophesying, 1924, and The Way the World Is Going, 1929. They are collections of newspaper articles in which I hammer away at my leading ideas, not always very tactfully, and the rare, curious reader who may wander into these volumes will find variations perhaps in the method of approach but nothing of essential novelty.
With this I round off my account of another main mass of my work, my own personal attempt to shape out the informative content of a modern education. Necessarily it is a lopsided account, almost Marburgesque in the way in which the parallel work and thought of other people fall into the background. I have for instance got through this section with no mention of such a book as James Harvey Robinson’s Mind in the Making or the New History movement in America. But I am not writing a history of modern ideas in the world. I am writing the story of modern ideas in the mind of one sample person, H. G. Wells.
And as I look at the table in my study piled up with my own books and with correspondence and controversial books and pamphlets — quite a little heap for example, including Hilaire Belloc’s Companion to the Outline of History and Some Errors of H. G. Wells by Dr. Downey the Roman Catholic Bishop of Liverpool, I have, except for a passing allusion to Catholic controversialists in Chapter the Eighth, § 3, passed over altogether — I am quite unable to make up my mind how far these millions of printed words are already dead litter and how much is still touching and moving minds. Is all this, and the kindred stuff of similar writers, producing any sensible and permanent effect upon education throughout the world? Much of it has certainly failed, because it was written hastily or just badly, because it was directed at the wrong brains, because it was alloyed with baser metal, prejudices or brief angers that let in corruption. But is it mostly going to be missed? Never in this world will it be possible to make a just estimate of what it has done.
There is a queer little twist in my private vanity, a streak of snobbish imitativeness, which disposes me at times to parallel my lot with Roger Bacon’s. I dress up my persona in his fashion. This disposition is in evidence in the opening chapter of The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. When I am most oppressed by the apparent lack of direct consequence to all my voluminous efforts, when I doubt whether the modernization of the content of education upon the lines I have drawn in my triple outlines can possibly be done in time to save our present social order, then is it most comforting to me to compare myself with Bacon in his cell scribbling away at those long dissertations of his about a new method of knowledge, which never even reached, much less influenced, the one sole reader, his friend the Pope, in whom he had hope for the realization of his dream. Which nevertheless in the course of a few centuries came to the fullest fruition. I play at being such a man as he was, a man altogether lonely and immediately futile, a man lit by a vision of a world still some centuries ahead, convinced of its reality and urgency, and yet powerless to bring it nearer.
But this is just an imaginative indulgence, a private vice I nurse, and directly I set it down here in plain black and white its absurd unreasonableness is plain. It is only my present preoccupation with my own work that gives me that single-handed feeling. Inflammation of the ego, I began to realize, is inevitable to any autobiographer in action, and that intensifies this disposition. In truth I am neither solitary nor suppressed. I merely happen to be the one I know best among a number of people who are all thinking very closely upon the same lines. Instead of writing manuscripts that will rest unread or be merely glanced at for centuries, we are printing and scattering our ideas by the million copies.
As I write here there must be between two and three million copies of my own books scattered about the world, and many more millions of other books and newspaper articles, lectures and discourses by other hands, all driving in the same direction. Every day several thousands of fresh minds respond to some part of the suggestions we are making; a teacher here alters his teaching a little; a reader thinks over a point and argues with his friend; a journalist gets a new idea of things and echoes it in an article; an orthodox parson suddenly feels insecure. It was not to be expected that all at once all the schools would experience a change of heart, have a great burning of textbooks and start off at a tangent towards the new learning; nor is it reasonable to complain that even among those who advocate a fresh education for citizenship the apprehension of what we are driving at is usually very inadequate. If the Eric Yarrow Memorial, that House of Vision, stands, misused and abortive, at Oundle, it is only like some gun that has been hit by a shell on the road to victory.
There is no proof that the seed we have already sown has died. On the contrary, the signs of vitality increase. Now it is a series of lessons in some elementary school; now it is a string of broadcast talks like those of Commander King-Hall; now it is a book for children or the newspaper report of a provincial lecture, that comes reassuringly, another fresh green blade forcing its way to the light. The new ideology creeps upon the world now. There is nothing in our circumstances to-day to justify this comparison with the spiritual and imaginative isolation of that untimely man who first proclaimed the strange possibilities of experimental science. Our period is far more like the seventeenth than the thirteenth century in its realization of mutation and progressive possibility.
The thoughts of Roger Bacon were like a dream that comes before dawn and is almost forgotten again. The sleeper turns over and sleeps on. All that Roger Bacon wrote was like humanity talking in its sleep. What is happening now is by comparison an awakening. In a dream we can in a flash of time see things complete because what is happening is happening without resistance in a single brain — and then they pass; but the realization of a new day comes to thousands before it comes to millions; at first the illumination is almost imperceptible, everything is touched by it while nothing stands out; there is a slow leisureliness in its manner of approach that belies its steady and assured incessancy.
Concurrently with those laborious and troubled efforts to anticipate the necessary informative content of a modern education, my brain was also returning to the problem I had first raised as that New Republic of Anticipations which fructified in my Modern Utopia, the problem of organizing the coming world-order, in the body and out of the existing substance of the order of things as they are.
The temptation for active men eager for results to shirk this problem, or to stave it off with some immediately workable but essentially evasive formula, has always been very great. The first French Revolution was conducted upon an assumption of “natural” virtue and the American Revolution was essentially a political change and an economic release from an alleged and grossly caricatured “tyranny,” a change and release which brought with it scarcely any modification in the liberated system. But Marx did not shirk this fundamental problem. My habitual polemical disposition to disparage Marx does not blind me to the fact of his pioneer awareness of this forest of difficulties in the theory of revolution. He did realize that a movement to reconstruct a society is unlikely to receive the immediate enthusiastic support of the majority of those who fit into and profit by its existing arrangements.
Such people may of course produce profound changes without intending it, as the curiosity of the gentlemen of the Royal Society or the excitement of the South Sea speculators evoked inventions, discoveries and developments of the most world-shaking sort, but they did these things quite unaware of the dangerous dragons they were releasing. It is necessary to find discontent before conscious revolutionary effort is possible; and, in insisting upon that point, Marx was leading his generation. But it has been the refrain of my lifetime that Marx antagonized property and the expropriated too crudely, and that he confused mere limitation and unhappiness with the rarer and more precious motive of creative discontent. He was himself too energetic and self-centred to realize how meekly human beings can be put upon if they are caught young, how susceptible they are to mass as well as to individual self-flattery and how unwilling to admit and struggle against disadvantages. Most men are ready to sympathize with the under-dog but few will allow they are themselves under-dogs. Nor did Marx realize how acutely people who have wealth and position can be bored and distressed by the existing state of affairs. He looked therefore to the Indignant Proletarian evolved by his own imagination as the sole driving force of his revolution and he stamped the theory of the Class War upon human affairs with immense and fatal determination.
I have pointed out already that the dead impracticability of the Socialism of the opening twentieth century was due to the want of any realizable conception of a Competent Receiver for collectivized property and enterprises. The untutored masses of expropriated people are obviously unable to discharge the functions of an administrative receiver. Something had to be done about it. The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” of the Communists, is a jerry-built Competent Receiver run up in a hurry to meet this objection. It is not good enough for its job. It is a controversial answer and not a practical solution. But Lenin’s reconstructed Communist Party was a much more effective step towards an organized receivership.
To abandon the Class War theory of revolution is to give up the use of a very sustaining opiate and to face an intricate riddle. For many rough immediate purposes, drugged fighters may do better than clear-headed ones, but not in the long run.
One is forced to admit that in periods of tolerable general prosperity (as in America up to 1927) or stabilized repression (as in Hanoverian England), there is little hope for direct revolutionary effort. The illusion of stability must have been undermined in some way before the human intelligence will brace itself up to the stresses and vexations of constructive work. In the past the driving discontent has often appeared as a conflict between oppressed and oppressors, either as a class or as a race conflict, and it is still insufficiently realized that the peculiar discontents and instabilities of the present time do not follow that time-honoured formula. The issues are polygonal, they are not two-sided. And it is to mental and not to social classes that we have to appeal.
The other day at the Film Society show (March 11th, 1934) I saw Eisenstein’s stirring film October, in which noble and enthusiastic proletarians chase corrupt and over-fed imperialists and capitalists and their parasites out of the Winter Palace. The peculiar rôle of a third party in the fight, the Russian Navy, is understressed throughout. Never have I encountered a statement more obstinately misleading. Navies have played a large part in revolutionary history, in Turkey and Germany, notably, as well as in Russia. Every armed technical force is a living weapon with a solidarity of its own, that may turn upon a mentally feeble government which does not use it effectively. The real unorganized proletarians were in fact, if not in film, merely the chorus in the October revolution. That will be their lot in any revolution still to come.
A constructive revolution under modern conditions must begin fragmentarily, it must begin here and there, and it will have associated with it a considerable riff-raff of merely eccentric, extravagant, disgruntled and discredited individuals. These have to be handled with care and discrimination. Revolution begins with the misfits. Every revolutionary process arises out of developing dislocations and disproportions. And the interesting thing about our present situation is the fact that there is no social stratum, no organization, state, nation, school, army, navy, air force, bank, law, industry where the realization among the personnel that things are out of adjustment is not becoming acute. It is a ridiculous travesty of the situation to deal with our western world as a self-complacent “Capitalist System,” squatting ruthlessly on masses of enslaved victims who have merely to revolt and evoke a millennium. Russia, after overthrowing the Capitalist System as it manifested itself under the Tzar, has floundered back through several experimental stages to state capitalism, and except that she has rid herself of some very encumbering traditions and types and broached some important experiments, she is still confronted by essentially the same riddles as the western world.
Now, if this is sound, then, I submit, it follows that everywhere in the social complex we shall find certain main types of mental reaction dependent upon innate or very intimate personal characteristics. We shall find an originally preponderating number of people carrying on from the phase of apparent stability, hanging on to the current usages to which they are accustomed and trying to the very last to believe that things will go on according to precedent, we shall find an increasing proportion, the resentfully defensive type, disposed to resist, by violence, any change in their habits and we shall also have a number of the open-minded innovating types who will be ready to recognize that something has to be done in the way of adaptation and rearrangement, even if this involves a sacrifice of old customs and privileges and preconceived ideas. As the sense of instability grows, the numbers of both these latter sorts of people, the revolutionaries and the violent reactionaries, will increase at the expense of the first, the contented sort which wants to escape bothers, and the intelligence and will-for-change of the third kind, in particular, will be quickened. In certain social groups dependent largely upon the general liveliness of mind prevailing in them, the tendency to become either viciously defensive or alertly innovating may vary. Such an artificial occupation as that of a stockbroker or a professional betting man naturally attracts people of a narrow-minded smart type and is not likely to turn the mind to any social rearrangements that may threaten the technique of the stock-exchange or the turf, and fewer retired rentiers are likely to give their minds to revolutionary reconstruction than public health officials or hydraulic engineers. But in most spheres of interest, in law, public administration, medicine, engineering, industry, education and even the compulsive services, intensifying dislocation is likely to call an increasing proportion of questioning and planning brains into constructive activity. These are the only brains to which we can look for creative drive. For the purposes of revolutionary theory the rest of humanity matters only as the texture of mud matters when we design a steam dredger to keep a channel clear.
These questioning, planning and executive brains which will be stimulated by the realization of social impermanence and insecurity, will start, every one of them, from some fixed system of ideas. Their immediate reactions and activities will be determined at first by the established routines out of which they awaken, and so the early stages of their activities, at any rate, are likely to be not only extremely diverse and chaotic but conflicting. On the other hand the violent reactionaries will have a natural solidarity about the Thing that Is. The primary problem in revolutionary theory is to discover the general formulae, which will reduce the waste through diversity and imperfect apprehension to a minimum, and evoke the most rapid and efficient co-ordination of creative effort.
I have told already of my conception of a New Republic (in 1900) and of my elaboration of this idea in A Modern Utopia (1906) and how I tried to make the Fabian Society into an order of the Samurai — to the great excitement of Pease, Shaw, Bland and Sidney Webb, and, to my own effectual discomfiture. I tried to put an acceptable face on my retreat from the Fabian conflict, but that was by no means easy. I had to swallow the dose that I had attempted to do something and failed completely. I had to realize that I had no organizing ability and no gift for leading or directing people. To make up for that, I told myself I would write all the better. But The New Machiavelli (1911) with its pose of the deflated publicist in noble retirement is obviously a compensatory production. The Research Magnificent (1914) betrays a mind still looking for some method of effective public action. Before it was half written, the livid glares and deepening shadows of the Great War fell across its pages and a new grade in my education began.
I have traced already how the war process stormed across my mind and how my attention was shifted from social structure to international affairs and so to the relation between popular education and international feeling. The idea of doing all I could for the reconstruction of the content of education became so dominant with me that it ruled my intellectual life and shaped my activities for some years. For a time I was so busied with the production of those three books embodying a modern general ideology, that I gave little attention, far too little attention, to the question whether my general idea was being put over to any large number of people. Then I began to feel that I was going on “in the air,” that at the best I was producing fairly saleable but, it might be, essentially ineffective books. I might be shooting beside the mark altogether. I became impatient for palpable results.
In some manner the new education had to be got into the education office and the syllabuses and the schools, and since no one else seemed to be doing it, I felt under an obligation to try, however ineffectively, to do something about it myself. I turned my reluctant face towards meetings and committee-rooms again. I had had nothing to do with such things since my Fabian withdrawal. I heard with dislike and a sinking heart my straining voice once more beginning speeches. I dislike my voice in a meeting so much that it gives me an exasperated manner and I lose my thread listening to it. I still thought the Labour Party might be the party most responsive to constructive ideas in education, and in order to secure a footing in its councils I stood as Labour candidate for the London University at the 1922 and 1923 elections. I had no prospect of being returned, but I thought that by writing and publishing election addresses and such leaflets as The Labour Ideal of Education (1923) I might impose a modernization of the schools curriculum, upon the party policy and so get general history at least into its proper place as elementary school history.
In a speech at the University of London Club, in March 1923, reprinted as Socialism and the Scientific Motive, I find I was trying to persuade myself and my liberal-minded hearers of the essential identity of these two things. But I was not really persuaded. I was declaring what ought to be was fact. I was poking about in this political stuff not because I believed it to be the way to my ends, but because I did not certainly know any way to my ends, and this seemed to hold out possibilities. But the older men in control of the Labour Party at that time were quite impervious to the idea of changing education. They did not know that there could be different kinds and colours of education. A school, any school, was a school to them and a college a college. They thought there was something very genteel and desirable about education, just as there was about a municipal art gallery, and they wanted the working classes to have the best of everything. But they did not consider education as a matter of primary importance. They had themselves managed very well with very little.
A phase of great restlessness and discontent came upon me in 1923-24. I was doing what I felt to be good work in making a digest of modern knowledge and ideas available for the general reader, but this did not fully engage my imagination. I could not subdue myself to the idea that this was the limit of my effectiveness. I made speeches and when I read the reports of them I could not believe I had said so little. I gave interviews and was overwhelmed by a sense of fatuity when they came home to roost. I wrote articles and they seemed to me more and more like the opening observations to something that was never really said. I was oppressed by a sense of encumbrance in my surroundings and of misapplied energy and time running to waste.
In the introduction to this autobiography I have already remarked upon the fugitive element in most intellectual lives, but it is only now as I bring facts and dates together that I realize the importance of fugitive impulses throughout my own story. At phase after phase I find myself saying in effect: “I must get out of this. I must get clear. I must get away from all this and think and then begin again. These daily routines are wrapping about me, embedding me in a mass of trite and habitual responses. I must have the refreshment of new sights, sounds, colours or I shall die away.”
My revolt against the draper’s shop was the first appearance of this mood. It was a flight — to a dream of happy learning and teaching in poverty. To a minor extent and with minor dislocation this fugitive mood no doubt recurred but it did not come back again in full force until my divorce. Then it is quite clear that it clothed itself in the form of a dream of a life of cheerfully adventurous writing. The concealed element was that my work with Briggs was boring me. That divorce was not simply the replacement of one wife by another; it was also the replacement of one way of living by another. It was a break away to a new type of work.
I detect all the symptoms of the same flight impulse again about 1909, but then there was not the same complete material rupture with my established life. But The New Machiavelli (published in 1911) is quite plainly once more the release of the fugitive urgency, a release completed in imagination if not in fact. I realize now (and the queer thing is that I do realize only now) that the idea of going off somewhere — to Italy in the story — out of the tangle of Fabian disputes, tiresomely half-relevant politics and the routines of literary life, very nearly overwhelmed me in my own proper person, and the story of Remington and Margaret and Isabel is essentially a dramatized wish. I relieved my tension vicariously as Remington. He got out of my world on my behalf — and wrote in lofty tranquillity of politics in the abstract, à la Machiavelli, as I desired to do.
We shifted house from Sandgate to London (1909) and from London to Easton Glebe (1910) and there I settled down again. All that is quite sufficiently told in The Book of Catherine Wells. The huge issues of the War and the Peace held my mind steady and kept it busy for some years. But in 1924 the same mood returned, so recognizably the same, that I am surprised to realize how little I apprehended the connection at the time. If I did not get to writing in Italy in the pose of The New Machiavelli, I got to the south of France. It was much the same thing. It was the partial realization of my own fantasy after twelve years. What I did I did with the connivance and help of my wife, who perceived that I was in grave mental distress and understood how things were with me. I did not immediately head for France. I went by air first to the Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva with the idea of going on thence to wander round the world. It was at Geneva that I changed my plans and turned southward to Grasse. I found it was quite possible to get out of things, for some months at least, much as Remington did, establish myself in a quiet corner among the hills, stay there cut off from the daily urgencies of England, sift my thoughts and purposes in peace and presently write.
I began a life in duplicate. The main current of my ostensible life still flowed through my home at Little Easton in Essex; there the mass of my correspondence was dealt with and all my business done, but at the mas known as Lou Bastidon near Grasse, I dramatized myself as William Clissold, an industrialist in retreat — the prophet Hosea could not have been more thorough in his dramatization — and I set this Mr. William Clissold to survey and think out how the world looked to him. For three winters I lived intermittently in that pleasant sunlit corner, living very plainly and simply, sitting about in the sun, strolling on the flowery olive terraces about me, going for long walks among the hills behind, seeing hardly anything of the fashionable life of the Riviera that went on so near to me. And the main thread of my thought and writing for all that time was how to realize the New Republic and bring it into active existence.
I wish that seasonal retirement to Lou Bastidon could have gone on to the end, but obscure difficulties and complications; a craving for an efficient bathroom, electric light and a small car, it may be, presently undid me. I attempted to reproduce Lou Bastidon on a firmer foundation and behold! the foundation became a pitfall. I began to play with house-building and garden-planning. There is a vividness, an immediate gratification of the creative instinct in this amusement, which can distract the mind very readily from reality. Men and women take to building and gardening as they take to drink, in order to distract their minds from the whole round world and its claim upon them, and all the Riviera is littered with villas that testify to the frequency of this impulse. I acquired some land with a pretty rock, vines, jasmin and a stream close by, and I planned and built a house which I called Lou Pidou, and after that rash act the cares of house-holding and car-owning and gardening began to grow up about me. The Riviera also got wind of me and reached up sociable tentacles towards my retreat. Lou Pidou was an amateurish, pretty house with a peculiar charm of its own but it insisted upon growing and complicating itself; it became less and less of a refuge and more and more of an irksome entanglement with its own baffling bothers and exactions. I worked there with dwindling zest and energy and stayed less and less willingly and for briefer periods, as those good long sunlit hours in which I could think became rare and ragged and the necessity for management and attention more clamorous, until presently a time came, in May 1933, when I realized I could work there effectively no more.
It was early in 1933 that the opening section of this autobiography was written and the mood of this phase is fully described in that section.
I cast Lou Pidou at last as a snake casts its skin. It needed an effort, but once more the liberating impulse was the stronger. I resolved that I would sell it, or if necessary give it away, and have done with it. I took a farewell stroll in my olive orchard up the hill, said good-bye to my new and promising orange-trees and rose-beds, gave my parental benediction to the weeping-willows and the banks of iris I had planted by my stream, sat for awhile on my terrace with a grave black cat beside me, to which I was much attached, and then went down the familiar road to Cannes station for the last time.
I returned to London by way first of a stormy but entertaining International P.E.N. Congress at Ragusa, over which I presided, and then a holiday in what was altogether new country for me, the fresh green loveliness of Austria in early summer. My flat in London is now my only home. The two small boys who figure at the end of Chapter the Eighth are parents to-day with pleasant households and sons and daughters of their own, and Easton Glebe which is described in The Book of Catherine Wells was sold after her death in 1927. It had become too large for me and too empty altogether. I have indeed seen family life right round now from beginning to end. That stage is over. A flat above the rumble of Baker Street and Marylebone Road is as good a place as any to work in and easy to maintain; I can go away when I please and where I please for as long as I please; and London, for all my outrageous radicalism, is a very friendly and pleasant city to me. If I have no garden of my own, Regents Park just outside my door grows prettier every year; there are no gardens like Kew Gardens and no more agreeable people in the world than the people in the London streets.
The World of William Clissold, the book I wrote in Lou Bastidon, has a rambling manner but it seems to ramble more than it actually does from my main preoccupation. Its gist, to which, after four Books mostly of preparatory novel writing to get the Clissold brothers alive, I came in Book Five, is the possibility of bringing the diffused creative forces of the world into efficient co-operation as an “Open Conspiracy.” I am supposing myself to be in the position of an intelligent industrialist with a sound scientific training and this is how I make him see it:
“It is absurd to think of creative revolution unless it has power in its hands, and manifestly the chief seats of creative power in the world are on the one hand modern industry associated with science and on the other world finance. The people who have control in these affairs can change the conditions of human life constructively and to the extent of their control. No other people can so change them.
“All other sorts of power in our world are either contributory or restrictive or positively obstructive or positively destructive. The power of established and passive property, for example, is simply the power to hold up for a price. The power of the masses is the strike, it embodies itself in the machine-breaking, expert-hunting mob. . . . It is only through a conscious, frank and world-wide co-operation of the man of science, the scientific worker, the man accustomed to the direction of productive industry, the man able to control the arterial supply of credit, the man who can control newspapers and politicians, that the great system of changes they have almost inadvertently got going can be brought to any hopeful order of development.
“Such men, whether they mean to be or not, are the actual revolutionaries in our world. . . . I believe that we industrials and the financiers are beginning to educate ourselves and broaden our outlook as our enterprises grow and interweave. I believe that if we can sufficiently develop the consciousness of contemporary business and associate with it the critical co-operation and the co-operative criticism of scientific and every other sort of able man, we can weave a world system of monetary and economic activities, while the politicians, the diplomatists, and the soldiers are still too busy with their ancient and habitual antics to realize what we are doing. . . . We can build up the monetary and economic world republic in full daylight under the noses of those who represent the old system. For the most part I believe that to understand us will be to be with us, and that we shall sacrifice no advantage and incur no risk of failure in talking out and carrying out our projects and methods quite plainly.
“That is what I mean by an Open Conspiracy. . . . Many things that now seem incurably conflicting, communism and international finance for example, may so develop in the next half-century as to come to drive side by side, upon a parallel advance. At present big distributing businesses are firmly antagonistic to co-operative consumers’ associations; yet one or two of the big distributors have already made important deals with these large-scale economic organizations from the collectivist side. Both work at present upon very crude assumptions about social psychology and social justice. Both tend to internationalize under the same material stresses.
“I find it hard to doubt the inevitability of a very great improvement in the quality and intellectual solidarity of those who will be conducting the big business of the world in the next century, an extension and an increased lucidity of vision, a broadened and deepened morale. Possibly my temperament inclines me to think that what should be must be. But it is patently absurd to me to assume that the sort of men who control so much of our banking to-day, limited, traditional, careless or doctrinaire, are the ultimate types of banker. It seems as irrational to suppose that such half-educated, unprepared adventurers as Dickon and myself and our partners and contemporaries are anything but makeshift industrial leaders, and that better men will not follow us. Dickon and I are, after all, at best early patterns, 1865 and 1867 models. . . . ”
All this was written before anyone was thinking of such an American President as Franklin Roosevelt and his astonishing effort so to regulate a loose capitalist system as to thrust it rapidly towards State Socialism. Where the Clissold version of the Open Conspiracy is least defensible is in its easy disregard of the fact that though privately created productive, industrial and distributive organization is to a large extent capable of direct socialization, private finance is something absolutely and incurably different in its spirit and conduct from any conceivable sort of public finance. It is an attempt to extract profit out of what should be a public service, the exchange machinery. It is as anti-social as it would be to attempt to get profits by falsifying the standard yard. That, we have since found out. The industrious reader will find it in course of being found out in the Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The public control of credit and a scientific reorganization of the world’s monetary system is the necessary preliminary stage in carrying out a planned world economy. Like myself and our English labour leaders and indeed practically everybody in 1926, William Clissold was still in need of some hard thinking about the relations of money and credit to private ownership.
Furthermore — in an exaggeration of my own aversion from the class-war doctrine — too wide a gap was set by Clissold in his world between the industrial organizer and the technological assistant and skilled artisan. The workers were dismissed as being just workers and the political possibilities and capacity of their better equipped stratum was ignored. I was identifying myself with my imaginary business man almost too thoroughly. I was evidently still sore about the Labour Party as I had found it. In my reaction against the mass democracy that had produced Macdonald, Snowden, Thomas, Clynes and the like as its representative heads, I underrated the steadily increasing intelligence of the more specialized workers and of the ambitious younger working-men. To them at any rate William Clissold is an impersonation to apologize for.
The World of William Clissold was published in 1926. It was published as an important book and it received a very considerable amount of useful destructive criticism. So that I reconsidered this Open Conspiracy almost as soon as it was launched. It was a sound instinct which made me do that book not in my own first person but in the form of a trial personality. I was soon struggling to disentangle myself from various rash commitments of Clissold’s and get on to a revised view. I had had this first exercise in general political statement handed back to me with ample corrections — mostly in red ink — and I wanted to profit by them.
In the spring of 1927, I was asked to lecture in the Sorbonne and I chose as my subject Democracy under Revision, in which I insisted on the necessity for some such organization as my Samurai to replace the crude electoral methods of contemporary politics. This was, so to speak, Open Conspiracy propaganda adapted to the peculiarly narrow French outlook. My wife, I may note here, was with me in that Paris journey, we were fêted and entertained and very happy together, and neither of us realized that death was already at work in her and that in six months we should be parted for ever. The title page of that printed lecture is the last of all the title pages on which I ever drew a “picshua” for her. I reproduce it here as a reminder of the life-long companionship and the persistent, unassertive help that underlies all this tale of work. Our last half year together I have described in The Book of Catherine Wells.
After her death I sat down to alter and explain my conception of the Open Conspiracy more exactly — to myself first and then to others. I wrote a little book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (1929) and I was so convinced of its unavoidably tentative quality that I arranged its publication so as to be able to withdraw it, revise it completely and republish it again after a lapse of two years. I did this under the new title of What Are We to Do with Our Lives? (1931). In this, the third version of the Open Conspiracy plan, I began to feel I was really settling down to definitive detail. The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind, which was launched after many difficulties in 1932, also contained in its political and educational chapters, and based on a description of current conditions, an even more explicit statement of the Open Conspiracy plan. The definition was still clearer; and the touch surer.
In all this work I was really only cleaning up, working out, and sharpening the edges, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of the problem of the New Republic. The Open Conspiracy was my New Republic plus a third of a century of experience. It was a working plan in the place of Anticipations. I was moving with my generation from a speculative dreamland towards a specific project.
In After Democracy (1932) I collected together a number of diverse papers, a lecture given in the Reichstag building in Berlin (1928), a lecture given to the Residencia des Estudiantes in Madrid (1932), a memorandum on the world situation prepared at the request of one or two influential people in America in 1932, and at first privately circulated, a lecture to the Liberal Summer School at Oxford (1932) and arising out of the latter, a paper, A Liberal World Organisation, in which I gave still further definition from this point of view and that of the same conception. I also tried out my general idea, with very little response, in the Daily Herald (December 1932) under the title There Should Be a Common Creed for Left Parties Throughout the World. This has been reprinted as an Introduction to the Manifesto of the new Fellowship of Progressive Societies — which is a sort of Fellowship of the New Life fifty years later. The exploratory note in these papers diminished to a minimum as my ideas grew more precise. Each successive change was smaller than the one that went before.
The Shape of Things to Come (1933) is the last important book I have written. It is as deliberate and laborious a piece of work as anything I have ever done and I took great pains to make it as exciting and readable as I could without any sacrifice of matter. There are one or two episodes of quite lively story-telling. I was becoming sufficiently sure of my ground to let my imagination play upon it. The device of a partially deciphered transcription of a fragmentary manuscript got over a multitude of the technical difficulties that arise in an anticipatory history. I think I have contrived to set out in it my matured theory of revolution and world government very plainly.
The World of William Clissold was written during a “boom” phase in the world’s affairs, the profound rottenness of the monetary-credit system was still unrealized, and so Clissold turned to social boredom and the irritation of seeing industrial and mechanical invention misused, in order to evoke the discontent necessary for a revolutionary project. But by the time The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind, which was, so to speak, the workshop in which was built The Shape of Things to Come, was in hand, the artificiality and unsoundness of those boom conditions had become glaringly obvious. The realization was spreading through all the modern categories of workers, the men of science, the men of invention, the big-scale industrial organizers, the engineers, the aviators, the teachers and writers, the social workers, the mass producers, every sort of skilled artisan, every honest and creative-minded man, indeed, everywhere, that if the new mechanical civilization by which they lived was to carry on, they had to be up and stirring. The Open Conspiracy of William Clissold was essentially speculative, optional and amateurish; the Open Conspiracy of De Windt which took possession of a derelict world, was presented as the logical outcome of inexorable necessity. Only through personal disaster or the manifest threat of personal disaster can normal human beings be sufficiently stirred to attempt a revolutionary change of their conditions.
Step by step through that logic in events, the new pattern of revolution has been brought from Utopia and from the vague generalizations of the New Republic, towards contact with contemporary movements and political actuality. I have moved with my class and type, to more and more precise intentions. Small groups and societies to explain and realize the Competent Receiver are springing up; periodicals are being started in relation to it; its phraseology is appearing in actual political discussion. Independent beginnings of a kindred spirit are coming into relations with one another. They are giving and taking. These people are not merely propagandists of an idea. Every one of them according to his or her abilities or opportunities is in training for the Civil Service, and the industrial teaching and compulsive services of the new order of things. It is from the skilled artisans, the technically educated middle-class, the fraternity of enlightened minds, rather than from the proletarian masses that its energy will come. But it cannot be pretended that constructive revolutionary organization is anything like as advanced as yet even as educational modernization and the spread of cosmopolitan ideas. It is still in the phase of germination. For the reorientation of revolution, just as for the modernization of education, one must accept what the Webbs have called so aptly “the inevitability of gradualness.”
Remembering always that “gradual” need not mean slow.
Of the reality of our progress towards constructive world revolution I have no doubt. All revolutionary organizations are snowball organizations. The Open Conspiracy whether under that name or under some other name, or as a protean spirit, will in the long run win schools and colleges to its ends; it will get the worth-while young men, the skilled men and women, the simple and straightforward, the steadfast and resolute. That is to say that ultimately it will get mankind. It supplies the form and spirit of that “competent receiver,” the lack of which made the frustration of the earlier socialism inevitable. It is law and order modernized and ennobled. It will find a job for everybody; the sacrifices it demands are temporary and conditional. When it is fully and fairly displayed it is a handsome and hopeful loyalty; the better it is known the finer it appears, the nature of man necessitates loyalty of some sort and there is no other loyalty now that can stand comparison with it.
And there, for a time at any rate, the description of the main arch of my work must end. My brain has been the centre of the story throughout, but just as with the new education, so here also in this conception of the idea of world revolution as the ruling and directive interest in life, similar things have happened and are happening to myriads of brains. I tell how I in particular travelled upon a road along which more and more people are travelling, but my egoism is far more apparent than real. There used to be a popular recitation in my young days telling how Bill Adams won the Battle of Waterloo. Except for a transitory appearance of the “Dook,” the victory seemed all the work of Bill. Nevertheless the Battle of Waterloo was won by Bill Adams multiplied by some score thousands, and it is small discredit to Bill Adams that he was too busy on his personal front to take much note of what the other fellows were doing.
What is plain to me is that the modern world-state which was a mere dream in 1900 is to-day a practicable objective; it is indeed the only sane political objective for a reasonable man; it towers high over the times, challenging indeed but rationally accessible; the way is indicated and the urgency to take that way gathers force. Life is now only conflict or “meanwhiling” until it is attained. Thirty-four years ago the world-state loomed mistily across a gulf in dreamland. My arch of work has bridged the gulf for me and my swinging bridge of ropes and planks and all the other ropes and wires that are being flung across, are plainly only the precursors of a viaduct and a common highway. The socialist world-state has now become a to-morrow as real as to-day. Thither we go.
The particular brain whose ups and downs and beatings about in the world you have been following in this autobiography, has arrived at the establishment of the socialist world-state as its directive purpose and has made that its religion and end. This, it has been abundantly apparent, has involved for it very definite and distinctive standards of judgment upon both individual conduct and the conduct of public affairs. It had been perpetually meeting and jostling against other brains, brains in crowds and brains apart, summing them up, learning from them what to attempt and what to avoid; and so it seems worth while to conclude this elaborate description of my own mental growths and reactions, with a few comments upon other mentalities I have encountered at work upon these same intricate challenges and problems that have taken possession of and unified my own.
Social life has presented itself to me at last as a vast politico-educational problem. It is, as it were, a sea of active brains. My individual life is a participating unit in this multitudinous brain-life, the mind of the species. Its general problem is vastly simple, though its individual variations are infinite. It is required to orient all this diverse multitude of brains, about two thousand millions of them at present, in one particular direction so as to bring about a new morale and government of life. It is under penalty to do that. In a measurable time mankind has to constitute itself into one state and one brotherhood, or it will certainly be swept down cataracts of disaster to an ultimate destruction.
It is no novelty that life should present itself in this form of a problem of unification. Men have been seeing it more and more plainly so for at least five-and-twenty centuries. Every one of the universal religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, every one in its valiant beginnings, set out to do as much for mankind. All, it is true, failed to attain that universality. They rose like floods and after a time they rose no further. The whole world over never became Buddhist, Christian or Moslem. At first in every case, the onset of the new faith was like the magnetising of an iron bar in an electric coil and many millions of the little individual particles, originally pointing higgledy-piggledy in the general mass, were swung round towards a common objective. Hitherto there has always been a limit set to this process of conversion; the bar was too big for the induction, much of it stretched beyond the influence of the coil, or the inducing current diminished and died out too soon. But that is no reason for declaring that it is impossible to achieve a general peace and a common faith and law for mankind. On the contrary, the success of these pioneer faiths, in spite of philosophical inadequacy and the handicap of local theological associations and unjustifiable miraculous pretensions, started as they were under conditions of tremendous disadvantage by weak individuals and a feeble initial group of disciples, is an extraordinary manifestation of the power of a unifying appeal and of the receptivity of common men to such an appeal. The human animal is more disposed than not for a universal social life, for peace and co-operation, and what has been done during the relatively brief space of twenty-five centuries and a few score generations of men, is merely a first demonstration of what will yet be achieved.
What we have seen in the course of my one brief lifetime has been a great development of our biological and psychological knowledge, and this last science in particular carries still with it almost untouched possibilities of self-restraint, self-direction, mutual sympathy and group and mass co-operation. The art of conduct is in its infancy. Concurrently the advance of physical technique has carried our facilities of mental exchange to undreamt-of levels. We can tell each other and show each other with unprecedented ease. When we consider the beginnings of the great world faiths; the weak voice of the Founder talking in some small dusty market-place to casually assembled crowds, the going to and fro of the undistinguished disciples, the faint and feeble records, the faulty gospels, the obscure epistles, the mis-hearings, the misunderstandings, the distortions of rumour, the heretical blunderings, the difficulties of correction and verification, and compare the ease and clarity with which to-day statements can be made, consistency sustained and co-operation ensured, then the wide prevalence and partial success of these former disseminations become the surest augury for the rapid and conclusive establishment of the new way of living to which not one Founder but myriads of quickening intelligences are awakening to-day. They are not now the disciples of this man or that. This time they are the disciples and apostles of the logic of human necessity. It is not that one man alone has received a revelation and realized the substance of a new and necessary education and planned reconstruction of economic and political relations. The revelation has been prepared by the scientific work and invention of a century, and the call has been broadcast by events.
I have already described some intimate encounters which very importantly affected the final shaping of my persona and ideas. Here in a concluding section I think I will set down what I have seen at close quarters and what I have thought of one or two brains which seemed to be exceptionally placed in the world, so that they had apparently unusual directive opportunities. Their conduct was just as much a resultant of innate impulse and suggestion and circumstance as the lives of Gissing or Crane or Bennett or myself, but because relatively they happened to occupy key positions, their reaction on great multitudes of other brains was much more powerful and immediate. Leadership was their rôle. All of them belong to my own generation, the generation of disillusionment, perplexity and mental reconstruction, and all of them are far less lucid, assured and decisive than the men of to-morrow are likely to be.
An outstanding figure in my middle years was Theodore Roosevelt. He had a tremendous effort in his time of masterful direction. He was the Big Noise of America. He was a great release. Political life in America seemed to have become a wholly base technique, and the American outlook upon world affairs, narrowly patriotic, sentimental and selfish, when he broke through and became, by sheer accident, President. He made the liveliest use of his opportunities. His personality became more visible and his voice more audible about the planet than those of any of his predecessors since Lincoln. It was natural for me in my Spade House days, when I seemed only to be talking unheeded beside the flow of events, and quite unable to affect them, to exaggerate the Power he could exercise and to want to meet him. I had still to realise what an obscure and elusive thing political Power is. I had still to doubt whether there are really any powerful individuals now at all.
I went to America to write a series of articles for the London Tribune in 1906 and I lunched with the President and walked about the grounds of the White House with him while he talked. He talked easily and frankly, as Mr. Arthur Balfour used to talk. He “stuck through” the formulated politicians of his time. He betrayed none of the uneasiness of the normal politician that any phrase of his might be quoted unfairly against him, and he interested me enormously. I asked him, though in less direct phrases, what he imagined he was “up to” and I think he did his best to tell me.
In those days mental adaptation to the idea of a change of scale in human affairs was still in its opening phases. Nobody had got the thing in its full immensity but everywhere its disturbance was in evidence. His talk was tremendously provisional and speculative. In my book I called him “a complex of will and critical perplexity.”
At that time hardly anyone had dared to face up to the conception of a planned world-state. Roosevelt was round about where Cecil Rhodes had been when he died; he probably owed a great deal to the Milner-Kipling-Rhodes school of thought, he was thinking vaguely of a loose combine, an understanding rather than an alliance, of the liberal northern powers to control the next phase of human affairs. He was sceptical of continental Europe, contemptuous of Asia, and oblivious, as we all were then, of the revolutionary possibilities of Russia. And neither of us as we talked that day had the remotest suspicion of the earthquakes that were latent in the monetary system of our world.
Though he had heard of socialism he evidently could not imagine it as an organised reality, as anything more practical than a legal modification of the baronial freedoms of big business by government control. You must remember that in those days there was no such striking evidence as we now possess of the self-terminating nature of the private capitalist system. That possibility was indeed cardinal in Marxist theory but only a very few people knew about it and still fewer understood and believed it. The current system was generally supposed to get along in a looping sort of way by trade cycles of depression and recovery, it had the air of a going concern that might jar perhaps at times but could not fail to go; and it was only after 1928 that any considerable number of people could be made to realize that these alleged trade cycles were not necessarily cycles at all and that there was no reason to suppose that a depression might not go on indefinitely with no effectual recovery at any point. That was outside his imaginative scheme. Such being the limitation of his ideas, it was natural that he should be a hearty individualist, convinced that no man who sought work could fail to find it, that there was room for an unlimited multitude of healthy workers everywhere (so that he passionately opposed “race suicide”) and that all that was needed to keep the world going was strenuous “go.” The utmost danger he would admit as threatening the glorious torrent of individualistic life as he saw it about him, was the restraint and choking of competition by the growth of monopolistic combinations, and this could be checked first by very vigorous anti-trust legislation and secondly by a greater wariness in granting public utility and other franchise for the exploitation of natural resources to private lessees. He was in particular the champion of an imaginary citizen farmer, the legendary pioneer western farmer — and his power of overriding doubts in a sort of mystical exaltation was very great. I tried to insinuate my still not very completely formulated criticism of the current order. I tried to convey my persuasion that all competitive systems must be self-terminating systems. . . .
But here let me quote my very own book:
“It is a curious thing that as I talked with President Roosevelt in the garden of the White House there came back to me quite forcibly that undertone of doubt that has haunted me throughout this journey. After all, does this magnificent appearance of beginnings, which is America, convey any clear and certain promise of permanence and fulfilment whatever? . . . Is America a giant childhood or a gigantic futility, a mere latest phase of that long succession of experiments which has been and may be for interminable years — may be, indeed, altogether until the end — man’s social history? I can’t now recall how our discursive talk settled towards this, but it is clear to me that I struck upon a familiar vein of thought in the President’s mind. He hadn’t, he said, an effectual disproof of a pessimistic interpretation of the future. If one chose to say America must presently lose the impetus of her ascent, that she and all mankind must culminate and pass, he could not conclusively deny that possibility. Only he chose to live as if this were not so.
“That remained in his mind. Presently he reverted to it. He made a sort of apology for his life, against the doubts and scepticisms that, I fear, must be in the background of the thoughts of every modern man who is intellectually alive. He mentioned my Time Machine . . . He became gesticulatory, and his straining voice a note higher in denying the pessimism of that book as a credible interpretation of destiny. With one of those sudden movements of his he knelt forward in a garden-chair — we were standing, before our parting, beneath the colonnade — and addressed me very earnestly over the back, clutching it and then thrusting out his familiar gesture, a hand first partly open and then closed.
“‘Suppose, after all,’ he said slowly, ‘that should prove to be right, and it all ends in your butterflies and morlocks. That doesn’t matter now. The effort’s real. It’s worth going on with. It’s worth it. It’s worth it — even so.’ . . .
“I can see him now and hear his unmusical voice saying, ‘The effort — the effort’s worth it,’ and see the gesture of his clenched hand and the — how can I describe it? — the friendly peering snarl of his face, like a man with the sun in his eyes. He sticks in my mind at that, as a very symbol of the creative will in man, in its limitations, its doubtful adequacy, its valiant persistence, amidst perplexities and confusions. He kneels out, assertive against his setting — and his setting is the White House with a background of all America.
“I could almost write, with a background of all the world; for I know of no other a tithe so representative of the creative purpose, the goodwill in men as he. In his undisciplined hastiness, his limitations, his prejudices, his unfairness, his frequent errors, just as much as in his force, his sustained courage, his integrity, his open intelligence, he stands for his people and his kind.”
I might have written that to-day. “Teddy” was an interesting brain to come up against and it gives a measure of just how much of a constructive plan for the world’s affairs there was in the current intelligence of the world twenty-eight years ago. By our modern standards it was scarcely a plan at all. It was a jumble of “progressive” organization and “little man” democracy. Afforestation, “conservation of national resources,” legislation against any “combination in restraint of trade” were the chief planks of the platform and beyond that “woosh!” the emotional use of the “big stick,” a declaration of the satisfying splendour of strenuous effort — which, when one comes to think it over, was, on the intellectual side, not so very strenuous after all.
That I suppose was the most vigorous brain in a conspicuously responsible position in all the world in 1906 — when I was turning forty. Radical speculative thought was ahead of this, but that was as far as any ruling figure in the world had gone.
A man I never met, who must have been a very curious mixture of large conceptions and strange ignorances, was Cecil Rhodes. Of ignorances — Sir Sidney Low told me once that he never learnt properly to pronounce the name of his protagonist “Old Krooger.” I would have liked to have known more about the operations of his cerebral hemispheres, as they rolled about South Africa. Much the same ideas that were running through my brain round about 1900, of a great English-speaking English-thinking synthesis, leading mankind by sheer force of numbers, wealth, equipment and scope, to a progressive unity, must have been running through his brain also. He was certainly no narrow worshipper of the Union Jack, no abject devotee of the dear Queen Empress. The institution of the Rhodes scholarships which transcended any existing political boundaries and aimed plainly at a sort of common understanding and co-operation between all the western peoples and more particularly between all the “Nordic” peoples — he was at just about the level of ethnological understanding to believe in Nordic superiority — indicates a real greatness of intention, though warped by prejudices and uncritical assumptions.
I wish I knew much more about that brain and still more would I like to know about the brain history of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, whom also I have never met. He is to me the most incomprehensible of my contemporaries, with phases of real largeness and splendour and lapses to the quality of those mucky little sadists, Stalky and Co. I do not understand his relation to Rhodes nor Rhodes’s attitude to him. He has an immense vogue in the British middle-class and upper-class home; he is the patron saint of cadet corps masters, an in-exhaustive fount of sham manly sentiment, and one of the most potent forces in the shrivelling of the British political imagination during the past third of a century.
The only representative of that Boer War Imperialist group I ever met was Lord Milner. He seemed to me a bold-thinking man, hampered by politic reservations. In 1918 he wrote a preface for a little pamphlet I published, The Elements of Reconstruction. I came against him in a curious little talking and dining club, the “Coefficients,” which met monthly throughout the session between 1902 and 1908 to discuss the future of this perplexing, promising and frustrating Empire of ours. These talks played an important part in my education. They brought me closer than I had ever come hitherto to many processes in contemporary English politics and they gave me juster ideas of the mental atmosphere in which such affairs are managed.
In certain respects our club represented something that seems now, I think, to have faded out from contemporary English life. It had the gestures if not the spirit of free interrogation. It had an air of asking “What are we doing with the world? What are we going to do?” Or perhaps I might put it better by saying: “What is being done to our world? And what are we going to do about it?”
The club included the queerest diversity of brains. Its foundation was, I believe, suggested by Mrs. Sidney Webb. It was inaugurated by a meeting in the flat of Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Haldane (neither as yet peers) in Whitehall Court and the first assembly included such incongruous elements as Bertrand Russell (now Earl Russell), Sidney Webb (who is now Lord Passfield), Leo Maxse, (already in 1902 denouncing the German Peril and demanding the Great War), Clinton Dawkins, who linked us to finance, Carlyon Bellairs, a Big Navy man, Pember Reeves, a New Zealand progressive settled in England, W. A. S. Hewins, L. S. Amery and H. J. Mackinder, all three on the verge of revolt under Joseph Chamberlain against Free Trade. Later on we were joined by Lord Robert Cecil, Michael Sadler, Henry Newbolt (of “Drake’s Drums”), J. Birchenough, to strengthen the financial side, Garvin who helped remove the last traces of Encyclopaedism from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Josiah Wedgwood the Single Taxer, Lord Milner, John Hugh Smith, Colonel Repington, F. S. Oliver, C. F. G. Masterman and others. We found our talks interesting and we kept up a quite high average of attendances. For some years we met in the St. Ermin’s Hotel, Westminster, and later in a restaurant which has now given way to a theatre in Whitehall.
Most of these men were already committed to definite political rôles, and Russell and I were by far the most untied and irresponsible members. I had much more to learn than anyone from those conversations and less tradition and political entanglement to hamper my learning. The earlier discussions were the most general and, from my point of view, the best. Could the British Empire be made a self-sustaining system, within a Zollverein? That was at first an open question for most of us. I argued against that idea. The British Empire, I said, had to be the precursor of a world-state or nothing. I appealed to geography. It was possible for the Germans and Austrians to hold together in their Zollverein because they were placed like a clenched fist in the centre of Europe. But the British Empire was like an open hand all over the world. It had no natural economic unity and it could maintain no artificial economic unity. Its essential unity must be a unity of great ideas embodied in the English speech and literature.
I was very pleased with that metaphor of the fist and the open hand — but I did not find it a very contagious suggestion.
As I look back now across a gap of two and thirty years upon that talk among the coffee cups and the liqueur glasses, I see England at a parting of the ways. I was still clinging to the dear belief that the English-speaking community might play the part of leader and mediator towards a world commonweal It was to be a free-trading, free-speaking, liberating flux for mankind. Russell, Pember Reeves and Webb and possibly Haldane and Grey had, I think, a less clearly expressed disposition in the same direction. But the shadow of Joseph Chamberlain lay dark across our dinner-table, the Chamberlain who, upon the “illimitable veldt” of South Africa, had had either a sunstroke or a Pauline conversion to Protection and had returned to clamour influentially for what he called Tariff Reform, but what was in effect national commercial egotism. He was impatient with what he felt to be the impracticable world-liberalism of Balfour, the Cecils and the Liberals. Foreign powers, he thought, were taking an immediate advantage of our longer views. He had no long views. He began a struggle to impose the crude commonsense and hard methods of a monopolistic Birmingham hardware-manufacturer upon international relations. More and more did his shadow divide us into two parties. Year by year at the Coefficient gatherings, I saw the idea of the British commonweal being decivilized and “Imperialized.” I was in at the very beginning of the English recoil from our pretensions — and with many they were more than pretensions — to exceptional national generosity, courage and world leadership.
The undeniable contraction of the British outlook in the opening decade of the new century is one that has exercised my mind very greatly, and I fear it would produce an immense bulge in this present already bulging bale of a book if I were to attempt a complete analysis. Gradually the belief in the possible world leadership of England had been deflated, by the economic development of America and the militant boldness of Germany. The long reign of Queen Victoria, so prosperous, progressive and effortless, had produced habits of political indolence and cheap assurance. As a people we had got out of training, and when the challenge of these new rivals became open, it took our breath away at once. We did not know how to meet it. We had educated our general population reluctantly; our universities had not kept pace with the needs of the new time; our ruling class, protected in its advantages by a universal snobbery, was broad-minded, easy-going and profoundly lazy. The Edwardian monarchy, court and society were amiable and slack. “Efficiency”— the word of Earl Roseberry and the Webbs was felt to be rather priggish and vulgar. Our liberalism was no longer a larger enterprise, it had become a generous indolence. But minds were waking up to this. Over our table at St. Ermin’s Hotel wrangled Maxse, Bellairs, Hewins, Amery and Mackinder, all stung by the small but humiliating tale of disasters in the South Africa war, all sensitive to the threat of business recession and all profoundly alarmed by the naval and military aggressiveness of Germany, arguing chiefly against the liberalism of Reeves and Russell and myself, and pulling us down, whether we liked it or not, from large generalities to concrete problems.
These Young Imperialists, as they were then, found it impossible to distinguish between national energy and patriotic narrowness. Narrowing the outlook is a cheap immediate way of enhancing the effect of energy without really increasing it. They were all for training and armament and defensive alliances, and they were all careless or contemptuous of that breadth and vigour of education in which the true greatness of a people lies. I tried to be more fundamental, to trace the secret springs of our inertness. I talked — it was considered a barely pardonable eccentricity — of the crippling effect of the monarchy, of the cultivated suspicion of real capacity in high quarters, and of the monopolization of educational direction by Oxford and Cambridge. I was of opinion that if Great Britain had become a Republic early in the nineteenth century and set up an adequate modern university organization centering in London and extended throughout the Empire, in the place of those privileged mediaeval foundations and the intensely domestic personal loyalties it has cherished, it would have drawn the United States back into a closer accord and faced the world with an altogether greater spirit than it was now displaying. Our mentality, I reasoned, was still in the great-estate, gentlemen’s servants tradition of the eighteenth century because we had missed our revolution. These are all if’s and and’s, but that was the disposition of my mind.
Presently Bertrand Russell flung out of the club. There was an argument at which unfortunately I was not present. Hewins, Amery and Mackinder declared themselves fanatical devotees of the Empire. “My Empire, right or wrong,” they said. Russell said that there were a multitude of things he valued before the Empire. He would rather wreck the Empire than sacrifice freedom. So if this devotion was what the club meant ——! And out he went — like the ego-centred Whig he is — without consulting me. Later the discussion was summarized to me. I said I was quite of his mind. The Empire was a convenience and not a God. Hewins in protest was almost lyrical. He loved the Empire. He could no more say why he loved the Empire than a man could say why he loved his wife. I ought to resign. I said I had no taste for exile; I never have had a taste for exile; and so I would not follow Russell unless they threw me out. The more this Imperialist nonsense was talked in the club, the more was it necessary that one voice at least should be present to contradict it. And so nailing my colours to the mast and myself to the dinner table, I remained — and we all continued to get on very well together.
Milner, oddly enough, I found the most satisfactory intelligence among us. He knew we had to make a new world, but he had nothing of my irresponsible constructive boldness. So that he fell into Imperialist Monarchist forms — which a partly German education may have made easier for him. But upon many minor issues we were apt to agree.
Haldane on the contrary I found intellectually unsympathetic, although his general political attitude was nearer to mine. He was a self-indulgent man, with a large white face and an urbane voice that carried his words as it were on a salver, so that they seemed good even when they were not so. The “Souls,” the Balfour set, in a moment of vulgarity had nicknamed him “Tubby.” He was a copious worker in a lawyer-like way and an abundant — and to my mind entirely empty — philosopher after the German pattern. He had a cluster of academic distinctions which similar philosophers had awarded him. I used to watch him at our gatherings and wonder what sustained him. I think he floated on strange compensatory clouds of his own exhalation. He rejoiced visibly in the large smooth movements of his mind. Mostly he was very busy on his immediate activities; his case, his exposition, his reply, his lecture, and it was probably rare for him to drop down to self-scrutiny. When other men lie awake in the small hours and experience self-knowledge, remorse and the harsher aspects of life, crying out aloud and leaping up to pace their rooms, Haldane I am sure communed quite serenely with that bladder of nothingness, the Absolute, until he fell asleep again.
When Einstein came to England and was lionized after the war, he was entertained by Haldane. Einstein I know and can converse with very interestingly, in a sort of Ollendorffian French, about politics, philosophy and what not, and it is one of the lost good things in my life, that I was never able to participate in the mutual exploration of these two stupendously incongruous minds. Einstein must have been like a gentle bright kitten trying to make friends with a child’s balloon, very large and unaccountably unpuncturable.
Haldane found time to produce various books on philosophy. They are still spoken of with profound respect and a careful avoidance of particulars in academic circles, but they mark no turning point in the history of the human mind. They move far away from any vulgar reality in a special universe of discourse. The Pathway to Reality was not actually written; it was poured out from notes as the Gifford Lectures in that mellifluous voice, taken down in shorthand and corrected for publication. It is like a very large soap bubble that for some inexplicable reason fails to be iridescent. He also produced a translation of Schopenhauer, omitting an indelicate but vitally important discussion of perversion.
His abundant methodical mind was at its best in formal organization. It is generally admitted that it was his reform of the army in 1905 which made possible the prompt dispatch of the British Expeditionary Force to France in August 1914. His intelligence was certainly better trained and more abundant than that of any of the British professional military authorities, and he might have done great service during the actual struggle. But in a moment of enthusiasm for Teutonic metaphysics he had declared that Germany was his “spiritual home” and Northcliffe, in an access of spy mania, hunted him from office at the outbreak of the war. It was a great disappointment for him, for he was acutely conscious of strategic capacity. But measured against such brains as those of Kitchener and French, almost anyone might be forgiven an acute consciousness of strategic capacity.
I will not speculate about what might have happened if we had had Haldane as war-director instead of the fuddled dullness of Kitchener, the small-army cleverness of French, Haig’s mediocrity and the stolid professionalism of the army people throughout. It would lead me far away from this wandering lane of autobiography into a wilderness of entertaining but futile hypothesis, and I have already made some heartfelt observations about the army caste in an earlier section. Moreover after a section on “If Haldane had been at the War Office in 1914,” it would be impossible not to go on to what might have happened if we had had Winston Churchill for our war lord — brilliant, I feel sure he would have been, if unsound — and so on to even stranger possibilities. My concern here is simply with Lord Haldane as a man with a voice in human destiny. How was this undeniably big brain concerned with change and the incessant general problem of mankind? I have told how Theodore Roosevelt was touched by that problem. Was Lord Haldane really touched by it at all?
I do not think that between contemporary practicality and the Absolute there was any intermediate level at which the mind of Haldane halted to ask himself what he was doing with the world. His mind was unquickened by any serious knowledge of biology or cosmology, his idea of science was of a useful technical cleverness and not of a clearer vision, and I think it improbable that he brought the conception of unlimited fundamental change into his picture of the universe at all. A legal training directs the mind to equity and settlement rather than progress. And the Absolute is very constipating to the mind. I imagine he just thought that “history goes on — much as ever” and left it at that.
Another of our Coefficients who certainly found a belief in the steady continuity of conventional history a full and sufficient frame for his political thoughts was Sir Edward Grey (who became Viscount Grey of Fallodon). Here again was a brain that I found almost incredibly fixed and unaware of the violent mutability of things. His air of grave and responsible leadership was an immense delusion, for who can lead unless he be in motion? Never had a human being less stimulus for getting on to anywhere or anything. He was a man born to wealth and prominence; he inherited his baronetcy and estates at the age of twenty and he entered parliament with the approval of everyone, the nicest of nice young men, at the age of twenty-three. He was tall and of a fine immobile handsomeness; he played tennis very well and he was one of the most distinguished of British fly-fishers. At the age of thirty-seven in the full tide of his gifts, he wrote an excellent book on the latter art. He was never very deeply interested in internal politics for naturally enough he could see very little to complain of in the condition of the country, but as a matter of public and party duty he was made under-secretary for foreign affairs when he was thirty, and an opinion grew about him and within him that he understood them. He understood them about as much as Lord Tyrrell, upon whose outlook I have already animadverted in my account of my Crewe House experiences.
I have already said that Tyrrell’s mind was governess-made. I would almost extend that to the whole Foreign Office personnel. People of this class are caught young before any power of defensive criticism has developed in them and told stories of a series of mythical beings, France, Germany, England, Spain, with such assurance that they become more real than daddy and mummy. They are led to believe that “Spain” is cruel, “Holland” little and brave, “Germany” industrious and protestant and “Ireland” tragic, priest-led and unforgetting. They think that there are wicked countries and good countries. Once a modernized education has cleared up the human mind in this matter, such widespread delusions will be inconceivable. Readers in those days to come will not believe what I am writing here. But the minds of these people are set in that shape, as the bandaged skulls of the Mangbetu of the Belgian Congo are set in the shape of a sugar loaf, and few so formed ever come round to a sane scepticism about these foolish simplifications. In my Outline of History I have done my best to show plainly how the belief in these plausible inventions, as unreal as Baal or Juggernaut, has warped all human life and slaughtered countless millions in the past two centuries. Slowly a clearer vision of the human complex is spreading, but Grey in his grave solemn way talked, just as Tyrrell chattered, of “What France feels in the matter” or “If Germany does so and so, the time will come for us to act.”
He would not even disperse these personifications to the extent of saying “They.”
I thought Grey a mentally slow, well-mannered, not unpleasantly dignified person until after August 1914. Then I realized what a danger such blinkered firmness of mind as his could be to mankind.
I think he wanted the war and I think he wanted it to come when it did. Sooner or later, on the international chequerboard which he saw in place of reality, Germany would attack. It was better she should attack while her navy was still quantitatively inferior to ours and while the web of precautionary alliances we had woven against her held firm. He would never have taken part in an attack on Germany, a preventive war as they call it in France nowadays, because that was not in accordance with the rules of the game, not at all the sort of thing a gentlemanly country does, but if Germany saw fit to attack first, then, well and good, the Lord had delivered her into our hands.
It is charged against him that he did not definitely warn Germany that we should certainly come into the war, that he was sufficiently ambiguous to let her take a risk and attack, and that he did this deliberately. I think that charge is sound.
His faith in the reality of national personifications outlived the war. When I was working for the creation of a League of Nations Union, it was with a sort of despair that I found that everyone in the movement was insisting on the necessity of having Grey for our figurehead. For him a League of Nations was necessarily a League of Foreign Offices. His intelligence was as incapable of thinking multitudinously of the human beings under the shadow of “France” or “Russia” as a Zoo bear is of thinking of the atoms in a bun.
Another of these governess-moulded minds I encountered was Lord Curzon who was at the Foreign Office in 1920, when I returned from a visit to Soviet Russia. I went to him to suggest a working understanding with the new régime. I tried to explain first that it was now the only possible régime in Russia and that if it was overthrown Russia would come as near to Chaos as a human population can; secondly that it was a weak régime in sore need of manufactured material, scientific apparatus and technical help of every sort and thirdly, that however strong our objection to Marxist theory might be and however intransigeant their Marxism, a certain generosity and understanding now, a certain manifest readiness to help must inevitably force reciprocal concessions. The new Soviet Russia was the best moral and political investment that had ever been offered to Britain. And our Foreign Office turned it down — like a virtuous spinster of a certain age refusing a proposal to elope and bear ten children. Most of this is said quite plainly in my Russia in the Shadows.
Lord Curzon listened to me as a man listens to a language he does not understand, but which he is unwilling to admit is strange to him. For him Russia was something as unified and personally responsible as Aunt Sally or the defendant in the dock. When it came to his turn to speak, he began, incorrigibly and with a slight emphasis on his master words, in this fashion; “But so long as Russia continues to sustain a propaganda against us in Persia, I do not see how we can possibly do anything of the sort you suggest. . . . ”
I declare that the greatest present dangers to the human race are these governess-trained brains which apparently monopolize the Foreign Offices of the World, which cannot see human affairs in any other light than as a play between the vast childish abstractions we call nations. There are people who say the causes of war, nowadays at least, are economic. They are nothing so rational. They are hallucinatory. Men like Grey, Curzon and Tyrrell present a fine big appearance to the world, but the bare truth is that they are, by education and by force of uncritical acceptance, infantile defectives, who ought to be either referred back to a study of the elements of human ecology or certified and secluded as damaged minds incapable of managing public affairs.
Another outstanding man, of that period before the Great War, with whom I had some mental exchanges was Mr. Balfour —“Mr. Arthur.” I used to meet him at Stanway and Taplow Court and in various London houses. He at any rate was high above the governess-made level. There was always an odour of intelligence about him that made his average Conservative associates uncomfortable. He had a curious active mind, he had been attracted by my earlier books and, through him and through Cust, I came to know something of the group of people who centred round him and Lady Mary Elcho, the “Souls.” That too was a vague Open Conspiracy, an attempt to get away from the self-complacent dullness and furtive small town viciousness of fin-de-siècle England, and to see life freshly. He had grown up in an atmosphere of scientific thought; Francis Balfour, his younger brother, was a brilliant biologist and his Text Book of Embryology had been my first introduction to the Balfour family. Arthur Balfour had none of the forceful energy of Theodore Roosevelt; he was a long-limbed, simple-living but self-indulgent, bachelor man. He was a greater British private gentleman even than Sir Edward Grey. He was so comfortably wealthy, so well connected and so secure that a certain aloofness from the dusty sweaty conflict of life, was in his habit of living.
It is hard to say where, in aloofness, is set the boundary between divinity and cowardice. He could show such courage as he did when as Irish Secretary he was continually under a threat of assassination, because he could not believe that anything of that sort could really happen to him; but when his essential liberalism came face to face with this new baseness of commercialized imperialism, with all its push and energy, he made a very poor fight for it. He allowed himself to be hustled into the background of affairs by men with narrower views and nearer objectives.
He argued sceptically on behalf of religion. His way of defending the Godhead was by asking, What can your science know for certain? and escaping back to orthodoxy under a dust-cloud of philosophical doubts. He anticipated my own remark that the human mind is as much a product of the struggle for survival as the snout of a pig and perhaps as little equipped for the unearthing of fundamental truth. But while that enabled him to accord a graceful support to the Church of England — which might be just as right or wrong about ultimates as anything else — I used my release from rigid conviction for a systematic common-sense interpretation of my world.
In the smooth-water years before 1914 and the subsequent cataracts, I had a great admiration for Balfour. In that queer confused novel, The New Machiavelli, one of my worst and one of my most revealing, I have a sort of caricature-portrait of him as Evesham in which I magnify him unduly. (There is also, by the bye, in the same book a remote sketch of the Coefficients as the “Pentagram Club.") I put various discourses into Evesham’s mouth, of which the matter is clearly my own. Here is a vignette, which shows also my own phase of development about 1912.
“Have I not seen him in the House, persistent, persuasive, indefatigable, and by all my standards wickedly perverse, leaning over the table with those insistent movements of his hand upon it, or swaying forward with a grip upon his coat lapel, fighting with a diabolical skill to preserve what are in effect religious tests, tests he must have known would outrage and humiliate and injure the consciences of a quarter — and that perhaps the best quarter — of the young teachers who come to the work of elementary education?
“In playing for points in the game of party advantage Evesham displayed at times a quite wicked unscrupulousness in the use of his subtle mind. I would sit on the Liberal benches and watch him, and listen to his urbane voice, fascinated by him. Did he really care? Did anything matter to him? And if it really mattered nothing, why did he trouble to serve the narrowness and passion of his side? Or did he see far beyond my scope, so that this petty iniquity was justified by greater, remoter ends of which I had no intimation?
“They accused him of nepotism. His friends and family were certainly well cared for. In private life he was full of an affectionate intimacy; he pleased by being charmed and pleased. One might think at times there was no more of him than a clever man happily circumstanced, and finding an interest and occupation in politics. And then came a glimpse of thought, of imagination, like the sight of a soaring eagle through a staircase skylight. Oh, beyond question he was great! No other contemporary politician had his quality. . . . Except that he had it seemed no hot passions, but only interests and fine affections and indolences, he paralleled the conflict of my life. He saw and thought widely and deeply; but at times it seemed to me his greatness stood over and behind the reality of his life, like some splendid servant, thinking his own thoughts, who waits behind a lesser master’s chair.”
There is something very youthful in that passage. I have hardened and grown wiser since then. It is easier to be taken that way when one is thirty-eight than in the cooler longer perspective of sixty-eight. Later on I realized that Balfour was letting one thing after another be wrested from his hands by lesser men. He allowed The Times when it was sold, go to the highest bidder; it fell to Northcliffe and it might have fallen into far worse hands; Balfour would have done nothing disturbing to himself to prevent it. None of our richer aristocrats seem to have risked any money at that time to keep this public organ in public-spirited hands. Yet the control of that paper was quite essential to their predominance. They trusted to the snobbishness of some nouveau riche. So they got Northcliffe who was anything but a snob — and in due course a new mercantile conservatism arose which adopted B.M.G. (Balfour Must Go) as its animating slogan. He could not control these new people but he hampered them and so they turned upon him.
Balfour might perhaps have been a very great man indeed if his passions had been hotter and his affections more vivid. The lassitudes of these fine types, their fastidiousness in the presence of strong appeals, leave them at last a prey to the weak gratifications of vanity and a gentle impulse to pose. He posed. He was aware of himself and he posed — as Mr. Humbert Wolfe has recently told in the English Review (June 1934). As the war went on his poses became more and more self-protective.
Amidst the clamour and riot of the war he faded away from power to eminence. I had one queer glimpse of some struggle going on in him and about him. We were at the house of Lady Wemyss in Cadogan Square, talking about the early reactions of the various classes to the war. He had an impulse to tell me something. “The worst behaviour,” he began, “has been on the part of our business men.” Emphasis. “The very worst.”
He thought better of it and I was not clever enough or resolute enough to make him say more.
After the war, power left him altogether. He was merely a very eminent person, at last indeed almost the most eminent person in Britain. His last flare of charm and activity was at the Washington Conference of 1924. He helped make it the most amiable conference imaginable and the fund of sympathy between Washington and Westminster was greatly enhanced. There I saw and talked with him but nothing he said has remained in my memory. No doubt he and Grey were very fine gentlemen, but they were expensive to produce and they did not give back to human society anything like an adequate return in mental toil and directive resolution, for its expenditure upon them, for their great parks and houses and the deference that was shown them.
One day — in 1920 or 1921 I think, I went with Jane to the Institute of International Affairs and saw Balfour speaking on the platform. The light fell on his skull and I had a queer impression that quite recently I had seen an almost exactly similar cranium, similarly lit. My mind flashed back to Moscow. I whispered to Jane: “He’s got a brain box that is the very pair to Lenin’s. . . . It’s incredible.”
Perhaps it was only a matter of lighting and I will not embark upon any systematic search for correlated resemblances. Lenin by all his circumstances was as insecure, active and aggressive as Balfour was assured and indolent, but both had curious brains with a live edge of scepticism that put them on a far higher level than the blinkered stupidity of Grey and Curzon or the elaborate unreality of Haldane. Neither I think were orthodox minded and Lenin believed in the dogmas of Marx about as much as Balfour believed in the Holy Trinity and both were capable of the most destructive conformity. But while Lenin was using Marxism to make things happen because he was under the urgency of change, Balfour was using Christianity and Christian organization, to resist changes that, whatever else they did, were bound to disturb the spacious pleasantness of his life. I went to Russia as I have recounted in Russia in the Shadows, and I had a long talk with Lenin and a number of talks about him.
Now here was a fresh kind of brain for me to encounter and it was in such a key-position as no one had dreamt of as possible for anyone before the war. He appeared to be the complete master of all that was left of the resources of Russia. He was not by any means the master he seemed to be; he had a difficult team of supporters to handle and such an instrument as the Ogpu, which could twist round in his grip and wound him — as it did when it executed the Grand Dukes after his reprieve. And above all he was tied very closely to the sacred text of Marx. A real or assumed reverence for that was what held his following together, and his modification of the sacred Word to meet the great emergencies before him had to be subtle and propitiatory to an extreme degree. He had all these checks and entanglements to hinder him. But the authoritative effect of him was very great indeed.
He had a personal prestige based on his sound advice and lucid vision during the revolutionary crisis. He became then the man to whom everyone ran in fear or doubt. He had the strength of simplicity of purpose combined with subtlety of thought. By imperceptible changes, to an extent that only began to be measured and recognized after his death, he changed Marxism into Leninism. He changed the teachings of a fatalistic doctrinaire into a flexible creative leadership. So long as it was the substance of Lenin, he did not care in the least if it bore the label of Marx. But this year I have seen that his portrait and image in Russia everywhere are quietly elbowing his bearded precursor out of the way. His was by far the more vigorous and finer brain.
Like everybody else he belonged to his own time and his own phase. We met and talked each with his own preconceptions. We talked chiefly of the necessity of substituting large scale cultivation for peasant cultivation — that was eight years before the first Five Year Plan — and of the electrification of Russia, which was then still only a dream in his mind. I was sceptical about that because I was ignorant of the available water power of Russia. “Come back and see us in ten years’ time,” he said to my doubts.
When I talked to Lenin I was much more interested in our subject than in ourselves. I forgot whether we were big or little or old or young. At that time I was chiefly impressed by the fact that he was physically a little man, and by his intense animation and simplicity of purpose. But now as I look over my fourteen year old book and revive my memories and size him up against the other personalities I have known, in key positions I begin to realize what an outstanding and important figure he is in history. I grudge subscribing to the “great man” conception of human affairs, but if we are going to talk at all of greatness among our species, then I must admit that Lenin at least was a very great man.
If in 1912 I could call Balfour “beyond question great,” it seems almost my duty here to put that flash of enthusiasm in its proper proportion to what I think of the Russian. So let me say with all deliberation that when I weigh the two against each other it is not even a question of swaying scale-pans; Balfour flies up and kicks the beam. The untidy little man in the Kremlin out-thought him — outdid him. Lenin was alive to the last, whereas Balfour ended in an attitude. Lenin was already ailing when I saw him, he had to take frequent holidays, early in 1922 the doctors stopped his daily work altogether and he became partly paralysed that summer and died early in 1924. His days of full influence therefore, extended over less than five crowded years. Nevertheless in that time, he imposed upon the Russian affair, a steadfastness of constructive effort against all difficulties, that has endured to this day. But for him and his invention of the organized Communist party, the Russian revolution would certainly have staggered into a barbaric military autocracy and ultimate social collapse. But his Communist party provided, crudely no doubt but sufficiently for the survival of the experiment, that disciplined personnel for an improvised but loyal Civil Service without which a revolution in a modern state is doomed to complete futility. His mind never became rigid and he turned from revolutionary activities to social reconstruction with an astonishing agility. In 1920, when I saw him, he was learning with the vigour of a youth about the possible “electrification of Russia.” The conception of the Five Year Plan — but as he saw it, a series of successive provincial Plans — a Russian grid system, the achievements of Dnepropetrovsk, were all taking shape in his brain. He went on working, as a ferment, long after his working days had ended. He is still working perhaps as powerfully as ever.
During my last visit to Moscow, in July 1934, I visited his Mausoleum and saw the little man again. He seemed smaller than ever; his face very waxy and pale and his restless hands still. His beard was redder than I remembered it. His expression was very dignified and simple and a little pathetic, there was childishness and courage there, the supreme human qualities, and he sleeps — too soon for Russia. The decoration about him was plain and noble. The atmosphere of the place was saturated with religious feeling and I can well believe that women pray there. Outside down the Square there still stands the inscription: “Religion”— which in Russia it must be remembered always means Orthodox Christianity —“is the opium of the people.” Deprived of that opium Russia is resorting to new forms of dope. In Moscow I was shown one evening Dziga Vertov’s new film: Three Songs for Lenin. This is a very fine and moving apotheosis of Lenin. It is Passion Music for Lenin and he has become a Messiah. One must see and hear it to realize how the queer Russian mind has emotionalized Socialism and subordinated it to the personal worship of its prophets, and how necessary it is that the west wind should blow through the land afresh.
In the spring of 1934 I took it into my head to see and compare President Franklin Roosevelt and Mr. Stalin. I wanted to form an opinion of just how much these two brains were working in the direction of this socialist world-state that I believe to be the only hopeful destiny for mankind.
In what has gone before I have done my best to set out before the persevering reader as precisely and plainly as possible the foundations and nature of this picture of the world problem that has been painted bit by bit on my own brain tissues since I played in the back-yard of Atlas House, and I have tried to show the successive phases through which my belief has grown definite, until at last it has become altogether clear to me (as to many others) that the organization of this that I call the Open Conspiracy, the evocation of a greater sounder fellow to the first Communist essay, an adequately implemented Liberal Socialism, which will ultimately supply teaching, coercive and directive public services to the whole world, is the immediate task before all rational people. I believe this idea of the planned world-state is one to which all our thought and knowledge is tending. It is an idea that is quietly pervading human mentality because facts and events conspire in its favour. It is appearing partially and experimentally at a thousand points. It does not dismay me in the least that no specific political organization to realize this idea, has yet appeared. By its very nature the formal conflicts of politics will be almost the last thing in the world to be affected by it. When accident finally precipitates it, its coming is likely to happen very quickly. We shall find ourselves almost abruptly engaged in a new system of political issues in, which the socialist world-state will be plainly and consciously lined up against the scattered vestigial sovereignties of the past.
I am quite unable to form an opinion how long it will be before this happens and the socialist world-state enters the field of political actuality. Sometimes I feel that it may be imminent. Sometimes I feel that generations of propaganda and education may have to precede it. The war danger and economic stress are both forcing men’s minds towards it as the one way out for them. These grim instructors may do much to make up for the negligence and backwardness of the schoolmaster. Plans for political synthesis and economic readjustment seem to grow bolder and more extensive. It was natural therefore, if a little impulsive and premature, that I should go to America and Russia with the question, Is this it already? What is the relation of the New Plan in America to the New Plan in Russia and how are both related to the ultimate World-State?
Some readers will object that this is political discussion and not autobiography. It is political discussion but also it is autobiography. The more completely life is lived the more political a man becomes. My democratic reading of the rights of man is not so much a matter of voting — usually for candidates put up for me by other people — as asking questions, getting answers and passing judgments on my own behalf. I ask my questions. These two visits are essential events in my life and telling about them is as intimate and personal a rounding off of my story as I can imagine. Modern life is expansion and then effacement. We do not round off, we open out. We do not end with valedictions; we open doors and then stand aside.
Just before I sailed for America I went to a queer exhibition of futility in the Albert Hall. It was a gathering of Mosley’s blackshirts and it would be hard to imagine anything sillier — from the slow pompous entry of this queer crazy creature, dressed up like a fencing instructor with a waist fondly exaggerated by a cummerbund and chest and buttocks thrust out, stalking gravely and alone down the central gangway, to the last concerted outburst confined entirely, I remarked, to his disciplined following, of boyish shouting and hand-lifting: “We want Mosley.”
I have met Mosley intermittently for years, as a promising young conservative, a promising young liberal, a promising new convert to the Labour party, with Communist leanings, and finally as the thing he is. He has always seemed to me dull and heavy, imitative in his politics and platitudinous in his speeches, and so I was not greatly interested in what he had to say to this meeting. As his banalities boomed about the hall, without a single flicker of wit or wisdom, their dullness vastly exaggerated by loud speakers, we noted how the habit of mouthing his words was growing upon him — he has for some obscure reason invented a sort of dialect of his own — and then we discussed particulars of his Sandhurst days and his war-record which were new to me. What chiefly held my attention were his supporters and the audience generally. The audience was miscellaneous, curious and little moved, and it did not fully fill the hall. Quite a quantity of pleasant boys and nice young men, and quite a number of others who were not so nice, dressed up in black shirts and grey trousers, were acting as ushers, selling idiotic songs about their glorious Leader, supplying the applause, pervading the meeting, and generally keeping the affair from becoming a complete slump. They seemed drawn chiefly from the middle and upper class. There was something shy about many of them, something either desperately grave and assertive, or faintly apologetic. They were not throwing themselves into their parts as the hairy young Italians they were aping would have done. There was no romantic conviction about them. The thing that really intrigued me was why they did this. What sort of feeble imaginations, I asked, could be flicking about in their nice young cerebral cortices to bring them to this pass?
That question went with me across the Atlantic. Is there really anything we can call education in England at the present time? Or is what passes for education only a sort of systematic softening of the brain? What history had been put before these young men, what vision of life had been given them, that they should start out upon their political life “wanting”— of all conceivable desiderata! — Mosley?
Only after a huge cultural struggle can we hope to see the world-state coming into being. The Open Conspiracy has to achieve itself in many ways, but the main battle before it is an educational battle, a battle to make the knowledge that already exists accessible and assimilable and effective. The world has moved from the horse-cart and the windmill to the aeroplane and dynamo but education has made no equivalent advance. The new brains that are pouring into the world are being caught by incompetent and unenlightened teachers, they are being waylaid by the marshalled misconceptions of the past, and imprisoned in rigid narrow historical and political falsifications. We cannot do with such a world population. We cannot build a new civilization out of two thousand million pot-bound minds. It is all poor, damaged material we have to deal with. Such cramped and crippled stuff might serve well enough for the comparatively unshattered social and political routines of the nineteenth century but it will not serve to-day. It is as dangerous, as catastrophically inert, as loose sand piled high, and always rising higher, over the excavation for a highway.
I prowled round the promenade deck at night thinking how little we were doing for education and how little I had done. I wished I had some virus with which one might bite people and make them mad for education. I was going from one dismally miseducated country to another, and when all was said and done these two were the most enlightened countries as yet in all the world. And I was hoping against my better knowledge to find the seeds of a new way of life already germinating and sending out green shoots.
It is not spring of the world’s great year yet.
The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn.
That was written a hundred years ago and it is still prophetic.
Coming into New York harbour there was fog, a quite appropriate and disturbing fog, with fog-horns about us so like political leaders that you could not in the least ascertain their direction, and the Washington in which I was a passenger was as nearly as possible run down by the Balin in the Ambrose Channel. The German liner jumped out of the fog abruptly, and passed within ten yards of us on the wrong side. I heard a babble of voices close at hand and looked out of my port-hole into the astonished faces of a group of passengers on the Balin’s deck within spitting distance of me. She swept by and vanished in the fog and I went up on deck to hear what other people thought of the occurrence. Opinions differed as to how near we had been to a smash; the estimates varied from six feet to twenty yards. The two boats had sucked in towards each other as they passed. Some of us tried to imagine just what a touch would have meant. Nobody was very much upset about it; it seemed to be just a part of the general large dangerousness of human affairs at the present time.
When I arrived in New York I began to hear opinions of the “New Deal” from every point of view. I wanted to sample the atmosphere in which the President was working before I went to see him. Various good friends had gathered talk parties of the most diverse composition, and I had written to one or two men I knew would give me first-hand information. Everyone talked freely and it is not for me to document what was said by this individual or that. I found myself sitting next to an unassuming young man whose name I had not quite caught and he began to unfold a view of the world to me which seemed to contain all I had ever learnt and thought, but better arranged and closer to reality. This I discovered was A. A. Berle of the so-called Brains Trust. “And how many more of you are there?” I wanted to ask him — and didn’t.
And then, by way of contrast, I heard across the table the distinguished head of a big corporation, a fine grey-headed, rotund-voiced gentleman, denouncing every new thing in America from the President down to the last man in the queue of unemployed, and demanding to be put back forthwith to the happy days of 1924. Or was it 1926? He had observed nothing material since then. “And how many,” thought I, “are there of you?” His faith in economic anarchism and the eternal succession of trade-cycles was unshaken. Since the present depression was particularly intense and prolonged he argued, the recovery would be all the brighter. He was like a strong infusion of Herbert Spencer and Harriet Martineau in the tradition of that valiant optimist, Ambassador Choate — whom I described as Mr. Z, “Pippa’s rich uncle” in The Future in America.
Between these extremes of understanding and resistance to reality, was an extraordinary variety of types. I had a brush with a delightful couple of New York “Reds,” pure Communists, as pure and intolerant as their Puritan forebears. They were of quite wealthy origin, and they recited their belief in Karl Marx, his philosophy, his psychology, his final divine wisdom, as though Lenin had lived in vain, and they were in just as complete and effective an opposition to the New Deal as my grey-haired corporation president. Roosevelt they said was just “bolstering up capitalism.” He was trying to sneak past a social catastrophe and cut out their dear dictatorship of the proletariat altogether — contrariwise to Holy Writ. The better he did the worse it would be, for there could be no real blessing on it, said these real bright Reds.
In the New Willard, in Washington, I found myself in contact with those fine flowers of American insurrectionism, my old friends Clarence Darrow and Charles Russell. They had been summoned to the capital to report on the working of various codes and they were reporting as unhelpfully and destructively as they knew how. They were “agin the government” all the time and the wildfire of freedom shone in Darrow’s eyes.
I have a great affection and sympathy for Clarence Darrow. It is deep in my nature also to be restive under government and hostile to dogma. But he is, by ten years or more, of an older generation, and the American radicalism in which he grew up was very different from the early formative influences I have described in my own case. I believe in the free common intelligence, in freely criticized commonsense, but Darrow believes superstitiously in the individual unorganized free common man. That is to say he is a sentimental anarchist. He is for an imaginary “little man”— against monopoly, against rule, against law — any law.
It is remarkable how widespread among American brains is this fantasy of the sturdy little independent “healthy” competitive man, essentially righteous: the Western farmer, the small shop-keeper, the struggling, saving, hard-working entrepreneur. To this first onset of publicly directed large-scale economic organization in Washington, that New York corporation president I have described and Clarence Darrow, the extreme radical, responded in almost identical terms. “Leave us alone,” they said — with passion. The same ideal, of perpetuating a fundamental individualism of small folk, was manifest in the anti-trust legislation of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a dream. The problem of personal freedom is not to be solved by economic fragmentation; that Western farmer lost his independence long since and became the grower of a single special crop, the small shop-keeper either a chain-store minder or a dealer in branded goods, and the small entrepreneur a gambler with his savings, and a certain bankrupt in the end; nevertheless the dream survives. To borrow a phrase from Russia: it is a kulak ideal. I found it still living even among the directors of the A.A.A. in Washington.
In their report upon the codes, Darrow and Russell went so far as to impute motive. That heroic small man of their imaginations was, they said, being deliberately sacrificed to big business —sold to big business. But it is not the New Deal and the N.R.A. which are sacrificing the small man to large-scale operations. The stars in their courses are doing that. Nevertheless in this fashion these two anarchistic Old Radicals were able to line up with our wealthy young Communists, who thought Roosevelt was “bolstering up capitalism” and that angry public utility exploiter who declared the New Deal was smashing it. There are manifestly common subconscious elements underlying this amazing unanimity.
What struck me most about the New York atmosphere, and the impression was intensified in Washington, was the mixture of praise and detraction with which the President was mentioned. It had become almost a ritual. There would be a prelude upon his courage, his integrity, his personal charm and then “but ——”. The varied contexts to that “but,” taken altogether, made me realize that Franklin Roosevelt is one of the greatest shocks that has ever happened to the prevalent mental assumptions of the United States. A man’s formulated and expressed opinions may be one thing, we have to remember, and his tacit or subconscious assumptions quite another. Premonitions of a new social and economic order which have hitherto seemed the harmless talk of an ineffectual intelligentsia have been broadcast abruptly over vast surfaces of conventional business and political expression. The time-honoured crust of pompous insincerity characteristic of the old order has been broken and has revealed the underlying capacity of the American mind for stark reality. With an air of just giving the old deck of cards a new deal for the century-old game of political poker, the President seems to have taken up a new deck altogether, with strange new suits and altered values, and to be playing quietly and resolutely a different game. What game is he playing? Does he know himself? Does he realize he is a revolution? Imaginative answers to these perplexing questions, often highly imaginative and experimental answers, furnished the material for all those “buts.”
Were they trying to pull him down or trying to make him out? I listened undecided. Principally, I think, they were puzzled about him and, being puzzled, they were alarmed. They did not want to have him — with all due acknowledgments — and they did not know what else they could have. The world of American wealth and enterprise has been so sure of its freedoms, so convinced of its boundless areas and possibilities and so uncritically assured of its own essential goodness and necessity, that it has received the onset of even a certain scrutiny of its operations with a kind of exaggerated claustrophobia. It is disposed to fight and embarrass any form of regulation. It had got itself into the most hideous economic and industrial mess; only a year ago it was scared white and helpless with the terror of immediate catastrophe, but already it is recovering its ancient confidence and declaring, now that the immediate danger is past, that there was never any danger at all. It means to be carping and obstructive — and to the best of its power and ability it will be. In 1906 in my Future in America I emerged with the obvious reflection that Americans rich and radical alike had no “sense of the state.” Now they are getting a sense of the state put over them rather rapidly, and they are taking it very ungraciously.
This disposition to detract from the President’s effort to reconstruct the American front and to hamper him in every possible way, is unaccompanied by any real alternative policy. It is an irresponsible instinctive opposition, a mulish pulling back. There is no going back now for America. If Roosevelt and his New Deal fail altogether, there will be further financial and business collapse, grave sectional social disorder, political gangsterism and an extensive decivilization of wide regions. And these still wealthy and influential people who are carping and making trouble will be the first to suffer.
The absence of any sense of the state in America, the irresponsible habit of mind fostered by beginning the teaching of history with a rebellion and carrying it on to a glorification of individual push and the mystical democracy of the “Peepul” is the essential difficulty ahead of this eleventh-hour attempt to salvage the immense material accumulations of the past century before they topple over, and to set up an ordered and disciplined direction for the new powers of mankind before it is too late. Order and collective direction means an efficient and devoted Civil Service. The doubt whether America will succeed in making the great adjustments it is facing in time to escape catastrophe, turns largely upon the manifest inadequacy of its present Civil Service to the immense tasks that will necessarily be thrust upon it. Can this Civil Service be supplemented rapidly and effectively? The most momentous question before the United States community is the possibility of improvising ministers, officials and functionaries sufficiently honest and public-spirited, sufficiently clear-headed, courageous and competent to carry through the inevitable reconstruction.
Now outside the limits of the undermanned and underpaid Federal Civil Service there has long been considerable speculative activity in intellectual circles, among the university professoriate, among writers, scientific and technical workers and mentally active men of leisure, about the constructive defects that were becoming more and more patent in the American community. An intelligentsia has developed — much more considerable altogether than the corresponding strata on the British side. It thinks as a whole more roughly than its British equivalents, but more boldly and less deferentially. American business has hitherto ticked these people off as “long-haired Radicals” or “parlour socialists” or “cranks” and turned its back on their extending influence. Then, when the crisis was at its blackest, it discovered that these “cranks” might perhaps prove to be “experts.” With very mixed feelings it realized that the new President, instead of entrusting himself to the grave and dignified advice of tried “Experience” to heal — or at any rate to go through the motions of healing — at eight per cent let us say, until the ultimate smash — the disaster its routines had made inevitable, was calling these new brains into consultation. Some journalist, not quite sure whether the suggestion of intellectual activity was a curse or a blessing invented the phrase the “Brains Trust,” and the report of it went about the world.
It was inevitable after all my broodings upon a possible world-wide Open Conspiracy of clear-headed people, that this report should stir my interest profoundly. I wanted to know just what integrating forces this talk about the Brains Trust might imply, and how they could be brought into relationship with the steady growth of creative revolutionary thought upon the European side.
I have seen enough of this Brains movement to realize that it is no sort of conspiracy; that it is not a body of men formally associated by a concerted statement of ideas. It represents nothing so much in agreement as the radicals who made the republic in Madrid, nothing nearly so close-knit as the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik party. It has indeed scarcely anything to hold it in any sort of unity except that in this miscellany of widely scattered men there is a common determination to bring scientific analysis to bear upon financial and industrial processes, and to make a practical application of the results in the common interest. Its members are miscellaneous both in tradition and in character. It is the President who has drawn them together and it is necessarily from their ranks and associates, rather than from the rascal heelers of the party politicians, grafters by profession, that the supplementing and extension of the Civil Service must be drawn if there is to be any hope for the salvaging of America.
Raymond Moley has interested himself in the history of this Brains Trust movement, and he spread it out very intelligibly to me in a long talk we had in the Hangar Club in New York. He distinguished three main groups of mental influences, the monetary realists, such as Professor Irving Fisher and Professor Rogers, who constitute the rudiments of a scientific monetary control, the economic organizers such as Johnson, Tugwell and Berle, who stand chiefly for an extension of employment and exploitation by the State, and the lawyers — of whom only Felix Frankfurter is known to me personally — who are concerned with the development of legal restraints upon socially destructive speculative enterprise, and upon the use of large scale organization for private aggrandizement. Many of these people have never met each other. The link between them all was first the Executive Mansion at Albany, when Franklin Roosevelt was Governor of New York State and is now the White House. It is the President’s notes of interrogation that have drawn them all together into a loose constructive co-operation.
That is the outstanding difference — so far as form goes — between the constructive effort in Washington and Moscow. The one is a receptive and co-ordinating brain-centre; the other is a concentrated and personal direction. The end sought, a progressively more organized big-scale community, is precisely the same.
I have been four times to the White House, and twice to the Kremlin, to see the man in occupation. But I have never been, and I am never likely to go, inside the gates of Buckingham Palace. Very early impressions may have something to do with that; I have told of my resistance to my mother’s obsession about the dear Queen and my jealousy of the royal offspring; but the main reason for my obstinately republican life, as I see it in my own mind, is my conviction that here in England something has been held on to too long, and that nothing is doing here. A constitutional monarchy substitutes a figure-head for a head and distributes leadership elusively throughout the community. This gives the British system the resisting power of an acephalous invertebrate, and renders it equally incapable of concentrated forward action. In war-time the Crown resumes, or attempts to resume, a centralized authority — with such results as I have already glanced at in my account of my war experiences. Quite in accord with the tenacity of an acephalous invertebrate, the empire can be cut to pieces legally, have its South Ireland amputated, see half its shipping laid up and its heavy industries ruined, reconcile itself to the chronic unemployment and demoralization of half its young people, and still, on the strength of a faked budget and a burst of sunny summer weather, believe itself to be essentially successful and invulnerable. So it came about that, almost without thinking it over, as the various League of Nations documents I have quoted bear witness, I had become accustomed to looking westward for the definitive leadership of the English speaking community — and anywhere but in London for the leadership of mankind.
I have told already of my visit to Theodore Roosevelt. It was like visiting any large comfortable, leisurely, free-talking country house. Seeing President Harding had been like attending a politicians’ reception in an official building, all loud geniality and hand-shaking and the protean White House, had taken on the decoration and furniture of a popular club. My call upon President Hoover was a sort of intrusion upon a sickly overworked and overwhelmed man, a month behind in all his engagements and hopeless of ever overtaking them, and the White House, in sympathy, had made itself into a queer ramshackle place like a nest of waiting-rooms with hat-stands everywhere, and unexpected doors, never perceptible before or since, through which hurrying distraught officials appeared and vanished. President Hoover did not talk with me at all; he delivered a discourse upon the possible economic self-sufficiency of America that was, I imagine, intended for M. Laval from Paris, who had left Washington a week or so before. I did not find it interesting. After the Harding days there had been a foolish development of etiquette in Washington and instead of going to the President as man to man, the foreign visitor during the Coolidge and Hoover régimes was led — after due enquiries — down to the White House by his ambassador. Henceforth America and the English, it had been decided, were to talk only through a diplomatic pipette. Sir Ronald Lindsay took me down, apologetically, and sat beside me during the encounter, rather like a gentleman who takes a strange dog out to a tea-party, and is not quite sure how it will behave. But I respected the trappings of government and nothing diplomatically serious occurred. I just listened and contained myself. Diplomatic usage, will I suppose, prevent Sir Ronald from ever producing his memories of Men I have Chaperoned to the White House.
All this had been swept away again in 1934, I had had some slight correspondence with the President already, I went to him on my own credentials, and found that this magic White House had changed back again to a large leisurely comfortable private home. All the Hoover untidiness had vanished. Everything was large, cool, orderly and unhurried. Besides Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, his daughter Mrs. Dall, Miss Le Hand his personal secretary, and another lady, dined with us and afterwards I sat and talked to him and Mrs. Roosevelt and Miss Le Hand until nearly midnight, easily and pleasantly — as though the world crisis focused anywhere rather than upon the White House.
As everyone knows, the President is a crippled man. He reminded me of William Ernest Henley. He has the same big torso linked to almost useless legs, and he lacked even Henley’s practised nimbleness with stick and crutch. But when we sat at dinner and when he was in his study chair, his physical disablement vanished from the picture. Mrs. Roosevelt I found a very pleasant, well-read lady; I had been warned she was a terrible “school marm,” but the only trait of the schoolmistress about her was a certain care for precision of statement. There was no pose about either of them. They were not concerned about being what was expected of them, or with the sort of impression they were making; they were just interested in a curious keen detached way about the state of the world. They talked about that, in the manner of independent people who had really not so very much to do with it. We were all in it and we had to play our parts, but there was no reason because one was in a responsible position that one should be mystical or pompous or darkly omniscient about it.
Even if my memory would serve for the task, I would not report the drift and shifting substance of our talk. Only one thing need be recorded, the President’s manifest perplexity at some recent turns of British diplomacy, and the wonder that peeped out — a wonder we all share — over the question as to what Sir John Simon imagines he is up to, whether he represents any obscure realities of British thought and, if not, why on earth, in the far east and elsewhere, the two big English-speaking communities seem perpetually discordant and unexpected to each other. My own fixed idea about world peace came naturally enough to the fore. If it were not, I said, for questions of mere political mechanism, stale traditions, the mental childishness of our British Foreign Office and what not, it would be perfectly possible even now for the English speaking masses and the Russian mass, with France as our temperamental associate, to be made to say effectively that Peace shall prevail throughout the earth. And it would prevail. Whatever dreams of conquest and dominion might be in a few militant and patriotic brains outside such a combination, would burn but weakly in the cold discouragement of so great a unison. And what was it — prevented that unison?
But that was only one of the topics we touched upon. What concerns me here is not what was said, but the manner in which it was thought about and advanced. I am not thinking primarily of policies and governmental actions here, but of an encounter with a new type of mind. My own ideas about the coming socialist world-state are fixed and explicit. But they are, I am persuaded, implicit in every mind that has been opened to the possibility of unrestricted change. I do not say that the President has these revolutionary ideas in so elaborated and comprehensive a form as they have come to me; I do not think he has. I do not think he is consciously what I have called an Open Conspirator and it is quite clear his formula are necessarily limited by the limitations of the popular understanding with which he has to come to terms. But these ideas are sitting all round him now, and unless I misjudge him, they will presently possess him altogether. Events are reinforcing them and carrying him on to action. My impression of both him and of Mrs. Roosevelt is that they are unlimited people, entirely modern in the openness of their minds and the logic of their actions. I have been using the word “blinkered” rather freely in this section. Here in the White House, the unblinkered mind was in possession.
The Roosevelts are something more than open-minded. Arthur Balfour was greatly open-minded, but he lacked the slightest determination to realize the novel ideas he entertained so freely. He was set in the habitual acceptance of the thing that is, church, court, society, empire, and he did not really believe in the new thoughts that played about in his mind. President Roosevelt does. He has a brain that is certainly as receptive and understanding as Balfour’s but, with that, he has an uncanny disposition for action and realization that Balfour lacked altogether. This man who can sit and talk so frankly and freely is also an astute politician and a subtle manager of masses and men. As the President thinks and conceives, so forthwith, he acts. Both he and his wife have the simplicity that says, “But if it is right we ought to do it.” They set about what they suppose has to be done without exaltation, without apology or any sense of the strangeness of such conduct. Such unification of unconventional thought and practical will is something new in history, and I will not speculate here about the peculiar personal and the peculiar American conditions that may account for it. But as the vast problems about them expose and play themselves into their minds, the goal of the Open Conspiracy becomes plainer ahead. Franklin Roosevelt does not embody and represent that goal, but he represents the way thither. He is being the most effective transmitting instrument possible for the coming of the new world order. He is eminently “reasonable” and fundamentally implacable. He demonstrates that comprehensive new ideas can be taken up, tried out and made operative in general affairs without rigidity or dogma. He is continuously revolutionary in the new way without ever provoking a stark revolutionary crisis.
Before I visited Washington, I was inclined to the belief that the forces against such a replanning of the American social and political system as will arrest the present slant towards disaster, the individualistic tradition, the individual lawlessness, the intricate brutal disingenuousness of political and legal methods, were so great that President Franklin Roosevelt was doomed to an inevitable defeat. I wrote an article The Place of Franklin Roosevelt in History (Liberty Magazine, October, 1933) in which I made my bet for his over-throw. But I thought then he was a man with a definite set of ideas, fixed and final, in his head, just as I am a man with a system of conclusions fixed and definite in my head. But I perceive he is something much more flexible and powerful than that. He is bold and unlimited in his objectives because his mental arms are long and his courage great, but his peculiar equipment as an amateur of the first rank in politics, keeps him in constant touch with political realities and possibilities. He never lets go of them and they never subdue him. He never seems to go so far beyond the crowd as to risk his working leadership, and he never loses sight of pioneer thought. He can understand and weigh contemporary speculative economics, financial specialism and international political psychology, and he can talk on the radio — over the heads of the party managers and newspaper proprietors and so forth — quite plainly and very convincingly to the ordinary voting man.
He is, as it were, a ganglion for reception, expression, transmission, combination and realization, which I take it, is exactly what a modern government ought to be. And if perhaps after all he is, humanly, not quite all that I am saying of him here, he is at any rate enough of what I am saying of him here, for me to make him a chief collateral exhibit in this psycho-political autobiography.
On July the 21st I started from London for Moscow in the company of my eldest son, who wished to meet some Russian biologists with whose work he was acquainted, and to see their laboratories. We left Croydon in the afternoon, spent the night in Berlin and flew on by way of Danzig, Kovno and Welilikje Luki, reaching Moscow before dark on the evening of the 22nd. We flew in clear weather as far as Amsterdam, then through a couple of thunderstorms to Berlin. We were late in reaching the glitter of illuminated Berlin; the raining darkness was flickering with lightning flashes and our plane came down to make its landing with flares burning under its wings along a lane of windy yellow flame against the still red and white lights of the aerodrome. The flight next day from Welilikje Luki to Moscow, flying low and eastward in afternoon sunshine, was particularly golden and lovely.
In 1900, when I wrote Anticipations, this would have been as incredible a journey as a trip on Aladdin’s carpet; in 1934 it was arranged in the most matter of fact way through a travel agency, it was a little excursion that anyone might make; and the fare was less than the railway fare would have been a third of a century before. In a little time such a visit will seem as small a matter as a taxi-cab call does now. It is our antiquated political organization and our retrograde imaginations that still hold back such a final abolition of distance.
Moscow I found greatly changed — even from the air this was visible; not set and picturesque, a black-and-gold barbaric walled city-camp about a great fortress, as I had seen it first in 1914; nor definitely shabby, shattered and apprehensive as it had been in the time of Lenin, but untidily and hopefully renascent. There was new building going on in every direction, workers’ dwellings, big groups of factories and, amidst the woods, new datchas and country clubs. No particular plan was apparent from the air; it looked like a vigorous, natural expansion such as one might see in the most individualistic of cities. We came down over a patchwork of aerodromes and saw many hundreds of planes parked outside the hangars. Russian aviation may be concentrated about Moscow, but this display of air force was certainly impressive. Twenty-two years ago, in my War in the Air, I had imagined such wide fields of air fleet, but never then in my boldest cerebrations did I think I should live to see them.
I confess that I approached Stalin with a certain amount of suspicion and prejudice. A picture had been built up in my mind of a very reserved and self-centred fanatic, a despot without vices, a jealous monopolizer of power. I had been inclined to take the part of Trotsky against him. I had formed a very high opinion perhaps an excessive opinion, of Trotsky’s military and administrative abilities, and it seemed to me that Russia, which is in such urgent need of directive capacity at every turn, could not afford to send them into exile. Trotsky’s Autobiography, and more particularly the second volume, had modified this judgment but I still expected to meet a ruthless, hard — possibly doctrinaire — and self-sufficient man at Moscow; a Georgian highlander whose spirit had never completely emerged from its native mountain glen.
Yet I had had to recognize that under him Russia was not being merely tyrannized over and held down; it was being governed and it was getting on. Everything I had heard in favour of the First Five Year Plan I had put through a severely sceptical sieve, and yet there remained a growing effect of successful enterprise. I had listened more and more greedily to any first-hand gossip I could hear about both these contrasted men. I had already put a query against my grim anticipation of a sort of Bluebeard at the centre of Russian affairs. Indeed if I had not been in reaction against these first preconceptions and wanting to get nearer the truth of the matter, I should never have gone again to Moscow.
This lonely overbearing man, I thought, may be damned disagreeable, but anyhow he must have an intelligence far beyond dogmatism. And if I am not all wrong about the world, and if he is as able as I am beginning to think him, then he must be seeing many things much as I am seeing them.
I wanted to tell him that I had talked to Franklin Roosevelt of the new prospect of world co-operation that was opening before mankind. I wanted to stress the fact upon which I had dwelt in the White House, that in the English-speaking and Russian-speaking populations, and in the populations geographically associated with them round the temperate zone, there is a major mass of human beings ripe for a common understanding and common co-operation in the preparation of an organised world-state. Quite parallel with that double basis for a world plan, I wanted to say, there is a third great system of possible co-operation in the Spanish-speaking community. These masses, together with the Chinese, constitute an overwhelming majority of mankind, anxious — in spite of their so-called governments — for peace, industry and an organized well-being. Such things as Japanese imperialism, the national egotism of the Quai d’Orsay and of Mussolini, the childish disingenuousness of the British foreign office, and German political delirium, would become quite minor obstacles to human unity, if these common dispositions could be marshalled into a common understanding and a common method of expression. The militancy of Japan was not so much a threat to mankind as a useful reminder for us to sink formal differences and spread one explicit will for peace throughout the world. Japan, with a possible but very improbable German alliance, was the only efficient reactionary menace left for civilization to deal with. France was inaggressive in spirit; Great Britain incurably indeterminate. I wanted to find out how far Stalin saw international matters in this shape and, if he proved to be in general agreement, to try and see how far he would go with me in my idea that the present relative impotence of the wider masses of mankind to restrain the smaller fiercer threats of aggressive patriotism, is really due not to anything fundamental in human nature but to old inharmonious traditions, bad education and bad explanations; to our failure, thus far, to get our populations clearly told the true common history of our race and the common objective now before mankind. That objective was the highly organized world community in which service was to take the place of profit. The political dialects and phrases which were directed towards that end were needlessly and wastefully different. Creative impulses were being hampered to the pitch of ineffectiveness by pedantries and misunderstandings.
Was it impossible to bring general political statements up to date, so that the real creative purpose in the Russian will should no longer be made alien and repulsive to the quickened intelligence of the Western World, by an obstinate insistence upon the antiquated political jargon, the class-war cant, of fifty years ago? All things serve their purpose and die, and it was time that even the passing of Karl Marx, intellectually as well as physically, was recognised. It was as absurd now to cling to those old expressions as it would be to try to electrify Russia with the frictional electric machines or the zinc and copper batteries of 1864. Marxist class-war insurrectionism had become a real obstacle to the onward planning of a new world order. This was particularly evident in our English-speaking community.
This ancient doctrine that the proletariat or the politician temporarily representing him, can do no wrong, estranged the competent technologist, who was vitally essential to the new task, and inculcated a spirit of mystical mass enthusiasm opposed to all disciplined co-operation. I wanted to bring it plainly into our talk that Russia was now paying only lip service to human unity and solidarity; that she was in actual fact drifting along a way of her own to a socialism of her own, which was getting out of touch with world socialism, and training her teeming multitudes to misinterpret and antagonize the greater informal forces in the West making for world socialization and consolidation. Was it not possible, before opportunity slipped away from us, to form a general line of creative propaganda throughout the earth? . . .
It was typical of the way in which mental interchanges lag behind the swift achievements of material progress, that Stalin and I had to talk through an interpreter. He speaks a Georgian language and Russian and he does not even smatter any Western idiom. So we had to carry on our conversation in the presence of a foreign-office representative, Mr. Umansky. Mr. Umansky produced a book in which he made a rapid note in Russian of what each of us said, read out my speeches in Russian to Stalin and his, almost as readily, to me in English, and then sat alert-eyed over his glasses ready for the response. Necessarily a certain amount of my phraseology was lost in the process and a certain amount of Mr. Umansky’s replaced it. And our talk went all the slowlier because I was doing my best to check back, by what Stalin said, that he was getting the substance at least, if not the full implications, of what I was saying.
All lingering anticipations of a dour sinister Highlander vanished at the sight of him. He is one of those people who in a photograph or painting become someone entirely different. He is not easy to describe, and many descriptions exaggerate his darkness and stillness. His limited sociability and a simplicity that makes him inexplicable to the more consciously disingenuous, has subjected him to the strangest inventions of whispering scandal. His harmless, orderly, private life is kept rather more private than his immense public importance warrants, and when, a year or so ago, his wife died suddenly of some brain lesion, the imaginative spun a legend of suicide which a more deliberate publicity would have made impossible. All such shadowy undertow, all suspicion of hidden emotional tensions, ceased for ever, after I had talked to him for a few minutes.
My first impression was of a rather commonplace-looking man dressed in an embroidered white shirt, dark trousers and boots, staring out of the window of a large, generally empty, room. He turned rather shyly and shook hands in a friendly manner. His face also was commonplace, friendly and commonplace, not very well modelled, not in any way “fine”. He looked past me rather than at me but not evasively; it was simply that he had none of the abundant curiosity which had kept Lenin watching me closely from behind the hand he held over his defective eye, all the time he talked to me.
I began by saying that Lenin at the end of our conversation had said “Come back and see us in ten years”. I had let it run to fourteen, but now that I had seen Franklin Roosevelt in Washington I wanted to meet the ruling brain of the Kremlin while my Washington impressions were still fresh, because I thought that the two of them between them indicated the human future as no other two men could do. He said with a quite ordinary false modesty that he was only doing little things — just little things.
The conversation hung on a phase of shyness. We both felt friendly, and we wanted to be at our ease with each other, and we were not at our ease. He had evidently a dread of self-importance in the encounter; he posed not at all, but he knew we were going to talk of very great matters. He sat down at a table and Mr. Umansky sat down beside us, produced his note book and patted it open in a competent, expectant manner.
I felt there was heavy going before me but Stalin was so ready and willing to explain his position that in a little while the pause for interpretation was almost forgotten in the preparation of new phrases for the argument. I had supposed there was about forty minutes before me, but when at that period I made a reluctant suggestion of breaking off, he declared his firm intention of going on for three hours. And we did. We were both keenly interested in each other’s point of view. What I said was the gist of what I had intended to say and that I have told already; the only matter of interest here is how Stalin reacted to these ideas.
I do not know whether it illuminated Stalin or myself most penetratingly, but what impressed me most in that discussion was his refusal to see any sort of parallelism with the processes and methods and aims of Washington and Moscow. When I talked of the planned world to him, I talked in a language he did not understand. He looked at the proposition before him and made nothing of it. He has little of the quick uptake of President Roosevelt and none of the subtlety and tenacity of Lenin. Lenin was indeed saturated with Marxist phraseology, but he had a complete control of this phraseology. He could pour it into new meanings and use it for his own purposes. But Stalin was almost as much a trained mind, trained in the doctrines of Lenin and Marx, as those governess-trained minds of the British Foreign Office and diplomatic service, of which I have already written so unkindly. He was as little adaptable. The furnishing of his mind had stopped at the point reached by Lenin when he reconditioned Marxism. His was not a free impulsive brain nor a scientifically organized brain; it was a trained Leninist-Marxist brain. Sometimes I seemed to get him moving as I wanted him to move, but directly he felt he was having his feet shifted, he would clutch at some time-honoured phrase and struggle back to orthodoxy.
I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is, and to nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendency in Russia. I had thought before I saw him that he might be where he was because men were afraid of him, but I realize that he owes his position to the fact that no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him. The Russians are a people at once childish and subtle, and they have a justifiable fear of subtlety in themselves and others. Stalin is an exceptionally unsubtle Georgian. His unaffected orthodoxy is an assurance to his associates that whatever he does would be done without fundamental complications and in the best possible spirit. They had been fascinated by Lenin, and they feared new departures from his talismanic directions. And Stalin’s trained obduracy to the facts of to-day in our talk simply reflected, without the slightest originality, the trained and self-protective obduracy of his associates.
I not only attacked him with the assertion that large scale planning by the community, and a considerable socialization of transport and staple industries, was dictated by the mechanical developments of our time, and was going on quite as extensively outside the boundaries of Sovietdom as within them, but also I made a long criticism of the old-fashioned class-war propaganda, in which a macédoine of types and callings is jumbled up under the term bourgeoisie. That is one of the most fatal of the false simplifications in this collective human brain-storm which is the Russian revolution. I said that great sections in that mixture, the technicians, scientific workers, medical men, skilled foremen, skilled producers, aviators, operating engineers, for instance, would and should supply the best material for constructive revolution in the West, but that the current communist propaganda, with its insistence upon a mystical mass directorate, estranged and antagonised just these most valuable elements. Skilled workers and directors know that Jack is not as good as his master. Stalin saw my reasoning, but he was held back by his habitual reference to the proletarian mass — which is really nothing more than the “sovereign Peepul” of old fashioned democracy, renamed. That is to say it is nothing but a politician’s figment. It was amusing to shoot at him, with a lively knowledge of the facts of the October revolution, an assertion equally obvious and unorthodox, that “All Revolutions are made by minorities.” His honesty compelled him to admit that “at first” this might be so. I tried to get back to my idea of the possible convergence of West and East upon the socialist world state objective, by quoting Lenin as saying, after the Revolution, “Communism has now to learn Business,” and adding that in the West that had to be put the other way round. Business had now to learn the socialization of capital — which indeed is all that this Russian Communism now amounts to. It is a state-capitalism with a certain tradition of cosmopolitanism. West and East starting from entirely different levels of material achievement, had each now what the other lacked, and I was all for a planetary rounding off of the revolutionary process. But Stalin, now quite at his ease and interested, sucked thoughtfully at the pipe he had most politely asked my permission to smoke, shook his head and said “Nyet” reflectively. He was evidently very suspicious of this suggestion of complemental co-operation. It might be the thin end of a widening wedge. He lifted his hand rather like a schoolboy who is prepared to recite, and dictated a reply in party formulae. The movement of socialization in America was not a genuine proletarian revolution; the “capitalist” was just saving himself, pretending to divest himself of power and hiding round the corner to come back. That settled that. The one true faith was in Russia; there could be no other. America must have her October Revolution and follow her Russian leaders.
Later on we discussed liberty of expression. He admitted the necessity and excellence of criticism, but preferred that it should be home-made by the party within the party organization. There, he declared, criticism was extraordinarily painstaking and free. Outside criticism might be biased. . . .
I wound up according to my original intention by insisting upon the outstanding positions of himself and Roosevelt, and their ability to talk to the world in unison. But that came lamely because my hope for some recognition, however qualified, on the part of the man in control of Russia, of the present convergence towards a collective capitalism in the East and West alike, was badly damaged. He had said his piece to all my initiatives and he stayed put. I wished I could have talked good Russian or had an interpreter after my own heart. I could have got nearer to him then. Normal interpreters gravitate inevitably towards stereotyped phrases. Nothing suffers so much in translation as the freshness of an unfamiliar idea.
As I saw one personality after another in Moscow, I found myself more and more disposed to a psycho-analysis of this resistance which is offered to any real creative forces coming in from the West. It is very marked indeed. In a few years, if it is sustained, we may hear Moscow saying if not “Russia for the Russians,” then at least “Sovietdom for the followers of Marx and Lenin and down with everyone who will not bow to the Prophets,” which, so far as the peace and unity of the world is concerned, will amount to the same thing. There is a strong incorrigible patriotism beneath this Russian situation, all the more effective because it is disguised, just as there was an incorrigible French patriotism beneath the world-fraternisation of the first French revolution.
A day or so later I discussed birth control and liberty of expression at considerable length with Maxim Gorky and some of the younger Russian writers, in the beautiful and beautifully furnished house the government places at his disposal. Physically Gorky has changed very little since 1906 when I visited him, an amazed distressful refugee, upon Staten Island. I have described that earlier meeting in The Future in America. I stayed with him again in 1920 (Russia in the Shadows). Then he was a close friend of Lenin’s but disposed nevertheless to be critical of the new régime. Now he has become an unqualified Stalinite. Between us also, unhappily, an interpreter had to intervene, for Gorky, in spite of his long sojourn in Italy, has lapsed back to complete mono-lingualism.
Some years ago John Galsworthy helped to create an international net of literary societies called P.E.N. Clubs. At first they served only for amiable exchanges between the writers of the same and different countries, but the violent persecution of Jewish and leftish writers in Germany, and an attempt to seize and use the Berlin Pen Club for Nazi propaganda, raised new and grave issues for the organization. Just at that time Galsworthy died and I succeeded him as International President. I was drawn in as President and chairman to two stormy debates in Ragusa and Edinburgh respectively. The task of championing freedom of expression in art and literature was practically forced upon this weak but widespread organization. It had many defects, but it had access to considerable publicity, and in these questions publicity is of primary importance. Local battles to maintain the freedom and dignity of letters were fought in the Berlin, Vienna and Rome P.E.N. Clubs, and I now brought to these new Russian writers the question whether the time had not come to decontrol literary activities in Russia, and form a free and independent P.E.N. Club in Moscow. I unfolded my ideas about the necessity of free writing and speech and drawing in every highly organized state; the greater the political and social rigidity, I argued, the more the need for thought and comment to play about it. These were quite extraordinary ideas to all my hearers, though Gorky must have held them once. If so, he has forgotten them or put them behind him.
We wrangled for an hour or so at a long tea table, which had been set in a high sunny white portico, with fluttering swallows feeding their young above the capitals of the columns. About half a dozen of the younger Russian writers were present and the Litvinoffs came in from their equally beautiful villa on the far side of Moscow to join in the discussion. To me the most notable things by far about this talk were the set idea of everyone that literature should be under political control and restraint, and the extraordinary readiness to suspect a “capitalist” intrigue, to which all their brains, including Gorky’s, had been trained. I did not like to find Gorky against liberty. It wounded me.
I must confess indeed to a profound discontent with this last phase of his. Something human and distressful in him, which had warmed my sympathies in his fugitive days, has evaporated altogether. He has changed into a class-conscious proletarian Great Man. His prestige within the Soviet boundaries is colossal — and artificial. His literary work, respectable though it is, does not justify this immense fame. He has been inflated to a greatness beyond that of Robert Burns in Scotland or Shakespeare in England. He has become a sort of informal member of the government, and whenever the authorities have a difficulty about naming a new aeroplane or a new avenue or a new town or a new organization, they solve the difficulty by calling it Maxim Gorky. He seems quietly aware of the embalming, and the mausoleum and apotheosis awaiting him, when he too will become a sleeping Soviet divinity. Meanwhile he criticizes the younger writers and gathers them about him. And he sat beside me, my old friend, the erstwhile pelted outcast dismally in tears whom I tried to support and comfort upon Staten Island, half deified now and all dismay forgotten, looking sidelong at me with that Tartar face of his, and devising shrewd questions to reveal the spidery “capitalist” entanglement he suspected me of spinning. One sails westward and comes at last to the east, and here in Russia after the revolution, just as in Russia before the revolution, all round the world to the left, we have come to the worst vice of the right again, and literary expression is restricted to acceptable opinions.
It does not matter to Gorky, it seems, that our poor little P.E.N. organization has fought for a hearing for left extremists like Toller, and that all its battles so far have been to liberate the left. In this new-born world of dogmatic communism, he insisted, there was to be no recognition for White or Catholic or any sort of right writer, write he ever so beautifully. So Maxim Gorky, in 1934, to my amazement made out a case for the Americans who had hounded him out of New York in 1906.
I argued in vain that men had still the right to dispute the final perfection of Leninism. Through the media of art and literature, it was vital that they should render all that was in their minds, accepted or unorthodox, good or bad. For political action and social behaviour there must be conventions and laws, but there could be no laws and conventions in the world of expression. You could not lock up imaginations. You could not say, “thus far you may imagine and no further.” Socialism existed for the dignity and freedom of the soul of man, and not the soul of man for socialism. There were sceptical smiles as the translator did his best to render this queer assertion. Perhaps I made things too difficult for him by speaking of the soul of man.
Gorky, the reformed outcast, wagged his head slowly from side to side and produced excuses for this control of new thought and suggestion by officials. The liberty I was demanding as an essential in any Russian P.E.N. that might be founded, might be all very well in the stabler Anglo-Saxon world; we could afford to play with error and heresy; but Russia was like a country at war. It could not tolerate opposition. I had heard this stuff before. At Ragusa, Schmidt-Pauli, speaking for the Nazis, and at Edinburgh, Marinetti, the Fascist, had made precisely the same apologies for suppression.
I was inspired to produce an argument in the Hegelian form. I asserted that nothing could exist without the recognition of its opposite and that if you destroyed the opposite of a thing altogether the thing itself went dead. Life was reaction, and mental processes could achieve clear definition only by a full apprehension of contraries. From that I argued that if they suppressed men who sang or painted or wrote about the glories of individual freedom, the picturesqueness of merchandising, the mysteries of the religious imagination, pure artistry, caprice, kingship, sin or destruction and the delights of misbehaviour, then their Leninism also would lose its vitality and die. This was I think translated correctly to these exponents of the orthodox Russian temperament but they contrived no sort of reply.
Litvinoff cut across their indecision with a question whether I wanted to have the exiled White writers come to Moscow. I said that was for him to decide, it might do them and Russia a lot of good to have them back and listen to what they had to say, but anyhow the principle of the P.E.N. club was that no genuine artist or writer, whatever his social or political beliefs and implications might be, should be excluded from its membership. I had brought them my proposal and I promised I would leave a written version of it to put before the approaching Congress of Soviet Writers. If they chose to enter into the liberal brotherhood of the P.E.N. Clubs, well and good. If they did not, I should do my best to make their refusal known to the world. In the long run it would be the Russian intellectual movement that would suffer most by this insistence upon making its cultural relations with the outside world a one-way channel, an outgoing of all that Russia thought fit to tell the world and the refusal of any critical return. Mankind might even grow bored at last by a consciously heroic and unconsciously mystical Soviet Russia with wax in its ears.
Later on I found a rather different atmosphere in the household of Alexis Tolstoy at Detskoe Selo (which is Tsarskoe Selo rechristened). There too I met a number of writers and propounded this idea of a thin web of societies about the world associated to assert the freedom and dignity of art and literature. There has always been very marked mental, temperamental and political contrast between Leningrad and Moscow. The bearing of the two populations is very different and the former place has a large cold seventeenth century dignity and a northern quality which compares very vividly with the disorderly crowded street bustle, the bazaar animation of Moscow. Even the religiosity of the new faith has a different quality. There is nothing in the northern city with the emotional value of Lenin’s tomb, and the anti-God museum in the great church of St. Isaac opposite the Astoria Hotel is a mere argumentative brawl within the vast cold magnificence of that always most unspiritual fane. Christianity never was alive in Leningrad as it was at the shrine of the Black Virgin in Moscow and neither is the new Red religion as alive.
Perhaps I put my case to the Leningrad writers with better skill after my experience in Gorky’s villa, but I encountered none of the suspicion and rigid preconceptions of that first meeting. They were quite ready to accept the universalism of the P.E.N. proposal, and to assert the superiority of free scientific and artistic expression to considerations of political expediency. They promised to support my memorandum to the approaching Congress of Soviet Writers, proposing the constitution of a Russian P.E.N. centre, open to every shade of opinion, and I shall await the report of their clash with the definite intolerance of the Moscow brains with a very keen interest. But at the time of writing this Congress has still to meet.
I argued with Gorky also about birth control, because he, with many others of these Russian leaders, in a confusion between subconscious patriotism and creative optimism, is all for a Russia of four hundred or five hundred millions, regardless of how the rest of mankind may be faring. Russia may want soldiers to defend its Russianism, which is exactly on the level of Mussolini’s reasons for damning the thought of birth control in Italy. In the old days Gorky was a dire pessimist with a taste for gloomy colours, but now his optimism has become boundless. Under the red ensign the earth can support an increasing population, he seemed to argue, until standing room is exhausted. To the Proletariat under the new régime, as to God under the old, nothing is impossible. Where it gives mouths it will give food. The Soviet men of science, he imagines, can always be instructed and, if necessary, disciplined to that effect.
In Gorky’s study was a great book of plans which he thrust upon me. They were the plans of an almost incredibly splendid palace of biological science. It outdid the boldest buildings of the Czardom. Five hundred (or was it a thousand?) research students from abroad were always to be working there. Among other activities. Where is this? I asked. He produced a plan of Moscow and indicated the exact spot. I said I would like to go and see it. But, he smiled, it was not yet completed for me to see. I had a flash of understanding. I would like to go and see the foundations. But they have not yet begun the foundation! You shall see it, said Gorky, when you come again. It is only one of a group of vast research and educational establishments we are making. You need have no anxiety about the quality of scientific work in Soviet Russia or of its capacity to meet whatever calls are made upon it. In view of these plans.
From Gorky evoking biology in a land of controlled literature by waving an architect’s drawing at it, it was an immense relief to go and see some of the most significant biological work in the world actually in progress, in Pavlov’s new Institute of Psychological Genetics outside Leningrad. This is already in working order and still being rapidly enlarged under its founder’s direction. It is the least grandiose and most practicable group of research buildings in the world. Pavlov’s reputation is an immense asset to Soviet prestige and he is now given practically everything he asks for in the way of material. That much is to the credit of this government. I found the old man in vigorous health, and he took me and my biological son from one group of buildings to another at a smart trot, expounding his new work upon animal intelligence with the greatest animation as he did so. My son who has always followed his work closely, plied him with lively questions. Afterwards we sat in the house over glasses of tea and he talked on for a couple of hours. He is ruddy and white-haired; if Bernard Shaw were to trim and brush his hair and beard they would be almost indistinguishable. He is eighty-five and he wants to live to a hundred-and-five just to see how the work he has in hand will turn out.
My son and I had visited him in 1920 (in Russia in the Shadows), when Gip was still a Cambridge undergraduate, and so it was natural that a comparison of Russia in 1920 and Russia in 1934, should get into the stream of the discourse. He talked down his two Communist assistants who were at the table with us. He talked indeed as no other man in Russia would be permitted to talk. So far, he said, the new régime had produced no results worth considering. It was still a large clumsy experiment without proper controls. It might be a success in time, it was certainly a considerable nuisance to decent people with old-fashioned tastes, but at present there was neither time nor freedom in which to judge it. He seemed to see very little advantage in replacing the worship of the crucified by the worship of the embalmed. For his own part he still went to church. It was a good habit, he thought. He delivered a discourse quite after my heart on the need for absolute intellectual freedom, if scientific progress, if any sort of human progress, was to continue. And when I asked him what he felt about dialectical materialism, he exchanged derisive gestures with me, and left it at that. He will not be bothered by minor observances; he sticks to dating by the old weekday names, and his always very simple way of living has carried over, just as his magnificent researches have carried over, with scarcely a modification, from the days before the great change. There was by the bye a nursery with a real governess for his two grandchildren! I doubt if there is another governess in Soviet territory. As we came away my son said to me; “Odd to have passed a whole afternoon outside of Soviet Russia.”
That I thought was a good remark. But if we had been outside Soviet Russia, where had we been? That was not so easy. It wasn’t the Past. It was a little island of intellectual freedom? It was a scrap of the world republic of science? It was a glimpse of the future? But in the end we decided that it was just Pavlov.
If I had to talk to Stalin and Gorky and Alexis Tolstoy and Pavlov through a sort of verbal grille, there were other people about who could talk English, and who wilfully or inadvertently exposed some acutely interesting minor aspects of the new Russia. It seems beyond disputing that while the political controls incline to be excessive and oppressive, the lay-out of the material scheme, as one sees it in Moscow at least — for I saw nothing whatever of the planning of Leningrad — is hasty, amateurish and often shockingly incompetent. Disproportion is visible everywhere and all sorts of ineffectivenesses forced themselves on my attention during my ten-day stay quite without my looking for them; there is for instance still a shortage of paper to print even the books in greatest demand, and the paper used is often like thin packing paper; vitally important educational work is held up in consequence; the street traffic again in Moscow, although it has nothing like the volume of the traffic in London or Paris, is disorganised and dangerous, and if one does not belong to the automobile-using class — there are still classes of that sort — getting about is toilsome and tediously slow; the distribution of goods through a variety of shops with different prices and using different sorts of money is preposterously inconvenient. Moscow is growing very rapidly and the re-planning and rebuilding seemed to me poorly conceived. Since other great cities have their tube system, Moscow also is making an imitative tube system, although its alluvial water-bearing soil is highly unsuitable for the tubes they are making at the inadequate depth of thirty feet or so. It will be the least stable “Metropolitan” in the world, and it is plain the problem should have been approached from some other and more original direction. I was told by various apologists that what is being done in Moscow is not representative of the real Russian effort; that at different points, usually they are remote points, marvellous things are being achieved. But I suppose there are the same sort of people there as here in Moscow, and in Moscow, as planners and constructors, they are anything but marvellous.
The outstanding achievement of the new régime, when all is said and done, is the great change in the bearing of the new generation, which has cast off altogether the traditions of serfdom and looks the world bravely in the eye. Coupled with this, an integral part of it indeed, is the “liquidation of illiteracy.” But are either of these advances unprecedented? The common folk of the United States of America were as free, equal and confident in the days of simplicity a hundred years ago. And they had their common schools. It is really nothing so very miraculous to be almost the last country in Europe to respond to the need for a common citizen who can read. These people do not know anything of the rest of the world. But wait and see what these young people will do, interpolates my Bolshevik guide. A hundred years ago America was just such a land of promise.
Still more similar to this Russian change in manners, was the swift establishment of equalitarian phrases and attitudes after the first French Revolution. Neither American nor French democracy prevented a subsequent development of inequalities of power and fortune. Plutocracy succeeded Aristocracy. “This time,” say the Bolsheviks, “we have guarded against any similar relapse.” But though they may have abolished profiteering and speculation they have not abolished other sorts of advantage. Their defensive obscurantism makes just the shadows in which fresh infringements of human dignity can occur. As the initial revolutionary enthusiasm dies away, officialdom, protected from independent criticism, is bound to find its way to self-indulgence and privilege. All over Moscow and Petersburg you can bribe with foreign currency because of the absurd Torgsin system, and the population everywhere is learning to hop quickly and deferentially out of the way of an aggressively driven Lincoln car. The Communist propaganda is altogether too self-satisfied about the intensity and uniqueness of its revolution.
The perpetual reference of those who showed me about to something away over there or coming to-morrow, recalled the Spanish mañana. “Come and see us again in ten years’ time,” they say, at every revelation of insufficiency. If you say that a new building is ramshackle or flimsy they assure you that it is merely a temporary structure. “We don’t mind tearing things down again,” they explain. The impulse to shift things and pull them about seems to be stronger than the impulse to make. They are transferring the Academy of Sciences from Leningrad to Moscow for no reason that I can understand. Possibly it is to render the control of general scientific thought more effective. One Pavlov is enough for them; they do not want any revival of that old world radical mentality with its unrestrained criticism, its scepticism and its ridicule. They want their men of science to be industrious bees without stings and live in Gorky’s hive.
When Bubnov, the Commissar of Public Education, parted from me outside a charming exhibition of original paintings by little children, very like the original paintings by little children exhibited in every other country in the world, he broke out into happy anticipations of the lives this new generation would lead in a reconstructed Russia. “All this,” he said, pointing to a disorderly heap of builders’ muck which had submerged a little garden before us, “is temporary.” The constructors of the new Metropolitan had, it seems, just made this dump and then gone away for a bit. “This used to be a pretty park,” said Bubnov. But it would be all right ten years hence.
Bubnov and Stalin are now among the last survivors of the leaders who did the actual fighting of the revolution, and he said they both meant to live to be a hundred just to see the harvest of Russian prosperity coming in at last. But besides the children in the model schools there are plenty of unaccountable little ragamuffins flitting about the streets. If Stalin and Bubnov live to be two hundred, I feel, Russia will still remain the land of half fulfilled promises and erratic wanderings off to new beginnings.
I came out of Russia acutely frustrated and disappointed in my dream of doing anything worth while to define an understanding between the essentially revolutionary drives towards an organized socialism in America and Russia respectively. They will certainly go on apart and divergent with a maximum of mutual misunderstanding, at least until there is a new type of intelligence dominating the intellectual life of Communism. If I could have talked Russian, or if I had been clever enough to pervert the Marxist phraseology in Lenin’s fashion, I might perhaps have come near to my intention. I might have got into real contact with a mind here or there, if not the leading mind. I was fairly beaten in an enterprise too big for me.
As I thought it over in the homeward aeroplane, I felt that Russia had let me down, whereas I suppose the truth of what has happened is that I had allowed my sanguine and impatient temperament to anticipate understandings and lucidities that cannot arrive for many years. I shall never be able to imagine that what is plain to me is not plain to everyone. I had started out to find a short cut to the Open Conspiracy and discovered that, by such abilities as I possess, there is no short cut to be found to the Open Conspiracy.
I had expected to find a new Russia stirring in its sleep and ready to awaken to Cosmopolis, and I found it sinking deeper into the dope-dream of Sovietic self-sufficiency. I found Stalin’s imagination invincibly framed and set, and that ci-devant radical Gorky, magnificently installed as a sort of master of Russian thought. There are no real short-cuts perhaps, in the affairs of men, everyone lives in his own world and between his blinkers, whether they be wide or narrow, and I must console myself, I suppose, as well as I can, for my failure to get any response out of Russia, with such small occasional signs of spreading contemporary understanding as may appear in our own western life. There has always been a certain imaginative magic for me in Russia, and I lament the drift of this great land towards a new system of falsity as a lover might lament estrangement from his mistress.
The truth remains that to-day nothing stands in the way to the attainment of universal freedom and abundance but mental tangles, egocentric preoccupations, obsessions, misconceived phrases, bad habits of thought, subconscious fears and dreads and plain dishonesty in people’s minds — and especially in the minds of those in key positions. That universal freedom and abundance dangles within reach of us and is not achieved, and we who are Citizens of the Future wander about this present scene like passengers on a ship overdue, in plain sight of a port which only some disorder in the chart room, prevents us from entering. Though most of the people in the world in key positions are more or less accessible to me, I lack the solvent power to bring them into unison. I can talk to them and even unsettle them but I cannot compel their brains to see.
I went by the train called the “Red Arrow,” the Soviet echo of the Flèche d’Or, from Moscow to Leningrad and thence I flew to Tallin. I am finishing this autobiography in a friendly and restful house beside a little lake in Esthonia. . . .
I have done my best now to draw the outline and development of a contemporary mind reacting freely to the disintegrating and the synthetic forces of its time. Copious as this book has become I have still omitted a great bulk of comment and detail that did not seem to me to be of primary importance in this story of the awakening of world citizenship in a fairly normal human intelligence. It has not always been easy to disentangle irrelevant matter without desiccating the main argument. But in a life of eight-and-sixty years there accumulates so great a miscellany of memories and material that, but for some such check upon discursiveness as my design has given me, my flow of reminiscence might have gone on for ever. I confess to an uneasy realization now as I draw to my conclusion that I have not done any sort of justice to the keen interest of countless subsidiary happenings, to the fun of life and the loveliness of life and to much of the oddity of life, beyond the scope of its main essentials. I feel I have been so intent on my thesis, particularly in this very long concluding chapter, that I may have failed to convey my thankfulness to existence for being all else that it so incessantly and generously is. My generalizing impulses have perhaps ruled too much and made my picture of life bony and bare. In my effort to combine the truthful self-portrait of a very definite individual with an adequate reflection of the mental influences of type and period and to keep my outlines firm and clear, I have deliberately put many vivid memories and lively interludes aside, ignored a swarm of interesting personalities I have encountered, cut out great secondary systems of sympathy and said nothing whatever about all sorts of bright, beautiful and pleasant things that have whirled about me entertainingly for a time and then flown off at a tangent. I could write gaily of travels, mountain tramps, landfalls, cities, music, plays, gardens that have pleased me. . . .
What remains is the story of one of the most pampered and irresponsible of “Advanced Thinkers,” an uninvited adventurer who has felt himself free to criticize established things without restraint, who has spent his life planning how to wind up most of them and get rid of them, and who has been tolerated almost incredibly during this subversive career. Exasperation there has been, bans and boycotts from Boots to Boston; public schoolmasters and prison chaplains have intervened to protect their charges from my influence, Nazis have burnt my works, the Catholic Church and Italian Fascism have set their authority against me, and dear old voluble indignant Henry Arthur Jones in My Dear Wells! and many better equipped writers — Hilaire Belloc and Archbishop Downey for example — have been moved to write vehement controversial books. But refusals to listen and cries of disagreement are not suppression, and it would ill become an advanced thinker to complain of them. They are recognition. If they are not recognition of the advanced thinker himself, they are recognition of his supports and following, and of the greater forces of which he is the expression. I take it, therefore as a fair inference from the real immunity I have enjoyed, that such revolutionary proposals as mine are anything but unique and outstanding offences. What I have written openly and plainly is evidently in the thoughts of many people. In spite of much sporadic repressive activity, this new ferment of world-state ideas is spreading steadily throughout the world. Repression, even violent and murderous repression, there is, no doubt, in Germany, in Italy and elsewhere but, where it occurs, it has a curiously forced and hysterical quality; it is no longer whole-hearted repression by assured authority, it is indeed not so much the result of intolerant counter-conviction as resistance to conviction. It is on the defensive against itself. Its violence, in more cases than not, is the convulsive tightening of a slipping grip. The supporters of the thing that is, seem everywhere touched by doubt. Even more plainly is that the case with reactionaries. We advanced thinkers owe our present immunity, such as it is, very largely to the fact that even those of our generation who are formally quite against us, have nevertheless been moving, if less rapidly and explicitly, in the same direction as ourselves. In their hearts they do not believe we are essentially wrong; but they think we go too far — dangerously and presumptuously too far. Yet all we exist for — our sort — is to go too far for the pedestrian contingent. . . .
I began this autobiography primarily to reassure myself during a phase of fatigue, restlessness and vexation, and it has achieved its purpose of reassurance. I wrote myself out of that mood of discontent and forgot myself and a mosquito swarm of bothers in writing about my sustaining ideas. My ruffled persona has been restored and the statement of the idea of the modern world-state has reduced my personal and passing irritations and distractions to their proper insignificance. So long as one lives as an individual, vanities, lassitudes, lapses and inconsistencies will hover about and creep back into the picture, but I find nevertheless that this faith and service of constructive world revolution does hold together my mind and will in a prevailing unity, that it makes life continually worth living, transcends and minimizes all momentary and incidental frustrations and takes the sting out of the thought of death. The stream of life out of which we rise and to which we return has been restored to dominance in my consciousness, and though the part I play is, I believe, essential, it is significant only through the whole. The Open Conspirator can parallel — or, if you prefer to put it so, he can modernize — the self-identification of the religious mystic: he can say, “personally when I examine myself I am nothing”; and at the same time he can assert, “The Divinity and I are One”; or blending divinity with democratic kingship, “The World-State, c’est Moi.”
There is a necessary parallelism in the matured convictions of all intelligent people, because brains are made to much the same pattern and inevitably follow similar lines of development. Words, colourings and symbols can change very widely but not the essential forms of the psychological process. Since first man began to think he has been under a necessity to think in a limited number of definable shapes. He has to travel by the roads his ancestry made for him and their fences are well nigh insurmountable. So mystical Christianity, Islamic mysticism, Buddhist teaching, in their most refined and intense efforts towards distinctive penetration, have produced almost identical and quite easily interchangeable formulae for their mysteries. The process of generalization by which the mind seeks an escape from individual vexations and frustrations, from the petty overwhelming pains, anxieties and recriminations of the too acutely ego-centred life, is identical, whatever labels it is given and whatever attempts are made to establish exclusive rights in it. All these religions and every system of sublimation, has had to follow the same route to escape, because there is no other possible route. The idea of creative service to the World-State towards which the modern mind is gravitating, differs widely in its explicitness, its ordered content and its practical urgency, from the All of Being, the Inner Life, the Ultimate Truth, the Personal Divinity, the Friend who sticketh closer than a brother, who is nearer than breathing and closer than hands and feet, and all those other resorts of the older religions, but its releasing and enveloping relation to the individual persona is, in spite of all that difference in substance, almost precisely the same.
The difference between our modern consolation systems on the one hand and their homologues in the religions and conduct-philosophies of the past on the other, lies almost entirely in the increasingly monistic quality of the former. They imply an abandonment, more or less tacit or explicit, of that rash assumption of matter-spirit dualism, which has haunted human thought for thousands of generations. The change from egoism to a larger life is consequently now entirely a change of perspective; it can no longer be a facile rejection of primary conditions and a jump into “another world” altogether. It is still an escape from first-hand egoism and immediacy, but it is no longer an escape from fact. And the modern escape to impersonality is all the more effective and enduring because of this tougher, unambiguous adhesion to exterior factual reality. The easy circuitous return through shadowy realms of abstract unreality to egoism on a higher plane is barred; the Life of Contemplation and receptive expressionism, are no longer possible refuges. The educated modern mind, constrained to face forward is systematized but not abstracted. For all his devotion to larger issues, for all his subordination of lesser matters, the Open Conspirator like the Communist or the positivist man of science, remains as consistently actual as blood or hunger, right down to the ultimates of his being.
So ends this record of the growth and general adventure of my brain which, first squinted and bubbled at the universe and reached out its feeble little hands to grasp it, eight and sixty years ago, in a shabby bedroom over the china shop that was called Atlas House in High Street, Bromley, Kent.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02