THE NATIONAL BEING
Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity
By "A.E." [George William Russell]
To The Right Hon. Sir Horace Plunkett
A good many years ago you grafted a slip of poetry on your economic tree. I do not know if you expected a hybrid. This essay may not be economics in your sense of the word. It certainly is not poetry in my sense. The Marriage of Heaven and Earth was foretold by the ancient prophets. I have seen no signs of that union taking place, but I have been led to speculate how they might be brought within hailing distance of each other. In my philosophy of life, we are all responsible for the results of our actions and their effects on others. This book is a consequence of your grafting operation, and so I dedicate it to you.—A.E.
In the year nineteen hundred and fourteen Anno Domini, amid a world conflict, the birth of the infant State of Ireland was announced. Almost unnoticed this birth, which in other times had been cried over the earth with rejoicings or anger. Mars, the red planet of war, was in the ascendant when it was born. Like other births famous in history, the child had to be hidden away for a time, and could not with pride be shown to the people as royal children were wont to be shown. Its enemies were unforgiving, and its friends were distracted with mighty happenings in the world. Hardly did they know whether it would not be deformed if it survived: whether this was the Promised, or another child yet to be conceived in the womb of the Mother of Parliaments. Battles were threatened between two hosts, secular champions of two spiritual traditions, to decide its fate. That such a conflict threatened showed indeed that there was something of iron fibre in the infant, without which in their make-up individuals or nations do nothing worthy of remembrance. Hercules wrestled with twin serpents in his cradle, and there were twin serpents of sectarianism ready to strangle this infant State of ours if its guardians were not watchful, or if the infant was not itself strong enough to destroy them.
It is about the State of Ireland, its character and future, I have here written some kind of imaginative meditation. The State is a physical body prepared for the incarnation of the soul of a race. The body of the national soul may be spiritual or secular, aristocratic or democratic, civil or militarist predominantly. One or other will be most powerful, and the body of the race will by reflex action affect its soul, even as through heredity the inherited tendencies and passions of the flesh affect the indwelling spirit. Our brooding over the infant State must be dual, concerned not only with the body but the soul. When we essay self-government in Ireland our first ideas will, in all probability, be borrowed from the Mother of Parliaments, just as children before they grow to have a character of their own repeat the sentiments of their parents. After a time, if there is anything in the theory of Irish nationality, we will apply original principles as they are from time to time discovered to be fundamental in Irish character. A child in the same way makes discoveries about itself. The mood evoked by picture or poem reveals a love of beauty; the harsh treatment of an animal provokes an outburst of pity; some curiosity of nature draws forth the spirit of scientific inquiry, and so, as the incidents of life reveal the innate affinities of a child to itself, do the adventures of a nation gradually reveal to it its own character and the will which is in it.
For all our passionate discussions over self-government we have had little speculation over our own character or the nature of the civilization we wished to create for ourselves. Nations rarely, if ever, start with a complete ideal. Certainly we have no national ideals, no principles of progress peculiar to ourselves in Ireland, which are a common possession of our people. National ideals are the possession of a few people only. Yet we must spread them in wide commonalty over Ireland if we are to create a civilization worthy of our hopes and our ages of struggle and sacrifice to attain the power to build. We must spread them in wide commonalty because it is certain that democracy will prevail in Ireland. The aristocratic classes with traditions of government, the manufacturing classes with economic experience, will alike be secondary in Ireland to the small farmers and the wage-earners in the towns. We must rely on the ideas common among our people, and on their power to discern among their countrymen the aristocracy of character and intellect.
Civilizations are externalizations of the soul and character of races. They are majestic or mean according to the treasure of beauty, imagination, will, and thought laid up in the soul of the people. That great mid-European State, which while I write is at bay surrounded by enemies, did not arrive at that pitch of power which made it dominant in Europe simply by militarism. That military power depended on and was fed by a vigorous intellectual life, and the most generally diffused education and science existing perhaps in the world. The national being had been enriched by a long succession of mighty thinkers. A great subjective life and centuries of dream preceded a great objective manifestation of power and wealth. The stir in the German Empire which has agitated Europe was, at its root, the necessity laid on a powerful soul to surround itself with equal external circumstance. That necessity is laid on all nations, on all individuals, to make their external life correspond in some measure to their internal dream. A lover of beauty will never contentedly live in a house where all things are devoid of taste. An intellectual man will loathe a disordered society.
We may say with certainty that the external circumstances of people are a measure of their inner life. Our mean and disordered little country towns in Ireland, with their drink-shops, their disregard of cleanliness or beauty, accord with the character of the civilians who inhabit them. Whenever we develop an intellectual life these things will be altered, but not in priority to the spiritual mood. House by house, village by village, the character of a civilization changes as the character of the individuals change. When we begin to build up a lofty world within the national soul, soon the country becomes beautiful and worthy of respect in its externals. That building up of the inner world we have neglected. Our excited political controversies, our playing at militarism, have tended to bring men's thoughts from central depths to surfaces. Life is drawn to its frontiers away from its spiritual base, and behind the surfaces we have little to fall back on. Few of our notorieties could be trusted to think out any economic or social problem thoroughly and efficiently. They have been engaged in passionate attempts at the readjustment of the superficies of things. What we require more than men of action at present are scholars, economists, scientists, thinkers, educationalists, and litterateurs, who will populate the desert depths of national consciousness with real thought and turn the void into a fullness. We have few reserves of intellectual life to draw upon when we come to the mighty labor of nation-building. It will be indignantly denied, but I think it is true to say that the vast majority of people in Ireland do not know the difference between good and bad thinking, between the essential depths and the shallows in humanity. How could people, who never read anything but the newspapers, have any genuine knowledge of any subject on earth or much imagination of anything beautiful in the heavens?
What too many people in Ireland mistake for thoughts are feelings. It is enough to them to vent like or dislike, inherited prejudices or passions, and they think when they have expressed feeling they have given utterance to thought. The nature of our political controversies provoked passion, and passion has become dominant in our politics. Passion truly is a power in humanity, but it should never enter into national policy. It is a dangerous element in human life, though it is an essential part of our strangely compounded nature. But in national life it is the most dangerous of all guides. There are springs of power in ourselves which in passion we draw on and are amazed at their depth and intensity, yet we do not make these the master light of our being, but rather those divine laws which we have apprehended and brooded upon, and which shine with clear and steady light in our souls. As creatures rise in the scale of being the dominant factor in life changes. In vegetation it may be appetite; instinct in bird and beast for man a life at once passionate and intellectual; but the greater beings, the stars and planets, must wheel in the heavens under the guidance of inexorable and inflexible law. Now the State is higher in the scale of being than the individual, and it should be dominated solely by moral and intellectual principles. These are not the outcome of passion or prejudice, but of arduous thought. National ideals must be built up with the same conscious deliberation of purpose as the architect of the Parthenon conceived its lofty harmony of shining marble lines, or as the architect of Rheims Cathedral designed its intricate magnificence and mystery. Nations which form their ideals and marry them in the hurry of passion are likely to repent without leisure, and they will not be able to divorce those ideals without prolonged domestic squabbles and public cleansing of dirty linen. If we are to build a body for the soul of Ireland it ought not to be a matter of reckless estimates or jerry-building. We have been told, during my lifetime at least, not to criticize leaders, to trust leaders, and so intellectual discussion ceased and the high principles on which national action should be based became less and less understood, less and less common possessions. The nation was not conceived of as a democracy freely discussing its laws but as a secret society with political chiefs meeting in the dark and issuing orders. No doubt our political chieftains loved their country, but love has many degrees of expression from the basest to the highest. The basest love will wreck everything, even the life of the beloved, to gratify ignoble desires. The highest love conspires with the imaginative reason to bring about every beautiful circumstance around the beloved which will permit of the highest development of its life. There is no real love apart from this intellectual brooding. Men who love Ireland ignobly brawl about her in their cups, quarrel about her with their neighbor, allow no freedom of thought of her or service of her other than their own, take to the cudgel and the rifle, and join sectarian orders or lodges to ensure that Ireland will be made in their own ignoble image. Those who love Ireland nobly desire for her the highest of human destinies. They would ransack the ages and accumulate wisdom to make Irish life seem as noble in men's eyes as any the world has known. The better minds in every race, eliminating passion and prejudice, by the exercise of the imaginative reason have revealed to their countrymen ideals which they recognized were implicit in national character. It is such discoveries we have yet to make about ourselves to unite us to fulfill our destiny. We have to discover what is fundamental in Irish character, the affections, leanings, tendencies towards one or more of the eternal principles which have governed and inspired all great human effort, all great civilizations from the dawn of history. A nation is but a host of men united by some God-begotten mood, some hope of liberty or dream of power or beauty or justice or brotherhood, and until that master idea is manifested to us there is no shining star to guide the ship of our destinies.
Our civilization must depend on the quality of thought engendered in the national being. We have to do for Ireland—though we hope with less arrogance—what the long and illustrious line of German thinkers, scientists, poets, philosophers, and historians did for Germany, or what the poets and artists of Greece did for the Athenians: and that is, to create national ideals, which will dominate the policy of statesmen, the actions of citizens, the universities, the social organizations, the administration of State departments, and unite in one spirit urban and rural life. Unless this is done Ireland will be like Portugal, or any of the corrupt little penny-dreadful nationalities which so continually disturb the peace of the world with internal revolutions and external brawlings, and we shall only have achieved the mechanism of nationality, but the spirit will have eluded us.
What I have written hereafter on the national being, my thoughts on an Irish polity, are not to be taken as an attempt to deal with more than a few essentials. I offer it to my countrymen, to start thought and discussion upon the principles which should prevail in an Irish civilization. If to readers in other countries the thought appears primitive or elementary, I would like them to remember that we are at the beginning of our activity as a nation, and we have yet to settle fundamentals. Races hoary with political wisdom may look with disdain on the attempts at political thinking by a new self-governing nationality, or the theories of civilization discussed about the cradle of an infant State. To childhood may be forgiven the elemental character of its thought and its idealistic imaginations. They may not persist in developed manhood; but if youth has never drawn heaven and earth together in its imaginations, manhood will ever be undistinguished. This book only begins a meditation in which, I hope, nobler imaginations and finer intellects than mine will join hereafter, and help to raise the soul of Ireland nigher to the ideal and its body nigher to its soul.
The building up of a civilization is at once the noblest and the most practical of all enterprises, in which human faculties are exalted to their highest, and beauties and majesties are manifested in multitude as they are never by solitary man or by disunited peoples. In the highest civilizations the individual citizen is raised above himself and made part of a greater life, which we may call the National Being. He enters into it, and it becomes in oversoul to him, and gives to all his works a character and grandeur and a relation to the works of his fellow-citizens, so that all he does conspires with the labors of others for unity and magnificence of effect. So ancient Egypt, with its temples, sphinxes, pyramids, and symbolic decorations, seems to us as if it had been created by one grandiose imagination; for even the lesser craftsmen, working on the mummy case for the tomb, had much of the mystery and solemnity in their work which is manifest in temple and pyramid. So the city States in ancient Greece in their day were united by ideals to a harmony of art and architecture and literature. Among the Athenians at their highest the ideal of the State so wrought upon the individual that its service became the overmastering passion of life, and in that great oration of Pericles, where he told how the Athenian ideal inspired the citizens so that they gave their bodies for the commonwealth, it seems to have been conceived of as a kind of oversoul, a being made up of immortal deeds and heroic spirits, influencing the living, a life within their life, molding their spirits to its likeness. It appears almost as if in some of these ancient famous communities the national ideal became a kind of tribal deity, that began first with some great hero who died and was immortalized by the poets, and whose character, continually glorified by them, grew at last so great in song that he could not be regarded as less than a demi-god. We can see in ancient Ireland that Cuchulain, the dark sad man of the earlier tales, was rapidly becoming a divinity, a being who summed up in himself all that the bards thought noblest in the spirit of their race; and if Ireland had a happier history no doubt one generation of bardic chroniclers after another would have molded that half-mythical figure into the Irish ideal of all that was chivalrous, tender, heroic, and magnanimous, and it would have been a star to youth, and the thought of it a staff to the very noblest. Even as Cuchulain alone at the ford held it against a host, so the ideal would have upheld the national soul in its darkest hours, and stood in many a lonely place in the heart. The national soul in a theocratic State is a god; in an aristocratic age it assumes the character of a hero; and in a democracy it becomes a multitudinous being, definite in character if the democracy is a real social organism. But where the democracy is only loosely held together by the social order, the national being is vague in character, is a mood too feeble to inspire large masses of men to high policies in times of peace, and in times of war it communicates frenzy, panic, and delirium.
None of our modern States create in us such an impression of being spiritually oversouled by an ideal as the great States of the ancient world. The leaders of nations too have lost that divine air that many leaders of men wore in the past, and which made the populace rumor them as divine incarnations. It is difficult to know to what to attribute this degeneration. Perhaps the artists who create ideals are to blame. In ancient Ireland, in Greece, and in India, the poets wrote about great kings and heroes, enlarging on their fortitude of spirit, their chivalry and generosity, creating in the popular mind an ideal of what a great man was like; and men were influenced by the ideal created, and strove to win the praise of the bards and to be recrowned by them a second time in great poetry. So we had Cuchulain and Oscar in Ireland; Hector of Troy, Theseus in Greece; Yudisthira, Rama, and Arjuna in India, all bard-created heroes molding the minds of men to their image. It is the great defect of our modern literature that it creates few such types. How hardly could one of our modern public men be made the hero of an epic. It would be difficult to find one who could be the subject of a genuine lyric. Whitman, himself the most democratic poet of the modern world, felt this deficiency in the literature of the later democracies, and lamented the absence of great heroic figures. The poets have dropped out of the divine procession, and sing a solitary song. They inspire nobody to be great, and failing any finger-post in literature pointing to true greatness our democracies too often take the huckster from his stall, the drunkard from his pot, the lawyer from his court, and the company promoter from the director's chair, and elect them as representative men. We certainly do this in Ireland. It is—how many hundred years since greatness guided us? In Ireland our history begins with the most ancient of any in a mythical era when earth mingled with heaven. The gods departed, the half-gods also, hero and saint after that, and we have dwindled down to a petty peasant nationality, rural and urban life alike mean in their externals. Yet the cavalcade, for all its tattered habiliments, has not lost spiritual dignity. There is still some incorruptible spiritual atom in our people. We are still in some relation to the divine order; and while that uncorrupted spiritual atom still remains all things are possible if by some inspiration there could be revealed to us a way back or forward to greatness, an Irish polity in accord with national character.
In formulating an Irish polity we have to take into account the change in world conditions. A theocratic State we shall have no more. Every nation, and our own along with them, is now made up of varied sects, and the practical dominance of one religious idea would let loose illimitable passions, the most intense the human spirit can feel. The way out of the theocratic State was by the drawn sword and was lit by the martyr's fires. The way back is unthinkable for all Protestant fears or Catholic aspirations. Aristocracies, too, become impossible as rulers. The aristocracy of character and intellect we may hope shall finally lead us, but no aristocracy so by birth will renew its authority over us. The character of great historic personages is gradually reflected in the mass. The divine right of kings is followed by the idea of the divine right of the people, and democracies finally become ungovernable save by themselves. They have seen and heard too much of pride and greatness not to have become, in some measure, proud and defiant of all authority except their own. It may be said the history of democracies is not one to fill us with confidence, but the truth is the world has yet to see the democratic State, and of the yet untried we may think with hope. Beneath the Athenian and other ancient democratic States lay a substratum of humanity in slavery, and the culture, beauty, and bravery of these extraordinary peoples were made possible by the workers in an underworld who had no part in the bright civic life.
We have no more a real democracy in the world today. Democracy in politics has in no country led to democracy in its economic life. We still have autocracy in industry as firmly seated on its throne as theocratic king ruling in the name of a god, or aristocracy ruling by military power; and the forces represented by these twain, superseded by the autocrats of industry, have become the allies of the power which took their place of pride. Religion and rank, whether content or not with the subsidiary place they now occupy, are most often courtiers of Mammon and support him on his throne. For all the talk about democracy our social order is truly little more democratic than Rome was under the Caesars, and our new rulers have not, with all their wealth, created a beauty which we could imagine after-generations brooding over with uplifted heart.
The people in theocratic States like Egypt or Chaldea, ruled in the name of gods, saw rising out of the plains in which they lived an architecture so mysterious and awe-inspiring that they might well believe the master-minds who designed the temples were inspired from the Oversoul. The aristocratic States reflected the love of beauty which is associated with aristocracies. The oligarchies of wealth in our time, who have no divine sanction to give dignity to their rule nor traditions of lordly life like the aristocracies, have not in our day created beauty in the world. But whatever of worth the ancient systems produced was not good enough to make permanent their social order. Their civilizations, like ours, were built on the unstable basis of a vast working-class with no real share in the wealth and grandeur it helped to create. The character of his kingdom was revealed in dream to Nebuchadnezzar by an image with a golden head and feet of clay, and that image might stand as symbol of the empires the world has known. There is in all a vast population living in an underworld of labor whose freedom to vote confers on them no real power, and who are most often scorned and neglected by those who profit by their labors. Indifference turns to fear and hatred if labor organizes and gathers power, or makes one motion of its myriad hands towards the sceptre held by the autocrats of industry. When this class is maddened and revolts, civilization shakes and totters like cities when the earthquake stirs beneath their foundations. Can we master these arcane human forces? Can we, by any device, draw this submerged humanity into the light and make them real partners in the social order, not partners merely in the political life of the nation, but, what is of more importance, in its economic life? If we build our civilization without integrating labor into its economic structure, it will wreck that civilization, and it will do that more swiftly today than two thousand years ago, because there is no longer the disparity of culture between high and low which existed in past centuries. The son of the artisan, if he cares to read, may become almost as fully master of the wisdom of Plato or Aristotle as if he had been at a university. Emerson will speak to him of his divinity; Whitman, drunken with the sun, will chant to him of his inheritance of the earth. He is elevated by the poets and instructed by the economists. But there are not thrones enough for all who are made wise in our social order, and failing even to serve in the social heaven these men will spread revolt and reign in the social hell. They are becoming too many for higher places to be found for them in the national economy. They are increasing to a multitude which must be considered, and the framers of a national polity must devise a life for them where their new-found dignity of spirit will not be abased. Men no more will be content under rulers of industry they do not elect themselves than they were under political rulers claiming their obedience in the name of God. They will not for long labor in industries where they have no power to fix the conditions of their employment, as they were not content with a political system which allowed them no power to control legislation. Ireland must begin its imaginative reconstruction of a civilization by first considering that type which, in the earlier civilizations of the world, has been slave, serf, or servile, working either on land or at industry, and must construct with reference to it. These workers must be the central figures, and how their material, intellectual, and spiritual needs are met must be the test of value of the social order we evolve.
In Ireland we begin naturally our consideration of this problem with the folk of the country, pondering all the time upon our ideal—the linking up of individuals with each other and with the nation. Since the destruction of the ancient clans in Ireland almost every economic factor in rural life has tended to separate the farmers from each other and from the nation, and to bring about an isolation of action; and that was so until the movement for the organization of agriculture was initiated by Sir Horace Plunkett and his colleagues in that patriotic association, the Irish Agricultural Organization Society. Though its actual achievement is great; though it may be said to be the pivot round which Ireland has begun to swing back to its traditional and natural communism in work, we still have over the larger part of Ireland conditions prevailing which tend to isolate the individual from the community.
When we examine rural Ireland, outside this new movement, we find everywhere isolated and individualistic agricultural production, served with regard to purchase and sale by private traders and dealers, who are independent of economic control from the consumers or producers, or the State. The tendency in the modern world to conduct industry in the grand manner is not observable here. The first thing which strikes one who travels through rural Ireland is the immense number of little shops. They are scattered along the highways and at the crossroads; and where there are a few families together in what is called a village, the number of little shops crowded round these consumers is almost incredible. What are all these little shops doing? They are supplying the farmers with domestic requirements: with tea, sugar, flour, oil, implements, vessels, clothing, and generally with drink. Every one of them almost is a little universal provider. Every one of them has its own business organization, its relations with wholesale houses in the greater towns. All of them procure separately from others their bags of flour, their barrels of porter, their stocks of tea, sugar, raisins, pots, pans, nails, twine, fertilizers, and what not, and all these things come to them paying high rates to the carriers for little loads. The trader's cart meets them at the station, and at great expense the necessaries of life are brought together. In the world-wide amalgamation of shoe-makers into boot factories, and smithies into ironworks, which is going on in Europe and America, these little shops have been overlooked. Nobody has tried to amalgamate them, or to economize human effort or cheapen the distribution of the necessaries of life. This work of distribution is carried on by all kinds of little traders competing with each other, pulling the devil by the tail; doing the work economically, so far as they themselves are concerned, because they must, but doing it expensively for the district because they cannot help it. They do not serve Ireland well. The genius of amalgamation and organization cannot afford to pass by these shops, which spring up in haphazard fashion, not because the country needs them, but because farmers or traders have children to be provided for. To the ignorant this is the easiest form of trade, and so many are started in life in one of these little shops after an apprenticeship in another like it. These numerous competitors of each other do not keep down prices. They increase them rather by the unavoidable multiplication of expenses; and many of them, taking advantage of the countryman's irregularity of income and his need for credit, allow credit to a point where the small farmer becomes a tied customer, who cannot pay all he owes, and who therefore dares not deal elsewhere. These agencies for distribution do not by their nature enlarge the farmer's economic knowledge. His vision beyond them to their sources of supply is blocked, and in this respect he is debarred from any unity with national producers other than his own class.
Let us now for a little consider the small farmer around whom have gathered these multitudinous little agencies of distribution. What kind of a being is he? We must deal with averages, and the small farmer is the typical Irish countryman. The average area of an Irish farm is twenty-five acres or thereabouts. There are hundreds of thousands who have more or less. But we can imagine to ourselves an Irish farmer with twenty-five acres to till, lord of a herd of four or five cows, a drift of sheep, a litter of pigs, perhaps a mare and foal: call him Patrick Maloney and accept him as symbol of his class. We will view him outside the operation of the new co-operative policy, trying to obey the command to be fruitful and replenish the earth. He is fruitful enough. There is no race suicide in Ireland. His agriculture is largely traditional. It varied little in the nineteenth century from the eighteenth, and the beginnings of the twentieth century show little change in spite of a huge department of agriculture. His butter, his eggs, his cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep are sold to local dealers. He rarely knows where his produce goes to—whether it is devoured in the next county or is sent across the Channel. It might be pitched into the void for all he knows about its destiny. He might be described almost as the primitive economic cave-man, the darkness of his cave unillumined by any ray of general principles. As he is obstructed by the traders in a general vision of production other than his own, so he is obstructed by these dealers in a general vision of the final markets for his produce. His reading is limited to the local papers, and these, following the example of the modern press, carefully eliminate serious thought as likely to deprive them of readers. But Patrick, for all his economic backwardness, has a soul. The culture of the Gaelic poets and story-tellers, while not often actually remembered, still lingers like a fragrance about his mind. He lives and moves and has his being in the loveliest nature, the skies over him ever cloudy like an opal; and the mountains flow across his horizon in wave on wave of amethyst and pearl. He has the unconscious depth of character of all who live and labor much in the open air, in constant fellowship with the great companions—with the earth and the sky and the fire in the sky. We ponder over Patrick, his race and his country, brooding whether there is the seed of a Pericles in Patrick's loins. Could we carve an Attica out of Ireland?
Before Patrick can become the father of a Pericles, before Ireland can become an Attica, Patrick must be led out of his economic cave: his low cunning in barter must be expanded into a knowledge of economic law—his fanatical concentration on his family—begotten by the isolation and individualism of his life—be sublimed into national affections; his unconscious depths be sounded, his feeling for beauty be awakened by contact with some of the great literature of the world. His mind is virgin soil, and we may hope that, like all virgin soil, it will be immensely fruitful when it is cultivated. How does the policy of co-working make Patrick pass away from his old self? We can imagine him as a member of a committee getting hints of a strange doctrine called science from his creamery manager. He hears about bacteria, and these dark invisibles replace, as the cause of bad butter-making, the wicked fairies of his childhood. Watching this manager of his society he learns a new respect for the man of special or expert knowledge. Discussing the business of his association with other members he becomes something of a practical economist. He knows now where his produce goes. He learns that he has to compete with Americans, Europeans, and Colonials—indeed with the farmers of the world, hitherto concealed from his view by a mountainous mass of middle-men. He begins to be interested in these countries and reads about them. He becomes a citizen of the world. His horizon is no longer bounded by the wave of blue hills beyond his village. The roar of the planet begins to sound in his ears. What is more important is that he is becoming a better citizen of his own country. He meets on his committee his religious and political opponents, not now discussing differences out identities of interest. He also meets the delegates from other societies in district conferences or general congresses, and those who meet thus find their interests are common, and a new friendliness springs up between North and South, and local co-operation leads on to national co-operation. The best intellects, the best business men in the societies, meet in the big centres as directors of federations and wholesales, and they get an all-Ireland view of their industry. They see the parish from the point of view of the nation, and this vision does not desert them when they go back to the parish. They realize that their interests are bound up with national interests, and they discuss legislation and administration with practical knowledge. Eyes getting keener every year, minds getting more instructed, begin to concentrate on Irish public men. Presently Patrick will begin to seek for men of special knowledge and administrative ability to manage Irish affairs. Ireland has hitherto been to Patrick a legend, a being mentioned in romantic poetry, a little dark Rose, a mystic maiden, a vague but very simple creature of tears and aspirations and revolts. He now knows what a multitudinous being a nation is, and in contact with its complexities Patrick's politics take on a new gravity, thoughtfulness, and intellectual character.
Under the influence of these associations and the ideas pervading them our typical Irish farmer gets drawn out of his agricultural sleep of the ages, developing rapidly as mummy-wheat brought out of the tomb and exposed to the eternal forces which stimulate and bring to life. I have taken an individual as a type, and described the original circumstance and illustrated the playing of the new forces on his mind. It is the only way we can create a social order which will fit our character as the glove fits the hand. Reasoning solely from abstract principles about justice, democracy, the rights of man and the like, often leads us into futilities, if not into dangerous political experiments. We have to see our typical citizen in clear light, realize his deficiencies, ignorance, and incapacity, and his possibilities of development, before we can wisely enlarge his boundaries. The centre of the citizen is the home. His circumference ought to be the nation. The vast majority of Irish citizens rarely depart from their centre, or establish those vital relations with their circumference which alone entitle them to the privileges of citizenship, and enable them to act with political wisdom. An emotional relationship is not enough. Our poets sang of a united Ireland, but the unity they sang of was only a metaphor. It mainly meant separation from another country. In that imaginary unity men were really separate from each other. Individualism, fanatically centering itself on its family and family interests, interfered on public boards to do jobs in the interests of its kith and kin. The co-operative movement connects with living links the home, the centre of Patrick's being, to the nation, the circumference of his being. It connects him with the nation through membership of a national movement, not for the political purposes which call on him for a vote once every few years, but for economic purposes which affect him in the course of his daily occupations. This organization of the most numerous section of the Irish democracy into co-operative associations, as it develops and embraces the majority, will tend to make the nation one and indivisible and conscious of its unity. The individual, however meagre his natural endowment of altruism, will be led to think of his community as himself; because his income, his social pleasures even, depend on the success of the local and national organizations with which he is connected. The small farmers of former times pursued a petty business of barter and haggle, fighting for their own hand against half the world about them. The farmers of the new generation will grow up in a social order, where all the transactions which narrowed their fathers' hearts will be communal and national enterprises. How much that will mean in a change of national character we can hardly realize, we who were born in an Ireland where petty individualism was rampant, and where every child had it borne in upon him that it had to fight its own corner in the world, where the whole atmosphere about it tended to the hardening of the personality.
We may hope and believe that this transformation of the social order will make men truly citizens thinking in terms of the nation, identifying national with personal interests. For those who believe there is a divine seed in humanity, this atmosphere, if any, they may hope will promote the swift blossoming of the divine seed which in the past, in favorable airs, has made beauty or grandeur or spirituality the characteristics of ancient civilizations in Greece, in Egypt, and in India. No one can work for his race without the hope that the highest, or more than the highest, humanity has reached will be within reach of his race also. We are all laying foundations in dark places, putting the rough-hewn stones together in our civilizations, hoping for the lofty edifice which will arise later and make all the work glorious. And in Ireland, for all its melancholy history, we may, knowing that we are human, dream that there is the seed of a Pericles in Patrick's loins, and that we might carve an Attica out of Ireland.
In Ireland we must of necessity give special thought to the needs of the countryman, because our main industry is agriculture. We have few big cities. Our great cities are almost all outside our own borders. They are across the Atlantic. The surplus population of the countryside do not go to our own towns but emigrate. The exodus does not enrich Limerick or Galway, but New York. The absorption of life in great cities is really the danger which most threatens the modern State with a decadence of its humanity. In the United States, even in Canada, hardly has the pioneer made a home in the wilderness when his sons and his daughters are allured by the distant gleam of cities beyond the plains. In England the countryside has almost ceased to be the mother of men—at least a fruitful mother. We are face to face in Ireland with this problem, with no crowded and towering cities to disguise the emptiness of the fields. It is not a problem which lends itself to legislative solution. Whether there be fair rents or no rents at all, the child of the peasant, yearning for a fuller life, goes where life is at its fullest. We all desire life, and that we might have it more abundantly,—the peasant as much as the mystic thirsting for infinite being,—and in rural Ireland the needs of life have been neglected.
The chief problem of Ireland—the problem which every nation in greater or lesser measure will have to solve—is how to enable the country-man, without journeying, to satisfy to the full his economic, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs. We have made some tentative efforts. The long war over the land, which resulted in the transference of the land from landlord to cultivator, has advanced us part of the way, but the Land Acts offered no complete solution. We were assured by hot enthusiasts of the magic of proprietorship, but Ireland has not tilled a single acre more since the Land Acts were passed. Our rural exodus continued without any Moses to lead us to Jerusalems of our own. At every station boys and girls bade farewell to their friends; and hardly had the train steamed out when the natural exultation of adventure made the faces of the emigrants glow because the world lay before them, and human appetites the country could not satisfy were to be appeased at the end of the journey.
How can we make the countryside in Ireland a place which nobody would willingly emigrate from? When we begin to discuss this problem we soon make the discovery that neither in the new world nor the old has there been much first-class thinking on the life of the countryman. This will be apparent if we compare the quality of thought which has been devoted to the problems of the city State, or the constitution of widespread dominions, from the days of Solon and Aristotle down to the time of Alexander Hamilton, and compare it with the quality of thought which has been brought to bear on the problems of the rural community.
On the labors of the countryman depend the whole strength and health, nay, the very existence of society, yet, in almost every country, politics, economics, and social reform are urban products, and the countryman gets only the crumbs which fall from the political table. It seems to be so in Canada and the States even, countries which we in Europe for long regarded as mainly agricultural. It seems only yesterday to the imagination that they were colonized, and yet we find the Minister of Agriculture in Canada announcing a decline in the rural population in Eastern Canada. As children sprung from the loins of diseased parents manifest at an early age the same defects in their constitution, so Canada and the States, though in their national childhood, seem already threatened by the same disease from which classic Italy perished, and whose ravages today make Great Britain seem to the acute diagnoser of political health to be like a fruit—ruddy without, but eaten away within and rotten at the core. One expects disease in old age, but not in youth. We expect young countries to sow their wild oats, to have a few revolutions before they settle down to national housekeeping; but we are not moved by these troubles—the result of excessive energy—as we are by symptoms of premature decay. No nation can be regarded as unhealthy when a virile peasantry, contented with rural employments, however discontented with other things, exists on its soil. The disease which has attacked our great populations here and in America is a discontent with rural life. Nothing which has been done hitherto seems able to promote content. It is true, indeed, that science has gone out into the fields, but the labors of the chemist, the bacteriologist, and the mechanical engineer are not enough to ensure health. What is required is the art of the political thinker, the imagination which creates a social order and adjusts it to human needs. The physician who understands the general laws of human health is of more importance to us here than the specialist. The genius of rural life has not yet appeared. We have no fundamental philosophy concerning it, but we have treasures of political wisdom dealing with humanity as a social organism in the city States or as great nationalities. It might be worth while inquiring to what extent the wisdom of a Solon, an Aristotle, a Rousseau, or an Alexander Hamilton might be applied to the problem of the rural community. After all, men are not so completely changed in character by their rural environment that their social needs do not, to a large extent, coincide with the needs of the townsman. They cannot be considered as creatures of a different species. Yet statesmen who have devoted so much thought to the constitution of empires and the organization of great cities, who have studied their psychology, have almost always treated the rural problem purely as an economic problem, as if agriculture was a business only and not a life.
Our great nations and widespread empires arose in a haphazard fashion out of city States and scattered tribal communities. The fusion of these into larger entities, which could act jointly for offence or defense, so much occupied the thoughts of their rulers that everything else was subordinated to it. As a result, the details of our modern civilizations are all wrong. There is an intensive life at a few great political or industrial centres, and wide areas where there is stagnation and decay. Stagnation is most obvious in rural districts. It is so general that it has been often assumed that there was something inherent in rural life which made the countryman slow in mind as his own cattle. But this is not so, as I think can be shown. There is no reason why as intense, intellectual, and progressive a life should not be possible in the country as in the towns. The real reason for the stagnation is that the country population is not organized. We often hear the expression, "the rural community," but where do we find rural communities? There are rural populations, but that is altogether a different thing. The word "community" implies an association of people having common interests and common possessions, bound together by laws and regulations which express these common interests and ideals, and define the relation of the individual to the community. Our rural populations are no more closely connected, for the most part, than the shifting sands on the seashore. Their life is almost entirely individualistic. There are personal friendships, of course, but few economic or social partnerships. Everybody pursues his own occupation without regard to the occupation of his neighbors. If a man emigrates it does not affect the occupation of those who farm the land all about him. They go on ploughing and digging, buying and selling, just as before. They suffer no perceptible economic loss by the departure of half-a-dozen men from the district. A true community would, of course, be affected by the loss of its members. A co-operative society, if it loses a dozen members, the milk of their cows, their orders for fertilizers, seeds, and feeding-stuffs, receives serious injury to its prosperity. There is a minimum of trade below which its business cannot fall without bringing about a complete stoppage of its work and an inability to pay its employees. That is the difference between a community and an unorganized population. In the first the interests of the community make a conscious and direct appeal to the individual, and the community, in its turn, rapidly develops an interest in the welfare of the member. In the second, the interest of the individual in the community is only sentimental, and as there is no organization the community lets its units slip away or disappear without comment or action. We had true rural communities in ancient Ireland, though the organization was rather military than economic. But the members of a clan had common interests. They owned the land in common. It was a common interest to preserve it intact. It was to their interest to have a numerous membership of the clan, because it made it less liable to attack. Men were drawn by the social order out of merely personal interests into a larger life. In their organizations they were unconsciously groping, as all human organizations are, towards the final solidarity of humanity—the federation of the world.
Well, these old rural communities disappeared. The greater organizations of nation or empire regarded the smaller communities jealously in the past, and broke them up and gathered all the strings of power into capital cities. The result was a growth of the State, with a local decay of civic, patriotic, or public feeling, ending in bureaucracies and State departments, where paid officials, devoid of intimacy with local needs, replaced the services naturally and voluntarily rendered in an earlier period. The rural population, no longer existing as a rural community, sank into stagnation. There was no longer a common interest, a social order turning their minds to larger than individual ends. Where feudalism was preserved, the feudal chief, if the feeling of noblesse oblige was strong, might act as a centre of progress, but where this was lacking social decay set in. The difficulty of moving the countryman, which has become traditional, is not due to the fact that he lives in the country, but to the fact that he lives in an unorganized society. If in a city people want an art gallery or public baths or recreation grounds, there is a machinery which can be set in motion; there are corporations and urban councils which can be approached. If public opinion is evident—and it is easy to organize public opinion in a town—the city representatives will consider the scheme, and if they approve and it is within their power as a council, they are able to levy rates to finance the art gallery, recreation grounds, public gardens, or whatever else. Now let us go to a country district where there is no organization. It may be obvious to one or two people that the place is perishing and the intelligence of its humanity is decaying, lacking some centre of life. They want a village hall, but how is it to be obtained? They begin talking about it to this person or that. They ask these people to talk to their friends, and the ripples go out weakening and widening for months, perhaps for years. I know of districts where this has happened. There are hundreds of parishes in Ireland where one or two men want co-operative societies or village halls or rural libraries. They discuss the matter with their neighbors, but find a complete ignorance on the subject, and consequent lethargy. There is no social organism with a central life to stir. Before enthusiasm can be kindled there must be some knowledge. The countryman reads little, and it is a long and tedious business before enough people are excited to bring them to the point of appealing to some expert to come in and advise.
More changes often take place within a dozen years after a co-operative society is first started than have taken place for a century previous. I am familiar with a district—in the northwest of Ireland. It was a most wretchedly poor district. The farmers were at the mercy of the gombeen traders and the agricultural middlemen. Then a dozen years ago a co-operative society was formed. I am sure that the oldest inhabitant would agree with me that more changes for the better for farmers have taken place since the co-operative society was started than he could remember in all his previous life. The reign of the gombeen man is over. The farmers control their own buying and selling. Their organization markets for them the eggs and poultry. It procures seeds, fertilizers, and domestic requirements. It turns the members' pigs into bacon. They have a village hall and a woman's organization. They sell the products of the women's industry. They have a co-operative band, social gatherings, and concerts. They have spread out into half-a-dozen parishes, going southward and westward with their propaganda, and in half-a-dozen years, in all that district, previously without organization, there will be well-organized farmers' guilds, concentrating in themselves the trade of their district, having meeting-places where the opinion of the members can be taken, having a machinery, committees, and executive officers to carry out whatever may be decided on: and having funds, or profits, the joint property of the community, which can be drawn upon to finance their undertakings. It ought to be evident what a tremendous advantage it is to farmers in a district to have such organizations, what a lever they can pull and control. I have tried to indicate the difference between a rural population and a rural community, between a people loosely knit together by the vague ties of a common latitude and longitude, and people who are closely knit together in an association and who form a true social organism, a true rural community, where the general will can find expression and society is malleable to the general will. I assert that there never can be any progress in rural districts or any real prosperity without such farmers' organizations or guilds. Wherever rural prosperity is reported of any country inquire into it, and it will be found that it depends on rural organization. Wherever there is rural decay, if it is inquired into, it will be found that there was a rural population but no rural community, no organization, no guild to promote common interests and unite the countrymen in defense of them.
It is the business of the rural reformer to create the rural community. It is the antecedent to the creation of a rural civilization. We have to organize the community so that it can act as one body. It is not enough to organize farmers in a district for one purpose only—in a credit society, a dairy society, a fruit society, a bacon factory, or in a co-operative store. All these may be and must be beginnings; but if they do not develop and absorb all rural business into their organization they will have little effect on character. No true social organism will have been created. If people unite as consumers to buy together they only come into contact on this one point; there is no general identity of interest. If co-operative societies are specialized for this purpose or that—as in Great Britain or on the Continent—to a large extent the limitation of objects prevents a true social organism from being formed. The latter has a tremendous effect on human character. The specialized society only develops economic efficiency. The evolution of humanity beyond its present level depends absolutely on its power to unite and create true social organisms. Life in its higher forms is only possible because of the union of myriads of tiny lives to form a larger being, which manifests will, intelligence, affection, and the spiritual powers. The life of the amoeba or any other unicellular organism is low compared with the life in more complex organisms, like the ant or bee. Man is the most highly developed living organism on the globe; yet his body is built up of innumerable cells, each of which might be described as a tiny life in itself. But they are built up in man into such a close association that what affects one part of the body affects all. The pain which the whole being feels if a part is wounded, if one cell in the human body is hurt, should prove that to the least intelligent. The nervous system binds all the tiny cells together, and they form in this totality a being infinitely higher, more powerful, than the cells which compose it. They are able to act together and achieve things impossible to the separated cells. Now humanity today is, to some extent, like the individual cells. It is trying to unite together to form a real organism, which will manifest higher qualities of life than the individual can manifest. But very few of the organisms created by society enable the individual to do this. The joint-stock companies or capitalist concerns which bring men together at this work or that do not yet make them feel their unity. Existence under a common government effects this still less. Our modern states have not yet succeeded in building up that true national life where all feel the identity of interest; where the true civic or social feeling is engendered and the individual bends all his efforts to the success of the community on which his own depends; where, in fact, the ancient Greek conception of citizenship is realized, and individuals are created who are ever conscious of the identity of interest between themselves and their race. In the old Greek civilizations this was possible because their States were small, indeed their ideal State contained no more citizens than could be affected by the voice of a single orator. Such small States, though they produced the highest quality of life within themselves, are no longer possible as political entities. We have to see whether we could not, within our widespread nationalities, create communities by economic means, where something of the same sense of solidarity of interest might be engendered and the same quality of life maintained. I am greatly ambitious for the rural community. But it is no use having mean ambitions. Unless people believe the result of their labors will result in their equaling or surpassing the best that has been done elsewhere, they will never get very far. We in Ireland are in quest of a civilization. It is a great adventure, the building up of a civilization—the noblest which could be undertaken by any persons. It is at once the noblest and the most practical of all enterprises, and I can conceive of no greater exaltation for the spirit of man than the feeling that his race is acting nobly; and that all together are performing a service, not only to each other, but to humanity and those who come after them, and that their deeds will be remembered. It may seem a grotesque juxtaposition of things essentially different in character, to talk of national idealism and then of farming, but it is not so. They are inseparable. The national idealism which will not go out into the fields and deal with the fortunes of the working farmers is false dealism. Our conception of a civilization must include, nay, must begin with the life of the humblest, the life of the average man or manual worker, for if we neglect them we will build in sand. The neglected classes will wreck our civilization. The pioneers of a new social order must think first of the average man in field or factory, and so unite these and so inspire them that the noblest life will be possible through their companionship. If you will not offer people the noblest and best they will go in search of it. Unless the countryside can offer to young men and women some satisfactory food for soul as well as body, it will fail to attract or hold its population, and they will go to the already overcrowded towns; and the lessening of rural production will affect production in the cities and factories, and the problem of the unemployed will get still keener. The problem is not only an economic problem. It is a human one. Man does not live by cash alone, but by every gift of fellowship and brotherly feeling society offers him. The final urgings of men and women are towards humanity. Their desires are for the perfecting of their own life, and as Whitman says, where the best men and women are there the great city stands, though it is only a village. It is one of the illusions of modern materialistic thought to suppose that as high a quality of life is not possible in a village as in a great city, and it ought to be one of the aims of rural reformers to dissipate this fallacy, and to show that it is possible—not indeed to concentrate wealth in country communities as in the cities—but that it is possible to bring comfort enough to satisfy any reasonable person, and to create a society where there will be intellectual life and human interests. We will hear little then of the rural exodus. The country will retain and increase its population and productiveness. Like attracts like. Life draws life to itself. Intellect awakens intellect, and the country will hold its own tug for tug with the towns.
Now it may be said I have talked a long while round and round the rural community, but I have not suggested how it is to be created. I am coming to that. It really cannot be created. It is a natural growth when the right seed is planted. Co-operation is the seed. Let us consider Ireland. Twenty-five years ago there was not a single co-operative society in the country. Individualism was the mode of life. Every farmer manufactured and sold as seemed best in his eyes. It was generally the worst possible way he could have chosen. Then came Sir Horace Plunkett and his colleagues, preaching co-operation. A creamery was established here, an agricultural society there, and having planted the ideas it was some time before the economic expert could decide whether they were planted in fertile soil. But that question was decided many years ago. The co-operative society, started for whatever purpose originally, is an omnivorous feeder, and it exercises a magnetic influence on all agricultural activities; so that we now have societies which buy milk, manufacture and sell butter, deal in poultry and eggs, cure bacon, provide fertilizers, feeding-stuffs, seeds, and machinery for their members, and even cater for every requirement of the farmer's household. This magnetic power of attracting and absorbing to themselves the various rural activities which the properly constituted co-operative societies have, makes them develop rapidly, until in the course of a decade or a generation there is created a real social organism, where the members buy together, manufacture together, market together, where finally their entire interests are bound up with the interests of the community. I believe in half a century the whole business of rural Ireland will be done co-operatively. This is not a wild surmise, for we see exactly the same process going on in Denmark, Germany, Italy, and every country where the co-operative seed was planted. Let us suppose that in a generation all the rural industries are organized on co-operative lines, what kind of a community should we expect to find as the result? How would its members live? What would be their relations to one another and their community? The agricultural scientist is making great discoveries. The mechanical engineer goes from one triumph to another. The chemist already could work wonders in our fields if there was a machinery for him to work through. We cannot foretell the developments in each branch, but we can see clearly that the organized community can lay hold of discoveries and inventions which the individual farmer cannot. It is little for the co-operative society to buy expensive threshing sets and let its members have the use of them, but the individual farmer would have to save a long time before he could raise several hundred pounds. The society is a better buyer than the individual. It can buy things the individual cannot buy. It is a better producer also. The plant for a creamery is beyond the individual farmer; but our organized farmers in Ireland, small though they are, find it no trouble to erect and equip a creamery with plant costing two thousand pounds. The organized rural community of the future will generate its own electricity at its central buildings, and run not only its factories and other enterprises by this power, but will supply light to the houses of its members and also mechanical power to run machinery on the farm. One of our Irish societies already supplies electric light for the town it works in. In the organized rural community the eggs, milk, poultry, pigs, cattle, grain, and wheat produced on the farm and not consumed, or required for further agricultural production, will automatically be delivered to the co-operative business centre of the district, where the manager of the dairy will turn the milk into butter or cheese, and the skim milk will be returned to feed the community's pigs. The poultry and egg department will pack and dispatch the fowl and eggs to market. The mill will grind the corn and return it ground to the member, or there may be a co-operative bakery to which some of it may go. The pigs will be dealt with in the abattoir, sent as fresh pork to the market or be turned into bacon to feed the members. We may be certain that any intelligent rural community will try to feed itself first, and will only sell the surplus. It will realize that it will be unable to buy any food half as good as the food it produces. The community will hold in common all the best machinery too expensive for the members to buy individually. The agricultural laborers will gradually become skilled mechanics, able to direct threshers, binders, diggers, cultivators, and new implements we have no conception of now. They will be members of the society, sharing in its profits in proportion to their wages, even as the farmer will in proportion to his trade. The co-operative community will have its own carpenters, smiths, mechanics, employed in its workshop at repairs or in making those things which can profitably be made locally. There may be a laundry where the washing—a heavy burden for the women—will be done: for we may be sure that every scrap of power generated will be utilized. One happy invention after another will come to lighten the labor of life. There will be, of course, a village hall with a library and gymnasium, where the boys and girls will be made straight, athletic, and graceful. In the evenings, when the work of the day is done, if we went into the village hall we would find a dance going on or perhaps a concert. There might be a village choir or band. There would be a committee-room where the council of the community would meet once a week; for their enterprises would have grown, and the business of such a parish community might easily be over one hundred thousand pounds, and would require constant thought. There would be no slackness on the part of the council in attending, because their fortunes would depend on their communal enterprises, and they would have to consider reports from the managers and officials of the various departments. The co-operative community would be a busy place. In years when the society was exceptionally prosperous, and earned larger profits than usual on its trade, we should expect to find discussions in which all the members would join as to the use to be made of these profits: whether they should be altogether divided or what portion of them should be devoted to some public purpose. We may be certain that there would be animated discussions, because a real solidarity of feeling would have arisen and a pride in the work of the community engendered, and they would like to be able to outdo the good work done by the neighboring communities.
One might like to endow the village school with a chemical laboratory, another might want to decorate the village hall with reproductions of famous pictures, another might suggest removing all the hedges and planting the roadsides and lanes with gooseberry bushes, currant bushes, and fruit trees, as they do in some German communes today. There would be eloquent pleadings for this or that, for an intellectual heat would be engendered in this human hive, and there would be no more illiterates or ignoramuses. The teaching in the village school would be altered to suit the new social order, and the children of the community would, we may be certain, be instructed in everything necessary for the intelligent conduct of the communal business. The spirit of rivalry between one community and another, which exists today between neighboring creameries, would excite the imagination of the members, and the organized community would be as swift to act as the unorganized community is slow to act. Intelligence would be organized as well as business. The women would have their own associations, to promote domestic economy, care of the sick and the children. The girls would have their own industries of embroidery, crochet, lace, dress-making, weaving, spinning, or whatever new industries the awakened intelligence of women may devise and lay hold of as the peculiar labor of their sex. The business of distribution of the produce and industries of the community would be carried on by great federations, which would attend to export and sale of the products of thousands of societies. Such communities would be real social organisms. The individual would be free to do as he willed, but he would find that communal activity would be infinitely more profitable than individual activity. We would then have a real democracy carrying on its own business, and bringing about reforms without pleading to, or begging of, the State, or intriguing with or imploring the aid of political middlemen to get this, that, or the other done for them. They would be self-respecting, because they would be self-helping above all things. The national councils and meetings of national federations would finally become the real Parliament of the nation; for wherever all the economic power is centered, there also is centered all the political power. And no politician would dare to interfere with the organized industry of a nation.
There is nothing to prevent such communities being formed. They would be a natural growth once the seed was planted. We see such communities naturally growing up in Ireland, with perhaps a little stimulus from outside from rural reformers and social enthusiasts. If this ideal of the organized rural community is accepted there will be difficulties, of course, and enemies to be encountered. The agricultural middleman is a powerful person. He will rage furiously. He will organize all his forces to keep the farmers in subjection, and to retain his peculiar functions of fleecing the farmer as producer and the general public as consumer. But unless we are determined to eliminate the middleman in agriculture we will fall to effect anything worth while attempting. I would lay down certain fundamental propositions which, I think, should be accepted without reserve as a basis of reform. First, that the farmers must be organized to have complete control over all the business connected with their industry. Dual control is intolerable. Agriculture will never be in a satisfactory condition if the farmer is relegated to the position of a manual worker on his land; if he is denied the right of a manufacturer to buy the raw materials of his industry on trade terms; if other people are to deal with his raw materials, his milk, cream, fruit, vegetables, live stock, grain, and other produce; and if these capitalist middle agencies are to manufacture the farmers' raw material into butter, bacon, or whatever else are to do all the marketing and export, paying farmers what they please on the one hand, and charging the public as much as they can on the other hand. The existence of these middle agencies is responsible for a large proportion of the increased cost of living, which is the most acute domestic problem of modern industrial communities. They have too much power over the farmer, and are too expensive a luxury for the consumer. It would be very unbusinesslike for any country to contemplate the permanence in national life of a class whose personal interests are always leading them to fleece both producer and consumer alike. So the first fundamental idea for reformers to get into their minds is that farmers, through their own co-operative organizations, must control the entire business connected with agriculture. There will not be so much objection to co-operative sale as to co-operative purchase by the farmers. But one is as necessary as the other. We must bear in mind, what is too often forgotten, that farmers are manufacturers, and as such are entitled to buy the raw materials for their industry at wholesale prices. Every other kind of manufacturer in the world gets trade terms when he buys. Those who buy—not to consume, but to manufacture and sell again—get their requirements at wholesale terms in every country in the world. If a publisher of books is approached by a bookseller he gives that bookseller trade terms, because he buys to sell again. If I, as a private individual, want one of those books I must pay the full retail price. Even the cobbler, the carpenter, the solitary artist, get trade terms. The farmer, who is as much a manufacturer as the shipbuilder, or the factory proprietor, is as much entitled to trade terms when he buys the raw materials for his industry. His seeds, fertilizers, ploughs, implements, cake, feeding-stuffs are the raw materials of his industry, which he uses to produce wheat, beef, mutton, pork, or whatever else; and, in my opinion, there should be no differentiation between the farmer when he buys and any other kind of manufacturer. Is it any wonder that agriculture decays in countries where the farmers are expected to buy at retail prices and sell at wholesale prices? We must not, to save any friction, sell the rights of farmers. The second proposition I lay down is that this necessary organization work among the farmers must be carried on by an organizing body which is entirely controlled by those interested in agriculture—farmers and their friends. To ask the State or a State Department to undertake this work is to ask a body influenced and often controlled by powerful capitalists, and middle agencies which it should be the aim of the organization to eliminate. The State can, without obstruction from any quarter, give farmers a technical education in the science of farming; but let it once interfere with business, and a horde of angry interests set to work to hamper and limit by every possible means and compromises on matters of principle, where no compromise ought to be permitted, are almost inevitable.
A voluntary organizing body like the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, which was the first to attempt the co-operative organization of farmers in these islands, is the only kind of body which can pursue its work fearlessly, unhampered by alien interests. The moment such a body declares its aims, its declaration automatically separates the sheep from the goats, and its enemies are outside and not inside. The organizing body should be the heart and centre of the farmers' movement, and if the heart has its allegiance divided, its work will be poor and ineffectual, and very soon the farmers will fall away from it to follow more single-hearted leaders. No trades union would admit representatives of capitalist employers on its committee, and no organization of farmers should allow alien or opposing interest on their councils to clog the machine or betray the cause. This is the best advice I can give reformers. It is the result of many years' experience in this work. An industry must have the same freedom of movement as an individual in possession of all his powers. An industry divided against itself can no more prosper than a household divided against itself. By the means I have indicated the farmers can become the masters of their own destinies, just as the urban workers can, I think, by steadfastly applying the same principles, emancipate themselves. It is a battle in which, as in all other battles, numbers and moral superiority united are irresistible; and in the Irish struggle to create a true democracy numbers and the power of moral ideas are with the insurgents.
It would be a bitter reproach on the household of our nation if there were any unconsidered, who were left in poverty and without hope and outside our brotherhood. We have not yet considered the agricultural laborer—the proletarian of the countryside. His is, in a sense, the most difficult problem of any. The basis of economic independence in his industry is the possession of land, and that is not readily to be obtained in Ireland. The earth does not upheave itself from beneath the sea and add new land to that already above water in response to our need for it. Yet I would not pass away from the rural laborer without, however inadequately, indicating some curves in his future evolution. These laborers are not in Ireland half so numerous as farmers, for it is a country of small holdings, where the farmer and his family are themselves laborers. Labor is badly paid, and, owing to the lack of continuous cropping of the land, it is often left without employment at seasons when employment is most needed. No class which is taken up today and dropped tomorrow will in modern times remain long in a country. Employers often act as if they thought labor could be taken up and laid down again like a pipe and tobacco. None have contributed so to thicken the horde of Irish exiles as the rural laborers. Three hundred thousand of them in less than my lifetime have left the fields of Ireland for the factories of the new world. Yet I can only rejoice if Irishmen, who are badly dealt with in their motherland, find an ampler life and a more prosperous career in another land. A wage of ten or eleven shillings a week will bind none but the unaspiring lout to his country. But I would like to make Ireland a land which, because of the human kindness in it, few would willingly leave. The agricultural proletarian, like all other labor, should be organized in a national union. That is bound to come. But the agricultural laborer should, I think, no more than labor in the cities, make the raising of wages his main or only object. He should rather strive to make himself economically independent; or, in the alternative, seek for status by integration into the co-operative communities of farmers by becoming a member, and by pressing for permanent employment by the community rather than casual employment by the individual. Agricultural labor undoubtedly will have to struggle for better remuneration. Yet it has to be remembered that agriculture is a protean industry. It is not like mining, where the colliery produces coal and nothing but coal, and where the miners have a practical monopoly of supply. If miners are dissatisfied with wages and are well organized they can enforce their terms, and the colliery owners may almost be indifferent, because they can charge the increased cost of working to the public. But agriculture, as I said, is protean and changes its forms perpetually. If tillage does not pay this year, next year the farmer may have his land in grass. He reverts to the cheapest methods of farming when prices are low, or labor asks a wage which the farmer believes it would be unprofitable to pay. In this way pressure on the farmer for extra wages might result in two men being employed to herd cows where a dozen men were previously employed at tillage. The farmer cannot easily—as the mine-owner—unload his burden on the general public by the increase of prices. There are many difficulties, which seem almost insoluble, if we propose to ourselves to integrate the rural laborer into the general economic life of the country by making him a partner in the industry he works on. But what I hope for most is first that the natural evolution of the rural community, and the concentration of individual manufacture, purchase and sale, into communal enterprises, will lead to a very large co-operative ownership of expensive machinery, which will necessitate the communal employment of labor. If this takes place, as I hope it will, the rural laborer, instead of being a manual worker using primitive implements, will have the status of a skilled mechanic employed permanently by a cooperative community. He should be a member of the society which employs him, and in the division of profits receive in proportion to his wage, as the farmers in proportion to their trade.
A second policy open to agricultural labor when it becomes organized is the policy of collective farming. This I believe will and ought to receive attention in the future. Co-operative societies of agricultural laborers in Italy, Roumania, and elsewhere have rented land from landowners. They then reallotted the land among themselves for individual cultivation, or else worked it as a true co-operative enterprise with labor, purchase and sale all communal enterprises, with considerable benefit to the members. We can well understand a landowner not liking to divide his land into small holdings, with all the attendant troubles which in Ireland beset a landlord with small farmers on his estate. But I think landowners in Ireland could be found who would rent land to a co-operative society of skilled laborers who approached the owner with a well-thought-out scheme. The success of one colony would lead to others being started, as happened in Italy.
This solution of the problem of agricultural labor will be forced on us for many reasons. The economic effects of the great European War, the burden of debt piled on the participating nations, will make Ministers shun schemes of reform involving a large use of national credit, or which would increase the sum of national obligations. Land purchase on the old term I believe cannot be continued. Yet we will demand the intensive cultivation of the national estate, and increased production of wealth, especially of food-stuffs. The large area of agricultural land laid down for pasture is not so productive as tilled land, does not sustain so large a population, and there will be more reasons in the future than in the past for changing the character of farming in these areas. The policy of collective farming offers a solution, and whatever Government is in power should facilitate the settlement of men in cooperative colonies and provide expert instructors as managers for the first year or two if necessary. Such a policy would not be so expensive as land purchase, and with fair rent fixed, hundreds of thousands of people could be planted comfortably on the land in Ireland and produce more wealth from it than could ever be produced from grazing lands, and agricultural workers and the sons of farmers who now emigrate could become economically independent.
I hope, also, that farmers, becoming more brotherly as their own enterprises flourish, will welcome laborers into their co-operative stores, credit banks, poultry and bee-keeping societies, and allow them the benefits of cheap purchase, cheap credit, and of efficient marketing of whatever the laborer may produce on his allotment. The growth of national conscience and the spirit of human brotherhood, and a feeling of shame that any should be poor and neglected in the national household, will be needed to bring the rural laborer into the circle of national life, and make him a willing worker in the general scheme. If farmers will not, on their part, advance towards their laborers and bring them into the co-operative community, then labor will be organized outside their community and will be hostile, and will be always brooding and scheming to strike a blow when the farmer can least bear it,—when the ground must be tilled or the harvest gathered. And this, if peace cannot be made, will result in a still greater decline of tillage and the continued flight of the rural laborers, and the increase of the area in grass, and the impoverishing of human life and national well-being.
Some policy to bring contentment to small holders and rural workers must be formulated and acted upon. Agriculture is of more importance to the nation than industry. Our task is to truly democratize civilization and its agencies; to spread in widest commonalty culture, comfort, intelligence, and happiness, and to give to the average man those things which in an earlier age were the privileges of a few. The country is the fountain of the life and health of a race. And this organization of the country people into co-operative communities will educate them and make them citizens in the true sense of the word, that is, people continually conscious of their identity of interest with those about them.
It is by this conscious sense of solidarity of interest, which only the organized co-operative community can engender in modern times, that the higher achievements of humanity become possible. Religion has created this spirit at times—witness the majestic cathedrals the Middle Ages raised to manifest their faith. Political organization engendered the passion of citizenship in the Greek States, and the Parthenon and a host of lordly buildings crowned the hills and uplifted and filled with pride the heart of the citizen. Our big countries, our big empires, and republics, for all their military strength and science, and the wealth which science has made it possible for man to win, do not create citizenship because of the loose organization of society; because individualism is rampant, and men, failing to understand the intricacies of the vast and complex life of their country, fall back on private life and private ambitions, and leave the honor of their country and the making of laws and the application of the national revenues to a class of professional politicians, in their turn in servitude to the interests which supply party funds, and so we find corruption in high places and cynicism in the people. It is necessary for the creation of citizens, for the building up of a noble national life, that the social order should be so organized that this sense of interdependence will be constantly felt. It is also necessary for the preservation of the physical health and beauty of our race that our people should live more in the country and less in the cities. I believe it would be an excellent thing for humanity if its civilization could be based on rural industry mainly and not on urban industry. More and more men and women in our modern civilization drift out of Nature, out of sweet air, health, strength, beauty, into the cities, where in the third generation there is a rickety population, mean in stature, vulgar or depraved in character, with the image of the devil in mind and matter more than the image of Deity. Those who go like it at first; but city life is like the roll spoken of by the prophet, which was sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly. The first generation are intoxicated by the new life, but in the third generation the cord is cut which connected them with Nature, the Great Mother, and life shrivels up, sundered from the source of life. Is there any prophet, any statesman, any leader, who will—as Moses once led the Israelites out of the Egyptian bondage—excite the human imagination and lead humanity back to Nature, to sunlight, starlight, earth-breath, sweet air, beauty, gaiety, and health? Is it impossible now to move humanity by great ideas, as Mahomet fired his dark hosts to forgetfulness of life; or as Peter the Hermit awakened Europe to a frenzy, so that it hurried its hot chivalry across a continent to the Holy Land? Is not the earth mother of us all? Are not our spirits clothed round with the substance of earth? Is it not from Nature we draw life? Do we not perish without sunlight and fresh air? Let us have no breath of air and in five minutes life is extinct. Yet in the cities there is a slow poisoning of life going on day by day. The lover of beauty may walk the streets of London or any big city and may look into ten thousand faces and see none that is lovely. Is not the return of man to a natural life on the earth a great enough idea to inspire humanity? Is not the idea of a civilization amid the green trees and fields under the smokeless sky alluring? Yes, but men say there is no intellectual life working on the land. No intellectual life when man is surrounded by mystery and miracle! When the mysterious forces which bring to birth and life are yet undiscovered; when the earth is teeming with life, and the dumb brown lips of the ridges are breathing mystery! Is not the growth of a tree from a tiny cell hidden in the earth as provocative of thought as the things men learn at the schools? Is not thought on these things more interesting than the sophistries of the newspapers? It is only in Nature, and by thought on the problems of Nature, that our intellect grows to any real truth and draws near to the Mighty Mind which laid the foundations of the world.
Our civilizations are a nightmare, a bad dream. They have no longer the grandeur of Babylon or Nineveh. They grow meaner and meaner as they grow more urbanized. What could be more depressing than the miles of poverty-stricken streets around the heart of our modern cities? The memory lies on one "heavy as frost and deep almost as life." It is terrible to think of the children playing on the pavements; the depletion of vitality, with artificial stimulus supplied from the flaring drink-shops. The spirit grows heavy as if death lay on it while it moves amid such things. And outside these places the clouds are flying overhead snowy and spiritual as of old, the sun is shining, the winds are blowing, the fields are green, the forests are murmuring leaf to leaf, but the magic that God made is unknown to these poor folk. The creation of a rural civilization is the greatest need of our time. It may not come in our days, but we can lay the foundations of it, preparing the way for the true prophet when he will come. The fight now is not to bring people back to the land, but to keep those who are on the land contented, happy, and prosperous. And we must begin by organizing them to defend what is left to them; to take back, industry by industry, what was stolen from them. We must organize the country people into communities, for without some kind of communal life men hold no more together than the drifting sands by the seashore. There is a natural order in which men have instinctively grouped themselves from the dawn of time. It is as natural to them to do so as it is for bees to build their hexagonal cells. If we read the history of civilization we will find people in every land forming little clans co-operating together. Then the ambition of rulers or warriors breaks them up; the greed of powerful men puts an end to them. But, whether broken or not, the moment the rural dweller is left to himself he begins again, with nature prompting him, to form little clans—or nations rather—with his fellows, and it is there life has been happiest. We did this in ancient Ireland. The baronies whose names are on Irish land today and the counties are survivals of these old co-operative colonies, where the men owned the land together and elected their own leaders, and formed their own social order and engendered passionate loyalties and affections. It was so in every land under the sun. It was so in ancient India and in ancient Peru. The European farmers, and we in Ireland along with them, are beginning again the eternal task of building up a civilization in nature—the task so often disturbed, the labor so often destroyed. And it is with the hope that we in Ireland will build truly and nobly that I have put together these thoughts on the rural community.