Typos p. 275: Barhein [= Bahrein]
The Decline of Manners and Morals under the Modern Democracy
of Uncontrolled Trade and Commerce
I feel that it is now time to restate my thesis, and that I shall be able to do so the more intelligibly for having written all that has gone before.
In the first place, however, I should like to direct attention to one or two popular points of view connected with my subject which, plausible as they may seem, are yet, in my opinion, based upon error.
With the test of success growing ever more and more final (for, according to most people nowadays, it is sufficiently crucial and decisive to be applied to anything and everything), there is a growing tendency among thinkers of the present day to repudiate any old institution whose dignity has been debased or overthrown by the incompetence of those in whose charge it happened to be found in the moment of its weakness.
As an example, take the institution of wealth and property.
There can be no doubt or question that wealth and property can be, and often prove, sacred and divinely beneficent powers. Once the lofty duties associated inevitably with wealth and property are fully comprehended by their owner, nothing is more sublime than the dual
That these things have happened nobody in his senses would deny. The only doubt I entertain, however, is whether most people put the proper construction upon the fact.
Admitting that for many years now wealth and property have been abused in England, save by a few select individuals, who, nevertheless, have not been numerous enough to give the direct lie to the others, how ought this circumstance to be interpreted?
Unfortunately, there is a tendency all too general and quite as absurd as it is artificial to lay the whole blame of this abuse not on the unworthy individuals themselves, but, if you please, on the shoulders of the institution of wealth and property as such, as who should say that the plough must be wrong if the furrow be crooked.
The Socialists bring a strong case against the abuses of wealth; but I maintain that they bring no case whatever against wealth or property itself. And why they should direct all their attacks against the institution of power in property, when all the time this is obviously as
1 The ancient Egyptians apparently held this view of wealth An Egyptian writer living 3,800 B.C. said: "If thou art rich after having been needy, harden not thy heart because of thy elevation. Thou hast become a steward of the good things belonging to the gods." Quoted by Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, Vol. I, p. 328.
Charles I would have said, just as Cobbett said long after him, "there is nothing wrong either in great wealth or in extensive property, 1 provided that it be wisely administered."
That is the whole point. Human nature, in casting her creatures, moulds many a one who is worthy of great possessions, and also many a one who is as unfit to use power in any form beneficently as a barbarous Fuegian. And where wealth and property are uncontrolled, as they always are in countries where laissez-faire, or something approaching to it, is the economical doctrine, both are sure to acquire a bad name through the villainy of the number of those who are unfit to possess them.
To attack wealth and property in themselves to attack capitalism in fact is, however, as shallow as it is specious. For these things have existed since the world began, and in their essence they are no more wrong than superior beauty or superior vocal powers. That which has ceased to exist, though, and whose collapse was the most fatal blow ever levelled at wealth and property, is that direction, guidance and control from above, which either a king of taste, a party of tasteful aristocrats, or a conclave of sages in taste, are able to provide, and which prevent the edge of power from being pressed too heavily and unscrupulously by the tasteless and vulgar among the opulent against the skins of their inferiors and subordinates.
The socialist attack upon wealth, then, is shallow and superficial. But so, too, is the democrat's attack on aristocracy, and for precisely the same reasons.
It is admitted that the aristocracies of Europe have on the whole wantonly blemished the sacred principle of aristocracy. It is also, however, a sign of the crassest and most unprecedented stupidity to repudiate the principle of aristocracy on that account; and it is more particularly
1 See Rural Rides (edit. Dent), Vol. II, p. 7.
And this brings me to my thesis, which I shall now restate before proceeding any further.
I take it that life, the process of living, is a matter of constantly choosing and rejecting. All life could be summed up in the two words select and reject. Healthy and permanent life chooses correctly that is to say, selects the right, the healthy, the sound thing, whether it be a doctrine or a form of diet. Unhealthy and transient life chooses wrongly that is to say, it selects the wrong, the unhealthy, the unsound thing in doctrine as in diet.
Now, most of the animals that we find about us to-day, creatures which are but the reduced and decimated representatives of the vast fauna which once inhabited our globe, have all survived as species only because they descend in a direct line from an uninterrupted chain of ancestors, all of whom chose the correct or proper thing in habit as in diet.
And, if these species continue to exist, it will be simply because, by means of their instincts (which are merely their spontaneous faculties of selecting and rejecting inherited from their discerning ancestors), they continue the process of life which is to choose and to thrust aside in the proper healthy and sound manner, just as their ancestors did.
As Bergson has shown so conclusively, however, Man, in acquiring his power over an infinitely greater range of adaptations than any animal has ever been able to achieve, has depended very largely upon his intellect, upon his rationalising faculty; and this has been developed at the cost of his instincts which, I repeat, constituted the transmitted bodily record of his ancestors' healthy selectings and rejectings.
We must imagine Man, therefore, as a creature cut
Admitting all this as being quite obvious, what is the conclusion to which we are driven? As I pointed out in the first chapter, we must conclude that this choosing and rejecting in matters of doctrine and diet cannot be the matter of a mere whim or mere passing caprice, neither can it be a "matter of opinion"; it is a matter of life and death. For the survival of man as man depends entirely upon his life being carried on correctly.
The old and shallow English belief that every man has a right to his own opinion, assumes that the individual conscience, whether it be that of a crossing-sweeper or of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, is an adequate tribunal before which any problem, however profound or intricate, may be taken and solved.
But if life is a matter of choosing and selecting correctly, there must be one opinion on these matters that is right, and another that is wrong. Therefore to grant every one the right to his opinion must in a large number of cases involve not only anarchy but also a condonation of suicide; for some men's opinions on vital questions, by being erroneous, must lead to death that is to say, to a cessation of man as man. It may, in addition, involve a condonation of murder; for those who hold and act upon wrong opinions will not only cease to exist as men either in their own or a subsequent generation; but they may stand in the way of others' existing.
Very well, then, Taste, which is the power of discerning right from wrong in matters of doctrine, diet, behaviour, shape, form, constitution, size, height, colour, sound and general appearance, is the greatest power of life; it is a power leading to permanence of life in those who possess
Thus, the only man who could logically demand the right for the dictates of the absence of taste to be heard and obeyed would be the confirmed pessimist. The tenets of bad taste ought to be his guiding code of morals, because they are the certain road to death. On the other hand, the optimist who, on the stupid plea that every one has a right to his own opinion, unconsciously voiced the views of bad taste, would thereby defeat his own ends and prove himself a shallow fool into the bargain.
Having arrived at this conclusion, which slams the door in the face of anarchy (every one has a right to his own taste), and in the face of democracy (the taste of the majority is right), the question next arising is: Who is in possession of the touchstone of permanent life and of healthy life which I call taste? Who can choose correctly? Who is able to discriminate between the right and the wrong thing in doctrine, diet, behaviour, shape, form, constitution, size, height, colour, sound and appearance?
The complicated conditions arising out of a state of civilisation render it all the more important to arrive at some definite decision upon this point, seeing that there are many hidden and secret paths, and many broad and conspicuous highways too, in a state of civilisation, which, though they do not appear to the ordinary mind, for the first score of miles or so, to lead to Nemesis, do ultimately lead to a death which is apparent to the presbyopic sage.
The business of consciously choosing, therefore, has grown to be one of the most profound and subtle concerns of the activity of life; for, not every lethal draught is labelled Poison, nor has every one of life's elixirs been withdrawn from the ban put upon it by the man of no taste.
I have not suggested, and do not wish to suggest, that, in thus choosing the wrong things, the Puritans consciously aimed at compassing their own or their fellows' degeneration and destruction. I submit only that while they thought they were but gratifying their own legitimate impulses and choosing the right things, they actually chose the wrong; and it was because they lacked taste, or, as the saying goes, because they had bad taste, that matters turned out as they did.
To take only one fact out of hundreds: if it be true, as medical men assure us it is, that, after three generations, born and bred cockneys become sterile, and that it is "the despised yokel who rejuvenates our cities, who recruits our army and who mans our ships of war," 1 then it is obvious that the kind of mind that chose the conditions in which the cockney is born and bred, or that laid the foundations of their existence, was one which had no taste, or had, as people say, bad taste.
It is often said when great changes or reforms come over a nation, that "the blind force of some abstract and inexorable economic law has made itself felt." This is simply nineteenth-century superior bunkum.
The whole truth of the matter is that when great changes or reforms have come over a nation, a certain portion of that nation often the more powerful portion has deliberately chosen and established those great changes or reforms in the teeth of an opposition which would have chosen otherwise. As I have shown in the case of the
1 F. R. Green, op. cit., p. 15.
For, there are millions of so-called economical laws, and any single group of them would be able to prevail, provided precisely that party in the State prevailed which in its taste happened to favour the direction or workings of that particular group.
To return, then, to my leading question: Who is in possession of this touchstone of what is favourable to permanent and healthy life, which I call taste? Who is able to choose correctly? Who can discriminate between the right and the wrong thing in doctrine, diet, behaviour, shape, form, constitution, size, height, colour, sound and appearance?
In answering this question I shall not reach up into the skies or out into the air for any new-fangled principle that has neither precedent nor warrant in fact. I shall rely simply upon the collected experience history gives us, and upon our knowledge of men and things.
For this, in short, is what I claim: I claim that among all the variations shown by all animals and all men, two are perfectly distinct, recognisable and constant, and might constitute the headings of a broad double classification of the fauna and of the men on this globe for all time. I claim that some animals and some men, thanks to a fortuitous and rare concatenation of happy circumstances, are born the examples of flourishing life life in its maximum of beauty, health, vigour, will and sagacity within the species; and that others are born the examples of mediocre or impoverished life life in its average or in its minimum
This is a fact to be observed by all who live, breathe and think among living things; it is a fact that requires no demonstration because it is the experience of all.
Maximums, like minimums, are for some reason rarer occurrences than the mediocre or medium lives; but if we think of life at its best we instinctively call to our minds an individual who possessed or who possesses a maximum of beauty, health, vigour, will and sagacity; and if we think of it at its worst, we likewise remember or picture an individual who possessed or who possesses a minimum of beauty, health, vigour, will and sagacity. As examples more or less perfect of the first class taken at random, let me suggest the Frenchmen who were the second and third Dukes of Guise, the Englishman Strafford, the Corsican Napoleon, the Englishman Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the German Goethe. As examples more or less perfect of the second class, also taken at random, let me suggest the Frenchman Calvin, the German Luther, the Englishman Cromwell, and the ancient Greek Socrates.
Now, if we can speak of "flourishing life" at all, how have we acquired our concept of such a phenomenon? Life is not a vast abstract and indefinite creature standing like a wire-puller and a monitor in the background of a group of living creatures. Only in poetical language do we speak of Life as something distinct from and independent of vital organisms.
We only know life, therefore, from the examples of living creatures we have seen, or of which we have heard. Life is a factor in the world process with which we are acquainted only through the living. All our notions about it are derived, not from our abstract poetical image of Life, but from creatures that have actually existed.
If, then, we speak of "flourishing life," we mean So-and-so who was an example of it not a disembodied ideal created in the fervid imagination of a dreamer. In fact, So-and-so who was or is an example of flourishing life is
This being so, the voice of flourishing life is not a voice descending from the clouds or any other part of the heavens; it is a perfectly definite sound emitted by those who are responsible for our being in possession of a concept of flourishing life at all. Just as the voice of mediocre, impoverished or degenerate life is a thoroughly definite sound which we expect to hear rising respectively from a crowd of ordinary people, from a party of decadents, or from a lazaretto.
Seeing, however, that our quest is to discover the needs, the desires, the likes and dislikes of flourishing life because as optimists we desire permanence whither shall we turn for an enumeration of these things? No scientific investigator, however wise, or however profound, can pretend to propound the taste of flourishing life by merely taking thought; no assembly of ordinary or mediocre people will ever be able to discover it by simply deliberating; because, as I have pointed out, it is not an abstract thing which can be imagined or formulated by an effort of the intellect however great it is a perfectly definite thing like gold, which you either have, or have not.
The only source to which we can turn, then, for the needs, the desires, the likes and dislikes of flourishing life, is the example of flourishing life himself. What he wants, flourishing life wants; what he selects, flourishing life selects; what he reviles, flourishing life reviles. His voice utters the taste of flourishing life; it is the canon and criterion of all that leads to permanence and resistance in life it is Taste.
It may differ slightly in outward form in different times and climes nay, it must so differ; but that it will remain constant if the same conditions persist is also obvious.
The taste of flourishing life, like our concept of it, is something the possession of which implies the possession
For, as I have pointed out above, by far the greater majority of mankind are either simply ordinary, in which case their selectings and rejectings will be uncertain, mistaken, and often dangerously wrong; or they are decadent, in which case their selectings and rejectings are sure to be erroneous, and therefore prove deadly; or they are sick and degenerate, in which case their selectings and rejectings are the recipe par excellence for death.
The true aristocracy, then, the only genuinely best men on earth, are the examples of flourishing life whose likes and dislikes whose discernment, in fact, is our canon of taste. The concern about living and lasting as a great power, as a great people, or as a great culture, is not only inextricably bound up with them, it is a futile, impossible, impertinent and hopeless venture without them.
And the healthy peoples of the past knew at least this fact. It was always their endeavour and their greatness to make the voice of flourishing life as generally and as universally accepted as possible. They were aware of the rarity of examples of flourishing life, so deeply aware, indeed, that all great religions may be regarded only as sacerdotal attempts at perpetuating and preserving the important utterances concerning taste of a few great men. They knew that one man who was an example of flourishing life, or many men who were examples of it, could not convert a whole nation into similar men; but they realised that he or they could impose their taste, their canon upon them, and thus make a people participators in their priceless and inestimable privileges.
Such an imposition of taste is, then, the greatest act of altruism that can be imagined; for it may save a whole
This, then, is the principle of sound aristocracy. It is the principle of life. Only he who is a pessimist can declare that it is wrong. For there are no two opinions about it; it is not a matter over which every upstart thinker can have his standpoint. He who is an optimist and who denies it is simply wrong.
But this principle of sound government is responsible not only for the healthy life and welfare of a people, not only for its survival and permanence, but also for its Culture and its Art. Because Art and Culture without direction from above, without a grand scheme of life providing the artist with the terms for his interpretation of life such art is mere make-believe, mere affected fooling. For the architect, the sculptor, the painter, the poet, the musician and the actor are essentially dependants dependants upon the superior man who is the artist-legislator. They themselves do not represent the will behind a great social organisation; they merely illustrate it and interpret it. That is why their function becomes meaningless and erratic, and their aims become anarchical, unless there be that in their life and in their nation which gives their art a meaning, a deep necessity and an inspiration. Hence the muddle in Art to day! Hence its anarchy and its pointlessness! The chief artist, the artist-legislator being non-existent, his followers no longer have that momentum, that direction and guidance which their function requires for its healthy vitality.
Now, in the light of this basic principle of aristocracy, what precisely does democracy mean?
Most of us are familiar with the kind of argument which is usually levelled against democracy. I am not concerned, however, with the common and stereotyped attack which can be made upon the democratic position. When I read Sir Henry S. Maine's Popular Government and Lecky's Democracy and Liberty works I would earnestly
Although this conclusion arises quite naturally from the reasoning of the preceding pages, let me briefly restate the stages by which it is reached.
I have attempted to establish the following propositions
(1) That life is a process of choosing and discarding in matters of doctrine and diet, etc.
(2) That to choose rightly in these matters for humanity means the permanence and the resistance of man as man, of a power as a power, of beauty as beauty.
(3) That to choose wrongly, or to discard wrongly, means the ultimate evanescence of man as man, or of a race as a race, or of a people as a people.
(4) That flourishing life, with its needs, is not an abstract entity which can be realised by meditation, or by
1 The point that distinguishes the two volumes of Lecky's Democracy and Liberty more, perhaps, than anything else, seems to me to be the numerous adumbrations occurring throughout the work, of abuses and acts of corruption in the domain of politics which have taken place since the volumes were written in the years 18931895.
(5) That these possessors of flourishing life, or "lucky strokes of nature," are the only individuals of the human species who can exercise taste in discriminating between right and wrong in matters of diet, doctrine, etc., because flourishing life never becomes articulate about its likes and dislikes, save through them.
(6) That although one of these "lucky strokes of nature" cannot by an effort of will make all men like unto himself; he can, by imposing his taste upon his fellows, help them to share, for their own good, in the inestimable benefits of his judgment.
Now, what is the position of modern democracy? What indeed did the democrat claim even in the time of the Puritan rebellion?
While admitting that life is a matter of selecting and rejecting, the democrat has claimed all along, and in direct contradiction of historical facts, that not a few, but all men are endowed with the gift of selecting and rejecting correctly in matters of diet, doctrine, etc.
Forgetting Nature's irregularity, her comparatively few really lucky strokes, and her relatively infrequent absolute failures; forgetting, too, the total inability of man to become acquainted with the demands of flourishing life, save through its examples themselves, he, the democrat, literally overlooked, discarded, in fact, the question of Taste.
With those examples of flourishing life which are bound to occur, even in democratic days (though perhaps a little less frequently at such than at other times), he therefore proceeds to mass together all those examples of impoverished and mediocre vitality, who cannot open their mouths without expressing the taste of impoverished and mediocre life, and whose taste, accordingly, leads inevitably to im-
Death begins to threaten all the power, all the health, all the institutions and all the prestige which were once built up by the tasteful founders of the nation.
Death begins to assail the nation's virtues, its character, its beauty, its world-ambition, its resistance, its stability, its courage and its very people. Death under the cover of insidious and almost imperceptible decay begins like a hidden vandal to undermine the great structure of a noble nation, and to level everything of value, of grandeur and of grace to the dust.
It cannot be helped! Nothing can stop it! It is a perfectly natural process. No mortal creation, however hardy, can bear for long the deadly course of selecting and rejecting the wrong thing in diet, doctrine, etc. And yet the very principle of democracy forces this lethal process upon all nations who adopt it.
The greater and nobler the edifice, of course, the longer it will take for the corrosive to destroy it. But, that its doom is inevitable, no one who has given the matter mature consideration can doubt for one moment.
Democracy forgets the vital element Taste. I say it forgets it; but it never actually takes it into account at all. It has no experience of the Taste which alone can discriminate between the right and the wrong thing; how could it make a place for it in the scheme of life?
Democracy, therefore, means death. It means inviting Life's adversary to the Council-board. It means admitting into the deliberations concerning life one, or rather many, who can be right about life only by a fluke, only by the merest accident, and who could no more be expected to voice the likes and dislikes of healthy permanent life, than a kangaroo could be expected to go foraging for pheasants.
I should reply: "This may be a comment upon our present hopeless condition; it may be a true description of our degenerate state; it may possibly be a fact that the only practicable political means left open to us are those which lead inevitably to Nemesis; but that has nothing whatever to do with my contention. The fact that you no longer see any practicable method of installing "the lucky strokes of nature" in power does not in the least prove that democracy is not death! Often in a chase the last loophole left for a stag or a hare is the merciful precipice which shatters it to death. Do not let us, however, give our precipice euphemistic names which may make our death less noble even if thereby it become less painful. Do not let us call it the "liberty of man," the "freedom of Parliament," the "apotheosis of man's independence"!
Look about you to-day! See the confusion and chaos that reign over all questions of doctrine, diet, hygiene, behaviour, the relations of man to man, and above all of sex to sex; and ask yourself whether everything does not already bear the indelible stamp of having been left too long without the discriminating guidance of taste. Where traditional usages are breaking down, what is rising to take their place? Where old institutions are losing their power, where are the substitutes offered by the present age?
Whatever beauty we possess the beauty of the warrior marine and territorial and his accoutrements, the beauty of royal ceremony and apparel, the beauty of our homes, of our churches, of our art, of our great inheritance, of our pride as a nation derives all its power and all its depth not from the present, but from the past. The present is productive, it is even prolific, in innovations, complications and duplications; but it does not
Thus, however weighty and forcible may be the arguments which Mr. Lecky or Sir Henry S. Maine bring against democracy, however imposing may be the mass of detail with which the former has adorned his indictment, the most powerful and most fundamental criticism of democracy still remains out of all reckoning, if notice is not taken of the profound truth that, since democracy includes the voice and a majority of the voices of mediocre or impoverished life. it is bound by slow or rapid steps to lead to Nemesis and to death.
You cannot with impunity drown the voice of flourishing life in your councils; you cannot go unpunished if Taste be outshouted at your governing board; you cannot hope to be permanent, or to attain to even relative permanence, in your power and prestige, if the very touchstone of that which is sound in choosing and discarding be excluded from your deliberations, or as good as excluded, by being hopelessly overwhelmed.
I have been at some pains in the preceding chapters of this book to show how far astray mankind has wandered in England, owing to the lack of the element Taste in our midst. I have enumerated a few of the hundreds of innovations and novelties that have been allowed to establish themselves in our society without provoking even a question, much less a protest, among the members of the governing body. I have also shown that while in Charles I we had at least some one who understood a number of the essential elements of true rulership, and primarily Taste, he was grossly and absurdly mistaken by his contemporaries, and was brutally supplanted by men who not only lacked the faintest notion of what true rulership meant but, as I have tried to show, are also entirely responsible for our present muddle and madness to-day.
And, after all that I have said, how foolish does the popular belief appear which would have it that there is
And when I contemplate this wonderful and stupendous Empire of Great Britain, and think of the noble blood and effort that have been spent in building it; when I realise its fabulous powers for good or evil, its almost unprecedented influence for virtue and quality, in the world, its vastness and its amazing organisation, I shudder to hear the modern cynic speak with calm resignation about a certain law of nations, according to which all this marvellous structure must vanish and be forgotten. I hate to listen to the sad but certainly unagitated tones with which the cultured Britisher sometimes acknowledges the fact that his country is standing at the cross roads, and that the heads of the foremost horses show a decided twist in the direction of the highway to ruin.
Knowing of the existence of no such obscure law relating to the rise and decline of nations for nations, unlike individuals, can regenerate their strength and their youth 2 I know only one thing, and that is, as I have said, that taste is a power of life, leading to permanence
1 For an interesting discussion on the causes of national decline, and for a learned refutation of the old "moral" reasons of former historians, let me refer the reader to Gobineau's l'Inégalité des Races Humaines, Otto Sieck's Geschichte des Untergangs der Antiken Welt, and Reibmayr's Inzucht und Vermischung.
2 See Otto Sieck's argument ending: "Es ist also falsch, dass die gleichen Gesetze für Individuen und ganze Nationen gelten," op. cit., pp. 261262.
I know, therefore, that if this vast creation, the British Empire, be really in danger, if it be truly decadent and degenerate, it is possible to rescue it; its salvation is a conceivable thing; its preservation an act within our reach and within our power. And he who does not feel that there is something worth saving here, and something worth fighting for whether he be a Scotsman, Welshman, Canadian, Australian or Irishman is unworthy of being placed in the presence of anything great or noble created by the hands of man. I do not suggest, mark you, that the patriot's notion of preserving the British Empire should necessarily consist in becoming its wholehearted advocate alone. On the contrary, there are times when one's greatest friend would deem it an act of friendship to assail one. But all I wish to imply is that to any one be he British or Colonial there must appear to be something in this great realm that is worth perpetuating and guarding from ruin. And no friendship, no patriotism, could be more radical and fundamental than that which recognised that Taste, alone, the guidance and direction of flourishing life, alone, can be of service and of value here; and that nothing which thwarts and delays the prevalence of that one quality in our midst can be looked upon with patience, not to speak of equanimity. If England had never in her history produced men of taste, if her national records contained no instances of genuine ruler-spirits; if, as some would have us believe, there is something inveterately perverse about the Anglo-Saxon which renders all hope of his permanence as a world-power merely a wild and feverish dream, it would indeed be a hopeless outlook, and we should have no other alternative but to acquiesce with as good grace as possible in a doom as ignoble and inglorious as our past has been great. But I have myself, in this small book, been able to refer to a goodly number of such spirits;
The above, then, is my thesis. It now only remains for me to attempt to outline the manner in which the principles it involves can be made practicable. But though this will constitute the burden of the ensuing chapters, I shall straightway reply to certain obvious objections to my standpoint which occur to my mind as I write, and shall conclude this chapter with one or two considerations relating especially to the decline of manners and morals under the modern Democracy of Uncontrolled Trade and Commerce considerations which I think all the more worth stating, seeing that they are of a kind not usually recorded in attacks upon the democratic position, and are not, therefore, to be found in the ordinary anti-democratic book or pamphlet of the day.
Turning to the obvious objections first, let me reply to the opponent who very naturally inquires where and when do I find the historical warrant for my thesis.
I find it in great historical individuals, and in groups of individuals, who may be said to be, and who were undoubtedly, examples of flourishing life.
Read the canon of the Brahmans the Book of Manu; read the canon of the Jews the Books of Moses; read the canon of the Mahommedans the Koran! 1 In each of these books, if you study them with care and understanding, you will see but the record of a few men's or of one man's taste in diet, doctrine, behaviour, etc. And
1 It is interesting to note, in reference to the facts adduced in Chap. V. of this book, that the Koran forbids the drinking of coffee to the faithful.
In the case of the Jews and of the Mahommedans, for instance, we are concerned with two men, Moses and Mahommed, who were undoubtedly maximums of flourishing life; in the case of the Brahmans, we are concerned with an aristocratic group or body of examples of flourishing life, of whose traditional laws and customs the Book of Manu is but a codification.
As further examples of groups, or bodies of examples, of flourishing life whose rule made for the permanence, power and prosperity of their peoples, I would also refer to the semi-religious and semi-temporal aristocracies of ancient Egypt, whose culture endured for so many thousands of years, and of ancient Peru, whose culture, founded and maintained by the Incas, is, with Egyptian culture, one of the most amazing examples of aristocratic wisdom, foresight, clemency, practicality and art that the world has ever seen.
Neither will it be possible for you to divorce the circumstances of China's extraordinary permanence from the fact that, in Confucius, his great predecessors and his equally great followers, the Chinese people had men of taste, as I understand them, who once and for all laid down the basis of healthy and permanent life for the whole nation. While even if you inquire into the undoubtedly healthy regimen of the devout Catholic, with all his fast days and lenten abstinence (which were simply a religious insistence on periodical intervals of vegetarian or non-stimulating diet), and his festivals (which were likewise only the religious sanction granted for occasional fits of dionysian indulgence), you will be surveying merely the canonised taste of some of the greatest specimens of flourishing life that arose during the Middle Ages. 1
1 Among the rocks on which Catholicism foundered we cannot
It is even perfectly safe to prophesy, in the case of a race like the Chinese, that any material departure from the customs of their ancestors (which rely upon the original pronouncements of flourishing life) instigated by bad European taste is sure to lead to decadence and death; and unless the Chinese have the wisdom to use the science and culture of Europe merely as weapons with which to fight the European, without letting either that science or culture enter too deeply into their social and spiritual life, they are almost sure to be landed upon the highway to ruin. For if they really become democratic; if they not
include a lack of men of taste in its organisation, for from this lack it did not suffer. The primary reason I should give for its failure is the fact that its doctrine was paradoxical from the start, and contained an inward conflict; and, secondly, that it attempted the task of the cosmopolitisation of the world without reckoning with the anarchical and barbarian people of the north of Europe, who were still insufficiently cultured to understand or appreciate any rule or order superior to that which they themselves had evolved.
1 We have only to recall Cicero's constant reiteration of the expression "mos majorum."
2 See History, Book V, Chapters 5154.
In the ruin and downfall of the Peruvian civilisation built up by the Incas, it is true we have an instance of another kind of disaster a disaster which cannot well be traced to any flaw in the inner harmony and wisdom of the civilisation itself; but here I think we have a right to speak of a vis major which cannot well be foreseen or forestalled by any precept of taste. Flourishing life may choose and discard the right thing in every particular, but it cannot help the earthquake which within a measurable space of time is preparing to swallow it and its order up; neither can it be so omniscient as to foretell and forestall an overwhelming invasion from a people that seems to have risen out of an ocean which hitherto had appeared to be endless.
Another opponent may ask, "Who instals these men of taste in power? Who 'elects' them to their position of trust and influence?"
Looking back upon history, I find that no such act of installation or election ever actually takes place, save as a surface movement. What really happens, what has always happened save in degenerate times is that those among humanity who were examples of flourishing life have always asserted and established their superior claims themselves. And in communities in which, the proper values prevail concerning greatness, nobility, taste, beauty, power, sagacity and health, they find themselves as naturally raised to power by their own efforts as a frog rises to the water's surface by the movements of its agile limbs.
True, it is difficult to point to a great religion or to a great nation that has originated from the single-handed efforts of one man; but what usually occurs is this, that
It is this element in men of flourishing life which helps them to assert and establish their claims this element of discrimination and attraction by which they choose and draw to them men who are like themselves and who can but strengthen their holy cause.
But for any such assertion and establishment of higher claims to be possible, the pre-requisite is that the community in which the attempt is made should, in the first place, be susceptible by education and general outlook to the charm and beauty of the values of flourishing life.
In a community where the wrong, the decadent, the degenerate and the impoverished values prevail concerning the qualities greatness, beauty, bravery, nobility, power, sagacity and death, it is obvious that the claims of superior life will not even be heard or understood, much less, therefore, appreciated. 1
The very first step, therefore, to the assertion and establishment of superior claims in our midst is that we should be steeped in the values which make a recognition of such superiority a possible achievement. It is for this reason that all chance of a regeneration and a rejuvenation of a decadent society is such a hopeless matter; because although many may be born who could effect the necessary reforms, the fibre of the people is not precisely drawn to that degree of tension which would cause it to respond and vibrate in unison with its potential saviours. And
1 As a matter of fact, in England and Western Europe of the twentieth century, all values are not only such as to make the rearing of great men improbable, but also of a nature which make the recognition and utilisation of greatness well-nigh impossible, even when it does appear.
All preparation for salvation, all first steps to reform, in a decadent society should, therefore, consist in so shaping the body of the people, and so tightening the strings of their heart, that when the examples of flourishing life come to draw their bow, as it were, across the instrument by means of which, alone, they can assert their superiority, this instrument may respond with warmth to their touch, and not groan and screech discordantly until they are disheartened.
This may sound poetical, fanciful and, maybe, grandiloquent language wherewith to express an essential principle of practical politics. But let no one suppose that it is any the less reliable for that reason. He who declared that what we needed was a "transvaluation of values" hit the nail on the head in this matter. For unless the spirit of England be chastened and purified by a great disaster or by a tremendous awakening brought on by a vast trouble of some sort, 1 nothing but a "transvaluation of values," nothing, that is to say, but an attempt to make those values prevail which will render the people able and willing to recognise the claims of superior life, can ever make the people disposed to allow saviours to rise in their midst, or to appreciate them when they attempt to rise.
And this is what so many people overlook when they face the question of the revival of aristocracy. They
1 It is curious to note that Bolingbroke held an almost similar view. He does not speak of a "transvaluation of values" as an alternative to a great disaster; but he certainly recognises the value of a disciplinary disaster or disciplinary stroke of fortune when a nation is decadent. He says: "It seems to me, upon the whole matter, that to save or redeem a nation under such circumstances from perdition, nothing less is necessary than some great, some extraordinary conjuncture of ill-fortune, or of good, which may purge, yet so as by fire." The Idea of a Patriot King, pp. 6465.
Thus all those who to-day are anxious to revive an aristocracy of taste and discrimination which alone would be able to elevate us, and save Western civilisation from ending its momentary downward course in the pit of ruin and oblivion, will strive to find out first which are the values favourable to the recognition of superior life when it appears, and then, if they differ from existing values, to transvalue the latter with all possible speed and determination. 1
It may be objected by some that, while it is easy to talk glibly of transvaluing values, the task is not so simple as it may seem nay, is it either practicable or possible? Even when values have been transvalued, would it be such a simple matter to impose them upon a whole people?
I would not contend for a moment that this task of transvaluing values is simple, any more than is the task of imposing them upon a whole people; but that the feat is a practicable and perfectly possible one is proved not only by ancient but also by quite recent practice.
To avoid dwelling once more on the stupendous transvaluation of values inaugurated by the Puritans, think only of the amazing unanimity of opinion concerning certain fundamental and essentially modern questions that reigns to-day in England! Consider the almost universal
1 At the present moment it cannot even be urged by the indolent that this is an inquiry and a duty too fantastic to be undertaken. It cannot even be said that it is a task too colossal to be faced by one generation; for, however inadequately the detail of the work may have been accomplished, and however much there may remain of this detail to be done, the modern world has in Nietzsche's stupendously courageous inquiry into the broad question of sick and healthy values, an outline of its task, and a signpost as to the direction that it should pursue, which it can ignore only at its own hurt and peril.
So far from its being impracticable or impossible, there is, as a matter of fact, nothing less difficult of accomplishment in the whole sphere of government than precisely this task of swaying, modifying and rendering uniform the opinions of those who expect their cue, their lead, their example to come from their leaders, and who often accept it cheerfully and unhesitatingly even when those leaders are but half fitted or worse still for their responsible position.
"But," continues my opponent, "if you admit this factor of recognition on the part of the masses of the people, you yield up your whole case to me; for that is the democratic principle, that people should be ruled only by their own consent."
I deny this imputation most emphatically, because I see no relation whatsoever between what I have said and the principle of democracy.
The assent which the people give to the claims of superior life in my case has nothing whatever in common with that rational exercise of judgment which a democratic
The people who, as I say, respond to the claims of superior life do not need to understand or to judge the examples of flourishing life; nor could they do so if they tried, for this would imply an equal modicum of understanding on the part of the masses to that possessed by their superiors themselves, which it would be obviously absurd to expect. The people, however, do not say "we want these men because we understand them," but "we want them because we feel they understand us." They do not say "we want them because we judge them rightly," but "we want them because we feel they judge us rightly." It is the attitude of the child to its mother. The child can and does adore its mother without in the least understanding the principles or virtues of true motherhood. It assents to its mother as a mother, because it sees that its mother understands its needs, its likes and its dislikes, its foibles and its powers.
In the same way a people can assent to the rule or leadership of certain individuals without in the least understanding the rationale of their deeds and policy, without having attempted to enter into the pros and cons of their principles and measures; and seeing that, according to my hypothesis, the people would be unqualified to attempt such acts of judgment, the fact that, like children, they are simply able to feel and respond to those who understand and judge them correctly saves them from all necessity of appealing to that faculty of rationally weighing pros and cons, and of giving practised consideration to deep principles and policies, which is indeed presupposed by a democracy, and without the assumption of which even the abstract idea of democracy would be absurd.
Thus while the people, in my case, respond as a child does to its mother, because it feels itself understood, in a democracy it asserts its will because it claims that it understands obviously a very different matter! In a
Clearly, then, I yield no point to the democrats when I agree that the first pre-requisite to a beneficent aristocrat's rule is the sympathetic response of the people whom he would guide and govern. The oldest principles of Royalty and Aristocracy always regarded this tacit assent of the masses as one of the proudest tributes to their beauty and perfection; but this has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of absolute or even representative democracy. 1
The assent I speak of is the kind given by and expected from the people of China. For many hundreds of years now the Chinese have been expected to assent to their ruler's rule; but this act of assent has never presupposed any more considerable exercise of judgment than that which can clearly be included in the act of realising that you are being understood and cared for as your body and your spirit require.
I trust that the difference is now obvious. The new element introduced by the idea of democracy is this: the
1 According to Traill, even the Earl of Strafford seems to have considered the assent of the people as an essential warrant of good rule. Traill says: "Wentworth identified the happiness of the people with the vindication and establishment of the power of the Crown." And, speaking of his attitude to the assent of the people, Traill says: "It seems to me that he prized this assent and reckoned on securing it; only he refused to admit that the assent of an elective assembly or at least of such an assembly as his own experience had familiarised him with was equally necessary or equally possible to be secured by the governor." Lord Strafford, p. 60.
I beg to press upon the reader's notice that there are a host of stupid and utterly unwarrantable assumptions in this position, with which I should scorn to have any connection. When, therefore, I speak of the assent of the governed, let my opponents not think for a moment that I am either so confused or so utterly abandoned in so far as sound doctrine is concerned as to mean anything so ridiculous and so preposterously untenable as the democratic idea of the people's part in politics.
"But," my adversary will cry, "if you acknowledge that the assent of the people is necessary even to good aristocratic rule, then you commit yourself to granting the masses the right of rebellion when that rule is not good!"
Certainly! I admit it! And, as I pointed out in the first chapter of this book, in admitting the necessary correlative of popular assent, which is popular dissent, or rebellion, I agree not only with the deepest thinkers of China, but also with the deepest thinkers of Europe. 1
Rebellion is the only means to which a subject people can turn, in order to rid themselves of tasteless rulers; once the caste to whose guidance they originally assented, has from some cause or other, degenerated; there is no other means. But the fact that before such rebellions have taken place as in the case of the French Revolution, for in-
1 See p. 14, Chapter I.
Let it be pointed out, en passant, however, that modern democracy is robbed, hopelessly and Irretrievably, of this final and extreme cure of misrule. The hydra-headed administration of a modern democratic state, however bad and corrupt it may be, defies the salutary shears of any rebellion. As in the case of the limited liability company, of which it is the true parent and prototype, no one in a democratic government is responsible when anything goes wrong; and, unless the people choose to lop off their own heads, it is impossible for them to make an expiatory offering for any of the crimes and errors of what is ostensibly their own administration.
The cause of this appalling dilemma is to be traced, in the first place, to the average Englishman's misunderstanding of the essentials of real rulership. No child, however priggish and precocious, would be so foolish as to regard itself as wholly self-supporting and self-guiding, if, owing to their misdeeds, it had to throw over its parents. It might abandon its father and mother; but its one object thenceforward would be either to attach itself to some other adult who could beneficently undertake the respon-
1 The Puritan Rebellion was an instance of another kind. Here we had oppression certainly! but it was the sort of oppression that good taste will always exercise over the absence of taste, that good health will always exercise over the absence of health. And, in this instance, as I have shown, it was not the people rebelling against their rulers, but a vulgar, mercenary and influential portion of the rulers rebelling against the more tasteful portion, and with cries of "Liberty" and "A Free Parliament," luring, by subterfuge, many of the ignorant masses over to their side.
On the same principle a popular rebellion in China, previous to the importation of shallow English and European doctrines, meant simply a change of rulers not a usurpation of the duties of ruling on the part of the masses.
Englishmen and Europeans generally, on the other hand, seem completely to have misunderstood the true nature of ruling; and as often as their rulers have failed in their duties, they appear to have considered the occasion a sufficient excuse for perpetrating that grossest of all errors the usurpation of the seat of rule by non-rulers.
A most puerile and, at the same time, senseless non sequitur is involved in this error; for, although the demise or suppression of a great ruler caste may be an extremely staggering event, it nevertheless possesses none of those magic or miraculous powers which can convert a man into a creature which he is not, or which can endow with superior qualities a whole body of mediocre and ordinary men who, hitherto, have led mediocre and ordinary lives.
If all the engineers in Christendom were to become defunct to morrow, none but the veriest dolt of a layman would believe that he thereby automatically became an engineer; and yet the equivalent of this act of impudence and stupidity is one which has been perpetrated again and again in the field of practical politics.
The supreme difficulties of ruling, the terribly profound problems it involves, the great native gifts it requires, and the enormous number of human sympathies it calls into play, have only seldom been appreciated in Europe, and that is why non-imaginative and non-meditative classes cease to recognise their limitations, once their values become such that they do not favour the rise of true rulers in their midst.
Continuing to raise objections, my opponent may exclaim: "If it is, as you say, that certain exceptional,
It is obvious that if we were in a world without seasons, and in a universe in which change were not a constant factor with which man is obliged to reckon, a single proclamation of the law in matters of choosing and discarding would certainly suffice for all eternity; hence the natural but hopeless attempt on the part of the common people of all countries in which change is very slow, to try at all cost to preserve and maintain the status quo, once they feel themselves in possession of valuable utterances concerning taste; for they instinctively realise that these can continue to apply only so long as the status quo persists. As examples of such peoples, behold China and all Mahommedan countries!
But we are in a world in which change has to be faced as a condition of existence, and although some of the utterances of taste will last as valuable truths until the crack of doom, others will require modification, adaptation and readjustment; while all innovations and novelties will exact fresh efforts and judgments of taste, not included in the original promulgation of the law.
In all great civilisations, then, into which change is constantly entering in the form of a host of isolated and often obscure innovations, a continued exercise of taste, subsequent to the original promulgation of the law, is an essential pre-requisite of healthy and permanent life; and it was for this continued exercise of taste that the priests of ancient Egypt provided when they selected, educated and initiated those who were going to replace them in office under the man-god the Pharaoh, and that the Chinese provided when they selected, educated and initiated the candidates for those walks of life which lead to the mandarinate.
So much for the first crop of obvious objections, which
To many readers, probably, there will seem little need to enter into the details of the question. They may think, and perhaps rightly too, that if my thesis be correct then, since we are now living under a Democracy of uncontrolled Trade and Commerce, in which men of taste are far outnumbered by men of no taste, the necessary consequence must be a decline, not only in art and culture, but also in the manners and morals of the mass of the population. This is perfectly true. If my thesis be correct, this must inevitably be the consequence of our present state. Such readers will point to many signs of the times which show conclusively not only that manners and morals are declining, but also that they continue to do so more and more every year.
There is a laisser-aller in conversation, behaviour and dress, the treatment of women by men and vice versâ, the performances at music-halls and musical comedies, which, while suggesting an increase in licence, is still covert, cowardly and brutal, and has nothing of the nature of a healthy return to paganism in its constitution. Newspapers are becoming cruder without showing any more mastery or art in regard to questions of sex. Side by side with this, there is among the barbarian section of the nation a tightening rather than a relaxing of the strings of Puritanism, and the negative attitude towards life and humanity is consequently increasing in such quarters.
With regard to manners, it must be obvious to all who move and travel in big cities, that these are at their lowest ebb. Motors hoot peremptorily at anybody and everybody; their chauffeurs, forgetting that the highway belongs first to the pedestrian and secondly to the vehicle, insist upon your making way for them at all costs, charge at you like at an enemy, sometimes compelling you to run at the risk of considerable danger to your person. And the
And who are these meek people who wait for whole minutes by the road-side, who advance, retreat, venture a few steps and recoil, plunge and stagger, to the hoot of the new car? They are ordinary pedestrians, who may be jealous of wealth, who may covet it, who may even despise it temporarily for the same reason as the fox called the grapes green; but who, by every one of their movements, acknowledge, nay, proclaim to the world that in their heart of hearts they are convinced that mere material wealth and the comfort it brings are the highest things on earth. Resent as they may the importunity of all the affluence which they behold, they are still worshippers at its shrine, and think that there is indeed some holy right, some sacred privilege behind this blatant, ostentatious and tyrannical "Clear-the-road!" "Clear-the-road!" implied by the motor-hoot which they have neither the spirit nor the necessary "outlook" to resist or scorn. Not one of them knows the real sacredness of wealth, the real virtues of opulence; not one of them has a notion of its true dignity, its possible holy powers. They know only that it brings comfort, motor-cars, theatres, week-ends away from the smoky "wen," and fine, sleek clothes. Hence, though they may envy those who possess it, they have no notion of the contempt or even the anger which rises up in the breast of the man of taste when he sees the powers
None but a spiritless and wholly subjected people, completely convinced of the superlative value of money as a purchasing power of this nature, would ever have tolerated the advent of the motor-car. With its cloud of dust and puff of scornful stinks as it turns its back on you, with its insolent command of "Clear!" as it ploughs through the human crowd in front of it, with its tasteless and inconsiderate treatment of the rural village and its children 1 it is a fitting symbol of the arrogant contempt which mere wealth may well feel for the mass of foolish and spiritless sheep, which have allowed it, uncontrolled by taste or good feeling, to become paramount in their midst.
Some such considerations will naturally occur to the mind of the thoughtful reader, and he will feel that these and many others that could be mentioned tend to confirm my contention concerning the present decline of morals and manners. He may also have heard of the overbearing rudeness of the sporting "gentry," or of private parks which, not so very long ago, were, by the courtesy of their owners, kept open to the public, until the gross and inconsiderate behaviour of picnicking parties and touring cyclists forced these generously disposed owners to close their gates against all strangers. He may think of the increasing disrespect with which young people treat their elders, inside and outside the home. He may himself be able to testify to the decline in the dignity and good tone of Parliamentary debates. He may have observed a growing lack of reserve in dress and speech in all ranks of life. He may be aware of a certain pronounced deterioration in
1 A fact from Mr. F. E. Green's book sheds a curious light on this aspect of the question. He speaks of a notice-board he saw by a roadside hedge near Greywell, Hants, which proclaimed the following message: "Please drive cautiously. Hound puppies are at walk in Greywell village." As the author remarks: "Hound puppies, mark you; not village children!" The Tyranny of the Countryside, p. 180.
Above all, he may have noticed a decline in the beauty both of his fellows and of their surroundings; for taste enters into the smallest matters, and when the ordinary mind rules, all kinds of ugly beliefs, things, structures and pastimes are allowed to find a place in society which they could not otherwise have found, while beautiful things meet with no special favour 1 and are thought of no special value, save when they become the hall-marks of opulence and power, and thus minister to the general desire for ostentatious display. This explains the love of beautiful and expensive old furniture, plate and pictures, on the part of those who are often the most vulgar people in a democratic age.
These are some of the features of modern life which almost every one can see for himself. But it is not of these aspects of the decline in manners and morals that I here intend to speak. I have referred to them briefly and lightly because it struck me that if I omitted all mention of them the reader might imagine that I paid them no heed at all. This is not the case. As a matter of fact I am fully aware of the minor symptoms of the decline; but, in the conclusion of this chapter, I wished more particularly to refer to two or three broader and deeper factors in the general scheme of modern vulgarity, which are perhaps not so obvious, and not so generally discussed as are the instances of the motor-hoot, etc., which I have just touched upon.
Foremost among these broader and deeper factors are the causes which, in my estimation, are leading to the gradual passing of the gentleman. All the world over,
1 In his Theory of the State (Authorised Translation, Clarendon Press), p. 483, Bluntschli says that in a democracy "there is more difficulty than in other constitutions to induce the State to attend to the loftier interests of art and science. A democratic nation must have reached a very high stage of civilisation when it seeks to satisfy needs of which the ordinary intelligence cannot appreciate the value or the importance to the national welfare."
There was also the gentleman of ancient Egypt, the gentleman of Athens, and the gentleman of Rome.
All huge and powerful administrations have to rely very largely upon the trust which they can place in a number of high responsible officials who, in moments of great temptation or great trial, will stand honestly and bravely at their posts. All stable family life, too, depends upon the existence of a number of such men, who need not necessarily be State servants, but who, engaged in other walks of life, reveal a similar reliability.
The very existence of a large administration, or of a large nation of citizens, is impossible without such men. And all societies which have started out with the idea of lasting, growing and standing upright, have always instinctively developed the high ideal of the gentleman the man who can be trusted at all times and all places, the man who is sincere, the man who is staunch and constant in matters of principle, the man who never sacrifices the greater to the less, and the man who is sufficiently, self-reliant to be able to consider others.
It is obvious that the gentleman class, or the body of men who possess the above qualities, falls naturally into various orders; but by far the highest order, is that consisting of those men who, without being necessarily examples of flourishing life, are yet so square and strong in body and soul, that their honour can be subjected to the greatest strain without snapping.
If England has shown any stability at all, it is owing to the fact that as a nation she has reared crop after crop of such men, and that these men have been sent to all corners of the globe, from Barhein in the Persian Gulf, to Kingston in the Island of Jamaica, to represent her and to teach the gentleman's idea of decent living to the world.
Once this class begins to decline, England will be in sore straits; for even examples of flourishing life, when they appear, must find worthy and trusty servants to fill high places, otherwise the best supreme administration would be helpless.
But how do you suppose the virtues of the gentleman are reared? For you are too wise to believe that copybook precepts can do any good, save as a mere confirmation of a deep bodily impulse. You are surely too experienced to suppose that the leopard can change his spots, or that a negro can beget a white child? Then how do you suppose that a strong virtue a virtue which, like a powerful iron girder, nothing human can snap is cultivated and produced in a family, in a line of human beings, even in an animal?
On this question Aristotle spoke words of the deepest wisdom. He declared that all virtue was habit, habituation, custom. "The virtues," he says, "we get by first performing single acts . . . by doing just actions, we come to be just; by doing the actions of self-mastery, we come to be perfected in self mastery; and by doing brave actions, brave." 1
And then he proceeds: "And to the truth of this, testimony is borne by what takes place in communities; because the law-givers make the individual members good men by habituation, and this is the intention certainly of every law-
1 See Chapter I, Book II, Ethics (Chase's translation).
A gentleman in body and soul, then, is a creature whose very tissues are habituated to act in an honourable way. For many generations, then, his people must have acted in an honourable way. In order that the first and strongest impulse in his body may be an honourable impulse, such impulses must constantly have been favoured at the cost of other impulses by his ancestors, until the voice of the others is weak and the roar of the honourable impulse tills his being with a noise that drowns all other voices.
And this brings me to the subject of conscience, on which, at the risk of digressing, I must say a passing word. What is conscience? The Christian religion rightly says: "It is the voice of God in one's body." But what does this phrase mean precisely? Who knows what the voice of God can be? The voice of God, in the Christian sense, is obviously the voice of the giver of Christian moral law. To whom does the Christian think he owes his moral law? To God! Very well, then, his conscience must mean to him the voice of God!
But men who have left Christianity, who repudiate Christ, the Holy Ghost and the Gospels, still possess a conscience. Let them deny it as much as they like, we all know they have a conscience. What, precisely, is that conscience? Let us put the question in a different form. Who is the law-giver whose voice speaks in their breasts when they do a deed which makes them hear a sort of whispered protest in their hearts?
Think a minute on the lines of Aristotle's concept of virtue! Your greatest law-giver, the creator of your conscience, is obviously your line of ancestors. It is they who have implanted those impulses in your body which they, by their habits and customs, cultivated and produced. Very well, then, say you do a deed which your ancestors did a thousand times before you, what happens? A warm
1 See Chapter I, Book II, Ethics (Chase's translation).
Now reverse the process; do something that is in conflict with your traditions; indulge in any habit of life out of keeping with your best traditions; be for a moment untrue to your ancestors! What happens? Immediately the voice of your progenitors says: "You are wrong, you did this deed as we have never done it, or you did this deed which we have never done; we disapprove!"
Thus the diversity of men's sensitiveness where conscience is concerned, is accounted for by the diversity of their ancestry. Some men, for instance, can indulge in sexual perversity without being weighed down by moral indignation, while others feel suicidal after the first act of the kind. In the first case, sexual perversity may be suspected in the ancestry, because obviously the voice of ancestral protest is not strong; in the second case sexual purity may be suspected in the ancestry, because the voice of disapproval is obviously loud and severe. The same holds good in regard to little acts of deception, little thefts, little lies. In one case no moral indignation is produced by these deeds, in another case severe and bitter moral heart-burn is generated by any one of them.
Conscience, then, to the non-Christian, is simply the voice of his ancestors in his breast; and he should remember that he has it in his power to weaken or strengthen that voice for his offspring and for their offspring. For, just as virtues may be reared, so, as Aristotle points out, they may be destroyed at will.
With this side-light upon the meaning of conscience, we are now in a position to face the problem of the gentleman from the Inside.
I have said that his most typical virtues are: that he can be trusted at all times and in all places, that he is
Now what is the kind of ancestral and present environment that can rear such virtues and implant them with the strength of iron girders in a character? It is obviously an environment which is above all the petty deceits, all the subterfuges, tricks, expedients and wiles, which are inseparable from a sordid struggle for existence.
Behold the jungle!
In the jungle the only animal that does not require to tread softly, to avoid crackling leaves and creaking branches, the only animal that can dispense with deceit and with make-believe, and who can come and go as he likes and trumpet forth the truth honestly to the world without either compromise or caution, is that animal whose power and strength are above the ordinary attacks of his neighbours, and whose food springs from the soil about him, without his having to lie in ambush for it to appear and be waylaid. All other animals must practise deceit, subterfuge, falsehood, ruse, craft and a great variety of attitudes. All other animals must be histrions of no mean attainments; they must know how to crouch, how to crawl, how to cringe, how to dissimulate, and how to pretend. Nature condones all these accomplishments in those of her creatures which are caught in the cruel wheel of the
1 To those to whom the last point is not obvious let me offer a little explanation in this footnote, so that I may avoid breaking up the discussion once more by subsidiary considerations. It must be clear to all that a baby, an invalid, a blind man, or anybody who is weak with any physical defect, must be selfish and cannot consider others Weakness must cry out: "All for myself!" otherwise it cannot exist. The moment a baby or an invalid began to consider the feelings of those around it more than its own it would endanger its own existence Strength, on the other hand, is able to consider others, because its own existence is already secure. The professed unselfishness of weak people, therefore, is mere cant, mere lip-service, beneath contempt. The only valuable altruism in the world is a strong self-reliant man's consideration for others.
If all this can be applied to human society, there is a grave moral to be drawn from the application. The trend of human society, at least in modern Europe, is to draw ever greater and greater numbers and kinds of people into the vortex of the struggle for existence. And, under a Democracy of uncontrolled Trade and Commerce, there is a danger that all orders of society will ultimately be drawn into the struggle. The class that once stood immune from this struggle the mammoth men, the men of leisure and secure power are gradually ceasing to be the most revered and most admired members of the community; or, worse still, they are gradually ceasing to be bred. With great wealth as the highest value, people are ceasing to consider how it is acquired, and all are being tempted to take up that occupation by means of which it can be acquired with the greatest possible speed. Whether all the traditionally leisured families were capable of all the gentlemanly virtues or not, is not necessarily the point at issue. But one thing, in any case, is quite certain, and that is that among them, alone, were these virtues to be sought if they were to be found at all.
For it is pure romanticism to suppose that you can have the virtue without the soil from which it springs. You cannot have your cake and eat it. You may long in vain for the virtues which belong to the animal that stands aloof from the jungle struggle, if you actually participate in that struggle. And to suppose that mere precept and education will cultivate these virtues in you, if you do not possess, or have not practised them for generations, is to suppose that the leopard can by a course of training change his spots in a single generation.
Everybody is now one or the other of those lower inmates of the jungle. Everybody now must at some time or other in his life be a "histrion of no mean attainments"; everybody must be wily, crafty, full of resource in subterfuge, pretence, deceit and dissimulation. 1 Sincerity, staunchness and constancy to a principle are dying out. It grows every day more and more difficult to find a man whom one can trust wholly and thoroughly. If things get worse and the passing of the gentleman is complete, we shall be able to trust no one.
We all know that this is so; we realise it every day of
1 The notion that rigid honesty and uprightness are essential attributes of the gentleman, seems to have been lost many years ago in England. This is probably owing to the fact that by no means the best trading and commercial conditions have prevailed for so long in this country. For instance, it was possible for that old ass Macaulay, writing in the Edinburgh Review in December 1831, to say of Charles I: "It would be absurd to deny that he was a scholar and a gentleman. . . . But he was false, imperious, obstinate," etc. This unwarrantable association by Macaulay of falsity with gentlemanliness never seems to have affected that writer's reputation in the least, because it did not strike the educated Englishman, even of that age, that the two were hopelessly incompatible. Charles I was either a gentleman, or he was false he could not be both But in a country in which uncontrolled trade and commerce prevail, the title "gentleman" evidently deteriorates just as surely as the genuine article itself does; hence, Macaulay, Puritan as he was, was able to betray the Puritan's notion of a gentleman.
I do not mean this as a bitter attack on tradesmen and men of commerce; these men have their uses and their merits like all parts of a great organisation. All I wish to emphasise is the fact that it would be just as ridiculous to expect grapes to grow in Iceland as to expect the soil created by trading and commercial conditions to rear the virtues of the gentleman. And when trading and commercial conditions will have become almost general, when the world will have been turned into a huge office with a factory adjoining, the very conditions upon which gentlemanly virtues depend for their growth and their stability will have long ceased to exist.
The man immersed in the struggle for life, and the man who emerges from it successfully, are not therefore necessarily despicable or the reverse. All I maintain about them is that they never can, and never ought to, be placed in any high position where absolute sincerity and absolute staunchness and constancy to principle are the only safeguards that a people can have against their betraying their trust. They are not essentially wrong men, they are simply wrong men for the places in question the high offices of a nation, the high positions of trust which all great administrations have to fill, and all posts in which magnanimity, sincerity and absolute rigidity of principle are pre-requisites.
I have referred to the relatively insignificant amount of peculation, corruption and malversation that was allowed or even overlooked during the time that Charles I and Strafford held the reins of government; but see what a change came over England when the Puritans and tradesmen triumphed! Even Needham, the Government historian, admits that three-quarters of the adherents of the Parliamentary party were worldlings, interested and not disinterested partisans, and as Dr. Cunningham declares:
The tragic feature connected with a democracy of uncontrolled Trade and Commerce is that it creates precisely the environment which is most poisonously unfavourable to the healthy growth and multiplication of the gentleman.
The next most important factor in the decline of morals and manners is the deleterious influence which an almost full share in the direction of foreign and even home affairs of State has upon the masses in a democratic country.
Since the publication of Machiavelli's Prince, opinion in Europe has been hopelessly divided upon one important point in connection with politics. This point is the relation of political to private morality.
Machiavelli says definitely that political and private morality are different things. He tells the ruler outright that "he need never hesitate to incur the reproach of those vices, without which his authority can hardly be preserved," 2 and that in certain circumstances a lie, an act of cruelty, of fraud, of deliberate subterfuge, of breach of faith, is often necessary and statesmanlike, 3 nay, that it is often the only powerful weapon a ruler is in a position to wield, and that such an act cannot and must not be judged from the standard of private morals. He says that for a prince or a statesman to act in his political capacity always according to the moral standard of his private life, would often mean the absolute ruin and Nemesis of the State he was ruling. He even goes so far as to say that though it may be useful for the ruler to appear to be acting always according to the moral precepts of private life, it would frequently be to his injury actually to do so. 4
1 The Growth of Industry and Commerce, Vol. II, p. 182.
2 See The Prince (translated by Ninian H. Thomson, M.A., 1898), pp. 111112.
3 Ibid., pp. III, 119, 126, 127, 138.
4 Ibid., p. 128. "It is not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above, but it is most
First among the opponents of Machiavelli are the Jesuits. This is strange, especially when one remembers their doctrine of the end justifying the means. Their opposition to Machiavelli, however, is perhaps best understood and esteemed at its proper worth when we realise their position. The Jesuits, admirable and profound as they are in their organisation, would have been the first to see that the sanction of super-morality in the State would be tantamount to endowing the secular body with powers with which they would find it difficult if not impossible to cope. In their struggle against all states on behalf of the Church, with the view of subjecting the former to the latter, it is comprehensible enough that they could ill abide the independence which Machiavelli claimed and recommended. We cannot, therefore, help but take their objections to the great Florentine secretary cum grano salis.
Again in the case of the Huguenots, fighting against the Crown of France, we are justified in suspecting motives which must have been far from purely moral. Their opposition to the Machiavellian doctrine was, to say the least, an interested one. If Machiavelli lent strength to their enemies, this was reason enough for condemning him.
Professor Villari mentions Giovanni Bodino, the author of the work De Republica, and Tommaso Campanella, a philosopher and Dominican Friar, as being also opposed to Machiavelli in doctrine; but by far the most interesting of the group of anti-Machiavellians are surely Frederick the Great of Prussia and Metternich.
The former, who throughout his reign at least acted as one of the most devoted followers of Machiavelli, actually wrote a book, Réfutation du Prince de Machiavel, in which
essential that he should seem to have them; I will venture even to affirm that if he has and invariably practises them all, they are hurtful, whereas the appearance of having them is useful."
Thus Frederick the Great, despite his sudden and unwarrantable attack on Maria Theresa, his conquest of Silesia, and his treaties of alliance so often broken without qualm or scruple, is able to work himself up into a fit of righteous indignation over the man who gives rulers the formulæ of these sometimes necessary state crimes. 1
Macaulay, being one of a similar northern stamp of mind, and overlooking the innumerable occasions when England has acted and triumphed entirely on Machiavellian lines, also works himself into a passion over the "immorality" of the Florentine; and with a sublime Puritanical stupidity, condemns the doctrine of The Prince with scorn. But what are we to expect from a writer who is so confused in his thought as to be able to say of one and the same man that he was a "gentleman" but "false"!
And now, who are the people on the other side the people who were lucid enough to realise that political morality and private morality are two different things, and
1 Frederick the Great's attitude in regard to Machiavelli's Prince is also open to another interpretation. We may, for instance, agree with Voltaire, who, in speaking of his great friend's book against Machiavelli, said: "Il a craché dans le pot pour en dégouter les autres." But, in any case, in order to mitigate the severity of the above censure, it should be remembered that Frederick was only twenty-seven when he wrote his Anti-Machiavel, and that so young a man is frequently guilty of an idealism which, fortunately, is often wont to leave him with maturity.
Among the earlier monarchs who are of this group we may mention Charles V of Germany, Henry III and Henry IV of France, and Queen Christina of Sweden. But among the men who really count, among the spirits who rise to the pinnacles of human greatness, we find Lord Bacon of Verulam, Richelieu and Napoleon, all of whom believed and defended Machiavelli's doctrine.
This should be sufficient for us. To all who believe, not in metaphysical discussion or the mere bandying of words, but in men; it ought to be enough that Napoleon and Richelieu held the view which Machiavelli upholds in The Prince the view that political deeds are not bound by any morality which governs private conduct. But, in truth, to all such people who are profound enough to make men and not disquisitions the measure of their choice in doctrine, Machiavelli's contention will seem the merest platitude. For what, at bottom, does it really mean? It means simply, in reference to internal politics, that the morals for the child cannot constrain or trammel the parent; and in reference to external politics, that the morals which rule the conduct of each individual member of the herd to his neighbour, cannot constrain or trammel the leader of the herd in his position of defender or assailant facing a hostile or strange herd.
You will say, perhaps, that this is obvious? You will point to a thousand instances in European and American and Asiatic history, in which this principle is exemplified, proved and justified. You will show how again and again, if the statesmen of England, or Germany, or America, had acted along the lines of merely private morality (i. e. morality within the herd), they would have belittled, impoverished and humiliated their country. Very true! But you must remember that there are hundreds and thousands of fools, including Macaulay, with motives far purer than those of the old Jesuits or the old Huguenots, and with minds a million times more confused than that
Let them say? Certainly! I merely thought it would be well to call attention to the fact that Machiavelli's doctrine however obvious has been attacked and opposed, because certain points in the argument which follows would be missed if this fact were not borne in mind.
Taking it for granted, then, that political deeds and promises and contracts cannot and must not be judged from the standpoint of private morality, what is the further conclusion to which we are driven?
An orderly state is one in which the intra-herd morality is strictly and peacefully observed by all citizens. Indeed an ideal state would be one in which the intra-herd morality had actually become instinctive in all those classes of citizens who are the better and the happier for having rigid and inexorable rules of conduct prescribed and laid down for them.
The honest, hardworking citizen, then, must regard his morality as the only morality. His private morality must, in his opinion, be that which, dictated by God and His angels, is right for all time. His simple faith in its efficacy, his simple trust that the practice of it however hard on occasion and however unrewarded it. may go for some time will ultimately be repaid, must never be shaken, lest the foundation of the nation's virtue be undermined.
Very well, then, a mind more subtle, a creature more cultured, a product of civilisation standing more firmly, more intellectually, more consciously on his legs than the simple citizen, will be required for that practice of the two moralities the private and the political without either of these suffering corruption from being placed side by side with the other in the same mind.
Not only the exoteric aspect of morality, but also its esoteric aspect, will have to be known to a man who, without running any risk of impairing his private moral-
The "gentleman" I have just described above, whose virtues of sincerity and steadfastness are as rigid in him as iron girders, can afford, for his Country's good, to. tinker with strategy, ruse, craft, deception and dissimulation, outside the herd, without any fear of upsetting his private morals. His effort in political morality is intellectual, conscious; neither his heart nor his spirit is involved, save in so far as his aim is a patriotic one. 1 But even the gentleman can prove at times too simple in his private virtue to be a match for foreign diplomatists, as history has sometimes shown.
That margin, however, which is permissible to one who stands firmly upon a solid bedrock of private morality, would be a dangerous concession to make to the simple citizen, whose constant struggle for existence forces him often enough to trespass against his private morality at the cost of his liberty if he be found out, and at the cost of his sleep if he merely fear lest he be found out.
For the private citizen to realise that there are two moralities, one which is intra-herd and the other which is inter-herd, would very quickly put an end to all virtue whatsoever; for his private morality, already in a weak position, would then be utterly routed. It could not bear the proximity of another morality at its side, which contradicted many of its most treasured tenets; the one would either corrupt the other completely or a wretched compromise would be contrived which was neither fish nor fowl, neither virtue nor vice.
1 Captain F. Brinkley, in his History of Japan (Vol. II, p. 198), gives an interesting instance in support of this contention, in which he shows how the Japanese "gentleman" was capable of practising the two moralities and keeping them separate. "It may be broadly stated," he says, "that moral principles received no respect whatever from framers of political plots or planners of ruses de guerre. Yet the Taiko, who stands conspicuous among Japan's great leaders for improbity in the choice of means to a public or military end, desired to commit suicide rather than survive the ignominy of failure to fulfil a pledge."
But this practice of two moralities is essentially the task which a democratic state imposes upon its simple citizens. And for this reason alone, from the standpoint of intra-herd morality, democracy must be regarded as profoundly, insidiously, dangerously immoral. However slight may be the share which the people of a democracy are called upon to take in the administration of, say, foreign affairs; however much the secret diplomacy may be conducted by the elected officials themselves; ultimately, if not immediately, the morality of the inter-herd attitude must become apparent to the multitude; their will must be exercised one way or the other as a sanction or a veto upon the negotiations; and it is then that the poison will enter their unresisting and feeble spirits.
The fact that democracy means the imposition of the practice of two moralities, often so incompatible, as that of politics and of private life upon the multitude, is one of the most immoral aspects of the democratic state; and when this state in addition is one of uncontrolled commerce and industry, in which unrestricted competition (Hobbes's bellum omnium contra omnes) is the prevailing rule, then the situation becomes absolutely hopeless. For unrestricted competition already introduces elements of inter-herd morality into the herd, and whatever participation in political morality the multitude may enjoy besides simply increases the forces of dissolution which are already reducing and destroying the fibre of intra-herd morality on which the prosperity of all great nations must repose.
The replies to this are obvious, and the ardent democrat may advance two, either of which I shall show to be equally deplorable.
This man is obviously beneath notice. He does not understand history or politics; not to speak of the very springs of his own actions. Let him ask himself how many states would ever have lasted more than three generations if their inter-herd negotiations had been governed by intra-herd principles. Let him ask himself why the Jesuits, profound as they were, detested and loathed Machiavelli. Does he suppose the Jesuits would have troubled themselves about the doctrines of this Florentine secretary if they had not perceived that in these doctrines there lay an inexhaustible fund of strength which might be drawn upon by any secular power with which they might some day find themselves in conflict?
Let such a man dwell for a moment upon the sentiment of the proverb, "Blood is thicker than water"; and then let him ask himself honestly whether those same scruples which animate him when he feels himself one of a body of men, all from the same home, can hold any sway over him when he is forced to face strangers and foreigners, and to safeguard the interest and the security of that same home against them.
But Democrat A.'s contention will find many to support it, and any weakness or humility that may enter into our negotiations with foreign powers will be due to the preponderance of men like Democrat A. in the nation and in the government. In fact signs are not wanting which show conclusively that Democrat A.'s view is growing extremely common in England; and the more the franchise is extended, the commoner it will become. For
Democrat B. declares, with a lump in his throat and a tear in his mild cerulean eye, that all the individuals constituting mankind form a brotherhood, and that if it is impossible to be strong and overwhelming as a nation without differentiating between intra-herd and inter-herd morality, then the sooner inter-herd morality is swept away the better, and this is precisely what democracy, with its inclusion of the voice of the multitude, aims at doing.
Democrat B. is more logical than Democrat A. He sees that inter-herd negotiations, to be strong, cannot be governed by the same morality as intra-herd negotiations; but, like the honest, simple citizen that he is, he feels himself unable to abandon the morality of private life and prefers to see the power, the will to power, the preservation of power in his nation go to the deuce, rather than that he should be called upon to have a share in that inter-herd morality which he scarcely understands;and emphatically detests.
This is an attitude which is also becoming more and more general, and all those who share Democrat B.'s outlook are likely in the future to be very hostile towards any high-handed or powerful act of inter-herd morality which the government in power may find it necessary to perform. In a nation that wishes to remain great and mighty, democrats of the stamp of B. are likely to prove a very dangerous weakening influence, because the only way of propitiating them involves the relinquishing of all that inter-herd licence in morality which is frequently the only weapon with which a state can hold its own.
Behind Democrats A. and B. there is a vast crowd of the ignorant, of the licentious, of the lax and of the dissolute, who can see in the principles of inter-herd morality simply a sanction for their own anti-social designs against
Thus we find modern democracy confronted with the following dilemma: either inter-herd morality must be sacrificed, in which case the nation's relation to other powers is bound to be weakened; or inter-herd morality is to be preserved, in which case the multitude who are invited to share in the government are bound to taste the forbidden fruit of a morality strange to intra-herd principles, and to lose their rigidity and their virtue in consequence. 1
The escape from this dilemma is, as a rule, as we see to-day, merely an utterly despicable compromise which only adds one more factor to the many already at work corroding the foundations of the Empire.
The last important phase in the decline of morals and manners in a Democracy of uncontrolled Trade and Commerce or at least the last to which I shall refer for my particular case 2 is the demoralising influence which is exercised by the materialistic principle of numbers, by the
1 For some interesting examples taken both from French and English history of the difficulties involved in the conduct of foreign affairs under a democracy, see Chapter XV in J. Holland Rose's valuable little book, The Rise of Democracy. The chapter concludes with these words: "If the United Kingdom is to recover its rightful influence in the world, it will not be merely by vast armaments, but by the use of different methods in foreign affairs from those which must necessarily prevail in our domestic concerns. An electorate which is largely inexperienced may, possibly for several decades, enthrone the principle of flux in our home politics, but that same electorate will assuredly learn by bitter experience that unless our foreign policy is firm and continuous, we shall remain without an ally, and be condemned possibly to an unequal struggle even for the maintenance of our present possessions."
2 I should like to remind the reader that I take it for granted that he is familiar with the usual arguments brought against democracy in the works of men like Lecky and Sir Henry Maine, and even in the works of democrats like Mill and Bentham, with most of which usual arguments I heartily concur.
At the basis of all democracies is the scheme of life which makes a majority omnipotent. And with a majority, the greatest wisdom, the profoundest insight and the most far-sighted judgment simply fight in vain.
There can be no definite right or wrong, no absolute 1 standard of good or evil, and no sacredness in superior wisdom, superior insight, superior foresight, or superior judgment, in a land where a mere majority can make all these things utterly null and void; and in such a land the intrinsic value of a principle, of a precept, or of a proposition, will be certain to be eclipsed by the extrinsic value which the favour of a mere majority can put upon its opposite, its contradiction or its refutation.
But, apart from the fatal effects of this fact alone, what are likely to be the consequences to the majority themselves of the exercise of this shallow and senseless power? It is obvious that a certain contempt of sound judgment, as such, and of taste and penetration, as such, will be bound to grow in such communities. For can these qualities do anything against numbers? In a country in which the constitution provides the means for outvoting a god, what can be thought of that wisdom, judgment and discrimination which in some human beings can attain almost the divine?
There are causes enough in all conscience, which are at work to-day, compassing the doom of the working-man's intelligence, but this principle of the omnipotence of majorities is surely the most potent of all. The best of the ancients would have laughed at the materialistic notion that the mere body weight behind a measure or a policy, or a judgment, was sufficient to sanctify nay, justify that measure, policy or judgment. But to-day, with absolute gravity and earnestness, with imperturbable calm and
1 To the thoughtful optimist flourishing life is the test of the absolute in all doctrine.
And the demoralising influence of this immoral creed of majorities, is the one which is most powerful to-day, not only in governments but wherever you turn and find men opposed to one another; so much so, indeed, that the masses are losing all the instinct, which they once possessed, of distinguishing intuitively between that which is superior and that which is inferior to them, save in mere numbers; so much so, that the masses are rapidly being turned into merely movable herds of cattle, a sufficient number of which it is necessary to drive bleating into one's pen, before one can dare to utter any truth, any warning or any prophecy, however deep, however sound and however urgent; so much so, that our only hope, our only trust can be that the masses themselves will one day halt, and, sick of being herded into the scales or into the pens of party and propaganda, and tired of bleating to order, will cry aloud for that saviour, that leader of men,
1 As Bluntschli says, in The Theory of the State (authorised translation, Clarendon Press), p. 194: "The real interests of the proletariat proper demand Patrons rather than representatives, which it cannot find in its own ranks. The higher the position and influence of the 'patron' the more effective would be the defence of the rights of the proletariat."