I hold that the broad direction of conduct follows necessarily from belief. The believer does not require rewards and punishments to direct him to the right. Motive and idea are not so separable. To believe truly is to want to do right. To get salvation is to be unified by a comprehending idea of a purpose and by a ruling motive.
The believer wants to do right, he naturally and necessarily seeks to do right. If he fails to do right, if he finds he has done wrong instead of right, he is not greatly distressed or terrified, he naturally and cheerfully does his best to correct his error. He can be damned only by the fading and loss of his belief. And naturally he recurs to and refreshes his belief.
I write in phrases that the evangelical Christianity of my childhood made familiar to me, because they are the most expressive phrases I have ever met for the psychological facts with which I am dealing.
But faith, though it banishes fear and despair and brings with it a real prevailing desire to know and do the Good, does not in itself determine what is the Good or supply any simple guide to the choice between alternatives. If it did, there would be nothing more to be said, this book upon conduct would be unnecessary.
It seems to me one of the heedless errors of those who deal in philosophy, to suppose all things that have simple names or unified effects are in their nature simple and may be discovered and isolated as a sort of essence by analysis. It is natural to suppose — and I think it is also quite wrong to suppose — that such things as Good and Beauty can be abstracted from good and beautiful things and considered alone. But pure Good and pure Beauty are to me empty terms. It seems to me that these are in their nature synthetic things, that they arise out of the coming together of contributory things and conditions, and vanish at their dispersal; they are synthetic just as more obviously Harmony is synthetic. It is consequently not possible to give a definition of Good, just as it is not possible to give a definition of that other something which is so closely akin to it, Beauty. Nor is it to be maintained that what is good for one is good for another. But what is good of one’s general relations and what is right in action must be determined by the nature of one’s beliefs about the purpose in things. I have set down my broad impression of that purpose in respect to me, as the awakening and development of the consciousness and will of our species, and I have confessed my belief that in subordinating myself and all my motives to that idea lies my Salvation. It follows from that, that the good life is the life that most richly gathers and winnows and prepares experience and renders it available for the race, that contributes most effectively to the collective growth.
This is in general terms my idea of Good. So soon as one passes from general terms to the question of individual good, one encounters individuality; for everyone in the differing quality and measure of their personality and powers and possibilities, good and right must be different. We are all engaged, each contributing from his or her own standpoint, in the collective synthesis; whatever one can best do, one must do that; in whatever manner one can best help the synthesis, one must exert oneself; the setting apart of oneself, secrecy, the service of secret and personal ends, is the waste of life and the essential quality of Sin.
That is the general expression for right living as I conceive it.
In the study of what is Good, it is very convenient to make a rough division of our subject into general and particular. There are first the interests and problems that affect us all collectively, in which we have a common concern and from which no one may legitimately seek exemption; of these interests and problems we may fairly say every man should do so and so, or so and so, or the law should be so and so, or so and so; and secondly there are those other problems in which individual difference and the interplay of one or two individualities is predominant. This is of course no hard and fast classification, but it gives a method of approach. We can begin with the generalized person in ourselves and end with individuality.
In the world of ideas about me, I have found going on a great social and political movement that correlates itself with my conception of a great synthesis of human purpose as the aspect towards us of the universal scheme. This movement is Socialism. Socialism is to me no clear-cut system of theories and dogmas; it is one of those solid and extensive and synthetic ideas that are better indicated by a number of different formulae than by one, just as one only realizes a statue by walking round it and seeing it from a number of points of view. I do not think it is to be completely expressed by any one system of formulae or by any one man. Its common quality from nearly every point of view is the subordination of the will of the self-seeking individual to the idea of a racial well-being embodied in an organized state, organized for every end that can be obtained collectively. Upon that I seize; that is the value of Socialism for me.
Socialism for me is a common step we are all taking in the great synthesis of human purpose. It is the organization, in regard to a great mass of common and fundamental interests that have hitherto been dispersedly served, of a collective purpose.
I see humanity scattered over the world, dispersed, conflicting, unawakened . . . I see human life as avoidable waste and curable confusion. I see peasants living in wretched huts knee-deep in manure, mere parasites on their own pigs and cows; I see shy hunters wandering in primaeval forests; I see the grimy millions who slave for industrial production; I see some who are extravagant and yet contemptible creatures of luxury, and some leading lives of shame and indignity; tens of thousands of wealthy people wasting lives in vulgar and unsatisfying trivialities, hundreds of thousands meanly chaffering themselves, rich or poor, in the wasteful byways of trade; I see gamblers, fools, brutes, toilers, martyrs. Their disorder of effort, the spectacle of futility, fills me with a passionate desire to end waste, to create order, to develop understanding . . . All these people reflect and are part of the waste and discontent of my life, and this co-ordination of the species to a common general end, and the quest for my personal salvation, are the social and the individual aspect of essentially the same desire . . .
And yet dispersed as all these people are, they are far more closely drawn together to common ends and common effort than the filthy savages who ate food rotten and uncooked in the age of unpolished stone. They live in the mere opening phase of a synthesis of effort the end of which surpasses our imagination. Such intercourse and community as they have is only a dawn. We look towards the day, the day of the organized civilized world state. The first clear intimation of that conscious synthesis of human thought to which I look, the first edge of the dayspring, has arisen — as Socialism, as I conceive of Socialism. Socialism is to me no more and no less than the awakening of a collective consciousness in humanity, a collective will and a collective mind out of which finer individualities may arise forever in a perpetual series of fresh endeavours and fresh achievements for the race.
It is necessary to point out that a Socialism arising in this way out of the conception of a synthesis of the will and thought of the species will necessarily differ from conceptions of Socialism arrived at in other and different ways. It is based on a self-discontent and self-abnegation and not on self-satisfaction, and it will be a scheme of persistent thought and construction, essentially, and it will support this or that method of law-making, or this or that method of economic exploitation, or this or that matter of social grouping, only incidentally and in relation to that.
Such a conception of Socialism is very remote in spirit, however it may agree in method, from that philanthropic administrative socialism one finds among the British ruling and administrative class. That seems to me to be based on a pity which is largely unjustifiable and a pride that is altogether unintelligent. The pity is for the obvious wants and distresses of poverty, the pride appears in the arrogant and aggressive conception of raising one’s fellows. I have no strong feeling for the horrors and discomforts of poverty as such, sensibilities can be hardened to endure the life led by the “Romans” in Dartmoor jail a hundred years ago (See “The Story of Dartmoor Prison” by Basil Thomson (Heinemann — 1907).), or softened to detect the crumpled rose-leaf; what disgusts me is the stupidity and warring purposes of which poverty is the outcome. When it comes to the idea of raising human beings, I must confess the only person I feel concerned about raising is H.G. Wells, and that even in his case my energies might be better employed. After all, presently he must die and the world will have done with him. His output for the species is more important than his individual elevation.
Moreover, all this talk of raising implies a classification I doubt. I find it hard to fix any standards that will determine who is above me and who below. Most people are different from me I perceive, but which among them is better, which worse? I have a certain power of communicating with other minds, but what experiences I communicate seem often far thinner and poorer stuff than those which others less expressive than I half fail to communicate and half display to me. My “inferiors,” judged by the common social standards, seem indeed intellectually more limited than I and with a narrower outlook; they are often dirtier and more driven, more under the stress of hunger and animal appetites; but on the other hand have they not more vigorous sensations than I, and through sheer coarsening and hardening of fibre, the power to do more toilsome things and sustain intenser sensations than I could endure? When I sit upon the bench, a respectable magistrate, and commit some battered reprobate for trial for this lurid offence or that, or send him or her to prison for drunkenness or such-like indecorum, the doubt drifts into my mind which of us after all is indeed getting nearest to the keen edge of life. Are I and my respectable colleagues much more than successful evasions of THAT? Perhaps these people in the dock know more of the essential strains and stresses of nature, are more intimate with pain. At any rate I do not think I am justified in saying certainly that they do not know . . .
No, I do not want to raise people using my own position as a standard, I do not want to be one of a gang of consciously superior people, I do not want arrogantly to change the quality of other lives. I do not want to interfere with other lives, except incidentally — incidentally, in this way that I do want to get to an understanding with them, I do want to share and feel with them in our commerce with the collective mind. I suppose I do not stretch language very much when I say I want to get rid of stresses and obstacles between our minds and personalities and to establish a relation that is understanding and sympathy.
I want to make more generally possible a relationship of communication and interchange, that for want of a less battered and ambiguous word I must needs call love.
And if I disavow the Socialism of condescension, so also do I disavow the Socialism of revolt. There is a form of Socialism based upon the economic generalizations of Marx, an economic fatalistic Socialism that I hold to be rather wrong in its vision of facts, rather more distinctly wrong in its theory, and altogether wrong and hopeless in its spirit. It preaches, as inevitable, a concentration of property in the hands of a limited number of property owners and the expropriation of the great proletarian mass of mankind, a concentration which is after all no more than a tendency conditional on changing and changeable conventions about property, and it finds its hope of a better future in the outcome of a class conflict between the expropriated Many and the expropriating Few. Both sides are to be equally swayed by self-interest, but the toilers are to be gregarious and mutually loyal in their self-interest — Heaven knows why, except that otherwise the Marxist dream will not work. The experience of contemporary events seems to show at least an equal power of combination for material ends among owners and employers as among workers.
Now this class-war idea is one diametrically opposed to that religious-spirited Socialism which supplies the form of my general activities. This class-war idea would exacerbate the antagonism of the interests of the many individuals against the few individuals, and I would oppose the conceiving of the Whole to the self-seeking of the Individual. The spirit and constructive intention of the many to-day are no better than those of the few, poor and rich alike are over-individualized, self-seeking and non-creative; to organize the confused jostling competitions, over-reachings, envies and hatreds of to-day into two great class-hatreds and antagonisms will advance the reign of love at most only a very little, only so far as it will simplify and make plain certain issues. It may very possibly not advance the reign of love at all, but rather shatter the order we have. Socialism, as I conceive it, and as I have presented it in my book, “New Worlds for Old,” seeks to change economic arrangements only by the way, as an aspect and outcome of a great change, a change in the spirit and method of human intercourse.
I know that here I go beyond the limits many Socialists in the past, and some who are still contemporary, have set themselves. Much Socialism to-day seems to think of itself as fighting a battle against poverty and its concomitants alone. Now poverty is only a symptom of a profounder evil and is never to be cured by itself. It is one aspect of divided and dispersed purposes. If Socialism is only a conflict with poverty, Socialism is nothing. But I hold that Socialism is and must be a battle against human stupidity and egotism and disorder, a battle fought all through the forests and jungles of the soul of man. As we get intellectual and moral light and the realization of brotherhood, so social and economic organization will develop. But the Socialist may attack poverty for ever, disregarding the intellectual and moral factors that necessitate it, and he will remain until the end a purely economic doctrinaire crying in the wilderness in vain.
And if I antagonize myself in this way to the philanthropic Socialism of kindly prosperous people on the one hand and to the fierce class-hatred Socialism on the other, still more am I opposed to that furtive Socialism of the specialist which one meets most typically in the Fabian Society. It arises very naturally out of what I may perhaps call specialist fatigue and impatience. It is very easy for writers like myself to deal in the broad generalities of Socialism and urge their adoption as general principles; it is altogether another affair with a man who sets himself to work out the riddle of the complications of actuality in order to modify them in the direction of Socialism. He finds himself in a jungle of difficulties that strain his intellectual power to the utmost. He emerges at last with conclusions, and they are rarely the obvious conclusions, as to what needs to be done. Even the people of his own side he finds do not see as he sees; they are, he perceives, crude and ignorant.
Now I hold that his duty is to explain his discoveries and intentions until they see as he sees. But the specialist temperament is often not a generalizing and expository temperament. Specialists are apt to measure minds by their speciality and underrate the average intelligence. The specialist is appalled by the real task before him, and he sets himself by tricks and misrepresentations, by benevolent scoundrelism in fact, to effect changes he desires. Too often he fails even in that. Where he might have found fellowship he arouses suspicion. And even if a thing is done in this way, its essential merit is lost. For it is better, I hold, for a man to die of his disease than to be cured unwittingly. That is to cheat him of life and to cheat life of the contribution his consciousness might have given it.
The Socialism of my beliefs rests on a profounder faith and broader proposition. It looks over and beyond the warring purposes of to-day as a general may look over and beyond a crowd of sullen, excited and confused recruits, to the day when they will be disciplined, exercised, trained, willing and convergent on a common end. It holds persistently to the idea of men increasingly working in agreement, doing things that are sane to do, on a basis of mutual helpfulness, temperance and toleration. It sees the great masses of humanity rising out of base and immediate anxieties, out of dwarfing pressures and cramped surroundings, to understanding and participation and fine effort. It sees the resources of the earth husbanded and harvested, economized and used with scientific skill for the maximum of result. It sees towns and cities finely built, a race of beings finely bred and taught and trained, open ways and peace and freedom from end to end of the earth. It sees beauty increasing in humanity, about humanity and through humanity. Through this great body of mankind goes evermore an increasing understanding, an intensifying brotherhood. As Christians have dreamt of the New Jerusalem so does Socialism, growing ever more temperate, patient, forgiving and resolute, set its face to the World City of Mankind.
Before I go on to point out the broad principles of action that flow from this wide conception of Socialism, I may perhaps give a section to elucidating that opposition of hate and love I made when I dealt with the class war. I have already used the word love several times; it is an ambiguous word and it may be well to spend a few words in making clear the sense in which it is used here. I use it in a very broad sense to convey all that complex of motives, impulses, sentiments, that incline us to find our happiness and satisfactions in the happiness and sympathy of others. Essentially it is a synthetic force in human affairs, the merger tendency, a linking force, an expression in personal will and feeling of the common element and interest. It insists upon resemblances and shares and sympathies. And hate, I take it, is the emotional aspect of antagonism, it is the expression in personal will and feeling of the individual’s separation from others. It is the competing and destructive tendency. So long as we are individuals and members of a species, we must needs both hate and love. But because I believe, as I have already confessed, that the oneness of the species is a greater fact than individuality, and that we individuals are temporary separations from a collective purpose, and since hate eliminates itself by eliminating its objects, whilst love multiplies itself by multiplying its objects, so love must be a thing more comprehensive and enduring than hate.
Moreover, hate must be in its nature a good thing. We individuals exist as such, I believe, for the purpose in things, and our separations and antagonisms serve that purpose. We play against each other like hammer and anvil. But the synthesis of a collective will in humanity, which is I believe our human and terrestrial share in that purpose, is an idea that carries with it a conception of a secular alteration in the scope and method of both love and hate. Both widen and change with man’s widening and developing apprehension of the purpose he serves. The savage man loves in gusts a fellow creature or so about him, and fears and hates all other people. Every expansion of his scope and ideas widens either circle. The common man of our civilized world loves not only many of his friends and associates systematically and enduringly, but dimly he loves also his city and his country, his creed and his race; he loves it may be less intensely but over a far wider field and much more steadily. But he hates also more widely if less passionately and vehemently than a savage, and since love makes rather harmony and peace and hate rather conflict and events, one may easily be led to suppose that hate is the ruling motive in human affairs. Men band themselves together in leagues and loyalties, in cults and organizations and nationalities, and it is often hard to say whether the bond is one of love for the association or hatred of those to whom the association is antagonized. The two things pass insensibly into one another. London people have recently seen an edifying instance of the transition, in the Brown Dog statue riots. A number of people drawn together by their common pity for animal suffering, by love indeed of the most disinterested sort, had so forgotten their initial spirit as to erect a monument with an inscription at once recklessly untruthful, spiteful in spirit and particularly vexatious to one great medical school of London. They have provoked riots and placarded London with taunts and irritating misrepresentation of the spirit of medical research, and they have infected a whole fresh generation of London students with a bitter partizan contempt for the humanitarian effort that has so lamentably misconducted itself. Both sides vow they will never give in, and the anti-vivisectionists are busy manufacturing small china copies of the Brown Dog figure, inscription and all, for purposes of domestic irritation. Here hate, the evil ugly brother of effort, has manifestly slain love the initiator and taken the affair in hand. That is a little model of human conflicts. So soon as we become militant and play against one another, comes this danger of strain and this possible reversal of motive. The fight begins. Into a pit of heat and hate fall right and wrong together.
Now it seems to me that a religious faith such as I have set forth in the second Book, and a clear sense of our community of blood with all mankind, must necessarily affect both our loving and our hatred. It will certainly not abolish hate, but it will subordinate it altogether to love. We are individuals, so the Purpose presents itself to me, in order that we may hate the things that have to go, ugliness, baseness, insufficiency, unreality, that we may love and experiment and strive for the things that collectively we seek — power and beauty. Before our conversion we did this darkly and with our hate spreading to persons and parties from the things for which they stood. But the believer will hate lovingly and without fear. We are of one blood and substance with our antagonists, even with those that we desire keenly may die and leave no issue in flesh or persuasion. They all touch us and are part of one necessary experience. They are all necessary to the synthesis, even if they are necessary only as the potato-peel in the dust-bin is necessary to my dinner.
So it is I disavow and deplore the whole spirit of class-war Socialism with its doctrine of hate, its envious assault upon the leisure and freedom of the wealthy. Without leisure and freedom and the experience of life they gave, the ideas of Socialism could never have been born. The true mission of Socialism is against darkness, vanity and cowardice, that darkness which hides from the property owner the intense beauty, the potentialities of interest, the splendid possibilities of life, that vanity and cowardice that make him clutch his precious holdings and fear and hate the shadow of change. It has to teach the collective organization of society; and to that the class-consciousness and intense class-prejudices of the worker need to bow quite as much as those of the property owner. But when I say that Socialism’s mission is to teach, I do not mean that its mission is a merely verbal and mental one; it must use all instruments and teach by example as well as precept. Socialism by becoming charitable and merciful will not cease to be militant. Socialism must, lovingly but resolutely, use law, use force, to dispossess the owners of socially disadvantageous wealth, as one coerces a lunatic brother or takes a wrongfully acquired toy from a spoilt and obstinate child. It must intervene between all who would keep their children from instruction in the business of citizenship and the lessons of fraternity. It must build and guard what it builds with laws and with that sword which is behind all laws. Non-resistance is for the non-constructive man, for the hermit in the cave and the naked saint in the dust; the builder and maker with the first stroke of his foundation spade uses force and opens war against the anti-builder.
The belief I have that contributing to the development of the collective being of man is the individual’s general meaning and duty, and the formulae of the Socialism which embodies this belief so far as our common activities go, give a general framework and direction how a man or woman should live. (I do throughout all this book mean man or woman equally when I write of “man,” unless it is manifestly inapplicable.)
And first in this present time he must see to it that he does live, that is to say he must get food, clothing, covering, and adequate leisure for the finer aspects of living. Socialism plans an organized civilization in which these things will be a collective solicitude, and the gaining of a subsistence an easy preliminary to the fine drama of existence, but in the world as we have it we are forced to engage much of our energy in scrambling for these preliminary necessities. Our problems of conduct lie in the world as it is and not in the world as we want it to be. First then a man must get a living, a fair civilized living for himself. It is a fundamental duty. It must be a fair living, not pinched nor mean nor strained. A man can do nothing higher, he can be no service to any cause, until he himself is fed and clothed and equipped and free. He must earn this living or equip himself to earn it in some way not socially disadvantageous, he must contrive as far as possible that the work he does shall be constructive and contributory to the general well-being.
And these primary necessities of food, clothing and freedom being secured, one comes to the general disposition of one’s surplus energy. With regard to that I think that a very simple proposition follows from the broad beliefs I have chosen to adopt. The general duty of a man, his existence being secured, is to educate, and chiefly to educate and develop himself. It is his duty to live, to make all he can out of himself and life, to get full of experience, to make himself fine and perceiving and expressive, to render his experience and perceptions honestly and helpfully to others. And in particular he has to educate himself and others with himself in Socialism. He has to make and keep this idea of synthetic human effort and of conscious constructive effort clear first to himself and then clear in the general mind. For it is an idea that comes and goes. We are all of us continually lapsing from it towards individual isolation again. He needs, we all need, constant refreshment in this belief if it is to remain a predominant living fact in our lives.
And that duty of education, of building up the collective idea and organization of humanity, falls into various divisions depending in their importance upon individual quality. For all there is one personal work that none may evade, and that is thinking hard, criticising strenuously and understanding as clearly as one can religion, socialism and the general principle of one’s acts. The intellectual factor is of primary importance in my religion. I can see no more reason why salvation should come to the intellectually incapable than to the morally incapable. For simple souls thinking in simple processes, salvation perhaps comes easily, but there is none for the intellectual coward, for the mental sloven and sluggard, for the stupid and obdurate mind. The Believer will think hard and continue to grow and learn, to read and seek discussion as his needs determine.
Correlated with one’s own intellectual activity, part of it and growing out of it for almost everyone, is intellectual work with and upon others. By teaching we learn. Not to communicate one’s thoughts to others, to keep one’s thoughts to oneself as people say, is either cowardice or pride. It is a form of sin. It is a duty to talk, teach, explain, write, lecture, read and listen. Every truly religious man, every good Socialist, is a propagandist. Those who cannot write or discuss can talk, those who cannot argue can induce people to listen to others and read. We have a belief and an idea that we want to spread, each to the utmost of his means and measure, throughout all the world. We have a thought that we want to make humanity’s thought. And it is a duty too that one should, within the compass of one’s ability, make teaching, writing and lecturing possible where it has not existed before. This can be done in a hundred ways, by founding and enlarging schools and universities and chairs, for example; by making print and reading and all the material of thought cheap and abundant, by organizing discussion and societies for inquiry.
And talk and thought and study are but the more generalized aspects of duty. The Believer may find his own special aptitude lies rather among concrete things, in experimenting and promoting experiments in collective action. Things teach as well as words, and some of us are most expressive by concrete methods. The Believer will work himself and help others to his utmost in all those developments of material civilization, in organized sanitation for example, all those developments that force collective acts upon communities and collective realizations into the minds of men. And the whole field of scientific research is a field of duty calling to everyone who can enter it, to add to the permanent store of knowledge and new resources for the race.
The Mind of that Civilized State we seek to make by giving ourselves into its making, is evidently the central work before us. But while the writer, the publisher and printer, the bookseller and librarian and teacher and preacher, the investigator and experimenter, the reader and everyone who thinks, will be contributing themselves to this great organized mind and intention in the world, many sorts of specialized men will be more immediately concerned with parallel and more concrete aspects of the human synthesis. The medical worker and the medical investigator, for example, will be building up the body of a new generation, the body of the civilized state, and he will be doing all he can, not simply as an individual, but as a citizen, to ORGANIZE his services of cure and prevention, of hygiene and selection. A great and growing multitude of men will be working out the apparatus of the civilized state; the organizers of transit and housing, the engineers in their incessantly increasing variety, the miners and geologists estimating the world’s resources in metals and minerals, the mechanical inventors perpetually economizing force. The scientific agriculturist again will be studying the food supply of the world as a whole, and how it may be increased and distributed and economized. And to the student of law comes the task of rephrasing his intricate and often quite beautiful science in relation to modern conceptions. All these and a hundred other aspects are integral to the wide project of Constructive Socialism as it shapes itself in my faith.
When we lay down the proposition that it is one’s duty to get one’s living in some way not socially disadvantageous, and as far as possible by work that is contributory to the general well-being and development, when we state that one’s surplus energies, after one’s living is gained, must be devoted to experience, self-development and constructive work, it is clear we condemn by implication many modes of life that are followed to-day.
For example, it is manifest we condemn living in idleness or on non-productive sport, on the income derived from private property, and all sorts of ways of earning a living that cannot be shown to conduce to the constructive process. We condemn trading that is merely speculative, and in fact all trading and manufacture that is not a positive social service; we condemn living by gambling or by playing games for either stakes or pay. Much more do we condemn dishonest or fraudulent trading and every act of advertisement that is not punctiliously truthful. We must condemn too the taking of any income from the community that is neither earned nor conceded in the collective interest. But to this last point, and to certain issues arising out of it, I will return in the section next following this one.
And it follows evidently from our general propositions that every form of prostitution is a double sin, against one’s individuality and against the species which we serve by the development of that individuality’s preferences and idiosyncracies.
And by prostitution I mean not simply the act of a woman who sells for money, and against her thoughts and preferences, her smiles and endearments and the secret beauty and pleasure of her body, but the act of anyone who, to gain a living, suppresses himself, does things in a manner alien to himself and subserves aims and purposes with which he disagrees. The journalist who writes against his personal convictions, the solicitor who knowingly assists the schemes of rogues, the barrister who pits himself against what he perceives is justice and the right, the artist who does unbeautiful things or less beautiful things than he might, simply to please base employers, the craftsman who makes instruments for foolish uses or bad uses, the dealer who sells and pushes an article because it fits the customer’s folly; all these are prostitutes of mind and soul if not of body, with no right to lift an eyebrow at the painted disasters of the streets.
These broad principles about one’s way of living are very simple; our minds move freely among them. But the real interest is with the individual case, and the individual case is almost always complicated by the fact that the existing social and economic system is based upon conditions that the growing collective intelligence condemns as unjust and undesirable, and that the constructive spirit in men now seeks to supersede. We have to live in a provisional State while we dream of and work for a better one.
The ideal life for the ordinary man in a civilized, that is to say a Socialist, State would be in public employment or in private enterprise aiming at public recognition. But in our present world only a small minority can have that direct and honourable relation of public service in the work they do; most of the important business of the community is done upon the older and more tortuous private ownership system, and the great mass of men in socially useful employment find themselves working only indirectly for the community and directly for the profit of a private owner, or they themselves are private owners. Every man who has any money put by in the bank, or any money invested, is a private owner, and in so far as he draws interest or profit from this investment he is a social parasite. It is in practice almost impossible to divest oneself of that parasitic quality however straightforward the general principle may be.
It is practically impossible for two equally valid sets of reasons. The first is that under existing conditions, saving and investment constitute the only way to rest and security in old age, to leisure, study and intellectual independence, to the safe upbringing of a family and the happiness of one’s weaker dependents. These are things that should not be left for the individual to provide; in the civilized state, the state itself will insure every citizen against these anxieties that now make the study of the City Article almost a duty. To abandon saving and investment to-day, and to do so is of course to abandon all insurance, is to become a driven and uncertain worker, to risk one’s personal freedom and culture and the upbringing and efficiency of one’s children. It is to lower the standard of one’s personal civilization, to think with less deliberation and less detachment, to fall away from that work of accumulating fine habits and beautiful and pleasant ways of living contributory to the coming State. And in the second place there is not only no return for such a sacrifice in anything won for Socialism, but for fine-thinking and living people to give up property is merely to let it pass into the hands of more egoistic possessors. Since at present things must be privately owned, it is better that they should be owned by people consciously working for social development and willing to use them to that end.
We have to live in the present system and under the conditions of the present system, while we work with all our power to change that system for a better one.
The case of Cadburys the cocoa and chocolate makers, and the practical slavery under the Portuguese of the East African negroes who grow the raw material for Messrs. Cadbury, is an illuminating one in this connection. The Cadburys, like the Rowntrees, are well known as an energetic and public-spirited family, their social and industrial experiments at Bournville and their general social and political activities are broad and constructive in the best sense. But they find themselves in the peculiar dilemma that they must either abandon an important and profitable portion of their great manufacture or continue to buy produce grown under cruel and even horrible conditions. Their retirement from the branch of the cocoa and chocolate trade concerned would, under these circumstances, mean no diminution of the manufacture or of the horrors of this particular slavery; it would merely mean that less humanitarian manufacturers would step in to take up the abandoned trade. The self-righteous individualist would have no doubts about the question; he would keep his hands clean anyhow, retrench his social work, abandon the types of cocoa involved, and pass by on the other side. But indeed I do not believe we came into the mire of life simply to hold our hands up out of it. Messrs. Cadbury follow a better line; they keep their business going, and exert themselves in every way to let light into the secrets of Portuguese East Africa and to organize a better control of these labour cruelties. That I think is altogether the right course in this difficulty.
We cannot keep our hands clean in this world as it is. There is no excuse indeed for a life of fraud or any other positive fruitless wrong-doing or for a purely parasitic non-productive life, yet all but the fortunate few who are properly paid and recognized state servants must in financial and business matters do their best amidst and through institutions tainted with injustice and flawed with unrealities. All Socialists everywhere are like expeditionary soldiers far ahead of the main advance. The organized state that should own and administer their possessions for the general good has not arrived to take them over; and in the meanwhile they must act like its anticipatory agents according to their lights and make things ready for its coming.
The Believer then who is not in the public service, whose life lies among the operations of private enterprise, must work always on the supposition that the property he administers, the business in which he works, the profession he follows, is destined to be taken over and organized collectively for the commonweal and must be made ready for the taking over; that the private outlook he secures by investment, the provision he makes for his friends and children, are temporary, wasteful, though at present unavoidable devices to be presently merged in and superseded by the broad and scientific previsions of the co-operative commonwealth.
These principles give a rule also for the problem that faces the great majority of thinking wives and mothers to-day. The most urgent and necessary social work falls upon them; they bear, and largely educate and order the homes of, the next generation, and they have no direct recognition from the community for either of these supreme functions. They are supposed to perform them not for God or the world, but to please and satisfy a particular man. Our laws, our social conventions, our economic methods, so hem a woman about that, however fitted for and desirous of maternity she may be, she can only effectually do that duty in a dependent relation to her husband. Nearly always he is the paymaster, and if his payments are grudging or irregular, she has little remedy short of a breach and the rupture of the home. Her duty is conceived of as first to him and only secondarily to her children and the State. Many wives become under these circumstances mere prostitutes to their husbands, often evading the bearing of children with their consent and even at their request, and “loving for a living.” That is a natural outcome of the proprietary theory of the family out of which our civilization emerges. But our modern ideas trend more and more to regard a woman’s primary duty to be her duty to the children and to the world to which she gives them. She is to be a citizen side by side with her husband; no longer is he to intervene between her and the community. As a matter of contemporary fact he can do so and does so habitually, and most women have to square their ideas of life to that possibility.
Before any woman who is clear-headed enough to perceive that this great business of motherhood is one of supreme public importance, there are a number of alternatives at the present time. She may, like Grant Allan’s heroine in “The Woman Who Did,” declare an exaggerated and impossible independence, refuse the fetters of marriage and bear children to a lover. This, in the present state of public opinion in almost every existing social atmosphere, would be a purely anarchistic course. It would mean a fatherless home, and since the woman will have to play the double part of income-earner and mother, an impoverished and struggling home. It would mean also an unsocial because ostracized home. In most cases, and even assuming it to be right in idea, it would still be on all fours with that immediate abandonment of private property we have already discussed, a sort of suicide that helps the world nothing.
Or she may “strike,” refuse marriage and pursue a solitary and childless career, engaging her surplus energies in constructive work. But that also is suicide; it is to miss the keenest experiences, the finest realities life has to offer.
Or she may meet a man whom she can trust to keep a treaty with her and supplement the common interpretations and legal insufficiencies of the marriage bond, who will respect her always as a free and independent person, will abstain absolutely from authoritative methods, and will either share and trust his income and property with her in a frank communism, or give her a sufficient and private income for her personal use. It is only fair under existing economic conditions that at marriage a husband should insure his life in his wife’s interest, and I do not think it would be impossible to bring our legal marriage contract into accordance with modern ideas in that matter. Certainly it should be legally imperative that at the birth of each child a new policy upon its father’s life, as the income-getter, should begin. The latter provision at least should be a normal condition of marriage and one that the wife should have power to enforce when payments fall away. With such safeguards and under such conditions marriage ceases to be a haphazard dependence for a woman, and she may live, teaching and rearing and free, almost as though the co-operative commonwealth had come.
But in many cases, since great numbers of women marry so young and so ignorantly that their thinking about realities begins only after marriage, a woman will find herself already married to a man before she realizes the significance of these things. She may be already the mother of children. Her husband’s ideas may not be her ideas. He may dominate, he may prohibit, he may intervene, he may default. He may, if he sees fit, burthen the family income with the charges of his illegitimate offspring.
We live in the world as it is and not in the world as it should be. That sentence becomes the refrain of this discussion.
The normal modern married woman has to make the best of a bad position, to do her best under the old conditions, to live as though she was under the new conditions, to make good citizens, to give her spare energies as far as she can to bringing about a better state of affairs. Like the private property owner and the official in a privately owned business, her best method of conduct is to consider herself an unrecognized public official, irregularly commanded and improperly paid. There is no good in flagrant rebellion. She has to study her particular circumstances and make what good she can out of them, keeping her face towards the coming time. I cannot better the image I have already used for the thinking and believing modern-minded people of to-day as an advance guard cut off from proper supplies, ill furnished so that makeshift prevails, and rather demoralized. We have to be wise as well as loyal; discretion itself is loyalty to the coming State.
In the previous section I have dealt with the single individual’s duty in relation to the general community and to law and generally received institutions. But there is a new set of questions now to be considered. Let us take up the modifications that arise when it is not one isolated individual but a group of individuals who find themselves in disagreement with contemporary rule or usage and disposed to find a rightness in things not established or not conceded. They too live in the world as it is and not in the world as it ought to be, but their association opens up quite new possibilities of anticipating coming developments of living, and of protecting and guaranteeing one another from what for a single unprotected individual would be the inevitable consequences of a particular line of conduct, conduct which happened to be unorthodox or only, in the face of existing conditions, unwise.
For example, a friend of mine who had read a copy of the preceding section wrote as follows:—
“I can see no reason why even to-day a number of persons avowedly united in the same ‘Belief’ and recognizing each other as the self-constituted social vanguard should not form a recognized spiritual community centering round some kind of ‘religious’ edifice and ritual, and agree to register and consecrate the union of any couples of the members according to a contract which the whole community should have voted acceptable. The community would be the guardian of money deposited or paid in gradually as insurance for the children. And the fact of the whole business being regular, open and connected with a common intellectual and moral ritual and a common name, such for example as your name of ‘The Samurai,’ would secure the respect of outsiders, so that eventually these new marriage arrangements would modify the old ones. People would ask, ‘Were you married before the registrar?’ and the answer would be, ‘No, we are Samurai and were united before the Elders.’ In Catholic countries those who use only the civil marriage are considered outcasts by the religiously minded, which shows that recognition by the State is not as potent as recognition by the community to which one belongs. The religious marriage is considered the only one binding by Catholics, and the civil ceremony is respected merely because the State has brute force behind it.”
There is in this passage one particularly valuable idea, the idea of an association of people to guarantee the welfare of their children in common. I will follow that a little, though it takes me away from my main line of thought. It seems to me that such an association might be found in many cases a practicable way of easing the conflict that so many men and women experience, between their individual public service and their duty to their own families. Many people of exceptional gifts, whose gifts are not necessarily remunerative, are forced by these personal considerations to direct them more or less askew, to divert them from their best application to some inferior but money-making use; and many more are given the disagreeable alternative of evading parentage or losing the freedom of mind needed for socially beneficial work. This is particularly the case with many scientific investigators, many sociological and philosophical workers, many artists, teachers and the like. Even when such people are fairly prosperous personally they do not care to incur the obligation to keep prosperous at any cost to their work that a family in our competitive system involves. It gives great ease of mind to any sort of artistic or intellectual worker to feel free to become poor. I do not see why a group of such people should not attempt a merger of their family anxieties and family adventures, insure all its members, and while each retains a sufficient personal independence for freedom of word and movement, pool their family solicitudes and resources, organize a collective school and a common maintenance fund for all the children born of members of the association. I do not see why they should not in fact develop a permanent trust to maintain, educate and send out all their children into the world, a trust to which their childless friends and associates could contribute by gift and bequest, and to which the irregular good fortune that is not uncommon in the careers of these exceptional types could be devoted. I do not mean any sort of charity but an enlarged family basis.
Such an idea passes very readily into the form of a Eugenic association. It would be quite possible and very interesting for prosperous people interested in Eugenics to create a trust for the offspring of a selected band of beneficiaries, and with increasing resources to admit new members and so build up within the present social system a special strain of chosen people. So far people with eugenic ideas and people with conceptions of associated and consolidated families have been too various and too dispersed for such associations to be practicable, but as such views of life become more common, the chance of a number of sufficiently homogeneous and congenial people working out the method of such a grouping increases steadily.
Moreover, I can imagine no reason to prevent any women who are in agreement with the moral standards of the “Woman who Did” (standards I will not discuss at this present point but defer for a later section) combining for mutual protection and social support and the welfare of such children as they may bear. Then certainly, to the extent that this succeeds, the objections that arise from the evil effects upon the children of social isolation disappear. This isolation would be at worst a group isolation, and there can be no doubt that my friend is right in pointing out that there is much more social toleration for an act committed under the sanction of a group than for an isolated act that may be merely impulsive misbehaviour masquerading as high principle.
It seems to me remarkable that, to the best of my knowledge, so obvious a form of combination has never yet been put in practice. It is remarkable but not inexplicable. The first people to develop novel ideas, more particularly of this type, are usually people in isolated circumstances and temperamentally incapable of disciplined cooperation.
The idea of organizing the progressive elements in the social chaos into a regular developing force is one that has had a great attraction for me. I have written upon it elsewhere, and I make no apology for returning to it here and examining it in the light of various afterthoughts and with fresh suggestions.
I first broached this idea in a book called “Anticipations,” wherein I described a possible development of thought and concerted action which I called the New Republicanism, and afterwards I redrew the thing rather more elaborately in my “Modern Utopia.” I had been struck by the apparently chaotic and wasteful character of most contemporary reform movements, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that those who aimed at organizing society and replacing chaos and waste by wise arrangements, might very well begin by producing a more effective organization for their own efforts. These complexities of good intention made me impatient, and I sought industriously in my mind for a short cut through them. In doing so I think I overlooked altogether too much how heterogeneous all progressive thought and progressive people must be.
In my “Modern Utopia” I turned this idea of an organized brotherhood about very thoroughly and looked at it from this point and that; I let it loose as it were, and gave it its fullest development, and so produced a sort of secular Order of governing men and women. In a spirit entirely journalistic I called this the Order of the Samurai, for at the time I wrote there was much interest in Bushido because of the capacity for hardship and self-sacrifice this chivalrous culture appears to have developed in the Japanese. These Samurai of mine were a sort of voluntary nobility who supplied the administrative and organizing forces that held my Utopian world together. They were the “New Republicans” of my “Anticipations” and “Mankind in the Making,” much developed and supposed triumphant and ruling the world.
I sought of course to set out these ideas as attractively as possible in my books, and they have as a matter of fact proved very attractive to a certain number of people. Quite a number have wanted to go on with them. Several little organizations of Utopians and Samurai and the like have sprung up and informed me of themselves, and some survive; and young men do still at times drop into my world “personally or by letter” declaring themselves New Republicans.
All this has been very helpful and at times a little embarrassing to me. It has given me an opportunity of seeing the ideals I flung into the distance beyond Sirius and among the mountain snows coming home partially incarnate in girls and young men. It has made me look into individualized human aspirations, human impatience, human vanity and a certain human need of fellowship, at close quarters. It has illuminated subtle and fine traits; it has displayed nobilities, and it has brought out aspects of human absurdity to which only the pencil of Mr. George Morrow could do adequate justice. The thing I have had to explain most generally is that my New Republicans and Samurai are but figures of suggestion, figures to think over and use in planning disciplines, but by no means copies to follow. I have had to go over again, as though it had never been raised before in any previous writings, the difference between the spirit and the letter.
These responses have on the whole confirmed my main idea that there is a real need, a need that many people, and especially adolescent people, feel very strongly, for some sort of constructive brotherhood of a closer type than mere political association, to co-ordinate and partly guide their loose chaotic efforts to get hold of life — but they have also convinced me that no wide and comprehensive organization can supply that want.
My New Republicans were presented as in many respects harsh and overbearing people, “a sort of outspoken secret society” for the organization of the world. They were not so much an ideal order as the Samurai of the later book, being rather deduced as a possible outcome of certain forces and tendencies in contemporary life (A.D. 1900) than, as literary people say, “created.” They were to be drawn from among engineers, doctors, scientific business organizers and the like, and I found that it is to energetic young men of the more responsible classes that this particular ideal appeals. Their organization was quite informal, a common purpose held them together.
Most of the people who have written to me to call themselves New Republicans are I find also Imperialists and Tariff Reformers, and I suppose that among the prominent political figures of to-day the nearest approach to my New Republicans is Lord Milner and the Socialist–Unionists of his group. It is a type harshly constructive, inclined to an unscrupulous pose and slipping readily into a Kiplingesque brutality.
The Samurai on the other hand were more picturesque figures, with a much more elaborated organization.
I may perhaps recapitulate the points about that Order here.
In the “Modern Utopia” the visitor from earth remarks:—
“These Samurai form the real body of the State. All this time that I have spent going to and fro in this planet, it has been growing upon me that this order of men and women, wearing such a uniform as you wear, and with faces strengthened by discipline and touched with devotion, is the Utopian reality; that but for them the whole fabric of these fair appearances would crumble and tarnish, shrink and shrivel, until at last, back I should be amidst the grime and disorders of the life of earth. Tell me about these Samurai, who remind me of Plato’s guardians, who look like Knight Templars, who bear a name that recalls the swordsmen of Japan. What are they? Are they an hereditary cast, a specially educated order, an elected class? For, certainly, this world turns upon them as a door upon its hinges.”
His informant explains:—
“Practically the whole of the responsible rule of the world is in their hands; all our head teachers and disciplinary heads of colleges, our judges, barristers, employers of labour beyond a certain limit, practising medical men, legislators, must be Samurai, and all the executive committees and so forth, that play so large a part in our affairs, are drawn by lot exclusively from them. The order is not hereditary — we know just enough of biology and the uncertainties of inheritance to know how silly that would be — and it does not require an early consecration or novitiate or ceremonies and initiations of that sort. The Samurai are, in fact, volunteers. Any intelligent adult in a reasonably healthy and efficient state may, at any age after five and twenty, become one of the Samurai and take a hand in the universal control.”
“Provided he follows the Rule.”
“Precisely — provided he follows the Rule.”
“I have heard the phrase, ‘voluntary nobility.’”
“That was the idea of our Founders. They made a noble and privileged order — open to the whole world. No one could complain of an unjust exclusion, for the only thing that could exclude them from the order was unwillingness or inability to follow the Rule.
“The Rule aims to exclude the dull and base altogether, to discipline the impulses and emotions, to develop a moral habit and sustain a man in periods of stress, fatigue and temptation, to produce the maximum co-operation of all men of good-intent, and in fact to keep all the Samurai in a state of moral and bodily health and efficiency. It does as much of this as well as it can, but of course, like all general propositions, it does not do it in any case with absolute precision. AT FIRST IN THE MILITANT DAYS, IT WAS A TRIFLE HARD AND UNCOMPROMISING; IT HAD RATHER TOO STRONG AN APPEAL TO THE MORAL PRIG AND THE HARSHLY RIGHTEOUS MAN, but it has undergone, and still undergoes, revision and expansion, and every year it becomes a little better adapted to the need of a general rule of life that all men may try to follow. We have now a whole literature with many very fine things in it, written about the Rule.
“The Rule consists of three parts; there is the list of things that qualify, the list of things that must not be done, and the list of things that must be done. Qualification exacts a little exertion as evidence of good faith and it is designed to weed out the duller dull and many of the base.”
He goes on to tell of certain intellectual qualifications and disciplines.
“Next to the intellectual qualification comes the physical, the man must be in sound health, free from certain foul, avoidable and demoralizing diseases, and in good training. We reject men who are fat, or thin, or flabby, or whose nerves are shaky — we refer them back to training. And finally the man or woman must be fully adult.”
“Twenty-one? But you said twenty-five!”
“The age has varied. At first it was twenty-five or over; then the minimum became twenty-five for men and twenty-one for women. Now there is a feeling that it ought to be raised. We don’t want to take advantage of mere boy and girl emotions — men of my way of thinking, at any rate, don’t — we want to get our Samurai with experiences, with settled mature conviction. Our hygiene and regimen are rapidly pushing back old age and death, and keeping men hale and hearty to eighty and more. There’s no need to hurry the young. Let them have a chance of wine, love and song; let them feel the bite of full-blooded desire, and know what devils they have to reckon with . . .
“We forbid a good deal. Many small pleasures do no great harm, but we think it well to forbid them none the less, so that we can weed out the self-indulgent. We think that a constant resistance to little seductions is good for a man’s quality. At any rate, it shows that a man is prepared to pay something for his honour and privileges. We prescribe a regimen of food, forbid tobacco, wine, or any alcoholic drink, all narcotic drugs . . .
“Originally the Samurai were forbidden usury, that is to say, the lending of money at fixed rates of interest. They are still under that interdiction, but since our commercial code practically prevents usury altogether, and our law will not recognize contracts for interest upon private accommodation loans to unprosperous borrowers,” (he is speaking of Utopia), “it is now scarcely necessary. The idea of a man growing richer by mere inaction and at the expense of an impoverished debtor is profoundly distasteful to Utopian ideas, and our State insists pretty effectually now upon the participation of the lender in the borrower’s risks. This, however, is only one part of a series of limitations of the same character. It is felt that to buy simply in order to sell again brings out many unsocial human qualities; it makes a man seek to enhance profits and falsify values, and so the Samurai are forbidden to buy or sell on their own account or for any employer save the State, unless by some process of manufacture they change the nature of the commodity (a mere change in bulk or packing does not suffice), and they are forbidden salesmanship and all its arts. Nor may the Samurai do personal services, except in the matter of medicine or surgery; they may not be barbers, for example, nor inn waiters nor boot cleaners, men do such services for themselves. Nor may a man under the Rule be any man’s servant, pledged to do whatever he is told. He may neither be a servant nor keep one; he must shave and dress and serve himself, carry his own food from the helper’s place, redd his sleeping room and leave it clean . . . ”
Finally came the things they had to do. Their Rule contained:—
“many precise directions regarding his health, and rules that would aim at once at health and that constant exercise or will that makes life good. Save in specified exceptional circumstances, the Samurai must bathe in cold water and the men shave every day; they have the precisest directions in such matters; the body must be in health, the skin and nerves and muscles in perfect tone, or the Samurai must go to the doctors of the order and give implicit obedience to the regimen prescribed. They must sleep alone at least four nights in five; and they must eat with and talk to anyone in their fellowship who cares for their conversation for an hour at least, at the nearest club-house of the Samurai, once on three chosen days in every week. Moreover they must read aloud from the Book of the Samurai for at least five minutes every day. Every month they must buy and read faithfully through at least one book that has been published during the past five years, and the only intervention with private choice in that matter is the prescription of a certain minimum of length for the monthly book or books. But the full rule in these minor compulsory matters is voluminous and detailed, and it abounds with alternatives. Its aim is rather to keep before the Samurai by a number of simple duties, as it were, the need of and some of the chief methods towards health of body and mind rather than to provide a comprehensive rule, and to ensure the maintenance of a community of feeling and interests among the Samurai through habit, intercourse and a living contemporary literature. These minor obligations do not earmark more than an hour in the day. Yet they serve to break down isolations of sympathy, all sorts of physical and intellectual sluggishness and the development of unsocial preoccupations of many sorts . . .
“So far as the Samurai have a purpose in common in maintaining the State and the order and discipline of the world, so far, by their discipline and denial, by their public work and effort, they worship God together. But the ultimate fount of motives lies in the individual life, it lies in silent and deliberate reflections, and at this the most striking of all the rules of the Samurai aims. For seven consecutive days of the year, at least, each man or woman under the Rule must go right out of all the life of men into some wild and solitary place, must speak to no man or woman and have no sort of intercourse with mankind. They must go bookless and weaponless, without pen or paper or money. Provision must be taken for the period of the journey, a rug or sleeping sack — for they must sleep under the open sky — but no means of making a fire. They may study maps before to guide them, showing any difficulties and dangers in the journey, but they may not carry such helps. They must not go by beaten ways or wherever there are inhabited houses, but into the bare, quiet places of the globe — the regions set apart for them.
“This discipline was invented to secure a certain stoutness of heart and body in the Samurai. Otherwise the order might have lain open to too many timorous, merely abstemious men and women. Many things had been suggested, sword-play and tests that verged on torture, climbing in giddy places and the like, before this was chosen. Partly, it is to ensure good training and sturdiness of body and mind, but partly also, it is to draw the minds of the Samurai for a space from the insistent details of life, from the intricate arguments and the fretting effort to work, from personal quarrels and personal affections and the things of the heated room. Out they must go, clean out of the world . . . ”
These passages will at least serve to present the Samurai idea and the idea of common Rule of conduct it embodied.
In the “Modern Utopia” I discuss also a lesser Rule and the modification of the Rule for women and the relation to the order of what I call the poietic types, those types whose business in life seems to be rather to experience and express than to act and effectually do. For those things I must refer the reader to the book itself. Together with a sentence I have put in italics above, they serve to show that even when I was devising these Samurai I was not unmindful of the defects that are essential to such a scheme.
This dream of the Samurai proved attractive to a much more various group of readers than the New Republican suggestion, and there have been actual attempts to realise the way of life proposed. In most of these cases there was manifest a disposition greatly to over-accentuate organization, to make too much of the disciplinary side of the Rule and to forget the entire subordination of such things to active thought and constructive effort. They are valuable and indeed only justifiable as a means to an end. These attempts of a number of people of very miscellaneous origins and social traditions to come together and work like one machine made the essential wastefulness of any terrestrial realization of my Samurai very clear. The only reason for such an Order is the economy and development of force, and under existing conditions disciplines would consume more force than they would engender. The Order, so far from being a power, would be an isolation. Manifestly the elements of organization and uniformity were overdone in my Utopia; in this matter I was nearer the truth in the case of my New Republicans. These, in contrast with the Samurai, had no formal general organization, they worked for a common end, because their minds and the suggestion of their circumstances pointed them to a common end. Nothing was enforced upon them in the way of observance or discipline. They were not shepherded and trained together, they came together. It was assumed that if they wanted strongly they would see to it that they lived in the manner most conducive to their end just as in all this book I am taking it for granted that to believe truly is to want to do right. It was not even required of them that they should sedulously propagate their constructive idea.
Apart from the illumination of my ideas by these experiments and proposals, my Samurai idea has also had a quite unmerited amount of subtle and able criticism from people who found it at once interesting and antipathetic. My friends Vernon Lee and G.K. Chesterton, for example, have criticized it, and I think very justly, on the ground that the invincible tortuousness of human pride and class-feeling would inevitably vitiate its working. All its disciplines would tend to give its members a sense of distinctness, would tend to syndicate power and rob it of any intimacy and sympathy with those outside the Order . . .
It seems to me now that anyone who shares the faith I have been developing in this book will see the value of these comments and recognize with me that this dream is a dream; the Samurai are just one more picture of the Perfect Knight, an ideal of clean, resolute and balanced living. They may be valuable as an ideal of attitude but not as an ideal of organization. They are never to be put, as people say, upon a business footing and made available as a refuge from the individual problem.
To modernize the parable, the Believer must not only not bury his talent but he must not bank it with an organization. Each Believer must decide for himself how far he wants to be kinetic or efficient, how far he needs a stringent rule of conduct, how far he is poietic and may loiter and adventure among the coarse and dangerous things of life. There is no reason why one should not, and there is every reason why one should, discuss one’s personal needs and habits and disciplines and elaborate one’s way of life with those about one, and form perhaps with those of like training and congenial temperament small groups for mutual support. That sort of association I have already discussed in the previous section. With adolescent people in particular such association is in many cases an almost instinctive necessity. There is no reason moreover why everyone who is lonely should not seek out congenial minds and contrive a grouping with them. All mutual lovers for example are Orders of a limited membership, many married couples and endless cliques and sets are that. Such small and natural associations are indeed force-giving Orders because they are brought together by a common innate disposition out of a possibility of mutual assistance and inspiration; they observe a Rule that springs up and not a Rule imposed. The more of such groups and Orders we have the better. I do not see why having formed themselves they should not define and organize themselves. I believe there is a phase somewhere between fifteen and thirty, in the life of nearly everybody, when such a group is sought, is needed and would be helpful in self-development and self-discovery. In leagues and societies for specific ends, too, we must all participate. But the order of the Samurai as a great progressive force controlling a multitude of lives right down to their intimate details and through all the phases of personal development is a thing unrealizable. To seek to realize it is impatience. True brotherhood is universal brotherhood. The way to that is long and toilsome, but it is a way that permits of no such energetic short cuts as this militant order of my dream would achieve.
When one is discussing this possible formation of cults and brotherhoods, it may be well to consider a few of the conditions that rule such human re-groupings. We live in the world as it is and not in the world as we want it to be, that is the practical rule by which we steer, and in directing our lives we must constantly consider the forces and practicabilities of the social medium in which we move.
In contemporary life the existing ties are so various and so imperative that the detachment necessary as a preliminary condition to such new groupings is rarely found. This is not a period in which large numbers of people break away easily and completely from old connexions. Things change less catastrophically than once they did. More particularly is there less driving out into the wilderness. There is less heresy hunting; persecution is frequently reluctant and can be evaded by slight concessions. The world as a whole is less harsh and emphatic than it was. Customs and customary attitudes change nowadays not so much by open, defiant and revolutionary breaches as by the attrition of partial negligences and new glosses. Innovating people do conform to current usage, albeit they conform unwillingly and imperfectly. There is a constant breaking down and building up of usage, and as a consequence a lessened need of wholesale substitutions. Human methods have become viviparous; the New nowadays lives for a time in the form of the Old. The friend I quote in Chapter 2.10 writes of a possible sect with a “religious edifice” and ritual of its own, a new religious edifice and a new ritual. In practice I doubt whether “real” people, people who matter, people who are getting things done and who have already developed complex associations, can afford the extensive re-adjustment implied in such a new grouping. It would mean too much loss of time, too much loss of energy and attention, too much sacrifice of existing co-operations.
New cults, new religions, new organizations of all sorts, insisting upon their novelty and difference, are most prolific and most successful wherever there is an abundant supply of dissociated people, where movement is in excess of deliberation, and creeds and formulae unyielding and unadaptable because they are unthinking. In England, for example, in the last century, where social conditions have been comparatively stable, discussion good and abundant and internal migration small, there have been far fewer such developments than in the United States of America. In England toleration has become an institution, and where Tory and Socialist, Bishop and Infidel, can all meet at the same dinner-table and spend an agreeable week-end together, there is no need for defensive segregations. In such an atmosphere opinion and usage change and change continually, not dramatically as the results of separations and pitched battles but continuously and fluently as the outcome of innumerable personal reactions. America, on the other hand, because of its material preoccupations, because of the dispersal of its thinking classes over great areas, because of the cruder understanding of its more heterogeneous population (which constantly renders hard and explicit statement necessary), MEANS its creeds much more literally and is at once more experimental and less compromising and tolerant. It is there if anywhere that new brotherhoods and new creeds will continue to appear. But even in America I think the trend of things is away from separations and segregations and new starts, and towards more comprehensive and graduated methods of development.
New religions, I think, appear and are possible and necessary in phases of social disorganization, in phases when considerable numbers of people are detached from old systems of direction and unsettled and distressed. So, at any rate, it was Christianity appeared, in a strained and disturbed community, in the clash of Roman and Oriental thought, and for a long time it was confined to the drifting population of seaports and great cities and to wealthy virgins and widows, reaching the most settled and most adjusted class, the pagani, last of all and in its most adaptable forms. It was the greatest new beginning in the world’s history, and the wealth of political and literary and social and artistic traditions it abandoned had subsequently to be revived and assimilated to it fragment by fragment from the past it had submerged. Now, I do not see that the world to-day presents any fair parallelism to that sere age of stresses in whose recasting Christianity played the part of a flux. Ours is on the whole an organizing and synthetic rather than a disintegrating phase throughout the world. Old institutions are neither hard nor obstinate to-day, and the immense and various constructive forces at work are saturated now with the conception of evolution, of secular progressive development, as opposed to the revolutionary idea. Only a very vast and terrible war explosion can, I think, change this state of affairs.
This conveys in general terms, at least, my interpretation of the present time, and it is in accordance with this view that the world is moving forward as a whole and with much dispersed and discrepant rightness, that I do not want to go apart from the world as a whole into any smaller community, with all the implication of an exclusive possession of right which such a going apart involves. Put to the test by my own Samurai for example by a particularly urgent and enthusiastic discipline, I found I did not in the least want to be one of that organization, that it only expressed one side of a much more complex self than its disciplines permitted. And still less do I want to hamper the play of my thoughts and motives by going apart into the particularism of a new religion. Such refuges are well enough when the times threaten to overwhelm one. The point about the present age, so far as I am able to judge the world, is that it does not threaten to overwhelm; that at the worst, by my standards, it maintains its way of thinking instead of assimilating mine.
Now all this leads very directly to a discussion of the relations of a person of my way of thinking to the Church and religious institutions generally. I have already discussed my relation to commonly accepted beliefs, but the question of institutions is, it seems to me, a different one altogether. Not to realize that, to confuse a church with its creed, is to prepare the ground for a mass of disastrous and life-wasting errors.
Now my rules of conduct are based on the supposition that moral decisions are to be determined by the belief that the individual life guided by its perception of beauty is incidental, experimental, and contributory to the undying life of the blood and race. I have decided for myself that the general business of life is the development of a collective consciousness and will and purpose out of a chaos of individual consciousnesses and wills and purposes, and that the way to that is through the development of the Socialist State, through the socialization of existing State organizations and their merger of pacific association in a World State. But so far I have not taken up the collateral aspect of the synthesis of human consciousness, the development of collective feeling and willing and expression in the form, among others, of religious institutions.
Religious institutions are things to be legitimately distinguished from the creeds and cosmogonies with which one finds them associated. Customs are far more enduring things than ideas — witness the mistletoe at Christmas, or the old lady turning her money in her pocket at the sight of the new moon. And the exact origin of a religious institution is of much less significance to us than its present effect. The theory of a religion may propose the attainment of Nirvana or the propitiation of an irascible Deity or a dozen other things as its end and aim; the practical fact is that it draws together great multitudes of diverse individualized people in a common solemnity and self-subordination however vague, and is so far, like the State, and in a manner far more intimate and emotional and fundamental than the State, a synthetic power. And in particular, the idea of the Catholic Church is charged with synthetic suggestion; it is in many ways an idea broader and finer than the constructive idea of any existing State. And just as the Beliefs I have adopted lead me to regard myself as in and of the existing State, such as it is, and working for its rectification and development, so I think there is a reasonable case for considering oneself in and of the Catholic Church and bound to work for its rectification and development; and this in spite of the fact that one may not feel justified in calling oneself a Christian in any sense of the term.
It may be maintained very plausibly that the Catholic Church is something greater than Christianity, however much the Christians may have contributed to its making. From the historical point of view it is a religious and social method that developed with the later development of the world empire of Rome and as the expression of its moral and spiritual side. Its head was, and so far as its main body is concerned still is, the pontifex maximus of the Roman world empire, an official who was performing sacrifices centuries before Christ was born. It is easy to assert that the Empire was converted to Christianity and submitted to its terrestrial leader, the bishop of Rome; it is quite equally plausible to say that the religious organization of the Empire adopted Christianity and so made Rome, which had hitherto had no priority over Jerusalem or Antioch in the Christian Church, the headquarters of the adopted cult. And if the Christian movement could take over and assimilate the prestige, the world predominance and sacrificial conception of the pontifex maximus and go on with that as part at any rate of the basis of a universal Church, it is manifest that now in the fulness of time this great organization, after its accumulation of Christian tradition, may conceivably go on still further to alter and broaden its teaching and observances and formulae.
In a sense no doubt all we moderns are bound to consider ourselves children of the Catholic Church, albeit critical and innovating children with a tendency to hark back to our Greek grandparents; we cannot detach ourselves absolutely from the Church without at the same time detaching ourselves from the main process of spiritual synthesis that has made us what we are. And there is a strong case for supposing that not only is this reasonable for us who live in the tradition of Western Europe, but that we are legitimately entitled to call upon extra European peoples to join with us in that attitude of filiation to the Catholic Church since, outside it, there is no organization whatever aiming at a religious catholicity and professing or attempting to formulate a collective religious consciousness in the world. So far as they come to a conception of a human synthesis they come to it by coming into our tradition.
I write here of the Catholic Church as an idea. To come from that idea to the world of present realities is to come to a tangle of difficulties. Is the Catholic Church merely the Roman communion or does it include the Greek and Protestant Churches? Some of these bodies are declaredly dissentient, some claim to be integral portions of the Catholic Church which have protested against and abandoned certain errors of the central organization. I admit it becomes a very confusing riddle in such a country as England to determine which is the Catholic Church; whether it is the body which possesses and administers Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, or the bodies claiming to represent purer and finer or more authentic and authoritative forms of Catholic teaching which have erected that new Byzantine-looking cathedral in Westminster, or Whitfield’s Tabernacle in the Tottenham Court Road, or a hundred or so other organized and independent bodies. It is still more perplexing to settle upon the Catholic Church in America among an immense confusion of sectarian fragments.
Many people, I know, take refuge from the struggle with this tangle of controversies by refusing to recognize any institutions whatever as representing the Church. They assume a mystical Church made up of all true believers, of all men and women of good intent, whatever their formulae or connexion. Wherever there is worship, there, they say, is a fragment of the Church. All and none of these bodies are the true Church.
This is no doubt profoundly true. It gives something like a working assumption for the needs of the present time. People can get along upon that. But it does not exhaust the question. We seek a real and understanding synthesis. We want a real collectivism, not a poetical idea; a means whereby men and women of all sorts, all kinds of humanity, may pray together, sing together, stand side by side, feel the same wave of emotion, develop a collective being. Doubtless right-spirited men are praying now at a thousand discrepant altars. But for the most part those who pray imagine those others who do not pray beside them are in error, they do not know their common brotherhood and salvation. Their brotherhood is masked by unanalyzable differences; theirs is a dispersed collectivism; their churches are only a little more extensive than their individualities and intenser in their collective separations.
The true Church towards which my own thoughts tend will be the conscious illuminated expression of Catholic brotherhood. It must, I think, develop out of the existing medley of Church fragments and out of all that is worthy in our poetry and literature, just as the worldwide Socialist State at which I aim must develop out of such state and casual economic organizations and constructive movements as exist to-day. There is no “beginning again” in these things. In neither case will going apart out of existing organizations secure our ends. Out of what is, we have to develop what has to be. To work for the Reformation of the Catholic Church is an integral part of the duty of a believer.
It is curious how misleading a word can be. We speak of a certain phase in the history of Christianity as the Reformation, and that word effectually conceals from most people the simple indisputable fact that there has been no Reformation. There was an attempt at a Reformation in the Catholic Church, and through a variety of causes it failed. It detached great masses from the Catholic Church and left that organization impoverished intellectually and spiritually, but it achieved no reconstruction at all. It achieved no reconstruction because the movement as a whole lacked an adequate grasp of one fundamentally necessary idea, the idea of Catholicity. It fell into particularism and failed. It set up a vast process of fragmentation among Christian associations. It drove huge fissures through the once common platform. In innumerable cases they were fissures of organization and prejudice rather than real differences in belief and mental habit. Sometimes it was manifestly conflicting material interests that made the split. People are now divided by forgotten points of difference, by sides taken by their predecessors in the disputes of the sixteenth century, by mere sectarian names and the walls of separate meeting places. In the present time, as a result of the dissenting method, there are multitudes of believing men scattered quite solitarily through the world.
The Reformation, the Reconstruction of the Catholic Church lies still before us. It is a necessary work. It is a work strictly parallel to the reformation and expansion of the organized State. Together, these processes constitute the general duty before mankind.
The whole trend of my thought in matters of conduct is against whatever accentuates one’s individual separation from the collective consciousness. It follows naturally from my fundamental creed that avoidable silences and secrecy are sins, just as abstinences are in themselves sins rather than virtues. And so I think that to leave any organization or human association except for a wider and larger association, to detach oneself in order to go alone, or to go apart narrowly with just a few, is fragmentation and sin. Even if one disagrees with the professions or formulae or usages of an association, one should be sure that the disagreement is sufficiently profound to justify one’s secession, and in any case of doubt, one should remain. I count schism a graver sin than heresy.
No profession of faith, no formula, no usage can be perfect. It is only required that it should be possible. More particularly does this apply to churches and religious organizations. There never was a creed nor a religious declaration but admitted of a wide variety of interpretations and implied both more and less than it expressed. The pedantically conscientious man, in his search for an unblemished religious brotherhood, has tended always to a solitude of universal dissent.
In the religious as in the economic sphere one must not look for perfect conditions. Setting up for oneself in a new sect is like founding Utopias in Paraguay, an evasion of the essential question; our real business is to take what we have, live in and by it, use it and do our best to better such faults as are manifest to us, in the direction of a wider and nobler organization. If you do not agree with the church in which you find yourself, your best course is to become a reformer IN that church, to declare it a detached forgetful part of the greater church that ought to be, just as your State is a detached unawakened part of the World State. You take it at what it is and try and broaden it towards reunion. It is only when secession is absolutely unavoidable that it is right to secede.
This is particularly true of state churches such as is the Church of England. These are bodies constituted by the national law and amenable to the collective will. I do not think a man should consider himself excluded from them because they have articles of religion to which he cannot subscribe and creeds he will not say. A national state church has no right to be thus limited and exclusive. Rather then let any man, just to the very limit that is possible for his intellectual or moral temperament, remain in his church to redress the balance and do his utmost to change and broaden it.
But perhaps the Church will not endure a broad-minded man in its body, speaking and reforming, and will expel him?
Be expelled — well and good! That is altogether different. Let them expel you, struggling valiantly and resolved to return so soon as they release you, to hammer at the door. But withdrawing — sulking — going off in a serene huff to live by yourself spiritually and materially in your own way — that is voluntary damnation, the denial of the Brotherhood of Man. Be a rebel or a revolutionary to your heart’s content, but a mere seceder never.
For otherwise it is manifest that we shall have to pay for each step of moral and intellectual progress with a fresh start, with a conflict between the new organization and the old from which it sprang, a perpetually-recurring parricide. There will be a series of religious institutions in developing order, each containing the remnant too dull or too hypocritical to secede at the time of stress that began the new body. Something of the sort has indeed happened to both the Catholic and the English Protestant churches. We have the intellectual and moral guidance of the people falling more and more into the hands of an informal Church of morally impassioned leaders, writers, speakers, and the like, while the beautiful cathedrals in which their predecessors sheltered fall more and more into the hands of an uninspiring, retrogressive but conforming clergy.
Now this was all very well for the Individualist Liberal of the Early Victorian period, but Individualist Liberalism was a mere destructive phase in the process of renewing the old Catholic order, a clearing up of the site. We Socialists want a Church through which we can feel and think collectively, as much as we want a State that we can serve and be served by. Whether as members or external critics we have to do our best to get rid of obsolete doctrinal and ceremonial barriers, so that the churches may merge again in a universal Church, and that Church comprehend again the whole growing and amplifying spiritual life of the race.
I do not know if I make my meaning perfectly clear here. By conformity I do not mean silent conformity. It is a man’s primary duty to convey his individual difference to the minds of his fellow men. It is because I want that difference to tell to the utmost that I suggest he should not leave the assembly. But in particular instances he may find it more striking and significant to stand out and speak as a man detached from the general persuasion, just as obstructed and embarrassed ministers of State can best serve their country at times by resigning office and appealing to the public judgment by this striking and significant act.
We are led by this discussion of secession straight between the horns of a moral dilemma. We have come to two conclusions; to secede is a grave sin, but to lie is also a grave sin.
But often the practical alternative is between futile secession or implicit or actual falsehood. It has been the instinct of the aggressive controversialist in all ages to seize upon collective organizations and fence them about with oaths and declarations of such a nature as to bar out anyone not of his own way of thinking. In a democracy, for example, to take an extreme caricature of our case, a triumphant majority in power, before allowing anyone to vote, might impose an oath whereby the leader of the minority and all his aims were specifically renounced. And if no country goes so far as that, nearly all countries and all churches make some such restrictions upon opinion. The United States, that land of abandoned and receding freedoms, imposes upon everyone who crosses the Atlantic to its shores a childish ineffectual declaration against anarchy and polygamy. None of these tests exclude the unhesitating liar, but they do bar out many proud and honest minded people. They “fix” and kill things that should be living and fluid; they are offences against the mind of the race. How is a man then to behave towards these test oaths and affirmations, towards repeating creeds, signing assent to articles of religion and the like? Do not these unavoidable barriers to public service, or religious work, stand on a special footing?
Personally I think they do.
I think that in most cases personal isolation and disuse is the greater evil. I think if there is no other way to constructive service except through test oaths and declarations, one must take then. This is a particular case that stands apart from all other cases. The man who preaches a sermon and pretends therein to any belief he does not truly hold is an abominable scoundrel, but I do not think he need trouble his soul very greatly about the barrier he stepped over to get into the pulpit, if he felt the call to preach, so long as the preaching be honest. A Republican who takes the oath of allegiance to the King and wears his uniform is in a similar case. These things stand apart; they are so formal as to be scarcely more reprehensible than the falsehood of calling a correspondent “Dear,” or asking a tiresome lady to whom one is being kind and civil, for the pleasure of dancing with her. We ought to do what we can to abolish these absurd barriers and petty falsehoods, but we ought not to commit a social suicide against them.
That is how I think and feel in this matter, but if a man sees the matter more gravely, if his conscience tells him relentlessly and uncompromisingly, “this is a lie,” then it is a lie and he must not be guilty of it. But then I think it ill becomes him to be silently excluded. His work is to clamour against the existence of the barrier that wastes him.
I do not see that lying is a fundamental sin. In the first place some lying, that is to say some unavoidable inaccuracy of statement, is necessary to nearly everything we do, and the truest statement becomes false if we forget or alter the angle at which it is made, the direction in which it points. In the next the really fundamental and most generalized sin is self-isolation. Lying is a sin only because self-isolation is a sin, because it is an effectual way of cutting oneself off from human co-operation. That is why there is no sin in telling a fairy tale to a child. But telling the truth when it will be misunderstood is no whit better than lying; silences are often blacker than any lies. I class secrets with lies and cannot comprehend the moral standards that exonerate secrecy in human affairs.
To all these things one must bring a personal conscience and be prepared to examine particular cases. The excuses I have made, for example, for a very broad churchman to stay in the Church might very well be twisted into an excuse for taking an oath in something one did not to the slightest extent believe, in order to enter and betray some organization to which one was violently hostile. I admit that there may be every gradation between these two things. The individual must examine his special case and weigh the element of treachery against the possibility of co-operation. I do not see how there can be a general rule. I have already shown why in my own case I hesitate to profess a belief in God, because, I think, the misleading element in that profession would outweigh the advantage of sympathy and confidence gained.
The preceding section has been criticized by a friend who writes:—
“In religious matters apparent assent produces false unanimity. There is no convention about these things; if there were they would not exist. On the contrary, the only way to get perfunctory tests and so forth abrogated, is for a sufficient number of people to refuse to take them. It is in this case as in every other; secession is the beginning of a new integration. The living elements leave the dead or dying form and gradually create in virtue of their own combinations a new form more suited to present things. There is a formative, a creative power in sincerity and also in segregation itself. And the new form, the new species produced by variation and segregation will measure itself and its qualities with the old one. The old one will either go to the wall, accept the new one and be renewed by it, or the new one will itself be pushed out of existence if the old one has more vitality and is better adapted to the circumstances. This process of variation, competition and selection, also of intermarriage between equally vital and equally adapted varieties, is after all the process by which not only races exist but all human thoughts.”
So my friend, who I think is altogether too strongly swayed by biological analogies. But I am thinking not of the assertion of opinions primarily but of co-operation with an organization with which, save for the matter of the test, one may agree. Secession may not involve the development of a new and better moral organization; it may simply mean the suicide of one’s public aspect. There may be no room or no need of a rival organization. To secede from State employment, for example, is not to create the beginnings of a new State, however many — short of a revolution — may secede with you. It is to become a disconnected private person, and throw up one’s social side.
I do not think a discussion of man’s social relations can be considered at all complete or satisfactory until we have gone into the question of military service. To-day, in an increasing number of countries, military service is an essential part of citizenship and the prospect of war lies like a great shadow across the whole bright complex prospect of human affairs. What should be the attitude of a right-living man towards his State at war and to warlike preparations?
In no other connexion are the confusions and uncertainty of the contemporary mind more manifest. It is an odd contradiction that in Great Britain and Western Europe generally, just those parties that stand most distinctly for personal devotion to the State in economic matters, the Socialist and Socialistic parties, are most opposed to the idea of military service, and just those parties that defend individual self-seeking and social disloyalty in the sphere of property are most urgent for conscription. No doubt some of this uncertainty is due to the mixing in of private interests with public professions, but much more is it, I think, the result of mere muddle-headedness and an insufficient grasp of the implications of the propositions under discussion. The ordinary political Socialist desires, as I desire, and as I suppose every sane man desires as an ultimate ideal, universal peace, the merger of national partitions in loyalty to the World State. But he does not recognize that the way to reach that goal is not necessarily by minimizing and specializing war and war responsibility at the present time. There he falls short of his own constructive conceptions and lapses into the secessionist methods of the earlier Radicals. We have here another case strictly parallel to several we have already considered. War is a collective concern; to turn one’s back upon it, to refuse to consider it as a possibility, is to leave it entirely to those who are least prepared to deal with it in a broad spirit.
In many ways war is the most socialistic of all forces. In many ways military organization is the most peaceful of activities. When the contemporary man steps from the street of clamorous insincere advertisement, push, adulteration, under-selling and intermittent employment, into the barrack-yard, he steps on to a higher social plane, into an atmosphere of service and co-operation and of infinitely more honourable emulations. Here at least men are not flung out of employment to degenerate because there is no immediate work for them to do. They are fed and drilled and trained for better services. Here a man is at least supposed to win promotion by self-forgetfulness and not by self-seeking. And beside the feeble and irregular endowment of research by commercialism, its little short-sighted snatches at profit by innovation and scientific economy, see how remarkable is the steady and rapid development of method and appliances in naval and military affairs! Nothing is more striking than to compare the progress of civil conveniences which has been left almost entirely to the trader, to the progress in military apparatus during the last few decades. The house appliances of to-day for example, are little better than they were fifty years ago. A house of to-day is still almost as ill-ventilated, badly heated by wasteful fires, clumsily arranged and furnished as the house of 1858. Houses a couple of hundred years old are still satisfactory places of residence, so little have our standards risen. But the rifle or battleship of fifty years ago was beyond all comparison inferior to those we possess; in power, in speed, in convenience alike. No one has a use now for such superannuated things.
What is the meaning of war in life?
War is manifestly not a thing in itself, it is something correlated with the whole fabric of human life. That violence and killing which between animals of the same species is private and individual becomes socialized in war. It is a co-operation for killing that carries with it also a co-operation for saving and a great development of mutual help and development within the war-making group.
War, it seems to me, is really the elimination of violent competition as between man and man, an excretion of violence from the developing social group. Through war and military organization, and through war and military organization only, has it become possible to conceive of peace.
This violence was a necessary phase in human and indeed in all animal development. Among low types of men and animals it seems an inevitable condition of the vigour of the species and the beauty of life. The more vital and various individual must lead and prevail, leave progeny and make the major contribution to the synthesis of the race; the weaker individual must take a subservient place and leave no offspring. That means in practice that the former must directly or indirectly kill the latter until some mitigated but equally effectual substitute for that killing is invented. That duel disappears from life, the fight of the beasts for food and the fight of the bulls for the cows, only by virtue of its replacement by new forms of competition. With the development of primitive war we have such a replacement. The competition becomes a competition to serve and rule in the group, the stronger take the leadership and the larger share of life, and the weaker co-operate in subordination, they waive and compromise the conflict and use their conjoint strength against a common rival.
Competition is a necessary condition of progressive life. I do not know if so far I have made that belief sufficiently clear in these confessions. Perhaps in my anxiety to convey my idea of a human synthesis I have not sufficiently insisted upon the part played by competition in that synthesis. But the implications of the view that I have set forth are fairly plain. Every individual, I have stated, is an experiment for the synthesis of the species, and upon that idea my system of conduct so far as it is a system is built. Manifestly the individual’s function is either self-development, service and reproduction, or failure and an end.
With moral and intellectual development the desire to serve and participate in a collective purpose arises to control the blind and passionate impulse to survival and reproduction that the struggle for life has given us, but it does not abolish the fact of selection, of competition. I contemplate no end of competition. But for competition that is passionate, egoistic and limitless, cruel, clumsy and wasteful, I desire to see competition that is controlled and fair-minded and devoted, men and women doing their utmost with themselves and making their utmost contribution to the specific accumulation, but in the end content to abide by a verdict.
The whole development of civilization, it seems to me, consists in the development of adequate tests of survival and of an intellectual and moral atmosphere about those tests so that they shall be neither cruel nor wasteful. If the test is not to be ‘are you strong enough to kill everyone you do not like?’ that will only be because it will ask still more comprehensively and with regard to a multitude of qualities other than brute killing power, ‘are you adding worthily to the synthesis by existence and survival?’
I am very clear in my mind on this perpetual need of competition. I admit that upon that turns the practicability of all the great series of organizing schemes that are called Socialism. The Socialist scheme must show a system in which predominance and reproduction are correlated with the quality and amount of an individual’s social contribution, and so far I acknowledge it is only in the most general terms that this can be claimed as done. We Socialists have to work out all these questions far more thoroughly than we have done hitherto. We owe that to our movement and the world.
It is no adequate answer to our antagonists to say, indeed it is a mere tu quoque to say, that the existing system does not present such a correlation, that it puts a premium on secretiveness and self-seeking and a discount on many most necessary forms of social service. That is a mere temporary argument for a delay in judgment.
The whole history of humanity seems to me to present a spectacle of this organizing specialization of competition, this replacement of the indiscriminate and collectively blind struggle for life by an organized and collectively intelligent development of life. We see a secular replacement of brute conflict by the law, a secular replacement of indiscriminate brute lust by marriage and sexual taboos, and now with the development of Socialistic ideas and methods, the steady replacement of blind industrial competition by public economic organization. And moreover there is going on a great educational process bringing a greater and greater proportion of the minds of the community into relations of understanding and interchange.
Just as this process of organization proceeds, the violent and chaotic conflict of individuals and presently of groups of individuals disappears, personal violence, private war, cut-throat competition, local war, each in turn is replaced by a more efficient and more economical method of survival, a method of survival giving constantly and selecting always more accurately a finer type of survivor.
I might compare the social synthesis to crystals growing out of a fluid matrix. It is where the growing order of the crystals has as yet not spread that the old resource to destruction and violent personal or associated acts remains.
But this metaphor of crystals is a very inadequate one, because crystals have no will in themselves; nor do crystals, having failed to grow in some particular form, presently modify that form more or less and try again. I see the organizing of forces, not simply law and police which are indeed paid mercenaries from the region of violence, but legislation and literature, teaching and tradition, organized religion, getting themselves and the social structure together, year after year and age after age, halting, failing, breaking up in order to try again. And it seems to me that the amount of lawlessness and crime, the amount of waste and futility, the amount of war and war possibility and war danger in the world are just the measure of the present inadequacy of the world’s system of collective organization to the purpose before them.
It follows from this very directly that only one thing can end war on the earth and that is a subtle mental development, an idea, the development of the idea of the world commonweal in the collective mind. The only real method of abolishing war is to perceive it, to realize it, to express it, to think it out and think about it, to make all the world understand its significance, and to clear and preserve its significant functions. In human affairs to understand an evil is to abolish it; it is the only way to abolish any evil that arises out of the untutored nature of man. Which brings me back here again to my already repeated persuasion, that in expressing things, rendering things to each other, discussing our differences, clearing up the metaphysical conceptions upon which differences are discussed, and in a phrase evolving the collective mind, lies not only the cures of war and poverty but the general form of all a man’s duty and the essential work of mankind.
In our contemporary world, in our particular phase, military and naval organization loom up, colossal and unprecedent facts. They have the effect of an overhanging disaster that grows every year more tremendous, every year in more sinister contrast with the increasing securities and tolerations of the everyday life. It is impossible to imagine now what a great war in Europe would be like; the change in material and method has been so profound since the last cycle of wars ended with the downfall of the Third Napoleon. But there can be little or no doubt that it would involve a destruction of property and industrial and social disorganization of the most monstrous dimensions. No man, I think, can mark the limits of the destruction of a great European conflict were it to occur at the present time; and the near advent of practicable flying machines opens a whole new world of frightful possibilities.
For my own part I can imagine that a collision between such powers as Great Britain, Germany or America, might very well involve nearly every other power in the world, might shatter the whole fabric of credit upon which our present system of economics rests and put back the orderly progress of social construction for a vast interval of time. One figures great towns red with destruction while giant airships darken the sky, one pictures the crash of mighty ironclads, the bursting of tremendous shells fired from beyond the range of sight into unprotected cities. One thinks of congested ways swarming with desperate fighters, of torrents of fugitives and of battles gone out of the control of their generals into unappeasable slaughter. There is a vision of interrupted communications, of wrecked food trains and sunken food ships, of vast masses of people thrown out of employment and darkly tumultuous in the streets, of famine and famine-driven rioters. What modern population will stand a famine? For the first time in the history of warfare the rear of the victor, the rear of the fighting line becomes insecure, assailable by flying machines and subject to unprecedented and unimaginable panics. No man can tell what savagery of desperation these new conditions may not release in the soul of man. A conspiracy of adverse chances, I say, might contrive so great a cataclysm. There is no effectual guarantee that it could not occur.
But in spite of that, I believe that on the whole there is far more good than evil in the enormous military growths that have occurred in the last half century. I cannot estimate how far the alternative to war is lethargy. It is through military urgencies alone that many men can be brought to consent to the collective endowment of research, to public education and to a thousand interferences with their private self-seeking. Just as the pestilence of cholera was necessary before men could be brought to consent to public sanitation, so perhaps the dread of foreign violence is an unavoidable spur in an age of chaotic industrial production in order that men may be brought to subserve the growth of a State whose purpose might otherwise be too high for them to understand. Men must be forced to care for fleets and armies until they have learnt to value cities and self development and a beautiful social life.
The real danger of modern war lies not in the disciplined power of the fighting machine but in the undisciplined forces in the collective mind that may set that machine in motion. It is not that our guns and ships are marvellously good, but that our press and political organizations are haphazard growths entirely inferior to them. If this present phase of civilization should end in a debacle, if presently humanity finds itself beginning again at a lower level of organization, it will not be because we have developed these enormous powers of destruction but because we have failed to develop adequate powers of control for them and collective determination. This panoply of war waits as the test of our progress towards the realization of that collective mind which I hold must ultimately direct the evolution of our specific being. It is here to measure our incoherence and error, and in the measure of those defects to refer us back to our studies.
Just as we understand does war become needless.
But I do not think that war and military organization will so much disappear as change its nature as the years advance. I think that the phase of universal military service we seem to be approaching is one through which the mass of mankind may have to pass, learning something that can be learnt in no other way, that the uniforms and flags, the conceptions of order and discipline, the tradition of service and devotion, of physical fitness, unstinted exertion and universal responsibility, will remain a permanent acquisition, though the last ammunition has been used ages since in the pyrotechnic display that welcomed the coming of the ultimate Peace.
From these large issues of conduct, let me come now to more intimate things, to one’s self control, the regulation of one’s personal life. And first about abstinences and disciplines.
I have already confessed (Chapter 2.6) that my nature is one that dislikes abstinences and is wearied by and wary of excess.
I do not feel that it is right to suppress altogether any part of one’s being. In itself abstinence seems to me a refusal to experience, and that, upon the lines of thought I follow, is to say that abstinence for its own sake is evil. But for an end all abstinences are permissible, and if the kinetic type of believer finds both his individual and his associated efficiency enhanced by a systematic discipline, if he is convinced that he must specialize because of the discursiveness of his motives, because there is something he wants to do or be so good that the rest of them may very well be suppressed for its sake, then he must suppress. But the virtue is in what he gets done and not in what he does not do. Reasonable fear is a sound reason for abstinence, as when a man has a passion like a lightly sleeping maniac that the slightest indulgence will arouse. Then he must needs adopt heroic abstinence, and even more so must he take to preventive restraint if he sees any motive becoming unruly and urgent and troublesome. Fear is a sound reason for abstinence and so is love. Many who have sensitive imaginations nowadays very properly abstain from meat because of butchery. And it is often needful, out of love and brotherhood, to abstain from things harmless to oneself because they are inconveniently alluring to others linked to us. The moderate drinker who sits at table sipping his wine in the sight of one he knows to be a potential dipsomaniac is at best an unloving fool.
But mere abstinence and the doing of barren toilsome unrewarding things for the sake of the toil, is a perversion of one’s impulses. There is neither honour nor virtue nor good in that.
I do not believe in negative virtues. I think the ideas of them arise out of the system of metaphysical errors I have roughly analyzed in my first Book, out of the inherent tendency of the mind to make the relative absolute and to convert quantitative into qualitative differences. Our minds fall very readily under the spell of such unmitigated words as Purity and Chastity. Only death beyond decay, absolute non-existence, can be Pure and Chaste. Life is impurity, fact is impure. Everything has traces of alien matter; our very health is dependent on parasitic bacteria; the purest blood in the world has a tainted ancestor, and not a saint but has evil thoughts. It was blindness to that which set men stoning the woman taken in adultery. They forgot what they were made of. This stupidity, this unreasonable idealism of the common mind, fills life to-day with cruelties and exclusions, with partial suicides and secret shames. But we are born impure, we die impure; it is a fable that spotless white lilies sprang from any saint’s decay, and the chastity of a monk or nun is but introverted impurity. We have to take life valiantly on these conditions and make such honour and beauty and sympathy out of our confusions, gather such constructive experience, as we may.
There is a mass of real superstition upon these points, a belief in a magic purity, in magic personalities who can say:—
My strength is as the strength of ten
Because my heart is pure,
and wonderful clairvoyant innocents like the young man in Mr. Kipling’s “Finest Story in the World.”
There is a lurking disposition to believe, even among those who lead the normal type of life, that the abstinent and chastely celibate are exceptionally healthy, energetic, immune. The wildest claims are made. But indeed it is true for all who can see the facts of life simply and plainly, that man is an omnivorous, versatile, various creature and can draw his strength from a hundred varieties of nourishment. He has physiological idiosyncrasies too that are indifferent to biological classifications and moral generalities. It is not true that his absorbent vessels begin their task as children begin the guessing game, by asking, “Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” He responds to stimulation and recuperates after the exhaustion of his response, and his being is singularly careless whether the stimulation comes as a drug or stimulant, or as anger or music or noble appeals.
Most people speak of drugs in the spirit of that admirable firm of soap-boilers which assures its customers that the soap they make “contains no chemicals.” Drugs are supposed to be a mystic diabolical class of substance, remote from and contrasting in their nature with all other things. So they banish a tonic from the house and stuff their children with manufactured cereals and chocolate creams. The drunken helot of this system of absurdities is the Christian Scientist who denies healing only to those who have studied pathology, and declares that anything whatever put into a bottle and labelled with directions for its use by a doctor is thereby damnable and damned. But indeed all drugs and all the things of life have their uses and dangers, and there is no wholesale truth to excuse us a particular wisdom and watchfulness in these matters. Unless we except smoking as an unclean and needless artificiality, all these matters of eating and drinking and habit are matters of more or less. It seems to me foolish to make anything that is stimulating and pleasurable into a habit, for that is slowly and surely to lose a stimulus and pleasure and create a need that it may become painful to check or control. The moral rule of my standards is irregularity. If I were a father confessor I should begin my catalogue of sins by asking: “are you a man of regular life?” And I would charge my penitent to go away forthwith and commit some practicable saving irregularity; to fast or get drunk or climb a mountain or sup on pork and beans or give up smoking or spend a month with publicans and sinners. Right conduct for the common unspecialized man lies delicately adjusted between defect and excess as a watch is adjusted and adjustable between fast and slow. We none of us altogether and always keep the balance or are altogether safe from losing it. We swing, balancing and adjusting, along our path. Life is that, and abstinence is for the most part a mere evasion of life.
One aspect of life I had very much in mind when I planned those Samurai disciplines of mine. It was forgetting.
Even after we have found Salvation, we have to keep hold of Salvation; believing, we must continue to believe. We cannot always be at a high level of noble emotion. We have clambered on the ship of Faith and found our place and work aboard, and even while we are busied upon it, behold we are back and drowning in the sea of chaotic things.
Every religious body, every religious teacher, has appreciated this difficulty and the need there is of reminders and renewals. Faith needs restatement and revival as the body needs food. And since the Believer is to seek much experience and be a judge of less or more in many things, it is particularly necessary that he should keep hold upon a living Faith.
How may he best do this?
I think we may state it as a general duty that he must do whatever he can to keep his faith constantly alive. But beyond that, what a man must do depends almost entirely upon his own intellectual character. Many people of a regular type of mind can refresh themselves by some recurrent duty, by repeating a daily prayer, by daily reading or re-reading some devotional book. With others constant repetition leads to a mental and spiritual deadening, until beautiful phrases become unmeaning, eloquent statements inane and ridiculous — matter for parody. All who can, I think, should pray and should read and re-read what they have found spiritually helpful, and if they know of others of kindred dispositions and can organize these exercises, they should do so. Collective worship again is a necessity for many Believers. For many, the public religious services of this or that form of Christianity supply an atmosphere rich in the essential quality of religion and abounding in phrases about the religious life, mellow from the use of centuries and almost immediately applicable. It seems to me that if one can do so, one should participate in such public worship and habituate oneself to read back into it that collective purpose and conscience it once embodied.
Very much is to be said for the ceremony of Holy Communion or the Mass, for those whom accident or scruples do not debar. I do not think your modern liberal thinkers quite appreciate the finer aspects of this, the one universal service of the Christian Church. Some of them are set forth very finely by a man who has been something of a martyr for conscience’ sake, and is for me a hero as well as a friend, in a world not rich in heroes, the Rev. Stewart Headlam, in his book, “The Meaning of the Mass.”
With others again, Faith can be most animated by writing, by confession, by discussion, by talk with friends or antagonists.
One or other or all of these things the Believer must do, for the mind is a living and moving process, and the thing that lies inert in it is presently covered up by new interests and lost. If you make a sort of King Log of your faith, presently something else will be sitting upon it, pride or self-interest, or some rebel craving, King de facto of your soul, directing it back to anarchy.
For many types that, however, is exactly what happens with public worship. They DO get a King Log in ceremony. And if you deliberately overcome and suppress your perception of and repugnance to the perfunctoriness of religion in nine-tenths of the worshippers about you, you may be destroying at the same time your own intellectual and moral sensitiveness. But I am not suggesting that you should force yourself to take part in public worship against your perceptions, but only that if it helps you to worship you should not hesitate to do so.
We deal here with a real need that is not to be fettered by any general prescription. I have one Cambridge friend who finds nothing so uplifting in the world as the atmosphere of the afternoon service in the choir of King’s College Chapel, and another, a very great and distinguished and theologically sceptical woman, who accustomed herself for some time to hear from a distant corner the evening service in St. Paul’s Cathedral and who would go great distances to do that.
Many people find an exaltation and broadening of the mind in mountain scenery and the starry heavens and the wide arc of the sea; and as I have already said, it was part of the disciplines of these Samurai of mine that yearly they should go apart for at least a week of solitary wandering and meditation in lonely and desolate places. Music again is a frequent means of release from the narrow life as it closes about us. One man I know makes an anthology into which he copies to re-read any passage that stirs and revives in him the sense of broad issues. Others again seem able to refresh their nobility of outlook in the atmosphere of an intense personal love.
Some of us seem to forget almost as if it were an essential part of ourselves. Such a man as myself, irritable, easily fatigued and bored, versatile, sensuous, curious, and a little greedy for experience, is perpetually losing touch with his faith, so that indeed I sometimes turn over these pages that I have written and come upon my declarations and confessions with a sense of alien surprise.
It may be, I say, that for some of us forgetting is the normal process, that one has to believe and forget and blunder and learn something and regret and suffer and so come again to belief much as we have to eat and grow hungry and eat again. What these others can get in their temples we, after our own manner, must distil through sleepless and lonely nights, from unavoidable humiliations, from the smarting of bruised shins.
And now having dealt with the general form of a man’s duty and with his duty to himself, let me come to his attitude to his individual fellow-men.
The broad principles determining that attitude are involved in things already written in this book. The belief in a collective being gathering experience and developing will, to which every life is subordinated, renders the cruder conception of aristocracy, the idea of a select life going on amidst a majority of trivial and contemptible persons who “do not exist,” untenable. It abolishes contempt. Indeed to believe at all in a comprehensive purpose in things is to abandon that attitude and all the habits and acts that imply it. But a belief in universal significance does not altogether preclude a belief in an aristocratic method of progress, in the idea of the subordination of a number of individuals to others who can utilize their lives and help and contributory achievements in the general purpose. To a certain extent, indeed, this last conception is almost inevitable. We must needs so think of ourselves in relation to plants and animals, and I see no reason why we should not think so of our relations to other men. There are clearly great differences in the capacity and range of experience of man and man and in their power of using and rendering their experiences for the racial synthesis. Vigorous persons do look naturally for help and service to persons of less initiative, and we are all more or less capable of admiration and hero-worship and pleased to help and give ourselves to those we feel to be finer or better or completer or more forceful and leaderly than ourselves. This is natural and inevitable aristocracy.
For that reason it is not to be organized. We organize things that are not inevitable, but this is clearly a complex matter of accident and personalities for which there can be no general rule. All organized aristocracy is manifestly begotten by that fallacy of classification my Metaphysical book set itself to expose. Its effect is, and has been in all cases, to mask natural aristocracy, to draw the lines by wholesale and wrong, to bolster up weak and ineffectual persons in false positions and to fetter or hamper strong and vigorous people. The false aristocrat is a figure of pride and claims, a consumer followed by dupes. He is proudly secretive, pretending to aims beyond the common understanding. The true aristocrat is known rather than knows; he makes and serves. He exacts no deference. He is urgent to makes others share what he knows and wants and achieves. He does not think of others as his but as the End’s.
There is a base democracy just as there is a base aristocracy, the swaggering, aggressive disposition of the vulgar soul that admits neither of superiors nor leaders. Its true name is insubordination. It resents rules and refinements, delicacies, differences and organization. It dreams that its leaders are its delegates. It takes refuge from all superiority, all special knowledge, in a phantom ideal, the People, the sublime and wonderful People. “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time,” expresses I think quite the quintessence of this mystical faith, this faith in which men take refuge from the demand for order, discipline and conscious light. In England it has never been of any great account, but in America the vulgar individualist’s self-protective exaltation of an idealized Common Man has worked and is working infinite mischief.
In politics the crude democratic faith leads directly to the submission of every question, however subtle and special its issues may be, to a popular vote. The community is regarded as a consultative committee of profoundly wise, alert and well-informed Common Men. Since the common man is, as Gustave le Bon has pointed out, a gregarious animal, collectively rather like a sheep, emotional, hasty and shallow, the practical outcome of political democracy in all large communities under modern conditions is to put power into the hands of rich newspaper proprietors, advertising producers and the energetic wealthy generally who are best able to flood the collective mind freely with the suggestions on which it acts.
But democracy has acquired a better meaning than its first crude intentions — there never was a theory started yet in the human mind that did not beget a finer offspring than itself — and the secondary meaning brings it at last into entire accordance with the subtler conception of aristocracy. The test of this quintessential democracy is neither a passionate insistence upon voting and the majority rule, nor an arrogant bearing towards those who are one’s betters in this aspect or that, but fellowship. The true democrat and the true aristocrat meet and are one in feeling themselves parts of one synthesis under one purpose and one scheme. Both realize that self-concealment is the last evil, both make frankness and veracity the basis of their intercourse. The general rightness of living for you and others and for others and you is to understand them to the best of your ability and to make them all, to the utmost limits of your capacity of expression and their understanding and sympathy, participators in your act and thought.
My ethical disposition is all against punctilio and I set no greater value on unblemished honour than I do on purity. I never yet met a man who talked proudly of his honour who did not end by cheating or trying to cheat me, nor a code of honour that did not impress me as a conspiracy against the common welfare and purpose in life. There is honour among thieves, and I think it might well end there as an obligation in conduct. The soldier who risks a life he owes to his army in a duel upon some silly matter of personal pride is no better to me than the clerk who gambles with the money in his master’s till. When I was a boy I once paid a debt of honour, and it is one of the things I am most ashamed of. I had played cards into debt and I still remember burningly how I went flushed and shrill-voiced to my mother and got the money she could so ill afford to give me. I would not pay such a debt of honour now. If I were to wake up one morning owing big sums that I had staked overnight I would set to work at once by every means in my power to evade and repudiate that obligation. Such money as I have I owe under our present system to wife and sons and my work and the world, and I see no valid reason why I should hand it over to Smith because he and I have played the fool and rascal and gambled. Better by far to accept that fact and be for my own part published fool and rascal.
I have never been able to understand the sentimental spectacle of sons toiling dreadfully and wasting themselves upon mere money-making to save the secret of a father’s peculations and the “honour of the family,” or men conspiring to weave a wide and mischievous net of lies to save the “honour” of a woman. In the conventional drama the preservation of the honour of a woman seems an adequate excuse for nearly any offence short of murder; the preservation that is to say of the appearance of something that is already gone. Here it is that I do definitely part company with the false aristocrat who is by nature and intent a humbug and fabricator of sham attitudes, and ally myself with democracy. Fact, valiantly faced, is of more value than any reputation. The false aristocrat is robed to the chin and unwashed beneath, the true goes stark as Apollo. The false is ridiculous with undignified insistence upon his dignity; the true says like God, “I am that I am.”
One word has so far played a very little part in this book, and that is the word Justice.
Those who have read the opening book on Metaphysics will perhaps see that this is a necessary corollary of the system of thought developed therein. In my philosophy, with its insistence upon uniqueness and marginal differences and the provisional nature of numbers and classes, there is little scope for that blind-folded lady with the balances, seeking always exact equivalents. Nowhere in my system of thought is there work for the idea of Rights and the conception of conscientious litigious-spirited people exactly observing nicely defined relationships.
You will note, for example, that I base my Socialism on the idea of a collective development and not on the “right” of every man to his own labour, or his “right” to work, or his “right” to subsistence. All these ideas of “rights” and of a social “contract” however implicit are merely conventional ways of looking at things, conventions that have arisen in the mercantile phase of human development.
Laws and rights, like common terms in speech, are provisional things, conveniences for taking hold of a number of cases that would otherwise be unmanageable. The appeal to Justice is a necessarily inadequate attempt to de-individualize a case, to eliminate the self’s biassed attitude. I have declared that it is my wilful belief that everything that exists is significant and necessary. The idea of Justice seems to me a defective, quantitative application of the spirit of that belief to men and women. In every case you try and discover and act upon a plausible equity that must necessarily be based on arbitrary assumptions.
There is no equity in the universe, in the various spectacle outside our minds, and the most terrible nightmare the human imagination has ever engendered is a Just God, measuring, with himself as the Standard, against finite men. Ultimately there is no adequacy, we are all weighed in the balance and found wanting.
So, as the recognition of this has grown, Justice has been tempered with Mercy, which indeed is no more than an attempt to equalize things by making the factors of the very defect that is condemned, its condonation. The modern mind fluctuates uncertainly somewhere between these extremes, now harsh and now ineffectual.
To me there seems no validity in these quasi-absolute standards.
A man seeks and obeys standards of equity simply to economize his moral effort, not because there is anything true or sublime about justice, but because he knows he is too egoistic and weak-minded and obsessed to do any perfect thing at all, because he cannot trust himself with his own transitory emotions unless he trains himself beforehand to observe a predetermined rule. There is scarcely an eventuality in life that without the help of these generalizations would not exceed the average man’s intellectual power and moral energy, just as there is scarcely an idea or an emotion that can be conveyed without the use of faulty and defective common names. Justice and Mercy are indeed not ultimately different in their nature from such other conventions as the rules of a game, the rules of etiquette, forms of address, cab tariffs and standards of all sorts. They are mere organizations of relationship either to economize thought or else to facilitate mutual understanding and codify common action. Modesty and self-submission, love and service are, in the right system of my beliefs, far more fundamental rightnesses and duties.
We are not mercantile and litigious units such as making Justice our social basis would imply, we are not select responsible persons mixed with and tending weak irresponsible wrong persons such as the notion of Mercy suggests, we are parts of one being and body, each unique yet sharing a common nature and a variety of imperfections and working together (albeit more or less darkly and ignorantly) for a common end.
We are strong and weak together and in one brotherhood. The weak have no essential rights against the strong, nor the strong against the weak. The world does not exist for our weaknesses but our strength. And the real justification of democracy lies in the fact that none of us are altogether strong nor altogether weak; for everyone there is an aspect wherein he is seen to be weak; for everyone there is a strength though it may be only a little peculiar strength or an undeveloped potentiality. The unconverted man uses his strength egotistically, emphasizes himself harshly against the man who is weak where he is strong, and hates and conceals his own weakness. The Believer, in the measure of his belief, respects and seeks to understand the different strength of others and to use his own distinctive power with and not against his fellow men, in the common service of that synthesis to which each one of them is ultimately as necessary as he.
Now here the friend who has read the first draft of this book falls into something like a dispute with me. She does not, I think, like this dismissal of Justice from a primary place in my scheme of conduct.
“Justice,” she asserts, “is an instinctive craving very nearly akin to the physical craving for equilibrium. Its social importance corresponds. It seeks to keep the individual’s claims in such a position as to conflict as little as possible with those of others. Justice is the root instinct of all social feeling, of all feeling which does not take account of whether we like or dislike individuals, it is the feeling of an orderly position of our Ego towards others, merely considered AS others, and of all the Egos merely AS Egos towards each other. LOVE cannot be felt towards others AS others. Love is the expression of individual suitability and preference, its positive existence in some cases implies its absolute negation in others. Hence Love can never be the essential and root of social feeling, and hence the necessity for the instinct of abstract justice which takes no account of preferences or aversions. And here I may say that all application of the word LOVE to unknown, distant creatures, to mere OTHERS, is a perversion and a wasting of the word love, which, taking its origin in sexual and parental preference, always implies a preference of one object to the other. To love everybody is simply not to love at all. And it is JUST BECAUSE of the passionate preference instinctively felt for some individuals, that mankind requires the self-regarding and self-respecting passion of justice.”
Now this is not altogether contradictory of what I hold. I disagree that because love necessarily expresses itself in preference, selecting this rather than that, that it follows necessarily that its absolute negation is implied in the non-selected cases. A man may go into the world as a child goes into a garden and gathers its hands full of the flowers that please it best and then desists, but only because its hands are full and not because it is at an end of the flowers that it can find delight in. So the man finds at last his memory and apprehensions glutted. It is not that he could not love those others. And I dispute that to love everybody is not to love at all. To love two people is surely to love more than to love just one person, and so by way of three and four to a very large number. But if it is put that love must be a preference because of the mental limitations that forbid us to apprehend and understand more than a few of the multitudinous lovables of life, then I agree. For all the individuals and things and cases for which we have inadequate time and energy, we need a wholesale method — justice. That is exactly what I have said in the previous section.
One is apt to write and talk of strong and weak as though some were always strong, some always weak. But that is quite a misleading version of life. Apart from the fact that everyone is fluctuatingly strong and fluctuatingly weak, and weak and strong according to the quality we judge them by, we have to remember that we are all developing and learning and changing, gaining strength and at last losing it, from the cradle to the grave. We are all, to borrow the old scholastic term, pupil-teachers of Life; the term is none the less appropriate because the pupil-teacher taught badly and learnt under difficulties.
It may seem to be a crowning feat of platitude to write that “we have to remember” this, but it is overlooked in a whole mass of legal, social and economic literature. Those extraordinary imaginary cases as between a man A and a man B who start level, on a desert island or elsewhere, and work or do not work, or save or do not save, become the basis of immense schemes of just arrangement which soar up confidently and serenely regardless of the fact that never did anything like that equal start occur; that from the beginning there were family groups and old heads and young heads, help, guidance and sacrifice, and those who had learnt and those who had still to learn, jumbled together in confused transactions. Deals, tradings and so forth are entirely secondary aspects of these primaries, and the attempt to get an idea of abstract relationship by beginning upon a secondary issue is the fatal pervading fallacy in all these regions of thought. At the present moment the average age of the world is I suppose about 21 or 22, the normal death somewhen about 44 or 45, that is to say nearly half the world is “under age,” green, inexperienced, demanding help, easily misled and put in the wrong and betrayed. Yet the younger moiety, if we do indeed assume life’s object is a collective synthesis, is more important than the older, and every older person bound to be something of a guardian to the younger. It follows directly from the fundamental beliefs I have assumed that we are missing the most important aspects of life if we are not directly or indirectly serving the young, helping them individually or collectively. Just in the measure that one’s living falls away from that, do we fall away from life into a mere futility of existence, and approach the state, the extraordinary and wonderful middle state of (for example) those extinct and entirely damned old gentlemen one sees and hears eating and sleeping in every comfortable London club.
That constructive synthetic purpose which I have made the ruling idea in my scheme of conduct may be indeed completely restated in another form, a form I adopted for a book I wrote some years ago called “Mankind in the Making.” In this I pointed out that “Life is a tissue of births”;
“and if the whole of life is an evolving succession of births, then not only must a man in his individual capacity (physically as parent, doctor, food dealer, food carrier, home builder, protector; or mentally as teacher, news dealer, author, preacher) contribute to births and growths and the fine future of mankind, but the collective aspects of man, his social and political organizations must also be, in the essence, organizations that more or less profitably and more or less intentionally set themselves towards this end. They are finally concerned with the birth, and with the sound development towards still better births, of human lives, just as every implement in the toolshed of a seedsman’s nursery, even the hoe and the roller, is concerned finally with the seeding and with the sound development towards still better seeding of plants. The private and personal motive of the seedsman in procuring and using these tools may be avarice, ambition, a religious belief in the saving efficacy of nursery keeping or a simple passion for bettering flowers, that does not affect the definite final purpose of his outfit of tools.
“And just as we might judge completely and criticize and improve that outfit from an attentive study of the welfare of plants, and with an entire disregard of his remoter motives, so we may judge all collective human enterprises from the standpoint of an attentive study of human births and development. ANY COLLECTIVE HUMAN ENTERPRISE, INSTITUTION, MOVEMENT, PARTY OR STATE, IS TO BE JUDGED AS A WHOLE AND COMPLETELY, AS IT CONDUCES MORE OR LESS TO WHOLESOME AND HOPEFUL BIRTHS, AND ACCORDING TO THE QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ADVANCE DUE TO ITS INFLUENCE MADE BY EACH GENERATION OF CITIZENS BORN UNDER ITS INFLUENCE TOWARDS A HIGHER AND AMPLER STANDARD OF LIFE.”
And individual conduct, quite as much as collective affairs, comes under the same test. We are guides and school builders, helpers and influences every hour of our lives, and by that standard we can and must judge all our ways of living.
These two ideas, firstly the pupil-teacher parental idea and secondly the democratic idea (that is to say the idea of an equal ultimate significance), the second correcting any tendency in the first to pedagogic arrogance and tactful concealments, do I think give, when taken together, the general attitude a right-living man will take to his individual fellow creature. They play against each other, providing elements of contradiction and determining a balanced course. It seems to me to follow necessarily from my fundamental beliefs that the Believer will tend to be and want to be and seek to be friendly to, and interested in, all sorts of people, and truthful and helpful and hating concealment. To be that with any approach to perfection demands an intricate and difficult effort, introspection to the hilt of one’s power, a saving natural gift; one has to avoid pedantry, aggression, brutality, amiable tiresomeness — there are pitfalls on every side. The more one thinks about other people the more interesting and pleasing they are; I am all for kindly gossip and knowing things about them, and all against the silly and limiting hardness of soul that will not look into one’s fellows nor go out to them. The use and justification of most literature, of fiction, verse, history, biography, is that it lets us into understandings and the suggestion of human possibilities. The general purpose of intercourse is to get as close as one can to the realities of the people one meets, and to give oneself to them just so far as possible.
From that I think there arises naturally a newer etiquette that would set aside many of the rigidities of procedure that keep people apart to-day. There is a fading prejudice against asking personal questions, against talking about oneself or one’s immediate personal interests, against discussing religion and politics and any such keenly felt matter. No doubt it is necessary at times to protect oneself against clumsy and stupid familiarities, against noisy and inattentive egotists, against intriguers and liars, but only in the last resort do such breaches of patience seem justifiable to me; for the most part our traditions of speech and intercourse altogether overdo separations, the preservation of distances and protective devices in general.
So far I have ignored the immense importance of Sex in our lives and for the most part kept the discussion so generalized as to apply impartially to women and men. But now I have reached a point when this great boundary line between two halves of the world and the intense and intimate personal problems that play across it must be faced.
For not only must we bend our general activities and our intellectual life to the conception of a human synthesis, but out of our bodies and emotional possibilities we have to make the new world bodily and emotionally. To the test of that we have to bring all sorts of questions that agitate us to-day, the social and political equality and personal freedom of women, the differing code of honour for the sexes, the controls and limitations to set upon love and desire. If, for example, it is for the good of the species that a whole half of its individuals should be specialized and subordinated to the physical sexual life, as in certain phases of human development women have tended to be, then certainly we must do nothing to prevent that. We have set aside the conception of Justice as in any sense a countervailing idea to that of the synthetic process.
And it is well to remember that for the whole of sexual conduct there is quite conceivably no general simple rule. It is quite possible that, as Metchnikoff maintains in his extraordinarily illuminating “Nature of Man,” we are dealing with an irresolvable tangle of disharmonies. We have passions that do not insist upon their physiological end, desires that may be prematurely vivid in childhood, a fantastic curiosity, old needs of the ape but thinly overlaid by the acquisitions of the man, emotions that jar with physical impulses, inexplicable pains and diseases. And not only have we to remember that we are dealing with disharmonies that may at the very best be only patched together, but we are dealing with matters in which the element of idiosyncrasy is essential, insisting upon an incalculable flexibility in any rule we make, unless we are to take types and indeed whole classes of personality and write them down as absolutely bad and fit only for suppression and restraint. And on the mental side we are further perplexed by the extraordinary suggestibility of human beings. In sexual matters there seems to me — and I think I share a general ignorance here — to be no directing instinct at all, but only an instinct to do something generally sexual; there are almost equally powerful desires to do right and not to act under compulsion. The specific forms of conduct imposed upon these instincts and desires depend upon a vast confusion of suggestions, institutions, conventions, ways of putting things. We are dealing therefore with problems ineradicably complex, varying endlessly in their instances, and changing as we deal with them. I am inclined to think that the only really profitable discussion of sexual matters is in terms of individuality, through the novel, the lyric, the play, autobiography or biography of the frankest sort. But such generalizations as I can make I will.
To me it seems manifest that sexual matters may be discussed generally in at least three permissible and valid ways, of which the consideration of the world as a system of births and education is only the dominant chief. There is next the question of the physical health and beauty of the community and how far sexual rules and customs affect that, and thirdly the question of the mental and moral atmosphere in which sexual conventions and laws must necessarily be an important factor. It is alleged that probably in the case of men, and certainly in the case of women, some sexual intercourse is a necessary phase in existence; that without it there is an incompleteness, a failure in the life cycle, a real wilting and failure of energy and vitality and the development of morbid states. And for most of us half the friendships and intimacies from which we derive the daily interest and sustaining force in our lives, draw mysterious elements from sexual attraction, and depend and hesitate upon our conception of the liberties and limits we must give to that force.
The individual attitudes of men to women and of women to men are necessarily determined to a large extent by certain general ideas of relationship, by institutions and conventions. One of the most important and debatable of these is whether we are to consider and treat women as citizens and fellows, or as beings differing mentally from men and grouped in positions of at least material dependence to individual men. Our decision in that direction will affect all our conduct from the larger matters down to the smallest points of deportment; it will affect even our manner of address and determine whether when we speak to a woman we shall be as frank and unaffected as with a man or touched with a faint suggestion of the reserves of a cat which does not wish to be suspected of wanting to steal the milk.
Now so far as that goes it follows almost necessarily from my views upon aristocracy and democracy that I declare for the conventional equality of women, that is to say for the determination to make neither sex nor any sexual characteristic a standard of superiority or inferiority, for the view that a woman is a person as important and necessary, as much to be consulted, and entitled to as much freedom of action as a man. I admit that this decision is a choice into which temperament enters, that I cannot produce compelling reasons why anyone else should adopt my view. I can produce considerations in support of my view, that is all. But they are so implicit in all that has gone before that I will not trouble to detail them here.
The conception of equality and fellowship between men and women is an idea at least as old as Plato and one that has recurred wherever civilization has reached a phase in which men and women were sufficiently released from militant and economic urgency to talk and read and think. But it has never yet been, at least in the historical period and in any but isolated social groups, a working structural idea. The working structural idea is the Patriarchal Family in which the woman is inferior and submits herself and is subordinated to the man, the head of the family.
We live in a constantly changing development and modification of that tradition. It is well to bring that factor of constant change into mind at the outset of this discussion and to keep it there. To forget it, and it is commonly forgotten, is to falsify every issue. Marriage and the Family are perennially fluctuating institutions, and probably scarcely anything in modern life is changing so much; they are in their legal constitution or their moral and emotional quality profoundly different things from what they were a hundred years ago. A woman who marries nowadays marries, if one may put it quantitatively, far less than she did even half a century ago; the married woman’s property act, for example, has revolutionized the economic relationship; her husband has lost his right to assault her and he cannot even compel her to cohabit with him if she refuses to do so. Legal separations and divorces have come to modify the quality and logical consequences of the bond. The rights of parent over the child have been even more completely qualified. The State has come in as protector and educator of the children, taking over personal powers and responsibilities that have been essential to the family institution ever since the dawn of history. It inserts itself more and more between child and parent. It invades what were once the most sacred intimacies, and the Salvation Army is now promoting legislation to invade those overcrowded homes in which children (it is estimated to the number of thirty or forty thousand) are living as I write, daily witnesses of their mother’s prostitution or in constant danger of incestuous attack from drunken fathers and brothers. And finally as another indication of profound differences, births were almost universally accidental a hundred years ago; they are now in an increasing number of families controlled and deliberate acts of will. In every one of their relations do Marriage and the Family change and continue to change.
But the inherent defectiveness of the human mind which my metaphysical book sets itself to analyze, does lead it constantly to speak of Marriage and the Family as things as fixed and unalterable as, let us say, the characteristics of oxygen. One is asked, Do you believe in Marriage and the Family? as if it was a case of either having or not having some definite thing. Socialists are accused of being “against the Family,” as if it were not the case that Socialists, Individualists, high Anglicans and Roman Catholics are ALL against Marriage and the Family as these institutions exist at the present time. But once we have realized the absurdity of this absolute treatment, then it should become clear that with it goes most of the fabric of right and wrong, and nearly all those arbitrary standards by which we classify people into moral and immoral. Those last words are used when as a matter of fact we mean either conforming or failing to conform to changing laws and developing institutional customs we may or may not consider right or wrong. Their use imparts a flavour of essential wrong-doing and obliquity into acts and relations that may be in many cases no more than social indiscipline, which may be even conceivably a courageous act of defiance to an obsolescent limitation. Such, until a little while ago, was a man’s cohabitation with his deceased wife’s sister. This, which was scandalous yesterday, is now a legally honourable relationship, albeit I believe still regarded by the high Anglican as incestuous wickedness.
Now I will not deal here with the institutional changes that are involved in that general scheme of progress called Socialism. I have discussed the relation of Socialism to Marriage and the Family quite fully in my “New Worlds for Old” (“New Worlds for Old” (A. Constable and Co., 1908).) and to that I must refer the reader. Therein he will see how the economic freedom and independent citizenship of women, and indeed also the welfare of the whole next generation, hang on the idea of endowing motherhood, and he will find too how much of the nature of the marriage contract is outside the scope of Socialist proposals altogether.
Apart from the broad proposals of Socialism, as a matter of personal conviction quite outside the scope of Socialism altogether, I am persuaded of the need of much greater facilities of divorce than exist at present, divorce on the score of mutual consent, of faithlessness, of simple cruelty, of insanity, habitual vice or the prolonged imprisonment of either party. And this being so I find it impossible to condemn on any ground, except that it is “breaking ranks” and making a confusion, those who by anticipating such wide facilities as I propose have sinned by existing standards. How far and in what manner such breaking of ranks is to be condoned I will presently discuss. But it is clear it is an offence of a different nature from actions one believes to be in themselves and apart from the law reprehensible things.
But my scepticisms about the current legal institutions and customary code are not exhausted by these modifications I have suggested. I believe firmly in some sort of marriage, that is to say an open declaration of the existence of sexual relations between a man and a woman, because I am averse to all unnecessary secrecies and because the existence of these peculiarly intimate relationships affects everybody about the persons concerned. It is ridiculous to say as some do that sexual relations between two people affect no one but themselves unless a child is born. They do, because they tend to break down barriers and set up a peculiar emotional partnership. It is a partnership that kept secret may work as anti-socially as a secret business partnership or a secret preferential railway tariff. And I believe too in the general social desirability of the family group, the normal group of father, mother and children, and in the extreme efficacy in the normal human being of the blood link and pride link between parent and child in securing loving care and upbringing for the child. But this clear adhesion to Marriage and to the Family grouping about mother and father does not close the door to a large series of exceptional cases which our existing institutions and customs ignore or crush.
For example, monogamy in general seems to me to be clearly indicated (as doctors say) by the fact that there are not several women in the world for every man, but quite as clearly does it seem necessary to recognize that the fact that there are (or were in 1901) 21,436,107 females to 20,172,984 males in our British community seems to condemn our present rigorous insistence upon monogamy, unless feminine celibacy has its own delights. But, as I have said, it is now largely believed that the sexual life of a woman is more important to her than his sexual life to a man and less easily ignored.
It is true also on the former side that for the great majority of people one knows personally, any sort of household but a monogamous one conjures up painful and unpleasant visions. The ordinary civilized woman and the ordinary civilized man are alike obsessed with the idea of meeting and possessing one peculiar intimate person, one special exclusive lover who is their very own, and a third person of either sex cannot be associated with that couple without an intolerable sense of privacy and confidence and possession destroyed. It is difficult to imagine a second wife in a home who would not be and feel herself to be a rather excluded and inferior person. But that does not abolish the possibility that there are exceptional people somewhere capable of, to coin a phrase, triangular mutuality, and I do not see why we should either forbid or treat with bitterness or hostility a grouping we may consider so inadvisable or so unworkable as never to be adopted, if three people of their own free will desire it.
The peculiar defects of the human mind when they approach these questions of sex are reinforced by passions peculiar to the topic, and it is perhaps advisable to point out that to discuss these possibilities is not the same thing as to urge the married reader to take unto himself or herself a second partner or a series of additional partners. We are trained from the nursery to become secretive, muddle-headed and vehemently conclusive upon sexual matters, until at last the editors of magazines blush at the very phrase and long to put a petticoat over the page that bears it. Yet our rebellious natures insist on being interested by it. It seems to me that to judge these large questions from the personal point of view, to insist upon the whole world without exception living exactly in the manner that suits oneself or accords with one’s emotional imagination and the forms of delicacy in which one has been trained, is not the proper way to deal with them. I want as a sane social organizer to get just as many contented and law-abiding citizens as possible; I do not want to force people who would otherwise be useful citizens into rebellion, concealments and the dark and furtive ways of vice, because they may not love and marry as their temperaments command, and so I want to make the meshes of the law as wide as possible. But the common man will not understand this yet, and seeks to make the meshes just as small as his own private case demands.
Then marriage, to resume my main discussion, does not necessarily mean cohabitation. All women who desire children do not want to be entrusted with their upbringing. Some women are sexual and philoprogenitive without being sedulously maternal, and some are maternal without much or any sexual passion. There are men and women in the world now, great allies, fond and passionate lovers who do not live nor want to live constantly together. It is at least conceivable that there are women who, while desiring offspring, do not want to abandon great careers for the work of maternity, women again who would be happiest managing and rearing children in manless households that they might even share with other women friends, and men to correspond with these who do not wish to live in a household with wife and children. I submit, these temperaments exist and have a right to exist in their own way. But one must recognize that the possibility of these departures from the normal type of household opens up other possibilities. The polygamy that is degrading or absurd under one roof assumes a different appearance when one considers it from the point of view of people whose habits of life do not centre upon an isolated home.
All the relations I have glanced at above do as a matter of fact exist to-day, but shamefully and shabbily, tainted with what seems to me an unmerited and unnecessary ignominy. The punishment for bigamy seems to me insane in its severity, contrasted as it is with our leniency to the common seducer. Better ruin a score of women, says the law, than marry two. I do not see why in these matters there should not be much ampler freedom than there is, and this being so I can hardly be expected to condemn with any moral fervour or exclude from my society those who have seen fit to behave by what I believe may be the standards of A.D. 2000 instead of by the standards of 1850. These are offences, so far as they are offences, on an altogether different footing from murder, or exacting usury, or the sweating of children, or cruelty, or transmitting diseases, or unveracity, or commercial or intellectual or physical prostitution, or any such essentially grave anti-social deeds. We must distinguish between sins on the one hand and mere errors of judgment and differences of taste from ourselves. To draw up harsh laws, to practise exclusions against everyone who does not see fit to duplicate one’s own blameless home life, is to waste a number of courageous and exceptional persons in every generation, to drive many of them into a forced alliance with real crime and embittered rebellion against custom and the law.
But the reader must keep clear in his mind the distinction between conduct that is right or permissible in itself and conduct that becomes either inadvisable or mischievous and wrong because of the circumstances about it. There is no harm under ordinary conditions in asking a boy with a pleasant voice to sing a song in the night, but the case is altered altogether if you have reason to suppose that a Red Indian is lying in wait a hundred yards off, holding a loaded rifle and ready to fire at the voice. It is a valid objection to many actions that I do not think objectionable in themselves, that to do them will discharge a loaded prejudice into the heart of my friend — or even into my own. I belong to the world and my work, and I must not lightly throw my time, my power, my influence away. For a splendid thing any risk or any defiance may be justifiable, but is it a sufficiently splendid thing? So far as he possibly can a man must conform to common prejudices, prevalent customs and all laws, whatever his estimate of them may be. But he must at the same time to his utmost to change what he thinks to be wrong.
And I think that conformity must be honest conformity. There is no more anti-social act than secret breaches, and only some very urgent and exceptional occasion justifies even the unveracity of silence about the thing done. If your personal convictions bring you to a breach, let it be an open breach, let there be no misrepresentation of attitudes, no meanness, no deception of honourable friends. Of course an open breach need not be an ostentatious breach; to do what is right to yourself without fraud or concealment is one thing, to make a challenge and aggression quite another. Your friends may understand and sympathize and condone, but it does not lie upon you to force them to identify themselves with your act and situation. But better too much openness than too little. Squalid intrigue was the shadow of the old intolerably narrow order; it is a shadow we want to illuminate out of existence. Secrets will be contraband in the new time.
And if it chances to you to feel called upon to make a breach with the institution or custom or prejudice that is, remember that doing so is your own affair. You are going to take risks and specialize as an experiment. You must not expect other people about you to share the consequences of your dash forward. You must not drag in confidants and secondaries. You must fight your little battle in front on your own responsibility, unsupported — and take the consequences without repining.
So far as breaches of the prohibitions and laws of marriage go, to me it seems they are to be tolerated by us in others just in the measure that, within the limits set by discretion, they are frank and truthful and animated by spontaneous passion and pervaded by the quality of beauty. I hate the vulgar sexual intriguer, man or woman, and the smart and shallow atmosphere of unloving lust and vanity about the type as I hate few kinds of human life; I would as lief have a polecat in my home as this sort of person; and every sort of prostitute except the victim of utter necessity I despise, even though marriage be the fee. But honest lovers should be I think a charge and pleasure for us. We must judge each pair as we can.
One thing renders a sexual relationship incurably offensive to others and altogether wrong, and that is cruelty. But who can define cruelty? How far is the leaving of a third person to count as cruelty? There again I hesitate to judge. To love and not be loved is a fate for which it seems no one can be blamed; to lose love and to change one’s loving belongs to a subtle interplay beyond analysis or control, but to be deceived or mocked or deliberately robbed of love, that at any rate is an abominable wrong.
In all these matters I perceive a general rule is in itself a possible instrument of cruelty. I set down what I can in the way of general principles, but it all leaves off far short of the point of application. Every case among those we know I think we moderns must judge for ourselves. Where there is doubt, there I hold must be charity. And with regard to strangers, manifestly our duty is to avoid inquisitorial and uncharitable acts.
This is as true of financial and economic misconduct as of sexual misconduct, of ways of living that are socially harmful and of political faith. We are dealing with people in a maladjusted world to whom absolute right living is practically impossible, because there are no absolutely right institutions and no simple choice of good or evil, and we have to balance merits and defects in every case.
Some people are manifestly and essentially base and self-seeking and regardless of the happiness and welfare of their fellows, some in business affairs and politics as others in love. Some wrong-doers again are evidently so through heedlessness, through weakness, timidity or haste. We have to judge and deal with each sort upon no clear issue, but upon impressions they have given us of their spirit and purpose. We owe it to them and ourselves not to judge too rashly or too harshly, but for all that we are obliged to judge and take sides, to avoid the malignant and exclude them from further opportunity, to help and champion the cheated and the betrayed, to forgive and aid the repentant blunderer and by mercy to save the lesser sinner from desperate alliance with the greater. That is the broad rule, and it is as much as we have to go upon until the individual case comes before us.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02