The Cultural Roots of Conservatism By Roger Kimball

Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to university students in Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina

Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to university students in Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina. Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia

I’ve been asked to share some thoughts on “the cultural roots of conservatism”. That’s a tall order, so while I will say something about roots, something more about conservatism, I propose to focus mostly on the first essential word of my mandate, “cultural”.

After the protracted bout of global warming we’ve been through here in the northeast, everyone is looking forward to spring. Spring means longer days, more sunshine, and, even for many city dwellers, the planting and tending of flowers and vegetables.

Which brings me to the word “cultural”. I remember the first time I noticed the legend “cultural instructions” on the brochure that accompanied some seedlings. “How quaint”, I thought, as I pursued the advisory: this much water and that much sun, certain tips about fertilizer, soil, and drainage. Planting one sort of flower nearby keeps the bugs away but proximity to another sort makes bad things happen. Young shoots might need stakes, and watch out for beetles, weeds, and unseasonable frosts …

The more I pondered it, the less quaint, the more profound, those cultural instructions seemed. I suppose I had once known that the word “culture” comes from the capacious Latin verb colo, which means everything from “live, dwell, inhabit”, to “observe a religious rite”—whence our word “cult”—to “care, tend, nurture”, and “promote the growth or advancement of”. I never thought much about it.

I should have. There is a lot of wisdom in etymology. The noun cultura (which derives from colo) means first of all “the tilling or cultivation of land” and “the care or cultivation of plants”. But it, too, has ambitious tentacles: There’s the bit about religious rites again and also “well groomed”, and “chic, polished, sophisticated”.

It was Cicero, in a famous passage of the Tusculan Disputations, who gave currency to the metaphor of culture as a specifically intellectual pursuit. “Just as a field, however good the ground, cannot be productive without cultivation”, Cicero wrote, “so the soul cannot be productive without education”. Philosophy, he said, is a sort of “cultura animi”, a cultivation of the mind or spirit: “[I]t pulls out vices by the roots”, he said, “makes souls fit for the reception of seed”, and sows in order to bring forth “the richest fruit”. But even the best care, Cicero warned, does not inevitably bring good results: The influence of education, of cultura animi, “cannot be the same for all: Its effect is great when it has secured a hold upon a character suited to it”. That is to say, the results of cultivation depend not only on the quality of the care but also on the inherent nature of the thing being cultivated. How much of what Cicero said do we still understand?

In current parlance, “culture” (in addition to its use as a biological term) has both a descriptive and an evaluative meaning. In its anthropological sense, “culture” is neutral. It describes the habits and customs of a particular population: what its members do, not what they should do. Its task is to inventory, to docket, not to judge.

But we also speak of “high culture”, meaning not just social practices but a world of artistic, intellectual, and moral endeavour in which the notion of hierarchy, of a rank-ordering of accomplishment, is key.

Let me pause to introduce one more bit of etymology: “[H]ierarchy” derives from words meaning “sacred order”. Egalitarians are opposed to hierarchies in principle; what does that tell us about egalitarianism?

Culture in the evaluative sense does not merely admit, it requires judgment as a kind of coefficient or auxiliary: Comparison, discrimination, evaluation are its lifeblood. “We never really get near a book”, Henry James once remarked, “save on the question of its being good or bad, of its really treating, that is, or not treating, its subject”. It was for the sake of culture in this sense that Matthew Arnold extolled criticism as— you all know the famous phrase—“the disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world”.

It is of course culture in the Arnoldian sense that we have primarily in view when we ask about the cultural roots of conservatism. And it is the fate of culture in this sense that I will be chiefly concerned with in these remarks. But it would be foolish to draw too firm a distinction between the realms of culture. There is much confluence and interchange between them. Ultimately, they exist symbiotically, nurturing, supplementing, contending with each other. The manners, habits, rituals, institutions, and patterns of behaviour that define culture for the anthropologist provide the sediment, the ground out of which culture in the Arnoldian sense takes root—or fails to take root. Failure or degradation in one area instigates failure or degradation in the other. Some people regard the astonishing collapse of manners and civility in our society as a superficial event. They are wrong. The fate of decorum expresses the fate of a culture’s dignity, its attitude toward its animating values, which is why conservatives have always regarded the degradation of manners as presaging other, more sinister degradations.

Let me say something, too, about the nature of metaphors. The problem with metaphors is not that they are false but that they do not tell the whole truth. The organic image of culture we have inherited from Cicero is illuminating. Among other things, it reminds us that we do not exist as self-sufficient atoms but have our place in a continuum that stretches before and after us in time. Like other metaphors, however, it can be elevated into an absurdity if it is pushed too far.

Oswald Spengler’s sprawling, two-volume lament, The Decline of the West, is a good illustration of what happens when genius is captivated by a metaphor. Spengler’s book, published in the immediate aftermath of World War I, epitomized the end-of-everything mood of the times and was hailed as the brilliant key to understanding—well, just about everything. And Spengler really is brilliant. For example, his remarks about how the triumph of scepticism breeds a “second religiousness” in which “men dispense with proof, desire only to believe and not to dissect”, have great pertinence to an era, like ours, that is awash in New Age spiritual counterfeits. Nevertheless, Spengler’s deterministic allegiance to the analogy between civilizations and organisms ultimately infuses his discussion with an air of unreality. One is reminded, reading Spengler, of T. S. Eliot’s definition of a heretic: “a person who seizes upon a truth and pushes it to the point at which it becomes a falsehood”.

That said, for anyone who is concerned about the cultural roots of conservatism, there are some important lessons in the armoury of cultural instructions accompanying a humble tomato plant. Perhaps the chief lesson has to do with time and continuity, the evolving permanence that cultura animi no less than agricultural cultivation requires if it is to be successful. All those tips, habits, prohibitions, and necessities that have been accumulated from time out of mind and passed down, generation after generation. How much in our society militates against such antidotes to anarchy and decay!

Culture thrives and develops under the aegis of permanence. And yet instantaneity—the enemy of permanence—is one of the chief imperatives of our time. It renders anything lasting, anything inherited, suspicious by definition.

Our culture wants what is faster, newer, less encumbered by the past. If we also cultivate a nostalgia for a simpler, slower time, that just shows the extent to which we are separated from what, in our efforts to decorate our lives, we long for. Nostalgia—the Greek word for “homesickness”—is a version of sentimentality—a predilection, that is to say, to distort rather than acknowledge reality.

The attack on permanence comes in many guises. When trendy literary critics declare that “there is no such thing as intrinsic meaning”, they are denying permanent values that transcend the prerogatives of their lucubrations. When a deconstructionist tells us that truth is relative to language, or to power, or to certain social arrangements, he seeks to trump the unanswerable claims of permanent realities with the vacillations of his ingenuity. When the multiculturalist celebrates the fundamental equality of all cultures— excepting, of course, the culture of the West, which he reflexively disparages—he substitutes ephemeral political passions for the recognition of objective cultural achievement.

But what seems at first to be an effort to establish cultural parity turns out to be a campaign for cultural reversal. When Sir Elton John is put on the same level as Bach, the effect is not cultural equality but cultural insurrection. And if it seems farfetched to compare Elton John and Bach, recall the literary critic Richard Poirier’s remark in 1967, that “sometimes [the Beatles] are like Monteverdi and sometimes their songs are even better than Schumann’s”.

In the face of such levelling assaults, the most basic suppositions and distinctions suddenly crumble, like the acidic pages of a poorly made book, eaten away from within. Culture degenerates from being a cultura animi to a corruptio animi.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World may be a second-rate novel—its characters wooden, its narrative overly didactic—but it has turned out to have been first-rate prognostication. Published in 1932, it touches everywhere on 21st century anxieties and has a lot to say, implicitly, about the cultural roots of conservatism. Perhaps the aspect of Huxley’s dystopian admonition that is most frequently adduced is its vision of a society that has perfected what we have come to call genetic engineering. Among other things, it is a world in which reproduction has been entirely handed over to the experts. The word “parents” no longer describes a loving moral commitment but only an attenuated biological datum. Babies are not born but designed according to exacting specifications and “decanted” at sanitary depots like The Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre with which the book opens.

As with all efforts to picture future technology, Huxley’s description of the equipment and procedures employed at the hatchery seems almost charmingly antiquated, like a space ship imagined by Jules Verne. But Huxley’s portrait of the human toll of human ingenuity is very up-to-date. Indeed, we have not—not quite, not yet—caught up with the situation he describes. We do not—not quite, not yet— inhabit a world in which “mother” and “monogamy” are blasphemous terms from which people have been conditioned to recoil in visceral revulsion. Maybe it will never come to that. (Though monogamy, of course, has long been high on the social and sexual revolutionary’s list of hated institutions.) Still, it is a nice question whether developments in reproductive technology will not soon make other aspects of Huxley’s fantasy a reality. Thinkers as different as Michel Foucault, Francis Fukuyama, and Michel Houellebecq have pondered the advent of a “post-human” future, eagerly or with dismay, as the case may be. Scientists busily manipulating DNA may give substance to their speculations.

It is often suggested that what is most disturbing about Brave New World is its portrait of eugenics in action: its vision of humanity deliberately divided into genetically ordered castes, a few super-smart Alpha- pluses down through a multitude of drone-like Epsilons who do the heavy lifting. Such deliberately instituted inequality offends our democratic sensibilities.

What is sometimes overlooked or downplayed is the possibility that the most disturbing aspect of the future Huxley pictured has less to do with eugenics than genetics. That is to say, perhaps what is centrally repellent about Huxley’s hatcheries is not that they codify inequality—nature already does that more effectively than our politically correct sensibilities like to acknowledge—but that they exist at all. Are they not a textbook example of Promethean hubris in action? It is worth stepping back to ponder that possibility.

In the 17th century, René Descartes predicted that his scientific method would make man “the master and possessor of nature”. Are we not fast closing in on the technology that proves him right? And this raises another question. Is there a point at which scientific development can no longer be described, humanly, as progress? We know the benisons of technology. Consider only electricity, the automobile, modern medicine. They have transformed the world and underscored the old observation that art, that techne, is man’s nature.

Nevertheless, the question remains whether, after two hundred years of breathtaking progress, we are about to become more closely acquainted with the depredations of technology. It would take a brave man, or a rash one, to venture a confident prediction either way. For example, if, as in Brave New World, we manage to bypass the “inconvenience” of human pregnancy altogether, ought we to do it? If—or rather when—that is possible (as it certainly will be, and soon), will it also be desirable? If not, why not? Why should a woman go through the discomfort and danger of pregnancy if a foetus could be safely incubated, or cloned, elsewhere? Wouldn’t motherhood by proxy be a good thing—the ultimate labour-saving device? Most readers, I think, will hesitate about saying yes. What does that hesitation tell us? Some readers will have no hesitation about saying yes; what does that tell us?

These are some of the questions anyone concerned with the cultural roots of conservatism will have to conjure with.

As Huxley saw, a world in which reproduction was “rationalized” and emancipated from love was also a world in which culture in the Arnoldian sense was not only otiose but dangerous, and hence severely policed. This suspicion of culture is also a sub-theme of that other great dystopian novel, George Orwell’s 1984, which ends with the work of various writers, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Dickens, being vandalized by being translated into Newspeak. When that laborious propaganda effort is finally complete, Orwell writes, the “original writings, with all else that survived of the literature of the past, would be destroyed”.

The point is that culture has roots. It limns the future through its implications with the past. Moving the reader or spectator over the centuries, the monuments of culture transcend the local imperatives of the present. They escape the obsolescence that fashion demands, the predictability that planning requires. They speak of love and hatred, honour and shame, beauty and courage and cowardice—permanent realities of the human situation insofar as it remains human.

The denizens of Huxley’s brave new world are designed and educated—perhaps his word, “conditioned”, is more accurate—to be rootless, without culture. Ditto the denizens of Orwell’s nightmare totalitarian society.

In Brave New World, when a relic of the old order of civilization—a savage who had been born, not decanted—is brought from a reservation into the brave new world, he is surprised to discover that the literary past is forbidden to most of the population.

When he asks why, the bureaucrat in charge says simply: “[b]ecause it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here”.

“Even when they’re beautiful?” asks the Savage.

“Particularly when they’re beautiful”, replies the bureaucrat. “Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.”

Huxley’s brave new world is above all a superficial world. People are encouraged to like what is new, to live in the moment, because that makes them less complicated and more pliable. Emotional commitments are even more strictly rationed than Shakespeare. (The same, again, is true in 1984.) In the place of emotional commitments, sensations—thrilling, mind-numbing sensations—are available on demand through drugs and motion pictures that neurologically stimulate viewers to experience certain emotions and feelings. The fact that they are artificially produced is not considered a drawback but their very point. Which is to say that the brave new world is a virtual world: Experience is increasingly vivid but decreasingly real. The question of meaning is deliberately short-circuited.

Huxley’s imagination failed him in one area. He understood that in a world in which reproduction was emancipated from the body, sexual congress for many people would degenerate into a purely recreational activity, an amusement not inherently different from one’s soma ration or the tactile movies. He pictured a world of casual, indeed mandatory, promiscuity. But he thought it would develop along completely conventional lines. He ought to have known that the quest for “agreeable sensations” would issue in a pansexual carnival. In this area, anyway, we seem to have proceeded a good deal further than the characters who inhabit Huxley’s dystopia.

In part, the attack on permanence is an attack on the idea that anything possesses inherent value. Absolute fungibility—the substitution of anything for anything—is the ideal. In one sense, this is a product of what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott criticized as “rationalism”. “To the Rationalist”, Oakeshott wrote in the late 1940s, “nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny”. The realm of sexuality is one area where the effects of such rationalism are dramatically evident. It was not so long ago that the description from Genesis—“male and female created he them”—was taken as a basic existential fact. True, the obstinacy of sexual difference has always been a thorn in the side of utopian rationalism. But it is only in recent decades that the engines of judicial meddlesomeness, on the one hand, and surgical know-how, on the other, have effectively assaulted that once permanent-seeming reality.

What we are seeing in sexual life is the fulfilment, in some segments of society, of the radical emancipatory vision enunciated in the 1960s by such gurus as Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. In Eros and Civilization Marcuse looked forward to the establishment of what he called a “non-repressive reality principle” in which “the body in its entirety would become … an instrument of pleasure”. The sexual liberation Marcuse hailed was not a fecund liberation. As in Brave New World, children do not enter into the equation. The issue is pleasure, not progeny. Marcuse speaks glowingly of “a resurgence of pregenital polymorphous sexuality” that “protests against the repressive order of procreative sexuality”. A look at the alarmingly low birth rates of most affluent nations today suggests that the protest has been effective.

When Tocqueville warned about the peculiar form of despotism that threatened democracy, he noted that instead of tyrannizing men, as past despotisms had done, it tended to infantilize them, keeping “them fixed irrevocably in childhood”. What Tocqueville warned about, Marcuse celebrated, extolling the benefits of returning to a state of what he called “primary narcissism”. What Marcuse encouraged, in other words, is solipsism, not as a philosophical principle but as a moral indulgence, a way of life. I note in passing that Marcuse was a college professor: How proud he would be of those contemporary universities which have, partly under his influence, become factories for the maintenance of infantilizing narcissism.

A couple of concluding observations: In Notes towards a Definition of Culture, T. S. Eliot observed that “culture is the one thing that we cannot deliberately aim at. It is the product of a variety of more or less harmonious activities, each pursued for its own sake”. “For its own sake”. That is one simple idea that is everywhere imperilled today. When we plant a garden, it is bootless to strive directly for camellias. They are the natural product of our care, nurture, and time. We can manage that when it comes to agriculture. When we turn our hands to cultura animi, we seem to be considerably less successful.

Let me end by noting that the opposite of “conservative” is not “liberal” but ephemeral. Russell Kirk once observed that he was conservative because he was liberal, that is, committed to freedom. Kirk’s formulation may sound paradoxical, but it touches on a great truth. To be conservative: that means wanting to conserve what is worth preserving from the ravages of time and ideology, evil and stupidity, so that freedom may thrive. In some plump eras the task is so easy we can almost forget how necessary it is. At other times, the enemies of civilization transform the task of preserving of culture into a battle for survival. That, I believe— and I say regretfully—is where we are today.

Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. He is an art critic for National Review and writes a regular column for PJ Media.

This article was originally delivered as a lecture at the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Society on March 28, 2015.


George Orwell: The Lion and the Unicorn – Socialism and The English Genius

Part 1: England Your England


As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.

One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it does not exist, but as a POSITIVE force there is nothing to set beside it. Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not.

Also, one must admit that the divisions between nation and nation are founded on real differences of outlook. Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country. Things that could happen in one country could not happen in another. Hitler’s June purge, for instance, could not have happened in England. And, as western peoples go, the English are very highly differentiated. There is a sort of back-handed admission of this in the dislike which nearly all foreigners feel for our national way of life. Few Europeans can endure living in England, and even Americans often feel more at home in Europe.

When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning— all these are not only fragments, but CHARACTERISTIC fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

And above all, it is YOUR civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip. It is therefore of the deepest importance to try and determine what England IS, before guessing what part England CAN PLAY in the huge events that are happening.


National characteristics are not easy to pin down, and when pinned down they often turn out to be trivialities or seem to have no connexion with one another. Spaniards are cruel to animals, Italians can do nothing without making a deafening noise, the Chinese are addicted to gambling. Obviously such things don’t matter in themselves. Nevertheless, nothing is causeless, and even the fact that Englishmen have bad teeth can tell something about the realities of English life.

Here are a couple of generalizations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically. They are not as musical as the Germans or Italians, painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in France. Another is that, as Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘world-view’. Nor is this because they are ‘practical’, as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One has only to look at their methods of town planning and water supply, their obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance, a spelling system that defies analysis, and a system of weights and measures that is intelligible only to the compilers of arithmetic books, to see how little they care about mere efficiency. But they have a certain power of acting without taking thought. Their world-famed hypocrisy—their double-faced attitude towards the Empire, for instance —is bound up with this. Also, in moments of supreme crisis the whole nation can suddenly draw together and act upon a species of instinct, really a code of conduct which is understood by almost everyone, though never formulated. The phrase that Hitler coined for the Germans, ‘a sleep-walking people’, would have been better applied to the English. Not that there is anything to be proud of in being called a sleep-walker.

But here it is worth noting a minor English trait which is extremely well marked though not often commented on, and that is a love of flowers. This is one of the first things that one notices when one reaches England from abroad, especially if one is coming from southern Europe. Does it not contradict the English indifference to the arts? Not really, because it is found in people who have no aesthetic feelings whatever. What it does link up with, however, is another English characteristic which is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the PRIVATENESS of English life. We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official—the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the ‘nice cup of tea’. The liberty of the individual is still believed in, almost as in the nineteenth century. But this has nothing to do with economic liberty, the right to exploit others for profit. It is the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above. The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker. It is obvious, of course, that even this purely private liberty is a lost cause. Like all other modern people, the English are in process of being numbered, labelled, conscripted, ‘co-ordinated’. But the pull of their impulses is in the other direction, and the kind of regimentation that can be imposed on them will be modified in consequence. No party rallies, no Youth Movements, no coloured shirts, no Jew-baiting or ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations. No Gestapo either, in all probability.

But in all societies the common people must live to some extent AGAINST the existing order. The genuinely popular culture of England is something that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned on by the authorities. One thing one notices if one looks directly at the common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not puritanical. They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world. They have to satisfy these tastes in the face of astonishing, hypocritical laws (licensing laws, lottery acts, etc. etc.) which are designed to interfere with everybody but in practice allow everything to happen. Also, the common people are without definite religious belief, and have been so for centuries. The Anglican Church never had a real hold on them, it was simply a preserve of the landed gentry, and the Nonconformist sects only influenced minorities. And yet they have retained a deep tinge of Christian feeling, while almost forgetting the name of Christ. The power-worship which is the new religion of Europe, and which has infected the English intelligentsia, has never touched the common people. They have never caught up with power politics. The ‘realism’ which is preached in Japanese and Italian newspapers would horrify them. One can learn a good deal about the spirit of England from the comic coloured postcards that you see in the windows of cheap stationers’ shops. These things are a sort of diary upon which the English people have unconsciously recorded themselves. Their old-fashioned outlook, their graded snobberies, their mixture of bawdiness and hypocrisy, their extreme gentleness, their deeply moral attitude to life, are all mirrored there.

The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement. And with this goes something that is always written off by European observers as ‘decadence’ or hypocrisy, the English hatred of war and militarism. It is rooted deep in history, and it is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class. Successive wars have shaken it but not destroyed it. Well within living memory it was common for ‘the redcoats’ to be booed at in the streets and for the landlords of respectable public houses to refuse to allow soldiers on the premises. In peace time, even when there are two million unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing army, which is officered by the country gentry and a specialized stratum of the middle class, and manned by farm labourers and slum proletarians. The mass of the people are without military knowledge or tradition, and their attitude towards war is invariably defensive. No politician could rise to power by promising them conquests or military ‘glory’, no Hymn of Hate has ever made any appeal to them. In the last war the songs which the soldiers made up and sang of their own accord were not vengeful but humorous and mock-defeatist*. The only enemy they ever named was the sergeant-major.

  • For example:

‘I don’t want to join the bloody Army,

I don’t want to go unto the war;

I want no more to roam,

I’d rather stay at home,

Living on the earnings of a whore.

But it was not in that spirit that they fought.

(Author’s footnote.)

In England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the ‘Rule Britannia’ stuff, is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious. They do not retain among their historical memories the name of a single military victory. English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo, for instance. Sir John Moore’s army at Corunna, fighting a desperate rearguard action before escaping overseas (just like Dunkirk!) has more appeal than a brilliant victory. The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction. And of the last war, the four names which have really engraved themselves on the popular memory are Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli and Passchendaele, every time a disaster. The names of the great battles that finally broke the German armies are simply unknown to the general public.

The reason why the English anti-militarism disgusts foreign observers is that it ignores the existence of the British Empire. It looks like sheer hypocrisy. After all, the English have absorbed a quarter of the earth and held on to it by means of a huge navy. How dare they then turn round and say that war is wicked?

It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists. But their dislike of standing armies is a perfectly sound instinct. A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external weapon which cannot affect home politics directly. Military dictatorships exist everywhere, but there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship. What English people of nearly all classes loathe from the bottom of their hearts is the swaggering officer type, the jingle of spurs and the crash of boots. Decades before Hitler was ever heard of, the word ‘Prussian’ had much the same significance in England as ‘Nazi’ has today. So deep does this feeling go that for a hundred years past the officers of the British army, in peace time, have always worn civilian clothes when off duty.

One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am UGLY, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army. The Italians adopted the goose-step at about the time when Italy passed definitely under German control, and, as one would expect, they do it less well than the Germans. The Vichy government, if it survives, is bound to introduce a stiffer parade-ground discipline into what is left of the French army. In the British army the drill is rigid and complicated, full of memories of the eighteenth century, but without definite swagger; the march is merely a formalized walk. It belongs to a society which is ruled by the sword, no doubt, but a sword which must never be taken out of the scabbard.

And yet the gentleness of English civilization is mixed up with barbarities and anachronisms. Our criminal law is as out-of-date as the muskets in the Tower. Over against the Nazi Storm Trooper you have got to set that typically English figure, the hanging judge, some gouty old bully with his mind rooted in the nineteenth century, handing out savage sentences. In England people are still hanged by the neck and flogged with the cat o’ nine tails. Both of these punishments are obscene as well as cruel, but there has never been any genuinely popular outcry against them. People accept them (and Dartmoor, and Borstal) almost as they accept the weather. They are part of ‘the law’, which is assumed to be unalterable.

Here one comes upon an all-important English trait: the respect for constitutionalism and legality, the belief in ‘the law’ as something above the State and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate INCORRUPTIBLE.

It is not that anyone imagines the law to be just. Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this, everyone takes it for granted that the law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when it is not. Remarks like ‘They can’t run me in; I haven’t done anything wrong’, or ‘They can’t do that; it’s against the law’, are part of the atmosphere of England. The professed enemies of society have this feeling as strongly as anyone else. One sees it in prison-books like Wilfred Macartney’s WALLS HAVE MOUTHS or Jim Phelan’s JAIL JOURNEY, in the solemn idiocies that take place at the trials of conscientious objectors, in letters to the papers from eminent Marxist professors, pointing out that this or that is a ‘miscarriage of British justice’. Everyone believes in his heart that the law can be, ought to be, and, on the whole, will be impartially administered. The totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power, has never taken root. Even the intelligentsia have only accepted it in theory.

An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct, national life is different because of them. In proof of which, look about you. Where are the rubber truncheons, where is the castor oil? The sword is still in the scabbard, and while it stays there corruption cannot go beyond a certain point. The English electoral system, for instance, is an all but open fraud. In a dozen obvious ways it is gerrymandered in the interest of the moneyed class. But until some deep change has occurred in the public mind, it cannot become COMPLETELY corrupt. You do not arrive at the polling booth to find men with revolvers telling you which way to vote, nor are the votes miscounted, nor is there any direct bribery. Even hypocrisy is a powerful safeguard. The hanging judge, that evil old man in scarlet robe and horse-hair wig, whom nothing short of dynamite will ever teach what century he is living in, but who will at any rate interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstances take a money bribe, is one of the symbolic figures of England. He is a symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape.


I have spoken all the while of ‘the nation’, ‘England’, ‘Britain’, as though forty-five million souls could somehow be treated as a unit. But is not England notoriously two nations, the rich and the poor? Dare one pretend that there is anything in common between people with £100,000 a year and people with £1 a week? And even Welsh and Scottish readers are likely to have been offended because I have used the word ‘England’ oftener than ‘Britain’, as though the whole population dwelt in London and the Home Counties and neither north nor west possessed a culture of its own.

One gets a better view of this question if one considers the minor point first. It is quite true that the so-called races of Britain feel themselves to be very different from one another. A Scotsman, for instance, does not thank you if you call him an Englishman. You can see the hesitation we feel on this point by the fact that we call our islands by no less than six different names, England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom and, in very exalted moments, Albion. Even the differences between north and south England loom large in our own eyes. But somehow these differences fade away the moment that any two Britons are confronted by a European. It is very rare to meet a foreigner, other than an American, who can distinguish between English and Scots or even English and Irish. To a Frenchman, the Breton and the Auvergnat seem very different beings, and the accent of Marseilles is a stock joke in Paris. Yet we speak of ‘France’ and ‘the French’, recognizing France as an entity, a single civilization, which in fact it is. So also with ourselves. Looked at from the outsider even the cockney and the Yorkshireman have a strong family resemblance.

And even the distinction between rich and poor dwindles somewhat when one regards the nation from the outside. There is no question about the inequality of wealth in England. It is grosser than in any European country, and you have only to look down the nearest street to see it. Economically, England is certainly two nations, if not three or four. But at the same time the vast majority of the people FEEL themselves to be a single nation and are conscious of resembling one another more than they resemble foreigners. Patriotism is usually stronger than class-hatred, and always stronger than any kind of internationalism. Except for a brief moment in 1920 (the ‘Hands off Russia’ movement) the British working class have never thought or acted internationally. For two and a half years they watched their comrades in Spain slowly strangled, and never aided them by even a single strike*. But when their own country (the country of Lord Nuffield and Mr Montagu Norman) was in danger, their attitude was very different. At the moment when it seemed likely that England might be invaded, Anthony Eden appealed over the radio for Local Defence Volunteers. He got a quarter of a million men in the first twenty-four hours, and another million in the subsequent month. One has only to compare these figures with, for instance, the number of conscientious objectors to see how vast is the strength of traditional loyalties compared with new ones.

  • It is true that they aided them to a certain extent with money. Still, the sums raised for the various aid-Spain funds would not equal five per cent of the turnover of the football pools during the same period. (Author’s footnote.)

In England patriotism takes different forms in different classes, but it runs like a connecting thread through nearly all of them. Only the Europeanized intelligentsia are really immune to it. As a positive emotion it is stronger in the middle class than in the upper class—the cheap public schools, for instance, are more given to patriotic demonstrations than the expensive ones—but the number of definitely treacherous rich men, the Laval-Quisling type, is probably very small. In the working class patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious. The working man’s heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack. But the famous ‘insularity’ and ‘xenophobia’ of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie. In all countries the poor are more national than the rich, but the English working class are outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits. Even when they are obliged to live abroad for years they refuse either to accustom themselves to foreign food or to learn foreign languages. Nearly every Englishman of working-class origin considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word correctly. During the war of 1914-18 the English working class were in contact with foreigners to an extent that is rarely possible. The sole result was that they brought back a hatred of all Europeans, except the Germans, whose courage they admired. In four years on French soil they did not even acquire a liking for wine. The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time. But it plays its part in the English mystique, and the intellectuals who have tried to break it down have generally done more harm than good. At bottom it is the same quality in the English character that repels the tourist and keeps out the invader.

Here one comes back to two English characteristics that I pointed out, seemingly at random, at the beginning of the last chapter. One is the lack of artistic ability. This is perhaps another way of saying that the English are outside the European culture. For there is one art in which they have shown plenty of talent, namely literature. But this is also the only art that cannot cross frontiers. Literature, especially poetry, and lyric poetry most of all, is a kind of family joke, with little or no value outside its own language-group. Except for Shakespeare, the best English poets are barely known in Europe, even as names. The only poets who are widely read are Byron, who is admired for the wrong reasons, and Oscar Wilde, who is pitied as a victim of English hypocrisy. And linked up with this, though not very obviously, is the lack of philosophical faculty, the absence in nearly all Englishmen of any need for an ordered system of thought or even for the use of logic.

Up to a point, the sense of national unity is a substitute for a ‘world-view’. Just because patriotism is all but universal and not even the rich are uninfluenced by it, there can be moments when the whole nation suddenly swings together and does the same thing, like a herd of cattle facing a wolf. There was such a moment, unmistakably, at the time of the disaster in France. After eight months of vaguely wondering what the war was about, the people suddenly knew what they had got to do: first, to get the army away from Dunkirk, and secondly to prevent invasion. It was like the awakening of a giant. Quick! Danger! The Philistines be upon thee, Samson! And then the swift unanimous action— and, then, alas, the prompt relapse into sleep. In a divided nation that would have been exactly the moment for a big peace movement to arise. But does this mean that the instinct of the English will always tell them to do the right thing? Not at all, merely that it will tell them to do the same thing. In the 1931 General Election, for instance, we all did the wrong thing in perfect unison. We were as single-minded as the Gadarene swine. But I honestly doubt whether we can say that we were shoved down the slope against our will.

It follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes appears. A foreign observer sees only the huge inequality of wealth, the unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the press, the radio and education, and concludes that democracy is simply a polite name for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does unfortunately exist between the leaders and the led. However much one may hate to admit it, it is almost certain that between 1931 and 1940 the National Government represented the will of the mass of the people. It tolerated slums, unemployment and a cowardly foreign policy. Yes, but so did public opinion. It was a stagnant period, and its natural leaders were mediocrities.

In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. Like the mass of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. And public opinion was behind him all the while, in policies that were completely incompatible with one another. It was behind him when he went to Munich, when he tried to come to an understanding with Russia, when he gave the guarantee to Poland, when he honoured it, and when he prosecuted the war half-heartedly. Only when the results of his policy became apparent did it turn against him; which is to say that it turned against its own lethargy of the past seven years. Thereupon the people picked a leader nearer to their mood, Churchill, who was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting. Later, perhaps, they will pick another leader who can grasp that only Socialist nations can fight effectively.

Do I mean by all this that England is a genuine democracy? No, not even a reader of the DAILY TELEGRAPH could quite swallow that.

England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly. But in any calculation about it one has got to take into account its emotional unity, the tendency of nearly all its inhabitants to feel alike and act together in moments of supreme crisis. It is the only great country in Europe that is not obliged to drive hundreds of thousands of its nationals into exile or the concentration camp. At this moment, after a year of war, newspapers and pamphlets abusing the Government, praising the enemy and clamouring for surrender are being sold on the streets, almost without interference. And this is less from a respect for freedom of speech than from a simple perception that these things don’t matter. It is safe to let a paper like PEACE NEWS be sold, because it is certain that ninety-five per cent of the population will never want to read it. The nation is bound together by an invisible chain. At any normal time the ruling class will rob, mismanage, sabotage, lead us into the muck; but let popular opinion really make itself heard, let them get a tug from below that they cannot avoid feeling, and it is difficult for them not to respond. The left-wing writers who denounce the whole of the ruling class as ‘pro-Fascist’ are grossly over-simplifying. Even among the inner clique of politicians who brought us to our present pass, it is doubtful whether there were any CONSCIOUS traitors. The corruption that happens in England is seldom of that kind. Nearly always it is more in the nature of self-deception, of the right hand not knowing what the left hand doeth. And being unconscious, it is limited. One sees this at its most obvious in the English press. Is the English press honest or dishonest? At normal times it is deeply dishonest. All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news. Yet I do not suppose there is one paper in England that can be straightforwardly bribed with hard cash. In the France of the Third Republic all but a very few of the newspapers could notoriously be bought over the counter like so many pounds of cheese. Public life in England has never been OPENLY scandalous. It has not reached the pitch of disintegration at which humbug can be dropped.

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control—that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.


Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.

In the years between 1920 and 1940 it was happening with the speed of a chemical reaction. Yet at the moment of writing it is still possible to speak of a ruling class. Like the knife which has had two new blades and three new handles, the upper fringe of English society is still almost what it was in the mid nineteenth century. After 1832 the old land-owning aristocracy steadily lost power, but instead of disappearing or becoming a fossil they simply intermarried with the merchants, manufacturers and financiers who had replaced them, and soon turned them into accurate copies of themselves. The wealthy shipowner or cotton-miller set up for himself an alibi as a country gentleman, while his sons learned the right mannerisms at public schools which had been designed for just that purpose. England was ruled by an aristocracy constantly recruited from parvenus. And considering what energy the self-made men possessed, and considering that they were buying their way into a class which at any rate had a tradition of public service, one might have expected that able rulers could be produced in some such way.

And yet somehow the ruling class decayed, lost its ability, its daring, finally even its ruthlessness, until a time came when stuffed shirts like Eden or Halifax could stand out as men of exceptional talent. As for Baldwin, one could not even dignify him with the name of stuffed shirt. He was simply a hole in the air. The mishandling of England’s domestic problems during the nineteen-twenties had been bad enough, but British foreign policy between 1931 and 1939 is one of the wonders of the world. Why? What had happened? What was it that at every decisive moment made every British statesman do the wrong thing with so unerring an instinct?

The underlying fact was that the whole position of the moneyed class had long ceased to be justifiable. There they sat, at the centre of a vast empire and a world-wide financial network, drawing interest and profits and spending them—on what? It was fair to say that life within the British Empire was in many ways better than life outside it. Still, the Empire was underdeveloped, India slept in the Middle Ages, the Dominions lay empty, with foreigners jealously barred out, and even England was full of slums and unemployment. Only half a million people, the people in the country houses, definitely benefited from the existing system. Moreover, the tendency of small businesses to merge together into large ones robbed more and more of the moneyed class of their function and turned them into mere owners, their work being done for them by salaried managers and technicians. For long past there had been in England an entirely functionless class, living on money that was invested they hardly knew where, the ‘idle rich’, the people whose photographs you can look at in the TATLER and the BYSTANDER, always supposing that you want to. The existence of these people was by any standard unjustifiable. They were simply parasites, less useful to society than his fleas are to a dog.

By 1920 there were many people who were aware of all this. By 1930 millions were aware of it. But the British ruling class obviously could not admit to themselves that their usefulness was at an end. Had they done that they would have had to abdicate. For it was not possible for them to turn themselves into mere bandits, like the American millionaires, consciously clinging to unjust privileges and beating down opposition by bribery and tear-gas bombs. After all, they belonged to a class with a certain tradition, they had been to public schools where the duty of dying for your country, if necessary, is laid down as the first and greatest of the Commandments. They had to FEEL themselves true patriots, even while they plundered their countrymen. Clearly there was only one escape for them—into stupidity. They could keep society in its existing shape only by being UNABLE to grasp that any improvement was possible. Difficult though this was, they achieved it, largely by fixing their eyes on the past and refusing to notice the changes that were going on round them.

There is much in England that this explains. It explains the decay of country life, due to the keeping-up of a sham feudalism which drives the more spirited workers off the land. It explains the immobility of the public schools, which have barely altered since the eighties of the last century. It explains the military incompetence which has again and again startled the world. Since the fifties every war in which England has engaged has started off with a series of disasters, after which the situation has been saved by people comparatively low in the social scale. The higher commanders, drawn from the aristocracy, could never prepare for modern war, because in order to do so they would have had to admit to themselves that the world was changing. They have always clung to obsolete methods and weapons, because they inevitably saw each war as a repetition of the last. Before the Boer War they prepared for the Zulu War, before the 1914 for the Boer War, and before the present war for 1914. Even at this moment hundreds of thousands of men in England are being trained with the bayonet, a weapon entirely useless except for opening tins. It is worth noticing that the navy and, latterly, the air force, have always been more efficient than the regular army. But the navy is only partially, and the air force hardly at all, within the ruling-class orbit.

It must be admitted that so long as things were peaceful the methods of the British ruling class served them well enough. Their own people manifestly tolerated them. However unjustly England might be organized, it was at any rate not torn by class warfare or haunted by secret police. The Empire was peaceful as no area of comparable size has ever been. Throughout its vast extent, nearly a quarter of the earth, there were fewer armed men than would be found necessary by a minor Balkan state. As people to live under, and looking at them merely from a liberal, NEGATIVE standpoint, the British ruling class had their points. They were preferable to the truly modern men, the Nazis and Fascists. But it had long been obvious that they would be helpless against any serious attack from the outside.

They could not struggle against Nazism or Fascism, because they could not understand them. Neither could they have struggled against Communism, if Communism had been a serious force in western Europe. To understand Fascism they would have had to study the theory of Socialism, which would have forced them to realize that the economic system by which they lived was unjust, inefficient and out-of-date. But it was exactly this fact that they had trained themselves never to face. They dealt with Fascism as the cavalry generals of 1914 dealt with the machine-guns—by ignoring it. After years of aggression and massacres, they had grasped only one fact, that Hitler and Mussolini were hostile to Communism. Therefore, it was argued, they MUST be friendly to the British dividend-drawer. Hence the truly frightening spectacle of Conservative M.P.s wildly cheering the news that British ships, bringing food to the Spanish Republican government, had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes. Even when they had begun to grasp that Fascism was dangerous, its essentially revolutionary nature, the huge military effort it was capable of making, the sort of tactics it would use, were quite beyond their comprehension. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, anyone with as much political knowledge as can be acquired from a sixpenny pamphlet on Socialism knew that, if Franco won, the result would be strategically disastrous for England; and yet generals and admirals who had given their lives to the study of war were unable to grasp this fact. This vein of political ignorance runs right through English official life, through Cabinet ministers, ambassadors, consuls, judges, magistrates, policemen. The policeman who arrests the ‘red’ does not understand the theories the ‘red’ is preaching; if he did his own position as bodyguard of the moneyed class might seem less pleasant to him. There is reason to think that even military espionage is hopelessly hampered by ignorance of the new economic doctrines and the ramifications of the underground parties.

The British ruling class were not altogether wrong in thinking that Fascism was on their side. It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or democratic Socialism. One ought never to forget this, for nearly the whole of German and Italian propaganda is designed to cover it up. The natural instinct of men like Simon, Hoare, Chamberlain etc. was to come to an agreement with Hitler. But—and here the peculiar feature of English life that I have spoken of, the deep sense of national solidarity, comes in—they could only do so by breaking up the Empire and selling their own people into semi-slavery. A truly corrupt class would have done this without hesitation, as in France. But things had not gone that distance in England. Politicians who would make cringing speeches about ‘the duty of loyalty to our conquerors’ are hardly to be found in English public life. Tossed to and fro between their incomes and their principles, it was impossible that men like Chamberlain should do anything but make the worst of both worlds.

One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class are MORALLY fairly sound, is that in time of war they are ready enough to get themselves killed. Several dukes, earls and what nots were killed in the recent campaign in Flanders. That could not happen if these people were the cynical scoundrels that they are sometimes declared to be. It is important not to misunderstand their motives, or one cannot predict their actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living in.


The stagnation of the Empire in the between-war years affected everyone in England, but it had an especially direct effect upon two important sub-sections of the middle class. One was the military and imperialist middle class, generally nicknamed the Blimps, and the other the left-wing intelligentsia. These two seemingly hostile types, symbolic opposites— the half-pay colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain, like a dinosaur, the highbrow with his domed forehead and stalk-like neck—are mentally linked together and constantly interact upon one another; in any case they are born to a considerable extent into the same families.

Thirty years ago the Blimp class was already losing its vitality. The middle-class families celebrated by Kipling, the prolific lowbrow families whose sons officered the army and navy and swarmed over all the waste places of the earth from the Yukon to the Irrawaddy, were dwindling before 1914. The thing that had killed them was the telegraph. In a narrowing world, more and more governed from Whitehall, there was every year less room for individual initiative. Men like Clive, Nelson, Nicholson, Gordon would find no place for themselves in the modern British Empire. By 1920 nearly every inch of the colonial empire was in the grip of Whitehall. Well-meaning, over-civilized men, in dark suits and black felt hats, with neatly rolled umbrellas crooked over the left forearm, were imposing their constipated view of life on Malaya and Nigeria, Mombasa and Mandalay. The one-time empire builders were reduced to the status of clerks, buried deeper and deeper under mounds of paper and red tape. In the early twenties one could see, all over the Empire, the older officials, who had known more spacious days, writhing impotently under the changes that were happening. From that time onwards it has been next door to impossible to induce young men of spirit to take any part in imperial administration. And what was true of the official world was true also of the commercial. The great monopoly companies swallowed up hosts of petty traders. Instead of going out to trade adventurously in the Indies one went to an office stool in Bombay or Singapore. And life in Bombay or Singapore was actually duller and safer than life in London. Imperialist sentiment remained strong in the middle class, chiefly owing to family tradition, but the job of administering the Empire had ceased to appeal. Few able men went east of Suez if there was any way of avoiding it.

But the general weakening of imperialism, and to some extent of the whole British morale, that took place during the nineteen-thirties, was partly the work of the left-wing intelligentsia, itself a kind of growth that had sprouted from the stagnation of the Empire.

It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense ‘left’. Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T. E. Lawrence. Since about 1930 everyone describable as an ‘intellectual’ has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order. Necessarily so, because society as it was constituted had no room for him. In an Empire that was simply stagnant, neither being developed nor falling to pieces, and in an England ruled by people whose chief asset was their stupidity, to be ‘clever’ was to be suspect. If you had the kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job. The intellectuals could find a function for themselves only in the literary reviews and the left-wing political parties.

The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most ‘anti-Fascist’ during the Spanish Civil War are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia—their severance from the common culture of the country.

In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the NEW STATESMAN and the NEWS CHRONICLE cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism hastened the process.

It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during the past ten years, as purely NEGATIVE creatures, mere anti-Blimps, was a by-product of ruling-class stupidity. Society could not use them, and they had not got it in them to see that devotion to one’s country implies ‘for better, for worse’. Both Blimps and highbrows took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence. If you were a patriot you read BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE and publicly thanked God that you were ‘not brainy’. If you were an intellectual you sniggered at the Union Jack and regarded physical courage as barbarous. It is obvious that this preposterous convention cannot continue. The Bloomsbury highbrow, with his mechanical snigger, is as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel. A modern nation cannot afford either of them. Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very peculiar kind of war, that may make this possible.


One of the most important developments in England during the past twenty years has been the upward and downward extension of the middle class. It has happened on such a scale as to make the old classification of society into capitalists, proletarians and petit bourgeois (small property-owners) almost obsolete.

England is a country in which property and financial power are concentrated in very few hands. Few people in modern England OWN anything at all, except clothes, furniture and possibly a house. The peasantry have long since disappeared, the independent shopkeeper is being destroyed, the small businessman is diminishing in numbers. But at the same time modern industry is so complicated that it cannot get along without great numbers of managers, salesmen, engineers, chemists and technicians of all kinds, drawing fairly large salaries. And these in turn call into being a professional class of doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, etc. etc. The tendency of advanced capitalism has therefore been to enlarge the middle class and not to wipe it out as it once seemed likely to do.

But much more important than this is the spread of middle-class ideas and habits among the working class. The British working class are now better off in almost all ways than they were thirty years ago. This is partly due to the efforts of the trade unions, but partly to the mere advance of physical science. It is not always realized that within rather narrow limits the standard of life of a country can rise without a corresponding rise in real wages. Up to a point, civilization can lift itself up by its boot-tags. However unjustly society is organized, certain technical advances are bound to benefit the whole community, because certain kinds of goods are necessarily held in common. A millionaire cannot, for example, light the streets for himself while darkening them for other people. Nearly all citizens of civilized countries now enjoy the use of good roads, germ-free water, police protection, free libraries and probably free education of a kind. Public education in England has been meanly starved of money, but it has nevertheless improved, largely owing to the devoted efforts of the teachers, and the habit of reading has become enormously more widespread. To an increasing extent the rich and the poor read the same books, and they also see the same films and listen to the same radio programmes. And the differences in their way of life have been diminished by the mass-production of cheap clothes and improvements in housing. So far as outward appearance goes, the clothes of rich and poor, especially in the case of women, differ far less than they did thirty or even fifteen years ago. As to housing, England still has slums which are a blot on civilization, but much building has been done during the past ten years, largely by the local authorities. The modern council house, with its bathroom and electric light, is smaller than the stockbroker’s villa, but it is recognizably the same kind of house, which the farm labourer’s cottage is not. A person who has grown up in a council housing estate is likely to be—indeed, visibly is— more middle class in outlook than a person who has grown up in a slum.

The effect of all this is a general softening of manners. It is enhanced by the fact that modern industrial methods tend always to demand less muscular effort and therefore to leave people with more energy when their day’s work is done. Many workers in the light industries are less truly manual labourers than is a doctor or a grocer. In tastes, habits, manners and outlook the working class and the middle class are drawing together. The unjust distinctions remain, but the real differences diminish. The old-style ‘proletarian’—collarless, unshaven and with muscles warped by heavy labour—still exists, but he is constantly decreasing in numbers; he only predominates in the heavy-industry areas of the north of England.

After 1918 there began to appear something that had never existed in England before: people of indeterminate social class. In 1910 every human being in these islands could be ‘placed’ in an instant by his clothes, manners and accent. That is no longer the case. Above all, it is not the case in the new townships that have developed as a result of cheap motor cars and the southward shift of industry. The place to look for the germs of the future England is in light-industry areas and along the arterial roads. In Slough, Dagenham, Barnet, Letchworth, Hayes—everywhere, indeed, on the outskirts of great towns—the old pattern is gradually changing into something new. In those vast new wildernesses of glass and brick the sharp distinctions of the older kind of town, with its slums and mansions, or of the country, with its manor-houses and squalid cottages, no longer exist. There are wide gradations of income, but it is the same kind of life that is being lived at different levels, in labour-saving flats or council houses, along the concrete roads and in the naked democracy of the swimming-pools. It is a rather restless, cultureless life, centring round tinned food, PICTURE POST, the radio and the internal combustion engine. It is a civilization in which children grow up with an intimate knowledge of magnetoes and in complete ignorance of the Bible. To that civilization belong the people who are most at home in and most definitely OF the modern world, the technicians and the higher-paid skilled workers, the airmen and their mechanics, the radio experts, film producers, popular journalists and industrial chemists. They are the indeterminate stratum at which the older class distinctions are beginning to break down.

This war, unless we are defeated, will wipe out most of the existing class privileges. There are every day fewer people who wish them to continue. Nor need we fear that as the pattern changes life in England will lose its peculiar flavour. The new red cities of Greater London are crude enough, but these things are only the rash that accompanies a change. In whatever shape England emerges from the war it will be deeply tinged with the characteristics that I have spoken of earlier. The intellectuals who hope to see it Russianized or Germanized will be disappointed. The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the suet puddings and the misty skies. It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.

Part Two: Shopkeepers at War


I began this book to the tune of German bombs, and I begin this second chapter in the added racket of the barrage. The yellow gunflashes are lighting the sky, the splinters are rattling on the housetops, and London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. Anyone able to read a map knows that we are in deadly danger. I do not mean that we are beaten or need be beaten. Almost certainly the outcome depends on our own will. But at this moment we are in the soup, full fathom five, and we have been brought there by follies which we are still committing and which will drown us altogether if we do not mend our ways quickly.

What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalismthat is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned privately and operated solely for profit—DOES NOT WORK. It cannot deliver the goods. This fact had been known to millions of people for years past, but nothing ever came of it, because there was no real urge from below to alter the system, and those at the top had trained themselves to be impenetrably stupid on just this point. Argument and propaganda got one nowhere. The lords of property simply sat on their bottoms and proclaimed that all was for the best. Hitler’s conquest of Europe, however, was a PHYSICAL debunking of capitalism. War, for all its evil, is at any rate an unanswerable test of strength, like a try-your-grip machine. Great strength returns the penny, and there is no way of faking the result.

When the nautical screw was first invented, there was a controversy that lasted for years as to whether screw-steamers or paddle-steamers were better. The paddle-steamers, like all obsolete things, had their champions, who supported them by ingenious arguments. Finally, however, a distinguished admiral tied a screw-steamer and a paddlesteamer of equal horse-power stern to stern and set their engines running. That settled the question once and for all. And it was something similar that happened on the fields of Norway and of Flanders. Once and for all it was proved that a planned economy is stronger than a planless one. But it is necessary here to give some kind of definition to those much-abused words, Socialism and Fascism.

Socialism is usually defined as “common ownership of the means of production”. Crudely: the State, representing the whole nation, owns everything, and everyone is a State employee. This does NOT mean that people are stripped of private possessions such as clothes and furniture, but it DOES mean that all productive goods, such as land, mines, ships and machinery, are the property of the State. The State is the sole large-scale producer. It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can solve the problems of production and consumption. At normal times a capitalist economy can never consume all that it produces, so that there is always a wasted surplus (wheat burned in furnaces, herrings dumped back into the sea etc etc) and always unemployment. In time of war, on the other hand, it has difficulty in producing all that it needs, because nothing is produced unless someone sees his way to making a profit out of it. In a Socialist economy these problems do not exist. The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them. Production is only limited by the amount of labour and raw materials. Money, for internal purposes, ceases to be a mysterious all-powerful thing and becomes a sort of coupon or ration-ticket, issued in sufficient quantities to buy up such consumption goods as may be available at the moment.

However, it has become clear in the last few years that “common ownership of the means of production” is not in itself a sufficient definition of Socialism. One must also add the following: approximate equality of incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education. These are simply the necessary safeguards against the reappearance of a classsystem. Centralised ownership has very little meaning unless the mass of the people are living roughly upon an equal level, and have some kind of control over the government. “The State” may come to mean no more than a self-elected political party, and oligarchy and privilege can return, based on power rather than on money.

But what then is Fascism?

Fascism, at any rate the German version, is a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes. Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still capitalists and workers, and—this is the important point, and the real reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathise with Fascism—generally speaking the same people are capitalists and the same people workers as before the Nazi revolution. But at the same time the State, which is simply the Nazi Party, is in control of everything. It controls investment, raw materials, rates of interest, working hours, wages. The factory owner still owns his factory, but he is for practical purposes reduced to the status of a manager. Everyone is in effect a State employee, though the salaries vary very greatly. The mere EFFICIENCY of such a system, the elimination of waste and obstruction, is obvious. In seven years it has built up the most powerful war machine the world has ever seen.

But the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite. The driving force behind the Nazi movement is the belief in human INEQUALITY, the superiority of Germans to all other races, the right of Germany to rule the world. Outside the German Reich it does not recognise any obligations. Eminent Nazi professors have “proved” over and over again that only nordic man is fully human, have even mooted the idea that nonnordic peoples (such as ourselves) can interbreed with gorillas! Therefore, while a species of war-Socialism exists within the German state, its attitude towards conquered nations is frankly that of an exploiter. The function of the Czechs, Poles, French, etc is simply to produce such goods as Germany may need, and get in return just as little as will keep them from open rebellion. If we are conquered, our job will probably be to manufacture weapons for Hitler’s forthcoming wars with Russia and America. The Nazis aim, in effect, at setting up a kind of caste system, with four main castes corresponding rather closely to those of the Hindu religion. At the top comes the Nazi party, second come the mass of the German people, third come the conquered European populations. Fourth and last are to come the coloured peoples, the “semi-apes” as Hitler calls them, who are to be reduced quite openly to slavery.

However horrible this system may seem to us, IT WORKS. It works because it is a planned system geared to a definite purpose, worldconquest, and not allowing any private interest, either of capitalist or worker, to stand in its way. British capitalism does not work, because it is a competitive system in which private profit is and must be the main objective. It is a system in which all the forces are pulling in opposite directions and the interests of the individual are as often as not totally opposed to those of the State.

All through the critical years British capitalism, with its immense industrial plant and its unrivalled supply of skilled labour, was unequal to the strain of preparing for war. To prepare for war on the modern scale you have got to divert the greater part of your national income to armaments, which means cutting down on consumption goods. A bombing plane, for instance, is equivalent in price to fifty small motor cars, or eighty thousand pairs of silk stockings, or a million loaves of bread. Clearly you can’t have MANY bombing planes without lowering the national standard of life. It is guns or butter, as Marshal Goering remarked. But in Chamberlain’s England the transition could not be made. The rich would not face the necessary taxation, and while the rich are still visibly rich it is not possible to tax the poor very heavily either. Moreover, so long as PROFIT was the main object the manufacturer had no incentive to change over from consumption goods to armaments. A businessman’s first duty is to his shareholders. Perhaps England needs tanks, but perhaps it pays better to manufacture motor cars. To prevent war material from reaching the enemy is common sense, but to sell in the highest market is a business duty. Right at the end of August 1939 the British dealers were tumbling over one another in their eagerness to sell Germany tin, rubber, copper and shellac-and this in the clear, certain knowledge that war was going to break out in a week or two. It was about as sensible as selling somebody a razor to cut your throat with. But it was “good business”.

And now look at the results. After 1934 it was known that Germany was rearming. After 1936 everyone with eyes in his head knew that war was coming. After Munich it was merely a question of how soon the war would begin. In September 1939 war broke out. EIGHT MONTHS LATER it was discovered that, so far as equipment went, the British army was barely beyond the standard of 1918. We saw our soldiers fighting their way desperately to the coast, with one aeroplane against three, with rifles against tanks, with bayonets against tommy-guns. There were not even enough revolvers to supply all the officers. After a year of war the regular army was still short of 300,000 tin hats. There had even, previously, been a shortage of uniforms—this in one of the greatest woollen-goods producing countries in the world!

What had happened was that the whole moneyed class, unwilling to face a change in their way of life, had shut their eyes to the nature of Fascism and modern war. And false optimism was fed to the general public by the gutter press, which lives on its advertisements and is therefore interested in keeping trade conditions normal. Year after year the Beaverbrook press assured us in huge headlines that THERE WILL BE NO WAR, and as late as the beginning of 1939 Lord Rothermere was describing Hitler as “a great gentleman”. And while England in the moment of disaster proved to be short of every war material except ships, it is not recorded that there was any shortage of motor cars, fur coats, gramophones, lipstick, chocolates or silk stockings. And dare anyone pretend that the same tug-of-war between private profit and public necessity is not still continuing? England fights for her life, but business must fight for profits. You can hardly open a newspaper without seeing the two contradictory processes happening side by side. On the very same page you will find the Government urging you to save and the seller of some useless luxury urging you to spend. Lend to Defend, but Guinness is Good for You. Buy a Spitfire, but also buy Haig and Haig, Pond’s Face Cream and Black Magic Chocolates.

But one thing gives hope—the visible swing in public opinion. If we can survive this war, the defeat in Flanders will turn out to have been one of the great turning-points in English history. In that spectacular disaster the working class, the middle class and even a section of the business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism. Before that the case against capitalism had never been PROVED. Russia, the only definitely Socialist country, was backward and far away. All criticism broke itself against the rat-trap faces of bankers and the brassy laughter of stockbrokers. Socialism? Ha! ha! ha! Where’s the money to come from? Ha! ha! ha! The lords of property were firm in their seats, and they knew it. But after the French collapse there came something that could not be laughed away, something that neither chequebooks nor policemen were any use against-the bombing. Zweee—BOOM! What’s that? Oh, only a bomb on the Stock Exchange. Zweee—BOOM! Another acre of somebody’s valuable slum-property gone west. Hitler will at any rate go down in history as the man who made the City of London laugh on the wrong side of its face. For the first time in their lives the comfortable were uncomfortable, the professional optimists had to admit that there was something wrong. It was a great step forward. From that time onwards the ghastly job of trying to convince artificially stupefied people that a planned economy might be better than a free-for-all in which the worst man wins-that job will never be quite so ghastly again.


The difference between Socialism and capitalism is not primarily a difference of technique. One cannot simply change from one system to the other as one might install a new piece of machinery in a factory, and then carry on as before, with the same people in positions of control. Obviously there is also needed a complete shift of power. New blood, new men, new ideas—in the true sense of the word, a revolution.

I have spoken earlier of the soundness and homogeneity of England, the patriotism that runs like a connecting thread through almost all classes. After Dunkirk anyone who had eyes in his head could see this. But it is absurd to pretend that the promise of that moment has been fulfilled. Almost certainly the mass of the people are now ready for the vast changes that are necessary; but those changes have not even begun to happen.

England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are quite incapable of leading us to victory. They could not do it, even if their material interests did not constantly trip them up. As I pointed out earlier, they have been artificially stupefied. Quite apart from anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed largely by the old—that is, by people utterly unable to grasp what age they are living in or what enemy they are fighting. Nothing was more desolating at the beginning of this war than the way in which the whole of the older generation conspired to pretend that it was the war of 1914-18 over again. All the old duds were back on the job, twenty years older, with the skull plainer in their faces. Ian Hay was cheering up the troops, Belloc was writing articles on strategy, Maurois doing broadcasts, Bairnsfather drawing cartoons. It was like a tea-party of ghosts. And that state of affairs has barely altered. The shock of disaster brought a few able men like Bevin to the front, but in general we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years 1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation of the unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses.

As soon as one considers any problem of this war—and it does not matter whether it is the widest aspect of strategy or the tiniest detail of home organisation—one sees that the necessary moves cannot be made while the social structure of England remains what it is. Inevitably, because of their position and upbringing, the ruling class are fighting for their own privileges, which cannot possibly be reconciled with the public interest. It is a mistake to imagine that war aims, strategy, propaganda and industrial organisation exist in watertight compartments. All are interconnected. Every strategic plan, every tactical method, even every weapon will bear the stamp of the social system that produced it. The British ruling class are fighting against Hitler, whom they have always regarded and whom some of them still regard as their protector against Bolshevism. That does not mean that they will deliberately sell out; but it does mean that at every decisive moment they are likely to falter, pull their punches, do the wrong thing.

Until the Churchill Government called some sort of halt to the process, they have done the wrong thing with an unerring instinct ever since 1931. They helped Franco to overthrow the Spanish Government, although anyone not an imbecile could have told them that a Fascist Spain would be hostile to England. They fed Italy with war materials all through the winter of 1939-40, although it was obvious to the whole world that the Italians were going to attack us in the spring. For the sake of a few hundred thousand dividenddrawers they are turning India from an ally into an enemy. Moreover, so long as the moneyed classes remain in control, we cannot develop any but a DEFENSIVE strategy. Every victory means a change in the STATUS QUO. How can we drive the Italians out of Abyssinia without rousing echoes among the coloured peoples of our own Empire? How can we even smash Hitler without the risk of bringing the German Socialists and Communists into power? The left-wingers who wail that “this is a capitalist war” and that “British Imperialism” is fighting for loot have got their heads screwed on backwards. The last thing the British moneyed class wish for is to acquire fresh territory. It would simply be an embarrassment. Their war aim (both unattainable and unmentionable) is simply to hang on to what they have got.

Internally, England is still the rich man’s Paradise. All talk of “equality of sacrifice” is nonsense. At the same time as factoryworkers are asked to put up with longer hours, advertisements for “Butler. One in family, eight in staff” are appearing in the press. The bombed-out populations of the East End go hungry and homeless while wealthier victims simply step into their cars and flee to comfortable country houses. The Home Guard swells to a million men in a few weeks, and is deliberately organised from above in such a way that only people with private incomes can hold positions of command. Even the rationing system is so arranged that it hits the poor all the time, while people with over £2,000 a year are practically unaffected by it. Everywhere privilege is squandering good will. In such circumstances even propaganda becomes almost impossible. As attempts to stir up patriotic feeling, the red posters issued by the Chamberlain Government at the beginning of the war broke all depth-records. Yet they could not have been much other than they were, for how could Chamberlain and his followers take the risk of rousing strong popular feeling AGAINST FASCISM? Anyone who was genuinely hostile to Fascism must also be opposed to Chamberlain himself and to all the others who had helped Hitler into power. So also with external propaganda. In all Lord Halifax’s speeches there is not one concrete proposal for which a single inhabitant of Europe would risk the top joint of his little finger. For what war-aim can Halifax, or anyone like him, conceivably have, except to put the clock back to 1933?

It is only by revolution that the native genius of the English people can be set free. Revolution does not mean red flags and street fighting, it means a fundamental shift of power. Whether it happens with or without bloodshed is largely an accident of time and place. Nor does it mean the dictatorship of a single class. The people in England who grasp what changes are needed and are capable of carrying them through are not confined to any one class, though it is true that very few people with over £2,000 a year are among them. What is wanted is a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old. It is not primarily a question of change of government. British governments do, broadly speaking, represent the will of the people, and if we alter our structure from below we shall get the government we need. Ambassadors, generals, officials and colonial administrators who are senile or pro-Fascist are more dangerous than Cabinet ministers whose follies have to be committed in public. Right through our national life we have got to fight against privilege, against the notion that a half-witted public-schoolboy is better fitted for command than an intelligent mechanic. Although there are gifted and honest INDIVIDUALS among them, we have got to break the grip of the moneyed class as a whole. England has got to assume its real shape. The England that is only just beneath the surface, in the factories and the newspaper offices, in the aeroplanes and the submarines, has got to take charge of its own destiny.

In the short run, equality of sacrifice, “war-Communism”, is even more important than radical economic changes. It is very necessary that industry should be nationalised, but it is more urgently necessary that such monstrosities as butlers and “private incomes” should disappear forthwith. Almost certainly the main reason why the Spanish Republic could keep up the fight for two and a half years against impossible odds was that there were no gross contrasts of wealth. The people suffered horribly, but they all suffered alike. When the private soldier had not a cigarette, the general had not one either. Given equality of sacrifice, the morale of a country like England would probably be unbreakable. But at present we have nothing to appeal to except traditional patriotism, which is deeper here than elsewhere, but is not necessarily bottomless. At some point or another you have got to deal with the man who says “I should be no worse off under Hitler”. But what answer can you give him—that is, what answer that you can expect him to listen to—while common soldiers risk their lives for two and sixpence a day, and fat women ride about in Rolls-Royce cars, nursing pekineses?

It is quite likely that this war will last three years. It will mean cruel overwork, cold dull winters, uninteresting food, lack of amusements, prolonged bombing. It cannot but lower the general standard of living, because the essential act of war is to manufacture armaments instead of consumable goods. The working class will have to suffer terrible things. And they WILL suffer them, almost indefinitely, provided that they know what they are fighting for. They are not cowards, and they are not even internationally minded. They can stand all that the Spanish workers stood, and more. But they will want some kind of proof that a better life is ahead for themselves and their children. The one sure earnest of that is that when they are taxed and overworked they shall see that the rich are being hit even harder. And if the rich squeal audibly, so much the better.

We can bring these things about, if we really want to. It is not true that public opinion has no power in England. It never makes itself heard without achieving something; it has been responsible for most of the changes for the better during the past six months. But we have moved with glacier-like slowness, and we have learned only from disasters. It took the fall of Paris to get rid of Chamberlain and the unnecessary suffering of scores of thousands of people in the East End to get rid or partially rid of Sir John Anderson. It is not worth losing a battle in order to bury a corpse. For we are fighting against swift evil intelligences, and time presses, and

history to the defeated

May say Alas! but cannot alter or pardon.


During the last six months there has been much talk of “the Fifth Column”. From time to time obscure lunatics have been jailed for making speeches in favour of Hitler, and large numbers of German refugees have been interned, a thing which has almost certainly done us great harm in Europe. It is of course obvious that the idea of a large, organised army of Fifth Columnists suddenly appearing on the streets with weapons in their hands, as in Holland and Belgium, is ridiculous. Nevertheless a Fifth Column danger does exist. One can only consider it if one also considers in what way England might be defeated.

It does not seem probable that air bombing can settle a major war. England might well be invaded and conquered, but the invasion would be a dangerous gamble, and if it happened and failed it would probably leave us more united and less Blimp-ridden than before. Moreover, if England were overrun by foreign troops the English people would know that they had been beaten and would continue the struggle. It is doubtful whether they could be held down permanently, or whether Hitler wishes to keep an army of a million men stationed in these islands. A government of ——, —— and —— (you can fill in the names) would suit him better. The English can probably not be bullied into surrender, but they might quite easily be bored, cajoled or cheated into it, provided that, as at Munich, they did not know that they were surrendering. It could happen most easily when the war seemed to be going well rather than badly. The threatening tone of so much of the German and Italian propaganda is a psychological mistake. It only gets home on intellectuals. With the general public the proper approach would be “Let’s call it a draw”. It is when a peace-offer along THOSE lines is made that the pro-Fascists will raise their voices.

But who are the pro-Fascists? The idea of a Hitler victory appeals to the very rich, to the Communists, to Mosley’s followers, to the pacifists, and to certain sections among the Catholics. Also, if things went badly enough on the Home Front, the whole of the poorer section of the working class might swing round to a position that was defeatist though not actively pro-Hitler.

In this motley list one can see the daring of German propaganda, its willingness to offer everything to everybody. But the various pro-Fascist forces are not consciously acting together, and they operate in different ways.

The Communists must certainly be regarded as pro-Hitler, and are bound to remain so unless Russian policy changes, but they have not very much influence. Mosley’s Blackshirts, though now lying very low, are a more serious danger, because of the footing they probably possess in the armed forces. Still, even in its palmiest days Mosley’s following can hardly have numbered 50,000. Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement. Some of the extremer pacifists, starting out with a complete renunciation of violence, have ended by warmly championing Hitler and even toying with antisemitism. This is interesting, but it is not important. “Pure” pacifism, which is a by-product of naval power, can only appeal to people in very sheltered positions. Moreover, being negative and irresponsible, it does not inspire much devotion. Of the membership of the Peace Pledge Union, less than 15 per cent even pay their annual subscriptions. None of these bodies of people, pacifists, Communists or Blackshirts, could bring a largescale stop-the-war movement into being by their own efforts. But they might help to make things very much easier for a treacherous government negotiating surrender. Like the French Communists, they might become the half-conscious agents of millionaires.

The real danger is from above. One ought not to pay any attention to Hitler’s recent line of talk about being the friend of the poor rnan, the enemy of plutocracy, etc etc. Hitler’s real self is in MEIN KAMPF, and in his actions. He has never persecuted the rich, except when they were Jews or when they tried actively to oppose him. He stands for a centralised economy which robs the capitalist of most of his power but leaves the structure of society much as before. The State controls industry, but there are still rich and poor, masters and men. Therefore, as against genuine Socialism, the moneyed class have always been on his side. This was crystal clear at the time of the Spanish civil war, and clear again at the time when France surrendered. Hitler’s puppet government are not working men, but a gang of bankers, gaga generals and corrupt rightwing politicians.

That kind of spectacular, CONSCIOUS treachery is less likely to succeed in England, indeed is far less likely even to be tried. Nevertheless, to many payers of supertax this war is simply an insane family squabble which ought to be stopped at all costs. One need not doubt that a “peace” movement is on foot somewhere in high places; probably a shadow Cabinet has already been formed. These people will get their chance not in the moment of defeat but in some stagnant period when boredom is reinforced by discontent. They will not talk about surrender, only about peace; and doubtless they will persuade themselves, and perhaps other people, that they are acting for the best. An army of unemployed led by millionaires quoting the Sermon on the Mount—that is our danger. But it cannot arise when we have once introduced a reasonable degree of social justice. The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s bombing planes.

Part Three: The English Revolution


The English revolution started several years ago, and it began to gather momentum when the troops came back from Dunkirk. Like all else in England, it happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening. The war has speeded it up, but it has also increased, and desperately, the necessity for speed.

Progress and reaction are ceasing to have anything to do with party labels. If one wishes to name a particular moment, one can say that the old distinction between Right and Left broke down when PICTURE POST was first published. What are the politics of PICTURE POST? Or of CAVALCADE, or Priestley’s broadcasts, or the leading articles in the EVENING STANDARD? None of the old classifications will fit them. They merely point to the existence of multitudes of unlabelled people who have grasped within the last year or two that something is wrong. But since a classless, ownerless society is generally spoken of as “Socialism”, we can give that name to the society towards which we are now moving. The war and the revolution are inseparable. We cannot establish anything that a western nation would regard as Socialism without defeating Hitler; on the other hand we cannot defeat Hitler while we remain economically and socially in the nineteenth century. The past is fighting the future and we have two years, a year, possibly only a few months, to see to it that the future wins.

We cannot look to this or to any similar government to put through the necessary changes of its own accord. The initiative will have to come from below. That means that there will have to arise something that has never existed in England, a Socialist movement that actually has the mass of the people behind it. But one must start by recognising why it is that English Socialism has failed.

In England there is only one Socialist party that has ever seriously mattered, the Labour Party. It has never been able to achieve any major change, because except in purely domestic matters it has never possessed a genuinely independent policy. It was and is primarily a party of the trade unions, devoted to raising wages and improving working conditions. This meant that all through the critical years it was directly interested in the prosperity of British capitalism. In particular it was interested in the maintenance of the British Empire, for the wealth of England was drawn largely from Asia and Africa. The standard of living of the trade union workers, whom the Labour Party represented, depended indirectly on the sweating of Indian coolies. At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking in terms of an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races. It had to stand for the “independence” of India, just as it had to stand for disarmament and “progress” generally. Nevertheless everyone was aware that this was nonsense. In the age of the tank and the bombing plane, backward agricultural countries like India and the African colonies can no more be independent than can a cat or a dog. Had any Labour government come into office with a clear majority and then proceeded to grant India anything that could truly be called independence, India would simply have been absorbed by Japan, or divided between Japan and Russia.

To a Labour government in power, three imperial policies would have been open. One was to continue administering the Empire exactly as before, which meant dropping all pretensions to Socialism. Another was to set the subject peoples “free”, which meant in practice handing them over to Japan, Italy and other predatory powers, and incidentally causing a catastrophic drop in the British standard of living. The third was to develop a POSITIVE imperial policy, and aim at transforming the Empire into a federation of Socialist states, like a looser and freer version of the Union of Soviet Republics. But the Labour Party’s history and background made this impossible. It was a party of the trade unions, hopelessly parochial in outlook, with little interest in imperial affairs and no contacts among the men who actually held the Empire together. It would have had to hand the administration of India and Africa and the whole job of imperial defence to men drawn from a different class and traditionally hostile to Socialism. Overshadowing everything was the doubt whether a Labour government which meant business could make itself obeyed. For all the size of its following, the Labour Party had no footing in the navy, little or none in the army or air force, none whatever in the Colonial Services, and not even a sure footing in the Home Civil Service. In England its position was strong but not unchallengeable, and outside England all the key points were in the hands of its enemies. Once in power, the same dilemma would always have faced it: carry out your promises, and risk revolt, or continue with the same policy as the Conservatives, and stop talking about Socialism. The Labour leaders never found a solution, and from 1935 onwards it was very doubtful whether they had any wish to take office. They had degenerated into a Permanent Opposition.

Outside the Labour Party there existed several extremist parties, of whom the Communists were the strongest. The Communists had considerable influence in the Labour Party in the years 1920-6 and 1935-9. Their chief importance, and that of the whole left wing of the Labour movement, was the part they played in alienating the middle classes from Socialism.

The history of the past seven years has made it perfectly clear that Communism has no chance in western Europe. The appeal of Fascism is enormously greater. In one country after another the Communists have been rooted out by their more up-to-date enemies, the Nazis. In the English-speaking countries they never had a serious footing. The creed they were spreading could appeal only to a rather rare type of person, found chiefly in the middle-class intelligentsia, the type who has ceased to love his own country but still feels the need of patriotism, and therefore develops patriotic sentiments towards Russia. By 1940, after working for twenty years and spending a great deal of money, the British Communists had barely 20,000 members, actually a smaller number than they had started out with in 1920. The other Marxist parties were of even less importance. They had not the Russian money and prestige behind them, and even more than the Communists they were tied to the nineteenth-century doctrine of the class war. They continued year after year to preach this out-of-date gospel, and never drew any inference from the fact that it got them no followers.

Nor did any strong native Fascist movement grow up. Material conditions were not bad enough, and no leader who could be taken seriously was forthcoming. One would have had to look a long time to find a man more barren of ideas than Sir Oswald Mosley. He was as hollow as a jug. Even the elementary fact that Fascism must not offend national sentiment had escaped him. His entire movement was imitated slavishly from abroad, the uniform and the party programme from Italy and the salute from Germany, with the Jewbaiting tacked on as an afterthought, Mosley having actually started his movement with Jews among his most prominent followers. A man of the stamp of Bottomley or Lloyd George could perhaps have brought a real British Fascist movement into existence. But such leaders only appear when the psychological need for them exists.

After twenty years of stagnation and unemployment, the entire English Socialist movement was unable to produce a version of Socialism which the mass of the people could even find desirable. The Labour Party stood for a timid reformism, the Marxists were looking at the modern world through nineteenth-century spectacles. Both ignored agriculture and imperial problems, and both antagonised the middle classes. The suffocating stupidity of left-wing propaganda had frightened away whole classes of necessary people, factory managers, airmen, naval officers, farmers, white-collar workers, shopkeepers, policemen. All of these people had been taught to think of Socialism as something which menaced their livelihood, or as something seditious, alien, “anti-British” as they would have called it. Only the intellectuals, the least useful section of the middle class, gravitated towards the movement.

A Socialist Party which genuinely wished to achieve anything would have started by facing several facts which to this day are considered unmentionable in left-wing circles. It would have recognised that England is more united than most countries, that the British workers have a great deal to lose besides their chains, and that the differences in outlook and habits between class and class are rapidly diminishing. In general, it would have recognised that the old-fashioned “proletarian revolution” is an impossibility. But all through the between-war years no Socialist programme that was both revolutionary and workable ever appeared; basically, no doubt, because no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives. The Communists wanted to go on and on, suffering a comfortable martyrdom, meeting with endless defeats and afterwards putting the blame on other people. The left-wing intelligentsia wanted to go on and on, sniggering at the Blimps, sapping away at middle-class morale, but still keeping their favoured position as hangers-on of the dividend-drawers. Labour Party politics had become a variant of Conservatism, “revolutionary” politics had become a game of make-believe.

Now, however, the circumstances have changed, the drowsy years have ended. Being a Socialist no longer means kicking theoretically against a system which in practice you are fairly well satisfied with. This time our predicament is real. It is “the Philistines be upon thee, Samson”. We have got to make our words take physical shape, or perish. We know very well that with its present social structure England cannot survive, and we have got to make other people see that fact and act upon it. We cannot win the war without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism without winning the war. At such a time it is possible, as it was not in the peaceful years, to be both revolutionary and realistic. A Socialist movement which can swing the mass of the people behind it, drive the pro-Fascists out of positions of control, wipe out the grosser injustices and let the working class see that they have something to fight for, win over the middle classes instead of antagonising them, produce a workable imperial policy instead of a mixture of humbug and Utopianism, bring patriotism and intelligence into partnership—for the first time, a movement of such a kind becomes possible.


The fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a textbook word into a realisable policy.

The inefficiency of private capitalism has been proved all over Europe. Its injustice has been proved in the East End of London. Patriotism, against which the Socialists fought so long, has become a tremendous lever in their hands. People who at any other time would cling like glue to their miserable scraps of privilege, will surrender them fast enough when their country is in danger. War is the greatest of all agents of change. It speeds up all processes, wipes out minor distinctions, brings realities to the surface. Above all, war brings it home to the individual that he is not altogether an individual. It is only because they are aware of this that men will die on the field of battle. At this moment it is not so much a question of surrendering life as of surrendering leisure, comfort, economic liberty, social prestige. There are very few people in England who really want to see their country conquered by Germany. If it can be made clear that defeating Hitler means wiping out class privilege, the great mass of middling people, the £6 a week to £2,000 a year class, will probably be on our side. These people are quite indispensable, because they include most of the technical experts. Obviously the snobbishness and political ignorance of people like airmen and naval officers will be a very great difficulty. But without those airmen, destroyer commanders, etc etc we could not survive for a week. The only approach to them is through their patriotism. An intelligent Socialist movement will use their patriotism, instead of merely insulting it, as hitherto.

But do I mean that there will be no opposition? Of course not. It would be childish to expect anything of the kind.

There will be a bitter political struggle, and there will be unconscious and half-conscious sabotage everywhere. At some point or other it may be necessary to use violence. It is easy to imagine a pro-Fascist rebellion breaking out in, for instance, India. We shall have to fight against bribery, ignorance and snobbery. The bankers and the larger businessmen, the landowners and dividend-drawers, the officials with their prehensile bottoms, will obstruct for all they are worth. Even the middle classes will writhe when their accustomed way of life is menaced. But just because the English sense of national unity has never disintegrated, because patriotism is finally stronger than class-hatred, the chances are that the will of the majority will prevail. It is no use imagining that one can make fundamental changes without causing a split in the nation; but the treacherous minority will be far smaller in time of war than it would be at any other time.

The swing of opinion is visibly happening, but it cannot be counted on to happen fast enough of its own accord. This war is a race between the consolidation of Hitler’s empire and the growth of democratic consciousness. Everywhere in England you can see a ding-dong battle ranging to and fro—in Parliament and in the Government, in the factories and the armed forces, in the pubs and the air-raid shelters, in the newspapers and on the radio. Every day there are tiny defeats, tiny victories. Morrison for Home Security—a few yards forward. Priestley shoved off the air—a few yards back. It is a struggle between the groping and the unteachable, between the young and the old, between the living and the dead. But it is very necessary that the discontent which undoubtedly exists should take a purposeful and not merely obstructive form. It is time for THE PEOPLE to define their war-aims. What is wanted is a simple, concrete programme of action, which can be given all possible publicity, and round which public opinion can group itself.

I suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we need. The first three points deal with England’s internal policy, the other three with the Empire and the world:

  1. Nationalisation of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.
  2. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest taxfree income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.
  3. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.
  4. Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war is over.
  5. Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured peoples are to be represented.
  6. Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of the Fascist powers.

The general tendency of this programme is unmistakable. It aims quite frankly at turning this war into a revolutionary war and England into a Socialist democracy. I have deliberately included in it nothing that the simplest person could not understand and see the reason for. In the form in which I have put it, it could be printed on the front page of the DAILY MIRROR. But for the purposes of this book a certain amount of amplification is needed.

  1. NATIONALISATION. One can “nationalise” industry by the stroke of a pen, but the actual process is slow and complicated. What is needed is that the ownership of all major industry shall be formally vested in the State, representing the common people. Once that is done it becomes possible to eliminate the class of mere OWNERS who live not by virtue of anything they produce but by the possession of title-deeds and share certificates. State-ownership implies, therefore, that nobody shall live without working. How sudden a change in the conduct of industry it implies is less certain. In a country like England we cannot rip down the whole structure and build again from the bottom, least of all in time of war. Inevitably the majority of industrial concerns will continue with much the same personnel as before, the one-time owners or managing directors carrying on with their jobs as State employees. There is reason to think that many of the smaller capitalists would actually welcome some such arrangement. The resistance will come from the big capitalists, the bankers, the landlords and the idle rich, roughly speaking the class with over £2,000 a year—and even if one counts in all their dependants there are not more than half a million of these people in England. Nationalisation of agricultural land implies cutting out the landlord and the tithe drawer, but not necessarily interfering with the farmer. It is difficult to imagine any reorganisation of English agriculture that would not retain most of the existing farms as units, at any rate at the beginning. The farmer, when he is competent, will continue as a salaried manager. He is virtually that already, with the added disadvantage of having to make a profit and being permanently in debt to the bank. With certain kinds of petty trading, and even the small-scale ownership of land, the State will probably not interfere at all. It would be a great mistake to start by victimising the smallholder class, for instance. These people are necessary, on the whole they are competent, and the amount of work they do depends on the feeling that they are “their own masters”. But the State will certainly impose an upward limit to the ownership of land (probably fifteen acres at the very most), and will never permit any ownership of land in town areas.

From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is THEMSELVES. They will be ready then to endure the sacrifices that are ahead of us, war or no war. And even if the face of England hardly seems to change, on the day that our main industries are formally nationalised the dominance of a single class will have been broken. From then onwards the emphasis will be shifted from ownership to management, from privilege to competence. It is quite possible that State-ownership will in itself bring about less social change than will be forced upon us by the common hardships of war. But it is the necessary first step without which any REAL reconstruction is impossible.

  1. INCOMES. Limitation of incomes implies the fixing of a minimum wage, which implies a managed internal currency based simply on the amount of consumption goods available. And this again implies a stricter rationing scheme than is now in operation. It is no use at this stage of the world’s history to suggest that all human beings should have EXACTLY equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.
  2. EDUCATION. In wartime, educational reform must necessarily be promise rather than performance. At the moment we are not in a position to raise the school-leaving age or increase the teaching staffs of the elementary schools. But there are certain immediate steps that we could take towards a democratic educational system. We could start by abolishing the autonomy of the public schools and the older universities and flooding them with State-aided pupils chosen simply on grounds of ability. At present, public-school education is partly a training in class prejudice and partly a sort of tax that the middle classes pay to the upper class in return for the right to enter certain professions. It is true that that state of affairs is altering. The middle classes have begun to rebel against the expensiveness of education, and the war will bankrupt the majority of the public schools if it continues for another year or two. The evacuation is also producing certain minor changes. But there is a danger that some of the older schools, which will be able to weather the financial storm longest, will survive in some form or another as festering centres of snobbery. As for the 10,000 “private” schools that England possesses, the vast majority of them deserve nothing except suppression. They are simply commercial undertakings, and in many cases their educational level is actually lower than that of the elementary schools. They merely exist because of a widespread idea that there is something disgraceful in being educated by the public authorities. The State could quell this idea by declaring itself responsible for all edilcation, even if at the start this were no more than a gesture. We need gestures as well as actions. It is all too obvious that our talk of “defending democracy” is nonsense while it is a mere accident of birth that decides whether a gifted child shall or shall not get the education it deserves.
  3. INDIA. What we must offer India is not “freedom”, which, as I have said earlier, is impossible, but alliance, partnership-in a word, equality. But we must also tell the Indians that they are free to secede, if they want to. Without that there can be no equality of partnership, and our claim to be defending the coloured peoples against Fascism will never be believed. But it is a mistake to imagine that if the Indians were free to cut themselves adrift they would immediately do so. When a British government OFFERS them unconditional independence, they will refuse it. For as soon as they have the power to secede the chief reasons for doing so will have disappeared.

A complete severance of the two countries would be a disaster for India no less than for England. Intelligent Indians know this. As things are at present, India not only cannot defend itself, it is hardly even capable of feeding itself. The whole administration of the country depends on a framework of experts (engineers, forest officers, railwaymen, soldiers, doctors) who are predominantly English and could not be replaced within five or ten years. Moreover, English is the chief lingua franca and nearly the whole of the Indian intelligentsia is deeply anglicised. Any transference to foreign rule—for if the British marched out of India the Japanese and other powers would immediately march in—would mean an immense dislocation. Neither the Japanese, the Russians, the Germans nor the Italians would be capable of administering India even at the low level of efficiency that is attained by the British. They do not possess the necessary supplies of technical experts or the knowledge of languages and local conditions, and they probably could not win the confidence of indispensable go-betweens such as the Eurasians. If India were simply “liberated”, i.e. deprived of British military protection, the first result would be a fresh foreign conquest, and the second a series of enormous famines which would kill millions of people within a few years.

What India needs is the power to work out its own constitution without British interference, but in some kind of partnership that ensures its military protection and technical advice. This is unthinkable until there is a Socialist government in England. For at least eighty years England has artificially prevented the development of India, partly from fear of trade competition if Indian industries were too highly developed, partly because backward peoples are more easily governed than civilised ones. It is a commonplace that the average Indian suffers far more from his own countrymen than from the British. The petty Indian capitalist exploits the town worker with the utmost ruthlessness, the peasant lives from birth to death in the grip of the money-lender. But all this is an indirect result of the British rule, which aims half-consciously at keeping India as backward as possible. The classes most loyal to Britain are the princes, the landowners and the business community—in general, the reactionary classes who are doing fairly well out of the STATUS QUO. The moment that England ceased to stand towards India in the relation of an exploiter, the balance of forces would be altered. No need then for the British to flatter the ridiculous Indian princes, with their gilded elephants and cardboard armies, to prevent the growth of the Indian trade unions, to play off Moslem against Hindu, to protect the worthless life of the money-lender, to receive the salaams of toadying minor officials, to prefer the half-barbarous Gurkha to the educated Bengali. Once check that stream of dividends that flows from the bodies of Indian coolies to the banking accounts of old ladies in Cheltenham, and the whole sahib-native nexus, with its haughty ignorance on one side and envy and servility on the other, can come to an end. Englishmen and Indians can work side by side for the development of India, and for the training of Indians in all the arts which, so far, they have been systematically prevented from learning. How many of the existing British personnel in India, commercial or official, would fall in with such an arrangement—which would mean ceasing once and for all to be “sahibs”—is a different question. But, broadly speaking, more is to be hoped from the younger men and from those officials (civil engineers, forestry and agricultural experts, doctors, educationists) who have been scientifically educated. The higher officials, the provincial governors, commissioners, judges, etc are hopeless; but they are also the most easily replaceable.

That, roughly, is what would be meant by Dominion status if it were offered to India by a Socialist government. It is an offer of partnership on equal terms until such time as the world has ceased to be ruled by bombing planes. But we must add to it the unconditional right to secede. It is the only way of proving that we mean what we say. And what applies to India applies, MUTATIS MUTANDIS, to Burma, Malaya and most of our African possessions.

5 and 6 explain themselves. They are the necessary preliminary to any claim that we are fighting this war for the protection of peaceful peoples against Fascist aggression.

Is it impossibly hopeful to think that such a policy as this could get a following in England? A year ago, even six months ago, it would have been, but not now. Moreover-and this is the peculiar opportunity of this moment—it could be given the necessary publicity. There is now a considerable weekly press, with a circulation of millions, which would be ready to popularise—if not EXACTLY the programme I have sketched above, at any rate SOME policy along those lines. There are even three or four daily papers which would be prepared to give it a sympathetic hearing. That is the distance we have travelled in the last six months.

But is such a policy realisable? That depends entirely on ourselves.

Some of the points I have suggested are of the kind that could be carried out immediately, others would take years or decades and even then would not be perfectly achieved. No political programme is ever carried out in its entirety. But what matters is that that or something like it should be our declared policy. It is always the DIRECTION that counts. It is of course quite hopeless to expect the present Government to pledge itself to any policy that implies turning this war into a revolutionary war. It is at best a government of compromise, with Churchill riding two horses like a circus acrobat. Before such measures as limitation of incomes become even thinkable, there will have to be a complete shift of power away from the old ruling class. If during this winter the war settles into another stagnant period, we ought in my opinion to agitate for a General Election, a thing which the Tory Party machine will make frantic efforts to prevent. But even without an election we can get the government we want, provided that we want it urgently enough. A real shove from below will accomplish it. As to who will be in that government when it comes, I make no guess. I only know that the right men will be there when the people really want them, for it is movements that make leaders and not leaders movements.

Within a year, perhaps even within six months, if we are still unconquered, we shall see the rise of something that has never existed before, a specifically ENGLISH Socialist movement. Hitherto there has been only the Labour Party, which was the creation of the working class but did not aim at any fundamental change, and Marxism, which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. There was nothing that really touched the heart of the English people. Throughout its entire history the English Socialist movement has never produced a song with a catchy tune—nothing like LA MARSEILLAISE or LA CUCURACHA, for instance. When a Socialist movement native to England appears, the Marxists, like all others with a vested interest in the past, will be its bitter enemies. Inevitably they will denounce it as “Fascism”. Already it is customary among the more soft-boiled intellectuals of the Left to declare that if we fight against the Nazis we shall “go Nazi” ourselves. They might almost equally well say that if we fight against Negroes we shall turn black. To “go Nazi” we should have to have the history of Germany behind us. Nations do not escape from their past merely by making a revolution. An English Socialist government will transform the nation from top to bottom, but it will still bear all over it the unmistakable marks of our own civilisation, the peculiar civilisation which I discussed earlier in this book.

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons. It will not set up any explicit class dictatorship. It will group itself round the old Labour Party and its mass following will be in the trade unions, but it will draw into it most of the middle class and many of the younger sons of the bourgeoisie. Most of its directing brains will come from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts, airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at home in the radio and ferro-concrete age. But it will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as “a Christian country”. The Catholic Church will war against it, but the Nonconformist sects and the bulk of the Anglican Church will be able to come to terms with it. It will show a power of assimilating the past which will shock foreign observers and sometimes make them doubt whether any revolution has happened.

But all the same it will have done the essential thing. It will have nationalised industry, scaled down incomes, set up a classless educational system. Its real nature will be apparent from the hatred which the surviving rich men of the world will feel for it. It will aim not at disintegrating the Empire but at turning it into a federation of Socialist states, freed not so much from the British flag as from the money-lender, the dividend-drawer and the woodenheaded British official. Its war strategy will be totally different from that of any property-ruled state, because it will not be afraid of the revolutionary after-effects when any existing régime is brought down. It will not have the smallest scruple about attacking hostile neutrals or stirring up native rebellion in enemy colonies. It will fight in such a way that even if it is beaten its memory will be dangerous to the victor, as the memory of the French Revolution was dangerous to Metternich’s Europe. The dictators will fear it as they could not fear the existing British régime, even if its military strength were ten times what it is.

But at this moment, when the drowsy life of England has barely altered, and the offensive contrast of wealth and poverty still exists everywhere, even amid the bombs, why do I dare to say that all these things “will” happen?

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an “either—or”. Either we turn this war into a revolutionary war (I do not say that our policy will be EXACTLY what I have indicated above—merely that it will be along those general lines) or we lose it, and much more besides. Quite soon it will be possible to say definitely that our feet are set upon one path or the other. But at any rate it is certain that with our present social structure we cannot win. Our real forces, physical, moral or intellectual, cannot be mobilised.


Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same. It is the bridge between the future and the past. No real revolutionary has ever been an internationalist.

During the past twenty years the negative, FAINÉANT outlook which has been fashionable among English left-wingers, the sniggering of the intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic, what-do-I-get-out-of-it attitude to life, has done nothing but harm. It would have been harmful even if we had been living in the squashy League of Nations universe that these people imagined. In an age of Fuehrers and bombing planes it was a disaster. However little we may like it, toughness is the price of survival. A nation trained to think hedonistically cannot survive amid peoples who work like slaves and breed like rabbits, and whose chief national industry is war. English Socialists of nearly all colours have wanted to make a stand against Fascism, but at the same time they have aimed at making their own countrymen unwarlike. They have failed, because in England traditional loyalties are stronger than new ones. But in spite of all the “anti-Fascist” heroics of the left-wing press, what chance should we have stood when the real struggle with Fascism came, if the average Englishman had been the kind of creature that the NEW STATESMAN, the DAILY WORKER or even the NEWS CHRONICLE wished to make him?

Up to 1935 virtually all English left-wingers were vaguely pacifist. After 1935 the more vocal of them flung themselves eagerly into the Popular Front movement, which was simply an evasion of the whole problem posed by Fascism. It set out to be “anti-Fascist” in a purely negative way—“against” Fascism without being “for” any discoverable policy-and underneath it lay the flabby idea that when the time came the Russians would do our fighting for us. It is astonishing how this illusion fails to die. Every week sees its spate of letters to the press, pointing out that if we had a government with no Tories in it the Russians could hardly avoid coming round to our side. Or we are to publish high-sounding war-aims (VIDE books like UNSER KAMPF, A HUNDRED MILLION ALLIES—IF WE CHOOSE, etc), whereupon the European populations will infallibly rise on our behalf. It is the same idea all the time-look abroad for your inspiration, get someone else to do your fighting for you. Underneath it lies the frightful inferiority complex of the English intellectual, the belief that the English are no longer a martial race, no longer capable of enduring.

In truth there is no reason to think that anyone will do our fighting for us yet awhile, except the Chinese, who have been doing it for three years already.* The Russians may be driven to fight on our side by the fact of a direct attack, but they have made it clear enough that they will not stand up to the German army if there is any way of avoiding it. In any case they are not likely to be attracted by the spectacle of a left-wing government in England. The present Russian régime must almost certainly be hostile to any revolution in the West. The subject peoples of Europe will rebel when Hitler begins to totter, but not earlier. Our potential allies are not the Europeans but on the one hand the Americans, who will need a year to mobilise their resources even if Big Business can be brought to heel, and on the other hand the coloured peoples, who cannot be even sentimentally on our side till our own revolution has started. For a long time, a year, two years, possibly three years, England has got to be the shock-absorber of the world. We have got to face bombing, hunger, overwork, influenza, boredom and treacherous peace offers. Manifestly it is a time to stiffen morale, not to weaken it. Instead of taking the mechanically anti-British attitude which is usual on the Left, it is better to consider what the world would really be like if the English-speaking culture perished. For it is childish to suppose that the other English-speaking countries, even the USA, will be unaffected if Britain is conquered.

  • Written before the outbreak of the war in Greece. (Author’s footnote.)

Lord Halifax, and all his tribe, believe that when the war is over things will be exactly as they were before. Back to the crazy pavement of Versailles, back to “democracy”, i.e. capitalism, back to dole queues and the Rolls-Royce cars, back to the grey top hats and the sponge-bag trousers, IN SAECULA SAECULORUM. It is of course obvious that nothing of the kind is going to happen. A feeble imitation of it might just possibly happen in the case of a negotiated peace, but only for a short while. LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism is dead. * The choice lies between the kind of collective society that Hitler will set up and the kind that can arise if he is defeated.

  • It is interesting to notice that Mr Kennedy, USA Ambassador in London, remarked on his return to New York in October 1940 that as a result of the war “democracy is finished”. By “democracy”, of course, he meant private capitalism. (Author’s footnote.)

If Hitler wins this war he will consolidate his rule over Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and if his armies have not been too greatly exhausted beforehand, he will wrench vast territories from Soviet Russia. He will set up a graded caste-society in which the German HERRENVOLK (“master race” or “aristocratic race”) will rule over Slavs and other lesser peoples whose job it will be to produce low-priced agricultural products. He will reduce the coloured peoples once and for all to outright slavery. The real quarrel of the Fascist powers with British imperialism is that they know that it is disintegrating. Another twenty years along the present line of development, and India will be a peasant republic linked with England only by voluntary alliance. The “semi-apes” of whom Hitler speaks with such loathing will be flying aeroplanes and manufacturing machine-guns. The Fascist dream of a slave empire will be at an end. On the other hand, if we are defeated we simply hand over our own victims to new masters who come fresh to the job and have not developed any scruples.

But more is involved than the fate of the coloured peoples. Two incompatible visions of life are fighting one another. “Between democracy and totalitarianism,” says Mussolini, “there can be no compromise.” The two creeds cannot even, for any length of time, live side by side. So long as democracy exists, even in its very imperfect English form, totalitarianism is in deadly danger. The whole English-speaking world is haunted by the idea of human equality, and though it would be simply a lie to say that either we or the Americans have ever acted up to our professions, still, the IDEA is there, and it is capable of one day becoming a reality. From the English-speaking culture, if it does not perish, a society of free and equal human beings will ultimately arise. But it is precisely the idea of human equality—the “Jewish” or “Judaeo-Christian” idea of equality—that Hitler came into the world to destroy. He has, heaven knows, said so often enough. The thought of a world in which black men would be as good as white men and Jews treated as human beings brings him the same horror and despair as the thought of endless slavery brings to us.

It is important to keep in mind how irreconcilable these two viewpoints are. Some time within the next year a pro-Hitler reaction within the left-wing intelligentsia is likely enough. There are premonitory signs of it already. Hitler’s positive achievement appeals to the emptiness of these people, and, in the case of those with pacifist leanings, to their masochism. One knows in advance more or less what they will say. They will start by refusing to admit that British capitalism is evolving into something different, or that the defeat of Hitler can mean any more than a victory for the British and American millionaires. And from that they will proceed to argue that, after all, democracy is “just the same as” or “just as bad as” totalitarianism. There is NOT MUCH freedom of speech in England; therefore there is NO MORE than exists in Germany. To be on the dole is a horrible experience; therefore it is NO WORSE to be in the torture-chambers of the Gestapo. In general, two blacks make a white, half a loaf is the same as no bread.

But in reality, whatever may be true about democracy and totalitarianism, it is not true that they are the same. It would not be true, even if British democracy were incapable of evolving beyond its present stage. The whole conception of the militarised continental state, with its secret police, its censored literature and its conscript labour, is utterly different from that of the loose maritime democracy, with its slums and unemployment, its strikes and party politics. It is the difference between land power and sea power, between cruelty and inefficiency, between lying and self-deception, between the SS man and the rent-collector. And in choosing between them one chooses not so much on the strength of what they now are as of what they are capable of becoming. But in a sense it is irrelevant whether democracy, at its higher or at its lowest, is “better” than totalitarianism. To decide that one would have to have access to absolute standards. The only question that matters is where one’s real sympathies will lie when the pinch comes. The intellectuals who are so fond of balancing democracy against totalitarianism and “proving” that one is as bad as the other are simply frivolous people who have never been shoved up against realities. They show the same shallow misunderstanding of Fascism now, when they are beginning to flirt with it, as a year or two ago, when they were squealing against it. The question is not, “Can you make out a debating-society ‘case’ in favour of Hitler?” The question is, “Do you genuinely accept that case? Are you willing to submit to Hitler’s rule? Do you want to see England conquered, or don’t you?” It would be better to be sure on that point before frivolously siding with the enemy. For there is no such thing as neutrality in war; in practice one must help one side or the other.

When the pinch comes, no one bred in the western tradition can accept the Fascist vision of life. It is important to realise that now, and to grasp what it entails. With all its sloth, hypocrisy and injustice, the Englishspeaking civilisation is the only large obstacle in Hitler’s path. It is a living contradiction of all the “infallible” dogmas of Fascism. That is why all Fascist writers for years past have agreed that England’s power must be destroyed. England must be “exterminated”, must be “annihilated”, must “cease to exist”. Strategically it would be possible for this war to end with Hitler in secure possession of Europe, and with the British Empire intact and British sea-power barely affected. But ideologically it is not possible; were Hitler to make an offer along those lines, it could only be treacherously, with a view to conquering England indirectly or renewing the attack at some more favourable moment. England cannot possibly be allowed to remain as a sort of funnel through which deadly ideas from beyond the Atlantic flow into the police states of Europe. And turning it round to our own point of view, we see the vastness of the issue before us, the all-importance of preserving our democracy more or less as we have known it. But to PRESERVE is always to EXTEND. The choice before us is not so much between victory and defeat as between revolution and apathy. If the thing we are fighting for is altogether destroyed, it will have been destroyed partly by our own act.

It could happen that England could introduce the beginnings of Socialism, turn this war into a revolutionary war, and still be defeated. That is at any rate thinkable. But, terrible as it would be for anyone who is now adult, it would be far less deadly than the “compromise peace” which a few rich men and their hired liars are hoping for. The final ruin of England could only be accomplished by an English government acting under orders from Berlin. But that cannot happen if England has awakened beforehand. For in that case the defeat would be unmistakable, the struggle would continue, the IDEA would survive. The difference between going down fighting, and surrendering without a fight, is by no means a question of “honour” and schoolboy heroics. Hitler said once that to ACCEPT defeat destroys the soul of a nation. This sounds like a piece of claptrap, but it is strictly true. The defeat of 1870 did not lessen the world-influence of France. The Third Republic had more influence, intellectually, than the France of Napoleon III. But the sort of peace that Petain, Laval and Co have accepted can only be purchased by deliberately wiping out the national culture. The Vichy Government will enjoy a spurious independence only on condition that it destroys the distinctive marks of French culture: republicanism, secularism, respect for the intellect, absence of colour prejudice. We cannot be UTTERLY defeated if we have made our revolution beforehand. We may see German troops marching down Whitehall, but another process, ultimately deadly to the German power-dream, will have been started. The Spanish people were defeated, but the things they learned during those two and a half memorable years will one day come back upon the Spanish Fascists like a boomerang.

A piece of Shakespearean bombast was much quoted at the beginning of the war. Even Mr Chamberlain quoted it once, if my memory does not deceive me:

Come the four corners of the world in arms And we shall shock them: naught shall make us rue If England to herself do rest but true.

It is right enough, if you interpret it rightly. But England has got to be true to herself. She is not being true to herself while the refugees who have sought our shores are penned up in concentration camps, and company directors work out subtle schemes to dodge their Excess Profits Tax. It is goodbye to the TATLER and the BYSTANDER, and farewell to the lady in the Rolls-Royce car. The heirs of Nelson and of Cromwell are not in the House of Lords. They are in the fields and the streets, in the factories and the armed forces, in the four-ale bar and the suburban back garden; and at present they are still kept under by a generation of ghosts. Compared with the task of bringing the real England to the surface, even the winning of the war, necessary though it is, is secondary. By revolution we become more ourselves, not less. There is no question of stopping short, striking a compromise, salvaging “democracy”, standing still. Nothing ever stands still. We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward. I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward.


Joseph Ratzinger: What Will the Church Look Like in 2000?

Professor Ratzinger’s radio addresses from 1969

The theologian is no soothsayer; nor is he a futurologist, who makes a calculation of the future based on the measurable factors of the present. His profession very largely withdraws from calculation. Only very slightly, therefore, might it become concerned with futurology, which itself is no soothsaying; rather, it ascertains what is calculable and has to leave the incalculable an open question. Because faith and the Church reach down into those depths from which creative newness, the unexpected and the unplanned, are constantly coming forth, their future remains hidden to us, even in an age futurology. When Pius XII died, who could have foreseen the Second Vatican Council or the postconciliar development? Or who would have dared to foretell the First Vatican Council when Pius VI, abducted by the troops of the young French Republic, died a prisoner in Valence in 1799? Three years earlier one of the directors of the Republic had written: “This old idol will be destroyed. This is what freedom and philosophy desire. . . . It is to be hoped that Pius VI will live two years longer to give philosophy time to complete its work and leave this lama of Europe without a successor.”1 Things were in such a bad way that funeral orations were delivered on the papacy, which people were forced to regard as extinguished forever.

Joseph Ratzinger,  professor at the University of Regensburg, September 14, 1965

Joseph Ratzinger, professor at the University of Regensburg, September 14, 1965

Let us, therefore, be cautious in our prognostications. What Saint Augustine said is still true: Man is an abyss; what will rise out of these depths, no one can see in advance. And whoever believes that the Church is not only determined by the abyss that is man, but reaches down into the greater, infinite abyss that is God will be the first to hesitate with his predictions, for this naive desire to know for sure could only be the announcement of his own historical ineptitude. Does the title of this chapter have any meaning in that case? It has, provided we bear our limitations well in mind. It is precisely in times of vehement historical upheaval, when all the past seems to dissolve and completely new things seem to emerge, that men need to reflect upon history, which enables them to see the unreal exaggeration the moment in the right perspective and integrates them again into a happening that never repeats itself but, on the other hand, never loses its unity and its context. You might say: “Have we heard correctly; reflection upon history? That means looking back into the past, and we were expecting a glimpse into the future.” You have heard correctly; but I maintain that reflection upon history, properly understood, embraces both looking back into the past and, with that as the starting point, reflecting on the possibilities and tasks of the future, which can only become clear if we survey a fairly long stretch of the road and do not naively shut ourselves up in the present. Looking back into the past does not yield a prediction of the future, but it limits our illusion complete uniqueness and shows us that while exactly the same did not happen before, something very similar did. The dissimilarity between then and now is the reason for the uncertainty of our statements and for the newness of our tasks; the similarity is the basis for orientation and correction.

The period in the past that bears the greatest resemblance to the present situation in the Church is, first, that of so-called Modernism about the turn of the century and, then, the end of the rococo period, which marked the decisive emergence of the modern period, with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The crisis of Modernism never really came to a head, but it was interrupted by the measure taken by Pius X and by the change in the intellectual situation after the First World War. The crisis of the present is but the long-deferred resumption of what began in those days. The analogy of the history of the Church and of theology in the period of the Enlightenment remains with us, therefore. Whoever looks more closely will be amazed at the extent of the similarity between then and now. Today the Enlightenment as a historical epoch does not enjoy a very high reputation; even those who resolutely follow the trail of the things of that period do not want to be known as the “Enlightened” but keep their distance from that category and gravitate to the simple rationalism of the period, insofar as they take the trouble to mention historical events at all. And here we find our first analogy in the resolute rejection of history, which is counted as no more than the storeroom of yesterday—of no use at all to the utterly new today. We find a triumphant certainty that it is no longer tradition but rationality that governs action; the key words are “rational”, “intelligible”, and so on. In all of these things, the Enlightenment is astonishingly like the present day. But perhaps even before mentioning these facts, which seem to me to be negative, one ought to take a look at the characteristic mixture of one-sidedness and positive beginnings that link the Enlightened of then and now and that cause the present to appear not so utterly new after all and not so exempt from all historical comparison.

The Enlightenment had its liturgical movement, the aim of which was to simplify the liturgy and restore it to its original basic structure. Excesses in the cult of relics and of saints were to be removed, and, above all, the vernacular, with congregational singing and participation, was to be introduced. The Enlightenment witnessed also an episcopal movement that wanted to stress the importance of the bishops over against the one-sided centralization of Rome. This movement had democratic elements, as when Wessenberg, the vicar general of Constance, demanded the setting up of provincial synods. Reading his works, one imagines one is reading a progressive of the year 1969. The abolition of celibacy was demanded; the sacraments were to be administered only in the vernacular; and no promises were to be required concerning the religious education the children a mixed marriage, and so on. That Wessenberg wanted to see regular preaching, a raising the standard of religious education, and encouragement of biblical studies proves once again that these men were by no means moved merely by a reckless rationalism. Nonetheless, we are left with the impression of an ambivalent figure, because in the last analysis, only the garden shears of constructive reason are at work, capable of producing many good things, but insufficient if they are the only tool at our disposal.2 We receive the same impression of ambivalence when we read the proceedings of the synod of Pistoia, a council attended during the Enlightenment by 234 bishops in 1786 in northern Italy. This synod tried to translate the reforming ideas of that period into realities in the Church, but it came to grief on the mixture of genuine reform with naive rationalism. Once again one thinks that one is reading a postconciliar book when one comes across the assertion that a spiritual ministry is not directly ordained by Christ but merely comes forth out of the life of the Church, which itself is uniformly priestly, or when one reads that a celebration of the Mass without Holy Communion makes no sense, or when the primacy of the papacy is described as purely functional, or, conversely, the divine right of the episcopal office is stressed.3 It is true that a great many of the propositions of Pistoia were condemned by Pius VI in 1794. The one-sidedness of this synod had discredited even its good ideas.

The most successful way to discover the embryo of the future in any particular epoch is to examine personalities and the signs of the times that they represent. Obviously, we can pick out only one or two characteristic personalities who embody the whole scope of the potential of that period and also manifest its astonishing analogy with the present. There were the extreme progressives, represented by, say, the melancholy figure of Gobel, the archbishop of Paris, who bravely went along with every step of progress in his own time. First he supported the idea of a constitutional national Church; then, when this was no longer enough, he abandoned his priesthood, declaring that since the happy outcome of the Revolution, no national religion was needed other than that of liberty and equality. He took part in the worship of the Goddess Reason in Notre Dame; but in the end, progress ran on ahead even of him. Under Robespierre, atheism was once again accounted a crime, and so the one-time bishop was led as an atheist to the guillotine and executed.4

In Germany the scene was quieter. We might mention Matthias Fingerlos, then the director of the Georgianum in Munich. In his book What Are Priests For? he explained that the priest ought primarily to be a teacher of the people, teaching them agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture, the use lightning conductors, and also music and art. Today we express this by saying that the priest ought to be a social worker, helping to build up an intelligent society, purified of all irrationalism.5 Taking his place in the center—a moderate progressive, as it were—we would find Wessenberg, the vicar general of Constance, whom we have mentioned already and who certainly would not have agreed to the equation of faith with socialwork, but who, on the other hand, showed all too little liking for the organic, for the living thing, that fell outside the sheer constructions of reason. A totally different scale of values becomes evident when we encounter the somewhat later bishop of Ratisbon, Johann Michael Sailer. It is difficult to place him. The current categories of progressive and conservative do not fit him, as the external course of his life proves. In 1794, he lost his professorship at Dillingen on a charge of supporting the Enlightenment; as late as 1819, his nomination to the bishopric of Augsburg was turned down as a result, among other things, the opposition of Clemens Maria Hofbauer—later canonized—who saw Sailer still as a rationalist. On the other hand, in 1806, his pupil Zimmer was sent down from the university of Laudshut on a charge of being a reactionary. In Laudshut, Sailer and his circle were hated as opponents of the Enlightenment. The man whom Hofbauer regarded as a product of the Enlightenment was recognized by the true disciples of that movement as their most dangerous antagonist.6

They were right. This man and the wide circle of his friends and disciples started a movement that embodied far more the future than did the triumphantly overbearing arrogance the sheer rationalists. Sailer was a man whose mind was open to all the problems of his time. The musty Jesuit scholasticism of Dillingen, into whose system reality could no longer be fitted, was bound to seem to him quite inadequate. Kant, Jacobi, Schelling, and Pestalozzi were his partners in dialogue. For him, faith was not tied to a system of propositions and could not be maintained by a flight into the irrational. It could survive only by entering into open discussion with the present. But this same Sailer had a profound grasp of the great theological and mystical tradition of the Middle Ages, uncommon in his time, because he did not confine man within the present moment but knew that if he is to become fully aware of himself, he must open his eyes reverently to the whole riches his history. Above all, he was a man who not only thought but lived. If he was on the trail of a theology of the heart, that was not on account of cheap sentimentality but because he knew about the wholeness man, who fulfills the unity of his being as the interpenetration of spirit and body, of the hidden springs of the mind and the clear vision of the intellect. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said: “One can see properly only with the heart.” If we compare the lifeless progressivism of Matthias Fingerlos with the richness and depth of Sailer, the truth of this saying becomes strikingly obvious. Only with the heart can one see properly. Sailer was a visionary because he had a heart. He was able to give birth to something new, something that was big with the future, because he lived by what was enduring and because he placed himself, his whole life, at its disposal. This brings us to the real point at last: only he who gives himself creates the future. The man who simply tries to instruct, who wants to change others, remains unfruitful.

And now we come to the other man, who was an antagonist of both Sailer and of Wessenberg. This was Clemens Maria Hofbauer, the Bohemian baker’s apprentice who became a saint.7 It is true that in many respects this man was narrow-minded, even a bit of a reactionary; but he was a man who loved, who placed himself at the disposal of mankind with an unstinting and unflagging passion. On the one hand, his circle included men like Schlegel, Brentano, and Eichendorff; on the other hand, he unreservedly took up the cause of the poorest and most abandoned, seeking nothing for himself, ready to suffer any ignominy if thereby he could help someone. Thus men were able to rediscover God through him, just as he had discovered men through God and knew that they required more than instruction in agriculture and animal husbandry. In the end, the faith of this poor baker’s apprentice proved to be more humane and more reasonable than the academic rationality of the mere Rationalists. And so the thing that outlived the ruins the declining eighteenth century and was reborn as the future was something very different from that which Gobel or Fingerlos had suspected. It was a Church, reduced in size, diminished in social prestige, but a Church that had become fruitful from a new interior power, which released new formative and social forces, manifested both in great lay movements and in the founding of numerous religious congregations, all of which are very much part and parcel of the Church’s most recent history.

We have arrived, then, at the present day and find ourselves looking toward tomorrow. Today, likewise, the future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: the future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we all are!8

How does all of this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.

Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eveof the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain9—to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

1 Quoted by F. X. Seppelt and G. Schwaiger, Geschichte der Papste (Munich, 1964), pp. 367f. Cf. also the exposition in L. J. Rogier and G. de Bertier de Sauvigny, Geschichte der Kirche, vol. 4 (Einsiedeln, 1966), pp. 1771F. Summing up, G. de Bertier de Sauvigny says of the situation at the end of the Enlightenment: “In short, if Christianity still had any chance of survival at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this lay more on the side of the Churches of the Reformed tradition than on the side of the Catholic Church, which had been stricken in head and members” (p. 181).

2 Cf. the instructive article on Wessenberg by Archbishop C. Gröber in the first edition of LThK 10:835-39;LThK, 2nd ed., 10:1064ff (W. Müller). The publication of the works of Wessenberg has been taken in hand by K. Aland.

3 See the documentation in Denzinger-Schönmetzer, 2600-2700 esp. 2602, 2603, 2606, 2628. Cf. L. Willaert, “Synode von Pistoia”, in LThK, 2nd ed., 8:524f.

4 Cf. Rogier, Geschichte der Kirche, 4:133ff.

5 A. Schmid, Geschichte des Georgianums in München (Regensburg, 1894), pp. 228ff. Back to text.

6 On Sailer, cf. esp. I. Weilner, Gottselige Innigkeit: Die Grundhaltung der religiösen Seele nach J. M. Sailer (Regensburg, 1949); Weilner, “J. M. Sailer, Christliche Innerlichkeit”, in Grosse Gestalten christlicher Spiritualitat, ed. J. Sudbrack and J.Walsh, pp. 322-42.(Würzburg, 1969). On Zimmer, see the Tübingen dissertation by P. Schäfer, Philosophie und Theologie im Ühergang von der Aufklärung zur Romantik, dargestellt an P. B. Zimmer (Philosophy and Theology in the Transition Period between the Enlightenment and the Romantic Age in P. B. Zimmer) [published in 1971 as vol. 3 of the Studien zur Theologie und Geistesgeschichte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen].

7 Cf. H. Gollowitzer, “Drei Bäckerjungen”, Catholica 23 (1969): 147-53.

8 On this topic, cf. the magnificent exposition by H. de Lubac, “Holiness in Future” in The Church: Paradox and Mystery, trans. James R. Dunne (Alba House, 1969), pp. 122-27.Cf. De Lubac, “L‘Église dans la crise actuelle”, Nouvelle Revue théol. 91 (1969): 580-96, esp. pp. 592ff.

9 Cf. Rogier, Geschichte der Kirche, 4:121.

Jorge Luis Borges: A Theologian in Death

Jorge Luis BorgesThe angels told me that when Melancthon died he was provided with a house deceptively like the one in which he lived in this world. (This happens to most newcomers in eternity upon their first arrival-it is why they are ignorant of their death, and think they are still in the natural world.) All the things in his room were similar to those he had had before the table, the desk with its drawers, the shelves of books. As soon as Melancthon awoke in this new abode, he sat at his table, took up his literary work, and spent several days writing-as usual-on justification by faith alone, without so much as a single word on charity. This omission being remarked by the angels, they sent messengers to question him. “I have proved beyond refutation,” Melancthon replied to them, “that there is nothing in charity essential to the soul, and that toga in salvation faith is enough.” He spoke with great assurance, unsuspecting that he was dead and that his lot lay outside Heaven. When the angels heard him say these things, they departed.

After a few weeks, the furnishings in his room began to fade away and disappear, until at last there was nothing left but the armchair, the table, the paper, and his inkstand. What is more, the walls of the room became encrusted with lime, and the floor with a yellow glaze. Melancthon’ s own clothes were now much coarser. He wondered at these changes, but he went on writing about faith while denying charity, and was so persistent in this exclusion that he was suddenly transported underground to a kind of workhouse, where there were other theologians like him. Locked up for a few days, Melancthon fell to doubting his doctrine, and was allowed to return to his former room. He was now clad in a hairy skin, but he tried hard to convince himself that what had just happened to him was no more than a hallucination, and he went back to extolling faith and belittling charity.

One evening, Melancthon felt cold. He began examining the house, and soon discovered that the other rooms no longer matched those of his old house in the natural world. One was cluttered with instruments whose use he did not understand; another had shrunk so small that entrance was impossible; a third had not changed, but its doors and windows opened onto vast sandbanks. One of the rooms at the back of the house was full of people who worshiped him and who kept telling him that no theologian was ever as wise as he. These praises pleased him, but since some of the visitors were faceless and others seemed dead he ended up hating and distrusting them. It was at this point that he decided to write something concerning charity. The only difficulty was that what he wrote one day he could not see the next. This was because the pages had been written without conviction.

Melancthon received many visits from persons newly dead, but he felt shame at being found in so run-down a lodging. In order to have them believe he was in Heaven, he hired a neighboring magician, who tricked the company with appearances of peace and splendor. The moment his visitors had gone-and sometimes a little before-these adornments vanished, leaving the former plaster and draftiness.

The last I heard of Melancthon was that the magician and one of the faceless men had taken him away into the sand hills, where he is now a kind of servant of demons.

From the Arcana Crelestia (1749-1756) by Emanuel Swedenborg

Jorge Luis Borges: Three Versions of Judas

Jorge Luis Borges

There seemed a certainty in degradation.

L. E. Lawrence: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, CIII


In Asia Minor or in Alexandria, in the second century of our faith, when Basilides disseminated the idea that the cosmos was the reckless or evil improvisation of deficient angels, Nils Runeberg would have directed, with singular intellectual passion, one of the Gnostic conventicles. Dante would have assigned him, perhaps, a fiery grave; his name would extend the list of lesser heresiarchs, along with Satornilus and Carpocrates; some fragment of his preachings, embellished with invective, would survive in the apocryphal Liber adversus omnes haereses or would have perished when the burning of a monastery library devoured the last copy of the Syntagma. Instead, God afforded Runeberg the twentieth century and the university town of Lund. There, in 1904, he published the first edition of Kristus och Judas and, in 1909, his major book, Den hemlige Frälsaren. (Of the latter there is a German translation, made in 1912 by Emil Schering; it is called Der heimliche Heiland.)

Before essaying an examination of the aforementioned works, it is necessary to repeat that Nils Runeberg, a member of the National Evangelical Union, was deeply religious. In the intellectual circles of Paris or even of Buenos Aires, a man of letters might well rediscover Runeberg’s theses; these theses, set forth in such circles, would be frivolous and useless exercises in negligence or blasphemy. For Runeberg, they were the key to one of the central mysteries of theology; they were the subject of meditation and analysis, of historical and philological controversy, of pride, of jubilation and of terror. They justified and wrecked his life. Those who read this article should also consider that it registers only Runeberg’s conclusions, not his dialectic or his proof. Someone may observe that the conclusion no doubt preceded the “proof.” Who would resign himself to seeking proof of something he did not believe or whose preachment did not matter to him?

The first edition of Kristus och Judas bears the following categorical epigraph, whose meaning, years later, Nils Runeberg himself would monstrously expand: “Not one, but all of the things attributed by tradition to Judas Iscariot are false” (De Quincey, 1857). Preceded by a German, De Quincey speculated that Judas reported Jesus to the authorities in order to force him to reveal his divinity and thus ignite a vast rebellion against the tyranny of Rome; Runeberg suggests a vindication of a metaphysical sort. Skillfully, he begins by stressing the superfluity of Judas’ act. He observes (as does Robertson) that in order to identify a teacher who preached daily in the synagogue and worked miracles before gatherings of thousands of men, betrayal by an apostle is unnecessary. This, nevertheless, occurred. To suppose an error in the Scriptures is intolerable; no less intolerable is to admit an accidental happening in the most precious event in world history. Ergo, Judas’ betrayal was not accidental; it was a preordained fact which has its mysterious place in the economy of redemption. Runeberg continues: The Word, when it was made flesh, passed from ubiquity to space, from eternity to history, from limitless satisfaction to change and death; in order to correspond to such a sacrifice, it was necessary that one man, in representation of all men, make a sacrifice of condign nature. Judas Iscariot was that man. Judas, alone among the apostles, sensed the secret divinity and terrible intent of Jesus. The Word had been lowered to mortal condition; Judas, a disciple of the Word, could lower himself to become an informer (the worst crime in all infamy) and reside amidst the perpetual fires of Hell. The lower order is a mirror of the higher; the forms of earth correspond to the forms of Heaven; the spots on one’s skin are a chart of the incorruptible constellations; Judas in some way reflects Jesus. Hence the thirty pieces of silver and the kiss; hence the suicide, in order to merit Reprobation even more. Thus Nils Runeberg elucidated the enigma of Judas.

Theologians of all confessions refuted him. Lars Peter Engström accused him of being unaware of, or omitting, the hypostatic union; Axel Borelius, of renewing the heresy of the Docetists, who denied that Jesus was human; the rigid Bishop of Lund, of contradicting the third verse of the twenty-second chapter of the gospel of St. Luke.

These varied anathemas had their influence on Runeberg, who partially rewrote the rejected book and modified its doctrine. He left the theological ground to his adversaries and set forth oblique arguments of a moral order. He admitted that Jesus, “who had at his disposal all the considerable resources which Omnipotence may offer,” did not need a man to redeem all men. He then refuted those who maintain we know nothing of the inexplicable traitor; we know, he said, that he was one of the apostles, one of those chosen to announce the kingdom of heaven, to cure the sick, to clean lepers, to raise the dead and cast out demons (Matthew 10:7-8; Luke 9:1). A man whom the Redeemer has thus distinguished merits the best interpretation we can give of his acts. To attribute his crime to greed (as some have done, citing John 12:6) is to resign oneself to the basest motive. Nils Runeberg proposes the opposite motive: a hyperbolic and even unlimited asceticism. The ascetic, for the greater glory of God, vilifies and mortifies his flesh; Judas did the same with his spirit. He renounced honor, morality, peace and the kingdom of heaven, just as others, less heroically, renounce pleasure.[1] With terrible lucidity he premeditated his sins. In adultery there is usually tenderness and abnegation; in homicide, courage; in profanity and blasphemy, a certain satanic luster. Judas chose those sins untouched by any virtue: violation of trust (John 12:6) and betrayal. He acted with enormous humility, he believed himself unworthy of being good. Paul has written:

“He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:31); Judas sought Hell, because the happiness of the Lord was enough for him. He thought that happiness, like morality, is a divine attribute and should not be usurped by humans.[2]

Many have discovered, post factum, that in Runeberg’s justifiable beginning lies his extravagant end and that Den hemlige Frälsaren is a mere perversion or exasperation of Kristus och Judas. Toward the end of 1907, Runeberg completed and corrected the manuscript text; almost two years went by without his sending it to the printer. In October 1909, the book appeared with a prologue (tepid to the point of being enigmatic) by the Danish Hebraist Erik Erfjord and with this perfidious epigraph: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). The general argument is not complex, though the conclusion is monstrous. God, argues Nils Runeberg, lowered Himself to become a man for the redemption of mankind; we may conjecture that His sacrifice was perfect, not invalidated or attenuated by any omission. To limit what He underwent to the agony of one afternoon on the cross is blasphemous.[3] To maintain he was a man and incapable of sin involves a contradiction; the attributes of impeccabilitas and of humanitas are not compatible. Kemnitz admits that the Redeemer could feel fatigue, cold, embarrassment, hunger and thirst; we may also admit that he could sin and go astray. The famous text “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:2-3) is, for many, a future vision of the Saviour at the moment of his death; for others (for example, for Hans Lassen Martensen), a refutation of the beauty which vulgar opinion attributes to Christ; for Runeberg, the punctual prophesy not of a moment but of the whole atrocious future, in time and in eternity, of the Word made flesh. God made Himself totally a man but a man to the point of infamy, a man to the point of reprobation and the abyss. To save us, He could have chosen any of the destinies which make up the complex web of history; He could have been Alexander or Pythagoras or Rurik or Jesus; He chose the vilest destiny of all: He was Judas.

In vain the bookshops of Stockholm and Lund proposed this revelation to the public. The incredulous considered it, a priori, an insipid and laborious theological game, the theologians scorned it. Runeberg sensed in this ecumenical indifference an almost miraculous confirmation. God had ordained this indifference; God did not want His terrible secret divulged on earth. Runeberg understood that the hour had not yet arrived. He felt that ancient and divine maledictions were converging upon him; he remembered Elijah and Moses, who on the mountain top covered their faces in order not to see God; Isaiah, who was terrified when he saw the One whose glory fills the earth; Saul, whose eyes were struck blind on the road to Damascus; the rabbi Simeon ben Azai, who saw Paradise and died; the famous sorcerer John of Viterbo, who became mad when he saw the Trinity; the Midrashim, who abhor the impious who utter the Shem Hamephorash, the Secret Name of God. Was he not perhaps guilty of that dark crime? Would this not be the blasphemy against the Spirit, the one never to be forgiven (Matthew 12:31)? Valerius Soranus died for having divulged the hidden name of Rome; what infinite punishment would be his for having discovered and divulged the horrible name of God?

Drunk with insomnia and vertiginous dialectic, Nils Runeberg wandered through the streets of Malmo, begging at the top of his voice that he be granted the grace of joining his Redeemer in Hell.

He died of a ruptured aneurysm on the first of March, 1912. The heresiologists will perhaps remember him; to the concept of the Son, which seemed exhausted, he added the complexities of evil and misfortune.

[1] Borelius inquires mockingly: “Why didn’t he renounce his renunciation? Or renounce the idea of renouncing his renunciation?”

[2] Euclides da Cunha, in a book unknown to Runeberg, notes that for the heresiarch of Canudos, Antonio Conselheiro, virtue “was almost an impiety.” The Argentine reader will recall analogous passages in the work of Almafuerte. In the symbolist sheet Sju insegel, Runeberg published an assiduous descriptive poem, The Secret Waters; the first stanzas narrate the events of a tumultuous day; the last, the discovery of a glacial pond; the poet suggests that the permanence of those silent waters corrects our useless violence and in some way allows and absolves it. The poem ends as follows: “The waters of the forest are good; we can be evil and suffer.”

[3] Maurice Abramowicz observes: “Jesus, d’après ce scandinave, a toujours le beau rôle; ses déboires, grâce à la science des typographes, jouissent d’une réputation polyglotte; sa résidence de trente-trois ans parmi les humains ne fut, en somrne, qu’une villégiature” Erfjord, in the third appendix to the Christelige Dogmatik, refutes this passage. He notes that the crucifixion of God has not ceased, for what has happened once in time is repeated ceaselessly in eternity. Judas, now, goes on receiving his pieces of silver, goes on kissing Christ, goes on throwing the coins into the temple, goes on making a noose in the rope on the field of blood. (Erfjord, in order to justify this affirmation, invokes the last chapter of the first volume of Jaromir Hladik’s Vindication of Eternity.)

Jorge Luis Borges: The Theologians

Jorge Luis BorgesAfter having razed the garden and profaned the chalices and altars, the Huns entered the monastery library on horseback and trampled the incomprehensible books and vituperated and burned them, perhaps fearful that the letters concealed blasphemies against their god, which was an iron scimitar. Palimpsests and codices were consumed, but in the heart of the fire, amid the ashes, there remained almost intact the twelfth book of the Civitas Dei, which relates how in Athens Plato taught that, at the centuries’ end, all things will recover their previous state and he in Athens, before the same audience, will teach this same doctrine anew. The text pardoned by the flames enjoyed special veneration and those who read and reread it in that remote province came to forget that the author had only stated this doctrine in order better to refute it. A century later, Aurelian, coadjutor of Aquileia, learned that on the shores of the Danube the very recent sect of the Monotones (called also the Annulars) professed that history is a circle and that there is nothing which has not been and will not be. In the mountains, the Wheel and the Serpent had displaced the Cross. All were afraid, but all were comforted by the rumor that John of Pannonia, who had distinguished himself with a treatise on the seventh attribute of God, was going to impugn such an abominable heresy.

Aurelian deplored this news, particularly the latter part. He knew that in questions of theology there is no novelty without risk; then he reflected that the thesis of a circular time was too different, too astounding, for the risk to be serious. (The heresies we should fear are those which can be confused with orthodoxy.) John of Pannonia’s intervention — his intrusion — pained him more. Two years before, with his verbose De septima affectione Dei sive de aeternitate, he had usurped a topic in Aurelian’s speciality; now, as if the problem of time belonged to him, he was going to rectify the Annulars, perhaps with Procrustean arguments, with theriacas more fearful than the Serpent. . . That night, Aurelian turned the pages of Plutarch’s ancient dialogue on the cessation of the oracles; in the twenty-ninth paragraph he read a satire against the Stoics, who defend an infinite cycle of worlds, with infinite suns, moons, Apollos, Dianas and Poseidons. The discovery seemed to him a favorable omen; he resolved to anticipate John of Pannonia and refute the heretics of the Wheel.

There are those who seek a woman’s love in order to forget her, to think no more of her; Aurelian, in a similar fashion, wanted to surpass John of Pannonia in order to be rid of the resentment he inspired in him, not in order to harm him. Tempered by mere diligence, by the fabrication of syllogisms and the invention of insults, by the negos and autems and nequaquams, he managed to forget that rancor. He erected vast and almost inextricable periods encumbered with parentheses, in which negligence and solecism seemed as forms of scorn. He made an instrument of cacophony. He foresaw that John would fulminate the Annulars with prophetic gravity; so as not to coincide with him, he chose mockery as his weapon. Augustine had written that Jesus is the straight path that saves us from the circular labyrinth followed by the impious; these Aurelian, laboriously trivial, compared with Ixion, with the liver of Prometheus, with Sisyphus, with the king of Thebes who saw two suns, with stuttering, with parrots, with mirrors, with echoes, with the mules of a noria and with two-horned syllogisms. (Here the heathen fables survived, relegated to the status of adornments.) Like all those possessing a library, Aurelian was aware that he was guilty of not knowing his in its entirety; this controversy enabled him to fulfill his obligations with many books which seemed to reproach him for his neglect. Thus he was able to insert a passage from Origen’s work De principiis, where it is denied that Judas Iscariot will again betray the Lord and that Paul will again witness Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, and another from Cicero’s Academica priora, where the author scoffs at those who imagine that, while he converses with Lucullus, other Luculluses and Ciceros in infinite number say precisely the same thing in an infinite number of equal worlds. In addition, he wielded against the Monotones the text from Plutarch and denounced the scandalousness of an idolater’s valuing the lumen naturae more than they did the word of God. The writing took him nine days; on the tenth, he was sent a transcript of John of Pannonia’s refutation.

It was almost derisively brief; Aurelian looked at it with disdain and then with fear. The first part was a gloss on the end verses of the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is said that Jesus was not sacrificed many times since the beginning of the world, but now, once, in the consummation of the centuries. The second part adduced the biblical precept concerning the vain repetitions of the pagans (Matthew 6:7) and the passage from the seventh book of Pliny which ponders that in the wide universe there are no two faces alike. John of Pannonia declared that neither are there two like souls and that the vilest sinner is as precious as the blood Jesus shed for him. One man’s act (he affirmed) is worth more than the nine concentric heavens and imagining that this act can be lost and return again is a pompous frivolity. Time does not remake what we lose; eternity saves it for heaven and also for hell. The treatise was limpid, universal; it seemed not to have been written by a concrete person, but by any man or, perhaps, by all men.

Aurelian felt an almost physical humiliation. He thought of destroying or reforming his own work; then, with resentful integrity, he sent it to Rome without modifying a letter. Months later, when the council of Pergamum convened, the theologian entrusted with impugning the Monotones’ errors was (predictably) John of Pannonia; his learned and measured refutation was sufficient to have Euphorbus the heresiarch condemned to the stake. “This has happened and will happen again,” said Euphorbus. “You are not lighting a pyre, you are lighting a labyrinth of flames. If all the fires I have been were gathered together here, they would not fit on earth and the angels would be blinded. I have said this many times.” Then he cried out, because the flames had reached him.

The Wheel fell before the Cross,[1] but Aurelian and John of Pannonia continued their secret battle. Both served in the same army, coveted the same guerdon, warred against the same Enemy, but Aurelian did not write a word which secretly did not strive to surpass John. Their duel was an invisible one; if the copious indices do not deceive me, the name of the other does not figure once in the many volumes by Aurelian preserved in Migne’s Patrology. (Of John’s works only twenty words have survived.) Both condemned the anathemas of the second council of Constantinople; both persecuted the Arrianists, who denied the eternal generation of the Son; both testified to the othodoxy of Cosmas’ Topographia Christiana, which teaches that the earth is quadrangular, like the Hebrew tabernacle. Unfortunately, to the four corners of the earth another tempestuous heresy spread. Originating in Egypt or in Asia (for the testimonies differ and Bousset will not admit Harnack’s reasoning), it infested the eastern provinces and erected sanctuaries in Macedonia, in Carthage and in Treves. It seemed to be everywhere; it was said that in the diocese of Britannia the crucifixes had been inverted and that in Caesarea the image of the Lord had been replaced by a mirror. The mirror and the obolus were the new schismatics’ emblems.

History knows them by many names (Speculars, Abysmals, Cainites), but the most common of all is Histriones, a name Aurelian gave them and which they insolently adopted. In Frigia they were called Simulacra, and also in Dardania. John of Damascus called them Forms; it is well to note that the passage has been rejected by Erfjord. There is no heresiologist who does not relate with stupor their wild customs. Many Histriones professed asceticism; some mutilated themselves, as did Origen; others lived underground in the sewers; others tore out their eyes; others (the Nabucodonosors of Nitria) “grazed like oxen and their hair grew like an eagle’s.” They often went from mortification and severity to crime; some communities tolerated thievery; others, homicide; others, sodomy, incest and bestiality. All were blasphemous; they cursed not only the Christian God but also the arcane divinities of their own pantheon. They contrived sacred books whose disappearance is lamented by scholars. In the year 1658, Sir Thomas Browne wrote: “Time has annihilated the ambitious Histrionic gospels, not the Insults with which their Impiety was fustigated”: Erfjord has suggested that these “insults” (preserved in a Greek codex) are the lost gospels. This is incomprehensible if we do not know the Histriones’ cosmology.

In the hermetic books it is written that what is down below is equal to what is on high, and what is on high is equal to what is down below; in the Zohar, that the higher world is a reflection of the lower. The Histriones founded their doctrine on a perversion of this idea. They invoked Matthew 6:12 (“and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”) and 11:12 (“the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence”) to demonstrate that the earth influences heaven, and I Corinthians 13:12 (“for now we see through a glass, darkly”) to demonstrate that everything we see is false. Perhaps contaminated by the Monotones, they imagined that all men are two men and that the real one is the other, the one in heaven. They also imagined that our acts project an inverted reflection, in such a way that if we are awake, the other sleeps, if we fornicate, the other is chaste, if we steal, the other is generous. When we die, we shall join this other and be him. (Some echo of these doctrines persisted in Léon Bloy.) Other Histriones reasoned that the world would end when the number of its possibilities was exhausted; since there can be no repetitions, the righteous should eliminate (commit) the most infamous acts, so that these will not soil the future and will hasten the coming of the kingdom of Jesus. This article was negated by other sects, who held that the history of the world should be fulfilled in every man. Most, like Pythagoras, will have to transmigrate through many bodies before attaining their liberation; some, the Proteans, “in the period of one lifetime are lions, dragons, boars, water and a tree.” Demosthenes tells how the initiates into the Orphic mysteries were submitted to purification with mud; the Proteans, analogously, sought purification through evil. They knew, as did Carpocrates, that no one will be released from prison until he has paid the last obolus (Luke 12:59) and used to deceive penitents with this other verse: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). They also said that not to be evil is a satanic arrogance. . . Many and divergent mythologies were devised by the Histriones; some preached asceticism, others licentiousness. All preached confusion. Theopompus, a Histrione of Berenice, denied all fables; he said that every man is an organ put forth by the divinity in order to perceive the world.

The heretics of Aurelian’s diocese were of those who affirmed that time does not tolerate repetitions, not of those who affirmed that every act is reflected in heaven. This circumstance was strange; in a report to the authorities in Rome, Aurelian mentioned it. The prelate who was to receive the report was the empress’ confessor; everyone knew that this demanding post kept him from the intimate delights of speculative theology. His secretary — a former collaborator of John of Pannonia, now hostile to him — enjoyed fame as a punctual inquisitor of heterodoxies; Aurelian added an exposition of the Histrionic heresy, just as it was found in the conventicles of Genua and of Aquileia. He composed a few paragraphs; when he tried to write the atrocious thesis that there are no two moments alike, his pen halted. He could not find the necessary formula; the admonitions of this new doctrine (“Do you want to see what human eyes have never seen? Look at the moon. Do you want to hear what ears have never heard? Listen to the bird’s cry. Do you want to touch what hands have never touched? Touch the earth. Verily I say that God is about to create the world.”) were much too affected and metaphorical to be transcribed. Suddenly, a sentence of twenty words came to his mind. He wrote it down, joyfully; immediately afterwards, he was troubled by the suspicion that it was the work of another. The following day, he remembered that he had read it many years before in the Adversus annulares composed by John of Pannonia. He verified the quotation; there it was. He was tormented by incertitude. If he changed or suppressed those words he would weaken the expression; if he left them he would be plagiarizing a man he abhorred; if he indicated their source, he would be denouncing him. He implored divine assistance. Towards the beginning of the second twilight, his guardian angel dictated to him an intermediate solution. Aurelian kept the words, but preceded them with this notice: “What the heresiarchs now bark in confusion of the faith was said in our realm by a most learned man, with more frivolity than guilt.” Then the dreaded, hoped for, inevitable thing happened. Aurelian had to declare who the man was; John of Pannonia was accused of professing heretical opinions.

Four months later, a blacksmith of Aventinus, deluded by the Histriones’ deceptions, placed a huge iron sphere on the shoulders of his small son, so that his double might fly. The boy died; the horror engendered by this crime obliged John’s judges to assume an unexceptionable severity. He would not retract; he repeated that if he negated his proposition he would fall into the pestilential heresy of the Monotones. He did not understand (did not want to understand) that to speak of the Monotones was to speak of the already forgotten. With somewhat senile insistence, he abundantly gave forth with the most brilliant periods of his former polemics; the judges did not even hear what had once enraptured them. Instead of trying to cleanse himself of the slightest blemish of Histrionism, he strove to demonstrate that the proposition of which he was accused was rigorously orthodox. He argued with the men on whose judgment his fate depended and committed the extreme ineptitude of doing so with wit and irony. On the 26th of October, after a discussion lasting three days and three nights, he was sentenced to die at the stake.

Aurelian witnessed the execution, for refusing to do so meant confessing his own guilt. The place for the ceremony was a hill, on whose green top there was a pole driven deep into the ground, surrounded by many bundles of wood. A bailiff read the tribunal’s sentence. Under the noonday sun, John of Pannonia lay with his face in the dust, howling like an animal. He clawed the ground but the executioners pulled him away, stripped him naked and finally tied him to the stake. On his head they placed a straw crown dipped in sulphur; at his side, a copy of the pestilential Adversus annulares. It had rained the night before and the wood burned badly. John of Pannonia prayed in Greek and then in an unknown language. The fire was about to engulf him when Aurelian finally dared to raise his eyes. The bursts of flame halted; Aurelian saw for the first and last time the face of the hated heretic. It reminded him of someone, but he could not remember who. Then he was lost in the flames; then he cried out and it was as if a fire had cried out. Plutarch has related that Julius Caesar wept for the death of Pompey; Aurelian did not weep for the death of John, but he felt what a man would feel when rid of an incurable disease that had become a part of his life. In Aquileia, in Ephesus, in Macedonia, he let the years pass over him. He sought the arduous limits of the Empire, the torpid swamps and contemplative deserts, so that solitude might help him understand his destiny. In a cell in Mauretania, in a night laden with lions, he reconsidered the complex accusation brought against John of Pannonia and justified, for the nth time, the sentence. It was much more difficult to justify his own tortuous denunciation. In Rusaddir he preached the anachronistic sermon “Light of lights burning in the flesh of a reprobate.” In Hibernia, in one of the hovels of a monastery surrounded by the forest, he was startled one night towards dawn by the sound of rain. He remembered a night in Rome when that minute noise had also startled him. At midday, a lightning bolt set fire to the trees and Aurelian died just as John had.

The end of this story can only be related in metaphors since it takes place in the kingdom of heaven, where there is no time. Perhaps it would be correct to say that Aurelian spoke with God and that He was so little interested in religious differences that He took him for John of Pannonia. This, however, would imply a confusion in the divine mind. It is more correct to say that in Paradise, Aurelian learned that, for the unfathomable divinity, he and John of Pannonia (the orthodox believer and the heretic, the abhorrer and the abhorred, the accuser and the accused) formed one single person.

[1] In the Runic crosses the two contrary emblems coexist entwined.

აკაკი ჩხენკელი: წერილი ნოეს

Akaki Chkhenkeli, 1913

ძვირფასო ნოე,

შენი პატარა წერილი მივიღე. გამოგზავნილი საბუთის შესახებ მაშინვე მივანდევი ლონდონის საელჩოს მოენახა იქ ნახსენები პირი და გამოეკითხა, რაში იყო საქმე. პასუხიც მივიღე და გამოირკვა, რომ იმ პირს ასეთი ქაღალდები ბევრი გადაუცია სხვა და სხვა მინისტრისათვის, მაგრამ უშედეგოთ დარჩენილა. არ ახდენს შთაბეჭდილებას სერიოზული ადამიანის და მისი ნაცნობებიც გავლენიან წრეებს არ ეკუთვნიან.

მაგრამ შენ მართალი ხარ არსებითათ: ჩვენები არ ეძებდნენ მზგავს შეთანხმებებს ინგლისელებთან, არც სხვებთან. სამი წელი ისე დავკარგეთ, რომ ერთი მეგობარი- მფარველი ვერ ვიშოვეთ, და არა იმიტომ, რომ არ შეიძლებოდა, არამედ ჩვენ თვითონ არ ვცდილობდით ამას. მთელი ჩვენი ეკონომიური პოლიტიკა, ან უკეთ – აპოლიტიზმი მიმართული იყო იქითკენ, რომ დაგვეფრთხო უცხოელნი.

ეხლა გვიანაა ამაზე ლაპარაკი, მაგრამ, სამწუხაროდ, მომავალშიც არა ვართ დაზღვეული, რომ წარსულ შეცდომებს არ განვიმეორებთ. ძალიან გატეხილი გვაქვს სახელი, არ არის ისეთი უცხოელი ვაჭარ-მრეწველი, ვინც ჩვენთან ყოფილა და არ გვაგინებდეს. მე წავიკითხე ერთი ნიმუში ვიღაც ბელგიელის მოხსენებისა მთავრობის სახელზე, სადაც მიწასთან ვართ გასწორებული და, სამწუხაროთ, ბევრი სამართლიანი დაკვირვება არის შიდ მოთავსებული. რაღა შორს წავიდე, დე-ბრუვერი ერთ საღამოს ჩემთან იყო თიფილისში და ასეთი სურათი გადამიშალა ჩვენი უუნარობისა, რომ მეც კი გამიკვირდა. მე მივაგზავნე ნ.ჟ-თან, ვიცი, მას გაცილებით მეტი უთხრა, მერე რა? შინაურული რჩევა-ხვეწნა არ გადიოდა, გარეთ გამომზეურებას კი ჩვენ თვითონ ვერიდებოდით.

ასე არ შეიძლება სახელმწიფოს მართვაგამგეობა. სადაც პასუხისმგებლობა არაა, იქ არ არის სახელმწიფო. ამხანაგურ ატმოსფერაში სახელმწიფოს მართვა შეუძლებელია, პარტიული ტრიბუნალიც დაჩლუნგებული იყო.

მე მეშინია, იგივე არ განმეორდეს. შენ დიდი პასუხისმგებლობა გაწევს, ნოე, მინდობილი გაქვს სამშობლოსთან კავშირი და მუშაობის ხელმძღვანელობა, ვალიკოც ახალ რამეებსაც გეტყვის. დიახ, უნდა ვებრძოლოთ მოღალატეთ, ორგულებს, მაგრამ მათ მარტო სხვის პარტიებში ნუ ვეძებთ! საჭიროა ჩავწვდეთ ხალხს გულში, მისი მამოძრავებელი ღერძი ეროვნული მომენტი არის, ის ათმენიებდა მას ამდენ გაჭირვებას თავისუფლების დროს, იგივეს შეაძლებინებს მას საგმირო საქმეთ მომავალში; მას ინსტიქტურათ სწამს სახელმწიფო; უნდა გარანტია პიროვნების დასაკუთრების; ის მთლიანია, ე.ი. ყველა კლასი იძლევა თავდადებულთ სამშობლოსათვის, საჭიროა მათი გაერთიანება.

აკ. ჩხენკელი


Paris, le 18. VIII  1921

გვერდითა მინაწერი

ბექირთან არა ერთხელ გვქონდა ლაპარაკი, მისწერა ანგორას არა ერთხელ, მაგრამ ოსმალოს დაენდე! აქაური ლოგიკა. მუშაობაზე კოწიას ვწერ სისტემატიურათ. მისგან გაიგებ. გაზეთისთვის ვერ მოვიცალე, მაგრათ!

Israel Kirzner: Economics and Error

Israel Kizner

The title of this paper, it may correctly be surmised, owes something to the title of the famous 1937 paper of Professor Hayek, “Economics and Knowledge.”1 There lies, Hayek acknowledged, an intentional ambiguity in the title of that paper: we are in fact to learn in his paper that the knowledge which economic analysis conveys depends crucially upon propositions about the knowledge possessed by the different members of society. The not dissimilar ambiguity in the title of the present paper may, one ventures to hope, suggest that a good deal of erroneous thought in economics has its source in confusion concerning the nature and role of error in the actions of the different members of society. It is the purpose of this paper to dispel at least some portion of this confusion. If, in the course of this attempt, some incidental light can be thrown, as well, on the problems raised by Hayek in his ’37 paper, this will be seen to reflect (once again not accidentally) the symmetrical ambiguities embedded in the titles of the two papers.


Economists have traditionally been concerned with issues related to efficiency. Inefficient action occurs when one places oneself in a position which one views as less desirable than an equally available alternative state of affairs. Inefficiency can therefore not be thought of except as the result of an error, a mistake, an incorrect and wrong move. Much of the work of the modern economist has, in fact, the declared aim of avoiding errors, of achieving efficiency. At the same time, however, as he directs his energies toward the obviation of error, the contemporary economist is frequently to be found pursuing his analysis on the assumption that men do not, and will not, ever fall into error. “Waste,” declares Stigler in a recent note, “is error within the framework of modern economic analysis, and it will not become a useful concept until we have a theory of error.”2 Modern economic analysis, we are to understand, lacking a theory of error, can and does proceed only by assuming it away: error and waste simply have no place in the world of economic theory. It is this position that we wish to examine critically. Is it really the case, we must ask, that economic theory requires us to abstract completely from the phenomenon of error? As a preliminary step toward the consideration of this question, it is necessary first to review a number of discussions to be found in the economic literature in which the possibility of error has been seriously canvassed.


In a passage in which he is concerned to explain that human action is always rational (in the sense of being designed to attain definite ends), Mises considers the objection that men make mistakes. This does not, Mises points out, constitute irrationality. “To make mistakes in pursuing one’s ends is a widespread human weakness…. Error, inefficiency, and failure must not be confused with irrationality. He who shoots wants, as a rule, to hit the mark. If he misses it, he is not ‘irrational’; he is a poor marksman. The doctor who chooses the wrong method to treat a patient is not irrational; he may be an incompetent physician…”3 The implication here is that the incompetent physician and the poor marksman may indeed make mistakes and errors. Rational Misesian human actors are human enough to err. But it is clear that these errors are not inconsistent with the position (excluding errors) cited earlier as taken by Stigler. In fact the reason why these are not errors in the sense relevant to the Stigler position, is entirely similar to the reason why these errors do not, for Mises, constitute irrationality. The mistakes made by the ill-trained medic do not represent a failure by him to attain that which it is within his power to attain. His failure simply reflects lack of the necessary quality of input. An error (in the Stigler sense) occurs only when an input is used in a way that fails to produce what that input can produce. When a poor mathematician makes a mistake in arithmetic4 he is not, there­ fore, making an error; nor is the failure by a poor marksman to hit the mark an error. It is not an error for a physically weak man to be unable to lift a heavy weight. Nor is it an error, in the relevant sense, when one unschooled in medicine fails to pre­ scribe the proper treatment for a patient. (To be sure, it may be that the incompetent physician, indifferent mathematician, and poor marksman ought not to waste their time [and their patients’ lives] by engaging in tasks for which they are so definitely ill­ suited. But of course Mises is concerned with the mistake the physician makes in the course of the practice of medicine, not with the possible error of his attempting to practice medicine altogether.)


In the course of his famous correspondence with Pareto at the turn of the century (in the Giornale degli Economisti), Benedetto Croce did find a definite place for “economic error.” Such an error, Croce explained, must be sharply distinguished from “technical error.” Technical error, for Croce, consists in an error of knowledge; it occurs when one is ignorant of the properties of the materials with which one deals (such as when one places a heavy iron girder on a delicate wall too weak to support it). Economic error, on the other hand, occurs for example when, yielding to the temptation of the moment, one pursues a transient fancy which is not one’s true goal; it is, Croce explains, an error of will, “the failure to aim directly at one’s own object: to wish this and that, i.e. not really to wish either this or that.”5 Avoidance of economic error requires that one aim at one’s goal; failure to aim at one’s goal constitutes, therefore, a special category of error. This error arises out of the incorrectness not of the pattern of acts taken in pursuing one’s immediate aim, since these are, from the point of view of that aim, entirely appropriate, but of one’s immediate aim itself. To pursue this aim is – from the perspective of one’s “true” goals – an aberration. One places oneself into contradiction with oneself, one aims at that which one does not, in fact, seek to attain.

Croce’s concept of economic error has not found favor among economists. The writer has elsewhere6 reviewed the careful analysis which Tagliacozzo many years ago made of Croce’s position.7 Briefly the reason why economists have no place for Croce’s “economic error” is that it seems impossible, from the point of view of pure science, to distinguish between “true” goals and erroneous, transient ones. Once we have accepted the possibility that man can discard yesterday’s goals and adopt new ones towards which he will direct today’s purposeful actions – we have surrendered the possibility of labelling the pursuit of any end (no matter how fleeting the “temptation” toward it may be, and no matter how permanent remorse over having “yielded” to it may turn out to become) as, on scientific grounds, an erroneous one. Croce’s economic error, it then turns out, emerges only as a result of invoking (unspecified) judgments of value in terms of which to classify, from a man’s own point of view, those goals of his which it is “correct” to pursue and those the pursuit of which he must consider an error.

It seems worthwhile to digress briefly to note that Mises – in whose writings one finds no room at all for the type of “economic error” identified by Croce – seems to have consistent scientific grounds for his unwillingness to recognize such error. It is well known that Mises denied the independent existence of a scale of values (actuating human choices) apart from the acts of choice themselves (“the scale of values… manifests itself only in the reality of action”).8 The notion of a given scale of values, Mises is at pains to explain, can therefore not be used to pronounce a real action (at variance with that scale) as “irrational.” The logical consistency which human action necessarily displays, by no means entails constancy in the ranking of ends.9 Mises’ insistence on the possibility of changes in adopted preference rankings is closely related to his understanding of choice as undetermined. Man does not choose as a reaction to given circumstances – on the basis of a previously adopted scale of values; he chooses freely at the time he acts, between different ends and different ways of reaching these ends. It follows that the notion of economic error as perceived by Croce has no place in economic science.


That men frequently act on the basis of imperfect knowledge is of course not disputed by writers for whom error in economic theory is excluded. In the passage (cited above) where Mises defends the “rationality” of erroneous actions, he mentions an example which we have not yet cited. “The farmer who in earlier ages tried to increase his crop by resorting to magic rites acted no less rationally than the modern farmer who applies more fertilizer.”10 Men certainly engage in actions which they may regret when they discover the true facts of the situation. Croce, we have seen, termed this kind of mistake a technical error. Erroneous action arising from ignorance is not, however, generally seen as a serious threat to an economics which excludes error. With respect to the perceived framework of ends and means, error – free decision making can still be postulated. The very notion of an ends – means framework, of preferences and constraints, of indifference curves and budget lines, enables the economist to confine his analysis to choice within the given framework. The source of error in such choices, being outside that framework, is thus, by the very scope of the analysis, in effect excluded from consideration.

To be sure it is precisely this aspect of modern economics against which Professors Lachmann and Shackle have, among other matters, so vigorously rebelled. Since all action is future­ oriented, necessarily involving an unknown and unknowable future, men’s actions are inevitably attended by what Knight called error in the exercise of judgment.11 Such error may, if one chooses, be subsumed under Croce’s technical error, but the all – pervasive and inescapable character of such errors in judgment does, in the view of these distinguished critics, seriously compromise the usefulness of abstractions depending on given, known, ends-means frameworks. In this paper, we will not pursue further the profound consequences with respect to modern economics which the Lachmann-Shackle critiques imply. Our discussion proceeds, instead, in the context of modes of discourse which do perceive continued relevance in theories of choice dependent on supposedly given, known frameworks of preferences and constraints.

It should be pointed out that a good deal of modern theorizing proceeds along a path on which actions based on mistaken knowledge appear not to be errors, in a sense deeper than that so far discussed in this paper. It is not merely that an action is seen as “correct” within the framework of the perceived – but in fact the quite wrongly perceived – ends-means framework. The action is frequently seen as correct also in that the ignorance, on which the mistaken perceptions are to be blamed, may itself be viewed as having been deliberately (and quite correctly) cultivated. Economists have long recognized that men must deliberately choose what information they wish to acquire at given prices. One who on a deliberate gamble refrains from acquiring a certain piece of costly knowledge, and who then, in consequence of his ignorance, makes a “mistake,” may indeed regret his lack of good fortune in having lost as a result of his gamble, but may nonetheless quite possibly still feel that the chances which he originally confronted (when deliberating on whether or not to acquire the costly information) rendered his original decision the correct one. The relevant ends-means framework, within which actions have been pronounced consistently errorless, has now been broadened to embrace the situation within which the choice was made not to buy improved information. If Mises’ “incompetent” physician had taken a calculated risk in deliberately not studying with sufficient care the treatment of a rare disease, his subsequent errors may indeed be seen as “technical errors”; (they may also, as we have seen earlier, be seen simply as the entirely-to-be-expected shortcoming in output quality consequent on the less-than-perfect quality of medical input). But the ignorance responsible for the technical error in medical treatment (or, if one prefers, for the less-than- perfect quality of medical expertise available for deployment) may itself be the consistent result of a correct, deliberate, choice. This way of seeing imperfect knowledge – as the correctly planned limitation on input quality – permits one to subsume errors arising out of imperfect knowledge under the general class of errors treated above in the section “Mises, Marksmen, and Mistakes,” that is, as not constituting errors at all (in the sense of somehow failing to achieve an available preferred state of affairs). This way of looking at things has gained plausibility as result of the development during the last 15 years by Stigler and others, of the Economics of Information (in which detailed analysis is undertaken of decisions concerning the optimum degree of ignorance to be preserved under different conditions, and of the market consequences of such decisions).


Harvey Leibenstein has written an extensive series of papers developing the concept of X-inefficiency and exploring the ex­ tent to which this type of inefficiency has yet to be incorporated into standard economic theory. 12 In this paper we consider only those aspects of his work that bear directly on the possibility of error within the scope of economic analysis. In the present section we briefly take note of some of the objections raised recently by Stigler against certain aspects of Leibenstein’s contribution.

For Leibenstein, X-inefficiency (as contrasted with the more conventional allocative inefficiency) is equivalent to what for others is called technical efficiency,13 the failure of producers to achieve, with the inputs they use, the highest technically possible level of output. Among the sources of this kind of inefficiency, in Leibenstein’s view, is inadequacy of motivation and of effort. “The simple fact is that neither individuals nor firms work as hard, nor do they search for information as effectively, as they could.”14 Stigler has severely criticized Leibenstein on his use of language.15 For the purposes of our discussion of the possibility of error in economics, Stigler’s objections can be stated as follows. It is certainly true that greater output could frequently be achieved by greater effort and stronger motivation. But this does not indicate error, in the sense of failing to achieve an available state of affairs more desirable than that actually achieved. If individuals are not sufficiently motivated to work harder, this presumably reflects, deliberately and “correctly,” their preference for leisure. If, again, firms have not succeeded in organizing production so as to enhance worker motivation, this constitutes the firm’s choice of one “technology” of production, as against the possibility of alternative (more productivity­ conscious) technologies. Choice of one technology, yielding lower physical output per week than another available technology, does not, without our knowing all the relevant costs, warrant our asserting the presence of error in the choice of technologies. Stigler’s objections are completely convincing. Leibenstein has not, in his exploration of motivational inefficiency, discovered cases of genuine error, in the sense relevant to our discussion. (We will return later in this paper to consider other aspects of Leibenstein’s X-inefficiency as more promising in this respect.)


Let us stand back and observe the position to which we have been led. This position might appear to coincide completely with that in which no place for error exists in economic analysis – if by error one means deliberately placing oneself in a situation which one prefers less than another equally available situation of which one is aware. We have refused to accept Croce’s terminology (in which economic error can occur when one has been temporarily seduced to aim deliberately at a goal which one in fact prefers less than another “true” goal). We have, with Stigler, refused to accept Leibenstein’s apparent perception of inadequately motivated persons, persons not trying as hard as they really could, as ones who are in fact placing themselves in less preferred situations. We have pointed out that errors made by agents whose lack of competence or skill renders such mistakes inevitable, clearly do not involve failure to achieve any attainable preferred position (since the inadequate quality of available inputs places such preferred positions out of reach). And where, as a result of imperfect knowledge, an agent achieves a position less preferred than an equally available alternative position, we have seen that he too cannot, within the framework of the information he believed to be relevant, be convicted of error. Moreover we have seen that insofar as this agent deliberately refrained from acquiring more complete or more accurate knowledge, he cannot even be described as having placed himself in a less preferred situation at all (since in his view the cost of acquiring the more accurate knowledge made ignorance the preferred risk).

It should be observed that our apparent conclusion that error has no place in economics does not depend on any artificial assumption, as does, for example, appear to be implied in Stigler. For Stigler, it appears, error is deliberately (and artificially) excluded by the economist from his purview, on the grounds that we lack a theory of error.16 But for us as Austrians, it should be clear, our conclusions follow strictly from the insight that men are purposeful (or “rational,” as Mises uses the word). If men pursue purposes, it follows that of course they do not consciously act to place themselves in situations that are any but the most preferred of those equally available alternatives of which they are aware. If men turn out to have failed to achieve the most preferred situations it must be either that those situations were in fact not available, or that (possibly as a result of deliberate, purposeful earlier decisions) these agents were not aware of the full range of alternatives. Not only, that is, have we apparently been led to Stigler’s conclusion that there is no place for error in economics, we have been led to this conclusion as implied directly in the very assumption of purposefulness from which we take our point of departure.17

Economics, it thus seems to turn out, is peopled by beings whose purposefulness ensures that they can never, in retrospect, reproach themselves for having acted in error. They may, in retrospect, indeed wish that they had been more skillful, or had commanded more inputs, or had been better informed. But they can never upbraid themselves for having acted erroneously in failing to command those superior skills or to acquire more accurate information. They must, at every stage concede that they had, in the past, acted with flawless precision (insofar as they were able). Any reproaches which they may validly wish to direct at themselves – for example for not having tried hard enough or for having succumbed to temptation – arise out of later judgments of value (concerning the significance of leisure or of the goal represented by the fleeting temptation) with which they had, at earlier dates, disagreed. Such self – reproach, we now understand, is not for having acted in error, in the sense relevant to the present discussion.18

Indeed the reader might reasonably claim cause for irritation at the triviality of our conclusion. Given the paramountcy ac­ corded to purposefulness, and given a definition of error which excludes “wrong” judgments of value as well as failures ascribable to ignorance or inadequacy (whether due to causes beyond the control of the agent or to his past purposeful choices) ­ surely the conclusion that error is excluded is so obviously implicit in our definitions as to be completely uninteresting.

But, as the remaining pages of this paper will attempt to show, the conclusions to which we have apparently been led by our discussion thus far, are not trivial at all – in fact they are not even true. Not only is there nothing, as we shall see, in the assumptions and definitions on which economic analysis is built, which rules out error – it can be shown that economic analysis can hardly proceed at all without making very important use of the concept of error (as well as of the discovery and correction of error). Let us see how all this can possibly be maintained.


Much weight was placed, in earlier pages, on our recognition that mistakes made as a result of ignorance do not qualify as errors (in the sense relevant to our discussion). A man who acted with complete precision, given the knowledge he thought he possessed, could not, we maintained, be reproached with having acted in error. (And where the limits to his stock of knowledge had been deliberately selected, we certainly understood him to have acted, at all times, beyond reproach.) That is, the man at no time refrained from exploiting any known opportunity for achieving the most desirable situation possible. Yet surely we must recognize that, valid though these statements are, within their own framework, they may not fully exhaust our interpretation of the situations to which they refer.

A man walks along a street, sees a store with signs offering to sell apples for $1 but, perhaps thinking of other things, enters a second store where he pays $2 for identical apples. He may have “seen” the signs in the first store, but his perception of them was so weak as to mean that, when he paid $2 in the second store he did not, in fact, “know” that he was rejecting a preferred opportunity for one less preferred. Within the framework of his “knowledge,” the $2 apples were indeed his best opportunity; he made no error. Yet, surely, in an important sense he will (when he realizes his mistake) reproach himself for having been so absentminded as to pass by the bargain which he saw, for the more expensive purchase. In this sense he did commit an error, the error of not acting on the information available to him, of not perceiving fully the opportunity before his very nose. He did (without the excuse of not having the necessary information available to him) consciously place himself in a less preferred position than that available to him. It is true that he was not “aware” of the superior alternative. But, because the necessary information was available to him, it was surely an error on his part to have failed to act upon it (i.e., to have remained unaware of the superior opportunity). His “unawareness” cannot be “excused” (from conviction of error) on the grounds of inadequacy of inputs (since the information inputs were at hand). It cannot be excused on the grounds of an earlier decision to refrain from acquiring information (since no such decision was made). This unawareness cannot be flatly excluded as impossible (because of inconsistency with purposeful action) because there is nothing in purposeful action which by itself guarantees that every available opportunity must be instantaneously perceived.19

In the discussion in the first portion of this paper knowledge was treated as something like an input, a “tool.” Someone lacking this needed input could not be reproached with error for not succeeding in achieving that for which this input was needed. (And where this input had deliberately and correctly not been acquired because of its cost, this exemption from reproach be­ came even more justified.) But we now see that ignorance may mean something other than lack of command over a needed tool – it may be sheer failure to utilize a resource available and ready at hand. Such failure, moreover, is not inconsistent with purposefulness, since an available resource ready at hand may not be noticed; purposefulness is not necessarily inconsistent with tunnel – vision. (Of course one might insist that an agent not blessed with the alertness needed to notice resources available at hand, simply lacks, through no “fault” of his own, another “resource” [i.e. “alertness”] necessary to take advantage of the other resources with which he has been blessed. We cannot set down such a use of terms as wrong. We simply point out that while decisions can in principle be made by a person to acquire a resource which he lacks, we can not conceive of one lacking “alertness,” making a decision to acquire it. This is so because, among other reasons,20 before a decision to acquire anything can be considered, one must already assume the alertness necessary for the perception that such an acquisition is needed and possible at all. Or, to put it somewhat differently, alertness cannot be treated as a resource with respect to which decisions are made on how to use it, since, in order to make such a decision with respect to a resource, one must already have been alert to its availability. “Alertness” thus appears to possess a primordial role in decision making which makes it unhelpful for it to be treated, in the analysis of decisions, “as any other resource.” We claim, there­ fore, justification for a terminology which maintains that where ignorance consists, not in lack of available information, but in inexplicably failing to see facts staring one in the face, it represents genuine error, and genuine inefficiency.)21


We have shown that genuine error is not inconsistent with the fundamental postulates of economics. It remains to show that economic analysis depends on the presence of this kind of error for its most elementary and far – reaching theorems. Let us con­ sider the theorem which Jevons correctly called “a general law of the utmost importance in economics,” which asserts that “in the same open market, at any one moment, there cannot be two prices for the same kind of article.”22 Now Jevons presented this Law of Indifference as valid only where no imperfection of knowledge exists. Yet surely economists ever since Jevons have understood the law as asserting a tendency at all times for diver gent prices of identical goods to converge, ceteris paribus, toward a single price. That is, the law asserts a tendency for imperfect knowledge to be replaced by more perfect knowledge.23 Now the existence of such a tendency requires some explanation. If the imperfection of knowledge (responsible for the initial multiplicity of prices) reflected the lack of some “resource” (as where means of communication are absent between different parts of a market), then it is difficult, without additional justification, to see how we can postulate universally a process of spontaneous discovery. If, say, imperfection in knowledge resulted from deliberate unwillingness to incur the costs of search, it is not clear how we can be confident that, in the course of the market process such unwillingness will invariably dissipate, or that the necessary costs of search will invariably fall. (Of course one can construct models in which these costs may be supposed to fall. One type of theorizing concerning the nature of the market process has, following on the line of the economics of information, in effect taken this approach.)

Surely our justification for asserting the existence of a tendency for the prices of identical articles to converge rests on our understanding that the imperfection of knowledge (on which one must rely in order to account for the initial multiplicity of prices) reflected, at least in part, sheer error. We understand, that is, that the initial imperfection in knowledge is to be attributed, not to lack of some needed resource, but to failure to notice opportunities ready at hand. The multiplicity of prices represented opportunities for pure entrepreneurial profit; that such multiplicity existed, means that many market participants (those who sold at the lower prices and those who bought at the higher prices) simply overlooked these opportunities. Since these opportunities were left unexploited, not because of unavailable needed resources, but because they were simply not noticed, we understand that, as time passes, the lure of available pure profits can be counted upon to alert at least some market participants to the existence of these opportunities. The law of indifference follows from our recognition that error exists, that it consists in available opportunities being overlooked, and that the market process is a process of the systematic discovery and correction of true error. The hypothetical state of equilibrium, it emerges, consists not so much in the perfection of knowledge (since costs of acquiring knowledge may well justify an equilibrium state of ignorance) as in the hypothetical absence of error.

All this permits us to concur (in general terms, if not in matters of detail) with that aspect of Leibenstein’s concept of X-inefficiency which he identifies with the scope for entrepreneurship.24 Scope for entrepreneurship, we have discovered, is present whenever error occurs. Pure profit opportunities exist whenever error occurs. Whenever error occurs in the context of production, inputs are being used to achieve less than the optimum quantity and quality of outputs; the producer is operating inside the “outer-bound production possibility surface consistent with [his] resources.”25 X-inefficiency is possible, it reflects error, and is necessarily reflected in the availability of entrepreneurial profit opportunities and scope for entrepreneurial discovery and improvement. That our conclusion with respect to this aspect of Leibenstein’s contribution apparently differs from that of Stigler (who rejects the notion of X-inefficiency entirely) is fully consistent with our refusal to accompany Stigler in his insistence on excluding error from economics.


In the course of his critique of Leibenstein, Stigler has valuably recalled our attention to an old issue in the economic literature, the rationale underlying Marshall’s ·concept of the representative firm. It was Lionel (now Lord) Robbins who in 192826 explained Marshall’s motive in introducing the rather trouble­ some notion of the representative firm, and who showed, with the most effective logic, that there is in fact no need for this awkward construct at all. Our discussion thus far enables us to make several comments on the issue.

Basing his interpretation on the authoritative opinion of Dennis Robertson, Robbins explains that Marshall devised the representative firm “to meet the difficulties occurring in the analysis of supply when there is a disparity of efficiency as between different producers.”27 This disparity means that part of the total supply of each product (the magnitude of which helps determine price) is produced by producers making zero or negative profits. Consequently it would appear that “the magnitude of net profits is irrelevant to the determination of… price.” For this reason Marshall explained that price is to be understood in terms of the normal costs (including gross earnings of management) associated with the representative firm.28

Robbins went to great pains to show that, insofar as concerns these disparities of efficiency between firms that would not dis­ appear in equilibrium, there is no need at all to invoke the notion of a representative firm. Such disparities in efficiency are to be traced to the presence of entrepreneurs of varying ability. “Just as units of a given supply may be produced on lands of varying efficiency, so their production may be supervised by business men of varying ability. What is normal profit for one will not be normal profit for another, that is all.”29 As Stigler put it, it is inappropriate to use variations in entrepreneurial ability to account for variations in costs among firms: “…differences in the quality of an input do not lead to differences in outputs from given inputs…. [When] costs of firms differed because of quality of entrepreneurs (or other inputs), the differences in productivity would be reflected in differences in profits (or other input prices).”30

In other words, differences in costs of production arising from differences in entrepreneurial ability mean that the equilibrium prices for the various entrepreneurial inputs will be correspondingly different. When account is taken of the costs of these entrepreneurial inputs it will be seen that, in equilibrium, there exist no cost variations between entrepreneurs. Stigler appears to conclude that Robbins’s discussion justifies the neoclassical practice of viewing each producer as always at a production frontier. If as a result of varying quality of entrepreneurial inputs, there occurs output variation, this is simply because, as a result of the variance in entrepreneurial quality, each producer may have a production frontier above or below that of others.31 There is no room, in this scheme of things, for Leibenstein’s X-inefficiency (which implies the possibility that differences in output are a result of genuine differences in sheer efficiency, not attributable to differences in input quality).

For our purposes it is useful to point out that the portion of Robbins’s critique of Marshall upon which Stigler draws, is con­ fined explicitly to the state of equilibrium.32 Under conditions of equilibrium we must indeed reject the possibility of genuine disparities in efficiency among firms that cannot be traced to differences in input qualities. In equilibrium such disparities cannot be traced to sheer error. But under conditions of disequilibrium, when scope exists for entrepreneurial activity, there is no reason why genuine disparities may not exist among different producers, traceable (not to differences in input qualities – since we do not view alertness as an input – but) to differences in the degree to which producers have succumbed to error. Robbins’s critique of Marshall does not, therefore, imply any need to reject Leibenstein’s X-inefficiency (insofar, as we have seen, such inefficiency coincides with the existence of a scope for entrepreneurship).


Our concern in this paper to defend the possibility of genuine error in economics is based on more than our wish to show how positive economic theory cannot proceed without such possibility. Our concern rests, in addition, upon important normative grounds. Allocative inefficiency in a society of errorless individual maximizers must, it appears on reflection, be accounted for only by the existence of prohibitive transaction costs.33 Improvement in social well – being must, in such a world, appear to be possible only as a result of unexplained technological breakthroughs.

Surely such a picture of the world, a picture in which no genuine opportunities for improvement are permitted to exist, is wholly unsatisfying. Surely we are convinced that enormous scope exists at all times for genuine economic improvement and that the world is chock – full of inefficiencies. It is most embarrassing to have to grapple with the grossly inefficient world we know, with economic tools which assume away the essence of the problem with which we wish to deal.

On the other hand, as soon as we admit genuine error into our purview, our embarrassment fades away. Our world is a grossly inefficient world. What is inefficient about the world is surely that, at each instant, enormous scope for improvements exists, is in one way or another ready at hand, and is yet simply not noticed. At each instant, because the market is in a state of disequilibrium, genuine allocative inefficiencies remain yet to be removed simply because entrepreneurs have not yet noticed the profit opportunities represented by these inefficiencies. At each instant available technological improvements (in some sense already ready at hand) remain to be exploited; they remain untapped because entrepreneurs have not yet noticed the profit opportunities embedded in these possibilities. Itis genuine error to which we can ascribe much of the world’s ills, and we need an economics that can recognize this.

Fortunately, Austrian economics, with its emphasis on dis­ equilibrium and on the entrepreneurial role, is richly suited to fill our need in this respect. Only an economics which recognizes how the profit motive (by which we mean the lure of pure entrepreneurial profits) can harness entrepreneurial activity toward the systematic elimination of error can be of service in pointing the way to those institutional structures necessary for the steady improvement of the lot of mankind.


  1. A. Hayek, “Economics and Knowledge,” Economica, N.S. Vol. IV, No. 13 (February 1937).
  2. J. Stigler, “The Xistence of X-efficiency,” American Economic Review, March 1976, p. 216.
  3. Mises, Theory and History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), p. 268.
  4. See Stigler, cit. p. 215.
  5. Croce, “On the Economic Principle,” translated in International Economic Papers, No. 3, p. 177.
  6. M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1960), pp. 169 – 72.
  7. Tagliacozzo, “Croce and the Nature of Economic Science,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. LIX, No. 3 (May 1945).
  8. Mises, Human Action (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), p. 95.
  9. pp. 102f.
  10. H. Knight, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, (1921), pp. 225 – 26.
  11. Leibenstein, “Allocative Efficiency vs. ‘X-efficiency’,” American Economic Review, Vol. 56 (June 1966); “Entrepreneurship and Development,” American Economic Review, Vol. 58 (May 1968); “Com­ petition and X-efficiency: Reply, “Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 81, No. 3 (May/June 1973); “Aspects of the X-efficiency Theory of the Firm,” Bell journal of Economics, Vol. 6 (Autumn 1975).
  12. Leibenstein, “Competition and X-efficiency: Reply,” p. 766.
  13. Leibenstein, “Allocative Efficiency vs. ‘X-efficiency’,” p. 407.
  14. J. Stigler, op. cit.
  15. p. 216.
  16. Put differently, our perception of the impossibility of error does not depend on any “arbitrary” assumption of utility – or profit­ maximizing behavior. Error is impossible because it is inconsistent with the postulate of purposeful action.
  17. The possibility for social “inefficiency” of any kind, in such an errorless world, would, it must appear, then rest either on the possibility that high transaction costs make the “correction” in fact un­ economic, or, on the highly dubious notion of an omniscient observer from whose perspective the errorless (but imperfectly omniscient) members of society are overlooking valuable opportunities for improving their positions. On all this see further, I. M. Kirzner, Competition and Entrepreneurship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), Ch. 6. See also the final section of the present paper.
  18. Although, as argued by the writer elsewhere, the extent to which available opportunities are perceived is not at all unrelated to the concept of purposeful action.
  19. The other reasons include the circumstance that, were one to discover someone whose superior alertness to profitable opportunities one wishes to hire, we would expect that other (“alert one”) to have already taken advantage of those opportunities (or at least that he will anyway do so very shortly) on his own account.
  20. For further discussion of some of the issues raised in this and the following sections, see the writer’s Competition and Entrepreneurship, Chapters 2, 3.
  21. S. Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy, 4th Edition, 1911 (Pelican Books, 1970), p. 137.
  22. On all this see Hayek’s pioneering contribution in his 1937 paper (see footnote 1). See also the writer’s unpublished paper, “Hayek, Knowledge, and Market Processes.”
  23. Leibenstein, “Entrepreneurship and Development”; and Kirzner, Competition and Entrepreneurship, p. 46n.
  24. Leibenstein, “Allocative Efficiency vs. ‘X-efficiency’,” p. 413.
  25. Robbins, “The Representative Firm,” Economic Journal, Volume 38 (September 1928).
  26. Robbins, cit. p. 391.
  27. See A. Marshall, Principles of Economics (8th Edition, 1920), pp. 342f.
  28. Robbins, p. 393.
  29. Stigler, “The Xistence of X-efficiency”, pp. 214f.
  30. Stigler, p. 215.
  31. Robbins, pp. 392 – 396.
  32. See e.g. G. Calbresi, “Transaction Costs, Resource Allocation and Liability Rules: A Comment, “Journal of Law and Economics, 11 (April 1968), p. 68.

Palmerston’s speech on affairs in Greece (25 June 1850)

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston

Lord Palmerston

In reply to a censure of the ministerial foreign policy on the part of the House of Lords, Mr. Roebuck, member for Sheffield, moved a resolution which should test the confidence of the House of Commons and therefore of the people of England in the government: “That the principles which hitherto have regulated the foreign policy of Her Majesty’s Government are such as were required to preserve untarnished the honour and dignity of this country, and in times of unexampled difficulty the best qualified to maintain peace between England and various nations of the world.”

Palmerston had behaved in a fashion that many persons believed might have led to war with France. Feeling that the Russian and French Ambassadors to Greece were playing their own game against British interests and realizing that outrages such as the Fantome case which he describes in the speech were serious matters, he peremptorily ordered the British fleet to the Piraeus with the idea of getting settlement of the claims of Don Pacifico, a Jew from Gibraltar and a British subject, whose house had been invaded and damaged by a Greek mob in 1847. The Greek Government was slow in meeting British demands, and France tendered her good offices. Unfortunately, terms applied by the British local representative upon the Greeks rather than terms which the French and British representatives agreed upon in London implied discourtesy to France. A risk of war had been run for a purpose, the inferences concerning which did not please many Englishmen.

The Lords offered their censure and Mr. Roebuck moved his resolution. Palmerston defended himself with skill and verve, cleverly playing upon the susceptibilities of his countrymen. Indeed, Lord Robert Cecil remarked subsequently, “I am aware that, whatever folly or madness an English Government may commit, the appeal to the Civis Romanus doctrine is rarely without its effect upon an English audience.”

Sir, anxious as many Members are to deliver their sentiments upon this most important question, yet I am sure they will feel that it is due to myself, that it is due to this House, that it is due to the country, that I should not permit the second night of this debate to close, without having stated to the House my views upon the matters in question, and my explanation of that part of my conduct for which I have been called to account.

When I say that this is an important question, I say it in the fullest expression of the term. It is a matter which concerns not merely the tenure of office by one individual, or even by a Government; it is a question that involves principles of national policy, and the deepest interests as well as the honour and dignity of England. I cannot think that the course which has been pursued, and by which this question has assumed its present shape, is becoming those, by whose act it has been brought under the discussion of Parliament, or such as fitting the gravity and the importance of the matters which they have thus led this House and the other House of Parliament to discuss. For if that party in this country imagine that they are strong enough to carry the Government by storm, and to take possession of the citadel of office; or, if without intending to measure their strength with that of their opponents, they conceive that there are matters of such gravity connected with the conduct of the Government, that it becomes their duty to call upon Parliament solemnly to record its disapprobation of what has passed, I think that either in the one case or in the other, that party ought not to have been contented with obtaining the expression of the opinion of the House of Lords, but they ought to have sent down their resolution for the consent and concurrence of this House; or, at least, those who act with them in political co-operation here, should themselves have proposed to this House to come to a similar resolution. But, be the road what it may, we have come to the same end; and the House is substantially considering whether they will adopt the resolution of the House of Lords, or the resolution which has been submitted to them by my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield.

Now, the resolution of the House of Lords involves the future as well as the past. It lays down for the future a principle of national policy, which I consider totally incompatible with the interests, with the rights, with the honour, and with the dignity of the country; and at variance with the practice, not only of this, but of all other civilised countries in the world. Even the person who moved it was obliged essentially to modify it in his speech. But none of the modifications contained in the speech were introduced into the resolution adopted by the other House. The country is told that British subjects in foreign lands are entitled – for that is the meaning of the resolution – to nothing but the protection of the laws and the tribunals of the land in which they happen to reside. The country is told that British subjects abroad must not look to their own country for protection, but must trust to that indifferent justice which they may happen to receive at the hands of the Government and tribunals of the country in which they may be.

The House of Lords has not said that this proposition is limited to constitutional countries. The House of Lords has not said that the proposition is inapplicable, not only to arbitrary and despotic countries, but even to constitutional countries where the courts of justice are not free; although these limitations were stated in the speech. The country is simply informed by the resolution, as it was adopted, that, so far as foreign nations are concerned, the future rule of the Government of England is to be, that, in all cases, and under all circumstances, British subjects are to have that protection only, which the law and the tribunals of the land in which they happen to be, may give them.

Now, I deny that proposition; and I say it is a doctrine on which no British subjects are bound to have recourse for redress to the means which the law of the land affords them, when that law is available for such purpose. That is the opinion which the legal advisers of the Crown have given in numerous cases; and it is the opinion on which we have founded our replies to many applications for our interposition in favour of British subjects abroad. But there may be cases in which no confidence can be placed in the tribunals, those tribunals being, from their composition and nature, not of a character to inspire any hope of obtaining justice from them. It has been said, “We do not apply this rule to countries whose Governments are arbitrary or despotic, because there the tribunals are under the control of the Government, and justice cannot be had; and, moreover, it is not meant to be applied to nominally constitutional Governments, where the tribunals are corrupt.” But who is to be the judge in such a case, whether the tribunals are corrupt or not? The British Government, or the Government of the State from which you demand justice?

I will take a transaction that occurred not long ago, as an instance of a case in which, I say, the people of England would not permit a British subject to be simply amenable to the laws of the foreign country in which he happened to be. I am not going to talk of the power of sending a man arbitrarily to Siberia; nor of a country, the constitution of which vests despotic power in the hands of the Sovereign. I will take a case which happened in Sicily, where not long ago a decree was passed, that any man who was found with concealed arms in his possession should be brought before a court-martial, and, if found guilty, should be shot. Now, this happened. An innkeeper of Catania was brought before a court-martial, accused under this law by some police officers, who stated that they had discovered in an open bin, in an open stable in his inn-yard, a knife, which they denounced as a concealed weapon. Witnesses having been examined, the counsel for the prosecution stated that he gave up the case, as it was evident there was no proof that the knife belonged to the man, or that he was aware it was in the place where it was found. The counsel for the defendant said, that such being the opinion of the counsel for the prosecution, it was unnecessary for him to go into the defence, and he left his client in the hands of the court. The court, however, nevertheless pronounced the man guilty of the charge brought against him, and the next morning the man was shot.

Now, what would the English people have said if this had been done to a British subject? and yet everything done was the result of a law, and the man was found guilty of an offence by a tribunal of the country. I say, then, that our doctrine is, that, in the first instance, redress should be sought from the law courts of the country; but that in cases where redress cannot be so had – and those cases are many – to confine a British subject to that remedy only, would be to deprive him of the protection which he is entitled to receive.

Then the question arises, how does this rule apply to the demands we have made upon Greece? And here I must shortly remind the House of the origin of our relations with Greece, and of the condition of Greece; because those circumstances are elements that must enter into the consideration of the course we have pursued.

It is well known that Greece revolted from Turkey in 1820. In 1827, England, France, and Russia determined upon interposing, and ultimately, in 1828, they resolved to employ forcible means in order to bring Turkey to acknowledge the independence of Greece. Greece, by protocol in 1830, and by treaty in 1832, was erected into a separate and independent State. And whereas nearly from the year 1820 up to the time of the treaty of 1832, when its independence was finally acknowledged, Greece had been under a republican form of government, with an Assembly and a President, the three Powers determined that Greece should thenceforth be a monarchy. But while England assented to that arrangement, and considered that it was better that Greece should assume a monarchial form of government, yet we attached to that assent an indispensable condition, that Greece should be a constitutional monarchy. The British Government could not consent to place the people of Greece, in their independent political existence, under as arbitrary a government as that from which they had revolted. Consequently, when the three Powers, in the exercise of that function which had been devolved upon them by the authority of the General Assembly of Greece, chose a Sovereign for Greece (for that choice was made in consequence of, and by virtue of the authority given to them by the General Assembly of Greece), and when Prince Otho of Bavaria, then a minor, was chosen; the three Powers, on announcing the choice they had made, at the same time declared that King Otho would, in concert with his people, give to Greece constitutional institutions.

The choice and that announcement were ratified by the King of Bavaria in the name, and on the behalf, of his son. It was however understood, that during the minority of King Otho, the establishment of the constitution should be suspended; but that when he came of age, he should enter into communication with his people, and, together with them, arrange the form of constitution to be adopted. King Otho came of age, but no constitution was given. There was a disinclination on the part of his advisers to counsel him to fulfill that engagement. The Government of England expressed an opinion, through various channels, that that engagement ought to be fulfilled. But opinions of a different kind reached the Royal ear from other quarters. Other Governments, naturally – I say it without implying any imputation – are attached to their own forms. Each Government thinks its own form and nature the best, and wishes to see that form, if possible, extended elsewhere. Therefore, I do not mention this with any intention of casting the least reproach upon Russia, or Prussia, or Austria. Those three Governments at that time were despotic. Their advice was given, and their influence was exerted. to prevent the King of Greece from granting a constitution to his people. We thought, however, that in France we might find support in the advice which we wished to give. But we were unfortunate. The then Government of France, not at all undervaluing constitutional institutions, thought that the time was not yet come when Greece could be ripe for representative government. The King of Bavaria leaned also to the same side. Therefore, from the time when the King came of age, and for several years afterwards, the English Government stood in this position in Greece with regard to its Government – that we alone were anxious for the fulfillment of the engagement of the King, while all the other Powers who were represented at Athens, were averse to its being made good, or at least were not equally desirous of urging it upon the King of Greece. This necessarily placed us in a situation, to say the least of it, of disfavour on the part of the agents of those Powers, and opt the part of the Government of Greece. I was sorry for it; at the same time, I don’t think the people of this country will be of opinion that we ought, for the sake of obtaining the mere good-will of the Greek Government, to have departed from the principle which we had laid down from the beginning. But it was so; and when people talk of the antagonistic influences which were in conflict at the Greek Court; and when people say, as I have heard it said, that our Ministers, and the Ministers of foreign Governments, were disputing about the appointments of mirarchs and nomarchs, and God knows what petty officers of the State, I say that, as far as our Minister was concerned, that is a statement entirely at variance with the fact. Our Minister, Sir Edmund Lyons, never, during the whole time he was in Greece, asked any favour of any sort or kind, for himself, or for any friend. No conduct of that mean, and low, and petty description was carried on by any person connected with the English Government. It was known that we wished the Greek nation should have representative institutions, while, on the other hand, other, influences were exerted the other way; and that, and that only, was the ground of the differences which existed.

One of the evils of the absence of constitutional institutions was, that the whole system of government grew to be full of every kind of abuse. Justice could not be expected where the judges of the tribunals were at the mercy of the advisers of the Crown. The finances could not be in any order where there was no public responsibility on the part of those who were to collect or to spend the revenue. Every sort of abuse was practised.

In all times, in Greece, as is well known, there has prevailed, from the daring habits of the people, a system of compulsory appropriation – forcible appropriation by one man of that which belonged to another; which, of course, is very disagreeable to those who are the victims of the system, and exceedingly injurious to the social condition, improvement, and prosperity of the country, In short, what foreigners call brigandage, which prevailed under the Turkish rule, has not, I am sorry to say, diminished under the Greek Sovereignty. Moreover, the police of the Greece Government have practised abuses of the grossest description; and if I wanted evidence on that subject, I could appeal to the honourable Gentleman (B. Cochrane), who has just sat down, who, in a pamphlet, which all must have read, or ought to read, has detailed instances of barbarity of the most revolting kind practised by the police. I have here depositions of persons who have been subjected to the most abominable tortures which human ingenuity could devise – tortures inflicted upon both sexes most revolting and disgusting. One of the officers, a man of the name of Tzino, at the head of the police, was himself in the habit of inflicting the most diabolical tortures upon Greeks and upon foreigners, Turks, and others. This man Tzino, instead of being punished as he ought to have been, and as he deserved to be, not only by the laws of nature, but by the laws of Greece – this person, I am sorry to say, is held in great favour in quarters where he ought to have received nothing but marks of indignation.

Well, this being the state of things in Greece, there have always been in every town in Greece a great number of persons whom we are bound to protect – Maltese, Ionians, and a certain number of British subjects. It became the practice of this Greek police to make no distinction between the Maltese and Ionians and their own fellow-subjects. We shall be told, perhaps, as we have already been told, that if the people of the country are liable to have heavy stones placed upon their breasts, and police officers to dance upon them; if they are liable to have their heads tied to their knees, and to be left for hours in that state; or to be swung like a pendulum, and to be bastinadoed as they swing, foreigners have no right to be better treated than the natives, and have no business to complain if the same things are practised upon them. We may be told this, but that is not my opinion, nor do I believe it is the opinion of any reasonable man. Then, I say, that in considering the cases of the Ionians, for whom we demanded reparation, the House must look at and consider what was the state of things in this respect in Greece; they must consider the practices that were going on, and the necessity of putting a stop to the extension of these abuses to British and Ionian subjects by demanding compensation, scarcely indeed more than nominal in some cases, but the granting of which would be an acknowledgment that such things should not be done towards us in future.

In discussing these cases, I am concerned to have to say that they appear to me to have been dealt with elsewhere in spirit, and in a tone, which I think was neither befitting the persons concerning whom, nor the persons by whom, nor the persons before whom, the discussion took place. It is often more convenient to treat matters with ridicule, than with grave argument; and we have had serious things treated jocosely; and grave men kept in a roar of laughter, for an hour together, at the poverty of one sufferer, or at the miserable habitation of another; at the nationality of one injured man, or the religion of another; as if because a man was poor he might be bastinadoed and tortured with impunity; as if a man who was born in Scotland might be robbed without redress; or, because a man is of the Jewish persuasion, he is fair game for any outrage. It is a true saying, and has often been repeated, that a very moderate share of human wisdom is sufficient for the guidance of human affairs. But there is another truth, equally indisputable, which is, that a man who aspires to govern mankind ought to bring to the task, generous sentiments, compassionate sympathies, and noble and elevated thoughts.

Now, Sir, with regard to these cases, I would take first, that which I think would first present itself to the mind of an Englishman – I mean the insult offered by the arrest of the boat’s crew of Her Majesty’s ship Fantome. The time has been, when a man aspiring to a public situation, would have thought it his duty to vindicate the honour of the British Navy. Times are changed. It is said that in this case there were only a few sailors taken out of a boat by some armed men – that they were carried to the guard-house, but were soon set at liberty again – and why should we trouble our heads about so small a matter? But did we ask anything extraordinary or unreasonable on account of this insult? What we asked was an apology. I really did not expect to live to see the day, when public men in England could think that in requiring an apology for the arbitrary and unjustifiable arrest of a British officer and British seamen in the performance of their duty, we were making a demand “doubtful in its nature, and exaggerated in its amount.” Now, what is the history of this case? for circumstances have been referred to, in connexion with it, which do not appear from the statement of the case itself. The son of the Vice-consul, who had dined on board the Fantome, was taken ashore in the evening by the coxswain and a boat’s crew, and landed on the beach. The coxswain accompanied the young gentleman to his father’s house, and on returning to the boat, was taken prisoner by the Greek guard. The guard went down to the boat, and, finding the seamen in it were without arms, began thumping them with the butt-ends of their muskets, and wounded one man in the hand by a thrust with a bayonet. The guard then took the seamen prisoners, and carried them to the guard-house where after a certain time they were released, through the interposition of the Vice-consul, and they returned to their ship. Excuses were given for this proceeding, and the gist of them was this – that the guard thought the boat belonged to the Spitfire, and that it had been seen landing rebels, one of whom had escaped; this supposed rebel being a boy of fourteen years old, who had returned quietly to his father’s house.

The matter to which these excuses related, occurred a little while before, in consequence of the disorganised state of Greece – a disorganisation, by the by, which arises entirely from the acts of the Government; because it has been, and still is, the practice of the Government, instead of punishing brigands, to amnesty and pardon them; and indeed it is even supposed that the officers of police sometimes go shares in the plunder. That, however, is a matter of opinion; but it is a fact that the robbers are almost always pardoned; and such is the encouragement thereby given to the system of plunder, that the robbers go about armed in bands, and sometimes actually attack and occupy towns.

Then we come to the claim of M. Pacifico – a claim which has been the subject of much unworthy comment. Stories have been told, involving imputations on the character of M. Pacifico; I know nothing of the truth or falsehood of these stories. All I know is, that M. Pacifico, after the time to which those stories relate, was appointed Portuguese consul, first to Morocco and afterwards at Athens. It is not likely that the Portuguese Government would select for appointments of that kind, a person whose character they did not believe to be above reproach. But I say, with those who have before had occasion to advert to the subject, that I don’t care what M. Pacifico’s character is. I do not, and cannot, admit that because a man may have acted amiss on some other occasion, and in some other matter, he is to be wronged with impunity by others.

The rights of a man depend on the merits of the particular case; and it is an abuse of argument to say, that you are not to give redress to a man, because in some former transaction he may have done something which is questionable. Punish him if you will punish him if he is guilty, but don’t pursue him as a Pariah through life.

What happened in this case? In the middle of the town of Athens, in a house which I must be allowed to say is not a wretched hovel, as some people have described it; but it does not matter what it is, for whether a man’s home be a palace or a cabin, the owner has a right to be there safe from injury – well, in a house which is not a wretched hovel, but which in the early days of King Otho was, I am told, the residence of the Count Armansperg, the Chief of the Regency – a house as good as the generality of those which existed in Athens before the Sovereign ascended the throne – M. Pacifico, living in this house, within forty yards of the great street, within a few minutes’ walk of a guard-house, where soldiers were stationed, was attacked by a mob. Fearing injury, when the mob began to assemble, he sent an intimation to the British Minister, who immediately informed the authorities. Application was made to the Greek Government for protection. No protection was afforded. The mob, in which were soldiers and gens-d’armes, who, even if officers were not with them, ought, from a sense of duty, to have interfered and to have prevented plunder – that mob, headed by the sons of the Minister of War, not children of eight or ten years old, but older – that mob, for nearly two hours, employed themselves in gutting the house of an unoffending man, carrying away or destroying every single thing the house contained, and left it a perfect wreck.

Is not that a case in which a man is entitled to redress from somebody? I venture to think it is. I think that there is no civilised country where a man subjected to such grievous wrong, not to speak of insults and injuries to the members of his family, would not justly expect redress from some quarter or other. Where was he to apply for redress at Athens? The Greek Government neglected its duty, and did not pursue judicial inquiries, or institute legal prosecutions as it might have done for the purpose of finding out and punishing some of the culprits. The sons of the Minister of War were pointed out to the Government as actors in the outrage. The Greek Government were told to “search a particular house; and that some part of M. Pacifico’s jewels would be found there.” They declined to prosecute the Minister’s sons, or to search the house. But, it is said, M. Pacifico should have applied to a court of law for redress. What was he to do? Was he to prosecute a mob of five hundred persons? Was he to prosecute them criminally, or in order to make them pay the value of his loss? Where was he to find his witnesses? Why, he and his family were hiding or flying, during the pillage, to avoid the personal outrages with which they were threatened. He states, that his own life was saved by the help of an English friend. It was impossible, if he could have identified the leaders, to have prosecuted them with success.

But what satisfaction would it have been to M. Pacifico to have succeeded in a criminal prosecution against the ringleaders of that assault? Would that have restored to him his property? He wanted redress, not revenge. A criminal prosecution was out of the question, to say nothing of the chances, if not the certainty, of failure in a country where the tribunals are at the mercy of the advisers of the crown, the judges being liable to be removed, and being often actually removed upon grounds of private interest and personal feeling. Was he to prosecute for damages? His action would have lain against individuals, and not, as in this country, against the hundred. Suppose he had been able to prove that one particular man had carried off one particular thing, or destroyed one particular article of furniture; what redress could he anticipate by a lawsuit, which, as his legal advisers told him, it would be- vain for him to undertake? M. Pacifico truly said, “if the man I prosecute is rich, he is sure to be acquitted; if he is poor, he has nothing out of which to afford me compensation if he is condemned.”

The Greek Government having neglected to give the protection they were bound to extend, and having abstained from taking means to afford redress, this was a case in which we were justified in calling on the Greek Government for compensation for the losses, whatever they might be, which M. Pacifico had suffered. I think that claim was founded in justice. The amount we did not pretend to fix. If the Greek Government had admitted the principle of the claim, and had objected to the account sent in by M. Pacifico – if they had said, “This is too much, and we think a less sum sufficient,” that would have been a question open to discussion, and which our Ministers, Sir E. Lyons at first, or Mr. Wyse afterwards, would have been ready to have gone into, and no doubt some satisfactory arrangement might thus have been effected with the Greek Government. But the Greek Government denied altogether the principle of the claim. Therefore, when Mr. Wyse came to make the claim, he could not but demand that the claim should be settled, or be placed in train of settlement, and that within a definite period, as he fixed it, of twenty-four hours.

Whether M. Pacifico’s statement of his claim was exaggerated or not, the demand was not for any particular amount of money. The demand was, that the claim should be settled. An investigation might have been instituted, which those who acted for us were prepared to enter into, fairly, dispassionately, and justly.

M. Pacifico having, from year to year, been treated either with answers wholly unsatisfactory, or with a positive refusal, or with pertinacious silence, it came at last to this, either that his demand was to be abandoned altogether, or that, in pursuance of the notice we had given the Greek Government a year or two before, we were to proceed to use our own means of enforcing the claim. “Oh! but,” it is said, “what an ungenerous proceeding to employ so large a force against so small a Power!” Does the smallness of a country justify the magnitude of its evil acts? Is it to be held that if your subjects suffer violence, outrage, plunder in a country which is small and weak, you are to tell them when they apply for redress, that the country is so weak and so small that we cannot ask it for compensation? Their answer would be, that the weakness and smallness of the country make it so much the more easy to obtain redress. “No,” it is said, “generosity is to be the rule.” We are to be generous to those who have been ungenerous to you; and we cannot give you redress because we have such ample and easy means of procuring it.

Well, then, was there anything so uncourteous in sending, to back our demands, a force which should make it manifest to all the world that resistance was out of the question? Why, it seems to me, on the contrary, that it was more consistent with the honour and dignity of the Government on whom we made those demands, that there should be placed before their eyes a force, which it would be vain to resist, and before which it would be no indignity to yield.

I believe I have now gone through all the heads of the charges which have been brought against me in this debate. I think I have shown that the foreign policy of the Government, in all the transactions with respect to which its conduct has been impugned, has throughout been guided by those principles which, according to the resolution of the honourable and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, ought to regulate the conduct of the Government of England in the management of our foreign affairs. I believe that the principles on which we have acted are those which are held by the great mass of the people of this country. I am convinced these principles are calculated, so far as the influence of England may properly be exercised with respect to the destinies of other countries, to conduce to the maintenance of peace, to the advancement of civilization, to the welfare and happiness of mankind.

I do not complain of the conduct of those who have made these matters the means of attack upon Her Majesty’s Ministers. The government of a great country like this, is undoubtedly an object of fair and legitimate ambition to men of all shades of opinion. It is a noble thing to be allowed to guide the policy and to influence the destinies of such a country; and, if ever it was an object of honourable ambition, more than ever must it be so at the moment at which I am speaking. For while we have seen, as stated by the right Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. R. G. Graham), the political earthquake rocking Europe from side to side – while we have seen thrones shaken, shattered, levelled; institutions overthrown and destroyed – while in almost every country of Europe the conflict of civil war has deluged the land with blood, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean; this country has presented a spectacle honourable to the people of England, and worthy of the admiration of mankind.

We have shown that liberty is compatible with order; that individual freedom is reconcilable with obedience to the law. We have shown the example of a nation, in Which every class of society accepts with cheerfulness the lot which Providence has assigned to it; while at the same time every individual of each class is constantly striving to raise himself in the social scale – not by injustice and wrong, not by violence and illegality – but by persevering good conduct, and by the steady and energetic exertion of the moral and intellectual faculties with which his Creator has endowed him. To govern such a people as this, is indeed an object worthy of the ambition of the noblest man who lives in the land; and therefore I find no fault with those who may think any opportunity a fair one, for endeavouring to place themselves in so distinguished and honourable a position. But I contend that we have not in our foreign policy done anything to forfeit the confidence of the country. We may not, perhaps, in this matter or in that, have acted precisely up to the opinions of one person or of another – and hard indeed it is, as we all know by our individual and private experience, to find any number of men agreeing entirely in any matter, on which they may not be equally possessed of the details of the facts, and circumstances, and reasons, and conditions which led to action. But, making allowance for those differences of opinion which may fairly and honourably arise among those who concur in general views, I maintain that the principles which can be traced through all our foreign transactions, as the guiding rule and directing spirit of our proceedings, are such as deserve approbation. I therefore fearlessly challenge the verdict which this House, as representing a political, a commercial, a constitutional country, is to give on the question now brought before it; whether the principles on which the foreign policy of Her Majesty’s Government has been conducted, and the sense of duty which has led us to think ourselves bound to afford protection to our fellow subjects abroad, are proper and fitting guides for those who are charged with the Government of England; and whether, as the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.

Hansard CXII [3d Ser.], 380-444

ვაჟა-ფშაველა: ბიუროკრატიის ჩივილი



საწყალი ბიუროკრატია! ყველამ ყბად აიღო და ლამის იგი წყალს წააღებინონ. ვინ იცის, რას არ აბრალებენ საცოდავს! მანჯურიაში დამარცხდა რუსის მხედრობა და ზღვაზე ფლოტი გაუნადგურეს იაპონელებმა რუსებს. რადა? რა შუაშია ბიუროკრატია? გემები აკლდა როჟესტვენსკის? ზარბაზნები და ტყვიაწამალი? იქნებ, სურსათი არა ჰქონდა, ან ქვანახშირი? ყველაფერიც ბევრი ჰქონდა, იმავე ყბადაღებულ ბიუროკრატიის წყალობით. ახლა ჯამაგირს არ იკითხავთ? როჟესტვენსკის წლიურად ტოგოზე ოცჯერ მეტი ჯამაგირი ჰქონდა. რისთვის? რადა? იმიტომ, რომ უფრო ერთგული ყოფილიყო სამეფო ტახტისა და თავის მადლიანის სამშობლოს მთავრობისა; უფრო უნდა წაქეზებულიყო, მეტი მხნეობა, მეტი ერთგულება, მეტი მამაცობა გამოეჩინა. ნუთუ ბიუროკრატიას ის ცოდვად, დანაშაულად უნდა ჩაეთვალოს, რომ მოსამსახურე პირთა გულს იგებს, ამხნევებს კარგის ჯილდოს და კაი ჯამაგირების ძლევით? არა და არა. სტყუის, სცდება, ვინც წინააღმდეგს იტყვის და იფიქრებს, ნუთუ მეტმა ჯამაგირმა, მეტმა ყურადღებამ მთავრობისამ თავის ქვეშევრდომისადმი უნდა წაახდინოს და დააქვეითოს ადამიანი? როგორ შეიძლება? რა სათქმელია! ან ჯარისკაცებს რა უჭირთ? არა ჰშიათ, არა სწყურიანთ; მუკდენში საწყობები ფეხსაცმელებით სავსე დარჩა და თვით რუსის ლაშქარმა წაუკიდა ცეცხლი, სალდათები კი ფეხშიშველები დაიარებოდნენო. ესეც ბიუროკრატიის ბრალიაო! ღმერთო, შემიწყალე, სად ფეხსაცმელები, სად ბიუროკრატია?! ეგ ერთი კაცის, რომელიმე პოლკის უფროსის ბრალია და არა მთელის ბიუროკრატიისა. იქნება, ბრალად არც კი ჩაეთვალოს თვით იმ პოლკის უფროსს ასეთი საქციელი. ვინ იცის, რა მოსაზრებით ხელმძღვანელობდა იგი? რატომ არ უნდა ვიფიქროთ, რომ იგი ჰზოგავდა, ინახავდა წაღებს საბოლოოდ და ამით ხაზინას მფარველობას უწევდა? ნუთუ დაზოგვა, სარისტიანობა ვისგანმე დასაძრახისია? ხალხს, სწორედ, ტვინი გადაუბრუნდა!.. ყველაზე მეტად კიდევ ეს მაოცებს და მაკვირვებს: დამდგარან და საჯაროდ გაიძახიან: იაპონელები იმიტომ გვამარცხებენ, ჩვენი ჯარისკაცი გაუნათლებელია, შეუგნებელი, არა აქვს საკუთარი „მე“, საკუთარი მოსაზრება, ბრმად ემორჩილება უფროსის ბრძანებას, კვდება უფროსი და კვდება მისი ვინაობაც, იბნევა, აღარ იცის, რა ქნას, როგორ მოიქცესო. იაპონელი ჯარისკაცი სულ სხვაა: ნასწავლი, თვითცნობიერებით აღჭურვილი, ამიტომ თუნდაც უფროსი მოკვდეს ბრძოლის დროს, იგი საქმეს არ წაახდენს, რადგან იცის, რა გააკეთოს, როგორ მოიქცესო და სხვა. ამისთანეებს სწერენ და ლაპარაკობენ. მიკვირს, რაც ღირსებად უნდა ჩაეთვალოს ჩვენ ჯარისკაცს, ის ქვეყანამ ცოდვად მიიჩნია; თვითცნობიერებამოკლებული, სამსახურისათვის თავდადებული, უფროსის მაღმერთებელი, უფროსის სიტყვის ამსრულებელი უკრიტიკოდ, უსიტყვოდ და მამაცი… მეტი ღირსებაღა იქნება ჯარისკაცისა? შეიძლება კიდევ მეტი რამ მოვითხოვოთ? ხოლო უფროსს უნდა ესმოდეს, როგორ მოიხმაროს ეს ძალა, და ნუთუ უფროსებმა არ იციან არაფერი? ესეც ხომ ტყუილია. ჯარისკაცს სწავლა-მეცნიერება რად უნდა? არაფრად. თუ მკითხავთ, განათლება კიდეც აწყენს, რადგან განათლება ლმობიერ გრძნობებს უვითარებს ადამიანს. ჯარისკაცის ღირსება ორია უმთავრესი და უაღრესი: მამაცობა და მორჩილება. მორჩა და გათავდა. დანარჩენი სულ ტყუილია, – დედაბრების ჭორებია. ჩვენი ჯარისკაცი რომ განათლებული იყოს, უფრო უარესობა დაგვემართებოდა. ან ვის უნდა გაენათლებინა? ბიუროკრატიას რა საქმე აქვს განათლებასთან? ჩვენ გვაბარია ჩვენი საქმეები, აუარებელი ქაღალდები, მისაწერ-მოსაწერი, გასაგზავნ-გამოსაგზავნი და სხვადასხვა. მოჰყოლიან უსირცხვილოდ და ამასაც ბიუროკრატიას აბრალებენ. და განა მარტო ჯარისკაცთა გაუნათლებლობის მიზეზად გვხადიან? არა! განათლების სისტემის უვარგისობას გვიკიჟინებენ. განსვენებული ივანე სერგეის ძე ტურგენიევი ჭკვიან კაცად იყო ცნობილი და ისე გადაყრუვდა საზღვარგარედ ხეტიალით, რომ ჩვენი სწავლა-განათლების სისტემა შემდეგის ფორმულით გამოხატა: „ტემნა ვოდა ვოობლაცეხო“. რა თქმა უნდა, რაკი იმან დაჰგმო ჩვენებური სწავლა-განათლება, სხვა, წვრილფეხობანი უარესს იზამდნენ. აბა, რა დააშავა ჩვენმა სწავლა-განათლებამ, ერთი მიბრძანეთ? მინისტრის ალაგას – მინისტრი გვყავს, გუბერნატორისა – გუბერნატორი, მაზრის უფროსისა – მაზრის უფროსი, მღვდლისა – მღვდელი, მასწავლებლისა – მასწავლებელი, დიაკვნისა – დიაკვანი, მამასახლისისა – მამასახლისი და სხვა. ვინ იცის, ცაზე ვარსკვლავი არაა იმდენი, რაც სამსახურის სხვადასხვა საფეხურია, და ყველა საფეხურზე ათასი ადამიანია გამოჭიმული. მეტიღა გულმოდგინება და პატრონობა შეიძლება? ეს კიდევ ცოტაა: ნასწავლები კიდევ იმდენი რჩება გარედ, უადგილობის გამო… „ხალხს განათლება აკლია: სკოლები უნდა გამრავლდეს, ჯარზე კი არა, სწავლა-განათლებაზე უნდა იხარჯებოდეს, რაც შეიძლება მეტი ფული…“ – გაიძახიან ლიბერალები და ჭეშმარიტებას კი თვალს არიდებენ, არ უნდათ დაინახონ იგი. დიაღ, ჭეშმარიტებას, რომელიც ამისა ზემორე აღვნიშნე. ვინც ისწავლა, იმათთვისაც აღარ არის კანცელარიებში „ვაკანსია“ და ახლა ზედმეტი განათლებული, ბოგანო ბრბო შევქმნათ, რომელსაც გულში არსებული წესწყობილების მიმართ სიძულვილის მეტი არაფერი ექმნება?! რაღა ვუთხრა ამ გონებადამთხვეულს ხალხს, ღმერთმანი, არ ვიცი. ნეტავი ღვთისა ძალითა, ყველას ჩემსავით ესმოდეს საქმის ვითარება და მაშინ ვნახავდით, თუ ეს მღელვარება ხალხისა და დრტვინვა არ მოისპობოდა. რა ქნას კაცმა, ძალათი ხომ თავის კეფას ვერ გადუხსნი კაცსა და თავის აზრებს ვერ ჩაულაგებ. ეს რომ შეიძლებოდეს, ქვეყანაზე ერთბაშად ბედნიერება დამყარდებოდა. რამდენიმე მეამბოხე, ქვეყნის დამღუპველი, სახელმწიფოს მტერი… მაშინ სულ სხვა იქმნება, მაშინ ჩემს აზრთან მოვა ყველა; მაშინ ვეღარავინ გაჰბედავს წინააღმდეგობას, ბოროტი აზრების ქადაგებას… ხეპრე, ტეტია, ვიღაც ოჩოპინდრე გლეხი წამომდგარა, მთელ თვეობით პირდაუბანელი, იმის ხელში ნაჭერი პური ადამიანისაგან არ შეიჭმევა, და გაიძახის: „ჩვენ თანასწორნი უნდა ვიყვნეთო. შენც კაცი ხარ, მეცაო, ორივე ღმერთმა გაგვაჩინა ერთი და იმავე ლაფტალახიდანაო“. ერთი ჰკითხეთ, როდის ვიყავით თანასწორნი, რომ ახლა ვიყვნეთ? სად თავადი, სად გლეხი. სად დამსახურებული კაცი, სად ტეტია, რომელმაც თავის სახელისა და გვარის ქაღალდზე დაწერაც არ იცის. მამული რაც მეტი გაქვს, უნდა გამიყო, რადგანაც მეც წილი მიდევს. შენც ქართველი ხარ, მეც, დედამიწა კი ჩვენ მამაპაპათა სისხლით მორწყულია: „საცა ერთი თავადი კვდებოდა, იქვე ათი და ასი გლეხი სდებდა თავსაო“. ოჰ, ღმერთო ჩემო! მოდი და ღმერთი ნუ გაჯავრდება, ნუ გაგვიწყრება? ხელმწიფეს ვღალატობთ, ღმერთსა ვგმობთ. აი, რის ბრალია ჩვენი დამარცხება შინა და გარეთ… ნუთუ ეს ასწავლა ბიუროკრატიამ ქვეყანას? პირიქით, ვგონებ, რომ ამის მთქმელს და მქადაგებელს სდევნიდა და სინსილას უქრობდა. დღეს ვინ არს ან ერთის, ან მეორის ერთგული? იგივ და იგივ ბიუროკრატია. ერთი მხოლოდ იგია პირნათელი ღმერთთან და მეფესთან. რა გინდა, შე კაი კაცო. იყავ ნიბლიასავით განაბული, იცხოვრე თავმდაბლად და ვნახოთ, თუ ღმერთი არ გიშველის და შენზე ხელს აიღებს!.. მე დღეს სამსახურს გარეთა ვარ. ორმოცდაათი წელი ვემსახურე ხელმწიფეს ერთგულადა და ერთხელ არ მახსოვს ჩემი უფროსისაგან „ზამეჩანიე“ მიმეღოს. რადა? მათა, რომ, თუმცა ახალგაზდა კაცი ვიყავი, სამსახური როცა დავიწყე (ოცი წლისა), იმ თავითვე მესმოდა, რით მოვიგებდი უფროსის გულს, ფეხს როგორ წავდგამდი წინ. რასაც მიბრძანებდნენ, სიტყვის შეუბრუნებლად ვასრულებდი: „დაწერე!“ – მზად იყო. „დაჰკა!“ – მზად იყო. „დაიჭი!“ – მზად იყო. ასე ამგვარად, დღეს კაცი დეისტვიტელნი სტატსკი სოვეტნიკი გახლავარ, ქვეყანა კაცს მეძახის და ხელმწიფის მოწყალება „პენსიაცა“ და ორდენებიც მაქვს. 1905 წ.