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A Treatise on Parents and Children by George Bernard Shaw

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pleasure by the lustful. Flogging has become a pleasure purchasable
in our streets, and inhibition a grown-up habit that children play at.
"Go and see what baby is doing; and tell him he mustnt" is the last
word of the nursery; and the grimmest aspect of it is that it was
first formulated by a comic paper as a capital joke.

Technical Instruction

Technical instruction tempts to violence (as a short cut) more than
liberal education. The sailor in Mr Rudyard Kipling's Captains
Courageous, teaching the boy the names of the ship's tackle with a
rope's end, does not disgust us as our schoolmasters do, especially as
the boy was a spoiled boy. But an unspoiled boy would not have needed
that drastic medicine. Technical training may be as tedious as
learning to skate or to play the piano or violin; but it is the price
one must pay to achieve certain desirable results or necessary ends.
It is a monstrous thing to force a child to learn Latin or Greek or
mathematics on the ground that they are an indispensable gymnastic for
the mental powers. It would be monstrous even if it were true; for
there is no labor that might not be imposed on a child or an adult on
the same pretext; but as a glance at the average products of our
public school and university education shews that it is not true, it
need not trouble us. But it is a fact that ignorance of Latin and
Greek and mathematics closes certain careers to men (I do not mean
artificial, unnecessary, noxious careers like those of the commercial
schoolmaster). Languages, even dead ones, have their uses; and, as it
seems to many of us, mathematics have their uses. They will always be
learned by people who want to learn them; and people will always want
to learn them as long as they are of any importance in life: indeed
the want will survive their importance: superstition is nowhere
stronger than in the field of obsolete acquirements. And they will
never be learnt fruitfully by people who do not want to learn them
either for their own sake or for use in necessary work. There is no
harder schoolmaster than experience; and yet experience fails to teach
where there is no desire to learn.

Still, one must not begin to apply this generalization too early. And
this brings me to an important factor in the case: the factor of

Docility and Dependence

If anyone, impressed by my view that the rights of a child are
precisely those of an adult, proceeds to treat a child as if it were
an adult, he (or she) will find that though the plan will work much
better at some points than the usual plan, at others it will not work
at all; and this discovery may provoke him to turn back from the whole
conception of children's rights with a jest at the expense of
bachelors' and old maids' children. In dealing with children what is
needed is not logic but sense. There is no logical reason why young
persons should be allowed greater control of their property the day
after they are twenty-one than the day before it. There is no logical
reason why I, who strongly object to an adult standing over a boy of
ten with a Latin grammar, and saying, "you must learn this, whether
you want to or not," should nevertheless be quite prepared to stand
over a boy of five with the multiplication table or a copy book or a
code of elementary good manners, and practice on his docility to make
him learn them. And there is no logical reason why I should do for a
child a great many little offices, some of them troublesome and
disagreeable, which I should not do for a boy twice its age, or
support a boy or girl when I would unhesitatingly throw an adult on
his own resources. But there are practical reasons, and sensible
reasons, and affectionate reasons for all these illogicalities.
Children do not want to be treated altogether as adults: such
treatment terrifies them and over-burdens them with responsibility.
In truth, very few adults care to be called on for independence and
originality: they also are bewildered and terrified in the absence of
precedents and precepts and commandments; but modern Democracy allows
them a sanctioning and cancelling power if they are capable of using
it, which children are not. To treat a child wholly as an adult would
be to mock and destroy it. Infantile docility and juvenile dependence
are, like death, a product of Natural Selection; and though there is
no viler crime than to abuse them, yet there is no greater cruelty
than to ignore them. I have complained sufficiently of what I
suffered through the process of assault, imprisonment, and compulsory
lessons that taught me nothing, which are called my schooling. But I
could say a good deal also about the things I was not taught and
should have been taught, not to mention the things I was allowed to do
which I should not have been allowed to do. I have no recollection of
being taught to read or write; so I presume I was born with both
faculties; but many people seem to have bitter recollections of being
forced reluctantly to acquire them. And though I have the uttermost
contempt for a teacher so ill mannered and incompetent as to be unable
to make a child learn to read and write without also making it cry,
still I am prepared to admit that I had rather have been compelled to
learn to read and write with tears by an incompetent and ill mannered
person than left in ignorance. Reading, writing, and enough
arithmetic to use money honestly and accurately, together with the
rudiments of law and order, become necessary conditions of a child's
liberty before it can appreciate the importance of its liberty, or
foresee that these accomplishments are worth acquiring. Nature has
provided for this by evolving the instinct of docility. Children are
very docile: they have a sound intuition that they must do what they
are told or perish. And adults have an intuition, equally sound, that
they must take advantage of this docility to teach children how to
live properly or the children will not survive. The difficulty is to
know where to stop. To illustrate this, let us consider the main
danger of childish docility and parental officiousness.

The Abuse of Docility

Docility may survive as a lazy habit long after it has ceased to be a
beneficial instinct. If you catch a child when it is young enough to
be instinctively docile, and keep it in a condition of unremitted
tutelage under the nurserymaid, the governess, the preparatory school,
the secondary school, and the university, until it is an adult, you
will produce, not a self-reliant, free, fully matured human being, but
a grown-up schoolboy or schoolgirl, capable of nothing in the way of
original or independent action except outbursts of naughtiness in the
women and blackguardism in the men. That is exactly what we get at
present in our rich and consequently governing classes: they pass
from juvenility to senility without ever touching maturity except in
body. The classes which cannot afford this sustained tutelage are
notably more self-reliant and grown-up: an office boy of fifteen is
often more of a man than a university student of twenty.
Unfortunately this precocity is disabled by poverty, ignorance,
narrowness, and a hideous power of living without art or love or
beauty and being rather proud of it. The poor never escape from
servitude: their docility is preserved by their slavery. And so all
become the prey of the greedy, the selfish, the domineering, the
unscrupulous, the predatory. If here and there an individual refuses
to be docile, ten docile persons will beat him or lock him up or shoot
him or hang him at the bidding of his oppressors and their own. The
crux of the whole difficulty about parents, schoolmasters, priests,
absolute monarchs, and despots of every sort, is the tendency to abuse
natural docility. A nation should always be healthily rebellious; but
the king or prime minister has yet to be found who will make trouble
by cultivating that side of the national spirit. A child should begin
to assert itself early, and shift for itself more and more not only in
washing and dressing itself, but in opinions and conduct; yet as
nothing is so exasperating and so unlovable as an uppish child, it is
useless to expect parents and schoolmasters to inculcate this
uppishness. Such unamiable precepts as Always contradict an
authoritative statement, Always return a blow, Never lose a chance of
a good fight, When you are scolded for a mistake ask the person who
scolds you whether he or she supposes you did it on purpose, and
follow the question with a blow or an insult or some other
unmistakable expression of resentment, Remember that the progress of
the world depends on your knowing better than your elders, are just as
important as those of The Sermon on the Mount; but no one has yet seen
them written up in letters of gold in a schoolroom or nursery. The
child is taught to be kind, to be respectful, to be quiet, not to
answer back, to be truthful when its elders want to find out anything
from it, to lie when the truth would shock or hurt its elders, to be
above all things obedient, and to be seen and not heard. Here we have
two sets of precepts, each warranted to spoil a child hopelessly if
the other be omitted. Unfortunately we do not allow fair play between
them. The rebellious, intractable, aggressive, selfish set provoke a
corrective resistance, and do not pretend to high moral or religious
sanctions; and they are never urged by grown-up people on young
people. They are therefore more in danger of neglect or suppression
than the other set, which have all the adults, all the laws, all the
religions on their side. How is the child to be secured its due share
of both bodies of doctrine?

The Schoolboy and the Homeboy

In practice what happens is that parents notice that boys brought up
at home become mollycoddles, or prigs, or duffers, unable to take care
of themselves. They see that boys should learn to rough it a little
and to mix with children of their own age. This is natural enough.
When you have preached at and punished a boy until he is a moral
cripple, you are as much hampered by him as by a physical cripple; and
as you do not intend to have him on your hands all your life, and are
generally rather impatient for the day when he will earn his own
living and leave you to attend to yourself, you sooner or later begin
to talk to him about the need for self-reliance, learning to think,
and so forth, with the result that your victim, bewildered by your
inconsistency, concludes that there is no use trying to please you,
and falls into an attitude of sulky resentment. Which is an
additional inducement to pack him off to school.

In school, he finds himself in a dual world, under two dispensations.
There is the world of the boys, where the point of honor is to be
untameable, always ready to fight, ruthless in taking the conceit out
of anyone who ventures to give himself airs of superior knowledge or
taste, and generally to take Lucifer for one's model. And there is
the world of the masters, the world of discipline, submission,
diligence, obedience, and continual and shameless assumption of moral
and intellectual authority. Thus the schoolboy hears both sides, and
is so far better off than the homebred boy who hears only one. But
the two sides are not fairly presented. They are presented as good
and evil, as vice and virtue, as villainy and heroism. The boy feels
mean and cowardly when he obeys, and selfish and rascally when he
disobeys. He looses his moral courage just as he comes to hate books
and languages. In the end, John Ruskin, tied so close to his mother's
apron-string that he did not escape even when he went to Oxford, and
John Stuart Mill, whose father ought to have been prosecuted for
laying his son's childhood waste with lessons, were superior, as
products of training, to our schoolboys. They were very conspicuously
superior in moral courage; and though they did not distinguish
themselves at cricket and football, they had quite as much physical
hardihood as any civilized man needs. But it is to be observed that
Ruskin's parents were wise people who gave John a full share in their
own life, and put up with his presence both at home and abroad when
they must sometimes have been very weary of him; and Mill, as it
happens, was deliberately educated to challenge all the most sacred
institutions of his country. The households they were brought up in
were no more average households than a Montessori school is an average

The Comings of Age of Children

All this inculcated adult docility, which wrecks every civilization as
it is wrecking ours, is inhuman and unnatural. We must reconsider our
institution of the Coming of Age, which is too late for some purposes,
and too early for others. There should be a series of Coming of Ages
for every individual. The mammals have their first coming of age when
they are weaned; and it is noteworthy that this rather cruel and
selfish operation on the part of the parent has to be performed
resolutely, with claws and teeth; for your little mammal does not want
to be weaned, and yields only to a pretty rough assertion of the right
of the parent to be relieved of the child as soon as the child is old
enough to bear the separation. The same thing occurs with children:
they hang on to the mother's apron-string and the father's coat tails
as long as they can, often baffling those sensitive parents who know
that children should think for themselves and fend for themselves, but
are too kind to throw them on their own resources with the ferocity of
the domestic cat. The child should have its first coming of age when
it is weaned, another when it can talk, another when it can walk,
another when it can dress itself without assistance; and when it can
read, write, count money, and pass an examination in going a simple
errand involving a purchase and a journey by rail or other public
method of locomotion, it should have quite a majority. At present the
children of laborers are soon mobile and able to shift for themselves,
whereas it is possible to find grown-up women in the rich classes who
are actually afraid to take a walk in the streets unattended and
unprotected. It is true that this is a superstition from the time
when a retinue was part of the state of persons of quality, and the
unattended person was supposed to be a common person of no quality,
earning a living; but this has now become so absurd that children and
young women are no longer told why they are forbidden to go about
alone, and have to be persuaded that the streets are dangerous places,
which of course they are; but people who are not educated to live
dangerously have only half a life, and are more likely to die
miserably after all than those who have taken all the common risks of
freedom from their childhood onward as matters of course.

The Conflict of Wills

The world wags in spite of its schools and its families because both
schools and families are mostly very largely anarchic: parents and
schoolmasters are good-natured or weak or lazy; and children are
docile and affectionate and very shortwinded in their fits of
naughtiness; and so most families slummock along and muddle through
until the children cease to be children. In the few cases when the
parties are energetic and determined, the child is crushed or the
parent is reduced to a cipher, as the case may be. When the opposed
forces are neither of them strong enough to annihilate the other,
there is serious trouble: that is how we get those feuds between
parent and child which recur to our memory so ironically when we hear
people sentimentalizing about natural affection. We even get
tragedies; for there is nothing so tragic to contemplate or so
devastating to suffer as the oppression of will without conscience;
and the whole tendency of our family and school system is to set the
will of the parent and the school despot above conscience as something
that must be deferred to abjectly and absolutely for its own sake.

The strongest, fiercest force in nature is human will. It is the
highest organization we know of the will that has created the whole
universe. Now all honest civilization, religion, law, and convention
is an attempt to keep this force within beneficent bounds. What
corrupts civilization, religion, law, and convention (and they are at
present pretty nearly as corrupt as they dare) is the constant
attempts made by the wills of individuals and classes to thwart the
wills and enslave the powers of other individuals and classes. The
powers of the parent and the schoolmaster, and of their public
analogues the lawgiver and the judge, become instruments of tyranny in
the hands of those who are too narrow-minded to understand law and
exercise judgment; and in their hands (with us they mostly fall into
such hands) law becomes tyranny. And what is a tyrant? Quite simply
a person who says to another person, young or old, "You shall do as I
tell you; you shall make what I want; you shall profess my creed; you
shall have no will of your own; and your powers shall be at the
disposal of my will." It has come to this at last: that the phrase
"she has a will of her own," or "he has a will of his own" has come to
denote a person of exceptional obstinacy and self-assertion. And even
persons of good natural disposition, if brought up to expect such
deference, are roused to unreasoning fury, and sometimes to the
commission of atrocious crimes, by the slightest challenge to their
authority. Thus a laborer may be dirty, drunken, untruthful,
slothful, untrustworthy in every way without exhausting the indulgence
of the country house. But let him dare to be "disrespectful" and he
is a lost man, though he be the cleanest, soberest, most diligent,
most veracious, most trustworthy man in the county. Dickens's
instinct for detecting social cankers never served him better than
when he shewed us Mrs Heep teaching her son to "be umble," knowing
that if he carried out that precept he might be pretty well anything
else he liked. The maintenance of deference to our wills becomes a
mania which will carry the best of us to any extremity. We will allow
a village of Egyptian fellaheen or Indian tribesmen to live the lowest
life they please among themselves without molestation; but let one of
them slay an Englishman or even strike him on the strongest
provocation, and straightway we go stark mad, burning and destroying,
shooting and shelling, flogging and hanging, if only such survivors as
we may leave are thoroughly cowed in the presence of a man with a
white face. In the committee room of a local council or city
corporation, the humblest employees of the committee find defenders if
they complain of harsh treatment. Gratuities are voted, indulgences
and holidays are pleaded for, delinquencies are excused in the most
sentimental manner provided only the employee, however patent a
hypocrite or incorrigible a slacker, is hat in hand. But let the most
obvious measure of justice be demanded by the secretary of a Trade
Union in terms which omit all expressions of subservience, and it is
with the greatest difficulty that the cooler-headed can defeat angry
motions that the letter be thrown into the waste paper basket and the
committee proceed to the next business.

The Demagogue's Opportunity

And the employee has in him the same fierce impulse to impose his will
without respect for the will of others. Democracy is in practice
nothing but a device for cajoling from him the vote he refuses to
arbitrary authority. He will not vote for Coriolanus; but when an
experienced demagogue comes along and says, "Sir: _you_ are the
dictator: the voice of the people is the voice of God; and I am only
your very humble servant," he says at once, "All right: tell me what
to dictate," and is presently enslaved more effectually with his own
silly consent than Coriolanus would ever have enslaved him without
asking his leave. And the trick by which the demagogue defeats
Coriolanus is played on him in his turn by _his_ inferiors.
Everywhere we see the cunning succeeding in the world by seeking a
rich or powerful master and practising on his lust for subservience.
The political adventurer who gets into parliament by offering himself
to the poor voter, not as his representative but as his will-less
soulless "delegate," is himself the dupe of a clever wife who
repudiates Votes for Women, knowing well that whilst the man is
master, the man's mistress will rule. Uriah Heep may be a crawling
creature; but his crawling takes him upstairs.

Thus does the selfishness of the will turn on itself, and obtain by
flattery what it cannot seize by open force. Democracy becomes the
latest trick of tyranny: "womanliness" becomes the latest wile of

Between parent and child the same conflict wages and the same
destruction of character ensues. Parents set themselves to bend the
will of their children to their own--to break their stubborn spirit,
as they call it--with the ruthlessness of Grand Inquisitors. Cunning,
unscrupulous children learn all the arts of the sneak in circumventing
tyranny: children of better character are cruelly distressed and more
or less lamed for life by it.

Our Quarrelsomeness

As between adults, we find a general quarrelsomeness which makes
political reform as impossible to most Englishmen as to hogs. Certain
sections of the nation get cured of this disability. University men,
sailors, and politicians are comparatively free from it, because the
communal life of the University, the fact that in a ship a man must
either learn to consider others or else go overboard or into irons,
and the habit of working on committees and ceasing to expect more of
one's own way than is included in the greatest common measure of the
committee, educate the will socially. But no one who has ever had to
guide a committee of ordinary private Englishmen through their first
attempts at collective action, in committee or otherwise, can retain
any illusions as to the appalling effects on our national manners and
character of the organization of the home and the school as petty
tyrannies, and the absence of all teaching of self-respect and
training in self-assertion. Bullied and ordered about, the Englishman
obeys like a sheep, evades like a knave, or tries to murder his
oppressor. Merely criticized or opposed in committee, or invited to
consider anybody's views but his own, he feels personally insulted and
wants to resign or leave the room unless he is apologized to. And his
panic and bewilderment when he sees that the older hands at the work
have no patience with him and do not intend to treat him as
infallible, are pitiable as far as they are anything but ludicrous.
That is what comes of not being taught to consider other people's
wills, and left to submit to them or to over-ride them as if they were
the winds and the weather. Such a state of mind is incompatible not
only with the democratic introduction of high civilization, but with
the comprehension and maintenance of such civilized institutions as
have been introduced by benevolent and intelligent despots and

We Must Reform Society before we can Reform Ourselves

When we come to the positive problem of what to do with children if we
are to give up the established plan, we find the difficulties so great
that we begin to understand why so many people who detest the system
and look back with loathing on their own schooldays, must helplessly
send their children to the very schools they themselves were sent to,
because there is no alternative except abandoning the children to
undisciplined vagabondism. Man in society must do as everybody else
does in his class: only fools and romantic novices imagine that
freedom is a mere matter of the readiness of the individual to snap
his fingers at convention. It is true that most of us live in a
condition of quite unnecessary inhibition, wearing ugly and
uncomfortable clothes, making ourselves and other people miserable by
the heathen horrors of mourning, staying away from the theatre because
we cannot afford the stalls and are ashamed to go to the pit, and in
dozens of other ways enslaving ourselves when there are comfortable
alternatives open to us without any real drawbacks. The contemplation
of these petty slaveries, and of the triumphant ease with which
sensible people throw them off, creates an impression that if we only
take Johnson's advice to free our minds from cant, we can achieve
freedom. But if we all freed our minds from cant we should find that
for the most part we should have to go on doing the necessary work of
the world exactly as we did it before until we organized new and free
methods of doing it. Many people believed in secondary co-education
(boys and girls taught together) before schools like Bedales were
founded: indeed the practice was common enough in elementary schools
and in Scotland; but their belief did not help them until Bedales and
St George's were organized; and there are still not nearly enough
co-educational schools in existence to accommodate all the children of
the parents who believe in co-education up to university age, even if
they could always afford the fees of these exceptional schools. It
may be edifying to tell a duke that our public schools are all wrong
in their constitution and methods, or a costermonger that children
should be treated as in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister instead of as they
are treated at the elementary school at the corner of his street; but
what are the duke and the coster to do? Neither of them has any
effective choice in the matter: their children must either go to the
schools that are, or to no school at all. And as the duke thinks with
reason that his son will be a lout or a milksop or a prig if he does
not go to school, and the coster knows that his son will become an
illiterate hooligan if he is left to the streets, there is no real
alternative for either of them. Child life must be socially
organized: no parent, rich or poor, can choose institutions that do
not exist; and the private enterprise of individual school masters
appealing to a group of well-to-do parents, though it may shew what
can be done by enthusiasts with new methods, cannot touch the mass of
our children. For the average parent or child nothing is really
available except the established practice; and this is what makes it
so important that the established practice should be a sound one, and
so useless for clever individuals to disparage it unless they can
organize an alternative practice and make it, too, general.

The Pursuit of Manners

If you cross-examine the duke and the coster, you will find that they
are not concerned for the scholastic attainments of their children.
Ask the duke whether he could pass the standard examination of
twelve-year-old children in elementary schools, and he will admit,
with an entirely placid smile, that he would almost certainly be
ignominiously plucked. And he is so little ashamed of or
disadvantaged by his condition that he is not prepared to spend an
hour in remedying it. The coster may resent the inquiry instead of
being amused by it; but his answer, if true, will be the same. What
they both want for their children is the communal training, the
apprenticeship to society, the lessons in holding one's own among
people of all sorts with whom one is not, as in the home, on
privileged terms. These can be acquired only by "mixing with the
world," no matter how wicked the world is. No parent cares twopence
whether his children can write Latin hexameters or repeat the dates of
the accession of all the English monarchs since the Conqueror; but all
parents are earnestly anxious about the manners of their children.
Better Claude Duval than Kaspar Hauser. Laborers who are
contemptuously anti-clerical in their opinions will send their
daughters to the convent school because the nuns teach them some sort
of gentleness of speech and behavior. And peers who tell you that our
public schools are rotten through and through, and that our
Universities ought to be razed to the foundations, send their sons to
Eton and Oxford, Harrow and Cambridge, not only because there is
nothing else to be done, but because these places, though they turn
out blackguards and ignoramuses and boobies galore, turn them out with
the habits and manners of the society they belong to. Bad as those
manners are in many respects, they are better than no manners at all.
And no individual or family can possibly teach them. They can be
acquired only by living in an organized community in which they are

Thus we see that there are reasons for the segregation of children
even in families where the great reason: namely, that children are
nuisances to adults, does not press very hardly, as, for instance, in
the houses of the very poor, who can send their children to play in
the streets, or the houses of the very rich, which are so large that
the children's quarters can be kept out of the parents' way like the
servants' quarters.

Not too much Wind on the Heath, Brother

What, then, is to be done? For the present, unfortunately, little
except propagating the conception of Children's Rights. Only the
achievement of economic equality through Socialism can make it
possible to deal thoroughly with the question from the point of view
of the total interest of the community, which must always consist of
grown-up children. Yet economic equality, like all simple and obvious
arrangements, seems impossible to people brought up as children are
now. Still, something can be done even within class limits. Large
communities of children of the same class are possible today; and
voluntary organization of outdoor life for children has already begun
in Boy Scouting and excursions of one kind or another. The discovery
that anything, even school life, is better for the child than home
life, will become an over-ridden hobby; and we shall presently be told
by our faddists that anything, even camp life, is better than school
life. Some blundering beginnings of this are already perceptible.
There is a movement for making our British children into priggish
little barefooted vagabonds, all talking like that born fool George
Borrow, and supposed to be splendidly healthy because they would die
if they slept in rooms with the windows shut, or perhaps even with a
roof over their heads. Still, this is a fairly healthy folly; and it
may do something to establish Mr Harold Cox's claim of a Right to Roam
as the basis of a much needed law compelling proprietors of land to
provide plenty of gates in their fences, and to leave them unlocked
when there are no growing crops to be damaged nor bulls to be
encountered, instead of, as at present, imprisoning the human race in
dusty or muddy thoroughfares between walls of barbed wire.

The reaction against vagabondage will come from the children
themselves. For them freedom will not mean the expensive kind of
savagery now called "the simple life." Their natural disgust with the
visions of cockney book fanciers blowing themselves out with "the wind
on the heath, brother," and of anarchists who are either too weak to
understand that men are strong and free in proportion to the social
pressure they can stand and the complexity of the obligations they are
prepared to undertake, or too strong to realize that what is freedom
to them may be terror and bewilderment to others, will drive them back
to the home and the school if these have meanwhile learned the lesson
that children are independent human beings and have rights.

Wanted: a Child's Magna Charta

Whether we shall presently be discussing a Juvenile Magna Charta or
Declaration of Rights by way of including children in the Constitution
is a question on which I leave others to speculate. But if it could
once be established that a child has an adult's Right of Egress from
uncomfortable places and unpleasant company, and there were children's
lawyers to sue pedagogues and others for assault and imprisonment,
there would be an amazing change in the behavior of schoolmasters, the
quality of school books, and the amenities of school life. That
Consciousness of Consent which, even in its present delusive form, has
enabled Democracy to oust tyrannical systems in spite of all its
vulgarities and stupidities and rancors and ineptitudes and
ignorances, would operate as powerfully among children as it does now
among grown-ups. No doubt the pedagogue would promptly turn
demagogue, and woo his scholars by all the arts of demagogy; but none
of these arts can easily be so dishonorable or mischievous as the art
of caning. And, after all, if larger liberties are attached to the
acquisition of knowledge, and the child finds that it can no more go
to the seaside without a knowledge of the multiplication and pence
tables than it can be an astronomer without mathematics, it will learn
the multiplication table, which is more than it always does at
present, in spite of all the canings and keepings in.

The Pursuit of Learning

When the Pursuit of Learning comes to mean the pursuit of learning by
the child instead of the pursuit of the child by Learning, cane in
hand, the danger will be precocity of the intellect, which is just as
undesirable as precocity of the emotions. We still have a silly habit
of talking and thinking as if intellect were a mechanical process and
not a passion; and in spite of the German tutors who confess openly
that three out of every five of the young men they coach for
examinations are lamed for life thereby; in spite of Dickens and his
picture of little Paul Dombey dying of lessons, we persist in heaping
on growing children and adolescent youths and maidens tasks Pythagoras
would have declined out of common regard for his own health and common
modesty as to his own capacity. And this overwork is not all the
effect of compulsion; for the average schoolmaster does not compel his
scholars to learn: he only scolds and punishes them if they do not,
which is quite a different thing, the net effect being that the school
prisoners need not learn unless they like. Nay, it is sometimes
remarked that the school dunce--meaning the one who does not
like--often turns out well afterwards, as if idleness were a sign of
ability and character. A much more sensible explanation is that the
so-called dunces are not exhausted before they begin the serious
business of life. It is said that boys will be boys; and one can only
add one wishes they would. Boys really want to be manly, and are
unfortunately encouraged thoughtlessly in this very dangerous and
overstraining aspiration. All the people who have really worked
(Herbert Spencer for instance) warn us against work as earnestly as
some people warn us against drink. When learning is placed on the
voluntary footing of sport, the teacher will find himself saying every
day "Run away and play: you have worked as much as is good for you."
Trying to make children leave school will be like trying to make them
go to bed; and it will be necessary to surprise them with the idea
that teaching is work, and that the teacher is tired and must go play
or rest or eat: possibilities always concealed by that infamous
humbug the current schoolmaster, who achieves a spurious divinity and
a witch doctor's authority by persuading children that he is not
human, just as ladies persuade them that they have no legs.

Children and Game: a Proposal

Of the many wild absurdities of our existing social order perhaps the
most grotesque is the costly and strictly enforced reservation of
large tracts of country as deer forests and breeding grounds for
pheasants whilst there is so little provision of the kind made for
children. I have more than once thought of trying to introduce the
shooting of children as a sport, as the children would then be
preserved very carefully for ten months in the year, thereby reducing
their death rate far more than the fusillades of the sportsmen during
the other two would raise it. At present the killing of a fox except
by a pack of foxhounds is regarded with horror; but you may and do
kill children in a hundred and fifty ways provided you do not shoot
them or set a pack of dogs on them. It must be admitted that the
foxes have the best of it; and indeed a glance at our pheasants, our
deer, and our children will convince the most sceptical that the
children have decidedly the worst of it.

This much hope, however, can be extracted from the present state of
things. It is so fantastic, so mad, so apparently impossible, that no
scheme of reform need ever henceforth be discredited on the ground
that it is fantastic or mad or apparently impossible. It is the
sensible schemes, unfortunately, that are hopeless in England.
Therefore I have great hopes that my own views, though fundamentally
sensible, can be made to appear fantastic enough to have a chance.

First, then, I lay it down as a prime condition of sane society,
obvious as such to anyone but an idiot, that in any decent community,
children should find in every part of their native country, food,
clothing, lodging, instruction, and parental kindness for the asking.
For the matter of that, so should adults; but the two cases differ in
that as these commodities do not grow on the bushes, the adults cannot
have them unless they themselves organize and provide the supply,
whereas the children must have them as if by magic, with nothing to do
but rub the lamp, like Aladdin, and have their needs satisfied.

The Parents' Intolerable Burden

There is nothing new in this: it is how children have always had and
must always have their needs satisfied. The parent has to play the
part of Aladdin's djinn; and many a parent has sunk beneath the burden
of this service. All the novelty we need is to organize it so that
instead of the individual child fastening like a parasite on its own
particular parents, the whole body of children should be thrown not
only upon the whole body of parents, but upon the celibates and
childless as well, whose present exemption from a full share in the
social burden of children is obviously unjust and unwholesome. Today
it is easy to find a widow who has at great cost to herself in pain,
danger, and disablement, borne six or eight children. In the same
town you will find rich bachelors and old maids, and married couples
with no children or with families voluntarily limited to two or three.
The eight children do not belong to the woman in any real or legal
sense. When she has reared them they pass away from her into the
community as independent persons, marrying strangers, working for
strangers, spending on the community the life that has been built up
at her expense. No more monstrous injustice could be imagined than
that the burden of rearing the children should fall on her alone and
not on the celibates and the selfish as well.

This is so far recognized that already the child finds, wherever it
goes, a school for it, and somebody to force it into the school; and
more and more these schools are being driven by the mere logic of
facts to provide the children with meals, with boots, with spectacles,
with dentists and doctors. In fact, when the child's parents are
destitute or not to be found, bread, lodging, and clothing are
provided. It is true that they are provided grudgingly and on
conditions infamous enough to draw down abundant fire from Heaven upon
us every day in the shape of crime and disease and vice; but still the
practice of keeping children barely alive at the charge of the
community is established; and there is no need for me to argue about
it. I propose only two extensions of the practice. One is to provide
for all the child's reasonable human wants, on which point, if you
differ from me, I shall take leave to say that you are socially a fool
and personally an inhuman wretch. The other is that these wants
should be supplied in complete freedom from compulsory schooling or
compulsory anything except restraint from crime, though, as they can
be supplied only by social organization, the child must be conscious
of and subject to the conditions of that organization, which may
involve such portions of adult responsibility and duty as a child may
be able to bear according to its age, and which will in any case
prevent it from forming the vagabond and anarchist habit of mind.

One more exception might be necessary: compulsory freedom. I am sure
that a child should not be imprisoned in a school. I am not so sure
that it should not sometimes be driven out into the open--imprisoned
in the woods and on the mountains, as it were. For there are frowsty
children, just as there are frowsty adults, who dont want freedom.
This morbid result of over-domestication would, let us hope, soon
disappear with its cause.


Those who see no prospect held out to them by this except a country in
which all the children shall be roaming savages, should consider,
first, whether their condition would be any worse than that of the
little caged savages of today, and second, whether either children or
adults are so apt to run wild that it is necessary to tether them fast
to one neighborhood to prevent a general dissolution of society. My
own observation leads me to believe that we are not half mobilized
enough. True, I cannot deny that we are more mobile than we were.
You will still find in the home counties old men who have never been
to London, and who tell you that they once went to Winchester or St
Albans much as if they had been to the South Pole; but they are not so
common as the clerk who has been to Paris or to Lovely Lucerne, and
who "goes away somewhere" when he has a holiday. His grandfather
never had a holiday, and, if he had, would no more have dreamed of
crossing the Channel than of taking a box at the Opera. But with all
allowance for the Polytechnic excursion and the tourist agency, our
inertia is still appalling. I confess to having once spent nine years
in London without putting my nose outside it; and though this was
better, perhaps, than the restless globe-trotting vagabondage of the
idle rich, wandering from hotel to hotel and never really living
anywhere, yet I should no more have done it if I had been properly
mobilized in my childhood than I should have worn the same suit of
clothes all that time (which, by the way, I very nearly did, my
professional income not having as yet begun to sprout). There are
masses of people who could afford at least a trip to Margate, and a
good many who could afford a trip round the world, who are more
immovable than Aldgate pump. To others, who would move if they knew
how, travelling is surrounded with imaginary difficulties and terrors.
In short, the difficulty is not to fix people, but to root them up.
We keep repeating the silly proverb that a rolling stone gathers no
moss, as if moss were a desirable parasite. What we mean is that a
vagabond does not prosper. Even this is not true, if prosperity means
enjoyment as well as responsibility and money. The real misery of
vagabondage is the misery of having nothing to do and nowhere to go,
the misery of being derelict of God and Man, the misery of the idle,
poor or rich. And this is one of the miseries of unoccupied
childhood. The unoccupied adult, thus afflicted, tries many
distractions which are, to say the least, unsuited to children. But
one of them, the distraction of seeing the world, is innocent and
beneficial. Also it is childish, being a continuation of what nurses
call "taking notice," by which a child becomes experienced. It is
pitiable nowadays to see men and women doing after the age of 45 all
the travelling and sightseeing they should have done before they were
15. Mere wondering and staring at things is an important part of a
child's education: that is why children can be thoroughly mobilized
without making vagabonds of them. A vagabond is at home nowhere
because he wanders: a child should wander because it ought to be at
home everywhere. And if it has its papers and its passports, and gets
what it requires not by begging and pilfering, but from responsible
agents of the community as of right, and with some formal
acknowledgment of the obligations it is incurring and a knowledge of
the fact that these obligations are being recorded: if, further,
certain qualifications are exacted before it is promoted from
permission to go as far as its legs will carry it to using mechanical
aids to locomotion, it can roam without much danger of gypsification.

Under such circumstances the boy or girl could always run away, and
never be lost; and on no other conditions can a child be free without
being also a homeless outcast.

Parents could also run away from disagreeable children or drive them
out of doors or even drop their acquaintance, temporarily or
permanently, without inhumanity. Thus both parties would be on their
good behavior, and not, as at present, on their filial or parental
behavior, which, like all unfree behavior, is mostly bad behavior.

As to what other results might follow, we had better wait and see; for
nobody now alive can imagine what customs and institutions would grow
up in societies of free children. Child laws and child fashions,
child manners and child morals are now not tolerated; but among free
children there would certainly be surprising developments in this
direction. I do not think there would be any danger of free children
behaving as badly as grown-up people do now because they have never
been free. They could hardly behave worse, anyhow.

Children's Rights and Parents' Wrongs

A very distinguished man once assured a mother of my acquaintance that
she would never know what it meant to be hurt until she was hurt
through her children. Children are extremely cruel without intending
it; and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the reason is that they
do not conceive their elders as having any human feelings. Serve the
elders right, perhaps, for posing as superhuman! The penalty of the
impostor is not that he is found out (he very seldom is) but that he
is taken for what he pretends to be, and treated as such. And to be
treated as anything but what you really are may seem pleasant to the
imagination when the treatment is above your merits; but in actual
experience it is often quite the reverse. When I was a very small
boy, my romantic imagination, stimulated by early doses of fiction,
led me to brag to a still smaller boy so outrageously that he, being a
simple soul, really believed me to be an invincible hero. I cannot
remember whether this pleased me much; but I do remember very
distinctly that one day this admirer of mine, who had a pet goat,
found the animal in the hands of a larger boy than either of us, who
mocked him and refused to restore the animal to his rightful owner.
Whereupon, naturally, he came weeping to me, and demanded that I
should rescue the goat and annihilate the aggressor. My terror was
beyond description: fortunately for me, it imparted such a
ghastliness to my voice and aspect as I under the eye of my poor
little dupe, advanced on the enemy with that hideous extremity of
cowardice which is called the courage of despair, and said "You let go
that goat," that he abandoned his prey and fled, to my unforgettable,
unspeakable relief. I have never since exaggerated my prowess in
bodily combat.

Now what happened to me in the adventure of the goat happens very
often to parents, and would happen to schoolmasters if the prison door
of the school did not shut out the trials of life. I remember once,
at school, the resident head master was brought down to earth by the
sudden illness of his wife. In the confusion that ensued it became
necessary to leave one of the schoolrooms without a master. I was in
the class that occupied that schoolroom. To have sent us home would
have been to break the fundamental bargain with our parents by which
the school was bound to keep us out of their way for half the day at
all hazards. Therefore an appeal had to be made to our better
feelings: that is, to our common humanity, not to make a noise. But
the head master had never admitted any common humanity with us. We
had been carefully broken in to regard him as a being quite aloof from
and above us: one not subject to error or suffering or death or
illness or mortality. Consequently sympathy was impossible; and if
the unfortunate lady did not perish, it was because, as I now comfort
myself with guessing, she was too much pre-occupied with her own
pains, and possibly making too much noise herself, to be conscious of
the pandemonium downstairs.

A great deal of the fiendishness of schoolboys and the cruelty of
children to their elders is produced just in this way. Elders cannot
be superhuman beings and suffering fellow-creatures at the same time.
If you pose as a little god, you must pose for better for worse.

How Little We Know About Our Parents

The relation between parent and child has cruel moments for the parent
even when money is no object, and the material worries are delegated
to servants and school teachers. The child and the parent are
strangers to one another necessarily, because their ages must differ
widely. Read Goethe's autobiography; and note that though he was
happy in his parents and had exceptional powers of observation,
divination, and story-telling, he knew less about his father and
mother than about most of the other people he mentions. I myself was
never on bad terms with my mother: we lived together until I was
forty-two years old, absolutely without the smallest friction of any
kind; yet when her death set me thinking curiously about our
relations, I realized that I knew very little about her. Introduce me
to a strange woman who was a child when I was a child, a girl when I
was a boy, an adolescent when I was an adolescent; and if we take
naturally to one another I will know more of her and she of me at the
end of forty days (I had almost said of forty minutes) than I knew of
my mother at the end of forty years. A contemporary stranger is a
novelty and an enigma, also a possibility; but a mother is like a
broomstick or like the sun in the heavens, it does not matter which as
far as one's knowledge of her is concerned: the broomstick is there
and the sun is there; and whether the child is beaten by it or warmed
and enlightened by it, it accepts it as a fact in nature, and does not
conceive it as having had youth, passions, and weaknesses, or as still
growing, yearning, suffering, and learning. If I meet a widow I may
ask her all about her marriage; but what son ever dreams of asking his
mother about her marriage, or could endure to hear of it without
violently breaking off the old sacred relationship between them, and
ceasing to be her child or anything more to her than the first man in
the street might be?

Yet though in this sense the child cannot realize its parent's
humanity, the parent can realize the child's; for the parents with
their experience of life have none of the illusions about the child
that the child has about the parents; and the consequence is that the
child can hurt its parents' feelings much more than its parents can
hurt the child's, because the child, even when there has been none of
the deliberate hypocrisy by which children are taken advantage of by
their elders, cannot conceive the parent as a fellow-creature, whilst
the parents know very well that the children are only themselves over
again. The child cannot conceive that its blame or contempt or want
of interest could possibly hurt its parent, and therefore expresses
them all with an indifference which has given rise to the term _enfant
terrible_ (a tragic term in spite of the jests connected with it);
whilst the parent can suffer from such slights and reproaches more
from a child than from anyone else, even when the child is not
beloved, because the child is so unmistakably sincere in them.

Our Abandoned Mothers

Take a very common instance of this agonizing incompatibility. A
widow brings up her son to manhood. He meets a strange woman, and
goes off with and marries her, leaving his mother desolate. It does
not occur to him that this is at all hard on her: he does it as a
matter of course, and actually expects his mother to receive, on terms
of special affection, the woman for whom she has been abandoned. If
he shewed any sense of what he was doing, any remorse; if he mingled
his tears with hers and asked her not to think too hardly of him
because he had obeyed the inevitable destiny of a man to leave his
father and mother and cleave to his wife, she could give him her
blessing and accept her bereavement with dignity and without reproach.
But the man never dreams of such considerations. To him his mother's
feeling in the matter, when she betrays it, is unreasonable,
ridiculous, and even odious, as shewing a prejudice against his
adorable bride.

I have taken the widow as an extreme and obvious case; but there are
many husbands and wives who are tired of their consorts, or
disappointed in them, or estranged from them by infidelities; and
these parents, in losing a son or a daughter through marriage, may be
losing everything they care for. No parent's love is as innocent as
the love of a child: the exclusion of all conscious sexual feeling
from it does not exclude the bitterness, jealousy, and despair at loss
which characterize sexual passion: in fact, what is called a pure
love may easily be more selfish and jealous than a carnal one.
Anyhow, it is plain matter of fact that naively selfish people
sometimes try with fierce jealousy to prevent their children marrying.

Family Affection

Until the family as we know it ceases to exist, nobody will dare to
analyze parental affection as distinguished from that general human
sympathy which has secured to many an orphan fonder care in a
stranger's house than it would have received from its actual parents.
Not even Tolstoy, in The Kreutzer Sonata, has said all that we suspect
about it. When it persists beyond the period at which it ceases to be
necessary to the child's welfare, it is apt to be morbid; and we are
probably wrong to inculcate its deliberate cultivation. The natural
course is for the parents and children to cast off the specific
parental and filial relation when they are no longer necessary to one
another. The child does this readily enough to form fresh ties,
closer and more fascinating. Parents are not always excluded from
such compensations: it happens sometimes that when the children go
out at the door the lover comes in at the window. Indeed it happens
now oftener than it used to, because people remain much longer in the
sexual arena. The cultivated Jewess no longer cuts off her hair at
her marriage. The British matron has discarded her cap and her
conscientious ugliness; and a bishop's wife at fifty has more of the
air of a _femme galante_ than an actress had at thirty-five in her
grandmother's time. But as people marry later, the facts of age and
time still inexorably condemn most parents to comparative solitude
when their children marry. This may be a privation and may be a
relief: probably in healthy circumstances it is no worse than a
salutary change of habit; but even at that it is, for the moment at
least, a wrench. For though parents and children sometimes dislike
one another, there is an experience of succor and a habit of
dependence and expectation formed in infancy which naturally attaches
a child to its parent or to its nurse (a foster parent) in a quite
peculiar way. A benefit to the child may be a burden to the parent;
but people become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the
burdens are attached to them; and to "suffer little children" has
become an affectionate impulse deep in our nature.

Now there is no such impulse to suffer our sisters and brothers, our
aunts and uncles, much less our cousins. If we could choose our
relatives, we might, by selecting congenial ones, mitigate the
repulsive effect of the obligation to like them and to admit them to
our intimacy. But to have a person imposed on us as a brother merely
because he happens to have the same parents is unbearable when, as may
easily happen, he is the sort of person we should carefully avoid if
he were anyone else's brother. All Europe (except Scotland, which has
clans instead of families) draws the line at second cousins.
Protestantism draws it still closer by making the first cousin a
marriageable stranger; and the only reason for not drawing it at
sisters and brothers is that the institution of the family compels us
to spend our childhood with them, and thus imposes on us a curious
relation in which familiarity destroys romantic charm, and is yet
expected to create a specially warm affection. Such a relation is
dangerously factitious and unnatural; and the practical moral is that
the less said at home about specific family affection the better.
Children, like grown-up people, get on well enough together if they
are not pushed down one another's throats; and grown-up relatives will
get on together in proportion to their separation and their care not
to presume on their blood relationship. We should let children's
feelings take their natural course without prompting. I have seen a
child scolded and called unfeeling because it did not occur to it to
make a theatrical demonstration of affectionate delight when its
mother returned after an absence: a typical example of the way in
which spurious family sentiment is stoked up. We are, after all,
sociable animals; and if we are let alone in the matter of our
affections, and well brought up otherwise, we shall not get on any the
worse with particular people because they happen to be our brothers
and sisters and cousins. The danger lies in assuming that we shall
get on any better.

The main point to grasp here is that families are not kept together at
present by family feeling but by human feeling. The family cultivates
sympathy and mutual help and consolation as any other form of kindly
association cultivates them; but the addition of a dictated compulsory
affection as an attribute of near kinship is not only unnecessary, but
positively detrimental; and the alleged tendency of modern social
development to break up the family need alarm nobody. We cannot break
up the facts of kinship nor eradicate its natural emotional
consequences. What we can do and ought to do is to set people free to
behave naturally and to change their behavior as circumstances change.
To impose on a citizen of London the family duties of a Highland
cateran in the eighteenth century is as absurd as to compel him to
carry a claymore and target instead of an umbrella. The civilized man
has no special use for cousins; and he may presently find that he has
no special use for brothers and sisters. The parent seems likely to
remain indispensable; but there is no reason why that natural tie
should be made the excuse for unnatural aggravations of it, as
crushing to the parent as they are oppressive to the child. The
mother and father will not always have to shoulder the burthen of
maintenance which should fall on the Atlas shoulders of the fatherland
and motherland. Pending such reforms and emancipations, a shattering
break-up of the parental home must remain one of the normal incidents
of marriage. The parent is left lonely and the child is not. Woe to
the old if they have no impersonal interests, no convictions, no
public causes to advance, no tastes or hobbies! It is well to be a
mother but not to be a mother-in-law; and if men were cut off
artificially from intellectual and public interests as women are, the
father-in-law would be as deplorable a figure in popular tradition as
the mother-in-law.

It is not to be wondered at that some people hold that blood
relationship should be kept a secret from the persons related, and
that the happiest condition in this respect is that of the foundling
who, if he ever meets his parents or brothers or sisters, passes them
by without knowing them. And for such a view there is this to be
said: that our family system does unquestionably take the natural
bond between members of the same family, which, like all natural
bonds, is not too tight to be borne, and superimposes on it a painful
burden of forced, inculcated, suggested, and altogether unnecessary
affection and responsibility which we should do well to get rid of by
making relatives as independent of one another as possible.

The Fate of the Family

The difficulty of inducing people to talk sensibly about the family is
the same as that which I pointed out in a previous volume as confusing
discussions of marriage. Marriage is not a single invariable
institution: it changes from civilization to civilization, from
religion to religion, from civil code to civil code, from frontier to
frontier. The family is still more variable, because the number of
persons constituting a family, unlike the number of persons
constituting a marriage, varies from one to twenty: indeed, when a
widower with a family marries a widow with a family, and the two
produce a third family, even that very high number may be surpassed.
And the conditions may vary between opposite extremes: for example,
in a London or Paris slum every child adds to the burden of poverty
and helps to starve the parents and all the other children, whereas in
a settlement of pioneer colonists every child, from the moment it is
big enough to lend a hand to the family industry, is an investment in
which the only danger is that of temporary over-capitalization. Then
there are the variations in family sentiment. Sometimes the family
organization is as frankly political as the organization of an army or
an industry: fathers being no more expected to be sentimental about
their children than colonels about soldiers, or factory owners about
their employees, though the mother may be allowed a little tenderness
if her character is weak. The Roman father was a despot: the Chinese
father is an object of worship: the sentimental modern western father
is often a play-fellow looked to for toys and pocket-money. The
farmer sees his children constantly: the squire sees them only during
the holidays, and not then oftener than he can help: the tram
conductor, when employed by a joint stock company, sometimes never
sees them at all.

Under such circumstances phrases like The Influence of Home Life, The
Family, The Domestic Hearth, and so on, are no more specific than The
Mammals, or The Man In The Street; and the pious generalizations
founded so glibly on them by our sentimental moralists are unworkable.
When households average twelve persons with the sexes about equally
represented, the results may be fairly good. When they average three
the results may be very bad indeed; and to lump the two together under
the general term The Family is to confuse the question hopelessly.
The modern small family is much too stuffy: children "brought up at
home" in it are unfit for society. But here again circumstances
differ. If the parents live in what is called a garden suburb, where
there is a good deal of social intercourse, and the family, instead of
keeping itself to itself, as the evil old saying is, and glowering at
the neighbors over the blinds of the long street in which nobody knows
his neighbor and everyone wishes to deceive him as to his income and
social importance, is in effect broken up by school life, by
out-of-door habits, and by frank neighborly intercourse through dances
and concerts and theatricals and excursions and the like, families of
four may turn out much less barbarous citizens than families of ten
which attain the Boer ideal of being out of sight of one another's
chimney smoke.

All one can say is, roughly, that the homelier the home, and the more
familiar the family, the worse for everybody concerned. The family
ideal is a humbug and a nuisance: one might as reasonably talk of the
barrack ideal, or the forecastle ideal, or any other substitution of
the machinery of social organization for the end of it, which must
always be the fullest and most capable life: in short, the most godly
life. And this significant word reminds us that though the popular
conception of heaven includes a Holy Family, it does not attach to
that family the notion of a separate home, or a private nursery or
kitchen or mother-in-law, or anything that constitutes the family as
we know it. Even blood relationship is miraculously abstracted from
it; and the Father is the father of all children, the mother the
mother of all mothers and babies, and the Son the Son of Man and the
Savior of his brothers: one whose chief utterance on the subject of
the conventional family was an invitation to all of us to leave our
families and follow him, and to leave the dead to bury the dead, and
not debauch ourselves at that gloomy festival the family funeral, with
its sequel of hideous mourning and grief which is either affected or

Family Mourning

I do not know how far this detestable custom of mourning is carried in
France; but judging from the appearance of the French people I should
say that a Frenchwoman goes into mourning for her cousins to the
seventeenth degree. The result is that when I cross the Channel I
seem to have reached a country devastated by war or pestilence. It is
really suffering only from the family. Will anyone pretend that
England has not the best of this striking difference? Yet it is such
senseless and unnatural conventions as this that make us so impatient
of what we call family feeling. Even apart from its insufferable
pretensions, the family needs hearty discrediting; for there is hardly
any vulnerable part of it that could not be amputated with advantage.

Art Teaching

By art teaching I hasten to say that I do not mean giving children
lessons in freehand drawing and perspective. I am simply calling
attention to the fact that fine art is the only teacher except
torture. I have already pointed out that nobody, except under threat
of torture, can read a school book. The reason is that a school book
is not a work of art. Similarly, you cannot listen to a lesson or a
sermon unless the teacher or the preacher is an artist. You cannot
read the Bible if you have no sense of literary art. The reason why
the continental European is, to the Englishman or American, so
surprisingly ignorant of the Bible, is that the authorized English
version is a great work of literary art, and the continental versions
are comparatively artless. To read a dull book; to listen to a
tedious play or prosy sermon or lecture; to stare at uninteresting
pictures or ugly buildings: nothing, short of disease, is more
dreadful than this. The violence done to our souls by it leaves
injuries and produces subtle maladies which have never been properly
studied by psycho-pathologists. Yet we are so inured to it in school,
where practically all the teachers are bores trying to do the work of
artists, and all the books artless, that we acquire a truly frightful
power of enduring boredom. We even acquire the notion that fine art
is lascivious and destructive to the character. In church, in the
House of Commons, at public meetings, we sit solemnly listening to
bores and twaddlers because from the time we could walk or speak we
have been snubbed, scolded, bullied, beaten and imprisoned whenever we
dared to resent being bored or twaddled at, or to express our natural
impatience and derision of bores and twaddlers. And when a man arises
with a soul of sufficient native strength to break the bonds of this
inculcated reverence and to expose and deride and tweak the noses of
our humbugs and panjandrums, like Voltaire or Dickens, we are shocked
and scandalized, even when we cannot help laughing. Worse, we dread
and persecute those who can see and declare the truth, because their
sincerity and insight reflects on our delusion and blindness. We are
all like Nell Gwynne's footman, who defended Nell's reputation with
his fists, not because he believed her to be what he called an honest
woman, but because he objected to be scorned as the footman of one who
was no better than she should be.

This wretched power of allowing ourselves to be bored may seem to give
the fine arts a chance sometimes. People will sit through a
performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony or of Wagner's Ring just as
they will sit through a dull sermon or a front bench politician saying
nothing for two hours whilst his unfortunate country is perishing
through the delay of its business in Parliament. But their endurance
is very bad for the ninth symphony, because they never hiss when it is
murdered. I have heard an Italian conductor (no longer living) take
the _adagio_ of that symphony at a lively _allegretto_, slowing down
for the warmer major sections into the speed and manner of the
heroine's death song in a Verdi opera; and the listeners, far from
relieving my excruciation by rising with yells of fury and hurling
their programs and opera glasses at the miscreant, behaved just as
they do when Richter conducts it. The mass of imposture that thrives
on this combination of ignorance with despairing endurance is
incalculable. Given a public trained from childhood to stand anything
tedious, and so saturated with school discipline that even with the
doors open and no schoolmasters to stop them they will sit there
helplessly until the end of the concert or opera gives them leave to
go home; and you will have in great capitals hundreds of thousands of
pounds spent every night in the season on professedly artistic
entertainments which have no other effect on fine art than to
exacerbate the hatred in which it is already secretly held in England.

Fortunately, there are arts that cannot be cut off from the people by
bad performances. We can read books for ourselves; and we can play a
good deal of fine music for ourselves with the help of a pianola.
Nothing stands between us and the actual handwork of the great masters
of painting except distance; and modern photographic methods of
reproduction are in some cases quite and in many nearly as effective
in conveying the artist's message as a modern edition of Shakespear's
plays is in conveying the message that first existed in his
handwriting. The reproduction of great feats of musical execution is
already on the way: the phonograph, for all its wheezing and snarling
and braying, is steadily improving in its manners; and what with this
improvement on the one hand, and on the other that blessed selective
faculty which enables us to ignore a good deal of disagreeable noise
if there is a thread of music in the middle of it (few critics of the
phonograph seem to be conscious of the very considerable mechanical
noise set up by choirs and orchestras) we have at last reached a point
at which, for example, a person living in an English village where the
church music is the only music, and that music is made by a few
well-intentioned ladies with the help of a harmonium, can hear masses
by Palestrina very passably executed, and can thereby be led to the
discovery that Jackson in F and Hymns Ancient and Modern are not
perhaps the last word of beauty and propriety in the praise of God.

In short, there is a vast body of art now within the reach of
everybody. The difficulty is that this art, which alone can educate
us in grace of body and soul, and which alone can make the history of
the past live for us or the hope of the future shine for us, which
alone can give delicacy and nobility to our crude lusts, which is the
appointed vehicle of inspiration and the method of the communion of
saints, is actually branded as sinful among us because, wherever it
arises, there is resistance to tyranny, breaking of fetters, and the
breath of freedom. The attempt to suppress art is not wholly
successful: we might as well try to suppress oxygen. But it is
carried far enough to inflict on huge numbers of people a most
injurious art starvation, and to corrupt a great deal of the art that
is tolerated. You will find in England plenty of rich families with
little more culture than their dogs and horses. And you will find
poor families, cut off by poverty and town life from the contemplation
of the beauty of the earth, with its dresses of leaves, its scarves of
cloud, and its contours of hill and valley, who would positively be
happier as hogs, so little have they cultivated their humanity by the
only effective instrument of culture: art. The dearth is
artificially maintained even when there are the means of satisfying
it. Story books are forbidden, picture post cards are forbidden,
theatres are forbidden, operas are forbidden, circuses are forbidden,
sweetmeats are forbidden, pretty colors are forbidden, all exactly as
vice is forbidden. The Creator is explicitly prayed to, and
implicitly convicted of indecency every day. An association of vice
and sin with everything that is delightful and of goodness with
everything that is wretched and detestable is set up. All the most
perilous (and glorious) appetites and propensities are at once
inflamed by starvation and uneducated by art. All the wholesome
conditions which art imposes on appetite are waived: instead of
cultivated men and women restrained by a thousand delicacies, repelled
by ugliness, chilled by vulgarity, horrified by coarseness, deeply and
sweetly moved by the graces that art has revealed to them and nursed
in them, we get indiscrimmate rapacity in pursuit of pleasure and a
parade of the grossest stimulations in catering for it. We have a
continual clamor for goodness, beauty, virtue, and sanctity, with such
an appalling inability to recognize it or love it when it arrives that
it is more dangerous to be a great prophet or poet than to promote
twenty companies for swindling simple folk out of their savings. Do
not for a moment suppose that uncultivated people are merely
indifferent to high and noble qualities. They hate them malignantly.
At best, such qualities are like rare and beautiful birds: when they
appear the whole country takes down its guns; but the birds receive
the statuary tribute of having their corpses stuffed.

And it really all comes from the habit of preventing children from
being troublesome. You are so careful of your boy's morals, knowing
how troublesome they may be, that you keep him away from the Venus of
Milo only to find him in the arms of the scullery maid or someone much
worse. You decide that the Hermes of Praxiteles and Wagner's Tristan
are not suited for young girls; and your daughter marries somebody
appallingly unlike either Hermes or Tristan solely to escape from your
parental protection. You have not stifled a single passion nor
averted a single danger: you have depraved the passions by starving
them, and broken down all the defences which so effectively protect
children brought up in freedom. You have men who imagine themselves
to be ministers of religion openly declaring that when they pass
through the streets they have to keep out in the wheeled traffic to
avoid the temptations of the pavement. You have them organizing hunts
of the women who tempt them--poor creatures whom no artist would touch
without a shudder--and wildly clamoring for more clothes to disguise
and conceal the body, and for the abolition of pictures, statues,
theatres, and pretty colors. And incredible as it seems, these
unhappy lunatics are left at large, unrebuked, even admired and
revered, whilst artists have to struggle for toleration. To them an
undraped human body is the most monstrous, the most blighting, the
most obscene, the most unbearable spectacle in the universe. To an
artist it is, at its best, the most admirable spectacle in nature,
and, at its average, an object of indifference. If every rag of
clothing miraculously dropped from the inhabitants of London at noon
tomorrow (say as a preliminary to the Great Judgment), the artistic
people would not turn a hair; but the artless people would go mad and
call on the mountains to hide them. I submit that this indicates a
thoroughly healthy state on the part of the artists, and a thoroughly
morbid one on the part of the artless. And the healthy state is
attainable in a cold country like ours only by familiarity with the
undraped figure acquired through pictures, statues, and theatrical
representations in which an illusion of natural clotheslessness is
produced and made poetic.

In short, we all grow up stupid and mad to just the extent to which we
have not been artistically educated; and the fact that this taint of
stupidity and madness has to be tolerated because it is general, and
is even boasted of as characteristically English, makes the situation
all the worse. It is becoming exceedingly grave at present, because
the last ray of art is being cut off from our schools by the
discontinuance of religious education.

The Impossibility of Secular Education

Now children must be taught some sort of religion. Secular education
is an impossibility. Secular education comes to this: that the only
reason for ceasing to do evil and learning to do well is that if you
do not you will be caned. This is worse than being taught in a church
school that if you become a dissenter you will go to hell; for hell is
presented as the instrument of something eternal, divine, and
inevitable: you cannot evade it the moment the schoolmaster's back is
turned. What confuses this issue and leads even highly intelligent
religious persons to advocate secular education as a means of rescuing
children from the strife of rival proselytizers is the failure to
distinguish between the child's personal subjective need for a
religion and its right to an impartially communicated historical
objective knowledge of all the creeds and Churches. Just as a child,
no matter what its race and color may be, should know that there are
black men and brown men and yellow men, and, no matter what its
political convictions may be, that there are Monarchists and
Republicans and Positivists, Socialists and Unsocialists, so it should
know that there are Christians and Mahometans and Buddhists and
Shintoists and so forth, and that they are on the average just as
honest and well-behaved as its own father. For example, it should not
be told that Allah is a false god set up by the Turks and Arabs, who
will all be damned for taking that liberty; but it should be told that
many English people think so, and that many Turks and Arabs think the
converse about English people. It should be taught that Allah is
simply the name by which God is known to Turks and Arabs, who are just
as eligible for salvation as any Christian. Further, that the
practical reason why a Turkish child should pray in a mosque and an
English child in a church is that as worship is organized in Turkey in
mosques in the name of Mahomet and in England in churches in the name
of Christ, a Turkish child joining the Church of England or an English
child following Mahomet will find that it has no place for its worship
and no organization of its religion within its reach. Any other
teaching of the history and present facts of religion is false
teaching, and is politically extremely dangerous in an empire in which
a huge majority of the fellow subjects of the governing island do not
profess the religion of that island.

But this objectivity, though intellectually honest, tells the child
only what other people believe. What it should itself believe is
quite another matter. The sort of Rationalism which says to a child
"You must suspend your judgment until you are old enough to choose
your religion" is Rationalism gone mad. The child must have a
conscience and a code of honor (which is the essence of religion) even
if it be only a provisional one, to be revised at its confirmation.
For confirmation is meant to signalize a spiritual coming of age, and
may be a repudiation. Really active souls have many confirmations and
repudiations as their life deepens and their knowledge widens. But
what is to guide the child before its first confirmation? Not mere
orders, because orders must have a sanction of some sort or why should
the child obey them? If, as a Secularist, you refuse to teach any
sanction, you must say "You will be punished if you disobey." "Yes,"
says the child to itself, "if I am found out; but wait until your back
is turned and I will do as I like, and lie about it." There can be no
objective punishment for successful fraud; and as no espionage can
cover the whole range of a child's conduct, the upshot is that the
child becomes a liar and schemer with an atrophied conscience. And a
good many of the orders given to it are not obeyed after all. Thus
the Secularist who is not a fool is forced to appeal to the child's
vital impulse towards perfection, to the divine spark; and no
resolution not to call this impulse an impulse of loyalty to the
Fellowship of the Holy Ghost, or obedience to the Will of God, or any
other standard theological term, can alter the fact that the
Secularist has stepped outside Secularism and is educating the child
religiously, even if he insists on repudiating that pious adverb and
substituting the word metaphysically.

Natural Selection as a Religion

We must make up our minds to it therefore that whatever measures we
may be forced to take to prevent the recruiting sergeants of the
Churches, free or established, from obtaining an exclusive right of
entry to schools, we shall not be able to exclude religion from them.
The most horrible of all religions: that which teaches us to regard
ourselves as the helpless prey of a series of senseless accidents
called Natural Selection, is allowed and even welcomed in so-called
secular schools because it is, in a sense, the negation of all
religion; but for school purposes a religion is a belief which affects
conduct; and no belief affects conduct more radically and often so
disastrously as the belief that the universe is a product of Natural
Selection. What is more, the theory of Natural Selection cannot be
kept out of schools, because many of the natural facts that present
the most plausible appearance of design can be accounted for by
Natural Selection; and it would be so absurd to keep a child in
delusive ignorance of so potent a factor in evolution as to keep it in
ignorance of radiation or capillary attraction. Even if you make a
religion of Natural Selection, and teach the child to regard itself as
the irresponsible prey of its circumstances and appetites (or its
heredity as you will perhaps call them), you will none the less find
that its appetites are stimulated by your encouragement and daunted by
your discouragement; that one of its appetites is an appetite for
perfection; that if you discourage this appetite and encourage the
cruder acquisitive appetites the child will steal and lie and be a
nuisance to you; and that if you encourage its appetite for perfection
and teach it to attach a peculiar sacredness to it and place it before
the other appetites, it will be a much nicer child and you will have a
much easier job, at which point you will, in spite of your
pseudoscientific jargon, find yourself back in the old-fashioned
religious teaching as deep as Dr. Watts and in fact fathoms deeper.

Moral Instruction Leagues

And now the voices of our Moral Instruction Leagues will be lifted,
asking whether there is any reason why the appetite for perfection
should not be cultivated in rationally scientific terms instead of
being associated with the story of Jonah and the great fish and the
thousand other tales that grow up round religions. Yes: there are
many reasons; and one of them is that children all like the story of
Jonah and the whale (they insist on its being a whale in spite of
demonstrations by Bible smashers without any sense of humor that Jonah
would not have fitted into a whale's gullet--as if the story would be
credible of a whale with an enlarged throat) and that no child on
earth can stand moral instruction books or catechisms or any other
statement of the case for religion in abstract terms. The object of a
moral instruction book is not to be rational, scientific, exact, proof
against controversy, nor even credible: its object is to make
children good; and if it makes them sick instead its place is the
waste-paper basket.

Take for an illustration the story of Elisha and the bears. To the
authors of the moral instruction books it is in the last degree
reprehensible. It is obviously not true as a record of fact; and the
picture it gives us of the temper of God (which is what interests an
adult reader) is shocking and blasphemous. But it is a capital story
for a child. It interests a child because it is about bears; and it
leaves the child with an impression that children who poke fun at old
gentlemen and make rude remarks about bald heads are not nice
children, which is a highly desirable impression, and just as much as
a child is capable of receiving from the story. When a story is about
God and a child, children take God for granted and criticize the
child. Adults do the opposite, and are thereby led to talk great
nonsense about the bad effect of Bible stories on infants.

But let no one think that a child or anyone else can learn religion
from a teacher or a book or by any academic process whatever. It is
only by an unfettered access to the whole body of Fine Art: that is,
to the whole body of inspired revelation, that we can build up that
conception of divinity to which all virtue is an aspiration. And to
hope to find this body of art purified from all that is obsolete or
dangerous or fierce or lusty, or to pick and choose what will be good
for any particular child, much less for all children, is the
shallowest of vanities. Such schoolmasterly selection is neither
possible nor desirable. Ignorance of evil is not virtue but
imbecility: admiring it is like giving a prize for honesty to a man
who has not stolen your watch because he did not know you had one.
Virtue chooses good from evil; and without knowledge there can be no
choice. And even this is a dangerous simplification of what actually
occurs. We are not choosing: we are growing. Were you to cut all of
what you call the evil out of a child, it would drop dead. If you try
to stretch it to full human stature when it is ten years old, you will
simply pull it into two pieces and be hanged. And when you try to do
this morally, which is what parents and schoolmasters are doing every
day, you ought to be hanged; and some day, when we take a sensible
view of the matter, you will be; and serve you right. The child does
not stand between a good and a bad angel: what it has to deal with is
a middling angel who, in normal healthy cases, wants to be a good
angel as fast as it can without killing itself in the process, which
is a dangerous one.

Therefore there is no question of providing the child with a carefully
regulated access to good art. There is no good art, any more than
there is good anything else in the absolute sense. Art that is too
good for the child will either teach it nothing or drive it mad, as
the Bible has driven many people mad who might have kept their sanity
had they been allowed to read much lower forms of literature. The
practical moral is that we must read whatever stories, see whatever
pictures, hear whatever songs and symphonies, go to whatever plays we
like. We shall not like those which have nothing to say to us; and
though everyone has a right to bias our choice, no one has a right to
deprive us of it by keeping us from any work of art or any work of art
from us.

I may now say without danger of being misunderstood that the popular
English compromise called Cowper Templeism (unsectarian Bible
education) is not so silly as it looks. It is true that the Bible
inculcates half a dozen religions: some of them barbarous; some
cynical and pessimistic; some amoristic and romantic; some sceptical
and challenging; some kindly, simple, and intuitional; some
sophistical and intellectual; none suited to the character and
conditions of western civilization unless it be the Christianity which
was finally suppressed by the Crucifixion, and has never been put into
practice by any State before or since. But the Bible contains the
ancient literature of a very remarkable Oriental race; and the
imposition of this literature, on whatever false pretences, on our
children left them more literate than if they knew no literature at
all, which was the practical alternative. And as our Authorized
Version is a great work of art as well, to know it was better than
knowing no art, which also was the practical alternative. It is at
least not a school book; and it is not a bad story book, horrible as
some of the stories are. Therefore as between the Bible and the blank
represented by secular education, the choice is with the Bible.

The Bible

But the Bible is not sufficient. The real Bible of modern Europe is
the whole body of great literature in which the inspiration and
revelation of Hebrew Scripture has been continued to the present day.
Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zoroaster is less comforting to the ill and
unhappy than the Psalms; but it is much truer, subtler, and more
edifying. The pleasure we get from the rhetoric of the book of Job
and its tragic picture of a bewildered soul cannot disguise the
ignoble irrelevance of the retort of God with which it closes, or
supply the need of such modern revelations as Shelley's Prometheus or
The Niblung's Ring of Richard Wagner. There is nothing in the Bible
greater in inspiration than Beethoven's ninth symphony; and the power
of modern music to convey that inspiration to a modern man is far
greater than that of Elizabethan English, which is, except for people
steeped in the Bible from childhood like Sir Walter Scott and Ruskin,
a dead language.

Besides, many who have no ear for literature or for music are
accessible to architecture, to pictures, to statues, to dresses, and
to the arts of the stage. Every device of art should be brought to
bear on the young; so that they may discover some form of it that
delights them naturally; for there will come to all of them that
period between dawning adolescence and full maturity when the
pleasures and emotions of art will have to satisfy cravings which, if
starved or insulted, may become morbid and seek disgraceful
satisfactions, and, if prematurely gratified otherwise than
poetically, may destroy the stamina of the race. And it must be borne
in mind that the most dangerous art for this necessary purpose is the
art that presents itself as religious ecstasy. Young people are ripe
for love long before they are ripe for religion. Only a very foolish
person would substitute the Imitation of Christ for Treasure Island as
a present for a boy or girl, or for Byron's Don Juan as a present for
a swain or lass. Pickwick is the safest saint for us in our nonage.
Flaubert's Temptation of St Anthony is an excellent book for a man of
fifty, perhaps the best within reach as a healthy study of visionary
ecstasy; but for the purposes of a boy of fifteen Ivanhoe and the
Templar make a much better saint and devil. And the boy of fifteen
will find this out for himself if he is allowed to wander in a
well-stocked literary garden, and hear bands and see pictures and
spend his pennies on cinematograph shows. His choice may often be
rather disgusting to his elders when they want him to choose the best
before he is ready for it. The greatest Protestant Manifesto ever
written, as far as I know, is Houston Chamberlain's Foundations of the
Nineteenth Century: everybody capable of it should read it. Probably
the History of Maria Monk is at the opposite extreme of merit (this is
a guess: I have never read it); but it is certain that a boy let
loose in a library would go for Maria Monk and have no use whatever
for Mr Chamberlain. I should probably have read Maria Monk myself if
I had not had the Arabian Nights and their like to occupy me better.
In art, children, like adults, will find their level if they are left
free to find it, and not restricted to what adults think good for
them. Just at present our young people are going mad over ragtimes,
apparently because syncopated rhythms are new to them. If they had
learnt what can be done with syncopation from Beethoven's third
Leonora overture, they would enjoy the ragtimes all the more; but they
would put them in their proper place as amusing vulgarities.

Artist Idolatry

But there are more dangerous influences than ragtimes waiting for
people brought up in ignorance of fine art. Nothing is more pitiably
ridiculous than the wild worship of artists by those who have never
been seasoned in youth to the enchantments of art. Tenors and prima
donnas, pianists and violinists, actors and actresses enjoy powers of
seduction which in the middle ages would have exposed them to the risk
of being burnt for sorcery. But as they exercise this power by
singing, playing, and acting, no great harm is done except perhaps to
themselves. Far graver are the powers enjoyed by brilliant persons
who are also connoisseurs in art. The influence they can exercise on
young people who have been brought up in the darkness and wretchedness
of a home without art, and in whom a natural bent towards art has
always been baffled and snubbed, is incredible to those who have not
witnessed and understood it. He (or she) who reveals the world of art
to them opens heaven to them. They become satellites, disciples,
worshippers of the apostle. Now the apostle may be a voluptuary
without much conscience. Nature may have given him enough virtue to
suffice in a reasonable environment. But this allowance may not be
enough to defend him against the temptation and demoralization of
finding himself a little god on the strength of what ought to be a
quite ordinary culture. He may find adorers in all directions in our
uncultivated society among people of stronger character than himself,
not one of whom, if they had been artistically educated, would have
had anything to learn from him or regarded him as in any way
extraordinary apart from his actual achievements as an artist.
Tartuffe is not always a priest. Indeed he is not always a rascal:
he is often a weak man absurdly credited with omniscience and
perfection, and taking unfair advantages only because they are offered
to him and he is too weak to refuse. Give everyone his culture, and
no one will offer him more than his due.

In thus delivering our children from the idolatry of the artist, we
shall not destroy for them the enchantment of art: on the contrary,
we shall teach them to demand art everywhere as a condition attainable
by cultivating the body, mind, and heart. Art, said Morris, is the
expression of pleasure in work. And certainly, when work is made
detestable by slavery, there is no art. It is only when learning is
made a slavery by tyrannical teachers that art becomes loathsome to
the pupil.

"The Machine"

When we set to work at a Constitution to secure freedom for children,
we had better bear in mind that the children may not be at all obliged
to us for our pains. Rousseau said that men are born free; and this
saying, in its proper bearings, was and is a great and true saying;
yet let it not lead us into the error of supposing that all men long
for freedom and embrace it when it is offered to them. On the
contrary, it has to be forced on them; and even then they will give it
the slip if it is not religiously inculcated and strongly safeguarded.

Besides, men are born docile, and must in the nature of things remain
so with regard to everything they do not understand. Now political
science and the art of govemment are among the things they do not
understand, and indeed are not at present allowed to understand. They
can be enslaved by a system, as we are at present, because it happens
to be there, and nobody understands it. An intelligently worked
Capitalist system, as Comte saw, would give us all that most of us are
intelligent enough to want. What makes it produce such unspeakably
vile results is that it is an automatic system which is as little
understood by those who profit by it in money as by those who are
starved and degraded by it: our millionaires and statesmen are
manifestly no more "captains of industry" or scientific politicians
than our bookmakers are mathematicians. For some time past a
significant word has been coming into use as a substitute for Destiny,
Fate, and Providence. It is "The Machine": the machine that has no
god in it. Why do governments do nothing in spite of reports of Royal
Commissions that establish the most frightful urgency? Why do our
philanthropic millionaires do nothing, though they are ready to throw
bucketfuls of gold into the streets? The Machine will not let them.
Always the Machine. In short, they dont know how.

They try to reform Society as an old lady might try to restore a
broken down locomotive by prodding it with a knitting needle. And
this is not at all because they are born fools, but because they have
been educated, not into manhood and freedom, but into blindness and
slavery by their parents and schoolmasters, themselves the victims of
a similar misdirection, and consequently of The Machine. They do not
want liberty. They have not been educated to want it. They choose
slavery and inequality; and all the other evils are automatically
added to them.

And yet we must have The Machine. It is only in unskilled hands under
ignorant direction that machinery is dangerous. We can no more govern
modern communities without political machinery than we can feed and
clothe them without industrial machinery. Shatter The Machine, and
you get Anarchy. And yet The Machine works so detestably at present
that we have people who advocate Anarchy and call themselves

The Provocation to Anarchism

What is valid in Anarchism is that all Governments try to simplify
their task by destroying liberty and glorifying authority in general
and their own deeds in particular. But the difficulty in combining
law and order with free institutions is not a natural one. It is a
matter of inculcation. If people are brought up to be slaves, it is
useless and dangerous to let them loose at the age of twenty-one and
say "Now you are free." No one with the tamed soul and broken spirit
of a slave can be free. It is like saying to a laborer brought up on
a family income of thirteen shillings a week, "Here is one hundred
thousand pounds: now you are wealthy." Nothing can make such a man
really wealthy. Freedom and wealth are difficult and responsible
conditions to which men must be accustomed and socially trained from
birth. A nation that is free at twenty-one is not free at all; just
as a man first enriched at fifty remains poor all his life, even if he
does not curtail it by drinking himself to death in the first wild
ecstasy of being able to swallow as much as he likes for the first
time. You cannot govern men brought up as slaves otherwise than as
slaves are governed. You may pile Bills of Right and Habeas Corpus
Acts on Great Charters; promulgate American Constitutions; burn the
chateaux and guillotine the seigneurs; chop off the heads of kings and
queens and set up Democracy on the ruins of feudalism: the end of it
all for us is that already in the twentieth century there has been as
much brute coercion and savage intolerance, as much flogging and
hanging, as much impudent injustice on the bench and lustful rancor in
the pulpit, as much naive resort to torture, persecution, and
suppression of free speech and freedom of the press, as much war, as
much of the vilest excess of mutilation, rapine, and delirious
indiscriminate slaughter of helpless non-combatants, old and young, as
much prostitution of professional talent, literary and political, in
defence of manifest wrong, as much cowardly sycophancy giving fine
names to all this villainy or pretending that it is "greatly
exaggerated," as we can find any record of from the days when the
advocacy of liberty was a capital offence and Democracy was hardly
thinkable. Democracy exhibits the vanity of Louis XIV, the savagery
of Peter of Russia, the nepotism and provinciality of Napoleon, the
fickleness of Catherine II: in short, all the childishnesses of all
the despots without any of the qualities that enabled the greatest of
them to fascinate and dominate their contemporaries.

And the flatterers of Democracy are as impudently servile to the
successful, and insolent to common honest folk, as the flatterers of
the monarchs. Democracy in America has led to the withdrawal of
ordinary refined persons from politics; and the same result is coming
in England as fast as we make Democracy as democratic as it is in
America. This is true also of popular religion: it is so horribly
irreligious that nobody with the smallest pretence to culture, or the
least inkling of what the great prophets vainly tried to make the
world understand, will have anything to do with it except for purely
secular reasons.


Before we can clearly understand how baleful is this condition of
intimidation in which we live, it is necessary to clear up the
confusion made by our use of the word imagination to denote two very
different powers of mind. One is the power to imagine things as they
are not: this I call the romantic imagination. The other is the
power to imagine things as they are without actually sensing them; and
this I will call the realistic imagination. Take for example marriage
and war. One man has a vision of perpetual bliss with a domestic
angel at home, and of flashing sabres, thundering guns, victorious
cavalry charges, and routed enemies in the field. That is romantic
imagination; and the mischief it does is incalculable. It begins in
silly and selfish expectations of the impossible, and ends in spiteful
disappointment, sour grievance, cynicism, and misanthropic resistance
to any attempt to better a hopeless world. The wise man knows that
imagination is not only a means of pleasing himself and beguiling
tedious hours with romances and fairy tales and fools' paradises (a
quite defensible and delightful amusement when you know exactly what
you are doing and where fancy ends and facts begin), but also a means
of foreseeing and being prepared for realities as yet unexperienced,
and of testing the possibility and desirability of serious Utopias.
He does not expect his wife to be an angel; nor does he overlook the
facts that war depends on the rousing of all the murderous
blackguardism still latent in mankind; that every victory means a
defeat; that fatigue, hunger, terror, and disease are the raw material
which romancers work up into military glory; and that soldiers for the
most part go to war as children go to school, because they are afraid
not to. They are afraid even to say they are afraid, as such candor
is punishable by death in the military code.

A very little realistic imagination gives an ambitious person enormous
power over the multitudinous victims of the romantic imagination. For
the romancer not only pleases himself with fictitious glories: he
also terrifies himself with imaginary dangers. He does not even
picture what these dangers are: he conceives the unknown as always
dangerous. When you say to a realist "You must do this" or "You must
not do that," he instantly asks what will happen to him if he does (or
does not, as the case may be). Failing an unromantic convincing
answer, he does just as he pleases unless he can find for himself a
real reason for refraining. In short, though you can intimidate him,
you cannot bluff him. But you can always bluff the romantic person:
indeed his grasp of real considerations is so feeble that you find it
necessary to bluff him even when you have solid considerations to
offer him instead. The campaigns of Napoleon, with their atmosphere
of glory, illustrate this. In the Russian campaign Napoleon's
marshals achieved miracles of bluff, especially Ney, who, with a
handful of men, monstrously outnumbered, repeatedly kept the Russian
troops paralyzed with terror by pure bounce. Napoleon himself, much
more a realist than Ney (that was why he dominated him), would
probably have surrendered; for sometimes the bravest of the brave will
achieve successes never attempted by the cleverest of the clever.
Wellington was a completer realist than Napoleon. It was impossible
to persuade Wellington that he was beaten until he actually was
beaten. He was unbluffable; and if Napoleon had understood the nature
of Wellington's strength instead of returning Wellington's snobbish
contempt for him by an academic contempt for Wellington, he would not
have left the attack at Waterloo to Ney and D'Erlon, who, on that
field, did not know when they were beaten, whereas Wellington knew
precisely when he was not beaten. The unbluffable would have
triumphed anyhow, probably, because Napoleon was an academic soldier,
doing the academic thing (the attack in columns and so forth) with
superlative ability and energy; whilst Wellington was an original
soldier who, instead of outdoing the terrible academic columns with
still more terrible and academic columns, outwitted them with the thin
red line, not of heroes, but, as this uncompromising realist never
hesitated to testify, of the scum of the earth.

Government by Bullies

These picturesque martial incidents are being reproduced every day in
our ordinary life. We are bluffed by hardy simpletons and headstrong
bounders as the Russians were bluffed by Ney; and our Wellingtons are
threadbound by slave-democracy as Gulliver was threadbound by the
Lilliputians. We are a mass of people living in a submissive routine
to which we have been drilled from our childhood. When you ask us to
take the simplest step outside that routine, we say shyly, "Oh, I
really couldnt," or "Oh, I shouldnt like to," without being able to
point out the smallest harm that could possibly ensue: victims, not
of a rational fear of real dangers, but of pure abstract fear, the
quintessence of cowardice, the very negation of "the fear of God."
Dotted about among us are a few spirits relatively free from this
inculcated paralysis, sometimes because they are half-witted,
sometimes because they are unscrupulously selfish, sometimes because
they are realists as to money and unimaginative as to other things,
sometimes even because they are exceptionally able, but always because
they are not afraid of shadows nor oppressed with nightmares. And we
see these few rising as if by magic into power and affluence, and
forming, with the millionaires who have accidentally gained huge
riches by the occasional windfalls of our commerce, the governing
class. Now nothing is more disastrous than a governing class that
does not know how to govern. And how can this rabble of the casual
products of luck, cunning, and folly, be expected to know how to
govern? The merely lucky ones and the hereditary ones do not owe
their position to their qualifications at all. As to the rest, the
realism which seems their essential qualification often consists not
only in a lack of romantic imagination, which lack is a merit, but of
the realistic, constructive, Utopian imagination, which lack is a
ghastly defect. Freedom from imaginative illusion is therefore no
guarantee whatever of nobility of character: that is why inculcated
submissiveness makes us slaves to people much worse than ourselves,
and why it is so important that submissiveness should no longer be

And yet as long as you have the compulsory school as we know it, we
shall have submissiveness inculcated. What is more, until the active
hours of child life are organized separately from the active hours of
adult life, so that adults can enjoy the society of children in reason
without being tormented, disturbed, harried, burdened, and hindered in
their work by them as they would be now if there were no compulsory
schools and no children hypnotized into the belief that they must
tamely go to them and be imprisoned and beaten and over-tasked in
them, we shall have schools under one pretext or another; and we shall
have all the evil consequences and all the social hopelessness that
result from turning a nation of potential freemen and freewomen into a
nation of two-legged spoilt spaniels with everything crushed out of
their nature except dread of the whip. Liberty is the breath of life
to nations; and liberty is the one thing that parents, schoolmasters,
and rulers spend their lives in extirpating for the sake of an
immediately quiet and finally disastrous life.

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