[Sidenote: Ferocious but useful despotisms.]
Not only may the established regime be superior to any other that could be substituted for it at the time, but some security against total destruction, and a certain opportunity for the arts and for personal advancement may follow subjugation. A moderate decrease in personal independence may be compensated by a novel public grandeur; palace and temple may make amends for hovels somewhat more squalid than before. Hence, those who cannot conceive a rational polity, or a co-operative greatness in the state, especially if they have a luxurious fancy, can take pleasure in despotism; for it does not, after all, make so much difference to an ordinary fool whether what he suffers from is another's oppression or his own lazy improvidence; and he can console himself by saying with Goldsmith:
How small, of all that human hearts endure, The part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
At the same time a court and a hierarchy, with their interesting pomp and historic continuity, with their combined appeal to greed and imagination, redeem human existence from pervasive vulgarity and allow somebody at least to strut proudly over the earth. Serfs are not in a worse material condition than savages, and their spiritual opportunities are infinitely greater; for their eye and fancy are fed with visions of human greatness, and even if they cannot improve their outward estate they can possess a poetry and a religion. It suffices to watch an Oriental rabble at prayer, or listening in profound immobility to some wandering story-teller or musician, to feel how much such a people may have to ruminate upon, and how truly Arabian days and Arabian Nights go together. The ideas evolved may be wild and futile and the emotions savagely sensuous, yet they constitute a fund of inner experience, a rich soil for better imaginative growths. To such Oriental cogitations, for instance, carried on under the shadow of uncontrollable despotisms, mankind owes all its greater religions.
A government's origin has nothing to do with its legitimacy; that is, with its representative operation. An absolutism based on conquest or on religious fraud may wholly lose its hostile function. It may become the nucleus of a national organisation expressing justly enough the people's requirements. Such a representative character is harder to attain when the government is foreign, for diversity in race language and local ties makes the ruler less apt involuntarily to represent his subjects; his measures must subserve their interests intentionally, out of sympathy, policy, and a sense of duty, virtues which are seldom efficacious for any continuous period. A native government, even if based on initial outrage, can more easily drift into excellence; for when a great man mounts the throne he has only to read his own soul and follow his instinctive ambitions in order to make himself the leader and spokesman of his nation. An Alexander, an Alfred, a Peter the Great, are examples of persons who with varying degrees of virtue were representative rulers: their policy, however irrationally inspired, happened to serve their subjects and the world. Besides, a native government is less easily absolute. Many influences control the ruler in his aims and habits, such as religion, custom, and the very language he speaks, by which praise and blame are assigned automatically to the objects loved or hated by the people. He cannot, unless he be an intentional monster, oppose himself wholly to the common soul.
[Sidenote: Occasional advantage of being conquered.]
For this very reason, however, native governments are little fitted to redeem or transform a people, and all great upheavals and regenerations have been brought about by conquest, by the substitution of one race and spirit for another in the counsels of the world. What the Orient owes to Greece, the Occident to Rome, India to England, native America to Spain, is a civilisation incomparably better than that which the conquered people could ever have provided for themselves. Conquest is a good means of recasting those ideals, perhaps impracticable and ignorant, which a native government at its best would try to preserve. Such inapt ideals, it is true, would doubtless remodel themselves if they could be partly realised. Progress from within is possible, otherwise no progress would be possible for humanity at large. But conquest gives at once a freer field to those types of polity which, since they go with strength, presumably represent the better adjustment to natural conditions, and therefore the better ideal. Though the substance of ideals is the will, their mould must be experience and a true discernment of opportunity; so that while all ideals, regarded in vacuo, are equal in ideality, they are, under given circumstances, very diverse in worth.
[Sidenote: Origin of free governments.]
When not founded on conquest, which is the usual source of despotism, government is ordinarily based on traditional authority vested in elders or patriarchal kings. This is the origin of the classic state, and of all aristocracy and freedom. The economic and political unit is a great household with its lord, his wife and children, clients and slaves. In the interstices of these households there may be a certain floating residuum—freedmen, artisans, merchants, strangers. These people, while free, are without such rights as even slaves possess; they have no share in the religion, education, and resources of any established family. For purposes of defence and religion the heads of houses gather together in assemblies, elect or recognise some chief, and agree upon laws, usually little more than extant customs regulated and formally sanctioned.
[Sidenote: Their democratic tendencies.]
Such a state tends to expand in two directions. In the first place, it becomes more democratic; that is, it tends to recognise other influences than that which heads of families—patres conscripti—possess. The people without such fathers, those who are not patricians, also have children and come to imitate on a smaller scale the patriarchal economy. These plebeians are admitted to citizenship. But they have no such religious dignity and power in their little families as the patricians have in theirs; they are scarcely better than loose individuals, representing nothing but their own sweet wills. This individualism and levity is not, however, confined to the plebeians; it extends to the patrician houses. Individualism is the second direction in which a patriarchal society yields to innovation. As the state grows the family weakens; and while in early Rome, for instance, only the pater familias was responsible to the city, and his children and slaves only to him, in Greece we find from early times individuals called to account before public judges. A federation of households thus became a republic. The king, that chief who enjoyed a certain hereditary precedence in sacrifices or in war, yields to elected generals and magistrates whose power, while it lasts, is much greater; for no other comparable power now subsists in the levelled state.
Modern Europe has seen an almost parallel development of democracy and individualism, together with the establishment of great artificial governments. Though the feudal hierarchy was originally based on conquest or domestic subjection, it came to have a fanciful or chivalrous or political force. But gradually the plebeian classes—the burghers—grew in importance, and military allegiance was weakened by being divided between a number of superposed lords, up to the king, emperor, or pope. The stronger rulers grew into absolute monarchs, representatives of great states, and the people became, in a political sense, a comparatively level multitude. Where parliamentary government was established it became possible to subordinate or exclude the monarch and his court; but the government remains an involuntary institution, and the individual must adapt himself to its exigencies. The church which once overshadowed the state has now lost its coercive authority and the single man stands alone before an impersonal written law, a constitutional government, and a widely diffused and contagious public opinion, characterised by enormous inertia, incoherence, and blindness. Contemporary national units are strongly marked and stimulate on occasion a perfervid artificial patriotism; but they are strangely unrepresentative of either personal or universal interests and may yield in turn to new combinations, if the industrial and intellectual solidarity of mankind, every day more obvious, ever finds a fit organ to express and to defend it.
[Sidenote: Imperial peace.]
A despotic military government founded on alien force and aiming at its own magnificence is often more efficient in defending its subjects than is a government expressing only the people's energies, as the predatory shepherd and his dog prove better guardians for a flock than its own wethers. The robbers that at their first incursion brought terror to merchant and peasant may become almost immediately representative organs of society—an army and a judiciary. Disputes between subjects are naturally submitted to the invader, under whose laws and good-will alone a practical settlement can now be effected; and this alien tribunal, being exempt from local prejudices and interested in peace that taxes may be undiminished, may administer a comparatively impartial justice, until corrupted by bribes. The constant compensation tyranny brings, which keeps it from at once exhausting its victims, is the silence it imposes on their private squabbles. One distant universal enemy is less oppressive than a thousand unchecked pilferers and plotters at home. For this reason the reader of ancient history so often has occasion to remark what immense prosperity Asiatic provinces enjoyed between the periods when their successive conquerors devastated them. They flourished exceedingly the moment peace and a certain order were established in them.
[Sidenote: Nominal and real status of armies.]
Tyranny not only protects the subject against his kinsmen, thus taking on the functions of law and police, but it also protects him against military invasion, and thus takes on the function of an army. An army, considered ideally, is an organ for the state's protection; but it is far from being such in its origin, since at first an army is nothing but a ravenous and lusty horde quartered in a conquered country; yet the cost of such an incubus may come to be regarded as an insurance against further attack, and so what is in its real basis an inevitable burden resulting from a chance balance of forces may be justified in after-thought as a rational device for defensive purposes. Such an ulterior justification has nothing to do, however, with the causes that maintain armies or military policies: and accordingly those virginal minds that think things originated in the uses they may have acquired, have frequent cause to be pained and perplexed at the abuses and over-development of militarism. An insurance capitalised may exceed the value of the property insured, and the drain caused by armies and navies may be much greater than the havoc they prevent. The evils against which they are supposed to be directed are often evils only in a cant and conventional sense, since the events deprecated (like absorption by a neighbouring state) might be in themselves no misfortune to the people, but perhaps a singular blessing. And those dreaded possibilities, even if really evil, may well be less so than is the hateful actuality of military taxes, military service, and military arrogance.
[Sidenote: Their action irresponsible.]
Nor is this all: the military classes, since they inherit the blood and habits of conquerors, naturally love war and their irrational combativeness is reinforced by interest; for in war officers can shine and rise, while the danger of death, to a brave man, is rather a spur and a pleasing excitement than a terror. A military class is therefore always recalling, foretelling, and meditating war; it fosters artificial and senseless jealousies toward other governments that possess armies; and finally, as often as not, it precipitates disaster by bringing about the objectless struggle on which it has set its heart.
[Sidenote: Pugnacity human.]
These natural phenomena, unintelligently regarded as anomalies and abuses, are the appanage of war in its pristine and proper form. To fight is a radical instinct; if men have nothing else to fight over they will fight over words, fancies, or women, or they will fight because they dislike each other's looks, or because they have met walking in opposite directions. To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight to the blood. To fight for a reason and in a calculating spirit is something your true warrior despises; even a coward might screw his courage up to such a reasonable conflict. The joy and glory of fighting lie in its pure spontaneity and consequent generosity; you are not fighting for gain, but for sport and for victory. Victory, no doubt, has its fruits for the victor. If fighting were not a possible means of livelihood the bellicose instinct could never have established itself in any long-lived race. A few men can live on plunder, just as there is room in the world for some beasts of prey; other men are reduced to living on industry, just as there are diligent bees, ants, and herbivorous kine. But victory need have no good fruits for the people whose army is victorious. That it sometimes does so is an ulterior and blessed circumstance hardly to be reckoned upon.
[Sidenote: Barrack-room philosophy.]
Since barbarism has its pleasures it naturally has its apologists. There are panegyrists of war who say that without a periodical bleeding a race decays and loses its manhood. Experience is directly opposed to this shameless assertion. It is war that wastes a nation's wealth, chokes its industries, kills its flower, narrows its sympathies, condemns it to be governed by adventurers, and leaves the puny, deformed, and unmanly to breed the next generation. Internecine war, foreign and civil, brought about the greatest set-back which the Life of Reason has ever suffered; it exterminated the Greek and Italian aristocracies. Instead of being descended from heroes, modern nations are descended from slaves; and it is not their bodies only that show it. After a long peace, if the conditions of life are propitious, we observe a people's energies bursting their barriers; they become aggressive on the strength they have stored up in their remote and unchecked development. It is the unmutilated race, fresh from the struggle with nature (in which the best survive, while in war it is often the best that perish) that descends victoriously into the arena of nations and conquers disciplined armies at the first blow, becomes the military aristocracy of the next epoch and is itself ultimately sapped and decimated by luxury and battle, and merged at last into the ignoble conglomerate beneath. Then, perhaps, in some other virgin country a genuine humanity is again found, capable of victory because unbled by war. To call war the soil of courage and virtue is like calling debauchery the soil of love.
[Sidenote: Military virtues.]
Military institutions, adventitious and ill-adapted excrescences as they usually are, can acquire rational values in various ways. Besides occasional defence, they furnish a profession congenial to many, and a spectacle and emotion interesting to all. Blind courage is an animal virtue indispensable in a world full of dangers and evils where a certain insensibility and dash are requisite to skirt the precipice without vertigo. Such animal courage seems therefore beautiful rather than desperate or cruel, and being the lowest and most instinctive of virtues it is the one most widely and sincerely admired. In the form of steadiness under risks rationally taken, and perseverance so long as there is a chance of success, courage is a true virtue; but it ceases to be one when the love of danger, a useful passion when danger is unavoidable, begins to lead men into evils which it was unnecessary to face. Bravado, provocativeness, and a gambler's instinct, with a love of hitting hard for the sake of exercise, is a temper which ought already to be counted among the vices rather than the virtues of man. To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman.
Discipline, or the habit of obedience, is a better sort of courage which military life also requires. Discipline is the acquired faculty of surrendering an immediate personal good for the sake of a remote and impersonal one of greater value. This difficult wisdom is made easier by training in an army, because the great forces of habit, example and social suasion, are there enlisted in its service. But these natural aids make it lose its conscious rationality, so that it ceases to be a virtue except potentially; for to resist an impulse by force of habit or external command may or may not be to follow the better course.
Besides fostering these rudimentary virtues the army gives the nation's soul its most festive and flaunting embodiment. Popular heroes, stirring episodes, obvious turning-points in history, commonly belong to military life.
[Sidenote: They are splendid vices.]
Nevertheless the panegyrist of war places himself on the lowest level on which a moralist or patriot can stand and shows as great a want of refined feeling as of right reason. For the glories of war are all blood-stained, delirious, and infected with crime; the combative instinct is a savage prompting by which one man's good is found in another's evil. The existence of such a contradiction in the moral world is the original sin of nature, whence flows every other wrong. He is a willing accomplice of that perversity in things who delights in another's discomfiture or in his own, and craves the blind tension of plunging into danger without reason, or the idiot's pleasure in facing a pure chance. To find joy in another's trouble is, as man is constituted, not unnatural, though it is wicked; and to find joy in one's own trouble, though it be madness, is not yet impossible for man. These are the chaotic depths of that dreaming nature out of which humanity has to grow.
[Sidenote: Absolute value in strife.]
If war could be abolished and the defence of all interests intrusted to courts of law, there would remain unsatisfied a primary and therefore ineradicable instinct—a love of conflict, of rivalry, and of victory. If we desire to abolish war because it tries to do good by doing harm, we must not ourselves do an injury to human nature while trying to smooth it out. Now the test and limit of all necessary reform is vital harmony. No impulse can be condemned arbitrarily or because some other impulse or group of interests is, in a Platonic way, out of sympathy with it. An instinct can be condemned only if it prevents the realisation of other instincts, and only in so far as it does so. War, which has instinctive warrant, must therefore be transformed only in so far as it does harm to other interests. The evils of war are obvious enough; could not the virtues of war, animal courage, discipline, and self-knowledge, together with gaiety and enthusiasm, find some harmless occasion for their development?
[Sidenote: Sport a civilised way of preserving it.]
Such a harmless simulacrum of war is seen in sport. The arduous and competitive element in sport is not harmful, if the discipline involved brings no loss of faculty or of right sensitiveness, and the rivalry no rancour. In war states wish to be efficient in order to conquer, but in sport men wish to prove their excellence because they wish to have it. If this excellence does not exist, the aim is missed, and to discover that failure is no new misfortune. To have failed unwittingly would have been worse; and to recognise superiority in another is consistent with a relatively good and honourable performance, so that even nominal failure may be a substantial success. And merit in a rival should bring a friendly delight even to the vanquished if they are true lovers of sport and of excellence. Sport is a liberal form of war stripped of its compulsions and malignity; a rational art and the expression of a civilised instinct.
[Sidenote: Who shall found the universal commonwealth?]
The abolition of war, like its inception, can only be brought about by a new collocation of material forces. As the suppression of some nest of piratical tribes by a great emperor substitutes judicial for military sanctions among them, so the conquest of all warring nations by some imperial people could alone establish general peace. The Romans approached this ideal because their vast military power stood behind their governors and praetors. Science and commerce might conceivably resume that lost imperial function. If at the present day two or three powerful governments could so far forget their irrational origin as to renounce the right to occasional piracy and could unite in enforcing the decisions of some international tribunal, they would thereby constitute that tribunal the organ of a universal government and render war impossible between responsible states. But on account of their irrational basis all governments largely misrepresent the true interests of those who live under them. They pursue conventional and captious ends to which alone public energies can as yet be efficiently directed.
THE ARISTOCRATIC IDEAL
[Sidenote: Eminence, once existing, grows by its own.]
"To him that hath shall be given," says the Gospel, representing as a principle of divine justice one that undoubtedly holds in earthly economy. A not dissimilar observation is made in the proverb: "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." Indeed, some trifling acquisition often gives an animal an initial advantage which may easily roll up and increase prodigiously, becoming the basis of prolonged good fortune. Sometimes this initial advantage is a matter of natural structure, like talent, strength, or goodness; sometimes an accidental accretion, like breeding, instruction, or wealth. Such advantages grow by the opportunities they make; and it is possible for a man launched into the world at the right moment with the right equipment to mount easily from eminence to eminence and accomplish very great things without doing more than genially follow his instincts and respond with ardour, like an Alexander or a Shakespeare, to his opportunities. A great endowment, doubled by great good fortune, raises men like these into supreme representatives of mankind.
[Sidenote: Its causes natural and its privileges just.]
It is no loss of liberty to subordinate ourselves to a natural leader. On the contrary, we thereby seize an opportunity to exercise our freedom, availing ourselves of the best instrument obtainable to accomplish our ends. A man may be a natural either by his character or by his position. The advantages a man draws from that peculiar structure of his brain which renders him, for instance, a ready speaker or an ingenious mathematician, are by common consent regarded as legitimate advantages. The public will use and reward such ability without jealousy and with positive delight. In an unsophisticated age the same feeling prevails in regard to those advantages which a man may draw from more external circumstances. If a traveller, having been shipwrecked in some expedition, should learn the secrets of an unknown land, its arts and resources, his fellow-citizens, on his return, would not hesitate to follow his direction in respect to those novel matters. It would be senseless folly on their part to begrudge him his adventitious eminence and refuse to esteem him of more consequence than their uninitiated selves. Yet when people, ignoring the natural causes of all that is called artificial, think that but for an unlucky chance they, too, might have enjoyed the advantages which raise other men above them, they sometimes affect not to recognise actual distinctions and abilities, or study enviously the means of annulling them. So long, however, as by the operation of any causes whatever some real competence accrues to anyone, it is for the general interest that this competence should bear its natural fruits, diversifying the face of society and giving its possessor a corresponding distinction.
[Sidenote: Advantage of inequality.]
Variety in the world is an unmixed blessing so long as each distinct function can be exercised without hindrance to any other. There is no greater stupidity or meanness than to take uniformity for an ideal, as if it were not a benefit and a joy to a man, being what he is, to know that many are, have been, and will be better than he. Grant that no one is positively degraded by the great man's greatness and it follows that everyone is exalted by it. Beauty, genius, holiness, even power and extraordinary wealth, radiate their virtue and make the world in which they exist a better and a more joyful place to live in. Hence the insatiable vulgar curiosity about great people, and the strange way in which the desire for fame (by which the distinguished man sinks to the common level) is met and satisfied by the universal interest in whatever is extraordinary. This avidity not to miss knowledge of things notable, and to enact vicariously all singular roles, shows the need men have of distinction and the advantage they find even in conceiving it. For it is the presence of variety and a nearer approach somewhere to just and ideal achievement that gives men perspective in their judgments and opens vistas from the dull foreground of their lives to sea, mountain, and stars.
No merely idle curiosity shows itself in this instinct; rather a mark of human potentiality that recognises in what is yet attained a sad caricature of what is essentially attainable. For man's spirit is intellectual and naturally demands dominion and science; it craves in all things friendliness and beauty. The least hint of attainment in these directions fills it with satisfaction and the sense of realised expectation. So much so that when no inkling of a supreme fulfilment is found in the world or in the heart, men still cling to the notion of it in God or the hope of it in heaven, and religion, when it entertains them with that ideal, seems to have reached its highest height. Love of uniformity would quench the thirst for new outlets, for perfect, even if alien, achievements, and this, so long as perfection had not been actually attained, would indicate a mind dead to the ideal.
[Sidenote: Fable of the belly and the members.]
[Sidenote: Fallacy in it.]
Menenius Agrippa expressed very well the aristocratic theory of society when he compared the state to a human body in which the common people were the hands and feet, and the nobles the belly. The people, when they forgot the conditions of their own well-being, might accuse themselves of folly and the nobles of insolent idleness, for the poor spent their lives in hopeless labour that others who did nothing might enjoy all. But there was a secret circulation of substance in the body politic, and the focussing of all benefits in the few was the cause of nutrition and prosperity to the many. Perhaps the truth might be even better expressed in a physiological figure somewhat more modern, by saying that the brain, which consumes much blood, well repays its obligations to the stomach and members, for it co-ordinates their motions and prepares their satisfactions. Yet there is this important difference between the human body and the state, a difference which renders Agrippa's fable wholly misleading: the hands and feet have no separate consciousness, and if they are ill used it is the common self that feels the weariness and the bruises. But in the state the various members have a separate sensibility, and, although their ultimate interests lie, no doubt, in co-operation and justice, their immediate instinct and passion may lead them to oppress one another perpetually. At one time the brain, forgetting the members, may feast on opiates and unceasing music; and again, the members, thinking they could more economically shift for themselves, may starve the brain and reduce the body politic to a colony of vegetating microbes. In a word, the consciousness inhabiting the brain embodies the functions of all the body's organs, and responds in a general way to all their changes of fortune, but in the state every cell has a separate brain, and the greatest citizen, by his existence, realises only his own happiness.
[Sidenote: Theism expresses better the aristocratic ideal.]
For an ideal aristocracy we should not look to Plato's Republic, for that Utopia is avowedly the ideal only for fallen and corrupt states, since luxury and injustice, we are told, first necessitated war, and the guiding idea of all the Platonic regimen is military efficiency. Aristocracy finds a more ideal expression in theism; for theism imagines the values of existence to be divided into two unequal parts: on the one hand the infinite value of God's life, on the other the finite values of all the created hierarchy. According to theistic cosmology, there was a metaphysical necessity, if creatures were to exist at all, that they should be in some measure inferior to godhead; otherwise they would have been indistinguishable from the godhead itself according to the principle called the identity of indiscernibles, which declares that two beings exactly alike cannot exist without collapsing into an undivided unit. The propagation of life involved, then, declension from pure vitality, and to diffuse being meant to dilute it with nothingness. This declension might take place in infinite degrees, each retaining some vestige of perfection mixed, as it were, with a greater and greater proportion of impotence and nonentity. Below God stood the angels, below them man, and below man the brute and inanimate creation. Each sphere, as it receded, contained a paler adumbration of the central perfection; yet even at the last confines of existence some feeble echo of divinity would still resound. This inequality in dignity would be not only a beauty in the whole, to whose existence and order such inequalities would be essential, but also no evil to the creature and no injustice; for a modicum of good is not made evil simply because a greater good is elsewhere possible. On the contrary, by accepting that appointed place and that specific happiness, each servant of the universal harmony could feel its infinite value and could thrill the more profoundly to a music which he helped to intone.
[Sidenote: A heaven with many mansions.]
Dante has expressed this thought with great simplicity and beauty. He asks a friend's spirit, which he finds lodged in the lowest circle of paradise, if a desire to mount higher does not sometimes visit him; and the spirit replies:
"Brother, the force of charity quiets our will, making us wish only for what we have and thirst for nothing more. If we desired to be in a sublimer sphere, our desires would be discordant with the will of him who here allots us our divers stations—something which you will see there is no room for in these circles, if to dwell in charity be needful here, and if you consider duly the nature of charity. For it belongs to the essence of that blessed state to keep within the divine purposes, that our own purposes may become one also. Thus, the manner in which we are ranged from step to step in this kingdom pleases the whole kingdom, as it does the king who gives us will to will with him. And his will is our peace; it is that sea toward which all things move that his will creates and that nature fashions."[C]
[Sidenote: If God is defined as the human ideal, apotheosis the only paradise.]
Such pious resignation has in it something pathetic and constrained, which Dante could not or would not disguise. For a theism which, like Aristotle's and Dante's, has a Platonic essence, God is really nothing but the goal of human aspiration embodied imaginatively. This fact makes these philosophers feel that whatever falls short of divinity has something imperfect about it. God is what man ought to be; and man, while he is still himself, must yearn for ever, like Aristotle's cosmos, making in his perpetual round a vain imitation of deity, and an eternal prayer. Hence, a latent minor strain in Aristotle's philosophy, the hopeless note of paganism, and in Dante an undertone of sorrow and sacrifice, inseparable from Christian feeling. In both, virtue implies a certain sense of defeat, a fatal unnatural limitation, as if a pristine ideal had been surrendered and what remained were at best a compromise. Accordingly we need not be surprised if aspiration, in all these men, finally takes a mystical turn; and Dante's ghostly friends, after propounding their aristocratic philosophy, to justify God in other men's eyes, are themselves on the point of quitting the lower sphere to which God had assigned them and plunging into the "sea" of his absolute ecstasy. For, if the word God stands for man's spiritual ideal, heaven can consist only in apotheosis. This the Greeks knew very well. They instinctively ignored or feared any immortality which fell short of deification; and the Christian mystics reached the same goal by less overt courses. They merged the popular idea of a personal God in their foretaste of peace and perfection; and their whole religion was an effort to escape humanity.
[Sidenote: When natures differ perfections differ too.]
It is true that the theistic cosmology might hear a different interpretation. If by deity we mean not man's ideal—intellectual or sensuous—but the total cosmic order, then the universal hierarchy may be understood naturalistically so that each sphere gives scope for one sort of good. God, or the highest being, would then be simply the life of nature as a whole, if nature has a conscious life, or that of its noblest portion. The supposed "metaphysical evil" involved in finitude would then be no evil at all, but the condition of every good. In realising his own will in his own way, each creature would be perfectly happy, without yearning or pathetic regrets for other forms of being. Such forms of being would all be unpalatable to him, even if conventionally called higher, because their body was larger, and their soul more complex. Nor would divine perfection itself be in any sense perfection unless it gave expression to some definite nature, the entelechy either of the celestial spheres, or of scientific thought, or of some other actual existence. Under these circumstances, inhabitants even of the lowest heaven would be unreservedly happy, as happy in their way as those of the seventh heaven could be in theirs. No pathetic note would any longer disquiet their finitude. They would not have to renounce, in sad conformity to an alien will, what even for them would have been a deeper joy. They would be asked to renounce nothing but what, for them, would be an evil. The overruling providence would then in truth be fatherly, by providing for each being that which it inwardly craved. Persons of one rank would not be improved by passing into the so-called higher sphere, any more than the ox would be improved by being transformed into a lark, or a king into a poet.
Man in such a system could no more pine to be God than he could pine to be the law of gravity, or Spinoza's substance, or Hegel's dialectical idea. Such naturalistic abstractions, while they perhaps express some element of reality or its total form, are not objects corresponding to man's purposes and are morally inferior to his humanity. Every man's ideal lies within the potentialities of his nature, for only by expressing his nature can ideals possess authority or attraction over him. Heaven accordingly has really many mansions, each truly heavenly to him who would inhabit it, and there is really no room for discord in those rounds. One ideal can no more conflict with another than truth can jostle truth; but men, or the disorganised functions within a given individual, may be in physical conflict, as opinion may wrestle with opinion in the world's arena or in an ignorant brain. Among ideals themselves infinite variety is consistent with perfect harmony, but matter that has not yet developed or discovered its organic affinities may well show groping and contradictory tendencies. When, however, these embryonic disorders are once righted, each possible life knows its natural paradise, and what some unintelligent outsider might say in dispraise of that ideal will never wound or ruffle the self-justified creature whose ideal it is, any more than a cat's aversion to water will disturb a fish's plan of life.
[Sidenote: Theory that stations actually correspond to faculty.]
An aristocratic society might accordingly be a perfect heaven if the variety and superposition of functions in it expressed a corresponding diversity in its members' faculties and ideals. And, indeed, what aristocratic philosophers have always maintained is that men really differ so much in capacity that one is happier for being a slave, another for being a shopkeeper, and a third for being a king. All professions, they say, even the lowest, are or may be vocations. Some men, Aristotle tells us, are slaves by nature; only physical functions are spontaneous in them. So long as they are humanely treated, it is, we may infer, a benefit for them to be commanded; and the contribution their labour makes toward rational life in their betters is the highest dignity they can attain, and should be prized by them as a sufficient privilege.
Such assertions, coming from lordly lips, have a suspicious optimism about them; yet the faithful slave, such as the nurse we find in the tragedies, may sometimes have corresponded to that description. In other regions it is surely true that to advance in conventional station would often entail a loss in true dignity and happiness. It would seldom benefit a musician to be appointed admiral or a housemaid to become a prima donna. Scientific breeding might conceivably develop much more sharply the various temperaments and faculties needed in the state; and then each caste or order of citizens would not be more commonly dissatisfied with its lot than men or women now are with their sex. One tribe would run errands as persistently as the ants; another would sing like the lark; a third would show a devil's innate fondness for stoking a fiery furnace.
[Sidenote: Its falsity.]
Aristocracy logically involves castes. But such castes as exist in India, and the social classes we find in the western world, are not now based on any profound difference in race, capacity, or inclination. They are based probably on the chances of some early war, reinforced by custom and perpetuated by inheritance. A certain circulation, corresponding in part to proved ability or disability, takes place in the body politic, and, since the French Revolution, has taken place increasingly. Some, by energy and perseverance, rise from the bottom; some, by ill fortune or vice, fall from the top. But these readjustments are insignificant in comparison with the social inertia that perpetuates all the classes, and even such shifts as occur at once re-establish artificial conditions for the next generation. As a rule, men's station determines their occupation without their gifts determining their station. Thus stifled ability in the lower orders, and apathy or pampered incapacity in the higher, unite to deprive society of its natural leaders.
[Sidenote: Feeble individuality the rule.]
It would be easy, however, to exaggerate the havoc wrought by such artificial conditions. The monotony we observe in mankind must not be charged to the oppressive influence of circumstances crushing the individual soul. It is not society's fault that most men seem to miss their vocation. Most men have no vocation; and society, in imposing on them some chance language, some chance religion, and some chance career, first plants an ideal in their bosoms and insinuates into them a sort of racial or professional soul. Their only character is composed of the habits they have been led to acquire. Some little propensities betrayed in childhood may very probably survive; one man may prove by his dying words that he was congenitally witty, another tender, another brave. But these native qualities will simply have added an ineffectual tint to some typical existence or other; and the vast majority will remain, as Schopenhauer said, Fabrikwaaren der Natur.
Variety in human dreams, like personality among savages, may indeed be inwardly very great, but it is not efficacious. To be socially important and expressible in some common medium, initial differences in temper must be organised into custom and become cumulative by being imitated and enforced. The only artists who can show great originality are those trained in distinct and established schools; for originality and genius must be largely fed and raised on the shoulders of some old tradition. A rich organisation and heritage, while they predetermine the core of all possible variations, increase their number, since every advance opens up new vistas; and growth, in extending the periphery of the substance organised, multiplies the number of points at which new growths may begin. Thus it is only in recent times that discoveries in science have been frequent, because natural science until lately possessed no settled method and no considerable fund of acquired truths. So, too, in political society, statesmanship is made possible by traditional policies, generalship by military institutions, great financiers by established commerce.
If we ventured to generalise these observations we might say that such an unequal distribution of capacity as might justify aristocracy should be looked for only in civilised states. Savages are born free and equal, but wherever a complex and highly specialised environment limits the loose freedom of those born into it, it also stimulates their capacity. Under forced culture remarkable growths will appear, bringing to light possibilities in men which might, perhaps, not even have been possibilities had they been left to themselves; for mulberry leaves do not of themselves develop into brocade. A certain personal idiosyncrasy must be assumed at bottom, else cotton damask would be as good as silk and all men having like opportunities would be equally great. This idiosyncrasy is brought out by social pressure, while in a state of nature it might have betrayed itself only in trivial and futile ways, as it does among barbarians.
[Sidenote: Sophistical envy.]
Distinction is thus in one sense artificial, since it cannot become important or practical unless a certain environment gives play to individual talent and preserves its originality; but distinction nevertheless is perfectly real, and not merely imputed. In vain does the man in the street declare that he, too, could have been a king if he had been born in the purple; for that potentiality does not belong to him as he is, but only as he might have been, if per impossibile he had not been himself. There is a strange metaphysical illusion in imagining that a man might change his parents, his body, his early environment, and yet retain his personality. In its higher faculties his personality is produced by his special relations. If Shakespeare had been born in Italy he might, if you will, have been a great poet, but Shakespeare he could never have been. Nor can it be called an injustice to all of us who are not Englishmen of Queen Elizabeth's time that Shakespeare had that advantage and was thereby enabled to exist.
The sense of injustice at unequal opportunities arises only when the two environments compared are really somewhat analogous, so that the illusion of a change of roles without a change of characters may retain some colour. It was a just insight, for instance, in the Christian fable to make the first rebel against God the chief among the angels, the spirit occupying the position nearest to that which he tried to usurp. Lucifer's fallacy consisted in thinking natural inequality artificial. His perversity lay in rebelling against himself and rejecting the happiness proper to his nature. This was the maddest possible way of rebelling against his true creator; for it is our particular finitude that creates us and makes us be. No one, except in wilful fancy, would envy the peculiar advantages of a whale or an ant, of an Inca or a Grand Lama. An exchange of places with such remote beings would too evidently leave each creature the very same that it was before; for after a nominal exchange of places each office would remain filled and no trace of a change would be perceptible. But the penny that one man finds and another misses would not, had fortune been reversed, have transmuted each man into the other. So adventitious a circumstance seems easily transferable without undermining that personal distinction which it had come to embitter. Yet the incipient fallacy lurking even in such suppositions becomes obvious when we inquire whether so blind an accident, for instance, as sex is also adventitious and ideally transferable and whether Jack and Jill, remaining themselves, could have exchanged genders.
What extends these invidious comparisons beyond all tolerable bounds is the generic and vague nature proper to language and its terms. The first personal pronoun "I" is a concept so thoroughly universal that it can accompany any experience whatever, yet it is used to designate an individual who is really definable not by the formal selfhood which he shares with every other thinker, but by the special events that make up his life. Each man's memory embraces a certain field, and if the landscape open to his vision is sad and hateful he naturally wishes it to shift and become like that paradise in which, as he fancies, other men dwell. A legitimate rebellion against evil in his own experience becomes an unthinkable supposition about what his experience might have been had he enjoyed those other men's opportunities or even (so far can unreason wander) had he possessed their character. The wholly different creature, a replica of that envied ideal, which would have existed in that case would still have called itself "I"; and so, the dreamer imagines, that creature would have been himself in a different situation.
If a new birth could still be called by a man's own name, the reason would be that the concrete faculties now present in him are the basis for the ideal he throws out, and if these particular faculties came to fruition in a new being, he would call that being himself, inasmuch as it realised his ideal. The poorer the reality, therefore, the meaner and vaguer the ideal it is able to project. Man is so tied to his personal endowment (essential to him though an accident in the world) that even his uttermost ideal, into which he would fly out of himself and his finitude, can be nothing but the fulfilment of his own initial idiosyncrasies. Whatever other wills and other glories may exist in heaven lie not within his universe of aspiration. Even his most perversely metaphysical envy can begrudge to others only what he instinctively craves for himself.
[Sidenote: Inequality is not a grievance; suffering is.]
It is not mere inequality, therefore, that can be a reproach to the aristocratic or theistic ideal. Could each person fulfil his own nature the most striking differences in endowment and fortune would trouble nobody's dreams. The true reproach to which aristocracy and theism are open is the thwarting of those unequal natures and the consequent suffering imposed on them all. Injustice in this world is not something comparative; the wrong is deep, clear, and absolute in each private fate. A bruised child wailing in the street, his small world for the moment utterly black and cruel before him, does not fetch his unhappiness from sophisticated comparisons or irrational envy; nor can any compensations and celestial harmonies supervening later ever expunge or justify that moment's bitterness. The pain may be whistled away and forgotten; the mind may be rendered by it only a little harder, a little coarser, a little more secretive and sullen and familiar with unrightable wrong. But ignoring that pain will not prevent its having existed; it must remain for ever to trouble God's omniscience and be a part of that hell which the creation too truly involves.
[Sidenote: Mutilation by crowding.]
The same curse of suffering vitiates Agrippa's ingenious parable and the joyful humility of Dante's celestial friends, and renders both equally irrelevant to human conditions. Nature may arrange her hierarchies as she chooses and make her creatures instrumental to one another's life. That interrelation is no injury to any part and an added beauty in the whole. It would have been a truly admirable arrangement to have enabled every living being, in attaining its own end, to make the attainments of the others' ends possible to them also. An approach to such an equilibrium has actually been reached in some respects by the rough sifting of miscellaneous organisms until those that were compatible alone remained. But nature, in her haste to be fertile, wants to produce everything at once, and her distracted industry has brought about terrible confusion and waste and terrible injustice. She has been led to punish her ministers for the services they render and her favourites for the honours they receive. She has imposed suffering on her creatures together with life; she has defeated her own objects and vitiated her bounty by letting every good do harm and bring evil in its train to some unsuspecting creature.
This oppression is the moral stain that attaches to aristocracy and makes it truly unjust. Every privilege that imposes suffering involves a wrong. Not only does aristocracy lay on the world a tax in labour and privation that its own splendours, intellectual and worldly, may arise, but by so doing it infects intelligence and grandeur with inhumanity and renders corrupt and odious that pre-eminence which should have been divine. The lower classes, in submitting to the hardship and meanness of their lives—which, to be sure, might have been harder and meaner had no aristocracy existed—must upbraid their fellow-men for profiting by their ill fortune and therefore having an interest in perpetuating it. Instead of the brutal but innocent injustice of nature, what they suffer from is the sly injustice of men; and though the suffering be less—for the worst of men is human—the injury is more sensible. The inclemencies and dangers men must endure in a savage state, in scourging them, would not have profited by that cruelty. But suffering has an added sting when it enables others to be exempt from care and to live like the gods in irresponsible ease; the inequality which would have been innocent and even beautiful in a happy world becomes, in a painful world, a bitter wrong, or at best a criminal beauty.
[Sidenote: A hint to optimists.]
It would be a happy relief to the aristocrat's conscience, when he possesses one, could he learn from some yet bolder Descartes that common people were nothing but betes-machines, and that only a groundless prejudice had hitherto led us to suppose that life could exist where evidently nothing good could be attained by living. If all unfortunate people could be proved to be unconscious automata, what a brilliant justification that would be for the ways of both God and man! Philosophy would not lack arguments to support such an agreeable conclusion. Beginning with the axiom that whatever is is right, a metaphysician might adduce the truth that consciousness is something self-existent and indubitably real; therefore, he would contend, it must be self-justifying and indubitably good. And he might continue by saying that a slave's life was not its own excuse for being, nor were the labours of a million drudges otherwise justified than by the conveniences which they supplied their masters with. Ergo, those servile operations could come to consciousness only where they attained their end, and the world could contain nothing but perfect and universal happiness. A divine omniscience and joy, shared by finite minds in so far as they might attain perfection, would be the only life in existence, and the notion that such a thing as pain, sorrow, or hatred could exist at all would forthwith vanish like the hideous and ridiculous illusion that it was. This argument may be recommended to apologetic writers as no weaker than those they commonly rely on, and infinitely more consoling.
[Sidenote: How aristocracies might do good.]
But so long as people remain on what such an invaluable optimist might call the low level of sensuous thought, and so long as we imagine that we exist and suffer, an aristocratic regimen can only be justified by radiating benefit and by proving that were less given to those above less would be attained by those beneath them. Such reversion of benefit might take a material form, as when, by commercial guidance and military protection, a greater net product is secured to labour, even after all needful taxes have been levied upon it to support greatness. An industrial and political oligarchy might defend itself on that ground. Or the return might take the less positive form of opportunity, as it does when an aristocratic society has a democratic government. Here the people neither accept guidance nor require protection; but the existence of a rich and irresponsible class offers them an ideal, such as it is, in their ambitious struggles. For they too may grow rich, exercise financial ascendancy, educate their sons like gentlemen, and launch their daughters into fashionable society. Finally, if the only aristocracy recognised were an aristocracy of achievement, and if public rewards followed personal merit, the reversion to the people might take the form of participation by them in the ideal interests of eminent men. Holiness, genius, and knowledge can reverberate through all society. The fruits of art and science are in themselves cheap and not to be monopolised or consumed in enjoyment. On the contrary, their wider diffusion stimulates their growth and makes their cultivation more intense and successful. When an ideal interest is general the share which falls to the private person is the more apt to be efficacious. The saints have usually had companions, and artists and philosophers have flourished in schools.
At the same time ideal goods cannot be assimilated without some training and leisure. Like education and religion they are degraded by popularity, and reduced from what the master intended to what the people are able and willing to receive. So pleasing an idea, then, as this of diffused ideal possessions has little application in a society aristocratically framed; for the greater eminence the few attain the less able are the many to follow them. Great thoughts require a great mind and pure beauties a profound sensibility. To attempt to give such things a wide currency is to be willing to denaturalise them in order to boast that they have been propagated. Culture is on the horns of this dilemma: if profound and noble it must remain rare, if common it must become mean. These alternatives can never be eluded until some purified and high-bred race succeeds the promiscuous bipeds that now blacken the planet.
[Sidenote: Man adds wrong to nature's injury.]
Aristocracy, like everything else, has no practical force save that which mechanical causes endow it with. Its privileges are fruits of inevitable advantages. Its oppressions are simply new forms and vehicles for nature's primeval cruelty, while the benefits it may also confer are only further examples of her nice equilibrium and necessary harmony. For it lies in the essence of a mechanical world, where the interests of its products are concerned, to be fundamentally kind, since it has formed and on the whole maintains those products, and yet continually cruel, since it forms and maintains them blindly, without considering difficulties or probable failures. Now the most tyrannical government, like the best, is a natural product maintained by an equilibrium of natural forces. It is simply a new mode of mechanical energy to which the philosopher living under it must adjust himself as he would to the weather. But when the vehicle of nature's inclemency is a heartless man, even if the harm done be less, it puts on a new and a moral aspect. The source of injury is then not only natural but criminal as well, and the result is a sense of wrong added to misfortune. It must needs be that offence come, but woe to him by whom the offence cometh. He justly arouses indignation and endures remorse.
[Sidenote: Conditions of a just inequality.]
Now civilisation cannot afford to entangle its ideals with the causes of remorse and of just indignation. In the first place nature in her slow and ponderous way levels her processes and rubs off her sharp edges by perpetual friction. Where there is maladjustment there is no permanent physical stability. Therefore the ideal of society can never involve the infliction of injury on anybody for any purpose. Such an ideal would propose for a goal something out of equilibrium, a society which even if established could not maintain itself; but an ideal life must not tend to destroy its ideal by abolishing its own existence. In the second place, it is impossible on moral grounds that injustice should subsist in the ideal. The ideal means the perfect, and a supposed ideal in which wrong still subsisted would be the denial of perfection. The ideal state and the ideal universe should be a family where all are not equal, but where all are happy. So that an aristocratic or theistic system in order to deserve respect must discard its sinister apologies for evil and clearly propose such an order of existences, one superposed upon the other, as should involve no suffering on any of its levels. The services required of each must involve no injury to any; to perform them should be made the servant's spontaneous and specific ideal. The privileges the system bestows on some must involve no outrage on the rest, and must not be paid for by mutilating other lives or thwarting their natural potentialities. For the humble to give their labour would then be blessed in reality, and not merely by imputation, while for the great to receive those benefits would be blessed also, not in fact only but in justice.
[Footnote C: Paradiso. Canto III., 70-87.]
[Sidenote: Democracy as an end and as a means.]
[Sidenote: Natural democracy leads to monarchy.]
The word democracy may stand for a natural social equality in the body politic or for a constitutional form of government in which power lies more or less directly in the people's hands. The former may be called social democracy and the latter democratic government. The two differ widely, both in origin and in moral principle. Genetically considered, social democracy is something primitive, unintended, proper to communities where there is general competence and no marked personal eminence. It is the democracy of Arcadia, Switzerland, and the American pioneers. Such a community might be said to have also a democratic government, for everything in it is naturally democratic. There will be no aristocracy, no prestige; but instead an intelligent readiness to lend a hand and to do in unison whatever is done, not so much under leaders as by a kind of conspiring instinct and contagious sympathy. In other words, there will be that most democratic of governments—no government at all. But when pressure of circumstances, danger, or inward strife makes recognised and prolonged guidance necessary to a social democracy, the form its government takes is that of a rudimentary monarchy, established by election or general consent. A natural leader presents himself and he is instinctively obeyed. He may indeed be freely criticised and will not be screened by any pomp or traditional mystery; he will be easy to replace and every citizen will feel himself radically his equal. Yet such a state is at the beginnings of monarchy and aristocracy, close to the stage depicted in Homer, where pre-eminences are still obviously natural, although already over-emphasised by the force of custom and wealth, and by the fission of society into divergent classes.
[Sidenote: Artificial democracy is an extension of privilege.]
Political democracy, on the other hand, is a late and artificial product. It arises by a gradual extension of aristocratic privileges, through rebellion against abuses, and in answer to restlessness on the people's part. Its principle is not the absence of eminence, but the discovery that existing eminence is no longer genuine and representative. It is compatible with a very complex government, great empire, and an aristocratic society; it may retain, as notably in England and in all ancient republics, many vestiges of older and less democratic institutions. For under democratic governments the people have not created the state; they merely control it. Their suspicions and jealousies are quieted by assigning to them a voice, perhaps only a veto, in the administration; but the state administered is a prodigious self-created historical engine. Popular votes never established the family, private property, religious practices, or international frontiers. Institutions, ideals, and administrators may all be such as the popular classes could never have produced; but these products of natural aristocracy are suffered to subsist so long as no very urgent protest is raised against them. The people's liberty consists not in their original responsibility for what exists—for they are guiltless of it—but merely in the faculty they have acquired of abolishing any detail that may distress or wound them, and of imposing any new measure, which, seen against the background of existing laws, may commend itself from time to time to their instinct and mind.
[Sidenote: Ideals and expedients.]
If we turn from origins to ideals, the contrast between social and political democracy is no less marked. Social democracy is a general ethical ideal, looking to human equality and brotherhood, and inconsistent, in its radical form, with such institutions as the family and hereditary property. Democratic government, on the contrary, is merely a means to an end, an expedient for the better and smoother government of certain states at certain junctures. It involves no special ideals of life; it is a question of policy, namely, whether the general interest will be better served by granting all men (and perhaps all women) an equal voice in elections. For political democracy, arising in great and complex states, must necessarily be a government by deputy, and the questions actually submitted to the people can be only very large rough matters of general policy or of confidence in party leaders.
We may now add a few reflections about each kind of democracy, regarding democratic government chiefly in its origin and phases (for its function is that of all government) and social democracy chiefly as an ideal, since its origin is simply that of society itself.
[Sidenote: Well-founded distrust of rulers. Yet experts, if rational, would serve common interests.]
The possibility of intelligent selfishness and the prevalence of a selfishness far from intelligent unite to make men wary in intrusting their interests to one another's keeping. If passion never overcame prudence, and if private prudence always counselled what was profitable also to others, no objection could arise to an aristocratic policy. For if we assume a certain variety in endowments and functions among men, it would evidently conduce to the general convenience that each man should exercise his powers uncontrolled by the public voice. The government, having facilities for information and ready resources, might be left to determine all matters of policy; for its members' private interests would coincide with those of the public, and even if prejudices and irrational habits prevented them from pursuing their own advantage, they would surely not err more frequently or more egregiously in that respect than would the private individual, to whose ignorant fancy every decision would otherwise have to be referred.
Thus in monarchy every expedient is seized upon to render the king's and the country's interests coincident; public prosperity fills his treasury, the arts adorn his court, justice rendered confirms his authority. If reason were efficacious kings might well be left to govern alone. Theologians, under the same hypothesis, might be trusted to draw up creeds and codes of morals; and, in fact, everyone with a gift for management or creation might be authorised to execute his plans. It is in this way, perhaps, that some social animals manage their affairs, for they seem to co-operate without external control. That their instinctive system is far from perfect we may safely take for granted; but government, too, is not always adequate or wise. What spoils such a spontaneous harmony is that people neither understand their own interests nor have the constancy to pursue them systematically; and further, that their personal or animal interests may actually clash, in so far as they have not been harmonised by reason.
To rationalise an interest is simply to correlate it with every other interest which it at all affects. In proportion as rational interests predominate in a man and he esteems rational satisfactions above all others, it becomes impossible that he should injure another by his action, and unnecessary that he should sacrifice himself. But the worse and more brutal his nature is, and the less satisfaction he finds in justice, the more need he has to do violence to himself, lest he should be doing it to others. This is the reason why preaching, conscious effort, and even education are such feeble agencies for moral reform: only selection and right breeding could produce that genuine virtue which would not need to find goodness unpalatable nor to say, in expressing its own perversities, that a distaste for excellence is a condition of being good. But when a man is ill-begotten and foolish, and hates the means to his own happiness, he naturally is not well fitted to secure that of other people. Those who suffer by his folly are apt to think him malicious, whereas he is the first to suffer himself and knows that it was the force of circumstances and a certain pathetic helplessness in his own soul that led him into his errors.
[Sidenote: People jealous of eminence.]
These errors, when they are committed by a weak and passionate ruler, are not easily forgiven. His subjects attribute to him an intelligence he probably lacks; they call him treacherous or cruel when he is very likely yielding to lazy habits and to insidious traditions. They see in every calamity that befalls them a proof that his interests are radically hostile to theirs, whereas it is only his conduct that is so. Accordingly, in proportion to their alertness and self-sufficiency, they clamour for the right to govern themselves, and usually secure it. Democratic government is founded on the decay of representative eminence. It indicates that natural leaders are no longer trusted merely because they are rich, enterprising, learned, or old. Their spontaneous action would go awry. They must not be allowed to act without control. Men of talent may be needed and used in a democratic state; they may be occasionally hired; but they will be closely watched and directed by the people, who fear otherwise to suffer the penalty of foolishly intrusting their affairs to other men's hands.
A fool, says a Spanish proverb, knows more at home than a wise man at his neighbour's. So democratic instinct assumes that, unless all those concerned keep a vigilant eye on the course of public business and frequently pronounce on its conduct, they will before long awake to the fact that they have been ignored and enslaved. The implication is that each man is the best judge of his own interests and of the means to advance them; or at least that by making himself his own guide he can in the end gain the requisite insight and thus not only attain his practical aims, but also some political and intellectual dignity.
[Sidenote: It is representative.]
All just government pursues the general good; the choice between aristocratic and democratic forms touches only the means to that end. One arrangement may well be better fitted to one place and time, and another to another. Everything depends on the existence or non-existence of available practical eminence. The democratic theory is clearly wrong if it imagines that eminence is not naturally representative. Eminence is synthetic and represents what it synthesises. An eminence not representative would not constitute excellence, but merely extravagance or notoriety. Excellence in anything, whether thought, action, or feeling, consists in nothing but representation, in standing for many diffuse constituents reduced to harmony, so that the wise moment is filled with an activity in which the upshot of the experience concerned is mirrored and regarded, an activity just to all extant interests and speaking in their total behalf. But anything approaching such true excellence is as rare as it is great, and a democratic society, naturally jealous of greatness, may be excused for not expecting true greatness and for not even understanding what it is. A government is not made representative or just by the mechanical expedient of electing its members by universal suffrage. It becomes representative only by embodying in its policy, whether by instinct or high intelligence, the people's conscious and unconscious interests.
[Sidenote: But subject to decay.]
Democratic theory seems to be right, however, about the actual failure of theocracies, monarchies, and oligarchies to remain representative and to secure the general good. The true eminence which natural leaders may have possessed in the beginning usually declines into a conventional and baseless authority. The guiding powers which came to save and express humanity fatten in office and end by reversing their function. The government reverts to the primeval robber; the church stands in the way of all wisdom. Under such circumstances it is a happy thing if the people possess enough initiative to assert themselves and, after clearing the ground in a more or less summary fashion, allow some new organisation, more representative of actual interests, to replace the old encumbrances and tyrannies.
[Sidenote: Ancient citizenship a privilege.]
In the heroic ages of Greece and Rome patriotism was stimulated in manifold ways. The city was a fatherland, a church, an army, and almost a family. It had its own school of art, its own dialect, its own feasts, its own fables. Every possible social interest was either embodied in the love of country or, like friendship and fame, closely associated with it. Patriotism could then be expected to sway every mind at all capable of moral enthusiasm. Furthermore, only the flower of the population were citizens. In rural districts the farmer might be a freeman; but he probably had slaves whose work he merely superintended. The meaner and more debasing offices, mining, sea-faring, domestic service, and the more laborious part of all industries, were relegated to slaves. The citizens were a privileged class. Military discipline and the street life natural in Mediterranean countries, kept public events and public men always under everybody's eyes: the state was a bodily presence. Democracy, when it arose in such communities, was still aristocratic; it imposed few new duties upon the common citizens, while it diffused many privileges and exemptions among them.
[Sidenote: Modern democracy industrial.]
The social democracy which is the ideal of many in modern times, on the other hand, excludes slavery, unites whole nations and even all mankind into a society of equals, and admits no local or racial privileges by which the sense of fellowship may be stimulated. Public spirit could not be sustained in such a community by exemptions, rivalries, or ambitions. No one, indeed, would be a slave, everyone would have an elementary education and a chance to demonstrate his capacity; but he would be probably condemned to those occupations which in ancient republics were assigned to slaves. At least at the opening of his career he would find himself on the lowest subsisting plane of humanity, and he would probably remain on it throughout his life. In other words, the citizens of a social democracy would be all labourers; for even those who rose to be leaders would, in a genuine democracy, rise from the ranks and belong in education and habits to the same class as all the others.
[Sidenote: Dangers to current civilisation.]
Under such circumstances the first virtue which a democratic society would have to possess would be enthusiastic diligence. The motives for work which have hitherto prevailed in the world have been want, ambition, and love of occupation: in a social democracy, after the first was eliminated, the last alone would remain efficacious. Love of occupation, although it occasionally accompanies and cheers every sort of labour, could never induce men originally to undertake arduous and uninteresting tasks, nor to persevere in them if by chance or waywardness such tasks had been once undertaken. Inclination can never be the general motive for the work now imposed on the masses. Before labour can be its own reward it must become less continuous, more varied, more responsive to individual temperament and capacity. Otherwise it would not cease to repress and warp human faculties.
A state composed exclusively of such workmen and peasants as make up the bulk of modern nations would be an utterly barbarous state. Every liberal tradition would perish in it; and the rational and historic essence of patriotism itself would be lost. The emotion of it, no doubt, would endure, for it is not generosity that the people lack. They possess every impulse; it is experience that they cannot gather, for in gathering it they would be constituting those higher organs that make up an aristocratic society. Civilisation has hitherto consisted in diffusion and dilution of habits arising in privileged centres. It has not sprung from the people; it has arisen in their midst by a variation from them, and it has afterward imposed itself on them from above. All its founders in antiquity passed for demi-gods or were at least inspired by an oracle or a nymph. The vital genius thus bursting forth and speaking with authority gained a certain ascendency in the world; it mitigated barbarism without removing it. This is one fault, among others, which current civilisation has; it is artificial. If social democracy could breed a new civilisation out of the people, this new civilisation would be profounder than ours and more pervasive. But it doubtless cannot. What we have rests on conquest and conversion, on leadership and imitation, on mastership and service. To abolish aristocracy, in the sense of social privilege and sanctified authority would be to cut off the source from which all culture has hitherto flowed.
[Sidenote: Is current civilisation a good?]
Civilisation, however, although we are wont to speak the word with a certain unction, is a thing whose value may be questioned. One way of defending the democratic ideal is to deny that civilisation is a good. In one sense, indeed, social democracy is essentially a reversion to a more simple life, more Arcadian and idyllic than that which aristocracy has fostered. Equality is more easily attained in a patriarchal age than in an age of concentrated and intense activities. Possessions, ideal and material, may be fewer in a simple community, but they are more easily shared and bind men together in moral and imaginative bonds instead of dividing them, as do all highly elaborate ways of living or thinking. The necessaries of life can be enjoyed by a rural people, living in a sparsely settled country, and among these necessaries might be counted not only bread and rags, which everyone comes by in some fashion even in our society, but that communal religion, poetry, and fellowship which the civilised poor are so often without. If social democracy should triumph and take this direction it would begin by greatly diminishing the amount of labour performed in the world. All instruments of luxury, many instruments of vain knowledge and art, would no longer be produced. We might see the means of communication, lately so marvellously developed, again disused; the hulks of great steamers rusting in harbours, the railway bridges collapsing and the tunnels choked; while a rural population, with a few necessary and perfected manufactures, would spread over the land and abandon the great cities to ruin, calling them seats of Babylonian servitude and folly.
Such anticipations may seem fantastic, and of course there is no probability that a reaction against material progress should set in in the near future, since as yet the tide of commercialism and population continues everywhere to rise; but does any thoughtful man suppose that these tendencies will be eternal and that the present experiment in civilisation is the last the world will see?
[Sidenote: Horrors of materialistic democracy.]
If social democracy, however, refused to diminish labour and wealth and proposed rather to accelerate material progress and keep every furnace at full blast, it would come face to face with a serious problem. By whom would the product be enjoyed? By those who created it? What sort of pleasures, arts, and sciences would those grimy workmen have time and energy for after a day of hot and unremitting exertion? What sort of religion would fill their Sabbaths and their dreams? We see how they spend their leisure to-day, when a strong aristocratic tradition and the presence of a rich class still profoundly influence popular ideals. Imagine those aristocratic influences removed, and would any head be lifted above a dead level of infinite dulness and vulgarity? Would mankind be anything but a trivial, sensuous, superstitious, custom-ridden herd? There is no tyranny so hateful as a vulgar and anonymous tyranny. It is all-permeating, all-thwarting; it blasts every budding novelty and sprig of genius with its omnipresent and fierce stupidity. Such a headless people has the mind of a worm and the claws of a dragon. Anyone would be a hero who should quell the monster. A foreign invader or domestic despot would at least have steps to his throne, possible standing-places for art and intelligence; his supercilious indifference would discountenance the popular gods, and allow some courageous hand at last to shatter them. Social democracy at high pressure would leave no room for liberty. The only freeman in it would be one whose whole ideal was to be an average man.
[Sidenote: Timocracy or socialistic democracy.]
Perhaps, however, social democracy might take a more liberal form. It might allow the benefits of civilisation to be integrated in eminent men, whose influence in turn should direct and temper the general life. This would be timocracy—a government by men of merit. The same abilities which raised these men to eminence would enable them to apprehend ideal things and to employ material resources for the common advantage. They would formulate religion, cultivate the arts and sciences, provide for government and all public conveniences, and inspire patriotism by their discourse and example. At the same time a new motive would be added to common labour, I mean ambition. For there would be not only a possibility of greater reward but a possibility of greater service. The competitive motive which socialism is supposed to destroy would be restored in timocracy, and an incentive offered to excellence and industry. The country's resources would increase for the very reason that somebody might conceivably profit by them; and everyone would have at least an ideal interest in ministering to that complete life which he or his children, or whoever was most capable of appreciation, was actually to enjoy.
Such a timocracy (of which the Roman Church is a good example) would differ from the social aristocracy that now exists only by the removal of hereditary advantages. People would be born equal, but they would grow unequal, and the only equality subsisting would be equality of opportunity. If power remained in the people's hands, the government would be democratic; but a full development of timocracy would allow the proved leader to gain great ascendancy. The better security the law offered that the men at the top should be excellent, the less restraint would it need to put upon them when once in their places. Their eminence would indeed have been factitious and their station undeserved if they were not able to see and do what was requisite better than the community at large. An assembly has only the lights common to the majority of its members, far less, therefore, than its members have when added together and less even than the wiser part of them.
A timocracy would therefore seem to unite the advantages of all forms of government and to avoid their respective abuses. It would promote freedom scientifically. It might be a monarchy, if men existed fit to be kings; but they would have to give signs of their fitness and their honours would probably not be hereditary. Like aristocracy, it would display a great diversity of institutions and superposed classes, a stimulating variety in ways of living; it would be favourable to art and science and to noble idiosyncrasies. Among its activities the culminating and most conspicuous ones would be liberal. Yet there would be no isolation of the aristocratic body; its blood would be drawn from the people, and only its traditions from itself. Like social democracy, finally, it would be just and open to every man, but it would not depress humanity nor wish to cast everybody in a common mould.
[Sidenote: The difficulty the same as in all Socialism.]
There are immense difficulties, however, in the way of such a Utopia, some physical and others moral. Timocracy would have to begin by uprooting the individual from his present natural soil and transplanting him to that in which his spirit might flourish best. This proposed transfer is what makes the system ideally excellent, since nature is a means only; but it makes it also almost impossible to establish, since nature is the only efficacious power. Timocracy can arise only in the few fortunate cases where material and social forces have driven men to that situation in which their souls can profit most, and where they find no influences more persuasive than those which are most liberating. It is clear, for instance, that timocracy would exclude the family or greatly weaken it. Soul and body would be wholly transferred to that medium where lay the creature's spiritual affinities; his origins would be disregarded on principle, except where they might help to forecast his disposition. Life would become heartily civic, corporate, conventual; otherwise opportunities would not be equal in the beginning, nor culture and happiness perfect in the end, and identical. We have seen, however, what difficulties and dangers surround any revolution in that ideal direction.
Even less perfect polities, that leave more to chance, would require a moral transformation in mankind if they were to be truly successful.
A motive which now generates political democracy, impatience of sacrifice, must, in a good social democracy, be turned into its opposite. Men must be glad to labour unselfishly in the spirit of art or of religious service: for if they labour selfishly, the higher organs of the state would perish, since only a few can profit by them materially; while if they neglect their work, civilisation loses that intensive development which it was proposed to maintain. Each man would need to forget himself and not to chafe under his natural limitations. He must find his happiness in seeing his daily task grow under his hands; and when, in speculative moments, he lifts his eyes from his labour, he must find an ideal satisfaction in patriotism, in love for that complex society to which he is contributing an infinitesimal service. He must learn to be happy without wealth, fame, or power, and with no reward save his modest livelihood and an ideal participation in his country's greatness. It is a spirit hardly to be maintained without a close organisation and much training; and as military and religious timocracies have depended on discipline and a minute rule of life, so an industrial timocracy would have to depend on guilds and unions, which would make large inroads upon personal freedom.
[Sidenote: The masses would have to be plebeian in position and patrician in feeling.]
The question here suggests itself whether such a citizen, once having accepted his humble lot, would be in a different position from the plebeians in an aristocracy. The same subordination would be imposed upon him, only the ground assigned for his submission would be no longer self-interest and necessity, but patriotic duty. This patriotism would have to be of an exalted type. Its end would not be, as in industrial society, to secure the private interests of each citizen; its end would be the glory and perfection of the state as imagination or philosophy might conceive them. This glory and perfection would not be a benefit to anyone who was not in some degree a philosopher and a poet. They would seem, then, to be the special interests of an aristocracy, not indeed an aristocracy of wealth or power, but an aristocracy of noble minds. Those whose hearts could prize the state's ideal perfection would be those in whom its benefits would be integrated. And the common citizen would find in their existence, and in his own participation in their virtue, the sole justification for his loyalty.
Ideal patriotism is not secured when each man, although without natural eminence, pursues his private interests. What renders man an imaginative and moral being is that in society he gives new aims to his life which could not have existed in solitude: the aims of friendship, religion, science, and art. All these aims, in a well-knit state, are covered by the single passion of patriotism; and then a conception of one's country, its history and mission becomes the touchstone of every ideal impulse. Timocracy requires this kind of patriotism in everybody; so that if public duty is not to become a sacrifice imposed on the many for the sake of the few, as in aristocracy, the reason can only be that the many covet, appreciate, and appropriate their country's ideal glories, quite as much as the favoured class ever could in any aristocracy.
[Sidenote: Organisation for ideal ends breeds fanaticism.]
Is this possible? What might happen if the human race were immensely improved and exalted there is as yet no saying; but experience has given no example of efficacious devotion to communal ideals except in small cities, held together by close military and religious bonds and having no important relations to anything external. Even this antique virtue was short-lived and sadly thwarted by private and party passion. Where public spirit has held best, as at Sparta or (to take a very different type of communal passion) among the Jesuits, it has been paid for by a notable lack of spontaneity and wisdom; such inhuman devotion to an arbitrary end has made these societies odious. We may say, therefore, that a zeal sufficient to destroy selfishness is, as men are now constituted, worse than selfishness itself. In pursuing prizes for themselves people benefit their fellows more than in pursuing such narrow and irrational ideals as alone seem to be powerful in the world. To ambition, to the love of wealth and honour, to love of a liberty which meant opportunity for experiment and adventure, we owe whatever benefits we have derived from Greece and Rome, from Italy and England. It is doubtful whether a society which offered no personal prizes would inspire effort; and it is still more doubtful whether that effort, if actually stimulated by education, would be beneficent. For an indoctrinated and collective virtue turns easily to fanaticism; it imposes irrational sacrifices prompted by some abstract principle or habit once, perhaps, useful; but that convention soon becomes superstitious and ceases to represent general human excellence.
[Sidenote: Public spirit the life of democracy.]
Now it is in the spirit of social democracy to offer no prizes. Office in it, being the reward of no great distinction, brings no great honour, and being meanly paid it brings no great profit, at least while honestly administered. All wealth in a true democracy would be the fruit of personal exertion and would come too late to be nobly enjoyed or to teach the art of liberal living. It would be either accumulated irrationally or given away outright. And if fortunes could not be transmitted or used to found a great family they would lose their chief imaginative charm. The pleasures a democratic society affords are vulgar and not even by an amiable illusion can they become an aim in life. A life of pleasure requires an aristocratic setting to make it interesting or really conceivable. Intellectual and artistic greatness does not need prizes, but it sorely needs sympathy and a propitious environment. Genius, like goodness (which can stand alone), would arise in a democratic society as frequently as elsewhere; but it might not be so well fed or so well assimilated. There would at least be no artificial and simulated merit; everybody would take his ease in his inn and sprawl unbuttoned without respect for any finer judgment or performance than that which he himself was inclined to. The only excellence subsisting would be spontaneous excellence, inwardly prompted, sure of itself, and inwardly rewarded. For such excellence to grow general mankind must be notably transformed. If a noble and civilised democracy is to subsist, the common citizen must be something of a saint and something of a hero. We see therefore how justly flattering and profound, and at the same time how ominous, was Montesquieu's saying that the principle of democracy is virtue.
[Sidenote: Primacy of nature over spirit.]
Natural society unites beings in time and space; it fixes affection on those creatures on which we depend and to which our action must be adapted. Natural society begins at home and radiates over the world, as more and more things become tributary to our personal being. In marriage and the family, in industry, government, and war, attention is riveted on temporal existences, on the fortunes of particular bodies, natural or corporate. There is then a primacy of nature over spirit in social life; and this primacy, in a certain sense, endures to the end, since all spirit must be the spirit of something, and reason could not exist or be conceived at all unless a material organism, personal or social, lay beneath to give thought an occasion and a point of view, and to give preference a direction. Things could not be near or far, worse or better, unless a definite life were taken as a standard, a life lodged somewhere in space and time. Reason is a principle of order appearing in a subject-matter which in its subsistence and quantity must be an irrational datum. Reason expresses purpose, purpose expresses impulse, and impulse expresses a natural body with self-equilibrating powers.
At the same time, natural growths may be called achievements only because, when formed, they support a joyful and liberal experience. Nature's works first acquire a meaning in the commentaries they provoke; mechanical processes have interesting climaxes only from the point of view of the life that expresses them, in which their ebb and flow grows impassioned and vehement. Nature's values are imputed to her retroactively by spirit, which in its material dependence has a logical and moral primacy of its own. In themselves events are perfectly mechanical, steady, and fluid, not stopping where we see a goal nor avoiding what we call failures. And so they would always have remained in crude experience, if no cumulative reflection, no art, and no science had come to dominate and foreshorten that equable flow of substance, arresting it ideally in behalf of some rational interest.
Thus it comes to pass that rational interests have a certain ascendancy in the world, as well as an absolute authority over it; for they arise where an organic equilibrium has naturally established itself. Such an equilibrium maintains itself by virtue of the same necessity that produced it; without arresting the flux or introducing any miracle, it sustains in being an ideal form. This form is what consciousness corresponds to and raises to actual existence; so that significant thoughts are something which nature necessarily lingers upon and seems to serve. The being to whom they come is the most widely based and synthetic of her creatures. The mind spreads and soars in proportion as the body feeds on the surrounding world. Noble ideas, although rare and difficult to attain, are not naturally fugitive.
[Sidenote: All experience at bottom liberal.]
Consciousness is not ideal merely in its highest phases; it is ideal through and through. On one level as much as on another, it celebrates an attained balance in nature, or grieves at its collapse; it prophesies and remembers, it loves and dreams. It sees even nature from the point of view of ideal interests, and measures the flux of things by ideal standards. It registers its own movement, like that of its objects, entirely in ideal terms, looking to fixed goals of its own imagining, and using nothing in the operation but concretions in discourse. Primary mathematical notions, for instance, are evidences of a successful reactive method attained in the organism and translated in consciousness into a stable grammar which has wide applicability and great persistence, so that it has come to be elaborated ideally into prodigious abstract systems of thought. Every experience of victory, eloquence, or beauty is a momentary success of the same kind, and if repeated and sustained becomes a spiritual possession.
[Sidenote: Social experience has its ideality too.]
Society also breeds its ideal harmonies. At first it establishes affections between beings naturally conjoined in the world; later it grows sensitive to free and spiritual affinities, to oneness of mind and sympathetic purposes. These ideal affinities, although grounded like the others on material relations (for sympathy presupposes communication), do not have those relations for their theme but rest on them merely as on a pedestal from which they look away to their own realm, as music, while sustained by vibrating instruments, looks away from them to its own universe of sound.
[Sidenote: The self an ideal.]
Ideal society is a drama enacted exclusively in the imagination. Its personages are all mythical, beginning with that brave protagonist who calls himself I and speaks all the soliloquies. When most nearly material these personages are human souls—the ideal life of particular bodies—or floating mortal reputations—echoes of those ideal lives in one another. From this relative substantiality they fade into notions of country, posterity, humanity, and the gods. These figures all represent some circle of events or forces in the real world; but such representation, besides being mythical, is usually most inadequate. The boundaries of that province which each spirit presides over are vaguely drawn, the spirit itself being correspondingly indefinite. This ambiguity is most conspicuous, perhaps, in the most absorbing of the personages which a man constructs in this imaginative fashion—his idea of himself. "There is society where none intrudes;" and for most men sympathy with their imaginary selves is a powerful and dominant emotion. True memory offers but a meagre and interrupted vista of past experience, yet even that picture is far too rich a term for mental discourse to bandy about; a name with a few physical and social connotations is what must represent the man to his own thinkings. Or rather it is no memory, however eviscerated, that fulfils that office. A man's notion of himself is a concretion in discourse for which his more constant somatic feelings, his ruling interests, and his social relations furnish most of the substance.
[Sidenote: Romantic egotism.]
The more reflective and self-conscious a man is the more completely will his experience be subsumed and absorbed in his perennial "I." If philosophy has come to reinforce this reflective egotism, he may even regard all nature as nothing but his half-voluntary dream and encourage himself thereby to give even to the physical world a dramatic and sentimental colour. But the more successful he is in stuffing everything into his self-consciousness, the more desolate will the void become which surrounds him. For self is, after all, but one term in a primitive dichotomy and would lose its specific and intimate character were it no longer contrasted with anything else. The egotist must therefore people the desert he has spread about him, and he naturally peoples it with mythical counterparts of himself. Sometimes, if his imagination is sensuous, his alter-egos are incarnate in the landscape, and he creates a poetic mythology; sometimes, when the inner life predominates, they are projected into his own forgotten past or infinite future. He will then say that all experience is really his own and that some inexplicable illusion has momentarily raised opaque partitions in his omniscient mind.