A MODERN SYMPOSIUM
G. LOWES DICKINSON
"LIFE LIKE A DOME OF MANY-COLOURED GLASS STAINS THE WHITE RADIANCE OF ETERNITY"
GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD
FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1905 REPRINTED 1930 REPRINTED 1934
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY UNWIN BROTHERS LTD., WOKING
FRATRUM SOCIETATI FRATRUM MINIMUS
LORD CANTILUPE A TORY
ALFRED REMENHAM A LIBERAL
REUBEN MENDOZA A CONSERVATIVE
GEORGE ALLISON A SOCIALIST
ANGUS MACCARTHY AN ANARCHIST
HENRY MARTIN A PROFESSOR
CHARLES WILSON A MAN OF SCIENCE
ARTHUR ELLIS A JOURNALIST
PHILIP AUDUBON A MAN OF BUSINESS
AUBREY CORYAT A POET
SIR JOHN HARINGTON A GENTLEMAN OF LEISURE
WILLIAM WOODMAN A MEMBER OF THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS
GEOFFRY VIVIAN A MAN OF LETTERS
A MODERN SYMPOSIUM
SOME of my readers may have heard of a club known as the Seekers. It is now extinct; but in its day it was famous, and included a number of men prominent in politics or in the professions. We used to meet once a fortnight on the Saturday night, in London during the winter, but in the summer usually at the country house of one or other of the members, where we would spend the week-end together. The member in whose house the meeting was held was chairman for the evening; and after the paper had been read it was his duty to call upon the members to speak in what order he thought best. On the occasion of the discussion which I am to record, the meeting was held in my own house, where I now write, on the North Downs. The company was an interesting one. There was Remenham, then Prime Minister, and his great antagonist Mendoza, both of whom were members of our society. For we aimed at combining the most opposite elements, and were usually able, by a happy tradition inherited from our founder, to hold them suspended in a temporary harmony. Then there was Cantilupe, who had recently retired from public life, and whose name, perhaps, is already beginning to be forgotten. Of younger men we had Allison, who, though still engaged in business, was already active in his socialist propaganda. Angus MacCarthy, too, was there, a man whose tragic end at Saint Petersburg is still fresh in our minds. And there were others of less note; Wilson, the biologist, Professor Martin, Coryat, the poet, and one or two more who will be mentioned in their place.
After dinner, the time of year being June, and the weather unusually warm, we adjourned to the terrace for our coffee and cigars. The air was so pleasant and the prospect so beautiful, the whole weald of Sussex lying before us in the evening light, that it was suggested we should hold our meeting there rather than indoors. This was agreed. But it then transpired that Cantilupe, who was to have read the paper, had brought nothing to read. He had forgotten, or he had been too busy. At this discovery there was a general cry of protest. Cantilupe's proposition that we should forgo our discussion was indignantly scouted; and he was pressed to improvise something on the lines of what he had intended to write. This, however, he steadily declined to attempt; and it seemed as though the debate would fall through, until it occurred to me to intervene in my capacity as chairman.
"Cantilupe," I said, "certainly ought to be somehow penalized. And since he declines to improvise a paper, I propose that he improvise a speech. He is accustomed to doing that; and since he has now retired from public life, this may be his last opportunity. Let him employ it, then, in doing penance. And the penance I impose is, that he should make a personal confession. That he should tell us why he has been a politician, why he has been, and is, a Tory, and why he is now retiring in the prime of life. I propose, in a word, that he should give us his point of view. That will certainly provoke Remenham, on whom I shall call next. He will provoke someone else. And so we shall all find ourselves giving our points of view, and we ought to have a very interesting evening." This suggestion was greeted, if not with enthusiasm, at least with acquiescence. Cantilupe at first objected strongly, but yielded to pressure, and on my calling formally upon him rose reluctantly from his seat. For a minute or two he stood silent, humping his shoulders and smiling through his thick beard. Then, in his slow, deliberate way, he began as follows:
"Why I went into politics? Why did I? I'm sure I don't know. Certainly I wasn't intended for it. I was intended for a country gentleman, and I hope for the rest of my life to be one; which, perhaps, if I were candid, is the real reason of my retirement. But I was pushed into politics when I was young, as a kind of family duty; and once in it's very hard to get out again. I'm coming out now because, among other things, there's no longer any place for me. Toryism is dead. And I, as you justly describe me, am a Tory. But you want to know why? Well, I don't know that I can tell you. Perhaps I ought to be able to. Remenham, I know, can and will give you the clearest possible account of why he is a Liberal. But then Remenham has principles; and I have only prejudices. I am a Tory because I was born one, just as another man is a Radical because he was born one. But Remenham, I really believe, is a Liberal, because he has convinced himself that he ought to be one. I admire him for it, but I am quite unable to understand him. And, for my own part, if I am to defend, or rather to explain myself, I can only do so by explaining my prejudices. And really I am glad to have the opportunity of doing so, if only because it is a satisfaction occasionally to say what one thinks; a thing which has become impossible in public life.
"The first of my prejudices is that I believe in inequality. I'm not at all sure that that is a prejudice confined to myself—most people seem to act upon it in practice, even in America. But I not only recognize the fact, I approve the ideal of inequality. I don't want, myself, to be the equal of Darwin or of the German Emperor; and I don't see why anybody should want to be my equal. I like a society properly ordered in ranks and classes. I like my butcher or my gardener to take off his hat to me, and I like, myself, to stand bareheaded in the presence of the Queen. I don't know that I'm better or worse than the village carpenter; but I'm different; and I like him to recognize that fact, and to recognize it myself. In America, I am told, everyone is always informing you, in everything they do and say, directly or indirectly, that they are as good as you are. That isn't true, and if it were, it isn't good manners to keep saying it. I prefer a society where people have places and know them. They always do have places in any possible society; only, in a democratic society, they refuse to recognize them; and, consequently, social relations are much ruder, more unpleasant and less humane than they are, or used to be, in England. That is my first prejudice; and it follows, of course, that I hate the whole democratic movement. I see no sense in pretending to make people equal politically when they're unequal in every other respect. Do what you may, it will always be a few people that will govern. And the only real result of the extension of the franchise has been to transfer political power from the landlords to the trading classes and the wire-pullers. Well, I don't think the change is a good one. And that brings me to my second prejudice, a prejudice against trade. I don't mean, of course, that we can do without it. A country must have wealth, though I think we were a much better country when we had less than we have now. Nor do I dispute that there are to be found excellent, honourable, and capable men of business. But I believe that the pursuit of wealth tends to unfit men for the service of the state. And I sympathize with the somewhat extreme view of the ancient world that those who are engaged in trade ought to be excluded from public functions. I believe in government by gentlemen; and the word gentleman I understand in the proper, old-fashioned English sense, as a man of independent means, brought up from his boyhood in the atmosphere of public life, and destined either for the army, the navy, the Church, or Parliament. It was that kind of man that made Rome great, and that made England great in the past; and I don't believe that a country will ever be great which is governed by merchants and shopkeepers and artisans. Not because they are not, or may not be, estimable people; but because their occupations and manner of life unfit them for public service.
"Well, that is the kind of feeling—I won't call it a principle—which determined my conduct in public life. And you will remember that it seemed to be far more possible to give expression to it when first I entered politics than it is now. Even after the first Reform Act—which, in my opinion was conceived upon the wrong lines—the landed gentry still governed England; and if I could have had my way they would have continued to do so. It wasn't really parliamentary reform that was wanted; it was better and more intelligent government. And such government the then ruling class was capable of supplying, as is shown by the series of measures passed in the thirties and forties, the new Poor Law and the Public Health Acts and the rest. Even the repeal of the Corn Laws shows at least how capable they were of sacrificing their own interests to the nation; though otherwise I consider that measure the greatest of their blunders. I don't profess to be a political economist, and I am ready to take it from those whose business it is to know that our wealth has been increased by Free Trade. But no one has ever convinced me, though many people have tried, that the increase of wealth ought to be the sole object of a nation's policy. And it is surely as clear as day that the policy of Free Trade has dislocated the whole structure of our society. It has substituted a miserable city-proletariat for healthy labourers on the soil; it has transferred the great bulk of wealth from the country-gentleman to the traders; and in so doing it has more and more transferred power from those who had the tradition of using it to those who have no tradition at all except that of accumulation. The very thing which I should have thought must be the main business of a statesman—the determination of the proper relations of classes to one another—we have handed over to the chances of competition. We have abandoned the problem in despair, instead of attempting to solve it; with the result, that our population—so it seems to me—is daily degenerating before our eyes, in physique, in morals, in taste, in everything that matters; while we console ourselves with the increasing aggregate of our wealth. Free Trade, in my opinion, was the first great betrayal by the governing class of the country and themselves, and the second was the extension of the franchise. I do not say that I would not have made any change at all in the parliamentary system that had been handed down to us. But I would never have admitted, even implicitly, that every man has a right to vote, still less that all have an equal right. For society, say what we may, is not composed of individuals but of classes; and by classes it ought to be represented. I would have enfranchised peasants, artisans, merchants, manufacturers, as such, taking as my unit the interest, not the individual, and assigning to each so much weight as would enable its influence to be felt, while preserving to the landed gentry their preponderance. That would have been difficult, no doubt, but it would have been worth doing; whereas it was, to my mind, as foolish as it was easy simply to add new batches of electors, till we shall arrive, I do not doubt, at what, in effect, is universal suffrage, without having ever admitted to ourselves that we wanted to have it.
"But what has been done is final and irremediable. Henceforth, numbers, or rather those who control numbers, will dominate England; and they will not be the men under whom hitherto she has grown great. For people like myself there is no longer a place in politics. And really, so far as I am personally concerned, I am rather glad to know it. Those who have got us into the mess must get us out of it. Probably they will do so, in their own way; but they will make, in the process, a very different England from the one I have known and understood and loved. We shall have a population of city people, better fed and housed, I hope, than they are now, clever and quick and smart, living entirely by their heads, ready to turn out in a moment for use everything they know, but knowing really very little, and not knowing it very well. There will be fewer of the kind of people in whom I take pleasure, whom I like to regard as peculiarly English, and who are the products of the countryside; fellows who grow like vegetables, and, without knowing how, put on sense as they put on flesh by an unconscious process of assimilation; who will stand for an hour at a time watching a horse or a pig, with stolid moon-faces as motionless as a pond; the sort of men that visitors from town imagine to be stupid because they take five minutes to answer a question, and then probably answer by asking another; but who have stored up in them a wealth of experience far too extensive and complicated for them ever to have taken account of it. They live by their instincts not their brains; but their instincts are the slow deposit of long years of practical dealings with nature. That is the kind of man I like. And I like to live among them in the way I do—in a traditional relation which it never occurs to them to resent, any more than it does to me to abuse it. That sort of relation you can't create; it has to grow, and to be handed down from father to son. The new men who come on to the land never manage to establish it. They bring with them the isolation which is the product of cities. They have no idea of any tie except that of wages; the notion of neighbourliness they do not understand. And that reminds me of a curious thing. People go to town for society; but I have always found that there is no real society except in the country. We may be stupid there, but we belong to a scheme of things which embodies the wisdom of generations. We meet not in drawing-rooms, but in the hunting-field, on the county-bench, at dinners of tenants or farmers' associations. Our private business is intermixed with our public. Our occupation does not involve competition; and the daily performance of its duties we feel to be itself a kind of national service. That is an order of things which I understand and admire, as my fathers understood and admired it before me. And that is why I am a Tory; not because of any opinions I hold, but because that is my character. I stood for Toryism while it meant something; and now that it means nothing, though I stand for it no longer, still I can't help being it. The England that is will last my time; the England that is to be does not interest me; and it is as well that I should have nothing to do with directing it.
"I don't know whether that is a sufficient account of the question I was told to answer; but it's the best I can make, and I think it ought to be sufficient. I always imagine myself saying to God, if He asks me to give an account of myself: 'Here I am, as you made me. You can take me or leave me. If I had to live again I would live just so. And if you want me to live differently, you must make me different.' I have championed a losing cause, and I am sorry it has lost. But I do not break my heart about it. I can still live for the rest of my days the life I respect and enjoy. And I am content to leave the nation in the hands of Remenham, who, as I see, is all impatience to reply to my heresies."
REMENHAM in fact was fidgeting in his chair as though he found it hard to keep his seat; and I should have felt bound in pity to call upon him next, even if I had not already determined to do so. He rose with alacrity; and it was impossible not to be struck by the contrast he presented to Cantilupe. His elastic upright figure, his firm chin, the exuberance of his gestures, the clear ring of his voice, expressed admirably the intellectual and nervous force which he possessed in a higher degree than any man I have ever come across. He began without hesitation, and spoke throughout with the trained and facile eloquence of which he was master. "I shall, I am sure, be believed," he said, "when I emphatically assert that nothing could be more distressing to me than the notion—if I should be driven to accept it—that the liberal measures on which, in my opinion, the prosperity and the true welfare of the country depends should have, as one of their incidental concomitants, the withdrawal from public life of such men as our friend who has just sat down. We need all the intellectual and moral resources of the country; and among them I count as not the least valuable and fruitful the stock of our ancient country gentlemen. I regretted the retirement of Lord Cantilupe on public as well as on personal grounds; and my regret is only tempered, not altogether removed, when I see how well, how honourably and how happily he is employing his well-deserved leisure. But I am glad to know that we have still, and to believe that we shall continue to have, in the great Council of the nation, men of his distinguished type and tradition to form one, and that not the least important, of the balances and counter-checks in the great and complicated engine of state.
"When, however, he claims—or perhaps I should rather say desires—for the distinguished order of which he is a member, an actual and permanent preponderance in the state, there, I confess, I must part company with him. Nay, I cannot even accept the theory, to which he gave expression, of a fixed and stable representation of interests. It is indeed true that society, by the mysterious dispensation of the Divine Being, is wonderfully compounded of the most diverse elements and classes, corresponding to the various needs and requirements of human life. And it is an ancient theory, supported by the authority of great names, by Plato, my revered master, the poet-philosopher, by Aristotle, the founder of political science, that the problem of a statesman is so to adjust these otherwise discordant elements as to form once for all in the body-politic a perfect, a final and immutable harmony. There is, according to this view, one simple chord and one only, which the great organ of society is adapted to play; and the business of the legislator is merely to tune the instrument so that it shall play it correctly. Thus, if Plato could have had his way, his great common chord, his harmony of producers, soldiers and philosophers, would still have been droning monotonously down the ages, wherever men were assembled to dwell together. Doubtless the concord he conceived was beautiful. But the dissonances he would have silenced, but which, with ever-augmenting force, peal and crash, from his day to ours, through the echoing vault of time, embody, as I am apt to think, a harmony more august than any which even he was able to imagine, and in their intricate succession weave the plan of a world-symphony too high to be apprehended save in part by our grosser sense, but perceived with delight by the pure intelligence of immortal spirits. It is indeed the fundamental defect of all imaginary polities—and how much more of such as fossilize, without even idealizing, the actual!—that even though they be perfect, their perfection is relative only to a single set of conditions; and that could they perpetuate themselves they would also perpetuate these, which should have been but brief and transitory phases in the history of the race. Had it been possible for Plato to establish over the habitable globe his golden chain of philosophic cities, he would have riveted upon the world for ever the institutions of slavery and caste, would have sealed at the source the springs of science and invention, and imprisoned in perennial impotence that mighty genius of empire which alone has been able to co-ordinate to a common and beneficent end the stubborn and rebellious members of this growing creature Man. And if the imagination of a Plato, permitted to work its will, would thus have sterilized the germs of progress, what shall we say of such men as ourselves imposing on the fecundity of nature the limits and rules of our imperfect mensuration! Rather should we, in humility, submit ourselves to her guidance, and so adapt our institutions that they shall hamper as little as may be the movements and forces operating within them. For it is by conflict, as we have now learnt, that the higher emerges from the lower, and nature herself, it would almost seem, does not direct but looks on, as her world emerges in painful toil from chaos. We do not find her with precipitate zeal intervening to arrest at a given point the ferment of creation; stretching her hand when she sees the gleam of the halcyon or the rose to bid the process cease that would destroy them; and sacrificing to the completeness of those lower forms the nobler imperfection of man and of what may lie beyond him. She looks always to the end; and so in our statesmanship should we, striving to express, not to limit, by our institutions the forces with which we have to deal. Our polity should grow, like a skin, upon the living tissue of society. For who are we that we should say to this man or that, go plough, keep shop, or govern the state? That we should say to the merchant, 'thus much power shall be yours,' and to the farmer, 'thus much yours?' No! rather let us say to each and to all, Take the place you can, enjoy the authority you can win! Let our constitution express the balance of forces in our society, and as they change let the disposition of power change with them! That is the creed of liberalism, supported by nature herself, and sanctioned, I would add with reverence, by the Almighty Power, in the disposition and order of His stupendous creation.
"But it is not a creed that levels, nor one that destroys. None can have more regard than I—not Cantilupe himself—for our ancient crown, our hereditary aristocracy. These, while they deserve it—and long may they do so!—will retain their honoured place in the hearts and affections of the people. Only, alongside of them, I would make room for all elements and interests that may come into being in the natural course of the play of social forces. But these will be far too numerous, far too inextricably interwoven, too rapidly changing in relative weight and importance, for the intelligence of man to attempt, by any artificial scheme, to balance and adjust their conflicting claims. Open to all men equally, within the limits of prudence, the avenue to political influence, and let them use, as they can and will, in combined or isolated action, the opportunities thus liberally bestowed. That is the key-note of the policy which I have consistently adopted from my entrance into public life, and which I am prepared to prosecute to the end, though that end should be the universal suffrage so dreaded by the last speaker. He tells me it is a policy of reckless abandonment. But abandonment to what? Abandonment to the people! And the question is, Do we trust the people? I do; he does not! There, I venture to think, is the real difference between us.
"Yes, I am not ashamed to say it, I trust the People! What should I trust, if I could not trust them? What else is a nation but an assemblage of the talents, the capacities, the virtues of the citizens of whom it is composed? To utilize those talents, to evoke those capacities, to offer scope and opportunity to those virtues, must be the end and purpose of every great and generous policy; and to that end, up to the measure of my powers, I have striven to minister, not rashly, I hope, nor with impatience, but in the spirit of a sober and assured faith.
"Such is my conception of liberalism. But if liberalism has its mission at home, not less important are its principles in the region of international relations. I will not now embark on the troubled sea of foreign policy. But on one point I will touch, since it was raised by the last speaker, and that is the question of our foreign trade. In no department of human activity, I will venture to say, are the intentions of the Almighty more plainly indicated, than in this of the interchange of the products of labour. To each part of the habitable globe have been assigned its special gifts for the use and delectation of Man; to every nation its peculiar skill, its appropriate opportunities. As the world was created for labour, so it was created for exchange. Across the ocean, bridged at last by the indomitable pertinacity of art, the granaries of the new world call, in their inexhaustible fecundity for the iron and steel, the implements and engines of the old. The shepherd-kings of the limitless plains of Australia, the Indian ryot, the now happily emancipated negro of Georgia and Carolina, feed and are fed by the factories and looms of Manchester and Bradford. Pall Mall is made glad with the produce of the vineyards of France and Spain; and the Italian peasant goes clad in the labours of the Leicester artisan. The golden chain revolves, the silver buckets rise and fall; and one to the other passes on, as it fills and overflows, the stream that pours from Nature's cornucopia! Such is the law ordained by the Power that presides over the destinies of the world; and not all the interferences of man with His beneficent purposes can avail altogether to check and frustrate their happy operation. Yet have the blind cupidity, the ignorant apprehensions of national zeal dislocated, so far as was possible, the wheels and cogs of the great machine, hampered its working and limited its uses. And if there be anything of which this great nation may justly boast, it is that she has been the first to tear down the barriers and dams of a perverted ingenuity, and to admit in unrestricted plenitude to every channel of her verdant meadows the limpid and fertilizing stream of trade.
"Verily she has had her reward! Search the records of history, and you will seek in vain for a prosperity so immense, so continuous, so progressive, as that which has blessed this country in the last half-century of her annals. This access of wealth was admitted indeed by the speaker who preceded me. But he complained that we had taken no account of the changes which the new system was introducing into the character and occupations of the people. It is true; and he would be a rash man who should venture to forecast and to determine the remoter results of such a policy; or should shrink from the consequences of liberty on the ground that he cannot anticipate their character. Which of us would have the courage, even if he had the power, to impose upon a nation for all time the form of its economic life, the type of its character, the direction of its enterprise? The possibilities that lie in the womb of Nature are greater than we can gauge; we can but facilitate their birth, we may not prescribe their anatomy. The evils of the day call for the remedies of the day; but none can anticipate with advantage the necessities of the future. And meantime what cause is there for misgiving? I confess that I see none. The policy of freedom has been justified, I contend, by its results. And so confident am I of this, that the time, I believe, is not far distant, when other countries will awake at last to their own true interests and emulate, not more to their advantage than to ours, our fiscal legislation. I see the time approaching when the nations of the world, laying aside their political animosities, will be knitted together in the peaceful rivalry of trade; when those barriers of nationality which belong to the infancy of the race will melt and dissolve in the sunshine of science and art; when the roar of the cannon will yield to the softer murmur of the loom, and the apron of the artisan, the blouse of the peasant be more honourable than the scarlet of the soldier; when the cosmopolitan armies of trade will replace the militia of death; when that which God has joined together will no longer be sundered by the ignorance, the folly, the wickedness of man; when the labour and the invention of one will become the heritage of all; and the peoples of the earth meet no longer on the field of battle, but by their chosen delegates, as in the vision of our greatest poet, in the 'Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.'"
WITH this peroration Remenham resumed his seat. He had spoken, as indeed was his habit, rather as if he were addressing a public meeting than a company of friends. But at least he had set the ball rolling. To many of those present, as I well knew, his speech and his manner must have been eminently provocative; and naturally to none more than to Mendoza. I had, therefore, no hesitation in signalling out the Conservative chief to give us the opposite point of view. He responded with deliberation, lifting from his chest his sinister Jewish face, and slowly unfolding his long body, while a malicious smile played about his mouth.
"One," he began, "who has not the privilege of immediate access to the counsels of the Divine Being cannot but feel himself at a disadvantage in following a man so favoured as my distinguished friend. The disadvantage, however, is one to which I have had, perforce, to grow accustomed during long years of parliamentary strife, I have resigned myself to creeping where he soars, to guessing where he prophesies. But there is compensation everywhere. And, perhaps, there are certain points which may be revealed to babes and sucklings, while they are concealed from beings more august. The worm, I suppose, must be aware of excrescences and roughnesses of the soil which escape the more comprehensive vision of the eagle; and to the worm, at least, these are of more importance than mountain ranges and oceans which he will never reach. It is from that humble point of view that I shall offer a few remarks supplementary to, perhaps even critical of, the eloquent apostrophe we have been permitted to enjoy.
"The key-note of my friend's address was liberty. There is no British heart which does not beat higher at the sound of that word. But while I listened to his impassioned plea, I could not help wondering why he did not propose to dispense to us in even larger and more liberal measure the supreme and precious gift of freedom. True, he has done much to remove the barriers that separated nation from nation, and man from man. But how much remains to be accomplished before we can be truly said to have brought ourselves into line with Nature! Consider, for example, the policeman! Has my friend ever reflected on all that is implied in that solemn figure; on all that it symbolizes of interference with the purposes of a beneficent Creator? The policeman is a permanent public defiance of Nature. Through him the weak rule the strong, the few the many, the intelligent the fools. Through him survive those whom the struggle for existence should have eliminated. He substitutes the unfit for the fit. He dislocates the economy of the universe. Under his shelter take root and thrive all monstrous and parasitic growths. Marriage clings to his skirts, property nestles in his bosom. And while these flourish, where is liberty? The law of Nature we all know:
The good old rule, the ancient plan That he should take who has the power, And he should keep who can!
"But this, by the witchcraft of property, we have set aside. Our walls of brick and stone we have manned with invisible guards. We have thronged with fiery faces and arms the fences of our gardens and parks. The plate-glass of our windows we have made more impenetrable than adamant. To our very infants we have given the strength of giants. Babies surfeit, while strong men starve; and the foetus in the womb stretches out unformed hands to annex a principality. Is this liberty? Is this Nature? No! It is a Merlin's prison! Yet, monstrous, it subsists! Has our friend, then, no power to dissolve the charm? Or, can it be that he has not the will?
"Again, can we be said to be free, can we be said to be in harmony with Nature, while we endure the bonds of matrimony? While we fetter the happy promiscuity of instinct, and subject our roving fancy to the dominion of 'one unchanging wife?' Here, indeed, I frankly admit, Nature has her revenges; and an actual polygamy flourishes even under the aegis of our law. But the law exists; it is the warp on which, by the woof of property, we fashion that Nessus-shirt, the Family, in which, we have swathed the giant energies of mankind. But while that shirt clings close to every limb, what avails it, in the name of liberty, to snap, here and there, a button or a lace? A more heroic work is required of the great protagonist, if, indeed, he will follow his mistress to the end. He shakes his head. What! Is his service, then, but half-hearted after all? Or, can it be, that behind the mask of the goddess he begins to divine the teeth and claws of the brute? But if nature be no goddess, how can we accept her as sponsor for liberty? And if liberty be taken on its own merits, how is it to be distinguished from anarchy? How, but by the due admixture of coercion? And, that admitted, must we not descend from the mountain-top of prophecy to the dreary plains of political compromise?"
Up to this point Mendoza had preserved that tone of elaborate irony which, it will be remembered, was so disconcerting to English audiences, and stood so much in the way of his popularity. But now his manner changed. Becoming more serious, and I fear I must add, more dull than I had ever heard him before, he gave us what I suppose to be the most intimate exposition he had ever permitted himself to offer of the Conservative point of view as he understood it.
"These," he resumed, "are questions which I must leave my friend to answer for himself. The ground is too high for me. I have no skill in the flights of speculation. I take no pleasure in the enunciation of principles. To my restricted vision, placed as I am upon the earth, isolated facts obtrude themselves with a capricious particularity which defies my powers of generalization. And that, perhaps, is the reason why I attached myself to the party to which I have the honour to belong. For it is, I think, the party which sees things as they are; as they are, that is, to mere human vision. Remenham, in his haste, has called us the party of reaction. I would rather say, we are the party of realism. We have in view, not Man, but Englishmen; not ideal polities, but the British Constitution; not Political Economy, but the actual course of our trade. Through this great forest of fact, this tangle of old and new, these secular oaks, sturdy shrubs, beautiful parasitic creepers, we move with a prudent diffidence, following the old tracks, endeavouring to keep them open, but hesitating to cut new routes till we are clear as to the goal for which we are asked to sacrifice our finest timber. Fundamental changes we regard as exceptional and pathological. Yet, being bound by no theories, when we are convinced of their necessity, we inaugurate them boldly and carry them through to the end. And thus it is that having decided that the time had come to call the people to the councils of the nation, we struck boldly and once for all by a measure which I will never admit—and here I regret that Cantilupe is not with me—which I will never admit to be at variance with the best, and soundest traditions of conservatism.
"But such measures are exceptional, and we hope they will be final. We take no delight in tinkering the constitution. The mechanism of government we recognize to be only a means; the test of the statesman is his power to govern. And remaining, as we do, inaccessible to that gospel of liberty of which our opponents have had a special revelation, we find in the existing state of England much that appears to us to need control. We are unable to share the optimism which animates Remenham and his friends as to the direction and effects of the new forces of industry. Above the whirr of the spindle and the shaft we hear the cry of the poor. Behind our flourishing warehouses and shops we see the hovels of the artisan. We watch along our highroads the long procession of labourers deserting their ancestral villages for the cities; we trace them to the slum and the sweater's den; we follow them to the poorhouse and the prison; we see them disappear engulfed in the abyss, while others press at their heels to take their place and share their destiny. And in face of all this we do not think it to be our duty to fold our arms and invoke the principle of liberty. We feel that we owe it to the nation to preserve intact its human heritage, the only source of its greatness and its wealth; and we are prepared, with such wisdom as we have, to legislate to that end, undeterred by the fear of incurring the charge of socialism.
"But while we thus concern ourselves with the condition of these islands, we have not forgotten that we have relations to the world outside. If, indeed, we could share the views to which Remenham has given such eloquent expression, this is a matter which would give us little anxiety. He beholds, as in a vision, the era of peace and good-will ushered in by the genius of commerce. By a mysterious dispensation of Providence he sees cupidity and competition furthering the ends of charity and peace. But here once more I am unable to follow his audacious flight. Confined to the sphere of observation, I cannot but note that in the long and sanguinary course of history there has been no cause so fruitful of war as the rivalries of trade. Our own annals at every point are eloquent of this truth; nor do I see anything in the conditions of the modern world that should limit its application. We have been told that all nations will adopt our fiscal policy. Why should they, unless it is to their interest? We adopted it because we thought it was to ours; and we shall abandon it if we ever change our opinion. And when I say 'interest' I would not be understood to mean economic interest in the narrower sense. A nation, like an individual, I conceive, has a personality to maintain. It must be its object not to accumulate wealth at all costs, but to develop and maintain capacity, to be powerful, energetic, many-sided, and above all independent. Whether the policy we have adopted will continue to guarantee this result, I am not prophet enough to venture to affirm. But if it does not, I cannot doubt that we shall be driven to revise it. Nor can I believe that other nations, not even our own colonies, will follow us in our present policy, if to do so would be to jeopardy their rising industries and unduly to narrow the scope of their economic energies. I do not, then, I confess, look forward with enthusiasm or with hope to the Crystal Palace millennium that inspired the eloquence of Remenham. I see the future pregnant with wars and rumours of wars. And in particular I see this nation, by virtue of its wealth, its power, its unparalleled success, the target for the envy, the hatred, the cupidity of all the peoples of Europe. I see them looking abroad for outlets for their expanding population, only to find every corner of the habitable globe preoccupied by the English race and overshadowed by the English flag. But from this, which is our main danger, I conjure my main hope for the future. England is more than England. She has grown in her sleep. She has stretched over every continent huge embryo limbs which wait only for the beat of her heart, the motion of her spirit, to assume their form and function as members of one great body of empire. The spirit, I think, begins to stir, the blood to circulate. Our colonies, I believe, are not destined to drop from us like ripe fruit; our dependencies will not fall to other masters. The nation sooner or later will wake to its imperial mission. The hearts of Englishmen beyond the seas will beat in unison with ours. And the federation I foresee is not the federation of Mankind, but that of the British race throughout the world."
He paused, and in the stillness that followed we became aware of the gathering dusk. The first stars were appearing, and the young moon was low in the west. From the shadow below we heard the murmur of a fountain, and the call of a nightingale sounded in the wood. Something in the time and the place must have worked on Mendoza's mood; for when he resumed it was in a different key.
"Such," he began, "is my vision, if I permit myself to dream. But who shall say whether it is more than a dream? There is something in the air to-night which compels candour. And if I am to tell my inmost thought, I must confess on what a flood of nescience we, who seem to direct the affairs of nations, are borne along together with those whom we appear to control. We are permitted, like children, to lay our hands upon the reins; but it is a dark and unknown genius who drives. We are his creatures; and it is his ends, not ours, that are furthered by our contests, our efforts, our ideals. In the arena Remenham and I must play our part, combat bravely, and be ready to die when the crowd turn down their thumbs. But here in a moment of withdrawal, I at least cannot fail to recognize behind the issues that divide us the tie of a common destiny. We shall pass and a new generation will succeed us; a generation to whom our ideals will be irrelevant, our catch-words empty, our controversies unintelligible.
Hi motus animorum atque haec certamina tanta Pulveris exigui jactu compressa quiescunt.
"The dust of oblivion will bury our debates. Something we shall have achieved, but not what we intended. My dream may, perhaps, be furthered by Remenham, and his by me, or, it may be, neither his nor mine by either. The Providence whose purposes he so readily divines is dark to me. And perhaps, for that reason, I am able to regard him with more charity than he has always been willing, I suspect, to extend to me. This, at any rate, is the moment of truce. The great arena is empty, the silent benches vanish into the night. Under the glimmer of the moon figures more than mortal haunt the scene of our ephemeral contests. It is they which stand behind us and deal the blows which seem to be ours. When we are laid in the dust they will animate other combatants; when our names are forgotten they will blazon others in perishable gold. Why, then, should we strive and cry, even now in the twilight hour? The same sky encompasses us, the same stars are above us. What are my opinions, what are Remenham's? Froth on the surface! The current bears all alike along to the destined end. For a moment let us meet and feel its silent, irresistible force; and in this moment reach across the table the hand of peace."
With that he stretched his hand to Remenham, with a kind of pathos of appeal that the other, though I think he did not altogether like it, could hardly refuse to entertain. It was theatrical, it was un-English, but somehow, it was successful. And the whole episode, the closing words and the incomparable gesture, left me with a sense as though a curtain had been drawn upon a phase of our history. Mendoza, somehow, had shut out Remenham, even more than himself, from the field on which the issues of the future were to be fought. And it was this feeling that led me, really a little against my inclination, to select as the next speaker the man who of all who, made up our company, in opinions was the most opposed to Remenham, and in temperament to Mendoza. My choice was Allison, more famous now than he was then, but known even at that time as an unsparing critic of both parties. He responded readily enough; and as he began a spell seemed to snap. The night and the hour were forgotten, and we were back on the dusty field of controversy.
"THIS is all very touching," he began, "but Mendoza is shaking hands with the wrong person. He's much nearer to me than he is to Remenham, and I don't at all despair of converting him. For he does at least understand that the character of every society depends upon its law of property; and he even seems to have a suspicion that the law, as we have it, is not what you would call absolute perfection. It's true that he shows no particular inclination to alter it. But that may come; and I'm not without hope of seeing, before I die, a Tory-Socialist party. Remenham's is a different case, and I fear there's nothing to be made of him. He does, I believe, really think that in some extraordinary way the law of property, like the Anglican Church, is one of the dispensations of Providence; and that if he removes all other restrictions, leaving that, he will have what he calls a natural society. But Nature, as Mendoza has pointed out, is anarchy. Civilization means restriction; and so does socialism. So far from being anarchy, it is the very antithesis of it. Anarchy is the goal of liberalism, if liberalism could ever be persuaded to be logical. So the scarecrow of anarchy, at least, need not frighten away any would-be convert to socialism. There remains, it is true, the other scarecrow, revolution; and that, I admit, has more life in it. Socialism is revolutionary; but so is liberalism, or was, while it was anything. Revolution does not imply violence. On the contrary, violence is the abortion of revolution. Do I, for instance, look like a Marat or a Danton? I ask you, candidly!"
He certainly did not. On the contrary, with his short squat figure, pointed beard and spectacles, he presented a curious blend of the middle-class Englishman and the German savant. There was a burst of laughter at his question, in which he joined himself. But when he resumed it was in a more serious tone and somewhat in the manner of a lecturer. It was indeed, at that time, very largely by lectures that he carried on his propaganda.
"No," he said, "socialism may roar; but, in England at any rate, it roars as gently as any sucking-dove. Revolution I admit is the goal; but the process is substitution. We propose to transform society almost without anyone knowing it; to work from the foundation upwards without unduly disturbing the superstructure. By a mere adjustment of rates and taxes we shall redistribute property; by an extension of the powers of local bodies we shall nationalize industry. But in all this there need be no shock, no abrupt transition. On the contrary, it is essential to our scheme that there should not be. We are men of science and we realize that the whole structure of society rests upon habit. With the new organization must therefore grow the new habit that is to support it. To precipitate organic change is merely to court reaction. That is the lesson of all revolution; and it is one which English socialists, at any rate, have learnt. We think, moreover, that capitalist society is, by its own momentum, travelling towards the goal which we desire. Every consolidation of business upon a grand scale implies the development of precisely those talents of organization without which the socialistic state could not come into being or maintain itself; while at the same time the substitution of monopoly for competition removes the only check upon the power of capital to exploit society, and brings home to every citizen in his tenderest point—his pocket—the necessity for that public control from which he might otherwise be inclined to shrink. Capitalist society is thus preparing its own euthanasia; and we socialists ought to be regarded not as assassins of the old order, but as midwives to deliver it of the child with which it is in travail.
"That child will be a society not of liberty but of regulation. It is here that we join issue not only with doctrinaire liberals, but with that large body of ordinary common-sense Englishmen who feel a general and instinctive distrust of all state interference. That distrust, I would point out, is really an anachronism. It dates from a time when the state was at once incompetent and unpopular, from the days of monarchic or aristocratic government carried on frankly in the interests of particular classes or persons. But the democratic revolution and the introduction of bureaucracy has swept all that away; and governments in every civilized country are now moving towards the ideal of an expert administration controlled by an alert and intelligent public opinion. Much, it is true, has yet to be done before that ideal will be realized. In some countries, notably in the United States, the necessity of the expert has hardly made itself felt. In others, such as Germany, popular control is very inadequately provided for. But the tendency is clear; and nowhere clearer than in this country. Here at any rate we may hopefully look forward to a continual extension both of the activity and of the intelligence of public officials; while at the same time, by an appropriate development of the representative machinery, we may guard ourselves against the danger of an irresponsible bureaucracy. The problem of reconciling administrative efficiency with popular control is no doubt a difficult one; but I feel confident that it can be solved. This perhaps is hardly the place to develop my favourite idea of the professional representative; but I may be permitted to refer to it in passing. By a professional representative I mean one trained in a scientific and systematic way to elicit the real opinion of his constituents, and to embody it in practicable proposals. He will have to study what they really want, not what they think they want, and to discover for himself in what way it can be obtained. Such men need not be elected; indeed I am inclined to think that the plan of popular election has had its day. The essential is that they should be selected by some test of efficiency, such as examination or previous record, and that they should keep themselves in constant touch with their constituents. But I must not dwell upon details. My main object is to show that when government is in the hands of expert administrators, controlled by expert representatives, there need be no anxiety felt in extending indefinitely the sphere of the state.
"This extension will of course be primarily economic, for, as is now generally recognized, the whole character of a society depends upon its economic organization. Revolution, if it is to be profound, must begin with the organization of industry; but it does not follow that it will end there. It is a libel on the socialist ideal to call it materialistic, to say that it is indifferent or hostile to the higher activities. No one, to begin with, is more conscious than a true socialist of the importance of science. Not only is the sociology on which his position is based a branch of science; but it is a fundamental part of his creed that the progress of man depends upon his mastery of Nature, and that for acquiring that mastery science is his only weapon. Again, it is absurd to accuse us of indifference to ethics. Our standards, indeed, may not be the same as those of bourgeois society; if they were, that would be their condemnation; for a new economic regime necessarily postulates a new ethic. But every regime requires and produces its appropriate standards; and the socialist regime will be no exception. Our feeling upon that subject is simply that we need not trouble about the ethic because it will follow of itself upon the economic revolution. For, as we read history, the economic factor determines all the others. 'Man ist was er isst,' as the German said; and morals, art, religion, all the so-called 'ideal activities,' are just allotropic forms of bread and meat. They will come by themselves if they are wanted; and in the socialist state they will be better not worse provided for than under the present competitive system. For here again the principle of the expert will come in. It will be the business of the state, if it determines that such activities ought to be encouraged, to devise a machinery for selecting and educating men of genius, in proportion to the demand, and assigning to them their appropriate sphere of activity and their sufficient wage. This will apply, I conceive, equally to the ministers of religion as to the professors of the various branches of art. Nor would I suggest that the socialist community should establish any one form of religion, seeing that we are not in a position to determine scientifically which, or whether any, are true. I would give encouragement to all and several, of course under the necessary restrictions, in the hope that, in course of time, by a process of natural selection, that one will survive which is the best adapted to the new environment. But meantime the advantage of the new over the old organization is apparent. We shall hear no more of genius starving in a garret; of ill-paid or over-paid ministers of the gospel; of privileged and unprivileged sects. All will be orderly, regular, and secure, as it should be in a civilized state; and for the first time in history society will be in a position to extract the maximum of good from those strange and irregular human organizations whose subsistence hitherto has been so precarious and whose output so capricious and uncertain. A socialist state, if I may say so, will pigeon-hole religion, literature and art; and if these are really normal and fruitful functions they cannot fail, like other functions, to profit by such treatment.
"I have thus indicated in outline the main features of the socialist scheme—an economic revolution accomplished by a gradual and peaceful transition and issuing in a system of collectivism so complete as to include all the human activities that are really valuable. But what I should find it hard to convey, except to an audience prepared by years of study, is the enthusiasm or rather the grounds for the enthusiasm, that animates us. Whereas all other political parties are groping in the dark, relying upon partial and outworn formulae, in which even they themselves have ceased to believe, we alone advance in the broad daylight, along a road whose course we clearly trace backward and forward, towards a goal distinctly seen on the horizon. History and analysis are our guides; history for the first time comprehended, analysis for the first time scientifically applied. Unlike all the revolutionists of the past, we derive our inspiration not from our own intuitions or ideals, but from the ascertained course of the world. We co-operate with the universe; and hence at once our confidence and our patience. We can afford to wait because the force of events is bearing us on of its own accord to the end we desire. Even if we rest on our oars, none the less we are drifting onwards; or if we are checked for a moment the eddy in which we are caught is merely local. Alone among all politicians we have faith; but our faith is built upon science, and it is therefore a faith which will endure."
WITH that Allison concluded; and almost before he had done MacCarthy, without waiting my summons, had leapt to his feet and burst into an impassioned harangue. With flashing eyes and passionate gestures he delivered himself as follows, his Irish accent contrasting pleasantly with that of the last speaker.
"May God forgive me," he cried, "that ever I have called myself a socialist, if this is what socialism means! But it does not! I will rescue the word! I will reclaim it for its ancient nobler sense—socialism the dream of the world, the light of the grail on the marsh, the mystic city of Sarras, the vale of Avalon! Socialism the soul of liberty, the bond of brotherhood, the seal of equality! Who is he that with sacrilegious hands would seize our Ariel and prison him in that tree of iniquity the State? Day is not farther from night, nor Good from Evil, than the socialism of the Revolution from this of the desk and the stool, from this enemy wearing our uniform and flaunting our coat of arms. For nigh upon a century we have fought for liberty; and now they would make us gaolers to bind our own souls. 1789, 1830, 1848—are these dates branded upon our hearts, only to stamp us as patient sheep in the flock of bureaucracy? No! They are the symbols of the spirit; and those whom they set apart, outcasts from the kingdoms of this world and citizens of the kingdom of God, wherever they wander are living flames to consume institutions and laws, and to light in the hearts of men the fires of pity and wrath and love. Our city is not built with Blue books, nor cemented with office dust; nor is it bonds of red-tape that make and keep it one. No! it is the attraction, uncompelled, of spirits made free; the shadowing into outward form of the eternal joy of the soul!"
He paused and seemed to collect himself; and then in a quieter tone: "Socialism," he proceeded, "is one with anarchy! I know the terrors of that word; but they are the terrors of an evil conscience; for it is only an order founded on iniquity that dreads disorder. Why do you fear for your property and lives, you who fear anarchy? It is because you have stolen the one and misdevoted the other; because you have created by your laws the man you call the criminal; because you have bred hunger, and hunger has bred rage. For this I do not blame you, any more than I blame myself. You are yourselves victims of the system you maintain, and your enemy, no less than mine, if you knew it, is government. For government means compulsion, exclusion, distinction, separation; while anarchy is freedom, union and love. Government is based on egotism and fear, anarchy on fraternity. It is because we divide ourselves into nations that we endure the oppression of armaments; because we isolate ourselves as individuals that we invoke the protection of laws. If I did not take what my brother needs I should not fear that he would take it from me; if I did not shut myself off from his want, I should not deem it less urgent than my own. All governing persons are persons set apart. And therefore it is that whether they will or no they are oppressors, or, at best, obstructors. Shut off from the breath of popular instinct, which is the breath of life, they cannot feel, and therefore cannot think, rightly. And, in any case, how could they understand, even with the best will in the world, the multifarious interests they are expected to control? A man knows nothing but what he practises; and in every branch of work only those are fitted to direct who are themselves the workers. Intellectually, as well as morally, government is eternally bankrupt; and what is called representative government is no better than any other, for the governors are equally removed in sympathy and knowledge from the governed. Nay, experience shows, if we would but admit it, that under no system have the rulers been more incompetent and corrupt than under this which we call democratic. Is not the very word 'politician' everywhere a term of reproach? Is not a government office everywhere synonymous with incapacity and sloth? What a miserable position is that of a Member of Parliament, compelled to give his vote on innumerable questions of which he does not understand the rudiments, and giving it at the dictation of party chiefs who themselves are controlled by the blind and brainless mechanism of the caucus! The people are the slaves of their representatives, the representatives of their chiefs, and the chiefs of a conscienceless machine! And that is the last word of governmental science! Oh, divine spirit of man, in what chains have you bound yourself, and call it liberty, and clap your hands!
"And then comes one and says, 'because you are free, tie yourself tighter and tighter in your own bonds!' Are these hands not yours that fasten the knots? Why then do you fear? Here is a limb free; fasten it quick! Your head still turns; come, fix it in a vice! Now you are fast! Now you cannot move! How beautiful, how orderly, how secure! And this, and this is socialism! And it was to accomplish this that France opened the sluices that have deluged the earth with blood! What! we have broken the bonds of iron to bind ourselves in tape! We have discrowned Napoleon to crown ... to crown...."
He looked across at Allison, and suddenly pulled himself up. Then, attempting the tone of exposition, "There is only one way out of it," he resumed, "the extension of free co-operation in every department of activity, including those which at present are regulated by the State. You will say that this is impracticable; but why? Already, in all that you most care about, that is the method you actually adopt. The activities of men that are freest in the society in which we live are those of art and science and amusement. And all these are, I will not say regulated by, but expressed in, voluntary organizations, clubs, academies, societies, what you will. The Royal Society and the British Association are types of the right way of organizing; and it is a way that should and must be applied throughout the whole structure. Every trade and business should be conducted by a society voluntarily formed of all those who choose to engage in it, electing and removing their own officials, determining their own policy, and co-operating by free arrangement with other similar bodies. A complex interweaving of such associations, with order everywhere, compulsion nowhere, is the form of society to which I look forward, and which I see already growing up within the hard skin of the older organisms. Rules there will be but not laws, rules gladly obeyed because they will have been freely adopted, and because there will be no compulsion upon anyone to remain within the brotherhood that approves and maintains them. Anarchy is not the absence of order, it is absence of force; it is the free outflowing of the spirit into the forms in which it delights; and in such forms alone, as they grow and change, can it find an expression which is not also a bondage. You will say this is chimerical. But look at history! Consider the great achievements of the Middle Age! Were they not the result of just such a movement as I describe? It was men voluntarily associating in communes and grouping themselves in guilds that built the towers and churches and adorned them with the glories of art that dazzles us still in Italy and France. The history of the growth of the state, of public authority and compulsion, is the history of the decline from Florence and Nuremberg to London and New York. As the power of the state grows the energy of the spirit dwindles; and if ever Allison's ideal should be realized, if ever the activity of the state should extend through and through to every department of life, the universal ease and comfort which may thus be disseminated throughout society will have been purchased dearly at the price of the soul. The denizens of that city will be fed, housed and clothed to perfection; only—and it is a serious drawback—only they will be dead.
"Oh!" he broke out, "if I could but get you to see that this whole order under which you live is artificial and unnecessary! But we are befogged by the systems we impose upon our imagination and call science. We have been taught to regard history as a necessary process, until we come to think it must also be a good one; that all that has ever happened ought to have happened just so and no otherwise. And thus we justify everything past and present, however palpably in contradiction with our own intuitions. But these are mere figments of the brain. History, for the most part, believe me, is one gigantic error and crime. It ought to have been other than it was; and we ought to be other than we are. There is no natural and inevitable evolution towards good; no co-operating with the universe, other than by connivance at its crimes. That little house the brain builds to shelter its own weakness must be torn down if we would face the truth and pursue the good. Then we shall see amid what blinding storms of wind and rain, what darkness of elements hostile or indifferent, our road lies across the mountains towards the city of our desire. Then and then only shall we understand the spirit of revolution. That there are things so bad that they can only be burnt up by fire; that there are obstructions so immense that they can only be exploded by dynamite; that the work of destruction is a necessary preliminary to the work of creation, for it is the destruction of the prison walls wherein the spirit is confined; and that in that work the spirit itself is the only agent, unhelped by powers of nature or powers of a world beyond—that is the creed—no, I will not say the creed, that is the insight and vision by which we of the Revolution live. By that I believe we shall triumph. But whether we triumph or no, our life itself is a victory, for it is a life lived in the spirit. To shatter material bonds that we may bind closer the bonds of the soul, to slough dead husks that we may liberate living forms, to abolish institutions that we may evoke energies, to put off the material and put on the spiritual body, that, whether we fight with the tongue or the sword, is the inspiration of our movement, that, and that only, is the true and inner meaning of anarchy.
"Anarchy is identified with violence; and I will not be so hypocritical and base as to deny that violence must be one of our means of action. Force is the midwife of society; and never has radical change been accomplished without it. What came by the sword by the sword must be destroyed: and only through violence can violence come to an end. Nay, I will go further and confess, since here if anywhere we are candid, that it is the way of violence to which I feel called myself, and that I shall die as I have lived, an active revolutionary. But because force is a way, is a necessary way, is my way, I do not imagine that there is no other. Were it not idle to wish, I could rather wish that I were a poet or a saint, to serve the same Lord by the gentler weapons of the spirit. There are anarchists who never made a speech and never carried a rifle, whom we know as our brothers, though perhaps they know not us. Two I will name who live for ever, Shelley, the first of poets, were it not that there is one greater than he, the mystic William Blake. We are thought of as men of blood; we are hounded over the face of the globe. And who of our persecutors would believe that the song we bear in our hearts, some of us, I may speak at least for one, is the most inspired, the most spiritual challenge ever flung to your obtuse, flatulent, stertorous England:
Bring me my bow of burning gold, Bring me my arrows of desire, Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till I have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land.
"England! No, not England, but Europe, America, the world! Where is Man, the new Man, there is our country. But the new Man is buried in the old; and wherever he struggles in his tomb, wherever he knocks we are there to help to deliver him. When the guards sleep, in the silence of the dawn, rises the crucified Christ. And the angel that sits at the grave is the angel of Anarchy."
THUS abruptly he brought to a close his extraordinary peroration, to which I fear the written word has done but poor justice. A long silence followed; in it there was borne to us from below the murmur of the hidden fountain, the wail of the nightingale. It was night now; the moon had set, and the sky was thick with stars. Among them one planet was blazing red, just opposite where I sat; and I saw the eyes of my neighbour, Henry Martin, fixed upon it. He was so lost in thought that he did not hear me at first when I asked him whether he would care to follow on. But he assented willingly enough as soon as he understood. And as he rose I could not help admiring, as I had often done before, the singular beauty of his countenance. His books, I think, do him injustice; they are cold and academic. But there was nothing of that in the man himself; never was spirit so alert; and that alertness was reflected in his person and bearing, his erect figure, his brilliant eyes, and the tumultuous sweep of his now whitening beard. He stood for a moment silent, with his eyes still fixed on the red star; then began to speak as follows:
"If," he said, "it be true, as certain mystics maintain, that the world is an effect of the antagonisms of spiritual beings, having their stations in opposite quarters of the heavens, then, I think, MacCarthy and myself must represent such a pair of contraries, and move in an antithetic balance through the cycle of experience. I, perhaps, am the Urthona of his prophet Blake, and he the Urizen, or vice versa, it may be, I cannot tell. But our opposition involves, on my part at least, no hostility; and looking across to his quarter of the sky I can readily conceive how proud a fate it must be to burn there, so red, so sumptuous, and so superb. My own light is pale by comparison, a mere green and blue; yet it is equally essential; and without it there might be a danger that he would consume the world. I speak in metaphors, that I may effect as gently as possible the necessary transition, so cold and abrupt, from the prophet to the critic. But you, sir, in calling upon me, knew what you were doing. You knew well that you were inviting Aquarius to empty his watering-pot on Mars. And Mars, I am sure, will pardon me if I obey. Unlike all the previous speakers, I am, by vocation, a sceptic; and the vocation I hold to be a noble one. There are people who think, perhaps, indeed, there is almost nobody who does not think, that action is the sole end of life. Criticism, they hold, is a kind of disease to which some people are subject, and which, in extreme cases, may easily be fatal. The healthy state, on the other hand, they think, is that of the enthusiast; of the man who believes and never doubts. Now, that such a state is happy I am very ready to admit; but I cannot hold that it is healthy. How could it be, unless it were based upon a sound, intellectual foundation? But no such foundation has been or will be reached except through criticism; and all criticism implies and engenders doubt. A man who has never experienced, nay, I will say who is not constantly reiterating, the process of criticism, is a man who has no right to his enthusiasm. For he has won it at the cost of drugging his mind with passion; and that I maintain is a bad and wrong thing. I maintain it to be bad and wrong in itself, and quite apart from any consequences it may produce; for it is a primary duty to seek what is true and eschew what is false. But even from the secondary point of view of consequences, I have the gravest doubts as to the common assumption that the effects of enthusiasm are always preponderantly if not wholly good. When I consider, for example, the history of religion, I find no warrant for affirming that its services have outweighed its disservices. Jesus Christ, the greatest and, I think, the sanest of enthusiasts, lit the fires of the Inquisition and set up the Pope at Rome. Mahomet deluged the earth with blood, and planted the Turk on the Bosphorus. Saint Frances created a horde of sturdy beggars. Luther declared the Thirty Years War. Criticism would have arrested the course of these men; but would the world have been the worse? I doubt it. There would have been less heat; but there might have been more light. And, for my part, I believe in light. It may, indeed, be true that intellect without passion is barren; but it is certain that passion without intellect is mischievous. And since these powers, which should be united, are, in fact, at war in the great duel which runs through history, I take my stand with the intellect. If I must choose, I would rather be barren than mischievous. But it is my aim to be fruitful and to be fruitful through criticism. That means, I fear, that I am bound to make myself unpleasant to everybody. But I do it, not of malice prepense, but as in duty bound. You will say, perhaps, that that only makes the matter worse. Well, so be it! I will apologize no more, but proceed at once to my disagreeable task.
"Let me say then first, that in listening to the speakers who have preceded me, while admiring the beauty and ingenuity of the superstructures they have raised, I have been busy, according to my practice, in questioning the foundations. And this is the kind of result I have arrived at. All political convictions vary between the two extremes which I will call Collectivism and Anarchy. Each of these pursues at all costs a certain end—Collectivism, order, and Anarchy, liberty. Each is held as a faith and propagated as a religion. And between them lie those various compromises between faith and experience, idea and fact, which are represented by liberalism, conservatism, and the like. Now, the degree of enthusiasm which accompanies a belief, is commonly in direct proportion to its freedom from empirical elements. Simplicity and immediacy are the characteristics of all passionate conviction. But a critic like myself cannot believe that in politics, or anywhere in the field of practical action, any such simple and immediate beliefs are really and wholly true. Thus, in the case before us, I would point out that neither liberty nor order are sufficient ends in themselves, though each, I think, is part of the end. The liberty that is desirable is that of good people pursuing Good in order; and the order that is desirable is that of good people pursuing Good in liberty. This is a correction which, perhaps, both collectivist and anarchist would accept. What they want, they would say, is that kind of liberty and that kind of order which I have described. But as liberty and order, so conceived, imply one another, the difference between the two positions ceases to be one of ends and becomes one of means. But every problem of means is one of extreme complexity which can only be solved, in the most tentative way, by observation and experiment. And opinions based upon such a process, though they may be strongly held, cannot be held with the simplicity and force of a religious or ethical intuition. We might, conceivably, on this basis adopt the position either of the collectivist or of the anarchist; but we should do so not as enthusiasts, but as critics, with a full consciousness that we are resting not upon an absolute principle, but upon a balance of probabilities.
"This, then, is the first point I wished to make, that the whole question is one to be attacked by criticism, not by intuition. But now, tested by criticism, both the extreme positions suggest the gravest possible difficulties and doubts. In the case of anarchy, especially, these force themselves upon the most superficial view. The anarchist maintains, in effect, that to bring about his ideal of ordered liberty all you have to do is to abolish government. But he can point to no experience that will justify such a belief. It is based upon a theory of human nature which is contradicted by all the facts known to us. For if men, were it not for government, might be living in the garden of Eden, how comes it that they ever emerged from that paradise? No, it is not government that is the root of our troubles, it is the niggardliness of Nature and the greed of man. And both these are primitive facts which would be strengthened, not destroyed, by anarchy. Can it be believed that the result would be satisfactory? The anarchist may indeed reply that anything would be better than what exists. And I can well understand how some generous and sensitive souls, or some victims of intolerable oppression, may be driven into such counsels. But they are surely counsels of despair. Or is it possible really to hold—as MacCarthy apparently does—that on the eve of a bloody revolution, whereby all owners of property will be summarily deprived of all they have, the friendly and co-operative instincts of human nature will immediately come into play without friction; that the infinitely complex problems of production and distribution will solve themselves, as it were, of their own accord; that there will be a place ready for everybody to do exactly the work he wants; that everybody will want to work at something, and will be contented with the wage assigned him, that there will be no shortage, no lack of adaptation of demand to supply; and all this achieved, not by virtue of any new knowledge or new capacity, but simply by a rearrangement of existing elements? Does anyone, does MacCarthy really, in a calm moment, believe all this? And is he prepared to stake society upon his faith? If he be, he is indeed beyond the reach of my watering-pot. I leave him, therefore, burning luridly and unsubdued, and pass on to Allison.
"Allison's flame is gentler; and I would not wish, even if I could, altogether to extinguish it. But I am anxious, I confess, to temper it; for in colour, to my taste, it is a little ghastly; and I fear that if it increased in intensity, it might even become too hot, though I do not suggest that that is a present danger. To drop the metaphor, my objections to collectivism are not as fundamental as my objections to anarchy, nor are they based upon any lack of appreciation of the advantages of that more equitable distribution of the opportunities of life which I take to be at the bottom of the collectivist ideal. I do not share—no man surely who has reflected could share—the common prejudice that there is something fundamental, natural, and inevitable about the existing organization of property. On the contrary, it is clear to me that it is inequitable; and that the substitution of the system advocated by collectivists would be an immense improvement, if it could be successfully carried out, and if it did not endanger other Goods, which may be even more important than equality of opportunity. Nor do I hold that in a collectivist state there need be any dangerous relaxation of that motive of self-interest which every reasonable man must admit to be, up to a point, the most potent source of all practical energy. I do not see why the state should not pay its servants according to merit just as private companies do, and make the rewards of ambition depend on efficiency. In this purely economic region there is not, so it seems to me, anything absurd or chimerical in the socialist ideal. My difficulty here is of a different kind. I do not see how, by the democratic machinery contemplated, it will be possible to secure officials sufficiently competent and disinterested to be entrusted with functions so important and so difficult as those which would be demanded of them under the socialist regime. In a democracy the government can hardly rise above—in practice, I think, it tends to fall below—the average level of honesty and intelligence. In the United States, for example, it is notorious that the whole machinery of government, and especially of local government, where the economic functions are important, is exploited by the more unscrupulous members of the community; and this tendency must be immensely accentuated in every society in proportion as the functions of government become important. A socialist state badly administered would, I believe, be worse than the state under which we live, to the same degree in which, when well administered, it would be better. And I do not, I confess, see what guarantees socialists can offer that the administration will be good. I have far less confidence than Allison in mere machinery; and I am sure that no machinery will produce good results in a society where a large proportion of the citizens have no other idea than to exploit the powers of government in their own interest. But such, I believe, is the case in existing societies; and I do not see by what miracle they are going to be transformed.
"Such is my first difficulty with regard to collectivism. And though it would not prevent me from supporting, as in fact I do support, cautious and tentative experiments in the direction of practical socialism, it does prevent me from looking to a collectivist future with anything like the breezy confidence which animates Allison. And I will go further: I will say that no man who possesses an adequate intelligence, and does not deliberately stifle it, has a right to any such confidence. Setting aside, however, for the sake of argument, this difficulty, and admitting the possibility of an honest and efficient collectivist state, I am confronted with a further and even graver cause of hesitation. For while I consider that the distribution of the opportunities of life is, under the existing system, in the highest degree capricious and inequitable, yet I would prefer such inequity to the most equitable arrangement in the world if it afforded a better guarantee for the realization of certain higher goods than would be afforded by the improved system. And I am not clear in my own mind, and I do not see how anyone can be clear, that collectivism gives as good a security as the present system for the realization of these higher goods. And this brings me back to the question of liberty. On this point there is, I am well aware, a great deal of cant talked, and I have no wish to add to it. Under our present arrangements, I admit, for the great mass of people, there is no liberty worth the name; seeing that they are bound and tied all their lives to the meanest necessities. And yet we see that out of the midst of all this chaos of wrong, there have emerged and do emerge artists, poets, men of science, saints. And the appearance of such men seems to me to depend on the fact that a considerable minority have the power to choose, for good or for evil, their own life, to follow their bent, even in the face of tremendous difficulties, and perhaps because of those difficulties, in the more fortunate cases, to realize, at whatever cost of suffering, great works and great lives. But under the system sketched by Allison I have the gravest doubts whether any man of genius would ever emerge. The very fact that everybody's career will be regulated for him, and his difficulties smoothed away, that, in a word, the open road will imply the beaten track, will, I fear, diminish, if not destroy, the enterprise, the innate spirit of adventure, in the spiritual as in the physical world, on which depends all that we call, or ought to call, progress. A collectivist state, it is true, might establish and endow academies; but would it ever produce a Shakespeare or a Michelangelo? It might engender and foster religious orthodoxy; but would it have a place for the reformer or the saint? Should we not have to pay for the general level of comfort and intelligence, by suppressing the only thing good in itself, the manifestation of genius? I do not say dogmatically that it would be so: I do not even say dogmatically that, even if it were, the argument would be conclusive against the collectivist state. But the issue is so tremendous that it necessarily makes me pause, as it must, I contend, any candid man, who is not prejudiced by a preconceived ideal.
"Now, it is not for the sake of recommending any opinion of my own that I have dwelt on these considerations. It is, rather, to illustrate and drive home the point with which I began, that the intellect has its rights, that it enters into every creed, and that it undermines, in every creed, all elements of mere irrational or anti-rational faith; that this fact can only be disguised by a conscious or unconscious predetermination, not to let the intellect have its say; and that such predetermination is a very serious error and vice. It is without shame and without regret, on the contrary it is with satisfaction and self-approval, that I find in my own case, my intelligence daily more and more undermining my instinctive beliefs. If, as some have held, it were necessary to choose between reason and passion, I would choose reason. But I find no such necessity; for reason to me herself is a passion. Men think the life of reason cold. How little do they know what it is to be responsive to every call, solicited by every impulse, yet still, like the magnet, vibrate ever to the north, never so tense, never so aware of the stress and strain of force as when most irremovably fixed upon that goal. The intensity of life is not to be measured by the degree of oscillation. It is at the stillest point that the most tremendous energies meet; and such a point is the intelligence open to infinity. For such stillness I feel myself to be destined, if ever I could attain it. But others, I suppose, like MacCarthy, have a different fate. In the celestial world of souls, the hierarchy of spirits, there is need of the planet no less than of its sun. The station and gravity of the one determines the orbit of the other, and the antagonism that keeps them apart also knits them together. There is no motion of MacCarthy's but I vibrate to it; and about my immobility he revolves. But both of us, as I am inclined to think, are included in a larger system and move together on a remoter centre. And the very law of our contention, as perhaps one day we may come to see, is that of a love that by discord achieves harmony."
THE conclusion of Martin's speech left me somewhat in doubt how to proceed. All of the company who were primarily interested in politics had now spoken; and I was afraid there might be a complete break in the subject of our discourse. Casting about, I could think of nothing better than to call upon Wilson, the biologist. For though he was a specialist, he regarded everything as a branch of his specialty; and would, I knew, be as ready to discourse on society as on anything else. Although, therefore, I disliked a certain arrogance he was wont to display, I felt that, since he was to speak, this was the proper place to introduce him. I asked him accordingly to take up the thread of the debate; and without pause his aggressive voice began to assail our ears.
"I don't quite know," he began, "why a mere man of science should be invited to intervene in a debate on these high subjects. Politics, I have always understood, is a kind of mystery, only to be grasped by a favoured few, and then not by any processes of thought, but by some kind of intuition. But of late years something seems to have happened. The intuition theory was all very well when the intuitions did not conflict, or when, at least, those who were possessed by one, never came into real intellectual contact with those who were possessed by another. But here, to-night, have we met together upon this terrace, been confronted with the most opposite principles jostling in the roughest way, and, as it seems to the outsider, simply annihilating one another. Whence Martin's plea for criticism; a plea with which I most heartily sympathize, only that he gave no indication of the basis on which criticism itself is to rest. And perhaps that is where and why I come in. I have been watching to-night with curiosity, and I must confess with a little amusement, one building after another laboriously raised by each speaker in turn, only to collapse ignominiously at the first touch administered by his successor. And why? For the ancient reason, that the structures were built upon the sand. Well, I have raised no building myself to speak of. But I am one of an obscure group of people who are working at solid foundations; which is only another way of saying that I am a man of science. Only a biologist, it is true; heaven forfend that I should call myself a sociologist! But biology is one of the disciplines that are building up that general view of Nature and the world which is gradually revolutionizing all our social conceptions. The politicians, I am afraid, are hardly aware of this. And that is why—if I may say so without offence—their utterances are coming to seem more and more a kind of irrelevant prattle. The forces that really move the world have passed out of their control. And it is only where the forces are at work that the living ideas move upon the waters. Politicians don't study science; that is the extraordinary fact. And yet every day it becomes clearer that politics is either an applied science or a charlatanism. Only, unfortunately, as the most important things are precisely the last to be known about, and it is exactly where it is most imperative to act that our ignorance is most complete, the science of politics has hardly yet even begun to be studied. Hence our forlorn paralysis of doubt whenever we pause to reflect; and hence the kind of blind desperation with which earnest people are impelled to rush incontinently into practice. The position of MacCarthy is very intelligible, however much it be, to my mind—what shall I say?—regrettable. There is, in fact, hardly a question that has been raised to-night that is at present capable of scientific determination. And with that word I ought perhaps, in my capacity of man of science, to sit down.
"And so I would, if it were not that there is something else, besides positive conclusions, that results from a long devotion to science. There is a certain attitude towards life, a certain sense of what is important and what is not, a view of what one may call the commonplaces of existence, that distinguishes, I think, all competent people who have been trained in that discipline. For we do think about politics, or rather about society, even we specialists. And between us we are gradually developing a sort of body of first principles which will be at the basis of any future sociology. It is these that I feel tempted to try to indicate. And the more so, because they are so foreign to much that has been spoken here to-night. I have had a kind of feeling, to tell the truth, throughout this whole discussion, of dwelling among the tombs and listening to the voices of the dead. And I feel a kind of need to speak for the living, for the new generation with which I believe I am in touch. I want to say how the problems you have raised look to us, who live in the dry light of physical science.
"Let me say, then, to begin with, that for us the nineteenth century marks a breach with the whole past of the world to which there is nothing comparable in human annals. We have developed wholly new powers; and, coincidentally and correspondingly, a wholly new attitude to life. Of the powers I do not intend to speak; the wonders of steam and electricity are the hackneyed theme of every halfpenny paper. But the attitude to life, which is even more important, is something that has hardly yet been formulated. And I shall endeavour to give some first rough expression to it.
"The first constituent, then, of the new view is that of continuity. We of the new generation realize that the present is a mere transition from the past into the future; that no event and no moment is isolated; that all things, successive as well as coincident, are bound in a single system. Of this system the general formula is causation. But, in human society, the specifically important case of it is the nexus of successive generations. We do not now, we who reflect, regard man as an individual, nor even as one of a body of contemporaries; we regard him as primarily a son and a father. In other words, what we have in mind is always the race: whereas hitherto the central point has been the individual or the citizen. But this shifting in the point of view implies a revolution in ethics and politics. With the ancients, the maintenance of the existing generation was the main consideration, and patriotism its formula. To Marcus Aurelius, to the Stoics, as later to the Christians, the subject of all moral duties was the individual soul, and personal salvation became for centuries the corner-stone of the ethical structure. Well, all the speculation, all the doctrine, all the literature based upon that conception has become irrelevant and meaningless in the light of the new ideal. We no longer conceive the individual save as one in a chain of births. Fatherless, he is inconceivable; sonless, he is abortive. His soul, if he have one, is inseparable from its derivation from the past and its tradition to the future. His duty, his happiness, his value, are all bound up with the fact of paternity; and the same, mutatis mutandis, is true of women. The new generation in a word has a totally new code of ethics; and that code is directed to the end of the perfection of the race. For, and this is the second constituent of the modern view, the series of births is also the vehicle of progress. It is this discovery that gives to our outlook on life its exhilaration and zest. The ancients conceived the Golden Age as lying in the past; the men of the Middle Ages removed it to an imaginary heaven. Both in effect despaired of this world; and consequently their characteristic philosophy is that of the tub or the hermitage. So soon as the first flush of youth was past, pessimism clouded the civilization of Greece and of Rome; and from this Christianity escaped only to take refuge in an imaginary bliss beyond the grave. But we, by means of science, have established progress. We look to a future, a future assured, and a future in this world. Our eyes are on the coming generations; in them centres our hope and our duty. To feed them, to clothe them, to educate them, to make them better than ourselves, to do for them all that has hitherto been so scandalously neglected, and in doing it to find our own life and our own satisfaction—that is our task and our privilege, ours of the new generation.