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Utopia of Usurers and other Essays

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton


A Song of Swords

Utopia of Usurers
I. Art and Advertisement
II. Letters and the New Laureates
III. Unbusinesslike Business
IV. The War on Holidays
V. The Church of the Servile State
VI. Science and the Eugenists
VII. The Evolution of the Prison
VIII. The Lash for Labour
IX. The Mask of Socialism

The Escape
The New Raid
The New Name
A Workman's History of England
The French Revolution and the Irish
Liberalism: A Sample
The Fatigue of Fleet Street
The Amnesty for Aggression
Revive the Court Jester
The Art of Missing the Point
The Servile State Again
The Empire of the Ignorant
The Symbolism of Krupp
The Tower of Bebel
A Real Dancer
The Dregs of Puritanism
The Tyranny of Bad Journalism
The Poetry of the Revolution


"A drove of cattle came into a village called Swords;
and was stopped by the rioters."--Daily Paper.

In the place called Swords on the Irish road
It is told for a new renown
How we held the horns of the cattle, and how
We will hold the horns of the devils now
Ere the lord of hell with the horn on his brow
Is crowned in Dublin town.

Light in the East and light in the West,
And light on the cruel lords,
On the souls that suddenly all men knew,
And the green flag flew and the red flag flew,
And many a wheel of the world stopped, too,
When the cattle were stopped at Swords.

Be they sinners or less than saints
That smite in the street for rage,
We know where the shame shines bright; we know
You that they smite at, you their foe,
Lords of the lawless wage and low,
This is your lawful wage.

You pinched a child to a torture price
That you dared not name in words;
So black a jest was the silver bit
That your own speech shook for the shame of it,
And the coward was plain as a cow they hit
When the cattle have strayed at Swords.

The wheel of the torrent of wives went round
To break men's brotherhood;
You gave the good Irish blood to grease
The clubs of your country's enemies;
you saw the brave man beat to the knees:
And you saw that it was good.

The rope of the rich is long and long--
The longest of hangmen's cords;
But the kings and crowds are holding their breath,
In a giant shadow o'er all beneath
Where God stands holding the scales of Death
Between the cattle and Swords.

Haply the lords that hire and lend
The lowest of all men's lords,
Who sell their kind like kine at a fair,
Will find no head of their cattle there;
But faces of men where cattle were:
Faces of men--and Swords.


I. Art and Advertisement

I propose, subject to the patience of the reader, to devote two or three
articles to prophecy. Like all healthy-minded prophets, sacred and
profane, I can only prophesy when I am in a rage and think things look
ugly for everybody. And like all healthy-minded prophets, I prophesy in
the hope that my prophecy may not come true. For the prediction made by
the true soothsayer is like the warning given by a good doctor. And the
doctor has really triumphed when the patient he condemned to death has
revived to life. The threat is justified at the very moment when it is
falsified. Now I have said again and again (and I shall continue to say
again and again on all the most inappropriate occasions) that we must hit
Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the plain and definite reason that it is
growing stronger. Most of the excuses which serve the capitalists as
masks are, of course, the excuses of hypocrites. They lie when they claim
philanthropy; they no more feel any particular love of men than Albu felt
an affection for Chinamen. They lie when they say they have reached their
position through their own organising ability. They generally have to pay
men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay men to go down it. They
often lie about the present wealth, as they generally lie about their past
poverty. But when they say that they are going in for a "constructive
social policy," they do not lie. They really are going in for a
constructive social policy. And we must go in for an equally destructive
social policy; and destroy, while it is still half-constructed, the
accursed thing which they construct.

The Example of the Arts

Now I propose to take, one after another, certain aspects and departments
of modern life, and describe what I think they will be like in this
paradise of plutocrats, this Utopia of gold and brass in which the great
story of England seems so likely to end. I propose to say what I think
our new masters, the mere millionaires, will do with certain human
interests and institutions, such as art, science, jurisprudence, or
religion--unless we strike soon enough to prevent them. And for the sake
of argument I will take in this article the example of the arts.

Most people have seen a picture called "Bubbles," which is used for the
advertisement of a celebrated soap, a small cake of which is introduced
into the pictorial design. And anybody with an instinct for design (the
caricaturist of the Daily Herald, for instance), will guess that it was
not originally a part of the design. He will see that the cake of soap
destroys the picture as a picture; as much as if the cake of soap had been
used to Scrub off the paint. Small as it is, it breaks and confuses the
whole balance of objects in the composition. I offer no judgment here
upon Millais's action in the matter; in fact, I do not know what it was.
The important point for me at the moment is that the picture was not
painted for the soap, but the soap added to the picture. And the spirit
of the corrupting change which has separated us from that Victorian epoch
can be best seen in this: that the Victorian atmosphere, with all its
faults, did not permit such a style of patronage to pass as a matter of
course. Michael Angelo may have been proud to have helped an emperor or a
pope; though, indeed, I think he was prouder than they were on his own
account. I do not believe Sir John Millais was proud of having helped a
soap-boiler. I do not say he thought it wrong; but he was not proud of it.
And that marks precisely the change from his time to our own. Our
merchants have really adopted the style of merchant princes. They have
begun openly to dominate the civilisation of the State, as the emperors
and popes openly dominated in Italy. In Millais's time, broadly speaking,
art was supposed to mean good art; advertisement was supposed to mean
inferior art. The head of a black man, painted to advertise somebody's
blacking, could be a rough symbol, like an inn sign. The black man had
only to be black enough. An artist exhibiting the picture of a negro was
expected to know that a black man is not so black as he is painted. He
was expected to render a thousand tints of grey and brown and violet: for
there is no such thing as a black man just as there is no such thing as a
white man. A fairly clear line separated advertisement from art.

The First Effect

I should say the first effect of the triumph of the capitalist (if we
allow him to triumph) will be that that line of demarcation will entirely
disappear. There will be no art that might not just as well be
advertisement. I do not necessarily mean that there will be no good art;
much of it might be, much of it already is, very good art. You may put it,
if you please, in the form that there has been a vast improvement in
advertisements. Certainly there would be nothing surprising if the head
of a negro advertising Somebody's Blacking now adays were finished with as
careful and subtle colours as one of the old and superstitious painters
would have wasted on the negro king who brought gifts to Christ. But the
improvement of advertisements is the degradation of artists. It is their
degradation for this clear and vital reason: that the artist will work,
not only to please the rich, but only to increase their riches; which is a
considerable step lower. After all, it was as a human being that a pope
took pleasure in a cartoon of Raphael or a prince took pleasure in a
statuette of Cellini. The prince paid for the statuette; but he did not
expect the statuette to pay him. It is my impression that no cake of soap
can be found anywhere in the cartoons which the Pope ordered of Raphael.
And no one who knows the small-minded cynicism of our plutocracy, its
secrecy, its gambling spirit, its contempt of conscience, can doubt that
the artist-advertiser will often be assisting enterprises over which he
will have no moral control, and of which he could feel no moral approval.
He will be working to spread quack medicines, queer investments; and will
work for Marconi instead of Medici. And to this base ingenuity he will
have to bend the proudest and purest of the virtues of the intellect, the
power to attract his brethren, and the noble duty of praise. For that
picture by Millais is a very allegorical picture. It is almost a prophecy
of what uses are awaiting the beauty of the child unborn. The praise will
be of a kind that may correctly be called soap; and the enterprises of a
kind that may truly be described as Bubbles.

II. Letters and the New Laureates

In these articles I only take two or three examples of the first and
fundamental fact of our time. I mean the fact that the capitalists of our
community are becoming quite openly the kings of it. In my last (and
first) article, I took the case of Art and advertisement. I pointed out
that Art must be growing worse--merely because advertisement is growing
better. In those days Millais condescended to Pears' soap. In these days
I really think it would be Pears who condescended to Millais. But here I
turn to an art I know more about, that of journalism. Only in my ease the
art verges on artlessness.

The great difficulty with the English lies in the absence of something one
may call democratic imagination. We find it easy to realise an individual,
but very hard to realise that the great masses consist of individuals.
Our system has been aristocratic: in the special sense of there being only
a few actors on the stage. And the back scene is kept quite dark, though
it is really a throng of faces. Home Rule tended to be not so much the
Irish as the Grand Old Man. The Boer War tended not to be so much South
Africa as simply "Joe." And it is the amusing but distressing fact that
every class of political leadership, as it comes to the front in its turn,
catches the rays of this isolating lime-light; and becomes a small
aristocracy. Certainly no one has the aristocratic complaint so badly as
the Labour Party. At the recent Congress, the real difference between
Larkin and the English Labour leaders was not so much in anything right or
wrong in what he said, as in something elemental and even mystical in the
way he suggested a mob. But it must be plain, even to those who agree
with the more official policy, that for Mr. Havelock Wilson the principal
question was Mr. Havelock Wilson; and that Mr. Sexton was mainly
considering the dignity and fine feelings of Mr. Sexton. You may say they
were as sensitive as aristocrats, or as sulky as babies; the point is that
the feeling was personal. But Larkin, like Danton, not only talks like
ten thousand men talking, but he also has some of the carelessness of the
colossus of Arcis; "Que mon nom soit fletri, que la France soit libre."

A Dance of Degradation

It is needless to say that this respecting of persons has led all the
other parties a dance of degradation. We ruin South Africa because it
would be a slight on Lord Gladstone to save South Africa. We have a bad
army, because it would be a snub to Lord Haldane to have a good army.
And no Tory is allowed to say "Marconi" for fear Mr. George should say
"Kynoch." But this curious personal element, with its appalling lack of
patriotism, has appeared in a new and curious form in another department
of life; the department of literature, especially periodical literature.
And the form it takes is the next example I shall give of the way in which
the capitalists are now appearing, more and more openly, as the masters
and princes of the community.

I will take a Victorian instance to mark the change; as I did in the case
of the advertisement of "Bubbles." It was said in my childhood, by the
more apoplectic and elderly sort of Tory, that W. E. Gladstone was only a
Free Trader because he had a partnership in Gilbey's foreign wines. This
was, no doubt, nonsense; but it had a dim symbolic, or mainly prophetic,
truth in it. It was true, to some extent even then, and it has been
increasingly true since, that the statesman was often an ally of the
salesman; and represented not only a nation of shopkeepers, but one
particular shop. But in Gladstone's time, even if this was true, it was
never the whole truth; and no one would have endured it being the admitted
truth. The politician was not solely an eloquent and persuasive bagman
travelling for certain business men; he was bound to mix even his
corruption with some intelligible ideals and rules of policy. And the
proof of it is this: that at least it was the statesman who bulked large
in the public eye; and his financial backer was entirely in the background.
Old gentlemen might choke over their port, with the moral certainty that
the Prime Minister had shares in a wine merchant's. But the old gentleman
would have died on the spot if the wine merchant had really been made as
important as the Prime Minister. If it had been Sir Walter Gilbey whom
Disraeli denounced, or Punch caricatured; if Sir Walter Gilbey's favourite
collars (with the design of which I am unacquainted) had grown as large as
the wings of an archangel; if Sir Walter Gilbey had been credited with
successfully eliminating the British Oak with his little hatchet; if, near
the Temple and the Courts of Justice, our sight was struck by a majestic
statue of a wine merchant; or if the earnest Conservative lady who threw a
gingerbread-nut at the Premier had directed it towards the wine merchant
instead, the shock to Victorian England would have been very great indeed.

Haloes for Employers

Now something very like that is happening; the mere wealthy employer is
beginning to have not only the power but some of the glory. I have seen
in several magazines lately, and magazines of a high class, the appearance
of a new kind of article. Literary men are being employed to praise a big
business man personally, as men used to praise a king. They not only find
political reasons for the commercial schemes--that they have done for some
time past--they also find moral defences for the commercial schemers.
They describe the capitalist's brain of steel and heart of gold in a way
that Englishmen hitherto have been at least in the habit of reserving for
romantic figures like Garibaldi or Gordon. In one excellent magazine Mr.
T. P. O'Connor, who, when he likes, can write on letters like a man of
letters, has some purple pages of praise of Sir Joseph Lyons--the man who
runs those teashop places. He incidentally brought in a delightful
passage about the beautiful souls possessed by some people called Salmon
and Gluckstein. I think I like best the passage where he said that
Lyons's charming social acaccomplishments included a talent for "imitating
a Jew." The article is accompanied with a large and somewhat leering
portrait of that shopkeeper, which makes the parlour-trick in question
particularly astonishing. Another literary man, who certainly ought to
know better, wrote in another paper a piece of hero-worship about Mr.
Selfridge. No doubt the fashion will spread, and the art of words, as
polished and pointed by Ruskin or Meredith, will be perfected yet further
to explore the labyrinthine heart of Harrod; or compare the simple
stoicism of Marshall with the saintly charm of Snelgrove.

Any man can be praised--and rightly praised. If he only stands on two
legs he does something a cow cannot do. If a rich man can manage to stand
on two legs for a reasonable time, it is called self-control. If he has
only one leg, it is called (with some truth) self-sacrifice. I could say
something nice (and true) about every man I have ever met. Therefore, I
do not doubt I could find something nice about Lyons or Selfridge if I
searched for it. But I shall not. The nearest postman or cab-man will
provide me with just the same brain of steel and heart of gold as these
unlucky lucky men. But I do resent the whole age of patronage being
revived under such absurd patrons; and all poets becoming court poets,
under kings that have taken no oath, nor led us into any battle.

III. Unbusinesslike Business

The fairy tales we were all taught did not, like the history we were all
taught, consist entirely of lies. Parts of the tale of "Puss in Boots" or
"Jack and the Beanstalk" may strike the realistic eye as a little unlikely
and out of the common way, so to speak; but they contain some very solid
and very practical truths. For instance, it may be noted that both in
"Puss in Boots" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" if I remember aright, the
ogre was not only an ogre but also a magician. And it will generally be
found that in all such popular narratives, the king, if he is a wicked
king, is generally also a wizard. Now there is a very vital human truth
enshrined in this. Bad government, like good government, is a spiritual
thing. Even the tyrant never rules by force alone; but mostly by fairy
tales. And so it is with the modern tyrant, the great employer. The
sight of a millionaire is seldom, in the ordinary sense, an enchanting
sight: nevertheless, he is in his way an enchanter. As they say in the
gushing articles about him in the magazines, he is a fascinating
personality. So is a snake. At least he is fascinating to rabbits; and
so is the millionaire to the rabbit-witted sort of people that ladies and
gentlemen have allowed themselves to become. He does, in a manner, cast a
spell, such as that which imprisoned princes and princesses under the
shapes of falcons or stags. He has truly turned men into sheep, as Circe
turned them into swine.

Now, the chief of the fairy tales, by which he gains this glory and
glamour, is a certain hazy association he has managed to create between
the idea of bigness and the idea of practicality. Numbers of the
rabbit-witted ladies and gentlemen do really think, in spite of themselves
and their experience, that so long as a shop has hundreds of different
doors and a great many hot and unhealthy underground departments (they
must be hot; this is very important), and more people than would be needed
for a man-of-war, or crowded cathedral, to say: "This way, madam," and
"The next article, sir," it follows that the goods are good. In short,
they hold that the big businesses are businesslike. They are not. Any
housekeeper in a truthful mood, that is to say, any housekeeper in a bad
temper, will tell you that they are not. But housekeepers, too, are human,
and therefore inconsistent and complex; and they do not always stick to
truth and bad temper. They are also affected by this queer idolatry of
the enormous and elaborate; and cannot help feeling that anything so
complicated must go like clockwork. But complexity is no guarantee of
accuracy--in clockwork or in anything else. A clock can be as wrong as
the human head; and a clock can stop, as suddenly as the human heart.

But this strange poetry of plutocracy prevails over people against their
very senses. You write to one of the great London stores or emporia,
asking, let us say, for an umbrella. A month or two afterwards you
receive a very elaborately constructed parcel, containing a broken parasol.
You are very pleased. You are gratified to reflect on what a vast
number of assistants and employees had combined to break that parasol.
You luxuriate in the memory of all those long rooms and departments and
wonder in which of them the parasol that you never ordered was broken. Or
you want a toy elephant for your child on Christmas Day; as children, like
all nice and healthy people, are very ritualistic. Some week or so after
Twelfth Night, let us say, you have the pleasure of removing three layers
of pasteboards, five layers of brown paper, and fifteen layers of tissue
paper and discovering the fragments of an artificial crocodile. You smile
in an expansive spirit. You feel that your soul has been broadened by the
vision of incompetence conducted on so large a scale. You admire all the
more the colossal and Omnipresent Brain of the Organiser of Industry, who
amid all his multitudinous cares did not disdain to remember his duty of
smashing even the smallest toy of the smallest child. Or, supposing you
have asked him to send you some two rolls of cocoa-nut matting: and
supposing (after a due interval for reflection) he duly delivers to you
the five rolls of wire netting. You take pleasure in the consideration
of a mystery: which coarse minds might have called a mistake. It consoles
you to know how big the business is: and what an enormous number of people
were needed to make such a mistake.

That is the romance that has been told about the big shops; in the
literature and art which they have bought, and which (as I said in my
recent articles) will soon be quite indistinguishable from their ordinary
advertisements. The literature is commercial; and it is only fair to say
that the commerce is often really literary. It is no romance, but only

The big commercial concerns of to-day are quite exceptionally incompetent.
They will be even more incompetent when they are omnipotent. Indeed,
that is, and always has been, the whole point of a monopoly; the old and
sound argument against a monopoly. It is only because it is incompetent
that it has to be omnipotent. When one large shop occupies the whole of
one side of a street (or sometimes both sides), it does so in order that
men may be unable to get what they want; and may be forced to buy what
they don't want. That the rapidly approaching kingdom of the Capitalists
will ruin art and letters, I have already said. I say here that in the
only sense that can be called human, it will ruin trade, too.

I will not let Christmas go by, even when writing for a revolutionary
paper necessarily appealing to many with none of my religious sympathies,
without appealing to those sympathies. I knew a man who sent to a great
rich shop for a figure for a group of Bethlehem. It arrived broken. I
think that is exactly all that business men have now the sense to do.

IV. The War on Holidays

The general proposition, not always easy to define exhaustively, that the
reign of the capitalist will be the reign of the cad--that is, of the
unlicked type that is neither the citizen nor the gentleman--can be
excellently studied in its attitude towards holidays. The special
emblematic Employer of to-day, especially the Model Employer (who is the
worst sort) has in his starved and evil heart a sincere hatred of holidays.
I do not mean that he necessarily wants all his workmen to work until
they drop; that only occurs when he happens to be stupid as well as wicked.
I do not mean to say that he is necessarily unwilling to grant what he
would call "decent hours of labour." He may treat men like dirt; but if
you want to make money, even out of dirt, you must let it lie fallow by
some rotation of rest. He may treat men as dogs, but unless he is a
lunatic he will for certain periods let sleeping dogs lie.

But humane and reasonable hours for labour have nothing whatever to do
with the idea of holidays. It is not even a question of tenhours day and
eight-hours day; it is not a question of cutting down leisure to the space
necessary for food, sleep and exercise. If the modern employer came to
the conclusion, for some reason or other, that he could get most out of
his men by working them hard for only two hours a day, his whole mental
attitude would still be foreign and hostile to holidays. For his whole
mental attitude is that the passive time and the active time are alike
useful for him and his business. All is, indeed, grist that comes to his
mill, including the millers. His slaves still serve him in
unconsciousness, as dogs still hunt in slumber. His grist is ground not
only by the sounding wheels of iron, but by the soundless wheel of blood
and brain. His sacks are still filling silently when the doors are shut
on the streets and the sound of the grinding is low.

The Great Holiday

Now a holiday has no connection with using a man either by beating or
feeding him. When you give a man a holiday you give him back his body and
soul. It is quite possible you may be doing him an injury (though he
seldom thinks so), but that does not affect the question for those to whom
a holiday is holy. Immortality is the great holiday; and a holiday, like
the immortality in the old theologies, is a double-edged privilege. But
wherever it is genuine it is simply the restoration and completion of the
man. If people ever looked at the printed word under their eye, the word
"recreation" would be like the word "resurrection," the blast of a trumpet.

A man, being merely useful, is necessarily incomplete, especially if he be
a modern man and means by being useful being "utilitarian." A man going
into a modern club gives up his hat; a man going into a modern factory
gives up his head. He then goes in and works loyally for the old firm to
build up the great fabric of commerce (which can be done without a head),
but when he has done work he goes to the cloak-room, like the man at the
club, and gets his head back again; that is the germ of the holiday. It
may be urged that the club man who leaves his hat often goes away with
another hat; and perhaps it may be the same with the factory hand who has
left his head. A hand that has lost its head may affect the fastidious as
a mixed metaphor; but, God pardon us all, what an unmixed truth! We could
almost prove the whole ease from the habit of calling human beings merely
"hands" while they are working; as if the hand were horribly cut off, like
the hand that has offended; as if, while the sinner entered heaven maimed,
his unhappy hand still laboured laying up riches for the lords of hell.
But to return to the man whom we found waiting for his head in the
cloak-room. It may be urged, we say, that he might take the wrong head,
like the wrong hat; but here the similarity ceases. For it has been
observed by benevolent onlookers at life's drama that the hat taken away
by mistake is frequently better than the real hat; whereas the head taken
away after the hours of toil is certainly worse: stained with the cobwebs
and dust of this dustbin of all the centuries.

The Supreme Adventure

All the words dedicated to places of eating and drinking are pure and
poetic words. Even the word "hotel" is the word hospital. And St. Julien,
whose claret I drank this Christmas, was the patron saint of innkeepers,
because (as far as I can make out) he was hospitable to lepers. Now I do
not say that the ordinary hotel-keeper in Piccadilly or the Avenue de
l'Opera would embrace a leper, slap him on the back, and ask him to order
what he liked; but I do say that hospitality is his trade virtue. And I
do also say it is well to keep before our eyes the supreme adventure of a
virtue. If you are brave, think of the man who was braver than you. If
you are kind, think of the man who was kinder than you.

That is what was meant by having a patron saint. That is the link between
the poor saint who received bodily lepers and the great hotel proprietor
who (as a rule) receives spiritual lepers. But a word yet weaker than
"hotel" illustrates the same point--the word "restaurant." There again
you have the admission that there is a definite building or statue to
"restore"; that ineffaceable image of man that some call the image of God.
And that is the holiday; it is the restaurant or restoring thing that, by
a blast of magic, turns a man into himself.

This complete and reconstructed man is the nightmare of the modern
capitalist. His whole scheme would crack across like a mirror of Shallot,
if once a plain man were ready for his two plain duties--ready to live and
ready to die. And that horror of holidays which marks the modern
capitalist is very largely a horror of the vision of a whole human being:
something that is not a "hand" or a "head for figutes." But an awful
creature who has met himself in the wilderness. The employers will give
time to eat, time to sleep; they are in terror of a time to think.

To anyone who knows any history it is wholly needless to say that holidays
have been destroyed. As Mr. Belloc, who knows much more history than you
or I, recently pointed out in the "Pall Mall Magazine," Shakespeare's
title of "Twelfth Night: or What You Will" simply meant that a winter
carnival for everybody went on wildly till the twelfth night after
Christmas. Those of my readers who work for modern offices or factories
might ask their employers for twelve days' holidays after Christmas. And
they might let me know the reply.


I confess I cannot see why mere blasphemy by itself should be an excuse
for tyranny and treason; or how the mere isolated fact of a man not
believing in God should be a reason for my believing in Him.

But the rather spinsterish flutter among some of the old Freethinkers has
put one tiny ripple of truth in it; and that affects the idea which I wish
to emphasise even to monotony in these pages. I mean the idea that the
new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very
complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing
really independent of itself. Now, it is true that any positive creed,
true or false, would tend to be independent of itself. It might be Roman
Catholicism or Mahomedanism or Materialism; but, if strongly held, it
would be a thorn in the side of the Servile State. The Moslem thinks all
men immortal: the Materialist thinks all men mortal. But the Moslem does
not think the rich Sinbad will live forever; but the poor Sinbad will die
on his deathbed. The Materialist does not think that Mr. Haeckel will go
to heaven, while all the peasants will go to pot, like their chickens.
In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of
the doctrine of the equality of men. But the capitalist really depends on
some religion of inequality. The capitalist must somehow distinguish
himself from human kind; he must be obviously above it--or he would be
obviously below it. Take even the least attractive and popular side of
the larger religions to-day; take the mere vetoes imposed by Islam on
Atheism or Catholicism. The Moslem veto upon intoxicants cuts across all
classes. But it is absolutely necessary for the capitalist (who presides
at a Licensing Committee, and also at a large dinner), it is absolutely
necessary for him, to make a distinction between gin and champagne. The
Atheist veto upon all miracles cuts across all classes. But it is
absolutely necessary for the capitalist to make a distinction between his
wife (who is an aristocrat and consults crystal gazers and star gazers in
the West End), and vulgar miracles claimed by gipsies or travelling
showmen. The Catholic veto upon usury, as defined in dogmatic councils,
cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary to the capitalist
to distinguish more delicately between two kinds of usury; the kind he
finds useful and the kind he does not find useful. The religion of the
Servile State must have no dogmas or definitions. It cannot afford to
have any definitions. For definitions are very dreadful things: they do
the two things that most men, especially comfortable men, cannot endure.
They fight; and they fight fair.

Every religion, apart from open devil worship, must appeal to a virtue or
the pretence of a virtue. But a virtue, generally speaking, does some
good to everybody. It is therefore necessary to distinguish among the
people it was meant to benefit those whom it does benefit. Modern
broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was
meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else. And if you
think this unwarranted, I will put before you one plain question. There
are some pleasures of the poor that may also mean profits for the rich:
there are other pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the
rich? Watch this one contrast, and you will watch the whole creation of a
careful slavery.

In the last resort the two things called Beer and Soap end only in a froth.
They are both below the high notice of a real religion. But there is
just this difference: that the soap makes the factory more satisfactory,
while the beer only makes the workman more satisfied. Wait and see if
the Soap does not increase and the Beer decrease. Wait and see whether
the religion of the Servile State is not in every case what I say: the
encouragement of small virtues supporting capitalism, the discouragement
of the huge virtues that defy it. Many great religions, Pagan and
Christian, have insisted on wine. Only one, I think, has insisted on Soap.
You will find it in the New Testament attributed to the Pharisees.


The key fact in the new development of plutocracy is that it will use its
own blunder as an excuse for further crimes. Everywhere the very
completeness of the impoverishment will be made a reason for the
enslavement; though the men who impoverished were the same who enslaved.
It is as if a highwayman not only took away a gentleman's horse and all
his money, but then handed him over to the police for tramping without
visible means of subsistence. And the most monstrous feature in this
enormous meanness may be noted in the plutocratic appeal to science, or,
rather, to the pseudo-science that they call Eugenics.

The Eugenists get the ear of the humane but rather hazy cliques by saying
that the present "conditions" under which people work and breed are bad
for the race; but the modern mind will not generally stretch beyond one
step of reasoning, and the consequence which appears to follow on the
consideration of these "conditions" is by no means what would originally
have been expected. If somebody says: "A rickety cradle may mean a
rickety baby," the natural deduction, one would think, would be to give
the people a good cradle, or give them money enough to buy one. But that
means higher wages and greater equalisation of wealth; and the plutocratic
scientist, with a slightly troubled expression, turns his eyes and
pince-nez in another direction. Reduced to brutal terms of truth, his
difficulty is this and simply this: More food, leisure, and money for the
workman would mean a better workman, better even from the point of view of
anyone for whom he worked. But more food, leisure, and money would also
mean a more independent workman. A house with a decent fire and a full
pantry would be a better house to make a chair or mend a clock in, even
from the customer's point of view, than a hovel with a leaky roof and a
cold hearth. But a house with a decent fire and a full pantry would also
be a better house in which to refuse to make a chair or mend a clock--a
much better house to do nothing in--and doing nothing is sometimes one of
the highest of the duties of man. All but the hard-hearted must be torn
with pity for this pathetic dilemma of the rich man, who has to keep the
poor man just stout enough to do the work and just thin enough to have to
do it. As he stood gazing at the leaky roof and the rickety cradle in a
pensive manner, there one day came into his mind a new and curious
idea--one of the most strange, simple, and horrible ideas that have ever
risen from the deep pit of original sin.

The roof could not be mended, or, at least, it could not be mended much,
without upsetting the capitalist balance, or, rather, disproportion in
society; for a man with a roof is a man with a house, and to that extent
his house is his castle. The cradle could not be made to rock easier, or,
at least, not much easier, without strengthening the hands of the poor
household, for the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world--to that
extent. But it occurred to the capitalist that there was one sort of
furniture in the house that could be altered. The husband and wife could
be altered. Birth costs nothing, except in pain and valour and such
old-fashioned things; and the merchant need pay no more for mating a
strong miner to a healthy fishwife than he pays when the miner mates
himself with a less robust female whom he has the sentimentality to prefer.
Thus it might be possible, by keeping on certain broad lines of
heredity, to have some physical improvement without any moral, political,
or social improvement. It might be possible to keep a supply of strong
and healthy slaves without coddling them with decent conditions. As the
mill-owners use the wind and the water to drive their mills, they would
use this natural force as something even cheaper; and turn their wheels by
diverting from its channel the blood of a man in his youth. That is what
Eugenics means; and that is all that it means.

Of the moral state of those who think of such things it does not become us
to speak. The practical question is rather the intellectual one: of
whether their calculations are well founded, and whether the men of
science can or will guarantee them any such physical certainties.
Fortunately, it becomes clearer every day that they are, scientifically
speaking, building on the shifting sand. The theory of breeding slaves
breaks down through what a democrat calls the equality of men, but which
even an oligarchist will find himself forced to call the similarity of men.
That is, that though it is not true that all men are normal, it is
overwhelmingly certain that most men are normal. All the common Eugenic
arguments are drawn from extreme cases, which, even if human honour and
laughter allowed of their being eliminated, would not by their elimination
greatly affect the mass. For the rest, there remains the enormous
weakness in Eugenics, that if ordinary men's judgment or liberty is to be
discounted in relation to heredity, the judgment of the judges must be
discounted in relation to their heredity. The Eugenic professor may or
may not succeed in choosing a baby's parents; it is quite certain that he
cannot succeed in choosing his own parents. All his thoughts, including
his Eugenic thoughts, are, by the very principle of those thoughts,
flowing from a doubtful or tainted source. In short, we should need a
perfectly Wise Man to do the thing at all. And if he were a Wise Man he
would not do it.


I have never understood why it is that those who talk most about evolution,
and talk it in the very age of fashionable evolutionism, do not see the
one way in which evolution really does apply to our modern difficulty.
There is, of course, an element of evolutionism in the universe; and I
know no religion or philosophy that ever entirely ignored it. Evolution,
popularly speaking, is that which happens to unconscious things. They
grow unconsciously; or fade unconsciously; or rather, some parts of them
grow and some parts of them fade; and at any given moment there is almost
always some presence of thc fading thing, and some incompleteness in the
growing one. Thus, if I went to sleep for a hundred years, like the
Sleeping Beauty (I wish I could), I should grow a beard--unlike the
Sleeping Beauty. And just as I should grow hair if I were asleep, I
should grow grass if I were dead. Those whose religion it was that God
was asleep were perpetually impressed and affected by the fact that he had
a long beard. And those whose philosophy it is that the universe is dead
from the beginning (being the grave of nobody in particular) think that is
the way that grass can grow. In any case, these developments only occur
with dead or dreaming things. What happens when everyone is asleep is
called Evolution. What happens when everyone is awake is called

There was once an honest man, whose name I never knew, but whose face I
can almost see (it is framed in Victorian whiskers and fixed in a
Victorian neck-cloth), who was balancing the achievements of France and
England in civilisation and social efficiencies. And when he came to the
religious aspect he said that there were more stone and brick churches
used in France; but, on the other hand, there are more sects in England.
Whether such a lively disintegration is a proof of vitality in any
valuable sense I have always doubted. The sun may breed maggots in a
dead dog; but it is essential for such a liberation of life that the dog
should be unconscious or (to say the least of it) absent-minded. Broadly
speaking, you may call the thing corruption, if you happen to like dogs.
You may call it evolution, if you happen to like maggots. In either case,
it is what happens to things if you leave them alone.

The Evolutionists' Error

Now, the modern Evolutionists have made no real use of the idea of
evolution, especially in the matter of social prediction. They always
fall into what is (from their logical point of view) the error of
supposing that evolution knows what it is doing. They predict the State
of the future as a fruit rounded and polished. But the whole point of
evolution (the only point there is in it) is that no State will ever be
rounded and polished, because it will always contain some organs that
outlived their use, and some that have not yet fully found theirs. If we
wish to prophesy what will happen, we must imagine things now moderate
grown enormous; things now local grown universal; things now promising
grown triumphant; primroses bigger than sunflowers, and sparrows stalking
about like flamingoes.

In other words, we must ask what modern institution has a future before
it? What modern institution may have swollen to six times its present size
in the social heat and growth of the future? I do not think the Garden
City will grow: but of that I may speak in my next and last article of
this series. I do not think even the ordinary Elementary School, with its
compulsory education, will grow. Too many unlettered people hate the
teacher for teaching; and too many lettered people hate the teacher for
not teaching. The Garden City will not bear much blossom; the young idea
will not shoot, unless it shoots the teacher. But the one flowering tree
on the estate, the one natural expansion which I think will expand, is the
institution we call the Prison.

Prisons for All

If the capitalists are allowed to erect their constructive capitalist
community, I speak quite seriously when I say that I think Prison will
become an almost universal experience. It will not necessarily be a
cruel or shameful experience: on these points (I concede certainly for the
present purpose of debate) it may be a vastly improved experience. The
conditions in the prison, very possibly, will be made more humane. But
the prison will be made more humane only in order to contain more of
humanity. I think little of the judgment and sense of humour of any man
who can have watched recent police trials without realising that it is no
longer a question of whether the law has been broken by a crime; but, now,
solely a question of whether the situation could be mended by an
imprisonment. It was so with Tom Mann; it was so with Larkin; it was so
with the poor atheist who was kept in gaol for saying something he had
been acquitted of saying: it is so in such cases day by day. We no longer
lock a man up for doing something; we lock him up in the hope of his doing
nothing. Given this principle, it is evidently possible to make the mere
conditions of punishment more moderate, or--(more probably) more secret.
There may really be more mercy in the Prison, on condition that there is
less justice in the Court. I should not be surprised if, before we are
done with all this, a man was allowed to smoke in prison, on condition, of
course, that he had been put in prison for smoking.

Now that is the process which, in the absence of democratic protest, will
certainly proceed, will increase and multiply and replenish the earth and
subdue it. Prison may even lose its disgrace for a little time: it will
be difficult to make it disgraceful when men like Larkin can be imprisoned
for no reason at all, just as his celebrated ancestor was hanged for no
reason at all. But capitalist society, which naturally does not know the
meaning of honour, cannot know the meaning of disgrace: and it will still
go on imprisoning for no reason at all. Or rather for that rather simple
reason that makes a cat spring or a rat run away.

It matters little whether our masters stoop to state the matter in the
form that every prison should be a school; or in the more candid form that
every school should be a prison. They have already fulfilled their
servile principle in the case of the schools. Everyone goes to the
Elementary Schools except the few people who tell them to go there. I
prophesy that (unless our revolt succeeds) nearly everyone will be going
to Prison, with a precisely similar patience.


If I were to prophesy that two hundred years hence a grocer would have the
right and habit of beating the grocer's assistant with a stick, or that
shop girls might be flogged, as they already can be fined, many would
regard it as rather a rash remark. It would be a rash remark. Prophecy
is always unreliable; unless we except the kind which is avowedly
irrational, mystical and supernatural prophecy. But relatively to nearly
all the other prophecies that are being made around me to-day, I should
say my prediction stood an exceptionally good chance. In short, I think
the grocer with the stick is a figure we are far more likely to see than
the Superman or the Samurai, or the True Model Employer, or the Perfect
Fabian Official, or the citizen of the Collectivist State. And it is
best for us to see the full ugliness of the transformation which is
passing over our Society in some such abrupt and even grotesque image at
the end of it. The beginnings of a decline, in every age of history, have
always had the appearance of being reforms. Nero not only fiddled while
Rome was burning, but he probably really paid more attention to the fiddle
than to the fire. The Roi Soleil, like many other soleils, was most
splendid to all appearance a little before sunset. And if I ask myself
what will be the ultimate and final fruit of all our social reforms,
garden cities, model employers, insurances, exchanges, arbitration courts,
and so on, then, I say, quite seriously, "I think it will be labour under
the lash."

The Sultan and the Sack

Let us arrange in some order a number of converging considerations that
all point in this direction. (1) It is broadly true, no doubt, that the
weapon of the employer has hitherto been the threat of dismissal, that is,
the threat of enforced starvation. He is a Sultan who need not order the
bastinado, so long as he can order the sack. But there are not a few
signs that this weapon is not quite so convenient and flexible a one as
his increasing rapacities require. The fact of the introduction of fines,
secretly or openly, in many shops and factories, proves that it is
convenient for the capitalists to have some temporary and adjustable form
of punishment besides the final punishment of pure ruin. Nor is it
difficult to see the commonsense of this from their wholly inhuman point
of view. The act of sacking a man is attended with the same disadvantages
as the act of shooting a man: one of which is that you can get no more out
of him. It is, I am told, distinctly annoying to blow a fellow creature's
brains out with a revolver and then suddenly remember that he was the only
person who knew where to get the best Russian cigarettes. So our Sultan,
who is the orderer of the sack, is also the bearer of the bow-string. A
school in which there was no punishment, except expulsion, would be a
school in which it would be very difficult to keep proper discipline; and
the sort of discipline on which the reformed capitalism will insist will
be all of the type which in free nations is imposed only on children.
Such a school would probably be in a chronic condition of breaking up for
the holidays. And the reasons for the insufficiency of this extreme
instrument are also varied and evident. The materialistic Sociologists,
who talk about the survival of the fittest and the weakest going to the
wall (and whose way of looking at the world is to put on the latest and
most powerful scientific spectacles, and then shut their eyes), frequently
talk as if a workman were simply efficient or non-efficient, as if a
criminal were reclaimable or irreclaimable. The employers have sense
enough at least to know better than that. They can see that a servant may
be useful in one way and exasperating in another; that he may be bad in
one part of his work and good in another; that he may be occasionally
drunk and yet generally indispensable. Just as a practical school-master
would know that a schoolboy can be at once the plague and the pride of the
school. Under these circumstances small and varying penalties are
obviously the most convenient things for the person keeping order; an
underling can be punished for coming late, and yet do useful work when he
comes. It will be possible to give a rap over the knuckles without wholly
cutting off the right hand that has offended. Under these circumstances
the employers have naturally resorted to fines. But there is a further
ground for believing that the process will go beyond fines before it is

(2) The fine is based on the old European idea that everybody possesses
private property in some reasonable degree; but not only is this not true
to-day, but it is not being made any truer, even by those who honestly
believe that they are mending matters. The great employers will often do
something towards improving what they call the "conditions" of their
workers; but a worker might have his conditions as carefully arranged as a
racehorse has, and still have no more personal property than a racehorse.
If you take an average poor seamstress or factory girl, you will find that
the power of chastising her through her property has very considerable
limits; it is almost as hard for the employer of labour to tax her for
punishment as it is for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tax her for
revenue. The next most obvious thing to think of, of course, would be
imprisonment, and that might be effective enough under simpler conditions.
An old-fashioned shopkeeper might have locked up his apprentice in his
coal-cellar; but his coal-cellar would be a real, pitch dark coal-cellar,
and the rest of his house would be a real human house. Everybody
(especially the apprentice) would see a most perceptible difference
between the two. But, as I pointed out in the article before this, the
whole tendency of the capitalist legislation and experiment is to make
imprisonment much more general and automatic, while making it, or
professing to make it, more humane. In other words, the hygienic prison
and the servile factory will become so uncommonly like each other that the
poor man will hardly know or care whether he is at the moment expiating an
offence or merely swelling a dividend. In both places there will be the
same sort of shiny tiles. In neither place will there be any cell so
unwholesome as a coal-cellar or so wholesome as a home. The weapon of the
prison, therefore, like the weapon of the fine, will be found to have
considerable limitations to its effectiveness when employed against the
wretched reduced citizen of our day. Whether it be property or liberty
you cannot take from him what he has not got. You cannot imprison a slave,
because you cannot enslave a slave.

The Barbarous Revival

(3) Most people, on hearing the suggestion that it may come to corporal
punishment at last (as it did in every slave system I ever heard of,
including some that were generally kindly, and even successful), will
merely be struck with horror and incredulity, and feel that such a
barbarous revival is unthinkable in the modern atmosphere. How far it
will be, or need be, a revival of the actual images and methods of ruder
times I will discuss in a moment. But first, as another of the converging
lines tending to corporal punishment, consider this: that for some reason
or other the old full-blooded and masculine humanitarianism in this matter
has weakened and fallen silent; it has weakened and fallen silent in a
very curious manner, the precise reason for which I do not altogether
understand. I knew the average Liberal, the average Nonconformist
minister, the average Labour Member, the average middle-class Socialist,
were, with all their good qualities, very deficient in what I consider a
respect for the human soul. But I did imagine that they had the ordinary
modern respect for the human body. The fact, however, is clear and
incontrovertible. In spite of the horror of all humane people, in spite
of the hesitation even of our corrupt and panic-stricken Parliament,
measures can now be triumphantly passed for spreading or increasing the
use of physical torture, and for applying it to the newest and vaguest
categories of crime. Thirty or forty years ago, nay, twenty years ago,
when Mr. F. Hugh O'Donnell and others forced a Liberal Government to drop
the cat-o-nine-tails like a scorpion, we could have counted on a mass of
honest hatred of such things. We cannot count on it now.

(4) But lastly, it is not necessary that in the factories of the future
the institution of physical punishment should actually remind people of
the jambok or the knout. It could easily be developed out of the many
forms of physical discipline which are already used by employers on the
excuses of education or hygiene. Already in some factories girls are
obliged to swim whether they like it or not, or do gymnastics whether they
like it or not. By a simple extension of hours or complication of
exercises a pair of Swedish clubs could easily be so used as to leave
their victim as exhausted as one who had come off the rack. I think it
extremely likely that they will be.


The chief aim of all honest Socialists just now is to prevent the coming
of Socialism. I do not say it as a sneer, but, on the contrary, as a
compliment; a compliment to their political instinct and public spirit. I
admit it may be called an exaggeration; but there really is a sort of sham
Socialism that the modern politicians may quite possibly agree to set up;
if they do succeed in setting it up, the battle for the poor is lost.

We must note, first of all, a general truth about the curious time we live
in. It will not be so difficult as some people may suppose to make the
Servile State look rather like Socialism, especially to the more pedantic
kind of Socialist. The reason is this. The old lucid and trenchant
expounder of Socialism, such as Blatchford or Fred Henderson, always
describes the economic power of the plutocrats as consisting in private
property. Of course, in a sense, this is quite true; though they too
often miss the point that private property, as such, is not the same as
property confined to the few. But the truth is that the situation has
grown much more subtle; perhaps too subtle, not to say too insane, for
straight-thinking theorists like Blatchford. The rich man to-day does not
only rule by using private property; he also rules by treating public
property as if it were private property. A man like Lord Murray pulled
the strings, especially the pursestrings; but the whole point of his
position was that all sorts of strings had got entangled. The secret
strength of the money he held did not lie merely in the fact that it was
his money. It lay precisely in the fact that nobody had any clear idea of
whether it was his money, or his successor's money, or his brother's money,
or the Marconi Company's money, or the Liberal Party's money, or the
English Nation's money. It was buried treasure; but it was not private
property. It was the acme of plutocracy because it was not private
property. Now, by following this precedent, this unprincipled vagueness
about official and unofficial moneys by the cheerful habit of always
mixing up the money in the pocket with the money in the till, it would be
quite possible to keep the rich as rich as ever in practice, though they
might have suffered confiscation in theory. Mr. Lloyd George has four
hundred a year as an M. P.; but he not only gets much more as a Minister,
but he might at any time get immeasurably more by speculating on State
secrets that are necessarily known to him. Some say that he has even
attempted something of the kind. Now, it would be quite possible to cut
Mr. George down, not to four hundred a year, but to fourpence a day; and
still leave him all these other and enormous financial superiorities. It
must be remembered that a Socialist State, in any way resembling a modern
State, must, however egalitarian it may be, have the handling of huge sums,
and the enjoyment of large conveniences; it is not improbable that the
same men will handle and enjoy in much the same manner, though in theory
they are doing it as instruments, and not as individuals. For instance,
the Prime Minister has a private house, which is also (I grieve to inform
that eminent Puritan) a public house. It is supposed to be a sort of
Government office; though people do not generally give children's parties,
or go to bed in a Government office. I do not know where Mr. Herbert
Samuel lives; but I have no doubt he does himself well in the matter of
decoration and furniture. On the existing official parallel there is no
need to move any of these things in order to Socialise them. There is no
need to withdraw one diamond-headed nail from the carpet; or one golden
teaspoon from the tray. It is only necessary to call it an official
residence, like 10 Downing-street. I think it is not at all improbable
that this Plutocracy, pretending to be a Bureaucracy, will be attempted or
achieved. Our wealthy rulers will be in the position which grumblers in
the world of sport sometimes attribute to some of the "gentlemen" players.
They assert that some of these are paid like any professional; only their
pay is called their expenses. This system might run side by side with a
theory of equal wages, as absolute as that once laid down by Mr. Bernard
Shaw. By the theory of the State, Mr. Herbert Samuel and Mr. Lloyd
George might be humble citizens, drudging for their fourpence a day; and
no better off than porters and coal-heavers. If there were presented to
our mere senses what appeared to be the form of Mr. Herbert Samuel in an
astrakhan coat and a motor-car, we should find the record of the
expenditure (if we could find it at all) under the heading of "Speed Limit
Extension Enquiry Commission." If it fell to our lot to behold (with the
eye of flesh) what seemed to be Mr. Lloyd George lying in a hammock and
smoking a costly cigar, we should know that the expenditure would be
divided between the "Condition of Rope and Netting Investigation
Department," and the "State of Cuban Tobacco Trade: Imperial Inspector's

Such is the society I think they will build unless we can knock it down as
fast as they build it. Everything in it, tolerable or intolerable, will
have but one use; and that use what our ancestors used to call usance or
usury. Its art may be good or bad, but it will be an advertisement for
usurers; its literature may be good or bad, but it will appeal to the
patronage of usurers; its scientific selection will select according to
the needs of usurers; its religion will be just charitable enough to
pardon usurers; its penal system will be just cruel enough to crush all
the critics of usurers: the truth of it will be Slavery: and the title of
it may quite possibly be Socialism.


We watched you building, stone by stone,
The well-washed cells and well-washed graves
We shall inhabit but not own
When Britons ever shall be slaves;
The water's waiting in the trough,
The tame oats sown are portioned free,
There is Enough, and just Enough,
And all is ready now but we.

But you have not caught us yet, my lords,
You have us still to get.
A sorry army you'd have got,
Its flags are rags that float and rot,
Its drums are empty pan and pot,
Its baggage is--an empty cot;
But you have not caught us yet.

A little; and we might have slipped
When came your rumours and your sales
And the foiled rich men, feeble-lipped,
Said and unsaid their sorry tales;
Great God! It needs a bolder brow
To keep ten sheep inside a pen,
And we are sheep no longer now;
You are but Masters. We are Men.

We give you all good thanks, my lords,
We buy at easy price;
Thanks for the thousands that you stole,
The bribes by wire, the bets on coal,
The knowledge of that naked whole
That hath delivered our flesh and soul
Out of your Paradise.

We had held safe your parks; but when
Men taunted you with bribe and fee,
We only saw the Lord of Men
Grin like an Ape and climb a tree;
And humbly had we stood without
Your princely barns; did we not see
In pointed faces peering out
What Rats now own the granary.

It is too late, too late, my lords,
We give you back your grace:
You cannot with all cajoling
Make the wet ditch, or winds that sting,
Lost pride, or the pawned wedding rings,
Or drink or Death a blacker thing
Than a smile upon your face.


The two kinds of social reform, one of which might conceivably free us at
last while the other would certainly enslave us forever, are exhibited in
an easy working model in the two efforts that have been made for the
soldiers' wives--I mean the effort to increase their allowance and the
effort to curtail their alleged drinking. In the preliminary
consideration, at any rate, we must see the second question as quite
detached from our own sympathies on the special subject of fermented
liquor. It could be applied to any other pleasure or ornament of life; it
will be applied to every other pleasure and ornament of life if the
Capitalist campaign can succeed. The argument we know; but it cannot be
too often made clear. An employer, let us say, pays a seamstress twopence
a day, and she does not seem to thrive on it. So little, perhaps, does
she thrive on it that the employer has even some difficulty in thriving
upon her. There are only two things that he can do, and the distinction
between them cuts the whole social and political world in two. It is a
touchstone by which we can--not sometimes, but always--distinguish
economic equality from servile social reform. He can give the girl some
magnificent sum, such as sixpence a day, to do as she likes with, and
trust that her improved health and temper will work for the benefit of his
business. Or he may keep her to the original sum of a shilling a week,
but earmark each of the pennies to be used or not to be used for a
particular purpose. If she must not spend this penny on a bunch of
violets, or that penny on a novelette, or the other penny on a toy for
some baby, it is possible that she will concentrate her expenditure more
upon physical necessities, and so become, from the employer's point of
view, a more efficient person. Without the trouble of adding twopence to
her wages, he has added twopenny-worth to her food. In short, she has the
holy satisfaction of being worth more without being paid more.

This Capitalist is an ingenious person, and has many polished
characteristics; but I think the most singular thing about him is his
staggering lack of shame. Neither the hour of death nor the day of
reckoning, neither the tent of exile nor the house of mourning, neither
chivalry nor patriotism, neither womanhood nor widowhood, is safe at this
supreme moment from his dirty little expedient of dieting the slave. As
similar bullies, when they collect the slum rents, put a foot in the open
door, these are always ready to push in a muddy wedge wherever there is a
slit in a sundered household or a crack in a broken heart. To a man of
any manhood nothing can be conceived more loathsome and sacrilegious than
even so much as asking whether a woman who has given up all she loved to
death and the fatherland has or has not shown some weakness in her seeking
for self-comfort. I know not in which of the two cases I should count
myself the baser for inquiring--a case where the charge was false or a
case where it was true. But the philanthropic employer of the sort I
describe is not a man of any manhood; in a sense he is not a man at all.
He shows some consciousness of the fact when he calls his workers "men" as
distinct from masters. He cannot comprehend the gallantry of
costermongers or the delicacy that is quite common among cabmen. He finds
this social reform by half-rations on the whole to his mercantile profit,
and it will be hard to get him to think of anything else.

But there are people assisting him, people like the Duchess of Marlborough,
who know not their right hand from their left, and to these we may
legitimately address our remonstrance and a resume of some of the facts
they do not know. The Duchess of Marlborough is, I believe, an American,
and this separates her from the problem in a special way, because the
drink question in America is entirely different from the drink question in
England. But I wish the Duchess of Marlborough would pin up in her
private study, side by side with the Declaration of Independence, a
document recording the following simple truths: (1) Beer, which is largely
drunk in public-houses, is not a spirit or a grog or a cocktail or a drug.
It is the common English liquid for quenching the thirst; it is so still
among innumerable gentlemen, and, until very lately, was so among
innumerable ladies. Most of us remember dames of the last generation
whose manners were fit for Versailles, and who drank ale or Stout as a
matter of course. Schoolboys drank ale as a matter of course, and their
schoolmasters gave it to them as a matter of course. To tell a poor woman
that she must not have any until half the day is over is simply cracked,
like telling a dog or a child that he must not have water. (2) The
public-house is not a secret rendezvous of bad characters. It is the open
and obvious place for a certain purpose, which all men used for that
purpose until the rich began to be snobs and the poor to become slaves.
One might as well warn people against Willesden Junction. (3) Many poor
people live in houses where they cannot, without great preparation, offer
hospitality. (4) The climate of these picturesque islands does not favour
conducting long conversations with one's oldest friends on an iron seat in
the park. (5) Halfpast eleven a.m. is not early in the day for a woman
who gets up before six. (6) The bodies and minds of these women belong to
God and to themselves.


Something has come into our community, which is strong enough to save our
community; but which has not yet got a name. Let no one fancy I confess
any unreality when I confess the namelessness. The morality called
Puritanism, the tendency called Liberalism, the reaction called Tory
Democracy, had not only long been powerful, but had practically done most
of their work, before these actual names were attached to them.
Nevertheless, I think it would be a good thing to have some portable and
practicable way of referring to those who think as we do in our main
concern. Which is, that men in England are ruled, at this minute by the
clock, by brutes who refuse them bread, by liars who refuse them news, and
by fools who cannot govern, and therefore wish to enslave.

Let me explain first why I am not satisfied with the word commonly used,
which I have often used myself; and which, in some contexts, is quite the
right word to use. I mean the word "rebel." Passing over the fact that
many who understand the justice of our cause (as a great many at the
Universities) would still use the word "rebel" in its old and strict sense
as meaning only a disturber of just rule. I pass to a much more practical
point. The word "rebel" understates our cause. It is much too mild; it
lets our enemies off much too easily. There is a tradition in all western
life and letters of Prometheus defying the stars, of man at war with the
Universe, and dreaming what nature had never dared to dream. All this is
valuable in its place and proportion. But it has nothing whatever to do
with our ease; or rather it very much weakens it. The plutocrats will be
only too pleased if we profess to preach a new morality; for they know
jolly well that they have broken the old one. They will be only too
pleased to be able to say that we, by our own confession, are merely
restless and negative; that we are only what we call rebels and they call
cranks. But it is not true; and we must not concede it to them for a
moment. The model millionaire is more of a crank than the Socialists;
just as Nero was more of a crank than the Christians. And avarice has
gone mad in the governing class to-day, just as lust went mad in the
circle of Nero. By all the working and orthodox standards of sanity,
capitalism is insane. I should not say to Mr. Rockefeller "I am a rebel."
I should say "I am a respectable man: and you are not."

Our Lawless Enemies

But the vital point is that the confession of mere rebellion softens the
startling lawlessness of our enemies. Suppose a publisher's clerk
politely asked his employer for a rise in his salary; and, on being
refused, said he must leave the employment? Suppose the employer knocked
him down with a ruler, tied him up as a brown paper parcel, addressed him
(in a fine business hand) to the Governor of Rio Janeiro and then asked
the policeman to promise never to arrest him for what he had done? That
is a precise copy, in every legal and moral principle, of the "deportation
of the strikers." They were assaulted and kidnapped for not accepting a
contract, and for nothing else; and the act was so avowedly criminal that
the law had to be altered afterwards to cover the crime. Now suppose
some postal official, between here and Rio Janeiro, had noticed a faint
kicking inside the brown paper parcel, and had attempted to ascertain the
cause. And suppose the clerk could only explain, in a muffled voice
through the brown paper, that he was by constitution and temperament a
Rebel. Don't you see that he would be rather understating his case?
Don't you see he would be bearing his injuries much too meekly? They
might take him out of the parcel; but they would very possibly put him
into a mad-house instead. Symbolically speaking, that is what they would
like to do with us. Symbolically speaking, the dirty misers who rule us
will put us in a mad-house--unless we can put them there.

Or suppose a bank cashier were admittedly allowed to take the money out of
the till, and put it loose in his pocket, more or less mixed up with his
own money; afterwards laying some of both (at different odds) on "Blue
Murder" for the Derby. Suppose when some depositor asked mildly what day
the accountants came, he smote that astonished inquirer on the nose,
crying: "Slanderer! Mud-slinger!" and suppose he then resigned his
position. Suppose no books were shown. Suppose when the new cashier
came to be initiated into his duties, the old cashier did not tell him
about the money, but confided it to the honour and delicacy of his own
maiden aunt at Cricklewood. Suppose he then went off in a yacht to visit
the whale fisheries of the North Sea. Well, in every moral and legal
principle, that is a precise account of the dealings with the Party Funds.
But what would the banker say? What would the clients say? One thing, I
think, I can venture to promise; the banker would not march up and down
the office exclaiming in rapture, "I'm a rebel! That's what I am, a rebel!"
And if he said to the first indignant depositor "You are a rebel," I
fear the depositor might answer, "You are a robber." We have no need to
elaborate arguments for breaking the law. The capitalists have broken the
law. We have no need of further moralities. They have broken their own
morality. It is as if you were to run down the street shouting,
"Communism! Communism! Share! Share!" after a man who had run away with
your watch.

We want a term that will tell everybody that there is, by the common
standard, frank fraud and cruelty pushed to their fierce extreme; and that
we are fighting THEM. We are not in a state of "divine discontent"; we are
in an entirely human and entirely reasonable rage. We say we have been
swindled and oppressed, and we are quite ready and able to prove it before
any tribunal that allows us to call a swindler a swindler. It is the
protection of the present system that most of its tribunals do not. I
cannot at the moment think of any party name that would particularly
distinguish us from our more powerful and prosperous opponents, unless it
were the name the old Jacobites gave themselves; the Honest Party.

Captured Our Standards

I think it is plain that for the purpose of facing these new and infamous
modern facts, we cannot, with any safety, depend on any of the old
nineteenth century names; Socialist, or Communist, or Radical, or Liberal,
or Labour. They are all honourable names; they all stand, or stood, for
things in which we may still believe; we can still apply them to other
problems; but not to this one. We have no longer a monopoly of these
names. Let it be understood that I am not speaking here of the
philosophical problem of their meaning, but of the practical problem of
their use. When I called myself a Radical I knew Mr. Balfour would not
call himself a Radical; therefore there was some use in the word. When I
called myself a Socialist I knew Lord Penrhyn would not call himself a
Socialist; therefore there was some use in the word. But the capitalists,
in that aggressive march which is the main fact of our time, have captured
our standards, both in the military and philosophic sense of the word.
And it is useless for us to march under colours which they can carry as
well as we.

Do you believe in Democracy? The devils also believe and tremble. Do you
believe in Trades Unionism? The Labour Members also believe; and tremble
like a falling teetotum. Do you believe in the State? The Samuels also
believe, and grin. Do you believe in the centralisation of Empire? So
did Beit. Do you believe in the decentralisation of Empire? So does Albu.
Do you believe in the brotherhood of men: and do you, dear brethren,
believe that Brother Arthur Henderson does not? Do you cry, "The world
for the workers!" and do you imagine Philip Snowden would not? What we
need is a name that shall declare, not that the modern treason and tyranny
are bad, but that they are quite literally, intolerable: and that we mean
to act accordingly. I really think "the Limits" would be as good a name
as any. But, anyhow, something is born among us that is as strong as an
infant Hercules: and it is part of my prejudices to want it christened. I
advertise for godfathers and godmothers.


A thing which does not exist and which is very much wanted is "A
Working-Man's History of England." I do not mean a history written for
working men (there are whole dustbins of them), I mean a history, written
by working men or from the working men's standpoint. I wish five
generations of a fisher's or a miner's family could incarnate themselves
in one man and tell the story.

It is impossible to ignore altogether any comment coming from so eminent a
literary artist as Mr. Laurence Housman, but I do not deal here so
specially with his well known conviction about Votes for Women, as with
another idea which is, I think, rather at the back of it, if not with him
at least with others; and which concerns this matter of the true story of
England. For the true story is so entirely different from the false
official story that the official classes tell that by this time the
working class itself has largely forgotten its own experience. Either
story can be quite logically linked up with Female Suffrage, which,
therefore, I leave where it is for the moment; merely confessing that, so
long as we get hold of the right story and not the wrong story, it seems
to me a matter of secondary importance whether we link it up with Female
Suffrage or not.

Now the ordinary version of recent English history that most moderately
educated people have absorbed from childhood is something like this. That
we emerged slowly from a semi-barbarism in which all the power and wealth
were in the hands of Kings and a few nobles; that the King's power was
broken first and then in due time that of the nobles, that this piece-meal
improvement was brought about by one class after another waking up to a
sense of citizenship and demanding a place in the national councils,
frequently by riot or violence; and that in consequence of such menacing
popular action, the franchise was granted to one class after another and
used more and more to improve the social conditions of those classes,
until we practically became a democracy, save for such exceptions as that
of the women. I do not think anyone will deny that something like that is
the general idea of the educated man who reads a newspaper and of the
newspaper that he reads. That is the view current at public schools and
colleges; it is part of the culture of all the classes that count for much
in government; and there is not one word of truth in it from beginning to

That Great Reform Bill

Wealth and political power were very much more popularly distributed in
the Middle Ages than they are now; but we will pass all that and consider
recent history. The franchise has never been largely and liberally
granted in England; half the males have no vote and are not likely to get
one. It was _never_ granted in reply to pressure from awakened sections
of the democracy; in every case there was a perfectly clear motive for
granting it solely for the convenience of the aristocrats. The Great
Reform Bill was not passed in response to such riots as that which
destroyed a Castle; nor did the men who destroyed the Castle get any
advantage whatever out of the Great Reform Bill. The Great Reform Bill
was passed in order to seal an alliance between the landed aristocrats and
the rich manufacturers of the north (an alliance that rules us still); and
the chief object of that alliance was to _prevent_ the English populace
getting any political power in the general excitement after the French
Revolution. No one can read Macaulay's speech on the Chartists, for
instance, and not see that this is so. Disraeli's further extension of
the suffrage was not effected by the intellectual vivacity and pure
republican theory of the mid-Victorian agricultural labourer; it was
effected by a politician who saw an opportunity to dish the Whigs, and
guessed that certain orthodoxies in the more prosperous artisan might yet
give him a balance against the commercial Radicals. And while this very
thin game of wire-pulling with the mere abstraction of the vote was being
worked entirely by the oligarchs and entirely in their interests, the
solid and real thing that was going on was the steady despoiling of the
poor of all power or wealth, until they find themselves to-day upon the
threshold of slavery. That is The Working Man's History of England.

Now, as I have said, I care comparatively little what is done with the
mere voting part of the matter, so long as it is not claimed in such a way
as to allow the plutocrat to escape his responsibility for his crimes, by
pretending to be much more progressive, or much more susceptible to
popular protest, than he ever has been. And there is this danger in many
of those who have answered me. One of them, for instance, says that women
have been forced into their present industrial situations by the same iron
economic laws that have compelled men. I say that men have not been
compelled by iron economic laws, but in the main by the coarse and
Christless cynicism of other men. But, of course, this way of talking is
exactly in accordance with the fashionable and official version of English
history. Thus, you will read that the monasteries, places where men of
the poorest origin could be powerful, grew corrupt and gradually decayed.
Or you will read that the mediaeval guilds of free workmen yielded at last
to an inevitable economic law. You will read this; and you will be
reading lies. They might as well say that Julius Caesar gradually
decayed at the foot of Pompey's statue. You might as well say that
Abraham Lincoln yielded at last to an inevitable economic law. The free
mediaeval guilds did not decay; they were murdered. Solid men with solid
guns and halberds, armed with lawful warrants from living statesmen broke
up their corporations and took away their hard cash from them. In the
same way the people in Cradley Heath are no more victims of a necessary
economic law than the people in Putumayo. They are victims of a very
terrible creature, of whose sins much has been said since the beginning of
the world; and of whom it was said of old, "Let us fall into the hands of
God, for His mercies are great; but let us not fall into the hands of Man."

The Capitalist Is in the Dock

Now it is this offering of a false economic excuse for the sweater that is
the danger in perpetually saying that the poor woman will use the vote and
that the poor man has not used it. The poor man is prevented from using
it; prevented by the rich man, and the poor woman would be prevented in
exactly the same gross and stringent style. I do not deny, of course,
that there is something in the English temperament, and in the heritage of
the last few centuries that makes the English workman more tolerant of
wrong than most foreign workmen would be. But this only slightly modifies
the main fact of the moral responsibility. To take an imperfect parallel,
if we said that negro slaves would have rebelled if negroes had been more
intelligent, we should be saying what is reasonable. But if we were to
say that it could by any possibility be represented as being the negro's
fault that he was at that moment in America and not in Africa, we should
be saying what is frankly unreasonable. It is every bit as unreasonable
to say the mere supineness of the English workmen has put them in the
capitalist slave-yard. The capitalist has put them in the capitalist
slaveyard; and very cunning smiths have hammered the chains. It is just
this creative criminality in the authors of the system that we must not
allow to be slurred over. The capitalist is in the dock to-day; and so
far as I at least can prevent him, he shall not get out of it.


It will be long before the poison of the Party System is worked out of the
body politic. Some of its most indirect effects are the most dangerous.
One that is very dangerous just now is this: that for most Englishmen the
Party System falsifies history, and especially the history of revolutions.
It falsifies history because it simplifies history. It paints everything
either Blue or Buff in the style of its own silly circus politics: while a
real revolution has as many colours as the sunrise--or the end of the
world. And if we do not get rid of this error we shall make very bad
blunders about the real revolution which seems to grow more and more
probable, especially among the Irish. And any human familiarity with
history will teach a man this first of all: that Party practically does
not exist in a real revolution. It is a game for quiet times.

If you take a boy who has been to one of those big private schools which
are falsely called the Public Schools, and another boy who has been to one
of those large public schools which are falsely called the Board Schools,
you will find some differences between the two, chiefly a difference in
the management of the voice. But you will find they are both English in a
special way, and that their education has been essentially the same. They
are ignorant on the same subjects. They have never heard of the same
plain facts. They have been taught the wrong answer to the same confusing
question. There is one fundamental element in the attitude of the Eton
master talking about "playing the game," and the elementary teacher
training gutter-snipes to sing, "What is the Meaning of Empire Day?" And
the name of that element is "unhistoric." It knows nothing really about
England, still less about Ireland or France, and, least of all, of course,
about anything like the French Revolution.

Revolution by Snap Division

Now what general notion does the ordinary English boy, thus taught to
utter one ignorance in one of two accents, get and keep through life about
the French Revolution? It is the notion of the English House of Commons
with an enormous Radical majority on one side of the table and a small
Tory minority on the other; the majority voting solid for a Republic, the
minority voting solid for a Monarchy; two teams tramping through two
lobbies with no difference between their methods and ours, except that
(owing to some habit peculiar to Gaul) the brief intervals were brightened
by a riot or a massacre, instead of by a whisky and soda and a Marconi tip.
Novels are much more reliable than histories in such matters. For
though an English novel about France does not tell the truth about France,
it does tell the truth about England; and more than half the histories
never tell the truth about anything. And popular fiction, I think, bears
witness to the general English impression. The French Revolution is a
snap division with an unusual turnover of votes. On the one side stand a
king and queen who are good but weak, surrounded by nobles with rapiers
drawn; some of whom are good, many of whom are wicked, all of whom are
good-looking. Against these there is a formless mob of human beings,
wearing red caps and seemingly insane, who all blindly follow ruffians who
are also rhetoricians; some of whom die repentant and others unrepentant
towards the end of the fourth act. The leaders of this boiling mass of
all men melted into one are called Mirabeau, Robespierre, Danton, Marat,
and so on. And it is conceded that their united frenzy may have been
forced on them by the evils of the old regime.

That, I think, is the commonest English view of the French Revolution; and
it will not survive the reading of two pages of any real speech or letter
of the period. These human beings were human; varied, complex and
inconsistent. But the rich Englishman, ignorant of revolutions, would
hardly believe you if you told him some of the common human subtleties of
the case. Tell him that Robespierre threw the red cap in the dirt in
disgust, while the king had worn it with a broad grin, so to speak; tell
him that Danton, the fierce founder of the Republic of the Terror, said
quite sincerely to a noble, "I am more monarchist than you;" tell him that
the Terror really seems to have been brought to an end chiefly by the
efforts of people who particularly wanted to go on with it--and he will
not believe these things. He will not believe them because he has no
humility, and therefore no realism. He has never been inside himself; and
so could never be inside another man. The truth is that in the French
affair everybody occupied an individual position. Every man talked
sincerely, if not because he was sincere, then because he was angry.
Robespierre talked even more about God than about the Republic because he
cared even more about God than about the Republic. Danton talked even
more about France than about the Republic because he cared even more about
France than about the Republic. Marat talked more about Humanity than
either, because that physician (though himself somewhat needing a
physician) really cared about it. The nobles were divided, each man from
the next. The attitude of the king was quite different from the attitude
of the queen; certainly much more different than any differences between
our Liberals and Tories for the last twenty years. And it will sadden
_some_ of my friends to remember that it was the king who was the Liberal
and the queen who was the Tory. There were not two people, I think, in
that most practical crisis who stood in precisely the same attitude
towards the situation. And that is why, between them, they saved Europe.
It is when you really perceive the unity of mankind that you really
perceive its variety. It is not a flippancy, it is a very sacred truth,
to say that when men really understand that they are brothers they
instantly begin to fight.

The Revival of Reality

Now these things are repeating themselves with an enormous reality in the
Irish Revolution. You will not be able to make a Party System out of the
matter. Everybody is in revolt; therefore everybody is telling the truth.
The Nationalists will go on caring most for the nation, as Danton and
the defenders of the frontier went on caring most for the nation. The
priests will go on caring most for religion, as Robespierre went on caring
most for religion. The Socialists will go on caring most for the cure of
physical suffering, as Marat went on caring most for it. It is out of
these real differences that real things can be made, such as the modern
French democracy. For by such tenacity everyone sees at last that there
is something in the other person's position. And those drilled in party
discipline see nothing either past or present. And where there is nothing
there is Satan.

For a long time past in our politics there has not only been no real
battle, but no real bargain. No two men have bargained as Gladstone and
Parnell bargained--each knowing the other to be a power. But in real
revolutions men discover that no one man can really agree with another man
until he has disagreed with him.


There is a certain daily paper in England towards which I feel very much
as Tom Pinch felt towards Mr. Pecksniff immediately after he had found him
out. The war upon Dickens was part of the general war on all democrats,
about the eighties and nineties, which ushered in the brazen plutocracy of
to-day. And one of the things that it was fashionable to say of Dickens
in drawing-rooms was that he had no subtlety, and could not describe a
complex frame of mind. Like most other things that are said in
drawing-rooms, it was a lie. Dickens was a very unequal writer, and his
successes alternate with his failures; but his successes are subtle quite
as often as they are simple. Thus, to take "Martin Chuzzlewit" alone, I
should call the joke about the Lord No-zoo a simple joke: but I should
call the joke about Mrs. Todgers's vision of a wooden leg a subtle joke.
And no frame of mind was ever so selfcontradictory and yet so realistic as
that which Dickens describes when he says, in effect, that, though Pinch
knew now that there had never been such a person as Pecksniff, in his
ideal sense, he could not bring himself to insult the very face and form
that had contained the legend. The parallel with Liberal journalism is
not perfect; because it was once honest; and Pecksniff presumably never
was. And even when I come to feel a final incompatibility of temper,
Pecksniff was not so Pecksniffian as he has since become. But the
comparison is complete in so far as I share all the reluctance of Mr.
Pinch. Some old heathen king was advised by one of the Celtic saints, I
think, to burn what he had adored and adore what he had burnt. I am quite
ready, if anyone will prove I was wrong, to adore what I have burnt; but I
do really feel an unwillingness verging upon weakness to burning what I
have adored. I think it is a weakness to be overcome in times as bad as
these, when (as Mr. Orage wrote with something like splendid common sense
the other day) there is such a lot to do and so few people who will do it.
So I will devote this article to considering one case of the astounding
baseness to which Liberal journalism has sunk.

Mental Breakdown in Fleet Street

One of the two or three streaks of light on our horizon can be perceived
in this: that the moral breakdown of these papers has been accompanied by
a mental breakdown also. The contemporary official paper, like the "Daily
News" or the "Daily Chronicle" (I mean in so far as it deals with
politics), simply cannot argue; and simply does not pretend to argue. It
considers the solution which it imagines that wealthy people want, and it
signifies the same in the usual manner; which is not by holding up its
hand, but by falling on its face. But there is no more curious quality in
its degradation than a sort of carelessness, at once of hurry and fatigue,
with which it flings down its argument--or rather its refusal to argue.
It does not even write sophistry: it writes anything. It does not so much
poison the reader's mind as simply assume that the reader hasn't got one.
For instance, one of these papers printed an article on Sir Stuart Samuel,
who, having broken the great Liberal statute against corruption, will
actually, perhaps, be asked to pay his own fine--in spite of the fact that
he can well afford to do so. The article says, if I remember aright, that
the decision will cause general surprise and some indignation. That any
modern Government making a very rich capitalist obey the law will cause
general surprise, may be true. Whether it will cause general indignation
rather depends on whether our social intercourse is entirely confined to
Park Lane, or any such pigsties built of gold. But the journalist
proceeds to say, his neck rising higher and higher out of his collar, and
his hair rising higher and higher on his head, in short, his resemblance
to the Dickens' original increasing every instant, that he does not mean
that the law against corruption should be less stringent, but that the
burden should be borne by the whole community. This may mean that
whenever a rich man breaks the law, all the poor men ought to be made to
pay his fine. But I will suppose a slightly less insane meaning. I will
suppose it means that the whole power of the commonwealth should be used
to prosecute an offender of this kind. That, of course, can only mean
that the matter will be decided by that instrument which still pretends to
represent the whole power of the commonwealth. In other words, the
Government will judge the Government.

Now this is a perfectly plain piece of brute logic. We need not go into
the other delicious things in the article, as when it says that "in old
times Parliament had to be protected against Royal invasion by the man in
the street." Parliament has to be protected now against the man in the
street. Parliament is simply the most detested and the most detestable of
all our national institutions: all that is evident enough. What is
interesting is the blank and staring fallacy of the attempted reply.

When the Journalist Is Ruined

A long while ago, before all the Liberals died, a Liberal introduced a
Bill to prevent Parliament being merely packed with the slaves of
financial interests. For that purpose he established the excellent
democratic principle that the private citizen, as such, might protest
against public corruption. He was called the Common Informer. I believe
the miserable party papers are really reduced to playing on the
degradation of the two words in modern language. Now the word "comnon" in
"Common Informer" means exactly what it means in "common sense" or "Book
of Common Prayer," or (above all) in "House of Commons." It does not mean
anything low or vulgar; any more than they do. The only difference is
that the House of Commons really is low and vulgar; and the Common
Informer isn't. It is just the same with the word "Informer." It does
not mean spy or sneak. It means one who gives information. It means what
"journalist" ought to mean. The only difference is that the Common
Informer may be paid if he tells the truth. The common journalist will be
ruined if he does.

Now the quite plain point before the party journalist is this: If he
really means that a corrupt bargain between a Government and a contractor
ought to be judged by public opinion, he must (nowadays) mean Parliament;
that is, the caucus that controls Parliament. And he must decide between
one of two views. Either he means that there can be no such thing as a
corrupt Government. Or he means that it is one of the characteristic
qualities of a corrupt Government to denounce its own corruption. I laugh;
and I leave him his choice.


Why is the modern party political journalism so bad? It is worse even
than it intends to be. It praises its preposterous party leaders through
thick and thin; but it somehow succeeds in making them look greater fools
than they are. This clumsiness clings even to the photographs of public
men, as they are snapshotted at public meetings. A sensitive politician
(if there is such a thing) would, I should think, want to murder the man
who snapshots him at those moments. For our general impression of a man's
gesture or play of feature is made up of a series of vanishing instants,
at any one of which he may look worse than our general impression records.
Mr. Augustine Birrell may have made quite a sensible and amusing speech,
in the course of which his audience would hardly have noticed that he
resettled his necktie. Snapshot him, and he appears as convulsively
clutching his throat in the agonies of strangulation, and with his head
twisted on one side as if he had been hanged. Sir Edward Carson might
make a perfectly good speech, which no one thought wearisome, but might
himself be just tired enough to shift from one leg to the other. Snapshot
him, and he appears as holding one leg stiffly in the air and yawning
enough to swallow the audience. But it is in the prose narratives of the
Press that we find most manifestations of this strange ineptitude; this
knack of exhibiting your own favourites in an unlucky light. It is not so
much that the party journalists do not tell the truth as that they tell
just enough of it to make it clear that they are telling lies. One of
their favourite blunders is an amazing sort of bathos. They begin by
telling you that some statesman said something brilliant in style or
biting in wit, at which his hearers thrilled with terror or thundered with
applause. And then they tell you what it was that he said. Silly asses!

Insane Exaggeration

Here is an example from a leading Liberal paper touching the debates on
Home Rule. I am a Home Ruler; so my sympathies would be, if anything, on
the side of the Liberal paper upon that point. I merely quote it as an
example of this ridiculous way of writing, which, by insane exaggeration,
actually makes its hero look smaller than he is.

This was strange language to use about the "hypocritical sham," and Mr.
Asquith, knowing that the biggest battle of his career was upon him, hit
back without mercy. "I should like first to know," said he, with a glance
at his supporters, "whether my proposals are accepted?"

That's all. And I really do not see why poor Mr. Asquith should be
represented as having violated the Christian virtue of mercy by saying
that. I myself could compose a great many paragraphs upon the same model,
each containing its stinging and perhaps unscrupulous epigram. As, for
example:--"The Archbishop of Canterbury, realising that his choice now lay
between denying God and earning the crown of martyrdom by dying in
torments, spoke with a frenzy of religious passion that might have seemed
fanatical under circumstances less intense. 'The Children's Service,' he
said firmly, with his face to the congregation, 'will be held at half-past
four this afternoon as usual.'"

Or, we might have:--"Lord Roberts, recognising that he had now to face
Armageddon, and that if he lost this last battle against overwhelming odds
the independence of England would be extinguished forever, addressed to
his soldiers (looking at them and not falling off his horse) a speech
which brought their national passions to boiling point, and might well
have seemed blood-thirsty in quieter times. It ended with the celebrated
declaration that it was a fine day."

Or we might have the much greater excitement of reading something like
this:--"The Astronomer Royal, having realised that the earth would
certainly be smashed to pieces by a comet unless his requests in
connection with wireless telegraphy were seriously considered, gave an
address at the Royal Society which, under other circumstances, would have
seemed unduly dogmatic and emotional and deficient in scientific
agnosticism. This address (which he delivered without any attempt to
stand on his head) included a fierce and even ferocious declaration that
it is generally easier to see the stars by night than by day."

Now, I cannot see, on my conscience and reason, that any one of my
imaginary paragraphs is more ridiculous than the real one. Nobody can
believe that Mr. Asquith regards these belated and careful compromises
about Home Rule as "the biggest battle of his career." It is only justice
to him to say that he has had bigger battles than that. Nobody can
believe that any body of men, bodily present, either thundered or thrilled
at a man merely saying that he would like to know whether his proposals
were accepted. No; it would be far better for Parliament if its doors
were shut again, and reporters were excluded. In that case, the outer
public did hear genuine rumours of almost gigantic eloquence; such as that
which has perpetuated Pitt's reply against the charge of youth, or Fox's
bludgeoning of the idea of war as a compromise. It would be much better
to follow the old fashion and let in no reporters at all than to follow
the new fashion and select the stupidest reporters you can find.

Their Load of Lies

Now, why do people in Fleet-street talk such tosh? People in Fleet-street
are not fools. Most of them have realised reality through work; some
through starvation; some through damnation, or something damnably like it.
I think it is simply and seriously true that they are tired of their job.
As the general said in M. Rostand's play, "la fatigue!"

I do really believe that this is one of the ways in which God (don't get
flurried, Nature if you like) is unexpectedly avenged on things infamous
and unreasonable. And this method is that men's moral and even physical
tenacity actually give out under such a load of lies. They go on writing
their leading articles and their Parliamentary reports. They go on doing
it as a convict goes on picking oakum. But the point is not that we are
bored with their articles; the point is that they are. The work is done
worse because it is done weakly and without human enthusiasm. And it is
done weakly because of the truth we have told so many times in this book:
that it is not done for monarchy, for which men will die; or for democracy,
for which men will die; or even for aristocracy, for which many men have
died. It is done for a thing called Capitalism: which stands out quite
clearly in history in many curious ways. But the most curious thing about
it is that no man has loved it; and no man died for it.


If there is to rise out of all this red ruin something like a republic of
justice, it is essential that our views should be real views; that is,
glimpses of lives and landscapes outside ourselves. It is essential that
they should not be mere opium visions that begin and end in smoke--and so
often in cannon smoke. I make no apology, therefore, for returning to the
purely practical and realistic point I urged last week: the fact that we
shall lose everything we might have gained if we lose the idea that the
responsible person is responsible.

For instance, it is almost specially so with the one or two things in
which the British Government, or the British public, really are behaving
badly. The first, and worst of them, is the non-extension of the
Moratorium, or truce of debtor and creditor, to the very world where there
are the poorest debtors and thc cruellest creditors. This is infamous:
and should be, if possible, more infamous to those who think the war right
than to those who think it wrong. Everyone knows that the people who can
least pay their debts are the people who are always trying to. Among the
poor a payment may be as rash as a speculation. Among the rich a
bankruptcy may be as safe as a bank. Considering the class from which
private soldiers are taken, there is an atrocious meanness in the idea of
buying their blood abroad, while we sell their sticks at home. The
English language, by the way, is full of delicate paradoxes. We talk of
the private soldiers because they are really public soldiers; and we talk
of the public schools because they are really private schools. Anyhow,
the wrong is of the sort that ought to be resisted, as much in war as in

Ought to Be Hammered

But as long as we speak of it as a cloudy conclusion, come to by an
anonymous club called Parliament, or a masked tribunal called the Cabinet,
we shall never get such a wrong righted. Somebody is officially
responsible for the unfairness; and that somebody ought to be hammered.
The other example, less important but more ludicrous, is the silly boycott
of Germans in England, extending even to German music. I do not believe
for a moment that the English people feel any such insane fastidiousness.
Are the English artists who practise the particularly English art of
water-colour to be forbidden to use Prussian blue? Are all old ladies to
shoot their Pomeranian dogs? But though England would laugh at this, she
will get the credit of it, and will continue: until we ask who the actual
persons are who feel sure that we should shudder at a ballad of the Rhine.
It is certain that we should find they are capitalists. It is very
probable that we should find they are foreigners.

Some days ago the Official Council of the Independent Labour Party, or the
Independent Council of the Official Labour Party, or the Independent and
Official Council of the Labour Party (I have got quite nervous about these
names and distinctions; but they all seem to say the same thing) began
their manifesto by saying it would be difficult to assign the degrees of
responsibility which each nation had for the outbreak of the war.
Afterwards, a writer in the "Christian Commonwealth," lamenting war in the
name of Labour, but in the language of my own romantic middle-class, said
that all the nations must share the responsibility for this great calamity
of war. Now exactly as long as we go on talking like that we shall have
war after war, and calamity after calamity, until the crack of doom. It
simply amounts to a promise of pardon to any person who will start a
quarrel. It is an amnesty for assassins. The moment any man assaults any
other man he makes all the other men as bad as himself. He has only to
stab, and to vanish in a fog of forgetfulness. The real eagles of iron,
the predatory Empires, will be delighted with this doctrine. They will
applaud the Labour Concert or Committee, or whatever it is called. They
will willingly take all the crime, with only a quarter of the conscience:
they will be as ready to share the memory as they are to share the spoil.
The Powers will divide responsibility as calmly as they divided Poland.

The Whole Loathsome Load

But I still stubbornly and meekly submit my point: that you cannot end war
without asking who began it. If you think somebody else, not Germany,
began it, then blame that somebody else: do not blame everybody and nobody.
Perhaps you think that a small sovereign people, fresh from two
triumphant wars, ought to discrown itself before sunrise; because the
nephew of a neighbouring Emperor has been shot by his own subjects. Very
well. Then blame Servia; and, to the extent of your influence, you may be
preventing small kingdoms being obstinate or even princes being shot.
Perhaps you think the whole thing was a huge conspiracy of Russia, with
France as a dupe and Servia as a pretext. Very well. Then blame Russia;
and, to the extent of your influence, you may be preventing great Empires
from making racial excuses for a raid. Perhaps you think France wrong
for feeling what you call "revenge," and I should call recovery of stolen
goods. Perhaps you blame Belgium for being sentimental about her frontier;
or England for being sentimental about her word. If so, blame them; or
whichever of them you think is to blame. Or again, it is barely possible
that you may think, as I do, that the whole loathsome load has been laid
upon us by the monarchy which I have not named; still less wasted time in
abusing. But if there be in Europe a military State which has not the
religion of Russia, yet has helped Russia to tyrannise over the Poles,
that State cares not for religion, but for tyranny. If there be a State
in Europe which has not the religion of the Austrians, but has helped
Austria to bully the Servians, that State cares not for belief, but for
bullying. If there be in Europe any people or principality which respects
neither republics nor religions, to which the political ideal of Paris is
as much a myth as the mystical ideal of Moscow, then blame that: and do
more than blame. In the healthy and highly theological words of Robert
Blatchford, drive it back to the Hell from which it came.

Crying Over Spilt Blood

But whatever you do, do not blame everybody for what was certainly done by
somebody. It may be it is no good crying over spilt blood, any more than
over spilt milk. But we do not find the culprit any more by spilling the
milk over everybody; or by daubing everybody with blood. Still less do we
improve matters by watering the milk with our tears, nor the blood either.
To say that everybody is responsible means that nobody is responsible.
If in the future we see Russia annexing Rutland (as part of the old
Kingdom of Muscovy), if we see Bavaria taking a sudden fancy to the Bank
of England, or the King of the Cannibal Islands suddenly demanding a
tribute of edible boys and girls from England and America, we may be quite
certain also that the Leader of the Labour Party will rise, with a slight
cough, and say: "It would be a difficult task to apportion the blame
between the various claims which..."


I hope the Government will not think just now about appointing a Poet
Laureate. I hardly think they can be altogether in the right mood. The
business just now before the country makes a very good detective story;
but as a national epic it is a little depressing. Jingo literature always
weakens a nation; but even healthy patriotic literature has its proper
time and occasion. For instance, Mr. Newbolt (who has been suggested for
the post) is a very fine poet; but I think his patriotic lyrics would just
now rather jar upon a patriot. We are rather too much concerned about our
practical seamanship to feel quite confident that Drake will return and
"drum them up the Channel as he drummed them long ago." On the contrary,
we have an uncomfortable feeling that Drake's ship might suddenly go to
the bottom, because the capitalists have made Lloyd George abolish the
Plimsoll Line. One could not, without being understood ironically, adjure
the two party teams to-day to "play up, play up and play the game," or to
"love the game more than the prize." And there is no national hero at
this moment in the soldiering line--unless, perhaps, it is Major
Archer-Shee--of whom anyone would be likely to say: "Sed miles; sed pro
patria." There is, indeed, one beautiful poem of Mr. Newbolt's which may
mingle faintly with one's thoughts in such times, but that, alas, is to a
very different tune. I mean that one in which he echoes Turner's
conception of the old wooden ship vanishing with all the valiant memories
of the English:

There's a far bell ringing
At the setting of the sun,
And a phantom voice is singing
Of the great days done.
There's a far bell ringing,
And a phantom voice is singing
Of a fame forever clinging
To the great days done.
For the sunset breezes shiver,
Temeraire, Temeraire,
And she's fading down the river....

Well, well, neither you nor I know whether she is fading down the river or
not. It is quite enough for us to know, as King Alfred did, that a great
many pirates have landed on both banks of the Thames.

Praise and Prophecy Impossible

At this moment that is the only kind of patriotic poem that could satisfy
the emotions of a patriotic person. But it certainly is not the sort of
poem that is expected from a Poet Laureate, either on the highest or the
lowest theory of his office. He is either a great minstrel singing the
victories of a great king, or he is a common Court official like the Groom
of the Powder Closet. In the first case his praises should be true; in
the second case they will nearly always be false; but in either case he
must praise. And what there is for him to praise just now it would be
precious hard to say. And if there is no great hope of a real poet, there
is still less hope of a real prophet. What Newman called, I think, "The
Prophetical Office," that is, the institution of an inspired protest even
against an inspired religion, certainly would not do in modern England.
The Court is not likely to keep a tame prophet in order to encourage him
to be wild. It is not likely to pay a man to say that wolves shall howl
in Downing-street and vultures build their nests in Buckingham Palace. So
vast has been the progress of humanity that these two things are quite
impossible. We cannot have a great poet praising kings. We cannot have a
great prophet denouncing kings. So I have to fall back on a third

The Field for a Fool

Instead of reviving the Court Poet, why not revive the Court Fool? He is
the only person who could do any good at this moment either to the Royal
or the judicial Courts. The present political situation is utterly
unsuitable for the purposes of a great poet. But it is particularly
suitable for the purposes of a great buffoon. The old jester was under
certain privileges: you could not resent the jokes of a fool, just as you
cannot resent the sermons of a curate. Now, what the present Government
of England wants is neither serious praise nor serious denunciation; what
it wants is satire. What it wants, in other words, is realism given with
gusto. When King Louis the Eleventh unexpectedly visited his enemy, the
Duke of Burgundy, with a small escort, the Duke's jester said he would
give the King his fool's cap, for he was the fool now. And when the Duke
replied with dignity, "And suppose I treat him with all proper respect?"
the fool answered, "Then I will give it to you." That is the kind of
thing that somebody ought to be free to say now. But if you say it now
you will be fined a hundred pounds at the least.

Carson's Dilemma

For the things that have been happening lately are not merely things that
one could joke about. They are themselves, truly and intrinsically, jokes.
I mean that there is a sort of epigram of unreason in the situation
itself, as there was in the situation where there was jam yesterday and
jam to-morrow but never jam to-day. Take, for instance, the extraordinary
case of Sir Edward Carson. The point is not whether we regard his
attitude in Belfast as the defiance of a sincere and dogmatic rebel, or as
the bluff of a party hack and mountebank. The point is not whether we
regard his defence of the Government at the Old Bailey as a chivalrous and
reluctant duty done as an advocate or a friend, or as a mere case of a
lawyer selling his soul for a fat brief. The point is that whichever of
the two actions we approve, and whichever of the four explanations we
adopt, Sir Edward's position is still raving nonsense. On any argument,
he cannot escape from his dilemma. It may be argued that laws and customs

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