Typos p. 235: whatsover [= whatsoever]; p. 236: permissable [= permissible]; p. 241: humourous [= humorous]; p. 246: reponsible [= responsible]
The Degeneracy of Modern Man Part V
The Degeneration of Mind and Character continued
In a nutshell it is this: that, owing to the prevalence of sickness, debility and nervous exhaustion, there is no longer any lofty criterion concerning what is, and what is not, necessary, inevitable and desirable in art production. Irascibility, as I pointed out fifteen years ago, 1 but which only recently I have learnt to ascribe to faulty bodily co-ordination, by giving the modern generation a vague sense of injury and a general lack of well-being, causes every one to feel that he has "something to express." That which distinguishes the average artist from the rest of mankind is thus simply his greater lack of self-control. Particularly is this so in music, painting and literature. But to mistake the bulk of the "expressive" or "protesting" output in the sphere of art as a good sign, or as a proof of national riches, instead of as a sign of ex-
1 See my Nietzsche and Art, where I point to those traits in the modern artist, which, while being interpreted by himself and others as "artistic," are chiefly the result of deficient self-discipline plus a certain manual training. Thus the inability to resist the appeal of a "splash of colour," whether in a sunset or a field of poppies, is not nearly so often due to a creative impulse as to a pathological lack of self-discipline.
To-day, however, the only distinctions drawn are those between moral and unmoral art, or between that which pleases the chaotically conditioned public and that which displeases them, and no one reckons other differences. What is stigmatized as pornographic, whether it be a sculpture, a picture, or a book, is alone condemned, no matter whence it springs. No one dreams of inquiring whether exhaustion or mastered plenitude has operated in its production. But any other sort of crime against good taste, healthy values, and style is allowed to pass unchallenged. The bulk of novel writers, for instance, are not even yet aware that they themselves, and the people they depict, are degenerate; and would indignantly repudiate the suggestion if it were made to them.
But how can a degenerate age judge of what is exhaustion and chaos, and what is plenitude and mastery in Art? Criteria even of Art, therefore, must vanish in periods of low psycho-physical standards.
(4) The modern man's attitude towards sex is composed of several elements, each of which has its complex of causes and derivations. The remoter and deeper causes I shall deal with in a later chapter; 1 at present I shall merely describe the attitude, and its more immediate causes.
If the fame of modern England's achievements in other spheres were ever to perish, and be utterly forgotten, there would nevertheless be one fact about the English of to-day which would be certain to survive and be
1 See pp. 271303 ahead.
The modern Englishman stands before the fact of sex like a timid amateur, half guilty, half afraid, and no longer possessed even of the sound instincts which would prompt him to deal with it even as the healthy animal does. The key-note of his attitude was struck by that very English, but very thoughtful man, George Gissing, who, when he spoke of the new element that enters a man's life at puberty, referred to it as "the curse of sex." 1 Like Lecky, whom I have quoted, and who was in many ways also a typical Englishman, the average man to-day feels that "there is something degrading in the sensual part of our natures, something to which a feeling of shame is naturally attached," 2 and this feeling of shame, of which he is never able to rid himself, cools the source of his passion, and paralyses his natural spontaneity. At least, this is true of the majority of men of the wealthy, well-to-do, and comfortable classes in this country, and it is one of the worst blights that have overtaken English social life. It makes the sensual experiences of the women of the classes mentioned inadequate, constrained, and lacking in innocent voluptuousness, and is, therefore, a potent cause of nervous disorders among them. And, since they are frequently either too moral, or too timid to seek consolation elsewhere, or are prevented from doing so by the dearth of unconstrained and skilful lovers, they are either doomed to a life of resigned but aching discontent, or else forced to give vent to their pent-up feelings in Movements, Causes, or Welfare Work, and thus to find oblivion even if they cannot secure happiness.
1 See Morley Roberts, The History of Henry Maitland, which is based on Gissing's life.
2 See p. 127, ante.
Sometimes the modern man's shame is so great, and his body so atonic through physical degeneration, that he does not possess sufficient native vigour to react in any way whatsover to a woman, even when he is married to her, owing to the superior power of his traditional inhibitions. But at all events, even when he possesses the stamina to overcome these inhibitions, and in spite of his moral scruples, to react normally to women, his timidity, his lack of knowledge, and his clumsy inexpertness, make him a poor, an inferior, and exasperatingly inadequate initiator. How far, how unconscionably far he is from that art, regarded as the bare minimum by Sheik Nefzaiu, in his wonderful chapter on the essential preliminaries to sexual congress! 1 It is too often forgotten that the act of initiation in love involves not only a knowledge of the crude elements of sex, but also an understanding of those arts preliminary to sexual congress, which are perfectly natural, which can be observed in a rudimentary form in the animal kingdom, and without which the female's requisite psycho-physical excitement cannot be generated. These arts are pleasant, form an indispensable part of a genuine love experience, and what is more, should come quite instinctively to a man, unless he has had his mind poisoned and his natural impulses arrested by the sex-phobia of Christian and Puritanical values.
Proud of his knowledge of his car, and glad to be able to explain every detail of it to a patient listener, as a rule, however, he knows nothing about the mechanism, the working and the needs of a woman's body. Indeed,
1 See the delightful and scientifically sound work Le Livre d'Amour de l'Orient by Sheik Nefzaiu (French translation, Paris, 1922), Chapter V, 2nd part, pp. 758, which deals with the preliminaries to human sexual congress.
A further potent cause of timidity and incompetence in sex initiation is, of course, the absurd reverence which the average Englishman feels for the moral elevation and purity of his bride. Radically misunderstanding her, and the large area covered in her mind and body by sex-instincts, he feels that he would be guilty almost of desecration in letting himself go naturally and unconstrainedly with such a creature. Not having a notion of the desires that agitate her, of her eagerness and her curiosity, he is so deeply obsessed by his belief in his own moral turpitude and her freedom from any sensual velleity, that nothing but the straightforward act of procreation, divested of all preliminary and subsequent arts, ever strikes him as permissable. She is too much of a "lady" for anything else. Thus the whole relationship is vitiated. A sound physical basis to marriage becomes impossible, and nothing but the most resolute patience and forbearance on the woman's part (usually
1 If this is considered as exaggerated, let the reader peruse Marie Stopes' Married Love a book that has sold in so many thousands of copies, that it must be assumed that it meets an urgent and widefelt need in the population. There he will find ample confirmation of what I maintain above. On p. 32, for instance, this authoress says: "About the much more fundamental and vital problems of sex, there is a lack of knowledge so abysmal and so universal that its mists and shadowy darkness have affected even the few who lead us." The bulk of her teaching amounts to an attempt to make good the ignorance and stupidity of the natural initiator in sex the male partner.
It is this factor, this compound of Puritanism and a misunderstanding of woman's nature, that has done most to poison the relations of the sexes in England. And nothing will ever restore happiness to those relations, if the chief obstacles to a sound physical basis in marriage are not in the first place removed.
All the innocent, the maddening joy of sex, therefore, hardly ever comes the way of the English married couple. But since physical disabilities of all sorts, from false teeth to impure breath, greatly impair those close, those intimate and fusing relations, which complete sexual spontaneity insists upon, it is perhaps as well that Puritanical traditions keep a large number of unsavoury people from too ardent an expression of their passions.
Abstinence in sex, therefore, is a much more common occurrence among men, even of mature years, than seems to be generally recognized; and while it aggravates among them those serious disorders which, in any event, would proceed from their faulty co-ordination and their debility, it renders them, when they ultimately indulge, very inferior sexual partners. Lord Dawson of Penn has recently expressed the view that in England more harm is caused to young men by sexual abstinence than by indulgence; but very few people know the extent of that abstinence. It is not at all an uncommon thing to find men over thirty in this country who have never had any knowledge of woman, and the astonishing feature of this phenomenon is that both they themselves, and those about them, think that it is a very desirable because moral state of affairs. The fact that they may in the end have one or two children, means that, if acquired characteristics are transmitted, a progressive atrophy or diminution of sexual passion must inevitably occur in the race; and to judge from the tale that most young wives have to tell, and from the number of semi-eunuchs one encounters among the present generation
The essentially masculine rôle in sex initiation is therefore more often dreaded than coveted by men of almost all classes in England to-day hence possibly the enormous increase in divorces and prostitution, and the persistent high figure maintained in the statistics of widows who remarry, despite the increase in surplus women. Timidity, incompetence, ignorance, and above all shame, naturally lead men to shun the uninitiated girl, and to select the initiated woman, whether she is actually married, or a widow, or a prostitute; because anything is better than the ignominy of a bungled or unconsummated initiation. But divorces, prostitution, and the neglect of young girls for widows all these things are better in the eyes of the Puritan and the ignorant interfering spinster, than young men knowledgeable and artistic in sex matters; hence we may expect an increase of the tendency already established. Indeed this increase seems already to be perceptible.
Although each year the surplusage of women over men increases in England and Wales, which means that the number of eligible spinsters is very much more than adequate, the statistics show that the percentage of widows who remarry, instead of depreciating, remains more or less stationary. In the years of the war, in spite of the large disproportion of the sexes, the remarriages of widows increased far beyond any preceding figure, and in the decade 1914 to 1923, there were .9 per cent. more marriages of bachelors with widows than in the decade 185160. 1
True, widows increased appreciably during the years 191418 owing to the casualties. But so also did the
1 The number of widows remarried in recent years is as follows: 1918: 30,469; 1919: 40,229; 1920: 29,141; 1922: 23,778; 1923: 20,778.
This gives a total of 144,414 widows remarried in five years, when there were about 2,000,000 surplus women in the country.
With regard to divorces, the increase is notorious. They rose from an average of 277 for the years 187680, to an average of 1,509.6 for the years 191620, and in 1921 they reached the high figure of 3,522. This points not only to a possible increase of unhappiness in marriage, but also to a possible and probable increase in the fascination of the initiated woman for emasculate men, who fear the duty of sex-initiation. 1 This last fact, if it is a fact, would seem to argue progressive sexual degeneration in the male; while, in any case, his loss of mastery and of art in the sex relation, about which there appears to be no doubt in any knowledgeable person's mind, points to a decay of a natural instinct, through the stultifying influence of negative values, acting upon a widespread decline in stamina.
Why may we feel so certain that this ultimate victory of negative values over a natural and instinctive reaction points to a decline in stamina? Because the negative values have been the same for centuries, and the ignorance and loss of mastery in sex, about which such a writer as Marie Stopes, for instance, very rightly inveighs, is a modern and comparatively recent development. It is not therefore the values that have changed, but the native stamina, which hitherto enabled men to act naturally in spite of the values.
Now there is no feature about modern man which is more potent in provoking contempt in the female than precisely this loss of mastery in sex. Consciously or unconsciously, modern woman feels it as his most serious challenge to her esteem; for it must be remembered that as we pointed out in the first chapters, this sex relation belongs to the oldest and most respectable elements in
1 I am not aware of having seen this possible explanation of the increase of divorces advanced before; but I think it is worth considering. Of course, the increase is not all due to the infidelity of wives; but, as I have shown in Woman: A Vindication, the bulk of it certainly is.
The best proof of this is to compare the attitude of women in non-Puritanical countries with that of women in Puritanical countries. Owing to the Pagan tolerance of the Holy Catholic Church, almost the whole of Southern Europe, including a large part of France, is more or less free from the blight of sex-phobia and Puritanical values; whereas Northern Europe, with England and North America, is wholly a prey to these very influences. In the former area, there is no such thing as the uncontrollable and deep-rooted contempt of the male, which is to be found in the latter area; while the look of the men themselves differs as widely as does the attitude of their womenfolk. Examine an American or an English male tourist of mature years as he stands surrounded by natives either in Venice or Rome, in Madrid or in the Basque territory of North-eastern Spain. Compared with the southerner, he looks ascetic, pinched, oppressed and still boyish despite his adulthood in fact, rather like a monk in mufti; while the woman at his side may be seen to look restlessly about as if animated by a vague yearning for something the nature of which she is probably not even conscious of.
"Grey misery" it is indeed. Because, quite apart from the amount of joy that is lost as the result of this shelving and ignoring of sex, and this loss of innocence and serenity in the exercise of the sex functions, it should not be forgotten that the systematic dwarfing and impoverishment of the sex passions and instincts in both sexes, leads to an ultimate heavy loss in other very desirable qualities in the nation. For I am by no means alone in believing that among highly sexed people, some of the most desirable citizens on earth are to be found. 1
(5) The Englishman's attitude to woman has already been partly discussed in Chapter V. Here it will be necessary to deal only with those influences determining his attitude which have not yet been mentioned. They are (a) his insistence upon a humourous relation, (b) his lack of catholicity and versatility, (c) his reverence for chivalry, (d) his lack of penetration and psychological insight, and (e) his lack of will power.
(a) I have already discussed the insistence on humour and its relation to passion and religion. But it is important to notice that it not only has a bearing upon the sex-life, through the association of humour with a lack of passion, as already pointed out above, but that it also influences the rest of the relationship of man and woman. It colours the whole of their outlook, in this
1 At a debate I attended in the Essex Hall a year or two ago, which was held under the auspices of a Birth Control society, the senior gynæcologist of Guy's Hospital, Mr. Harold Chapple expressed this view, and I know that the eminent gynæcologist Mr. Norman Haire also holds it.
We have treated woman as a playmate, as a companion, as a fellow-golfer and tennis-player. We have expected her to be all these things and to roam the country with us on far too long rambles and to admire the view. We have called "jolly" the girls who could associate with us in this way without reminding us of sex or of the fact that they were fully-equipped females. The girl who could spend weeks and months with us in this way we have spoken of as one that "had no nonsense about her," meaning no passion so irrepressible as to be inconvenient. Thus we have forced even the girls "with nonsense about them" to behave like neuters, and the rest to look and act as if they had hardly any of the woman about them. These girls are humorous like ourselves, their stifled passions have been deflected
(b) The Englishman's lack of catholicity in tastes and of versatility in gifts makes him frequently look up to his mate as a prodigy of both general knowledge and general acumen. Women, owing to the fact that until quite lately they have escaped most of the specialist and routine tasks of bread winning, have retained more of their pristine catholicity of interests. While, therefore, they bewilder man with the range and glamour of their mental activities, they feel his limitations as tiresome and even exasperating. To find a complete male environment, therefore, they would be forced to have about them many males of various callings. The modern specialist and specialized male no longer fills their lives can no longer, in fact, give them a full life. Moreover, he is aware of his limited range. He becomes, through repeated humiliations, subjected by the broader scope of his mate's adaptations. He may feel no interest, or very little, in poetry, in human nature, in art. His speciality, and the specializing above all of his ancestors, may have forced him to concentrate on one point of existence, to the exclusion of all else. He may love this narrow specialization. This, however, only makes him the more helpless before the nimble versatility of
(c) The Englishman's reverence for the modern notion of chivalry which is summed up by the tag "play the game," is inculcated upon him at school, and it makes him an easy victim of his female circle. There is nothing more admirable than a chivalrous spirit that spirit which arose in Europe in feudal times, and which makes it incumbent upon the superior and the stronger to protect the weaker from all molestation and assault, and to meet for him or her all the difficulties with which the weaker cannot reasonably be expected to cope. And it would be an excellent thing if chivalry in this sense were more widely practised. Perhaps the finest exponents of chivalry in the whole world were the old Maoris of New Zealand, who would never continue a fight if their opponent were at the slightest disadvantage from the lack of food or water, or from inability through lack of time to collect and tend their wounded. How this chivalry on the part of the Maoris was exploited by English
1 In his Decline of Liberty in England Mr. Haynes gives many examples of this.
Now it is obviously the chivalrous thing for a man to hold himself reponsible for his womenfolk. To decline responsibility here is to do precisely what the knight of old least wished to do. Chivalry was the responsible side of Feudalism. But how can a man make himself responsible without occasionally at least on matters where his responsibility is likely to be called to account having his way?
There is thus an apparent contradiction between ideal or practical chivalry the only chivalry that matters and which is the willingness to be held responsible for some one weaker or more dependent than oneself, and that other idea of chivalry, which is modern, false and sentimental, and which practically amounts to a renunciation of any right to prevail over a woman whether or not she be one's spouse.
How does the Englishman extricate himself from this dilemma? Very simply. He maintains his sentimental notion, that it is not chivalrous, or "the game," to prevail over a woman, and is therefore committed to the necessary corollary of giving up responsibility. This is being done more and more, and even the law is being altered to make the change more complete and more effectual.
Thus we have on the one hand, in the average married
She, moreover, knows that, just as he likes to be thought humorous, he also wishes to be considered what is vulgarly called a "sport." And, if ever he ventures to thwart her, he is quickly brought to heel, by being menaced with the immediate loss of his reputation for "sportiness." When women want their way and they usually will have it, if they are allowed they are little concerned about "playing the game." In fact they are not, as I say, expected to play it. Consequently, when they are confronted by a man whose pride lies in his "chivalry," their victory is always assured. When, in addition, we remember that almost the whole of popular and learned opinion in England supports this insensate interpretation of "chivalry," and that the woman feels this background of sympathy behind her, we cannot be surprised that guidance, responsibility and authority in the home, if not also everywhere else, has passed almost entirely into the hands of women.
Frequently it happens (Gissing mentions an instance, doubtless drawn from life) that a woman may crave to be mastered; when, in the midst of a storm of tears, stamping of angry feet, and offensive remarks, she may wonder why her man does not at last impose his will with violence, and half wishes he would. 1
1 Even Charles I, whose character as a gentleman no one, not even Macaulay, has ever questioned, found it necessary on one occasion to use violence with Queen Mary. The incident occurred at Whitehall, in the summer of 1626, when the Queen's French retinue were expelled
This so-called "chivalry," too, is a sign of mental softening; for the man of strong character not only insists upon being chivalrous in the right sense that is to say, responsible for his dependants, but he also wishes the essential correlative to that condition, which is the right to guide and to have his way where his responsibility is likely to be called to account.
(d) The Englishman's lack of penetration and of psychological insight, by which he repeatedly misunderstands the motivation and general background of his mate's behaviour her complaints, her moods, her hints, her rebukes, and her provocative moments, arises from the fact that generations of routine work, routine games, and routine interests, have robbed him of normal alertness and awareness. The discussion of psychological problems, like too keen an interest in humanity in general,
by the King's orders. Queen Mary was so much enraged that she broke a window, and Charles "was obliged to use all his masculine strength to control his incensed partner, by grasping her wrists in each hand." (See Strickland, Queens of England, Ed. 1865, Vol. IV, p. 169.) And yet Charles and Mary, as every historian knows, were a devoted couple until the end, and Charles was a model husband. We must remember, however, that this happened in the seventeenth century.
1 I have attempted to work out the general problem of physical mastery in the male in my novel French Beans, published in 1923.
Clearly, it must be most difficult to respect anyone who, at every moment of the day, misunderstands one's least cryptic allusion, believes one's most palpable lie, and accepts one's moral indignation at its face value. (Moral indignation ought always to be regarded as a suspicious manifestation in anybody, but in a woman, it is doubly so.) But all these things the average Englishman will do with unfailing regularity, until his wife, if she wishes to be understood, is forced to plain-speaking and truth truth! By that time, however, a doctor is usually in attendance, and a holiday may be prescribed
1 J. S. Mill, probably as the result of introspection, readily acknowledged this. In his Subjection of Women (Chapter III, Section 14) he wrote: "An Englishman is ignorant respecting human nature."
2 I can imagine the indignant protests that the average managing matron will make on reading this sentence. But by their works, not by their words, should these women be judged. What does their behaviour imply respect or disrespect? That is the question.
(e) The best Englishmen, as a rule, have displayed no lack of will. In their dealings with men, indeed, they have shown a surprising amount of it. The word of command that does not necessarily wound or frighten, but at once secures obedience, is essentially an English characteristic. Nevertheless, I do not think it can be doubted that the will power, at least of the governing classes, is declining, because there has been such a relaxation of discipline all through the nation in recent years, that it is impossible not to suspect a serious loss of will in the ranks of those who set the tone and the example to the rest of the community. What is perfectly certain, however, is the fact that in their relationship with women, the Englishmen of to-day have to all intents and purposes relinquished the power of will entirely. Whether they still possess that power as their ancestors did and voluntarily abjure its use, however, or whether they no longer possess it in the same degree, may be a debatable point; but certain it is that one might have to travel far nowadays before coming across a man like Matthew Bramble in Humphrey Clinker who could, when provoked, round on a cantankerous, vain, and tyrannical old spinster like Tabitha Bramble, and secure her prompt obedience. In spite of the advantage which the majority of men have enjoyed until quite recently, and which millions still enjoy, of being the sole economic support in their own household, it is comparatively rare to find that they also succeed in exercising any authority over those who are dependent on them. And it is one of the strange anomalies of English life that direction and the power of having their own way in all things, has passed almost entirely into the hands of the female section of the married community. Not that we wish to imply by authority an arbitrary exercise of power that overrules all reasonable objection. Authority in the home is something very different. When it is right
It is difficult to account for this paralysis of masculine will in the presence of women. Is it possibly the outcome of the romantic view of women, discussed in the fifth chapter, where I showed how the alleged greater morality, purity and "unselfishness" of women, cowed the morally oppressed man, and made him feel inferior? 1 Or is it merely the result of the false interpretation of chivalry discussed in the last section, coupled with the loss of prestige which has come with man's intellectual and physical decline? I am inclined to believe that all these factors have operated in bringing it about, but I am also persuaded that there has been, in any case, an absolute loss of will-power among the men of the nation,
1 The fact that this supposed superior morality of women is influencing our lives very much more than we know, is shown by the turn legislation is taking. It is always presumed that woman has to be protected against man's wickedness and never that man has to be protected against woman's wickedness. Thus, while women are dealt with extremely leniently by the courts, and it is almost impossible for a man to win a case against a woman, even when he is loo per cent. right, the legislature itself is reflecting this absurd misunderstanding of woman's moral nature by framing laws that always give women an unfair advantage against men. This was recognized by Mr. H. C. A. Bingley, the Marylebone magistrate, as recently as February 21, 1926, when, dealing with a male applicant who asked for his advice concerning the impossible behaviour of his wife, Mr. Bingley said: "This is another instance of legislation which is all in favour of the woman and disregards the rights of the man." After consulting the new "Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1925," he declared that, just as in the "Guardianship of Infants Act," the woman's powers had been increased, and the man had been left with nothing. "It seems hard," said the magistrate, "but I have no power to help you. . . . It is always 'Heads I win, tails you lose' for the woman nowadays." But how can anything else be expected when the popular and the learned minds believe in the absurd myth about the moral superiority of women? See Daily Press, February 1922, 1926.)
Nothing, at all events, is more pathetic than an attempt at a display of volition which fails through lack of those essential accompaniments, prestige, superior wisdom, proved reliability, sexual mastery and vigour, and strength of character; and a man who, as often happens nowadays, feels that he has to look up to his female partner, owing to his consciousness of the many humiliations or defeats he has suffered in her presence in the sphere of intellect, wise judgment, taste, sexual experience, or what-not, had far better abstain from any such attempt at self-assertion.
On the whole, then, as we have seen, the modern man's attitude to woman is of a kind that places him at a constant and very serious disadvantage; but there is little hope of improving the situation until his physical condition is improved, his moral superstitions are destroyed, his notions of chivalry are corrected, and his sexual powers and arts are greatly enhanced; for of all men who wish to have their way in their own homes, that man will succeed least who, while possessing every other gift, yet lacks the oldest and most impressive of masculine claims to authority sexual vigour and mastery. Whatever prudish women may say, there is nothing which more utterly destroys a woman's faith and trust in man than precisely deficiency in this department; and that is one of the reasons why Puritanism, and the systematic reduction of man's sexuality, as I show in my Lysistrata, were bound to lead to Feminism.
Dealing with the moral superstitions first, it must be clear to every one that, in England and countries like England, where a good deal of shame and guilt attaches to the sex-impulses, the child enjoys an astonishing amount of false and quite unnecessary prestige, owing to the fact that it is supposed to be "innocent," or rather, not yet polluted by the sex life. Thus we should expect to find, what we actually see to-day a degree of reverence shown to the child, which is as absurd as it is ruinous of proper discipline. This attitude, which is adopted with more than customary ferocity by the spinster, amounts in certain cases almost to child-worship. The alleged "purity" of children, which is of course all nonsense, is entirely based upon this shame and guilt of the adult in regard to sex functions, and leads to an enormous amount of harmful adulation and corruption of children.
The moral adult's will becomes paralysed in the presence of the child's supposed "moral superiority," just as the moral man's will becomes paralysed before the alleged "moral superiority" of woman; and much is done and said by adults before children which goes a long way towards destroying the natural order of rank separating maturity from immaturity. Children are now very largely undisciplined, impudent and exacting, not only in the presence of adults, but in all circumstances, because they feel the intense admiration, tacit or avowed, which colours every one of the adult's relations to them. 1
1 See Arthur Ponsonby, The Decline of Aristocracy, p. 90, where, speaking of the Victorian aristocrats, the author says: "In the middle of the nineteenth century, they still ruled their children with the method of stern, if not tyrannical discipline. Time has still to show whether the reverse plan of giving the first place to children is going to be more successful." And on p. 170 the author adds: "Speaking more generally, there is undoubtedly a widespread tendency to avoid responsibility, or to misuse or to renounce the particular authority which parents alone can wield."
In a word, the nursery is exalted at the expense of the bedroom, and this spirit colours the whole of the world's subsequent attitude to the child. It is a spirit which is encouraged by the body of public opinion represented by masses of spinsters, masses of married Puritans, male and female, and by every Christian sect, from the Church of England to the most obscure one-chapelled subdivision of Nonconformity. It is a spirit wholly supported by the Judicial Bench and by every official act and utterance in the country, and it has received its classical poetical form in Wordsworth's famous Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. In this poem, Wordsworth depicts the child as "trailing clouds of glory" from its original habitat "God, who is our home." He also assures us that "Heaven lies about us in our infancy," and that as we grow up this "heavenliness," this "purity" gradually departs until "at length the Man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day!" The whole of the fifth stanza of this Ode, in fact, is worth reading for the light it sheds on Wordsworth's own psychology and sex-phobia; and there is probably a no more monumental record of the Anglo-Saxon misunderstanding of childhood than these nineteen lines of English verse.
How refreshing it is, therefore, after reading the Intimations of Immortality, to come across Robert Browning's much more profound interpretation of the
Addressing Luitolfo in A Soul's Tragedy, Ogniben says: "There I will tell everybody; and you only do right to believe you must get better as you get older. All men do so; they are worst in childhood, improve in manhood, and get ready in old age for another world. Youth, with its beauty and grace, would seem bestowed on us for some such reason as to make us partly endurable till we have time for really becoming so of ourselves, without their aid, when they leave us. The sweetest child we all smile on for his pleasant want of the whole world to break up, or suck in his mouth, seeing no other good in it would be rudely handled by that world's inhabitants if he retained those angelic infantile desires when he had grown six feet high, black and bearded."
This seems somewhat to redeem Wordsworth, and, incidentally, to vindicate the reputation of Englishmen for profundity and vision. But how many know, love and can quote the fifth stanza of Wordsworth's Ode, for every one or two who read, understand and appreciate the truth of Ogniben's last speech in A Soul's Tragedy?
Again here, therefore, we encounter not only a lack of ordinary human instinct and shrewdness, even among cultivated men, but also a decay of common sanity, which we must reckon with in any attempt to account for the faults and failures of our education of children, and any reduction of discipline in the junior members both of the poorer and the well-to-do classes. And, seeing that this reduction in discipline is felt throughout life, and leads to a good deal of the disorder of modern adult life, we must not imagine that its evils are confined to childhood.
Regarding the second component in the modern Englishman's attitude towards children, it is a little more difficult to speak without giving offence, for it relates to one of the most secret and most prevalent of the results of diminished sexual vigour.
This conflict leads to the following curious results that, while they are not in the least comfortable about the whole of the sex life, feel no mastery in it, and would not be greatly inconvenienced if they never experienced it, they nevertheless covet that positive proof of manhood and vitality which the procreation of a child enables them to give to the world at large. And it is their very doubt about themselves and their manhood that makes them so strongly covet this positive proof. To this large and ever increasing body of young men in the modern world, the child is thus not a chance or happy result of a passionate love relation, but a deliberately sought tangible certificate of potency, which frequently they can ill afford, which they parade before their friends at every conceivable opportunity, and which among the poorer classes greatly complicates their own and their wife's difficulties in a modest and often ill-provided household. This is the meaning of an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon the large number of quite passionless and even seriously debilitated people who are to be seen pressing their offspring upon the notice of their friends and acquaintances, and often upon strangers, with every sign of intense personal satisfaction in the display. It should never be forgotten that they
These people who quite dispassionately add to our present excessive population could, on temperamental, eugenic and frequently also on economic grounds, quite easily refrain from perpetuating their stock or continuing their utterly undesirable conditions. And, as one looks into their faces, one frequently wonders what could possibly have induced them, when passion drove so little, to burden themselves at the present day, with such unwelcome extra claims upon their meagre physiques and often equally meagre resources. When, however, their offspring is seen in the light of a necessary buttress to their self-esteem, a buttress which mere marriage does not provide with nearly the same sensational conviction, the anomaly is explained, and the multiplication of the "many-too-many" in these passionless days, receives a new and entirely modern sanction.
Such men always retain a distorted relationship to the child; because it has brought them such exaggerated, such unexpected satisfaction and assurance. The more noble among them, who have that rare quality gratitude, never forget either what they owe to the child, or their duty to repay, and the consequence is, the body of Wordsworthians is swelled by recruits who, while they end in the same follies as Wordsworth, approach the Wordsworthian position from a different direction.
The above three influences leading to exorbitant child-worship were bound to arise with sex-phobia and depreciated vitality, and we find the former, at least, all over Europe. Schiller wrote an essay about its existence in Germany over a hundred years ago, 2 and showed with
1 In certain sections of the labouring classes, which I have had opportunities of studying, it is by no means uncommon for a thrifty but sensitive man to be driven to fatherhood before he is prepared to meet its obligations, merely because of the chaff he gets from friends and relatives.
2 Ueber Naïve und Sentimentalische Dichtung. (The essay was first published in 17956.)
I am tempted to speak of many other evidences of the degeneration of mind and character in modern man, but must now draw this section rapidly to a close for want of space. For instance, I might expatiate on the following:
(1) The lack of solidarity among men, which makes it impossible to maintain a friendship with a man, when his wife has some reason for disliking one; whereas, when it is merely the husband who has some reasons for disliking one, the friendship with the wife may continue uninterruptedly with the husband's concurrence. 1 The lack of solidarity among men is also displayed by the inability men show to keep each other's confidences secret. This is now almost universal.
(2) The too rapid reactions of modern men, and their lack of control. This trait which is largely the result of nervous exhaustion, is frequently interpreted as intellectuality or artistic sensitiveness. It manifests itself in restless interest, incapacity for silence and meditation, quick undignified bodily movements, and an increasing weakness of character through a too rapid response to environment.
(3) The too speedy absorptivity of modern men, so that they too readily assimilate strange thought and opinion. This is coupled with a lack of resistance both physiological and psychological, and with a so-called "thirst for knowledge." Imitativeness, feminine receptivity, and sequaciousness are the result, and leadership becomes impossible. This is so un-English that its prevalence points to a serious decline in the English character.
1 This is not, as might be supposed, entirely due to the wife's domestic power over the xenial side of Friendship, but also to her ability in modern homes to select her own and her husband's friends.
(5) The increasing tendency to obtain vivid experiences at second-hand, either through literature or the stage. This denotes a decline of appetite and vitality, when it is not merely a sign of repression and the desire for catharsis.
(6) The tendency to identify pleasant statements with true statements. This is also a feminine trait, but it is becoming more and more common among men. It makes the smooth-tongued demagogue powerful with the crowd, and makes it difficult for a man to move a body of his fellows if he is truthful.
(7) The tendency to accept praise or blame from women in regard to artistic or other performances, and to regard such praise or blame as a reliable estimate of one's worth. The personal and sexual factor in all women's judgments of men's performances is thus overlooked, and a man who speaks, writes or paints, however insignificantly, thus often lays to the credit of his wit and intelligence what he ought really to lay merely to the credit of his sexual attraction. The modern world is full of such men, who have a completely distorted notion of their worth, owing to having repeatedly entered to the credit of the wrong account adulation received from their womenfolk. To scorn the judgment of women, however, no matter how adulatory it is, proves, I admit, dangerous nowadays, because women have become very powerful. But they have only become powerful through the suffrages of those men who accept.
1 Only within the last forty years seven new orders, two new decorations, and several new medals (not war medals) have been instituted. (See Arthur Ponsonby, The Decline of Aristocracy, p. 124.)
(8) The inability to make a damaging admission about oneself. This is also a feminine trait, but it is becoming ever more and more characteristic of the male sex also. It explains why most men and women among the audiences I have addressed on the subject of degeneration, have always taken it for granted that I must be excluding myself from the general charge. Until I told them I was not excluding myself a piece of information that invariably astonished them -they naturally thought, being modern, that I would not make a charge so humiliating to modern pride, without regarding myself as unimplicated in it.
(9) The tendency is also increasing to judge men, not on their merits, but according to how far one can purr and feel comfortable and pleased with oneself in their presence. This is also a feminine trait that has now become very common among men. No woman can think well of a man who has snubbed her, however great he may be (example: Madame de Staël and Napoleon). Such an attitude is, however, unpardonable in a man, who ought to discount vanity from his judgment. A man should be rigid and settled enough in his judgments to exclude his personal reaction from his estimate of another's character and merits. He should, for instance, be able to despise a man who has done him only kindnesses, and admire a man who has done him only unkindnesses, if disdain and admiration were deserved by each respectively, apart from his own experience at their hands. But this hardly ever occurs to-day. Every man, like every woman, asks himself, consciously or unconsciously: "What is my relation to this man? How has he treated me?" And, according to whether the answer is favourable or unfavourable, he admires or despises him. This is, however, the slave's attitude, and the woman's attitude. But it is quite unworthy of man.
I could not, however, refrain from paying a high tribute to her gifts, and spoke very enthusiastically of her versatility and brilliance. Now the reader will, I hope, believe me when I add, that the whole of the company present, both men and women, immediately concluded, from the way I had praised her attainments and gifts, that I must be wishing to become reconciled to her, although I had not the slightest intention of doing so, and have never done so to this day.
Nobody in the relation of an enemy can, according to the slave or to woman, possess any desirable quality, hence the unfounded expectations of the company on the occasion I speak of. They thought I could no longer be regarding the lady as an enemy because I spoke highly of her. It was excusable in the women, but quite inexcusable in the men.
(10) Finally, I would refer to the decline in intelligence, which I think can be shown to have occurred in all classes of the community. This is generally denied with great heat, even by whose who are willing to acknowledge that so-called "physical degeneration," as apart from "mental degeneration" is a well-established fact; and in this way the modern world seeks to justify and vindicate its right to esteem. For it argues that, although our bodies may be in a sad plight, our minds have never been more brilliant and more fertile.
Nevertheless, there is much evidence pointing to the conclusion that intelligence is really declining, and such works as Mr. Lothrop Stoddard's Revolt Against Civilization and Mr. Arthur Ponsonby's The Decline of
One does not require to be pessimistically inclined in order to see in the increasing power of the demagogue and of the press, a substantial falling off of vigorous and independent thought among the masses, while in the lack of leading personalities among the governing sections of the community, and of constructive ideas in modern politics, adequate demonstration is to be found of a similar condition among the more cultivated classes.
One of the most convincing proofs of intellectual deterioration, however, is the remarkable standardization of opinion and taste that has been made possible within recent years. This would not be so bad, if those who were affected by it. were aware of it. But what increases the suspicion that a process of general besotment is in progress, is the fact that the very people whose thoughts and opinions on almost all subjects have been standardized are not in the least aware that they are not exercising the right of private judgment with complete originality and independence.
Any kind of false conclusion, whether scientific or artistic, if it be sufficiently widely circulated and advertised, will quickly become public opinion to-day, without any attempt on the part of the public to apply realistic tests of its validity before accepting it. Reputations are made, commercial products are bought in enormous quantities, and false values about life and culture are assimilated, by the mere repetition and emphatic restate-
1 For the decline in intelligence among the masses, see the whole of the former work, and for the decline of intelligence among the governing classes see the latter work, especially pp. 23, 128, 135, 139 and 141. "Even in fighting the battle to retain their ascendancy," says Mr. Ponsonby, "the nobility and aristocracy showed themselves as a body, with a very few individual exceptions, poorly equipped intellectually, blind, and ill-informed." (Op. cit., p. 135.) Another useful work that should be consulted by the reader, on the subject of physical and mental decay, is R. Austin Freeman's Social Decay and Regeneration (Constable & Co., 1921).
Thus the right of private judgment, which is inherent not only in Protestantism, but also in the genuine particularist character of the Anglo Saxon, is now no more than a myth. We have mass-thought and opinion imposed on the population, in the same way as are their standardized manufactured boots, and any attempt at raising them from their hypnotic condition, by stating truths that are incompatible with their standardized intellectual pabulum, is to earn the reputation of insanity or crankiness. The immense power of advertisement at the present day is only made possible through the servile suggestibility and absence of independent judgment among the masses, and the magic of a name sufficiently often repeated reveals the hypnotic nature of this power.
Let any reader try such experiments as I have tried. Let him make it a rule for six months to ask, wherever he may happen to be, in high society or low, the opinion of some representative personality on say (a) the value of humour, or (b) the extent to which the late war disproved and invalidated the charge of degeneracy made against modern man, or (c) the question whether modern man, though perhaps possessing less animal stamina than his ancestor, is not growing every year more intellectual, or (d) whether old armour does not show that we of modern England are bigger and finer men than our ancestors were, etc. If he does not find an extraordinary amount of unanimous though false opinion on all these questions shared equally by high and low (among the lower strata, of course, he is not likely to hear anything at all about armour, because they have never heard of it), he will need to congratulate himself on frequenting the most exceptional and most self-determined individuals of his age.
There is some reason to believe that, at least among the masses, elementary education is responsible for a
With regard to the wealthier classes, the same causes are no doubt operating with the same effect, and some of the figures given by Mr. Ponsonby in his Decline of Aristocracy, regarding the reduction in the successful entrants to the Civil Service from the families of the governing classes, are significant in this respect. Naturally
1 See Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, 1920.
2 See Reports of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education for 1921, 1922, and 1923. Some of the data have already been given in a previous chapter.
1 For an incomplete but fairly extensive enumeration of the blunders and incompetencies of this class during the nineteenth century see my Defence of Aristocracy.
2 See E. S. P. Haynes, The Decline of Liberty in England, p. 26.
Now it must be perfectly obvious that no such substantial deterioration in the mind and body of man as I have described, could possibly have occurred, without greatly disturbing the normal balance of the sexes, even if woman had degenerated equally with man in mind and body. Seeing, however, that for the reasons already given at the end of Chapter VII, and in view of other reasons to be discussed later, woman has not degenerated equally with man, or has at least escaped some of the worst consequences of modern degeneration; and, seeing moreover, that the kind of degeneration which has occurred in man, particularly that of his sexual vigour, sexual instincts, character and intellect, is of a nature specially to provoke the contempt and ridicule of the other sex, we are justified, I think, in assuming that the present attitude of woman both to the sex question, to the status of her sex, and to man in general, is largely, if not wholly, due to man's own very definite loss of ground, both in the physical and the mental sphere; and that no alteration in the sex war, and no enhancement, above all, in the authority, prestige and dignity of man, can possibly be expected until some headway has been made in the regeneration of mankind as a whole and of the male sex in particular.
Woman's respect for man, like her trust in him, has gone and we have seen that there is ample justification for this phenomenon. If, however, our thesis is sound, and we are right in believing that it is quite impossible to run the world successfully and desirably, except under the guidance of first-class male material, let us be quite sure that we thoroughly understand our present position.
While regarding the present contempt of our women-
It now only remains to deal with those causes of modern degeneration which I have not yet discussed, and then to turn to the more pleasant but more difficult task of enumerating those measures which, according to my view, and the view of many men very much more qualified than myself to speak with authority on the question, may help us to achieve our regeneration even at this late stage in our history.