Friday, 2 October 2009
The two parts of this essay originally appeared as articles in the Stockholm newspaper, Dagens
Nyheter, on November 9 and 11, 1954.
Mankind is in mortal peril, and fear now, as in the past, is inclining men to seek refuge in God. Throughout the West there is a very general revival of religion. Nazis and Communists dismissed Christianity and did things which we deplore. It is easy to conclude that the repudiation of Christianity by Hitler and the Soviet Government is at least in part the cause of our troubles and that if the world returned to Christianity, our international problems would be solved. I believe this to be a complete delusion born of terror. And I think it is a dangerous delusion because it misleads men whose thinking might otherwise be fruitful and thus stands in the way of a valid solution.
The question involved is not concerned only with the present state of the world. It is a much more general question, and one which has been debated for many centuries. It is the question whether societies can practise a sufficient modicum of morality if they are not helped by dogmatic religion. I do not myself think that the dependence of morals upon religion is nearly as close as religious people believe it to be. I even think that some very important virtues are more likely to be found among those who reject religious dogmas than among those who accept them. I think this applies especially to the virtue of truthfulness or intellectual integrity. I mean by intellectual integrity the habit of deciding vexed questions in accordance with the evidence, or of leaving them undecided where the evidence is inconclusive. This virtue, though it is underestimated by almost all adherents of any system of dogma, is to my mind of the very greatest social importance and far more likely to benefit the world than Christianity or any other system of organised beliefs.
Let us consider for a moment how moral rules have come to be accepted. Moral rules are broadly of two kinds: there are those which have no basis except in a religious creed; and there are those which have an obvious basis in social utility. In the Greek Orthodox Church, two godparents of the same child must not marry. For this rule, clearly, there is only a theological basis; and, if you think the rule important, you will be quite right in saying that the decay of religion is to he deprecated because it will lead to the rule being infringed. But it is not this kind of moral rule that is in question. The moral rules that are in question are those for which there is a social justification independently of theology.
Let us take theft, for example. A community in which everybody steals is inconvenient for everybody, and it is obvious that most people can get more of the sort of life they desire if they live in a community where theft is rare. But in the absence of laws and morals and religion a difficulty arises: for each individual, the ideal community would be one in which everybody else is honest and he alone is a thief. It follows that a social institution is necessary if the interest of the individual is to be reconciled with that of the community. This is effected more or less successfully by the criminal law and the police. But criminals are not always caught, and. the police may be unduly lenient to the powerful. If people can be persuaded that there is a God who will punish theft, even when the police fail, it would seem likely that this belief would promote honesty. Given a population that already believes in God, it will readily believe that God has prohibited theft. The usefulness of religion in this respect is illustrated by the story of Nahoth's vineyard where the thief is the king, who is above earthly justice.
I will not deny that among semi-civilised communities in the past such considerations may have helped to promote socially desirable conduct. But in the present day such good as may be done by imputing a theological origin to morals is inextricably hound up with such grave evils that the good becomes insignificant in comparison. As civilisation progresses, the earthly sanctions become more secure and the divine sanctions less so. People see more and more reason to think that if they steal they will be caught and less and less reason to think that if they are not caught God will nevertheless punish them. Even highly religious people in the present day hardly expect to go to Hell for stealing. They reflect that they can repent in time, and that in any case Hell is neither so certain nor so hot as it used to be. Most people in civilised communities do not steal, and I think the usual motive is the great likelihood of punishment here on earth. This is borne out by the fact that in a mining camp during a gold rush, or in any such disorderly community, almost everybody does steal.
But, you may say, although the theological prohibition of theft may no longer be very necessary, it at any rate does no harm since we all wish people not to steal. The trouble is, however, that as soon as men incline to doubt received theology it comes to be supported by odious and harmful means. If a theology is thought necessary to virtue and if candid inquirers see no reason to think the theology true, the authorities will set to work to discourage candid inquiry. In former centuries, they did so by burning the inquirers at the stake. In Russia they still have methods which are little better; but in Western countries the authorities have perfected somewhat milder forms of persuasion. Of these, schools are perhaps the most important: the young must be preserved from hearing the arguments in favour of the opinions which the authorities dislike, and those who nevertheless persist in showing an inquiring disposition will incur social displeasure and, if possible, be made to feel morally reprehensible. In this way, any system of morals which has a theological basis becomes one of the tools by which the holders of power preserve their authority and impair the intellectual vigour of the young.
I find among many people at the present day an indifference to truth which I cannot but think extremely dangerous. When people argue, for example, in defence of Christianity, they do not, like Thomas Aquinas, give reasons for supposing that there is a God and that He has expressed His will in the Scriptures. They argue instead that, if people think this, they will act better than if they do not. We ought not therefore-so these people contend-to permit ourselves to speculate as to whether God exists. If, in an unguarded moment, doubt rears its head, we must suppress it vigorously. If candid thought is a cause of doubt, we must eschew candid thought. If the official exponents of orthodoxy tell you that it is wicked to marry your deceased wife's sister, you must believe them lest morals collapse. If they tell you that birth control is sin, you must accept their dictum however obvious it may be to you that without birth control disaster is certain. As soon as it is held that any belief, no matter what, is important for some other reason than that it is true, a whole host of evils is ready to spring up. Discouragement of inquiry, which I spoke of before, is the first of these, but others are pretty sure to follow. Positions of authority will be open to the orthodox. Historical records must he falsified if they throw doubt on received opinions. Sooner or later unorthodoxy will come to be considered a crime to be dealt with by the stake, the purge, or the concentration camp. I can respect the men who argue that religion is true and therefore ought to be believed, but I can only feel profound moral reprobation for those who say that religion ought to be believed because it is useful, and that to ask whether it is true is a waste of time.
It is customary among Christian apologists to regard Communism as something very different from Christianity and to contrast its evils with the supposed blessings enjoyed by Christian nations. This seems to me a profound mistake. The evils of Communism are the same as those that existed in Christianity during the Ages of Faith. The Ogpu differs only quantitatively from the Inquisition. Its cruelties are of the same sort, and the damage that it does to the intellectual and moral life of Russians is of the same sort as that which was done by the Inquisitors whenever they prevailed. The Communists falsify history, and the Church did the same until the Renaissance. If the Church is not now as bad as the Soviet Government, that is due to the influence of those who attacked the Church: from the Council of Trent to the present day whatever improvements it has effected have been due to its enemies. There are many who object to the Soviet Government because they dislike the Communist economic doctrine, but this the Kremlin shares with the early Christians, the Franciscans, and the majority of mediaeval Christian heretics. Nor was the Communist doctrine confined to heretics: Sir Thomas More, an orthodox martyr, speaks of Christianity as Communistic and says that this was the only aspect of the Christian religion which commended it to the Utopians. It is not Soviet doctrine in itself that can be justly regarded as a danger. It is the way in which the doctrine is held. It is held as sacred and inviolable truth, to doubt which is sin and deserving of the severest punishment. The Communist, like the Christian, believes that his doctrine is essential to salvation, and it is this belief which makes salvation possible for him. It is the similarities between Christianity and Communism that makes them incompatible with each other. When two men of science disagree, they do not invoke the secular arm; they wait for further evidence to decide the
issue, because, as men of science, they know that neither is infallible. But when two theologians differ, since there are no criteria to which either can appeal, there is nothing for it but mutual hatred and an open or covert appeal to force. Christianity, I will admit, does less harm than it used to do; but this is because it is less fervently believed. Perhaps, in time, the same change will come over Communism; and, if it does, that creed will lose much of what now makes it obnoxious. But if in the West the view prevails that Christianity is essential to virtue and social stability, Christianity will once again acquire the vices which it had in the Middle Ages; and, in becoming more and more like Communism, will become more and more difficult to reconcile with it. It is not along this road that the world can be saved from disaster.
In my first article I was concerned with the evils resulting from any system of dogmas presented for acceptance, not on the ground of truth, but on the ground of social utility. What I had to say applies equally to Christianity, Communism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and all theological systems, except in so far as they rely upon grounds making a universal appeal of the sort that is made by men of science. There are, however, special arguments which are advanced in favour of Christianity onaccount of its supposed special merits. These have been set forth eloquently and with a show of erudition by Herbert Butterfield, Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge, and I shall take him as spokesman of the large body of opinion to which he adheres.
Professor Butterfield seeks to secure certain controversial advantages by concessions that make him seem more openminded than in fact he is. He admits that the Christian Church had relied upon persecution and that it is pressure from without that has led it to abandon this practice in so far as it has been abandoned. He admits that the present tension between Russia and the West is a result of power politics such as might have been expected even if the Government of Russia had continued to adhere to the Greek Orthodox Church. He admits that some of the virtues which he regards as distinctively Christian have been displayed by some Freethinkers and have been absent in the behaviour of many Christians. But, in spite of these concessions, he still holds that the evils from which the world is suffering are to be cured by adherence to Christian dogma, and he includes in the necessary minimum of Christian dogma, not only belief in God and immortality, but also belief in the Incarnation. He emphasises the connection of Christianity with certain historical events, and he accepts these events as historical on evidence which would certainly not convince him if it were not connected with his religion. I do not think the evidence for the Virgin Birth is such as would convince any impartial inquirer if it were presented outside the circle of theological beliefs he was accustomed to. There are innumerable such stories in Pagan mythology, but no one dreams of taking them seriously. Professor Butterfield, however, in spite of being an historian, appears to be quite uninterested in questions of historicity wherever the origins of Christianity are concerned. His argument, robbed of his urbanity and his deceptive air of broad-mindedness, may be stated crudely but accurately, as follows: 'It is not worth while to inquire whether Christ really was born of a Virgin and conceived of the Holy Ghost because, whether or not this was the case, the belief that it was the case offers the best hope of escape from the present troubles of the world.' Nowhere in Professor Butterfield's work is there the faintest attempt to prove the truth of any Christian dogma. There is only the pragmatic argument that belief in Christian dogma is useful. There are many steps in Professor Butterfield's contention which are not stated with as much clarity and precision as one could desire, and I fear the reason is that clarity and precision make them implausible. I think the contention, stripped of inessentials, is as follows: it would be a good thing if people loved their neighbours, but they do not show much inclination to do so; Christ said they ought to, and if they believe that Christ was God, they are more likely to pay attention to His teachings on this point than if they do not; therefore, men who wish people to love their neighbours will try to persuade them that Christ was God.
The objections to this kind of argumentation are so many that it is difficult to know where to begin. In the first place, Professor Butterfield and all who think as he does are persuaded that it is a good thing to love your neighbour, and their reasons for holding this view are not derived from Christ's teaching. On the contrary, it is because they already hold this view that they regard Christ's teaching as evidence of His divinity. They have, that is to say, not an ethic based on theology, but a theology based upon their ethic. They apparently hold, however, that the nontheological grounds which make them think it a good thing to love your neighbour are not likely to make a wide appeal, and they therefore proceed to invent other arguments which they hope will he more effective. This is a very dangerous procedure. Many Protestants used to think it as wicked to break the Sabbath as to commit murder. If you persuaded them it was not wicked to break the Sabbath, they might infer that it was not wicked to commit murder. Every theological ethic is in part such as can be defended rationally, and in part a mere embodiment of superstitious taboos. The part which can be defended rationally should be so defended, since otherwise those who discover the irrationality of the other part may rashly reject the whole.
But has Christianity, in fact, stood for a better morality than that of its rivals and opponents? I do not see how any honest student of history can maintain that this is the case. Christianity has been distinguished from other religions by its greater readiness for persecution. Buddhism has never been a persecuting religion. The Empire of the Caliphs was much kinder to Jews and Christians than Christian States were to Jews and Mohammedans. It left Jews and Christians unmolested, provided they paid tribute. Anti-Semitism was promoted by Christianity from the moment when the Roman Empire became Christian. The religious fervour of the Crusades led to pogroms in Western Europe. It was Christians who unjustly accused Dreyfus, and Freethinkers who secured his final rehabilitation. Abominations have in modern times been defended by Christians not only when Jews were the victims, but also in other connections. The abominations of King Leopold's government of the Congo were concealed or minimised by the Church and were ended only by an agitation conducted mainly by Freethinkers. The whole contention that Christianity has had an elevating moral influence can only be maintained by wholesale ignoring or falsification of the historical evidence.
The habitual answer is that the Christians who did things which we deplore were not true Christians in the sense that they did not follow the teachings of Christ. One might of course equally well argue that the Soviet Government does not consist of true Marxists, for Marx taught that Slavs are inferior to Germans and this doctrine is not accepted in the Kremlin. The followers of a teacher always depart in some respects from the doctrine of the master. Those who aim at founding a Church ought to remember this. Every Church develops an instinct of self-preservation and minimises those parts of the founder's doctrine which do not minister to that end. But in any case what modern apologists call 'true' Christianity is something depending upon a very selective process. It ignores much that is to be found in the Gospels: for example, the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the doctrine that the wicked will suffer eternal torment in Hell fire. It picks out certain parts of the Sermon on the Mount, though even these it often rejects in practice. It leaves the doctrine of non-resistance, for example, to be practised only by non-Christians such as Gandhi. The precepts that it particularly favours are held to embody such a lofty morality that they must have had a divine origin. And yet Professor Butterfield must know that these precepts were uttered by Jews before the time of Christ. They are to be found, for example, in the teaching of Hillel and in the 'Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs'; concerning which the Rev. Dr R. H. Charles, a leading authority in this matter, says: 'The Sermon on the Mount reflects in several instances the spirit and even reproduces the very phrases of our text: many passages in the Gospels exhibit traces of the same, and St Paul seems to have used the book as a vade mecum.' Dr Charles is of the opinion that Christ must have been acquainted with this work. If, as we are sometimes told, the loftiness of the ethical teaching proves the divinity of its author, it is the unknown writer of these Testaments who must have been divine.That the world is in a bad shape is undeniable, but there is not the faintest reason in history to suppose that Christianity offers a way out. Our troubles have sprung, with the inexorability of Greek tragedy, from the First World War, of which the Communists and the Nazis were products. The First World War was wholly Christian in origin. The three Emperors were devout, and so were the more warlike of the British Cabinet. Opposition to the war came, in Germany and Russia, from the Socialists, who were anti-Christian; in France, from Jaures, whose assassin was applauded by earnest Christians; in England, from John Morley, a noted atheist. The most dangerous features of Communism are reminiscent of the mediaeval Church. They consist of fanatical acceptance of doctrines embodied in a Sacred Book, unwillingness to examine these doctrines critically, and savage persecution of those who reject them. It is not to a revival of fanaticism and bigotry in the West that we must look for a happy issue. Such a revival, if it occurs, will only mean that the hateful features of the Communist regime have become universal. What the world needs is reasonableness, tolerance, and a realisation of the interdependence of the parts of the human family. This interdependence has been enormously increased by modern inventions, and the purely mundane arguments for a kindly attitude to one's neighbour are very much stronger than they were at any earlier time. It is to such considerations that we must look, and not to a return to obscurantist myths. Intelligence, it might be said, has caused our troubles; but it is not unintelligence that will cure them. Only more and wiser intelligence can make a happier world.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came-next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams-visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!-then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation -- "God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"
Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever--merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory -
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting.
With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,"Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said
"I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import-that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of-except he pause and think.
"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this-keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
"You have heard your servant's prayer-the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it-that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory-must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle-be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it-for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(After a pause)
"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.
Saturday, 1 August 2009
By Bertrand Russell
The great majority of Socialists, in the present day, are disciples of Karl Marx, from whom they have taken over the belief that the only possible political force by which Socialism can be brought about is the anger felt by the dispossessed proletariat against the owners of the means of production. By an inevitable reaction, those who are not proletarians have decided, with comparatively few exceptions, that Socialism is something to be resisted; and when they hear the class-war being preached by those who proclaim themselves as their enemies, they naturally feel inclined to begin the war themselves while they still hold the power. Fascism is a retort to Communism, and a very formidable retort. So long as Socialism is preached in Marxist terms, it rouses such powerful antagonism that its success, in developed Western countries, becomes daily more improbable. It would, of course, have aroused opposition from the rich in any case, but the opposition would have been less fierce and less widespread.
For my part, while I am as convinced a Socialist as the most ardent Marxian, I do not regard Socialism as a gospel of proletarian revenge, nor even, primarily, as a means of securing economic justice. I regard it primarily as an adjustment to machine production demanded by considerations of common sense, and calculated to increase the happiness, not only of proletarians, but of all except a tiny minority of the human race. If it cannot now be realized without a violent upheaval, this to be attributed largely to the violence of its advocates. But I still have some hope that a saner advocacy may soften the opposition, and make a less catastrophic transition possible.
Let us begin by a definition of Socialism. The definition must consist of two parts, economic and political. The economic part consists in State ownership of ultimate economic power, which involves, as a minimum, land and minerals, capital, banking, credit and foreign trade. The political part requires that the ultimate political power should be democratic. Marx himself, and practically all Socialists before 1918, would have agreed to this part of the definition without question, but since the Bolsheviks dissolved the Russian Constituent Assembly, a different doctrine has grown up, according to which, when a Socialist Government has achieved success by revolution, only its most ardent supporters are to have political power. Now it must, of course, be admitted that, after a civil war, it is not always possible to enfranchise the vanquished immediately, but, in so far as this is the case, it is not possible to establish Socialism immediately. A Socialist Government which has carried out the economic part of Socialism will not have completed its task until it has secured enough popular support to make democratic government possible. The necessity of democracy is evident if we take an extreme case. An Oriental despot may decree that all the natural resources in his territory shall be his, but is not, in so doing, establishing a Socialist regime; nor can the rule of Leopold II of the Congo be accepted as a model for imitation. Unless there is popular control, there can be no reason to expect the State to conduct its economic enterprises except for its own enrichment, and therefore exploitation will merely take a new form. Democracy, accordingly, must be accepted as part of the definition of a Socialist regime.
With regard to the economic part of the definition, some further elucidation is necessary, since there are forms of private enterprise which some would consider compatible with Socialism while others would hold the opposite view. Should a pioneer be allowed to build himself a log hut on a piece of land rented from the State? Yes, but it does not follow that private individuals should be allowed to build skyscrapers in New York. Similarly a man may lend a shilling to a friend, but a financier may not lend ten millions to a company or a foreign Government. The matter is one of degree, and is easy to adjust, since various legal formalities are necessary in large transactions, but not in small ones. Where such formalities are indispensable, they give the State opportunity to exercise control. To take another instance: jewellery is not capital in the economic sense, since it is not a means of production, but as things are a man who possesses diamonds can sell them and  buy shares. Under Socialism he may still possess diamonds, but he cannot sell them to buy shares, since there will be no shares to be bought. Private wealth need not be legally prohibited, but only private investment, with the result that, since no one will be in receipt of interest, private wealth will gradually melt away except as regards a reasonable modicum of personal possessions. Economic power over other human beings must not belong to individuals, but such private property as does not confer economic power may survive.
The advantages to be expected from the establishment of Socialism, supposing this to be possible without a devastating revolutionary war, are of many different kinds, and are by no means confined to the wage-earning class. I am far from confident that all or any of these advantages would result from the victory of a Socialist party in a long and difficult class conflict, which would exacerbate tempers, bring to the fore a ruthless militaristic type, waste by death or exile or imprisonment the talents of many valuable experts, and give to the victorious Government a barrack-room type of mentality. The merits which I shall claim for Socialism all presuppose that it will have been brought about by persuasion, and that such force as may be necessary will consist only of the defeat of small bands of malcontents. I am persuaded that, if Socialist propaganda were conducted with less hate and bitterness, appealing not to envy but to the obvious need of economic organization, the task of persuasion would be enormously facilitated, and the need for force correspondingly diminished. I deprecate the appeal to force, except in defence of what, through persuasion, has become legally established, because (a) it is likely to fail, (b) the struggle must be disastrously destructive, and (c) the victors, after an obstinate fight, are likely to have forgotten their original objects, and to institute something quite different, probably a military tyranny. I presuppose, therefore, as a condition for successful Socialism, the peaceful persuasion of a majority to acceptance of its doctrines.
I shall adduce nine arguments in favour of Socialism, none of them new, and not all of equal importance. The list could be indefinitely lengthened, but I think these nine should suffice to show that it is not a gospel for one class only.
1. The Breakdown of the Profit Motive
Profit, as a separate economic category, only becomes clear at a certain stage of industrial development. The germ of it, however, might be seen in the relations of Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday. Let us suppose that, in the autumn, Robinson Crusoe, by means of his gun, has acquired control of the whole food supply of his island. He is then in a position to cause Friday to work at the preparation of next year's harvest, on the understanding that Friday shall be kept alive while all the surplus shall go to his employer. What Robinson Crusoe receives under this contract may be regarded as interest on his capital, his capital being his few tools and the stored-up food which he possesses. But profit, as it occurs in more civilized conditions, involves the further circumstance of exchange. A cotton manufacturer, for example, does not make cotton only for himself and his family; cotton is not the only thing he needs, and he has to sell the bulk of his produce in order to satisfy his other requirements. But before he can manufacture cotton he has to buy other things: raw cotton, machinery, labour, and power. His profit consists of the difference between what he pays for these things and what he receives for the finished product. But if he himself manages his factory, we must deduct whatever would have been the salary of a manager hired to do the same work; that is to say, the manufacturer's profit consists of his total earnings less the wages of the hypothetical manager. In large businesses, where the shareholders do no work of management, what they receive is the profit of the enterprise. Those who have money to invest are actuated by the expectation of profit, which is therefore the determining motive as to what new undertakings shall be started and what old ones shall be expanded. It has been supposed by the defenders of our present system that the expectation of profit would lead, on the whole, to the right commodities being produced in the right quantities. Up to a point, this has been true in the past, but it is true no longer.
This is a result of the complicated character of modern production. If I am an old-fashioned village cobbler, and the neighbours bring me their shoes to be mended, I know that the produce of my labour will be wanted; but if I am a large-scale manufacturer of shoes, employing expensive machinery, I have to guess how many pairs of shoes I shall be able to sell, and I may easily guess wrong. Another man may have better machinery, and be able to sell shoes more cheaply; or my former customers may have grown poorer, and have learnt to make old shoes last longer, or the fashion may change, and people may demand a kind of shoe which my machines are unable to produce. If any of these things happen, not only do I cease to make a profit, but my machines stand idle and my employees are out of work. The labour that went into the making of my machines failed to result in the production of useful commodities, and was as completely wasted as if it had consisted of throwing sand into the sea. The men who are thrown out of employment are no longer creating anything that serves human needs, and the community is impoverished to the extent of whatever is spent on keeping them from starvation. The men, being dependent upon employment benefit instead of wages, spend much less than formerly, and therefore cause unemployment among those who make the goods which they formerly bought. And so the original miscalculation as to the number of shoes that I could sell at a profit produces gradually widening circles of unemployment, with accompanying diminution of demand. As for me, I am tethered to my expensive machinery, which has probably absorbed all my capital and credit; this makes it impossible for me to turn suddenly from shoes to some more prosperous industry.
Or take a more speculative business: ship-building. During the war, and for a little while afterwards, there was an immense demand for ships. As no one knew how long the war might last, or how successful the U-boats might be, enormously elaborate preparations were made for building unprecedented numbers of ships. By 1920, the war losses had been made good, and the need of ships, owing to the diminution of sea-borne trade, had suddenly grown much less. Almost all the shipbuilding plant became useless, and the great majority of the men employed were thrown out of of work. It cannot be said that they deserved this misfortune, since the Governments had urged them frantically to build ships as fast as they could. But under our system of private enterprise the Governments had no recognized responsibility towards those who had been rendered destitute. And inevitably the destitution spread. There was less demand for steel, and therefore the iron and steel industry suffered. There was less demand for Australian and Argentine meat, because the unemployed had to be content with a spare diet. There was, as a result, less demand for the manufactures which Australia and the Argentine had taken in exchange for their meat. And so on indefinitely.
There is one further very important reason for the failure of the profit motive in the present day, and that is the failure of scarcity. It often happens that goods of certain kinds can be produced in enormous quantities at a cheaper rate than on a more modest scale. In that case, it may be that the most economical mode of production would be to have only one factory for each of these kinds of goods in the whole world. But as this state of affairs has come about gradually, there are in fact many factories. Each knows that if it were alone in the world it could supply everybody and make a large profit; but as it is, there are competitors, no one is working up to full capacity, and therefore no one is making a secure profit. This leads to economic imperialism, since the only possibility of profit lies in the exclusive control of some huge market. Meanwhile the weaker competitors go under, and the larger the units the greater is the dislocation when one of them closes down. Competition leads to so much being produced that it cannot be sold at a profit; but the reduction in the supply is unduly slow, since, where there is much expensive machinery, it may be less disastrous to produce for a term of years at a loss than not to produce at all.
All these confusions and dislocations result from leaving modern large-scale industry to be directed by the motive of private profit.
In a capitalistic regime, the cost which determines whether a certain product shall be manufactured by a certain firm is the cost to that firm, not to the community. Let us illustrate the difference by an imaginary example. Suppose someone -- say Mr Henry Ford -- finds out a way of making motor-cars so cheaply that no one else can compete, with the result that all the other firms engaged in making cars go bankrupt. In order to arrive at the cost to the community of one of the new cheap cars, one must add, to what Mr Ford would have to pay, the proper proportion of all the now useless plant belonging to other firms, and of the cost of rearing and educating those workers and managers previously employed by other firms but now out of work. (Some will obtain employment with Mr Ford, but probably not all, since the new process is cheaper, and therefore requires less labour.) There may well also be other expenses to the community -- labour disputes, strikes, riots, extra police, trials and imprisonments. When all these items are taken into account, it may well be found that the cost of the new cars to the community is, at first, considerably greater than that of the old ones. Now it is the cost to the community which determines what is socially advantageous, while the cost to the individual manufacturer which determines, in our system, what takes place.
How Socialism would deal with this problem I shall explain at a later stage.
2. The Possibility of Leisure
Owing to the productivity of machines, much less work than was formerly necessary is now needed to maintain a tolerable standard of comfort in the human race. Some careful writers maintain that one hour's work a day would suffice, but perhaps this estimate does not take sufficient account of Asia. I shall assume, in order to be quite sure of being on the safe side, that four hours' work a day on the part of all adults would suffice to produce as much material comfort as reasonable people ought to desire.
At present, however, owing to the operation of the profit motive, leisure cannot be distributed evenly: some are overworked, while others are wholly unemployed. This results as follows: the value of the wage-earner to the employer depends upon the amount of work he does, which, so long as the hours do not exceed seven or eight, is supposed by the employer to be proportional to the length of the working day. The wage-earner, on the other hand, prefers a rather long day at good wages to a very short one at much lower wages. Hence it suits both parties to have a long working day, leaving those who, in consequence, are unemployed to starve or to be cared for by the public authorities at the public expense.
Since the majority of the human race do not, at present, reach a reasonable level of material comfort, an average of less than four hours' work a day, wisely directed, would suffice to produce what is now produced in the way of necessaries and simple comforts. That means that, if the average working day for those who have work is eight hours, more than half the workers would be unemployed if it were not for certain forms of inefficiency and unnecessary production. To take first inefficiency: we have already seen some of the waste involved in competition, but we must add to this all that is spent in advertising and all the very skilled work that goes into marketing. Nationalism involves another kind of waste: American automobile manufacturers, for example, find it necessary, owing to tariffs, to establish works in the principal European countries, whereas it would obviously save labour if they could produce all their cars in one huge establishment in the United States. Then there is the waste involved in armaments, and in military training, which involves the whole male population wherever there is compulsory military service. Thanks to these and other forms of extravagance, together with the luxuries of the rich, more than half the population is still employed. But so long as our present system lasts, every step towards the elimination of waste can only make the plight of the wage-earners even worse than it is now.
3. Economic Insecurity
In the present state of the world, not only are many people destitute, but the majority of those who are not are haunted by a perfectly reasonable fear that they may become so at any moment. Wage-earners have the constant danger of unemployment; salaried employees know that their firm may go bankrupt or find it necessary to cut down its staff; business men, even those who are reputed to be very rich, know that the loss of all their money is by no means improbable. Professional men have a very hard struggle. After making great sacrifices for the education of their sons and daughters, they find that there are not the openings that there used to be for those who have the kinds of skill that their children have acquired. If they are lawyers, they find that people can no longer afford to go to law, although serious injustices remain unremedied; if they are doctors, they find that their formerly lucrative hypochondriac patients can no longer afford to be ill, while many genuine sufferers have to forgo much-needed medical treatment. One finds men and women of university education serving behind the counters in shops, which may save them from destitution, but only at the expense of those who would formerly have been so employed. In all classes, from the lowest to almost the highest, economic fear governs men's thoughts bv dav and their dreams at night, making their work nerve-racking and their leisure unrefreshing. This ever-present terror is, I think, the main cause of the mood of madness which has swept over great parts of the civilized world.
The desire for wealth is, in most cases, due to a desire for security. Men save money and invest it, in the hope of having something to live on when they become old and infirm, and of being able to prevent their children from sinking in the social scale. In former days, this hope was rational, since there were such things as safe investments. But now security has become unattainable: the largest businesses fail, States go bankrupt, and whatever still stands is liable to be swept away in the next war. The result, except for those who continue to live in a fool's paradise, is a mood of unhappy recklessness, which makes a sane consideration of possible remedies very difficult.
Economic, security would do more to increase the happiness of civilized communities than any other change that can be imagined, except the prevention of war. Work -- to the extent that may be socially necessary -- should be legally obligatory for all healthy adults, but their income should depend only upon their willingness to work, and should not cease when, for some reason, their services are temporarily unnecessary. A medical man, for example, should receive a certain salary, ceasing only with his death, though he would not be expected to work after a certain age. He should be sure of a good education for his children. If the health of the community improved so much that there was no longer need of the direct medical services of all qualified practitioners, some of them should be employed in medical research or in investigating measures of sanitation or the promotion of a more adequate diet. I do not think it can be doubted that the great majority of medical men would be happier under such a system than they are at present, even if it involved a diminution jn the rewards of the few who achieve eminent success.
The desire tor exceptional wealth is by no means a necessary stimulus to work. At present, most men work, not in order to be rich, but in order to avoid starvation A postman does not expect to become richer than other postmen, nor does a soldier or sailor hope to amass a fortune by serving his country. There are a few men, it is true -- and they tend to be men of exceptional energy and importance -- to whom the achievement of a great financial success is a dominant motive. Some do good, others do harm; some make or adopt a useful invention, others manipulate the stock exchange or corrupt politicians. But in the main what they want is success, of which money is the symbol. If success were only obtainable in other forms, such as honours or important administrative posts, they would still have an adequate incentive, and might find it more necessary than they do no- J to work in ways advantageous to the community. The desire tor wealth in itself, as opposed to the desire for success, is not a socially useful motive, any more than the desire for excess in eating or drinking. A social system is therefore none the worse for leaving no outlet to this desire. On the other hand, a system which abolished insecurity would do away with most of the hysteria of modern life.
4. The Unemployed Rich
The evils of unemployment among wage-earners are generally recognized. The suffering to themselves, the loss of their labour to the community, and the demoralizing effect of prolonged failure to find work, are such familiar themes that it is unnecessary to enlarge upon them.
The unemployed rich are an evil of a different sort. The world is full of idle people, mostly women, who have little education, much money, and consequently great self-confidence. Owing to their wealth, they are able to cause much labour to be devoted to their comfort. Although they seldom have any genuine culture, they are the the chief patrons of art, which is not likely to please them unless it is bad. Their uselessness drives them into an unreal sentimentality, which causes them to dislike vigorous sincerity, and to exercise a deplorable influence upon culture. Especially in America, where the men who make money are mostly too busy to spend it themselves, culture is largely dominated by women whose sole claim to respect is that their husbands possess the art of growing rich. There are those who maintain that capitalism is more favourable to art than Socialism would be, but I think they are remembering the aristocracies of the past and forgetting the plutocracies of the present.
The existence of the idle rich has other unfortunate results. Although, in the more important industries, the modern tendency is towards few large enterprises than many small ones, there are still many exceptions to this rule. Consider, for example, the number of unnecessary small shops in London. Throughout the parts where rich women do their shopping, there are innumerable hat shops, usually kept by Russian countesses, each professing to be a little more exquisite than any of the others. Their customers drift from one to the next, spending hours on a purchase which ought to be a matter of minutes. The labour of those who serve in the shops and the time of those who buy in them is alike wasted. And there is the further evil that the livelihood of a number of people becomes bound up with futility. The spending power of the very rich causes them to have large numbers of parasites who, however far removed from wealth they may be themselves, nevertheless fear that they would be ruined if there were no idle rich to buy their wares. All these people suffer morally, intellectually, and artistically from their dependence upon the indefensible power of foolish people.
Higher education, at present, is mainly, though not entirely, confined to the children of the well-to-do. It sometimes happens, it is true, that working-class boys or girls reach the university by means of scholarships, but as a rule they have had to work so hard in the process that they are worn out and do not fulfil their early promise. The result of our system is that there is a great waste of ability: a boy or girl born of wage-earning parents may be of first-rate capacity in mathematics, or music, or science, but it is very unlikely that he or she will have a chance to exercise this talent. Moreover, education, at least in England, is still infected through and through with snobbery: in private and elementary schools consciousness of class is imbibed by the pupils at every moment of their school life. And since education is, in the main, controlled by the State, it has to defend the status quo, and therefore must, as far as possible, blunt the critical faculties of young people and preserve them from 'dangerous thoughts'. All this, it must be admitted, is inevitable in any insecure regime, and is worse in Russia than in England or America. But while a Socialist regime might, in time, become sufficiently secure to be not afraid of criticism, it is now hardly possible that this should happen to a capitalistic regime, unless by the establishment of a slave State in which the workers receive no education at all. It is not to be expected, therefore, that the present defects in the educational system can be remedied until the economic system has been transformed.
6. The Emancipation of Women and the Welfare of Young Children
n spite of all that has been done in recent times to improve the status of women, the great majority of wives are still financially dependent upon their husbands. This dependence is in various ways worse than that of a wage-earner upon his employer. An employee can throw up his job, but for a wife this is difficult; moreover, however hard she has to work in keeping the house, she cannot claim money wages. So long as this state of affairs persists, it cannot be said that wives have anything approaching economic equality with men. Yet it is difficult to see how the matter can be remedied without the establishment of Socialism. It is necessary that the expense of children should be borne by the State rather than by the husband, and that married women, except during lactation and the latter part of pregnancy, should earn their living by work outside the home. This will require certain architectural reforms (considered in an earlier essay in this volume), and the establishment of nursery schools for very young children. For the children, as for their mothers, this will be a great boon, since children require conditions of space and light and diet which are impossible in a wage-earner's home, but can be provided cheaply in a nursery school.
A reform of this sort in the position of wives and the rearing of young children may be possible without complete Socialism, and has even been carried out here and there on a small scale and incompletely. But it cannot be carried out adequately and completely except as part of a general economic transformation of society.
Of the improvement to be expected in architecture from the introduction of Socialism, I have already spoken. Painting, in former days, accompanied and adorned spacious architecture, and may do so again when the squalid privacy engendered by our competitive fear of our neighbours has given place to a desire for communal beauty. The modern art of the cinema has immense possibilities which cannot develop while the motive of producers is commercial; in fact, many are of opinion that the USSR has come nearest to realizing their possibilities. How literature suffers from the commercial motive, every writer knows: almost all vigorous writing offends some group, and therefore makes sales less. It is difficult for writers not to measure their own merit by their royalties, and when bad work brings great pecuniary rewards it requires unusual firmness of character to produce good work and remain poor.
It must be admitted that Socialism might make matters even worse. Since publishing will be a State monopoly, it will be easy for the State to exercise an illiberal censorship, So long as there is violent opposition to the new regime, this will be almost unavoidable. But when the transition period is passed it may be hoped that books which the State is not willing to accept on their merits may be published if the author thinks it worth while to defray the expense by working overtime. Since the hours will be short, this will be no excessive hardship, but it will suffice to deter authors who are not seriously convinced that their books contain something of value. It is important that it should be possible to get a book published, but not that it should be very easy. Books at present exceed in quantity as much as they fall short in quality.
8. Unprofitable Public Services
Ever since civilized government began it has been recognized that there are some things which should be done, but cannot be left to the haphazard operation of the profit motive. The most important of these has been war: even those who are most persuaded of the inefficiency of State enterprise do not suggest that national defence should be farmed out to private contractors. But there are many other things that the public authorities have found it necessary to undertake, such as roads, harbours, lighthouses. parks in cities, and so on. A very large department of socialized activity, which has grown up during the last hundred years, is public health. At first, the fanatical adherents of laisser-faire objected, but the practical arguments were overwhelming. If the theory of private enterprise had been adhered to, all sorts of new ways of making fortunes would have become possible. A man suffering from plague might have gone to a publicity agent who would have sent out circulars to railway companies, theatres, etc., saying that the man contemplated dying on their premises unless a large sum were paid to his widow. But it was decided that quarantine and isolation should not be left to voluntary effort, since the benefit was general and the loss individual.
The increasing number and complexity of the public services has been one of the characteristic features of the past century. The most enormous of these is education. Before this was enforced universally by the State, there were various motives for such schools and universities as existed. There were pious foundations dating from the Middle Ages, and secular foundations, such as the College de France, established by enlightened renaissance monarchs; and there were charity schools for the favoured poor. None of these were run for profit. There were, however, schools run for profit: of these Dotheboys Hall and Salem House were samples. There still are schools run for profit, and though the existence of education authorities prevents them from copying the model of Dotheboys Hall, they are apt to rely upon their gentility rather than upon a high standard of scholastic attainment. On the whole, the profit motive has had little influence on education, and that little bad.
Even when the public authorities do not actually carry out the work, they find it necessary to control it. Street lighting may be done by a private company, but it must be done, whether profitable or not. Houses may be built by private enterprise, but the building is controlled by by-laws. In this case, it is now generally recognized that a much stricter regulation would be desirable. Unitary town-planning, such as Sir Christopher Wren projected for London after the Great Fire, might do away with the hideousness and squalor of slums and suburbs and make modern cities beautiful, healthy, and pleasant. This example illustrates another of the arguments against private enterprise in our highly mobile world. The areas to be considered as units are too large to be dealt with by even the greatest plutocrats. London, for example, must be considered as a whole, since a large percentage of its inhabitants sleep in one part and work in another. Some important questions, such as the St. Lawrence waterway, involve vast interests spread over different parts of two countries; in such cases, even a single Government does not cover a sufficient area. Persons, goods, and power can all be transported much more easily than in former days, with the result that small localities have less self-sufficiency than they had when the horse was the quickest mode of locomotion. Power stations are acquiring such importance that, if they are left in private hands, a new kind of tyranny becomes possible, comparable to that of the mediaeval baron in his castle. It is obvious that a community which depends upon a power station cannot have tolerable economic security if the power station is free to exploit its monopolistic advantages to the full. The mobility of goods still causes dependence upon the railway; that of persons has partially returned to dependence upon the road. Railways and motor-cars have made the separation of townships obsolete, and aeroplanes are having the same effect on national frontiers. In these ways, larger and larger areas, involving more and more public control, are rendered increasingly necessary by the progress of invention.
I come now to the last and strongest argument for Socialism, namely, the need for preventing war. I shall not waste time on the likelihood of war or on its harmfulness, since these may be taken for granted. I shall confine myself to two questions: (1) How far is the danger of war at the present time bound up with capitalism? (2) How far would the establishment of Socialism remove the danger?
War is an ancient institution, not brought into being originally by capitalism, although its causes were always mainly economic. It had in the past two main sources, the personal ambitions of monarchs, and the expansive adventurousness of vigorous tribes or nations. Such a conflict as the Seven Years War exhibits both features: in Europe it was dynastic, whereas in America and India it was a conflict of nations. The conquests of the Romans were largely due to direct personal pecuniary motives on the part of the generals and their legionaries. Pastoral peoples, such as the Arabs, the Huns, and the Mongols, have been repeatedly started upon a career of conquest by the insufficiency of their former grazing grounds. And at all times, except when a monarch could enforce his will (as in the Chinese and later Roman Empires), war has been facilitated by the fact that vigorous males, confident of victory, enjoyed it, while their females admired them for their prowess. Although war has travelled far from its primitive beginnings, these ancient motives still survive, and must be remembered by those who wish war to cease. Only international Socialism will afford a complete safeguard against war, but national Socialism in all the principal civilized countries would, as I shall try to show, enormously diminish its likelihood.
While the adventurous impulse towards war still exists in a section of the population of civilized countries, the motives producing a desire for peace are much stronger than at any time during the last few centuries. People know by bitter experience that the late war did not bring prosperity even to the victors. They realize that the next war is likely to cause a loss of life among civilians to which there has been nothing comparable in magnitude at any time, or in intensity since the Thirty Years War, and that this loss will probably be by no means confined to one side. They fear that capital cities may be destroyed and a whole continent lost to civilization. The British, in particular, are aware that they have lost their age-long immunity from invasion. These considerations have produced in Great Britain a passionate desire for peace, and in most other countries a feeling of the same sort, though perhaps less intense.
Why, in spite of all this, is there an imminent danger of war? The proximate cause, of course, is the harshness of the Versailles Treaty, with the consequent growth of militant nationalism in Germany. But a new war would probably only produce; an even harsher treaty than that of 1919, leading to an even more virulent reaction on the part of the vanquished. Permanent peace cannot issue from this endless see-saw, but only from elimination of the causes of enmity between nations. In the present day, these causes are mainly to be found in the economic interests of certain sections, and are therefore only to be abolished by a fundamental economic reconstruction.
Let us take the iron and steel industry as the most important example of the way in which economic forces promote war. The essential fact is that, with modern technique, the cost of production per ton is less if a vast quantity is produced than it is if the output is smaller. Consequently there is a profit if the market is sufficiently large, but not otherwise. The United Stages steel industry, having a home market which far exceeds all others, has so far had little need to trouble itself with politics., beyond interfering, when necessary, to block schemes of naval disarmament. But the German, French, and British steel industries all have a smaller market than their technical needs demand. They could, of course, secure certain advantages by amalgamations, but to this also there are economic objections. A great paw of the demand for steel is connected with preparations for war, and therefore the steel industry as a whole profits by nationalism and the increase of national armaments. Moreover, both the Comite des Forges and the German steel trust hope, by war, to crush their rivals instead of having to share profits with them; and as the expense of war will fall mainly on others, they reckon that they may find the result financially advantageous. Probably they are mistaken, but the mistake is one which is natural to bold and self-confident men intoxicated with power. The fact that the vitally important Lorraine ore is in territory formerly German but now French increases the hostility of the two groups, and serves as a constant reminder of what can be achieved by war. And naturally the Germans are the more aggressive, since the French already enjoy the spoils of the late war.
It would, of course, be impossible for the steel industry, and the other industries which have similar interests, to cause great nations to serve their purposes, if there were not impulses in the population to which they could appeal. In France and England they can appeal to fear, in Germany to resentment against injustice; and these motives, on both sides, are perfectly valid. But if the matter could be given calm consideration, it would be obvious to both sides that an equitable agreement would make everybody happier. There is no good reason why the Germans should continue to suffer injustice, nor, if the injustice were removed, would they still have any reasonable excuse for behaving so as to inspire fear in their neighbours. But whenever an effort is made to be calm and reasonable, propaganda intervenes, in the shape of appeals to patriotism and national honour. The world is in the condition of a drunkard anxious to reform, but surrounded by kind friends offering him drinks, and therefore perpetually relapsing. In this case, the kind friends are men who make money out of his unfortunate propensity, and the first step in his reformation must be to remove them. It is only in this sense that modern capitalism can be regarded as a cause of war: it is not the whole cause, but it provides an essential stimulus to the other causes. If it were no longer in existence, the absence of this stimulus would quickly cause men to see the absurdity of war, and to enter upon such equitable agreements as would make its future occurrence improbable.
The complete and final solution of the problem presented by the steel industry and others having similar interests is only to be found in international Socialism, that is to say, in their operation by an authority representing all the Governments concerned. But nationalization in each of the leading industrial countries would probably suffice to remove the pressing danger of war. For if the management of the steel industry were in the hands of the Government, and the Government were democractic, it would be conducted, not for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the nation. In the balance sheet of the public finances, profits made by the steel industry at the expense of other parts of the community would be offset by losses elsewhere, and as no individual's income would fluctuate with the gains or losses of one separate industry, no one would have any motive in pushing the interest of steel at the public expense. The increased production of steel due to an increase of armaments would appear as a loss, since it would diminish the supply of consumable commodities to be distributed among the population. In this way public and private interests would be harmonized, and the motive for deceptive propaganda would disappear.
It remains to say something as to the way in which Socialism would remedy the other evils we have been considering.
In place of the pursuit of profits as the guiding motive in industry, there will be Government planning. While the Government may miscalculate, it is less likely to do so than a private individual, because it will have fuller knowledge. When the price of rubber was high, everybody who could planted rubber trees, with the result that, after a few years, the price fell disastrously, and it was found necessary to make an agreement restricting the output of rubber. A central authority, which possesses all the statistics, can prevent this sort of miscalculation of one individual upon another, Nevertheless, unforseen causes, such as new inventions, may falsify even the most careful estimates. In such cases, the community as a whole gains by making the transition to new processes a gradual one. And in regard to those who, at any moment, are unemployed, it will be possible under Socialism to adopt measures which at present are impossible owing to the fear of unemployment and the mutual suspicions of employers and employed. When one industry is decaying and another expanding, the younger men can be taken out of the decaying industry and trained in the expanding one. Most of the unemployment can be prevented by shortening the hours of labour. When no work can be found for a man, he will receive full wages none the less, since he will be paid for willineness to work. In so far as work has to be enforced, it will be enforced by the criminal law, not by economic sanctions.
It will be left to those who do the planning, and therefore ultimately to the popular vote, to strike a balance between comfort and leisure. If everyone works four hours a day there will be less comfort than if everybody works five. One may expect that technological improvements will be utilized partly to provide more comfort and partly to provide more leisure.
Economic insecurity will no longer exist (except in so far as there may still be danger of war), since everyone will receive a salary so long as he is not a criminal, and the expense of children will be borne by the State. Wives will not be dependent upon husbands, nor will children be allowed to suffer seriously for their parents' defects. There will be no economic dependence of one individual upon another, but only of all individuals upon the State.
While Socialism exists in some civilized countries but not in others, there will still be a possibility of war, and the full benefits of the system will not be realizable. But I think it: may be safely assumed that each country which adopts Socialism will cease to be aggressively militaristic, and will be genuinely concerned only to prevent aggression on the part of others. When Socialism has become universal throughout the civilized world, the motives for large-scale wars will probably no longer have sufficient force to overcome the very obvious reasons for preferring peace.
Socialism, I repeat, is not a doctrine for the proletariat only. By preventing economic insecurity, it is calculated to increase the happiness of all but a handful of the richest people and if, as I firmly believe, it can prevent first-class wars, it will immeasurably increase the well-being of the whole world -- for the belief of certain industrial magnates that they could profit by another Great War in spite of the economic argument by which their view can be made to seem plausible, is an insane delusion of megalomaniacs.
Is it really the case, as Communists maintain, that Socialism, a system so universally beneficient and so easy to understand,' a system, moreover, recommended by the obvious breakdown of the present economic regime and by the pressing danger of universal disaster through war -- is it really the case that this system cannot be presented persuasively except to proletarians and a handful of intellectuals, and can only be introduced by means of a bloody, doubtful, and destructive class-war? I, for my part, find this' impossible to believe. Socialism, in some respect, runs counter to ancient habits, and therefore rouses an impulsive opposition which can only be overcome gradually.
And in the minds of its opponents it has become associated with atheism and a reign of terror. With religion Socialism has nothing to do. It is an economic doctrine, and a Socialist might be a Christian or a Mohammedan,a Buddhist or a worshiper of Brahma, without any logical inconsistency. As for the reign of terror, there have been many reigns of terror in recent times, mostly on the side of reaction, and where Social comes as a revolt against one of these it is to be feared that it inherit some of the fierceness of the previous regime. But in countries which still permit some degree of free thought and free speech, I believe that the Socialist case can, with ardour and patience combined, be so presented as to persuade much more than half the population. If, when that time comes, the minority illegally appeals to force, the majority will, of course, have to use force to suppress the rebels. But if the previous work of persuasion has been adequately performed, rebellion ought to be so obviously hopeless that even the most reactionary would not attempt it, or, if they did, they would be defeated so easily and quickly that there would be no occasion for a reign of terror. While persuasion is possible and a majority are still unpersuaded, the appeal to force is out of place; when a majority have been persuaded, the matter can be left to the ordinary operation of democratic government, unless lawless persons see fit to raise an insurrection. The suppression of such an insurrection would be a measure such as any Government would undertake, and Socialists have no more occasion to appeal to force than have other constitutional parties in democratic countries. And if Socialists are ever to have force at their command, it is only by previous persuasion that they can acquire it.
It is customary in certain circles to argue that, while Socialism might, perhaps, at one time, have been secured by the ordinary methods of political propaganda, the growth of Fascism has now made this impossible. As regards the countries that have Fascist Governments this is, of course, true, since no constitutional opposition is possible. But in France, Great Britain, and the United States the matter is otherwise. In France and Great Britain there are powerful Socialist parties; in Great Britain and America the Communists are numerically negligible, and there is no sign that they are gaining ground. They have just sufficed to provide the reactionaries with an excuse for mildly repressive measures, but these have not been sufficiently terrifying to prevent the revival of the Labour Party or the growth of radicalism in the United States. It is far from improbable that Socialists will soon be in a majority in Great Britain. They will then, no doubt, encounter difficulties in carrying out their policy, and the more timid may try to make these difficulties an excuse for postponement, mistakenly, for, while persuasion, unavoidably, is gradual, the final transition to Socialism must be swift and sudden. But there is as yet no good ground for supposing that constitutional methods will fail, and there is much less for supposing that any others have a better chance of success. On the contrary, every appeal to unconstitutional violence helps on the growth of Fascism. Whatever may be the weaknesses of democracy, it is only by means of it and by the help of the popular belief in it that Socialism can hope to succeed in Great Britain or America. Whoever weakens the respect for democratic government, is intentionally or unintentionally, increasing the likelihood, not of Communism, but of Fascism.
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Is There a God?
The question whether there is a God is one which is decided on very different grounds by different communities and different individuals. The immense majority of mankind accept the prevailing opinion of their own community. In the earliest times of which we have definite history everybody believed in many gods. It was the Jews who first believed in only one. The first commandment, when it was new, was very difficult to obey because the Jews had believed that Baal and Ashtaroth and Dagon and Moloch and the rest were real gods but were wicked because they helped the enemies of the Jews. The step from a belief that these gods were wicked to the belief that they did not exist was a difficult one. There was a time, namely that of Antiochus IV, when a vigorous attempt was made to Hellenize the Jews. Antiochus decreed that they should eat pork, abandon circumcision, and take baths. Most of the Jews in Jerusalem submitted, but in country places resistance was more stubborn and under the leadership of the Maccabees the Jews at last established their right to their peculiar tenets and customs. Monotheism, which at the beginning of the Antiochan persecution had been the creed of only part of one very small nation, was adopted by Christianity and later by Islam, and so became dominant throughout the whole of the world west of India. From India eastward, it had no success: Hinduism had many gods; Buddhism in its primitive form had none; and Confucianism had none from the eleventh century onward. But, if the truth of a religion is to be judged by its worldly success, the argument in favor of monotheism is a very strong one, since it possessed the largest armies, the largest navies, and the greatest accumulation of wealth. In our own day this argument is growing less decisive. It is true that the un-Christian menace of Japan was defeated. But the Christian is now faced with the menace of atheistic Muscovite hordes, and it is not so certain as one could wish that atomic bombs will provide a conclusive argument on the side of theism.
But let us abandon this political and geographical way of considering religions, which has been increasingly rejected by thinking people ever since the time of the ancient Greeks. Ever since that time there have been men who were not content to accept passively the religious opinions of their neighbors, but endeavoured to consider what reason and philosophy might have to say about the matter. In the commercial cities of Ionia, where philosophy was invented, there were free-thinkers in the sixth century B. C. Compared to modern free-thinkers they had an easy task, because the Olympian gods, however charming to poetic fancy, were hardly such as could be defended by the metaphysical use of the unaided reason. They were met popularly by Orphism (to which Christianity owes much) and, philosophically, by Plato, from whom the Greeks derived a philosophical monotheism very different from the political and nationalistic monotheism of the Jews. When the Greek world became converted to Christianity it combined the new creed with Platonic metaphysics and so gave birth to theology. Catholic theologians, from the time of Saint Augustine to the present day, have believed that the existence of one God could be proved by the unaided reason. Their arguments were put into final form by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. When modern philosophy began in the seventeenth century, Descartes and Leibniz took over the old arguments somewhat polished up, and, owing largely to their efforts, piety remained intellectually respectable. But Locke, although himself a completely convinced Christian, undermined the theoretical basis of the old arguments, and many of his followers, especially in France, became Atheists. I will not attempt to set forth in all their subtlety the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. There is, I think, only one of them which still has weight with philosophers, that is the argument of the First Cause. This argument maintains that, since everything that happens has a cause, there must be a First Cause from which the whole series starts. The argument suffers, however, from the same defect as that of the elephant and the tortoise. It is said (I do not know with what truth) that a certain Hindu thinker believed the earth to rest upon an elephant. When asked what the elephant rested upon, he replied that it rested upon a tortoise. When asked what the tortoise rested upon, he said, "I am tired of this. Suppose we change the subject." This illustrates the unsatisfactory character of the First-Cause argument. Nevertheless, you will find it in some ultra-modern treatises on physics, which contend that physical processes, traced backward in time, show that there must have been a sudden beginning and infer that this was due to divine Creation. They carefully abstain from attempts to show that this hypothesis makes matters more intelligible.
The scholastic arguments for the existence of a Supreme Being are now rejected by most Protestant theologians in favor of new arguments which to my mind are by no means an improvement. The scholastic arguments were genuine efforts of thought and, if their reasoning had been sound, they would have demonstrated the truth of their conclusion. The new arguments, which Modernists prefer, are vague, and the Modernists reject with contempt every effort to make them precise. There is an appeal to the heart as opposed to the intellect. It is not maintained that those who reject the new arguments are illogical, but that they are destitute of deep feeling or of moral sense. Let us nevertheless examine the modern arguments and see whether there is anything that they really prove.
One of the favourite arguments is from evolution. The world was once lifeless, and when life began it was a poor sort of life consisting of green slime and other uninteresting things. Gradually by the course of evolution, it developed into animals and plants and at last into MAN. Man, so the theologians assure us, is so splendid a Being that he may well be regarded as the culmination to which the long ages of nebula and slime were a prelude. I think the theologians must have been fortunate in their human contacts. They do not seem to me to have given due weight to Hitler or the Beast of Belsen. If Omnipotence, with all time at its disposal, thought it worth while to lead up to these men through the many millions of years of evolution, I can only say that the moral and aesthetic taste involved is peculiar. However, the theologians no doubt hope that the future course of evolution will produce more men like themselves and fewer men like Hitler. Let us hope so. But, in cherishing this hope, we are abandoning the ground of experience and taking refuge in an optimism which history so far does not support.
There are other objections to this evolutionary optimism. There is every reason to believe that life on our planet will not continue forever so that any optimism based upon the course of terrestrial history must be temporary and limited in its purview. There may, of course, be life elsewhere but, if there is, we know nothing about it and have no reason to suppose that it bears more resemblance to the virtuous theologians than to Hitler. The earth is a very tiny corner of the universe. It is a little fragment of the solar system. The solar system is a little fragment of the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is a little fragment of the many millions of galaxies revealed by modern telescopes. In this little insignificant corner of the cosmos there is a brief interlude between two long lifeless epochs. In this brief interlude, there is a much briefer one containing man. If really man is the purpose of the universe the preface seems a little long. One is reminded of some prosy old gentleman who tells an interminable anecdote all quite uninteresting until the rather small point in which it ends. I do not think theologians show a suitable piety in making such a comparison possible.
It has been one of the defects of theologians at all times to over-esti-mate the importance of our planet. No doubt this was natural enough in the days before Copernicus when it was thought that the heavens revolve about the earth. But since Copernicus and still more since the modern exploration of distant regions, this pre-occupation with the earth has become rather parochial. If the universe had a Creator, it is hardly reasonable to suppose that He was specially interested in our little corner. And, if He was not, His values must have been different from ours, since in the immense majority of regions life is impossible.
There is a moralistic argument for belief in God, which was popularized by William James. According to this argument, we ought to believe in God because, if we do not, we shall not behave well. The first and greatest objection to this argument is that, at its best, it cannot prove that there is a God but only that politicians and educators ought to try to make people think there is one. Whether this ought to be done or not is not a theological question but a political one. The arguments are of the same sort as those which urge that children should be taught respect for the flag. A man with any genuine religious feeling will not be content with the view that the belief in God is useful, because he will wish to know whether, in fact, there is a God. It is absurd to contend that the two questions are the same. In the nursery, belief in Father Christmas is useful, but grown-up people do not think that this proves Father Christmas to be real.
Since we are not concerned with politics we might consider this sufficient refutation of the moralistic argument, but it is perhaps worthwhile to pursue this a little further. It is, in the first place, very doubtful whether belief in God has all the beneficial moral effects that are attributed to it. Many of the best men known to history have been unbelievers. John Stuart Mill may serve as an instance. And many of the worst men known to history have been believers. Of this there are innumerable instances. Perhaps Henry VIII may serve as typical.
However that may be, it is always disastrous when governments set to work to uphold opinions for their utility rather than for their truth. As soon as this is done it becomes necessary to have a censorship to suppress adverse arguments, and it is thought wise to discourage thinking among the young for fear of encouraging "dangerous thoughts." When such mal-practices are employed against religion as they are in Soviet Russia, the theologians can see that they are bad, but they are still bad when employed in defence of what the theologians think good. Freedom of thought and the habit of giving weight to evidence are matters of far greater moral import than the belief in this or that theological dogma. On all these grounds it cannot be maintained that theological beliefs should be upheld for their usefulness without regard to their truth.
There is a simpler and more naive form of the same argument, which appeals to many individuals. People will tell us that without the consolations of religion they would be intolerably unhappy. So far as this is true, it is a coward's argument. Nobody but a coward would consciously choose to live in a fool's paradise. When a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is not thought the better of for shutting his eyes to the evidence. And I cannot see why ignoring evidence should be contemptible in one case and admirable in the other. Apart from this argument the importance of religion in contributing to individual happiness is very much exaggerated. Whether you are happy or unhappy depends upon a number of factors. Most people need good health and enough to eat. They need the good opinion of their social milieu and the affection of their intimates. They need not only physical health but mental health. Given all these things, most people will be happy whatever their theology. Without them, most people will be unhappy, whatever their theology. In thinking over the people I have known, I do not find that on the average those who had religious beliefs were happier than those who had not.
When I come to my own beliefs, I find myself quite unable to discern any purpose in the universe, and still more unable to wish to discern one. Those who imagine that the course of cosmic evolution is slowly leading up to some consummation pleasing to the Creator, are logically committed (though they usually fail to realize this) to the view that the Creator is not omnipotent or, if He were omnipotent, He could decree the end without troubling about means. I do not myself perceive any consummation toward which the universe is tending. According to the physicists, energy will be gradually more evenly distributed and as it becomes more evenly distributed it will become more useless. Gradually everything that we find interesting or pleasant, such as life and light, will disappear -- so, at least, they assure us. The cosmos is like a theatre in which just once a play is performed, but, after the curtain falls, the theatre is left cold and empty until it sinks in ruins. I do not mean to assert with any positiveness that this is the case. That would be to assume more knowledge than we possess. I say only that it is what is probable on present evidence. I will not assert dogmatically that there is no cosmic purpose, but I will say that there is no shred of evidence in favor of there being one.
I will say further that, if there be a purpose and if this purpose is that of an Omnipotent Creator, then that Creator, so far from being loving and kind, as we are told, must be of a degree of wickedness scarcely conceivable. A man who commits a murder is considered to be a bad man. An Omnipotent Deity, if there be one, murders everybody. A man who willingly afflicted another with cancer would be considered a fiend. But the Creator, if He exists, afflicts many thousands every year with this dreadful disease. A man who, having the knowledge and power required to make his children good, chose instead to make them bad, would be viewed with execration. But God, if He exists, makes this choice in the case of very many of His children. The whole conception of an omnipotent God whom it is impious to criticize, could only have arisen under oriental despotisms where sovereigns, in spite of capricious cruelties, continued to enjoy the adulation of their slaves. It is the psychology appropriate to this outmoded political system which belatedly survives in orthodox theology.
There is, it is true, a Modernist form of theism, according to which God is not omnipotent, but is doing His best, in spite of great difficulties. This view, although it is new among Christians, is not new in the history of thought. It is, in fact, to be found in Plato. I do not think this view can be proved to be false. I think all that can be said is that there is no positive reason in its favour.
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time. It is customary to suppose that, if a belief is widespread, there must be something reasonable about it. I do not think this view can be held by anyone who has studied history. Practically all the beliefs of savages are absurd. In early civilizations there may be as much as one percent for which there is something to be said. In our own day.... But at this point I must be careful. We all know that there are absurd beliefs in Soviet Russia. If we are Protestants, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Catholics. If we are Catholics, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Protestants. If we are Conservatives, we are amazed by the superstitions to be found in the Labour Party. If we are Socialists, we are aghast at the credulity of Conservatives. I do not know, dear reader, what your beliefs may be, but whatever they may be, you must concede that nine-tenths of the beliefs of nine-tenths of mankind are totally irrational. The beliefs in question are, of course, those which you do not hold. I cannot, therefore, think it presumptuous to doubt something which has long been held to be true, especially when this opinion has only prevailed in certain geographical regions, as is the case with all theological opinions.
My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
In Praise of Idleness
Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. this traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.
Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people's mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people's mouths in spending as he takes out of other people's mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.
One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man's economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.
But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface card in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.
All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.
Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.
From the beginning of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labor as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by warriors and priests. In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger. This system persisted in Russia until 1917 , and still persists in the East; in England, in spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until a hundred years ago, when the new class of manufacturers acquired power. In America, the system came to an end with the Revolution, except in the South, where it persisted until the Civil War. A system which lasted so long and ended so recently has naturally left a profound impress upon men's thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
It is obvious that, in primitive communities, peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted with the slender surplus upon which the warriors and priests subsisted, but would have either produced less or consumed more. At first, sheer force compelled them to produce and part with the surplus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to induce many of them to accept an ethic according to which it was their duty to work hard, although part of their work went to support others in idleness. By this means the amount of compulsion required was lessened, and the expenses of government were diminished. To this day, 99 per cent of British wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it were proposed that the King should not have a larger income than a working man. The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own. Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.
Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.
This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day's work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: 'What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work.' People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the source of much of our economic confusion.
Let us, for a moment, consider the ethics of work frankly, without superstition. Every human being, of necessity, consumes, in the course of his life, a certain amount of the produce of human labor. Assuming, as we may, that labor is on the whole disagreeable, it is unjust that a man should consume more than he produces. Of course he may provide services rather than commodities, like a medical man, for example; but he should provide something in return for his board and lodging. to this extent, the duty of work must be admitted, but to this extent only.
I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work, namely all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.
If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment -- assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure. In America men often work long hours even when they are well off; such men, naturally, are indignant at the idea of leisure for wage-earners, except as the grim punishment of unemployment; in fact, they dislike leisure even for their sons. Oddly enough, while they wish their sons to work so hard as to have no time to be civilized, they do not mind their wives and daughters having no work at all. the snobbish admiration of uselessness, which, in an aristocratic society, extends to both sexes, is, under a plutocracy, confined to women; this, however, does not make it any more in agreement with common sense.
The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.
In the new creed which controls the government of Russia, while there is much that is very different from the traditional teaching of the West, there are some things that are quite unchanged. The attitude of the governing classes, and especially of those who conduct educational propaganda, on the subject of the dignity of labor, is almost exactly that which the governing classes of the world have always preached to what were called the 'honest poor'. Industry, sobriety, willingness to work long hours for distant advantages, even submissiveness to authority, all these reappear; moreover authority still represents the will of the Ruler of the Universe, Who, however, is now called by a new name, Dialectical Materialism.
The victory of the proletariat in Russia has some points in common with the victory of the feminists in some other countries. For ages, men had conceded the superior saintliness of women, and had consoled women for their inferiority by maintaining that saintliness is more desirable than power. At last the feminists decided that they would have both, since the pioneers among them believed all that the men had told them about the desirability of virtue, but not what they had told them about the worthlessness of political power. A similar thing has happened in Russia as regards manual work. For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of 'honest toil', have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement. In Russia, all this teaching about the excellence of manual work has been taken seriously, with the result that the manual worker is more honored than anyone else. What are, in essence, revivalist appeals are made, but not for the old purposes: they are made to secure shock workers for special tasks. Manual work is the ideal which is held before the young, and is the basis of all ethical teaching.
For the present, possibly, this is all to the good. A large country, full of natural resources, awaits development, and has has to be developed with very little use of credit. In these circumstances, hard work is necessary, and is likely to bring a great reward. But what will happen when the point has been reached where everybody could be comfortable without working long hours?
In the West, we have various ways of dealing with this problem. We have no attempt at economic justice, so that a large proportion of the total produce goes to a small minority of the population, many of whom do no work at all. Owing to the absence of any central control over production, we produce hosts of things that are not wanted. We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labor by making the others overwork. When all these methods prove inadequate, we have a war: we cause a number of people to manufacture high explosives, and a number of others to explode them, as if we were children who had just discovered fireworks. By a combination of all these devices we manage, though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot of the average man.
In Russia, owing to more economic justice and central control over production, the problem will have to be differently solved. the rational solution would be, as soon as the necessaries and elementary comforts can be provided for all, to reduce the hours of labor gradually, allowing a popular vote to decide, at each stage, whether more leisure or more goods were to be preferred. But, having taught the supreme virtue of hard work, it is difficult to see how the authorities can aim at a paradise in which there will be much leisure and little work. It seems more likely that they will find continually fresh schemes, by which present leisure is to be sacrificed to future productivity. I read recently of an ingenious plan put forward by Russian engineers, for making the White Sea and the northern coasts of Siberia warm, by putting a dam across the Kara Sea. An admirable project, but liable to postpone proletarian comfort for a generation, while the nobility of toil is being displayed amid the ice-fields and snowstorms of the Arctic Ocean. This sort of thing, if it happens, will be the result of regarding the virtue of hard work as an end in itself, rather than as a means to a state of affairs in which it is no longer needed.
The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labor, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth's surface. Neither of these motives makes any great appeal to the actual worker. If you ask him what he thinks the best part of his life, he is not likely to say: 'I enjoy manual work because it makes me feel that I am fulfilling man's noblest task, and because I like to think how much man can transform his planet. It is true that my body demands periods of rest, which I have to fill in as best I may, but I am never so happy as when the morning comes and I can return to the toil from which my contentment springs.' I have never heard working men say this sort of thing. They consider work, as it should be considered, a necessary means to a livelihood, and it is from their leisure that they derive whatever happiness they may enjoy.
It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two sides of one transaction, this is absurd; one might as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.
When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours' work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort of things that would be considered 'highbrow'. Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural areas, but the impulses which caused them to be cultivated must still exist in human nature. The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.
In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it contributed nearly the whole of what we call civilization. It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.
The method of a leisure class without duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None of the members of the class had to be taught to be industrious, and the class as a whole was not exceptionally intelligent. The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers. At present, the universities are supposed to provide, in a more systematic way, what the leisure class provided accidentally and as a by-product. This is a great improvement, but it has certain drawbacks. University life is so different from life in the world at large that men who live in academic milieu tend to be unaware of the preoccupations and problems of ordinary men and women; moreover their ways of expressing themselves are usually such as to rob their opinions of the influence that they ought to have upon the general public. Another disadvantage is that in universities studies are organized, and the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged. Academic institutions, therefore, useful as they are, are not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone outside their walls is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits.
In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.
Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.
 Since then, members of the Communist Party have succeeded to this privilege of the warriors and priests.