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Utopia of Usurers and other Essays by G. K. Chesterton

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should be obeyed whatever our private feelings; and that it is an
established custom to accept a brief in such a case. But then it is a
somewhat more established custom to obey an Act of Parliament and to keep
the peace. It may be argued that extreme misgovernment justifies men in
Ulster or elsewhere in refusing to obey the law. But then it would
justify them even more in refusing to appear professionally in a law court.
Etiquette cannot be at once so unimportant that Carson may shoot at the
King's uniform, and yet so important that he must always be ready to put
on his own. The Government cannot be so disreputable that Carson need not
lay down his gun, and yet so respectable that he is bound to put on his
wig. Carson cannot at once be so fierce that he can kill in what he
considers a good cause, and yet so meek that he must argue in what he
considers a bad cause. Obedience or disobedience, conventional or
unconventional, a solicitor's letter cannot be more sacred than the King's
writ; a blue bag cannot be more rational than the British flag. The thing
is rubbish read anyway, and the only difficulty is to get a joke good
enough to express it. It is a case for the Court Jester. The phantasy
of it could only be expressed by some huge ceremonial hoax. Carson ought
to be crowned with the shamrocks and emeralds and followed by green-clad
minstrels of the Clan-na-Gael, playing "The Wearing of the Green."

Belated Chattiness by Wireless

But all the recent events are like that. They are practical jokes. The
jokes do not need to be made: they only need to be pointed out. You and
I do not talk and act as the Isaacs brothers talked and acted, by their
own most favourable account of themselves; and even their account of
themselves was by no means favourable. You and I do not talk of meeting
our own born brother "at a family function" as if he were some infinitely
distant cousin whom we only met at Christmas. You and I, when we suddenly
feel inclined for a chat with the same brother about his dinner and the
Coal Strike, do not generally select either wireless telegraphy or the
Atlantic Cable as the most obvious and economical channel for that
outburst of belated chattiness. You and I do not talk, if it is proposed
to start a railway between Catsville and Dogtown, as if the putting up of
a station at Dogtown could have no kind of economic effect on the putting
up of a station at Catsville. You and I do not think it candid to say
that when we are at one end of a telephone we have no sort of connection
with the other end. These things have got into the region of farce; and
should be dealt with farcically, not even ferociously.

A Fool Who Shall Be Free

In the Roman Republic there was a Tribune of the People, whose person was
inviolable like an ambassador's. There was much the same idea in Becket's
attempt to remove the Priest, who was then the popular champion, from the
ordinary courts. We shall have no Tribune; for we have no republic. We
shall have no Priest; for we have no religion. The best we deserve or can
expect is a Fool who shall be free; and who shall deliver us with laughter.


Missing the point is a very fine art; and has been carried to something
like perfection by politicians and Pressmen to-day. For the point is
generally a very sharp point; and is, moreover, sharp at both ends. That
is to say that both parties would probably impale themselves in an
uncomfortable manner if they did not manage to avoid it altogether. I
have just been looking at the election address of the official Liberal
candidate for the part of the country in which I live; and though it is,
if anything, rather more logical and free from cant than most other
documents of the sort it is an excellent example of missing the point.
The candidate has to go boring on about Free Trade and Land Reform and
Education; and nobody reading it could possibly imagine that in the town
of Wycombe, where the poll will be declared, the capital of the Wycombe
division of Bucks which the candidate is contesting, centre of the
important and vital trade on which it has thriven, a savage struggle about
justice has been raging for months past between the poor and rich, as real
as the French Revolution. The man offering himself at Wycombe as
representative of the Wycombe division simply says nothing about it at all.
It is as if a man at the crisis of the French Terror had offered himself
as a deputy for the town of Paris, and had said nothing about the Monarchy,
nothing about the Republic, nothing about the massacres, nothing about
the war; but had explained with great clearness his views on the
suppression of the Jansenists, the literary style of Racine, the
suitability of Turenae for the post of commander-in-chief, and the
religious reflections of Madame de Maintenon. For, at their best, the
candidate's topics are not topical. Home Rule is a very good thing, and
modern education is a very bad thing; but neither of them are things that
anybody is talking about in High Wycombe. This is the first and simplest
way of missing the point: deliberately to avoid and ignore it.

The Candid Candidate

It would be an amusing experiment, by the way, to go to the point instead
of avoiding it. What fun it would be to stand as a strict Party
candidate, but issue a perfectly frank and cynical Election Address. Mr.
Mosley's address begins, "Gentlemen,--Sir Alfred Cripps having been chosen
for a high judicial position and a seat in the House of Lords, a
by-election now becomes necessary, and the electors of South Bucks are
charged with the responsible duty of electing, etc., etc." But suppose
there were another candidate whose election address opened in a plain,
manly style, like this: "Gentlemen,--In the sincere hope of being myself
chosen for a high judicial position or a seat in the House of Lords, or
considerably increasing my private fortune by some Government appointment,
or, at least, inside information about the financial prospects, I have
decided that it is worth my while to disburse large sums of money to you
on various pretexts, and, with even more reluctance to endure the bad
speaking and bad ventilation of the Commons' House of Parliament, so help
me God. I have very pronounced convictions on various political questions;
but I will not trouble my fellow-citizens with them, since I have quite
made up my mind to abandon any or all of them if requested to do so by the
upper classes. The electors are therefore charged with the entirely
irresponsible duty of electing a Member; or, in other words, I ask my
neighbours round about this part, who know I am not a bad chap in many
ways, to do me a good turn in my business, just as I might ask them to
change a sovereign. My election will have no conceivable kind of effect
on anything or anybody except myself; so I ask, as man to man, the
Electors of the Southern or Wycombe Division of the County of Buckingham
to accept a ride in one of my motor-cars; and poll early to please a
pal--God Save the King." I do not know whether you or I would be elected
if we presented ourselves with an election address of that kind; but we
should have had our fun and (comparatively speaking) saved our souls; and
I have a strong suspicion that we should be elected or rejected on a
mechanical majority like anybody else; nobody having dreamed of reading an
election address any more than an advertisement of a hair restorer.

Tyranny and Head-Dress

But there is another and more subtle way in which we may miss the point;
and that is, not by keeping a dead silence about it, but by being just
witty enough to state it wrong. Thus, some of the Liberal official papers
have almost screwed up their courage to the sticking-point about the
bestial coup d'etat in South Africa. They have screwed up their courage
to the sticking-point; and it has stuck. It cannot get any further;
because it has missed the main point. The modern Liberals make their
feeble attempts to attack the introduction of slavery into South Africa by
the Dutch and the Jews, by a very typical evasion of the vital fact. The
vital fact is simply slavery. Most of these Dutchmen have always felt
like slave-owners. Most of these Jews have always felt like slaves. Now
that they are on top, they have a particular and curious kind of impudence,
which is only known among slaves. But the Liberal journalists will do
their best to suggest that the South African wrong consisted in what they
call Martial Law. That is, that there is something specially wicked about
men doing an act of cruelty in khaki or in vermilion, but not if it is
done in dark blue with pewter buttons. The tyrant who wears a busby or a
forage cap is abominable; the tyrant who wears a horsehair wig is
excusable. To be judged by soldiers is hell; but to be judged by lawyers
is paradise.

Now the point must not be missed in this way. What is wrong with the
tyranny in Africa is not that it is run by soldiers. It would be quite as
bad, or worse, if it were run by policemen. What is wrong is that, for
the first time since Pagan times, private men are being forced to work for
a private man. Men are being punished by imprisonment or exile for
refusing to accept a job. The fact that Botha can ride on a horse, or
fire off a gun, makes him better rather than worse than any man like
Sidney Webb or Philip Snowden, who attempt the same slavery by much less
manly methods. The Liberal Party will try to divert the whole discussion
to one about what they call militarism. But the very terms of modern
politics contradict it. For when we talk of real rebels against the
present system we call them Militants. And there will be none in the
Servile State.


I read the other day, in a quotation from a German newspaper, the highly
characteristic remark that Germany having annexed Belgium would soon
re-establish its commerce and prosperity, and that, in particular,
arrangements were already being made for introducing into the new province
the German laws for the protection of workmen.

I am quite content with that paragraph for the purpose of any controversy
about what is called German atrocity. If men I know had not told me they
had themselves seen the bayoneting of a baby; if the most respectable
refugees did not bring with them stories of burning cottages--yes, and of
burning cottagers as well; if doctors did not report what they do report
of the condition of girls in the hospitals; if there were no facts; if
there were no photographs, that one phrase I have quoted would be quite
sufficient to satisfy me that the Prussians are tyrants; tyrants in a
peculiar and almost insane sense which makes them pre-eminent among the
evil princes of the earth. The first and most striking feature is a
stupidity that rises into a sort of ghastly innocence. The protection of
workmen! Some workmen, perhaps, might have a fancy for being protected
from shrapnel; some might be glad to put up an umbrella that would ward
off things dropping from the gentle Zeppelin in heaven upon the place
beneath. Some of these discontented proletarians have taken the same view
as Vandervelde their leader, and are now energetically engaged in
protecting themselves along the line of the Yser; I am glad to say not
altogether without success. It is probable that nearly all of the Belgian
workers would, on the whole, prefer to be protected against bombs, sabres,
burning cities, starvation, torture, and the treason of wicked kings. In
short, it is probable--it is at least possible, impious as is the
idea--that they would prefer to be protected against Germans and all they
represent. But if a Belgian workman is told that he is not to be
protected against Germans, but actually to be protected by Germans, I
think he may be excused for staring. His first impulse, I imagine, will
be to ask, "Against whom? Are there any worse people to come along?"

But apart from the hellish irony of this humanitarian idea, the question
it raises is really one of solid importance for people whose politics are
more or less like ours. There is a very urgent point in that question,
"Against whom would the Belgian workmen be protected by the German laws?"
And if we pursue it, we shall be enabled to analyse something of that
poison--very largely a Prussian poison--which has long been working in our
own commonwealth, to the enslavement of the weak and the secret
strengthening of the strong. For the Prussian armies are, pre-eminently,
the advance guard of the Servile State. I say this scientifically, and
quite apart from passion or even from preference. I have no illusions
about either Belgium or England. Both have been stained with the soot of
Capitalism and blinded with the smoke of mere Colonial ambition; both have
been caught at a disadvantage in such modern dirt and disorder; both have
come out much better than I should have expected countries so modern and so
industrial to do. But in England and Belgium there is Capitalism mixed up
with a great many other things, strong things and things that pursue other
aims; Clericalism, for instance, and militant Socialism in Belgium; Trades
Unionism and sport and the remains of real aristocracy in England. But
Prussia is Capitalism; that is, a gradually solidifying slavery; and that
majestic unity with which she moves, dragging all the dumb Germanies after
her, is due to the fact that her Servile State is complete, while ours is
incomplete. There are not mutinies; there are not even mockeries; the
voice of national self-criticism has been extinguished forever. For this
people is already permanently cloven into a higher and a lower class: in
its industry as much as its army. Its employers are, in the strictest and
most sinister sense, captains of industry. Its proletariat is, in the
truest and most pitiable sense, an army of labour. In that atmosphere
masters bear upon them the signs that they are more than men; and to
insult an officer is death.

If anyone ask how this extreme and unmistakable subordination of the
employed to the employers is brought about, we all know the answer. It is
brought about by hunger and hardness of heart, accelerated by a certain
kind of legislation, of which we have had a good deal lately in England,
but which was almost invariably borrowed from Prussia. Mr. Herbert
Samuel's suggestion that the poor should be able to put their money in
little boxes and not be able to get it out again is a sort of standing
symbol of all the rest. I have forgotten how the poor were going to
benefit eventually by what is for them indistinguishable from dropping
sixpence down a drain. Perhaps they were going to get it back some day;
perhaps when they could produce a hundred coupons out of the Daily Citizen;
perhaps when they got their hair cut; perhaps when they consented to be
inoculated, or trepanned, or circumcised, or something. Germany is full
of this sort of legislation; and if you asked an innocent German, who
honestly believed in it, what it was, he would answer that it was for the
protection of workmen.

And if you asked again "Their protection from what?" you would have the
whole plan and problem of the Servile State plain in front of you.
Whatever notion there is, there is no notion whatever of protecting the
employed person _from his employer_. Much less is there any idea of his
ever being anywhere except under an employer. Whatever the Capitalist
wants he gets. He may have the sense to want washed and well-fed
labourers rather than dirty and feeble ones, and the restrictions may
happen to exist in the form of laws from the Kaiser or by-laws from the
Krupps. But the Kaiser will not offend the Krupps, and the Krupps will
not offend the Kaiser. Laws of this kind, then, do not attempt to protect
workmen against the injustice of the Capitalist as the English Trade
Unions did. They do not attempt to protect workmen against the injustice
of the State as the mediaeval guilds did. Obviously they cannot protect
workmen against the foreign invader--especially when (as in the comic case
of Belgium) they are imposed by the foreign invader. What then are such
laws designed to protect workmen against? Tigers, rattlesnakes, hyenas?

Oh, my young friends; oh, my Christian brethren, they are designed to
protect this poor person from something which to those of established rank
is more horrid than many hyenas. They are designed, my friends, to
protect a man from himself--from something that the masters of the earth
fear more than famine or war, and which Prussia especially fears as
everything fears that which would certainly be its end. They are meant to
protect a man against himself--that is, they are meant to protect a man
against his manhood.

And if anyone reminds me that there is a Socialist Party in Germany, I
reply that there isn't.


That anarchic future which the more timid Tories professed to fear has
already fallen upon us. We are ruled by ignorant people. But the most
ignorant people in modern Britain are to be found in the upper class, the
middle class, and especially the upper middle class. I do not say it
with the smallest petulance or even distaste; these classes are often
really beneficent in their breeding or their hospitality, or their
humanity to animals.

There is still no better company than the young at the two Universities,
or the best of the old in the Army or some of the other services. Also,
of course, there are exceptions in the matter of learning; real scholars
like Professor Gilbert Murray or Professor Phillimore are not ignorant,
though they _are_ gentlemen. But when one looks up at any mass of the
wealthier and more powerful classes, at the Grand Stand at Epsom, at the
windows of Park-lane, at the people at a full-dress debate or a
fashionable wedding, we shall be safe in saying that they are, for the
most part, the most ill-taught, or untaught, creatures in these islands.

Literally Illiterate

It is indeed their feeble boast that they are not literally illiterate.
They are always saying the ancient barons could not sign their own
names--for they know less of history perhaps than of anything else. The
modern barons, however, can sign their own names--or someone else's for a
change. They can sign their own names; and that is about all they can do.
They cannot face a fact, or follow an argument, or feel a tradition; but,
least of all, can they, upon any persuasion, read through a plain
impartial book, English or foreign, that is not specially written to
soothe their panic or to please their pride. Looking up at these seats of
the mighty I can only say, with something of despair, what Robert Lowe
said of the enfranchised workmen: "We must educate our masters."

I do not mean this as paradoxical, or even as symbolical; it is simply
tame and true. The modern English rich know nothing about things, not
even about the things to which they appeal. Compared with them, the poor
are pretty sure to get some enlightenment, even if they cannot get liberty;
they must at least be technical. An old apprentice learnt a trade, even
if his master came like any Turk and banged him most severely. The old
housewife knew which side her bread was buttered, even if it were so thin
as to be almost imperceptible. The old sailor knew the ropes; even if he
knew the rope's end. Consequently, when any of these revolted, they were
concerned with things they knew, pains, practical impossibilities, or the
personal record.

But They Know

The apprentice cried "Clubs?" and cracked his neighbours' heads with the
precision and fineness of touch which only manual craftsmanship can give.
The housewives who flatly refused to cook the hot dinner knew how much or
how little, cold meat there was in the house. The sailor who defied
discipline by mutinying at the Nore did not defy discipline in the sense
of falling off the rigging or letting the water into the hold. Similarly
the modern proletariat, however little it may know, knows what it is
talking about.

But the curious thing about the educated class is that exactly what it
does not know is what it is talking about. I mean that it is startlingly
ignorant of those special things which it is supposed to invoke and keep
inviolate. The things that workmen invoke may be uglier, more acrid, more
sordid; but they know all about them. They know enough arithmetic to know
that prices have risen; the kind Levantine gentleman is always there to
make them fully understand the meaning of an interest sum; and the
landlord will define Rent as rigidly as Ricardo. The doctors can always
tell them the Latin for an empty stomach; and when the poor man is treated
for the time with some human respect (by the Coronet) it almost seems a
pity he is not alive to hear how legally he died.

Against this bitter shrewdness and bleak realism in the suffering classes
it is commonly supposed that the more leisured classes stand for certain
legitimate ideas which also have their place in life; such as history,
reverence, the love of the land. Well, it might be no bad thing to have
something, even if it were something narrow, that testified to the truths
of religion or patriotism. But such narrow things in the past have always
at least known their own history; the bigot knew his catechism; the
patriot knew his way home. The astonishing thing about the modern rich is
their real and sincere ignorance--especially of the things they like.


Take the most topical case you can find in any drawing-room: Belfast.
Ulster is most assuredly a matter of history; and there is a sense in
which Orange resistance is a matter of religion. But go and ask any of
the five hundred fluttering ladies at a garden party (who find Carson so
splendid and Belfast so thrilling) what it is all about, when it began,
where it came from, what it really maintains? What was the history of
Ulster? What is the religion of Belfast? Do any of them know where
Ulstermen were in Grattan's time; do any of them know what was the
"Protestantism" that came from Scotland to that isle; could any of them
tell what part of the old Catholic system it really denied?

It was generally something that the fluttering ladies find in their own
Anglican churches every Sunday. It were vain to ask them to state the
doctrines of the Calvinist creed; they could not state the doctrines of
their own creed. It were vain to tell them to read the history of
Ireland; they have never read the history of England. It would matter as
little that they do not know these things, as that I do not know German;
but then German is not the only thing I am supposed to know. History and
ritual are the only things aristocrats are supposed to know; and they
don't know them.

Smile and Smile

I am not fed on turtle soup and Tokay because of my exquisite intimacy
with the style and idiom of Heine and Richter. The English governing
class is fed on turtle soup and Tokay to represent the past, of which it
is literally ignorant, as I am of German irregular verbs; and to represent
the religious traditions of the State, when it does not know three words
of theology, as I do not know three words of German.

This is the last insult offered by the proud to the humble. They rule
them by the smiling terror of an ancient secret. They smile and smile;
but they have forgotten the secret.


The curious position of the Krupp firm in the awful story developing
around us is not quite sufficiently grasped. There is a kind of academic
clarity of definition which does not see the proportions of things for
which everything falls within a definition, and nothing ever breaks beyond
it. To this type of mind (which is valuable when set to its special and
narrow work) there is no such thing as an exception that proves the rule.
If I vote for confiscating some usurer's millions I am doing, they say,
precisely what I should be doing if I took pennies out of a blind man's
hat. They are both denials of the principle of private property, and are
equally right and equally wrong, according to our view of that principle.
I should find a great many distinctions to draw in such a matter. First,
I should say that taking a usurer's money by proper authority is not
robbery, but recovery of stolen goods. Second, I should say that even if
there were no such thing as personal property, there would still be such a
thing as personal dignity, and different modes of robbery would diminish
it in very different ways. Similarly, there is a truth, but only a
half-truth, in the saying that all modern Powers alike rely on the
Capitalist and make war on the lines of Capitalism. It is true, and it is
disgraceful. But it is _not_ equally true and equally disgraceful. It is
not true that Montenegro is as much ruled by financiers as Prussia, just
as it is not true that as many men in the Kaiserstrasse, in Berlin, wear
long knives in their belts as wear them in the neighbourhood of the Black
Mountain. It is not true that every peasant from one of the old Russian
communes is the immediate servant of a rich man, as is every employee of
Mr. Rockefeller. It is as false as the statement that no poor people in
America can read or write. There is an element of Capitalism in all
modern countries, as there is an element of illiteracy in all modern
countries. There are some who think that the number of our
fellow-citizens who can sign their names ought to comfort us for the
extreme fewness of those who have anything in the bank to sign it for, but
I am not one of these.

In any case, the position of Krupp has certain interesting aspects. When
we talk of Army contractors as among the base but active actualities of
war, we commonly mean that while the contractor benefits by the war, the
war, on the whole, rather suffers by the contractor. We regard this
unsoldierly middleman with disgust, or great anger, or contemptuous
acquiescence, or commercial dread and silence, according to our personal
position and character. But we nowhere think of him as having anything to
do with fighting in the final sense. Those worthy and wealthy persons who
employ women's labour at a few shillings a week do not do it to obtain the
best clothes for the soldiers, but to make a sufficient profit on the
worst. The only argument is whether such clothes are just good enough for
the soldiers, or are too bad for anybody or anything. We tolerate the
contractor, or we do not tolerate him; but no one admires him especially,
and certainly no one gives him any credit for any success in the war.
Confessedly or unconfessedly we knock his profits, not only off what goes
to the taxpayer, but what goes to the soldier. We know the Army will not
fight any better, at least, because the clothes they wear were stitched by
wretched women who could hardly see; or because their boots were made by
harassed helots, who never had time to think. In war-time it is very
widely confessed that Capitalism is not a good way of ruling a patriotic
or self-respecting people, and all sorts of other things, from strict
State organisation to quite casual personal charity, are hastily
substituted for it. It is recognised that the "great employer," nine
times out of ten, is no more than the schoolboy or the page who pilfers
tarts and sweets from the dishes as they go up and down. How angry one is
with him depends on temperament, on the stage of the dinner--also on the
number of tarts.

Now here comes in the real and sinister significance of Krupps. There are
many capitalists in Europe as rich, as vulgar, as selfish, as rootedly
opposed to any fellowship of the fortunate and unfortunate. But there is
no other capitalist who claims, or can pretend to claim, that he has very
appreciably _helped_ the activities of his people in war. I will suppose
that Lipton did not deserve the very severe criticisms made on his firm by
Mr. Justice Darling; but, however blameless he was, nobody can suppose
that British soldiers would charge better with the bayonet because they
had some particular kind of groceries inside them. But Krupp can make a
plausible claim that the huge infernal machines to which his country owes
nearly all of its successes could only have been produced under the
equally infernal conditions of the modern factory and the urban and
proletarian civilisation. That is why the victory of Germany would be
simply the victory of Krupp, and the victory of Krupp would be simply the
victory of Capitalism. There, and there alone, Capitalism would be able
to point to something done successfully for a whole nation--done (as it
would certainly maintain) better than small free States or natural
democracies could have done it. I confess I think the modern Germans
morally second-rate, and I think that even war, when it is conducted most
successfully by machinery, is second-rate war. But this second-rate war
will become not only the first but the only brand, if the cannon of Krupp
should conquer; and, what is very much worse, it will be the only
intelligent answer that any capitalist has yet given against our case that
Capitalism is as wasteful and as weak as it is certainly wicked. I do not
fear any such finality, for I happen to believe in the kind of men who
fight best with bayonets and whose fathers hammered their own pikes for
the French Revolution.


Among the cloudy and symbolic stories in the beginning of the Bible there
is one about a tower built with such vertical energy as to take a hold on
heaven, but ruined and resulting only in a confusion of tongues. The
story might be interpreted in many ways--religiously, as meaning that
spiritual insolence starts all human separations; irreligiously, as
meaning that the inhuman heavens grudge man his magnificent dream; or
merely satirically as suggesting that all attempts to reach a higher
agreement always end in more disagreement than there was before. It might
be taken by the partially intelligent Kensitite as a judgment on Latin
Christians for talking Latin. It might be taken by the somewhat less
intelligent Professor Harnack as a final proof that all prehistoric
humanity talked German. But when all was said, the symbol would remain
that a plain tower, as straight as a sword, as simple as a lily, did
nevertheless produce the deepest divisions that have been known among men.
In any case we of the world in revolt--Syndicalists, Socialists, Guild
Socialists, or whatever we call ourselves--have no need to worry about the
scripture or the allegory. We have the reality. For whatever reason,
what is said to have happened to the people of Shinak has precisely and
practically happened to us.

None of us who have known Socialists (or rather, to speak more truthfully,
none of us who have been Socialists) can entertain the faintest doubt that
a fine intellectual sincerity lay behind what was called "L'Internationale."
It was really felt that Socialism was universal like arithmetic. It
was too true for idiom or turn of phrase. In the formula of Karl Marx men
could find that frigid fellowship which they find when they agree that two
and two make four. It was almost as broadminded as a religious dogma.

Yet this universal language has not succeeded, at a moment of crisis, in
imposing itself on the whole world. Nay, it has not, at the moment of
crisis, succeeded in imposing itself on its own principal champions.
Herve is not talking Economic Esperanto; he is talking French. Bebel is
not talking Economic Esperanto; he is talking German. Blatchford is not
talking Economic Esperanto; he is talking English, and jolly good English,
too. I do not know whether French or Flemish was Vandervelde's nursery
speech, but I am quite certain he will know more of it after this struggle
than he knew before. In short, whether or no there be a new union of
hearts, there has really and truly been a new division of tongues.

How are we to explain this singular truth, even if we deplore it? I
dismiss with fitting disdain the notion that it is a mere result of
military terrorism or snobbish social pressure. The Socialist leaders of
modern Europe are among the most sincere men in history; and their
Nationalist note in this affair has had the ring of their sincerity. I
will not waste time on the speculation that Vandervelde is bullied by
Belgian priests; or that Blatchford is frightened of the horse-guards
outside Whitehall. These great men support the enthusiasm of their
conventional countrymen because they share it; and they share it because
there is (though perhaps only at certain great moments) such a thing as
pure democracy.

Timour the Tartar, I think, celebrated some victory with a tower built
entirely out of human skulls; perhaps he thought _that_ would reach to
heaven. But there is no cement in such building; the veins and ligaments
that hold humanity together have long fallen away; the skulls will roll
impotently at a touch; and ten thousand more such trophies could only make
the tower taller and crazier. I think the modern official apparatus of
"votes" is very like that tottering monument. I think the Tartar "counted
heads," like an electioneering agent. Sometimes when I have seen from the
platform of some paltry party meeting the rows and rows of grinning
upturned faces, I have felt inclined to say, as the poet does in the "The
Vision of Sin"--"Welcome fellow-citizens, Hollow hearts and empty heads."

Not that the people were personally hollow or empty, but they had come on
a hollow and empty business: to help the good Mr. Binks to strengthen the
Insurance Act against the wicked Mr. Jinks who would only promise to
fortify the Insurance Act. That night it did not blow the democratic gale.
Yet it can blow on these as on others; and when it does blow men learn
many things. I, for one, am not above learning them.

The Marxian dogma which simplifies all conflicts to the Class War is so
much nobler a thing than the nose-counting of the parliaments that one
must apologise for the comparison. And yet there is a comparison. When
we used to say that there were so many thousands of Socialists in Germany,
we were counting by skulls. When we said that the majority consisting of
Proletarians would be everywhere opposed to the minority, consisting of
Capitalists, we were counting by skulls. Why, yes; if all men's heads
had been cut off from the rest of them, as they were by the good sense and
foresight of Timour the Tartar; if they had no hearts or bellies to be
moved; no hand that flies up to ward off a weapon, no foot that can feel a
familiar soil--if things were so the Marxian calculation would be not only
complete but correct. As we know to-day, the Marxian calculation is
complete, but it is not correct.

Now, this is the answer to the questions of some kind critics, whose
actual words I have not within reach at the moment, about whether my
democracy meant the rule of the majority over the minority. It means the
rule of the rule--the rule of the rule over the exception. When a nation
finds a soul it clothes it with a body, and does verily act like one
living thing. There is nothing to be said about those who are out of it,
except that they are out of it. After talking about it in the abstract
for decades, this is Democracy, and it is marvellous in our eyes. It is
not the difference between ninetynine persons and a hundred persons; it is
one person--the people. I do not know or care how many or how few of the
Belgians like or dislike the pictures of Wiertz. They could not be either
justified or condemned by a mere majority of Belgians. But I am very
certain that the defiance to Prussia did not come from a majority of
Belgians. It came from Belgium one and indivisible--atheists, priests,
princes of the blood, Frenchified shopkeepers, Flemish boors, men, women,
and children, and the sooner we understand that this sort of thing can
happen the better for us. For it is this spontaneous spiritual fellowship
of communities under certain conditions to which the four or five most
independent minds of Europe willingly bear witness to-day.

But is there no exception: is there no one faithful among the unfaithful
found? Is no great Socialist politician still untouched by the patriotism
of the vulgar? Why, yes; the rugged Ramsay MacDonald, scarred with a
hundred savage fights against the capitalist parties, still lifts up his
horny hand for peace. What further need have we of witnesses? I, for my
part, am quite satisfied, and do not doubt that Mr. MacDonald will be as
industrious in damping down democracy in this form as in every other.


Heaven forbid that I should once more wade in those swamps of logomachy
and tautology in which the old guard of the Determinists still seem to be
floundering. The question of Fate and Free Will can never attain to a
conclusion, though it may attain to a conviction. The shortest
philosophic summary is that both cause and choice are ultimate ideas
within us, and that if one man denies choice because it seems contrary to
cause, the other man has quite as much right to deny cause because it
seems contrary to choice. The shortest ethical summary is that
Determinism either affects conduct or it does not. If it does not, it is
morally not worth preaching; if it does, it must affect conduct in the
direction of impotence and submission. A writer in the "Clarion" says
that the reformer cannot help trying to reform, nor the Conservative help
his Conservatism. But suppose the reformer tries to reform the
Conservative and turn him into another reformer? Either he can, in which
case Determinism has made no difference at all, or he can't, in which case
it can only have made reformers more hopeless and Conservatives more
obstinate. And the shortest practical and political summary is that
working men, most probably, will soon be much too busy using their Free
Will to stop to prove that they have got it. Nevertheless, I like to
watch the Determinist in the "Clarion" Cockpit every week, as busy as a
squirrel--in a cage. But being myself a squirrel (leaping lightly from
bough to bough) and preferring the form of activity which occasionally
ends in nuts, I should not intervene in the matter even indirectly, except
upon a practical point. And the point I have in mind is practical to the
extent of deadly peril. It is another of the numerous new ways in which
the restless rich, now walking the world with an awful insomnia, may
manage to catch us napping.

Must Be a Mystery

There are two letters in the "Clarion" this week which in various ways
interest me very much. One is concerned to defend Darwin against the
scientific revolt against him that was led by Samuel Butler, and among
other things it calls Bernard Shaw a back number. Well, most certainly
"The Origin of Species" is a back number, in so far as any honest and
interesting book ever can be; but in pure philosophy nothing can be out of
date, since the universe must be a mystery even to the believer. There is,
however, one condition of things in which I do call it relevant to
describe somebody as behind the times. That is when the man in question,
thinking of some state of affairs that has passed away, is really helping
the very things he would like to hinder. The principles cannot alter, but
the problems can. Thus, I should call a man behind the times who, in the
year 1872, pleaded for the peaceful German peasants against the triumphant
militarism of Napoleon. Or I should call a man out of date who, in the
year 1892, wished for a stronger Navy to compete with the Navy of Holland,
because it had once swept the sea and sailed up the Thames. And I
certainly call a man or a movement out of date that, in the year 1914,
when we few are fighting a giant machine, strengthened with all material
wealth and worked with all the material sciences, thinks that our chief
danger is from an excess of moral and religious responsibility. He
reminds me of Mr. Snodgrass, who had the presence of mind to call out
"Fire!" when Mr. Pickwick fell through the ice.

The other letter consists of the usual wiredrawn argument for fatalism.
Man cannot imagine the universe being created, and therefore is "compelled
by his reason" to think the universe without beginning or end, which (I
may remark) he cannot imagine either. But the letter ends with something
much more ominous than bad metaphysics. Here, in the middle of the
"Clarion," in the centre of a clean and combative democratic sheet, I meet
again my deplorable old acquaintance, the scientific criminologist. "The
so-called evil-doer should not be punished for his acts, but restrained."
In forty-eight hours I could probably get a petition to that effect signed
by millionaires. A short time ago a Bill was introduced to hold
irresponsible and "restrain" a whole new class of people, who were
"incapable of managing their affairs with prudence." Read the supporters'
names on the back of that Bill, and see what sort of democrats they were.

Now, clearing our heads of what is called popular science (which means
going to sleep to a lullaby of long words), let us use our own brains a
little, and ask ourselves what is the real difference between punishing a
man and restraining him. The material difference may be any or none; for
punishment may be very mild, and restraint may be very ruthless. The man,
of course, must dislike one as much as the other, or it would not be
necessary to restrain him at all. And I assure you he will get no great
glow of comfort out of your calling him irresponsible after you have made
him impotent. A man does not necessarily feel more free and easy in a
straight waistcoat than in a stone cell. The moral difference is that a
man can be punished for a crime because he is born a citizen; while he can
be constrained because he is born a slave. But one arresting and
tremendous difference towers over all these doubtful or arguable
differences. There is one respect, vital to all our liberties and all our
lives, in which the new restraint would be different from the old
punishment. It is of this that the plutocrats will take advantage.

The Plain Difference

The perfectly plain difference is this. All punishment, even the most
horrible, proceeds upon the assumption that the extent of the evil is
known, and that a certain amount of expiation goes with it. Even if you
hang the man, you cannot hang him twice. Even if you burn him, you cannot
burn him for a month. And in the case of all ordinary imprisonments, the
whole aim of free institutions from the beginning of the world has been to
insist that a man shall be convicted of a definite crime and confined for
a definite period. But the moment you admit this notion of medical
restraint, you must in fairness admit that it may go on as long as the
authorities choose to think (or say) that it ought to go on. The man's
punishment refers to the past, which is supposed to have been investigated,
and which, in some degree at least, has been investigated. But his
restraint refers to the future, which his doctors, keepers, and wardens
have yet to investigate. The simple result will be that, in the
scientific Utopia of the "Clarion," men like Mann or Syme or Larkin will
not be put in prison because of what they have done. They will be kept in
prison because of what they might do. Indeed, the builders of the new
tyranny have already come very near to avowing this scientific and
futurist method. When the lawyers tried to stop the "Suffragette" from
appearing at all, they practically said: "We do not know your next week's
crime, because it isn't committed yet; but we are scientifically certain
you have the criminal type. And by the sublime and unalterable laws of
heredity, all your poor little papers will inherit it."

This is a purely practical question; and that is why I insist on it, even
in such strenuous times. The writers on the "Clarion" have a perfect
right to think Christianity is the foe of freedom, or even that the
stupidity and tyranny of the present Government is due to the monkish
mysticism of Lord Morley and Mr. John M. Robertson. They have a right to
think the theory of Determinism as true as Calvin thought it. But I do
not like seeing them walk straight into the enormous iron trap set open by
the Capitalists, who find it convenient to make our law even more lawless
than it is. The rich men want a scientist to write them a _lettre de
cachet_ as a doctor writes a prescription. And so they wish to seal up in
a public gaol the scandals of a private asylum. Yes; the writers on the
"Clarion" are indeed claiming irresponsibility for human beings. But it
is the governments that will be irresponsible, not the governed.

But I will tell them one small secret in conclusion. There is nothing
whatever wrong in the ancient and universal idea of Punishment--except
that we are not punishing the right people.


One peculiarity of the genuine kind of enemy of the people is that his
slightest phrase is clamorous with all his sins. Pride, vain-glory, and
hypocrisy seem present in his very grammar; in his very verbs or adverbs
or prepositions, as well as in what he says, which is generally bad enough.
Thus I see that a Nonconformist pastor in Bromley has been talking about
the pathetic little presents of tobacco sent to the common soldiers. This
is how he talks about it. He is reported as having said, "By the help of
God, they wanted this cigarette business stopped." How one could write a
volume on that sentence, a great thick volume called "The Decline of the
English Middle Class." In taste, in style, in philosophy, in feeling, in
political project, the horrors of it are as unfathomable as hell.

First, to begin with the trifle, note something slipshod and vague in the
mere verbiage, typical of those who prefer a catchword to a creed. "This
cigarette business" might mean anything. It might mean Messrs. Salmon
and Gluckstein's business. But the pastor at Bromley will not interfere
with that, for the indignation of his school of thought, even when it is
sincere, always instinctively and unconsciously swerves aside from
anything that is rich and powerful like the partners in a big business,
and strikes instead something that is poor and nameless like the soldiers
in a trench. Nor does the expression make clear who "they" are--whether
the inhabitants of Britain or the inhabitants of Bromley, or the
inhabitants of this one crazy tabernacle in Bromley; nor is it evident how
it is going to be stopped or who is being asked to stop it. All these
things are trifles compared to the more terrible offences of the phrase;
but they are not without their social and historical interest. About the
beginning of the nineteenth century the wealthy Puritan class, generally
the class of the employers of labour, took a line of argument which was
narrow, but not nonsensical. They saw the relation of rich and poor quite
coldly as a contract, but they saw that a contract holds both ways. The
Puritans of the middle class, in short, did in some sense start talking
and thinking for themselves. They are still talking. They have long ago
left off thinking. They talk about the loyalty of workmen to their
employers, and God knows what rubbish; and the first small certainty about
the reverend gentleman whose sentence I have quoted is that his brain
stopped working as a clock stops, years and years ago.

Second, consider the quality of the religious literature! These people
are always telling us that the English translated Bible is sufficient
training for anyone in noble and appropriate diction; and so it is. Why,
then, are they not trained? They are always telling us that Bunyan, the
rude Midland tinker, is as much worth reading as Chaucer or Spenser; and
so he is. Why, then, have they not read him? I cannot believe that
anyone who had seen, even in a nightmare of the nursery, Apollyon
straddling over the whole breadth of the way could really write like that
about a cigarette. By the help of God, they wanted this cigarette
business stopped. Therefore, with angels and archangels and the whole
company of Heaven, with St. Michael, smiter of Satan and Captain of the
Chivalry of God, with all the ardour of the seraphs and the flaming
patience of the saints, we will have this cigarette business stopped.
Where has all the tradition of the great religious literatures gone to
that a man should come on such a bathos with such a bump?

Thirdly, of course, there is the lack of imaginative proportion, which
rises into a sort of towering blasphemy. An enormous number of live young
men are being hurt by shells, hurt by bullets, hurt by fever and hunger
and horror of hope deferred; hurt by lance blades and sword blades and
bayonet blades breaking into the bloody house of life. But Mr. Price (I
think that's his name) is still anxious that they should not be hurt by
cigarettes. That is the sort of maniacal isolation that can be found in
the deserts of Bromley. That cigarettes are bad for the health is a very
tenable opinion to which the minister is quite entitled. If he happens to
think that the youth of Bromley smoke too many cigarettes, and that he has
any influence in urging on them the unhealthiness of the habit, I should
not blame him if he gave sermons or lectures about it (with magic-lantern
slides), so long as it was in Bromley and about Bromley. Cigarettes may
be bad for the health: bombs and bayonets and even barbed wire are not
good for the health. I never met a doctor who recommended any of them.
But the trouble with this sort of man is that he cannot adjust himself to
the scale of things. He would do very good service if he would go among
the rich aristocratic ladies and tell them not to take drugs in a chronic
sense, as people take opium in China. But he would be doing very bad
service if he were to go among the doctors and nurses on the field and
tell them not to give drugs, as they give morphia in a hospital. But it
is the whole hypothesis of war, it is its very nature and first principle,
that the man in the trench is almost as much a suffering and abnormal
person as the man in the hospital. Hit or unhit, conqueror or conquered,
he is, by nature of the case, having less pleasure than is proper and
natural to a man.

Fourth (for I need not dwell here on the mere diabolical idiocy that can
regard beer or tobacco as in some way evil and unseemly in themselves),
there is the most important element in this strange outbreak; at least,
the most dangerous and the most important for us. There is that main
feature in the degradation of the old middle class: the utter
disappearance of its old appetite for liberty. Here there is no question
of whether the men are to smoke cigarettes, or the women choose to send
cigarettes, or even that the officers or doctors choose to allow
cigarettes. The thing is to cease, and we may note one of the most
recurrent ideas of the servile State: it is mentioned in the passive mood.
It must be stopped, and we must not even ask who has stopped it!


The amazing decision of the Government to employ methods quite alien to
England, and rather belonging to the police of the Continent, probably
arises from the appearance of papers which are lucid and fighting, like
the papers of the Continent. The business may be put in many ways. But
one way of putting it is simply to say that a monopoly of bad journalism
is resisting the possibility of good journalism. Journalism is not the
same thing as literature; but there is good and bad journalism, as there
is good and bad literature, as there is good and bad football. For the
last twenty years or so the plutocrats who govern England have allowed the
English nothing but bad journalism. Very bad journalism, simply
considered as journalism.

It always takes a considerable time to see the simple and central fact
about anything. All sorts of things have been said about the modern Press,
especially the Yellow Press; that it is Jingo or Philistine or
sensational or wrongly inquisitive or vulgar or indecent or trivial; but
none of these have anything really to do with the point.

The point about the Press is that it is not what it is called. It is not
the "popular Press." It is not the public Press. It is not an organ of
public opinion. It is a conspiracy of a very few millionaires, all
sufficiently similar in type to agree on the limits of what this great
nation (to which we belong) may know about itself and its friends and
enemies. The ring is not quite complete; there are old-fashioned and
honest papers: but it is sufficiently near to completion to produce on the
ordinary purchaser of news the practical effects of a corner and a
monopoly. He receives all his political information and all his political
marching orders from what is by this time a sort of half-conscious secret
society, with very few members, but a great deal of money.

This enormous and essential fact is concealed for us by a number of
legends that have passed into common speech. There is the notion that the
Press is flashy or trivial _because_ it is popular. In other words, an
attempt is made to discredit democracy by representing journalism as the
natural literature of democracy. All this is cold rubbish. The
democracy has no more to do with the papers than it has with the peerages.
The millionaire newspapers are vulgar and silly because the millionaires
are vulgar and silly. It is the proprietor, not the editor, not the
sub-editor, least of all the reader, who is pleased with this monotonous
prairie of printed words. The same slander on democracy can be noticed in
the case of advertisements. There is many a tender old Tory imagination
that vaguely feels that our streets would be hung with escutcheons and
tapestries, if only the profane vulgar had not hung them with
advertisements of Sapolio and Sunlight Soap. But advertisement does not
come from the unlettered many. It comes from the refined few. Did you
ever hear of a mob rising to placard the Town Hall with proclamations in
favour of Sapolio? Did you ever see a poor, ragged man laboriously
drawing and painting a picture on the wall in favour of Sunlight
Soap--simply as a labour of love? It is nonsense; those who hang our
public walls with ugly pictures are the same select few who hang their
private walls with exquisite and expensive pictures. The vulgarisation of
modern life has come from the governing class; from the highly educated
class. Most of the people who have posters in Camberwell have peerages at
Westminster. But the strongest instance of all is that which has been
unbroken until lately, and still largely prevails; the ghastly monotony of
the Press.

Then comes that other legend; the notion that men like the masters of the
Newspaper Trusts "give the people what they want." Why, it is the whole
aim and definition of a Trust that it gives the people what it chooses.
In the old days, when Parliaments were free in England, it was discovered
that one courtier was allowed to sell all the silk, and another to sell
all the sweet wine. A member of the House of Commons humorously asked who
was allowed to sell all the bread. I really tremble to think what that
sarcastic legislator would have said if he had been put off with the
modern nonsense about "gauging the public taste." Suppose the first
courtier had said that, by his shrewd, self-made sense, he had detected
that people had a vague desire for silk; and even a deep, dim human desire
to pay so much a yard for it! Suppose the second courtier said that he
had, by his own rugged intellect, discovered a general desire for wine: and
that people bought his wine at his price--when they could buy no other!
Suppose a third courtier had jumped up and said that people always bought
his bread when they could get none anywhere else.

Well, that is a perfect parallel. "After bread, the need of the people is
knowledge," said Danton. Knowledge is now a monopoly, and comes through
to the citizens in thin and selected streams, exactly as bread might come
through to a besieged city. Men must wish to know what is happening,
whoever has the privilege of telling them. They must listen to the
messenger, even if he is a liar. They must listen to the liar, even if he
is a bore. The official journalist for some time past has been both a
bore and a liar; but it was impossible until lately to neglect his sheets
of news altogether. Lately the capitalist Press really has begun to be
neglected; because its bad journalism was overpowering and appalling.
Lately we have really begun to find out that capitalism cannot write, just
as it cannot fight, or pray, or marry, or make a joke, or do any other
stricken human thing. But this discovery has been quite recent. The
capitalist newspaper was never actually unread until it was actually

If you retain the servile superstition that the Press, as run by the
capitalists, is popular (in any sense except that in which dirty water in
a desert is popular), consider the case of the solemn articles in praise
of the men who own newspapers--men of the type of Cadbury or Harmsworth,
men of the type of the small club of millionaires. Did you ever hear a
plain man in a tramcar or train talking about Carnegie's bright genial
smile or Rothschild's simple, easy hospitality? Did you ever hear an
ordinary citizen ask what was the opinion of Sir Joseph Lyons about the
hopes and fears of this, our native land? These few small-minded men
publish, papers to praise themselves. You could no more get an
intelligent poor man to praise a millionaire's soul, except for hire, than
you could get him to sell a millionaire's soap, except for hire. And I
repeat that, though there are other aspects of the matter of the new
plutocratic raid, one of the most important is mere journalistic jealousy.
The Yellow Press is bad journalism: and wishes to stop the appearance of
good journalism.

There is no average member of the public who would not prefer to have
Lloyd George discussed as what he is, a Welshman of genius and ideals,
strangely fascinated by bad fashion and bad finance, rather than discussed
as what neither he nor anyone else ever was, a perfect democrat or an
utterly detestable demagogue. There is no reader of a daily paper who
would not feel more concern--and more respect--for Sir Rufus Isaacs as a
man who has been a stockbroker, than as a man who happens to be
Attorney-General. There is no man in the street who is not more
interested in Lloyd George's investments than in his Land Campaign. There
is no man in the street who could not understand (and like) Rufus Isaacs
as a Jew better than he can possibly like him as a British statesman.
There is no sane journalist alive who would say that the official account
of Marconis would be better "copy" than the true account that such papers
as this have dragged out. We have committed one crime against the
newspaper proprietor which he will never forgive. We point out that his
papers are dull. And we propose to print some papers that are


Everyone but a consistent and contented capitalist, who must be something
pretty near to a Satanist, must rejoice at the spirit and success of the
Battle of the Buses. But one thing about it which happens to please me
particularly was that it was fought, in one aspect at least, on a point
such as the plutocratic fool calls unpractical. It was fought about a
symbol, a badge, a thing attended with no kind of practical results, like
the flags for which men allow themselves to fall down dead, or the shrines
for which men will walk some hundreds of miles from their homes. When a
man has an eye for business, all that goes on on this earth in that style
is simply invisible to him. But let us be charitable to the eye for
business; the eye has been pretty well blacked this time.

But I wish to insist here that it is exactly what is called the
unpractical part of the thing that is really the practical. The chief
difference between men and the animals is that all men are artists; though
the overwhelming majority of us are bad artists. As the old fable truly
says, lions do not make statues; even the cunning of the fox can go no
further than the accomplishment of leaving an exact model of the vulpine
paw: and even that is an accomplishment which he wishes he hadn't got.
There are Chryselephantine statues, but no purely elephantine ones. And,
though we speak in a general way of an elephant trumpeting, it is only by
human blandishments that he can be induced to play the drum. But man,
savage or civilised, simple or complex always desires to see his own soul
outside himself; in some material embodiment. He always wishes to point
to a table in a temple, or a cloth on a stick, or a word on a scroll, or a
badge on a coat, and say: "This is the best part of me. If need be, it
shall be the rest of me that shall perish." This is the method which
seems so unbusinesslike to the men with an eye to business. This is also
the method by which battles are won.

The Symbolism of the Badge

The badge on a Trade Unionist's coat is a piece of poetry in the genuine,
lucid, and logical sense in which Milton defined poetry (and he ought to
know) when he said that it was simple, sensuous, and passionate. It is
simple, because many understand the word "badge," who might not even
understand the word "recognition." It is sensuous, because it is visible
and tangible; it is incarnate, as all the good Gods have been; and it is
passionate in this perfectly practical sense, which the man with an eye to
business may some day learn more thoroughly than he likes, that there are
men who will allow you to cross a word out in a theoretical document, but
who will not allow you to pull a big button off their bodily clothing,
merely because you have more money than they have. Now I think it is this
sensuousness, this passion, and, above all, this simplicity that are most
wanted in this promising revolt of our time. For this simplicity is
perhaps the only thing in which the best type of recent revolutionists
have failed. It has been our sorrow lately to salute the sunset of one of
the very few clean and incorruptible careers in the most corruptible phase
of Christendom. The death of Quelch naturally turns one's thoughts to
those extreme Marxian theorists, who, whatever we may hold about their
philosophy, have certainly held their honour like iron. And yet, even in
this instant of instinctive reverence, I cannot feel that they were
poetical enough, that is childish enough, to make a revolution. They had
all the audacity needed for speaking to the despot; but not the simplicity
needed for speaking to the democracy. They were always accused of being
too bitter against the capitalist. But it always seemed to me that they
were (quite unconsciously, of course) much too kind to him. They had a
fatal habit of using long words, even on occasions when he might with
propriety have been described in very short words. They called him a
Capitalist when almost anybody in Christendom would have called him a cad.
And "cad" is a word from the poetic vocabulary indicating rather a
general and powerful reaction of the emotions than a status that could be
defined in a work of economics. The capitalist, asleep in the sun, let
such long words crawl all over him, like so many long, soft, furry
caterpillars. Caterpillars cannot sting like wasps. And, in repeating
that the old Marxians have been, perhaps, the best and bravest men of our
time, I say also that they would have been better and braver still if they
had never used a scientific word, and never read anything but fairy tales.

The Beastly Individualist

Suppose I go on to a ship, and the ship sinks almost immediately; but I
(like the people in the Bab Ballads), by reason of my clinging to a mast,
upon a desert island am eventually cast. Or rather, suppose I am not cast
on it, but am kept bobbing about in the water, because the only man on the
island is what some call an Individualist, and will not throw me a rope;
though coils of rope of the most annoying elaboration and neatness are
conspicuous beside him as he stands upon the shore. Now, it seems to me,
that if, in my efforts to shout at this fellow-creature across the
crashing breakers, I call his position the "insularistic position," and my
position "the semi-amphibian position," much valuable time may be lost. I
am not an amphibian. I am a drowning man. He is not an insularist, or
an individualist. He is a beast. Or rather, he is worse than any beast
can be. And if, instead of letting me drown, he makes me promise, while I
am drowning, that if I come on shore it shall be as his bodily slave,
having no human claims henceforward forever, then, by the whole theory and
practice of capitalism, he becomes a capitalist, he also becomes a cad.

Now, the language of poetry is simpler than that of prose; as anyone can
see who has read what the old-fashioned protestant used to call
confidently "his" Bible. And, being simpler, it is also truer; and, being
truer, it is also fiercer. And, for most of the infamies of our time,
there is really nothing plain enough, except the plain language of poetry.
Take, let us say, the ease of the recent railway disaster, and the
acquittal of the capitalists' interest. It is not a scientific problem
for us to investigate. It is a crime committed before our eyes; committed,
perhaps, by blind men or maniacs, or men hypnotised, or men in some other
ways unconscious; but committed in broad daylight, so that the corpse is
bleeding on our door-step. Good lives were lost, because good lives do
not pay; and bad coals do pay. It seems simply impossible to get any
other meaning out of the matter except that. And, if in human history
there be anything simple and anything horrible, it seems to have been
present in this matter. If, even after some study and understanding of
the old religious passions which were the resurrection of Europe, we
cannot endure the extreme infamy of witches and heretics literally burned
alive--well, the people in this affair were quite as literally burned
alive. If, when we have really tried to extend our charity beyond the
borders of personal sympathy, to all the complexities of class and creed,
we still feel something insolent about the triumphant and acquitted man
who is in the wrong, here the men who are in the wrong are triumphant and
acquitted. It is no subject for science. It is a subject for poetry.
But for poetry of a terrible sort.

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