IN THE FOURTH YEAR
ANTICIPATIONS OF A WORLD PEACE
H. G. Wells
AUTHOR OF "MR. BRITLING SEES IT THROUGH," "THE WAR AND THE FUTURE," "WHAT IS COMING?" "THE WAR THAT WILL END WAR," "THE WORLD SET FREE," "IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET," AND "A MODERN UTOPIA"
In the latter half of 1914 a few of us were writing that
this war was a "War of Ideas." A phrase, "The War to end
War," got into circulation, amidst much sceptical comment. It was a phrase
powerful enough to sway many men, essentially pacifists, towards taking an
active part in the war against German imperialism, but it was a phrase whose
chief content was its aspiration. People were already writing in those early
days of disarmament and of the abolition of the armament industry throughout
the world; they realized fully the element of industrial belligerency behind
the shining armour of imperialism, and they denounced the
"Krupp-Kaiser" alliance. But against such writing and such thought we
had to count, in those days, great and powerful realities. Even to those who
expressed these ideas there lay visibly upon them the shadow of
impracticability; they were very "advanced" ideas in 1914, very
Utopian. Against them was an unbroken mass of mental habit and public
tradition. While we talked of this "war to end war," the diplomatists
of the Powers allied against Germany were busily spinning a disastrous web of
greedy secret treaties, were answering aggression by schemes of aggression,
were seeing in the treacherous violence of Germany only the justification for
countervailing evil acts. To them it was only another war for
"ascendancy." That was three years and a half ago, and since then
this "war of ideas" has gone on to a phase few of us had dared hope
for in those opening days. The Russian revolution put a match to that pile of
secret treaties and indeed to all the imperialist plans of the Allies; in the
end it will burn them all. The greatest of the Western Allies is now the
In those days, moreover, we said this is the "war to
end war," and we still did not know clearly how. We thought in terms of
treaties and alliances. It is largely the detachment and practical genius of
the great English-speaking nation across the
All we writers find ourselves engaged perforce in some part
or other of a world-wide propaganda of this the most creative and hopeful of
political ideas that has ever dawned upon the consciousness of mankind. With no
concerted plan we feel called upon to serve it. And in no connection would one
so like to think oneself un-original as in this connection. It would be a
dismaying thing to realize that one were writing anything here which was not
the possible thought of great multitudes of other people, and capable of
becoming the common thought of mankind. One writes in such a book as this not
to express oneself but to swell a chorus. The idea of the
H. G. WELLS.
It is a dangerous thing to recommend specific books out of
so large and various a literature as the "League of Nations" idea has
already produced, but the reader who wishes to reach beyond the range of this
book, or who does not like its tone and method, will probably find something to
meet his needs and tastes better in Marburg's "League of Nations," a
straightforward account of the American side of the movement by the former
United States Minister in Belgium, on the one hand, or in the concluding parts
of Mr. Fayle's "Great Settlement" (1915), a frankly sceptical
treatment from the British Imperialist point of view, on the other. An illuminating
discussion, advocating peace treaties rather than a league, is Sir Walter
Phillimore's "Three Centuries of Treaties." Two excellent books from
More and more frequently does one hear this phrase, The League of Nations, used to express the outline idea of the new world that will come out of the war. There can be no doubt that the phrase has taken hold of the imaginations of great multitudes of people: it is one of those creative phrases that may alter the whole destiny of mankind. But as yet it is still a very vague phrase, a cloudy promise of peace. I make no apology therefore, for casting my discussion of it in the most general terms. The idea is the idea of united human effort to put an end to wars; the first practical question, that must precede all others, is how far can we hope to get to a concrete realization of that?
But first let me note the fourth word in the second title of
this book. The common talk is of a "
Later I will discuss the powers of the League. But before I
come to that I would like to say a little about the more general question of
its nature and authority. What sort of gathering will embody it? The
suggestions made range from a mere advisory body, rather like the Hague
convention, which will merely pronounce on the rights and wrongs of any
international conflict, to the idea of a sort of Super-State, a Parliament of
Mankind, a "Super National" Authority, practically taking over the
sovereignty of the existing states and empires of the world. Most people's
ideas of the League fall between these extremes. They want the League to be something
more than an ethical court, they want a League that will act, but on the other
hand they shrink from any loss of "our independence." There seems to
be a conflict here. There is a real need for many people to tidy up their ideas
at this point. We cannot have our cake and eat it. If association is worth
while, there must be some sacrifice of freedom to association. As a very distinguished colonial representative said to me the
other day: "Here we are talking of the freedom of small nations and the
'self-determination' of peoples, and at the same time of the Council of the
The answer, I think, is "Both." It is a matter of more or less, of getting the best thing at the cost of the second-best. We may want to relax an old association in order to make a newer and wider one. It is quite understandable that peoples aware of a distinctive national character and involved in some big existing political complex, should wish to disentangle themselves from one group of associations in order to enter more effectively into another, a greater, and more satisfactory one. The Finn or the Pole, who has hitherto been a rather reluctant member of the synthesis of the Russian empire, may well wish to end that attachment in order to become a free member of a worldwide brotherhood. The desire for free arrangement is not a desire for chaos. There is such a thing as untying your parcels in order to pack them better, and I do not see myself how we can possibly contemplate a great league of freedom and reason in the world without a considerable amount of such preliminary dissolution.
It happens, very fortunately for the world, that a century
and a quarter ago thirteen various and very jealous states worked out the
problem of a Union, and became--after an enormous, exhausting wrangle--the
United States of America. Now the way they solved their riddle was by
delegating and giving over jealously specified sovereign powers and doing all
that was possible to retain the residuum. They remained essentially sovereign
Now, that clearly is a precedent of the utmost value in our
schemes for this council of the
A number of gentlemen scheming out world unity in studies
have begun their proposals with the simple suggestion that each sovereign power
should send one member to the projected parliament of mankind. This has a
pleasant democratic air; one sovereign state, one vote. Now let us run over a
list of sovereign states and see to what this leads us. We find our list
includes the British Empire, with a population of four hundred millions, of
which probably half can read and write some language or other; Bogota with a
population of a million, mostly poets; Hayti with a population of a million and
a third, almost entirely illiterate and liable at any time to further political
disruption; Andorra with a population of four or five thousand souls. The mere
suggestion of equal representation between such "powers" is enough to
But when we dismiss this idea of representation by states,
we are left with the problem of the proportion of representation and of
relative weight in the Council of the League on our hands. It is the sort of
problem that appeals terribly to the ingenious. We cannot solve it by making
population a basis, because that will give a monstrous importance to the
illiterate millions of
No one can vie with me in my appreciation of the
Let us keep our grip on that. Peace is the business of the
great powers primarily. Steel output, university graduates, and so forth may be
convenient secondary criteria, may be useful ways of measuring war efficiency,
but the meat and substance of the Council of the
And this state of affairs may come about more easily than
logical, statistical-minded people may be disposed to think. Our first impulse,
when we discuss the League of Nations idea, is to think of some very elaborate
and definite scheme of members on the model of existing legislative bodies,
called together one hardly knows how, and sitting in a specially built League
of Nations Congress House. All schemes are more methodical than reality. We
think of somebody, learned and "expert," in spectacles, with a thin
clear voice, reading over the "Projected Constitution of a
I can conceive no such Peace Congress as those that have
settled up after other wars, settling up after this war. Not only has the war
been enormously bigger than any other war, but it has struck deeper at the
foundations of social and economic life. I doubt if we begin to realize how
much of the old system is dead to-day, how much has to be remade. Since the
beginnings of history there has been a credible promise of gold payments
underneath our financial arrangements. It is now an incredible promise. The
value of a pound note waves about while you look at it. What will happen to it
when peace comes no man can tell. Nor what will happen to the mark. The rouble
has gone into the Abyss. Our giddy money specialists clutch their handfuls of
paper and watch it flying down the steep. Much as we may hate the Germans, some
of us will have to sit down with some of the enemy to arrange a common scheme
for the preservation of credit in money. And I presume that it is not proposed
to end this war in a wild scramble of buyers for such food as remains in the
world. There is a shortage now, a greater shortage ahead of the world, and
there will be shortages of supply at the source and transport in food and all
raw materials for some years to come. The Peace Congress will have to sit and
organize a share-out and distribution and reorganization of these shattered supplies.
It will have to
I do not see the Press Congress getting through such matters
as these in a session of weeks or months. The idea the Germans betrayed at
A Peace Congress, growing permanent, then, may prove to be
the most practical and convenient embodiment of this idea of a
Half a world peace is better than none. There seems no reason
whatever why the world should wait for the Central Powers before it begins this
necessary work. Mr. McCurdy has been asking lately, "Why not the
In one most unexpected quarter the same idea has been endorsed.
The King's Speech on the prorogation of Parliament this February was one of the
most remarkable royal utterances that have ever been made from the British
throne. There was less of the old-fashioned King and more of the modern
President about it than the most republican-minded of us could have
anticipated. For the first time in a King's Speech we heard of the
"democracies" of the world, and there was a clear claim that the
Allies at present fighting the Central Powers did themselves constitute a
But we must admit that at present they do so only in a very
rhetorical sense. There is no real council of empowered representatives, and
nothing in the nature of a united front has been prepared. Unless we provide
beforehand for something more effective,
It is the plainest common sense that we should be fixing up all such matters with our Allies now, and knitting together a common front for the final deal with German Imperialism. And these things are not to be done effectively and bindingly nowadays by official gentlemen in discreet undertones. They need to be done with the full knowledge and authority of the participating peoples.
The Russian example has taught the world the instability of
diplomatic bargains in a time of such fundamental issues as the present. There
is little hope and little strength in hole-and-corner bargainings between the
officials or politicians who happen to be at the head of this or that nation
for the time being. Our Labour people will not stand this sort of thing and
they will not be bound by it. There will be the plain danger of repudiation for
all arrangements made in that fashion. A gathering of somebody or other approved
by the British Foreign Office and of somebody or other approved by the French
Foreign Office, of somebody with vague powers from
Even our Foreign Office must be aware that in every country in the world there is now bitter suspicion of and keen hostility towards merely diplomatic representatives. One of the most significant features of the time is the evident desire of the Labour movement in every European country to take part in a collateral conference of Labour that shall meet when and where the Peace Congress does and deliberate and comment on its proceedings. For a year now the demand of the masses for such a Labour conference has been growing. It marks a distrust of officialdom whose intensity officialdom would do well to ponder. But it is the natural consequence of, it is the popular attempt at a corrective to, the aloofness and obscurity that have hitherto been so evil a characteristic of international negotiations. I do not think Labour and intelligent people anywhere are going to be fobbed off with an old-fashioned diplomatic gathering as being that League of Free Nations they demand.
On the other hand, I do not contemplate this bi-cameral conference with the diplomatists trying to best and humbug the Labour people as well as each other and the Labour people getting more and more irritated, suspicious, and extremist, with anything but dread. The Allied countries must go into the conference _solid_, and they can only hope to do that by heeding and incorporating Labour ideas before they come to the conference. The only alternative that I can see to this unsatisfactory prospect of a Peace Congress sitting side by side with a dissentient and probably revolutionary Labour and Socialist convention--both gatherings with unsatisfactory credentials contradicting one another and drifting to opposite extremes--is that the delegates the Allied Powers send to the Peace Conference (the same delegates which, if they are wise, they will have previously sent to a preliminary League of Allied Nations to discuss their common action at the Peace Congress), should be elected _ad hoc_ upon democratic lines.
I know that this will be a very shocking proposal to all our able specialists in foreign policy. They will talk at once about the "ignorance" of people like the Labour leaders and myself about such matters, and so on. What do we know of the treaty of so-and-so that was signed in the year seventeen something?--and so on. To which the answer is that we ought not to have been kept ignorant of these things. A day will come when the Foreign Offices of all countries will have to recognize that what the people do not know of international agreements "ain't facts." A secret treaty is only binding upon the persons in the secret. But what I, as a sample common person, am not ignorant of is this: that the business that goes on at the Peace Congress will either make or mar the lives of everyone I care for in the world, and that somehow, by representative or what not, _I have to be there_. The Peace Congress deals with the blood and happiness of my children and the future of my world. Speaking as one of the hundreds of millions of "rank outsiders" in public affairs, I do not mean to respect any peace treaty that may end this war unless I am honestly represented at its making. I think everywhere there is a tendency in people to follow the Russian example to this extent and to repudiate bargains in which they have had no voice.
I do not see that any genuine realization of the hopes with which all this talk about the League of Nations is charged can be possible, unless the two bodies which should naturally lead up to the League of Nations--that is to say, firstly, the Conference of the Allies, and then the Peace Congress--are elected bodies, speaking confidently for the whole mass of the peoples behind them. It may be a troublesome thing to elect them, but it will involve much more troublesome consequences if they are not elected. This, I think, is one of the considerations for which many people's minds are still unprepared. But unless we are to have over again after all this bloodshed and effort some such "Peace with Honour" foolery as we had performed by "Dizzy" and Salisbury at that fatal Berlin Conference in which this present war was begotten, we must sit up to this novel proposal of electoral representation in the peace negotiations. Something more than common sense binds our statesmen to this idea. They are morally pledged to it. President Wilson and our British and French spokesmen alike have said over and over again that they want to deal not with the Hohenzollerns but with the German people. In other words, we have demanded elected representatives from the German people with whom we may deal, and how can we make a demand of that sort unless we on our part are already prepared to send our own elected representatives to meet them? It is up to us to indicate by our own practice how we on our side, professing as we do to act for democracies, to make democracy safe on the earth, and so on, intend to meet this new occasion.
Yet it has to be remarked that, so far, not one of the League of Nations projects I have seen have included any practicable proposals for the appointment of delegates either to that ultimate body or to its two necessary predecessors, the Council of the Allies and the Peace Congress. It is evident that here, again, we are neglecting to get on with something of very urgent importance. I will venture, therefore, to say a word or two here about the possible way in which a modern community may appoint its international representatives.
And here, again, I turn from any European precedents to that
political outcome of the British mind, the Constitution of the
I am anxious here only to start for discussion the idea of
an electoral representation of the nations upon these three bodies that must in
succession set themselves to define, organize, and
maintain the peace of the world. I do not wish to complicate the question by
any too explicit advocacy of methods of election or the like. In the
These are all, however, secondary considerations. The above
paragraph is, so to speak, in the nature of a footnote. The fundamental matter,
if we are to get towards any realization of this ideal of a world peace
sustained by a
No! That sort of thing will not do now. This Peace Congress
is too big a job for party politicians and society and county families. The
bulk of British opinion cannot go on being represented for ever by President
Wilson. We cannot always look to the Americans to express our ideas and do our
work for democracy. The foolery of the Berlin Treaty must not be repeated. We
cannot have another popular Prime Minister come triumphing back to
If this phrase, "the League of Free Nations," is
to signify anything more than a rhetorical flourish, then certain consequences
follow that have to be faced now. No man can join a partnership and remain an
absolutely free man. You cannot bind yourself to do this and not to do that and
to consult and act with your associates in certain eventualities without a loss
of your sovereign freedom. People in this country and in
If this League of Free Nations is really to be an effectual thing for the preservation of the peace of the world it must possess power and exercise power, powers must be delegated to it. Otherwise it will only help, with all other half-hearted good resolutions, to pave the road of mankind to hell. Nothing in all the world so strengthens evil as the half-hearted attempts of good to make good.
It scarcely needs repeating here--it has been so generally said--that no League of Free Nations can hope to keep the peace unless every member of it is indeed a free member, represented by duly elected persons. Nobody, of course, asks to "dictate the internal government" of any country to that country. If Germans, for instance, like to wallow in absolutism after the war they can do so. But if they or any other peoples wish to take part in a permanent League of Free Nations it is only reasonable to insist that so far as their representatives on the council go they must be duly elected under conditions that are by the standards of the general league satisfactorily democratic. That seems to be only the common sense of the matter. Every court is a potential conspiracy against freedom, and the League cannot tolerate merely court appointments. If courts are to exist anywhere in the new world of the future, they will be wise to stand aloof from international meddling. Of course if a people, after due provision for electoral representation, choose to elect dynastic candidates, that is an altogether different matter.
And now let us consider what are the powers that must be delegated to this proposed council of a League of Free Nations, if that is really effectually to prevent war and to organize and establish and make peace permanent in the world.
Firstly, then, it must be able to adjudicate upon all international disputes whatever. Its first function must clearly be that. Before a war can break out there must be the possibility of a world decision upon its rights and wrongs. The League, therefore, will have as its primary function to maintain a Supreme Court, whose decisions will be final, before which every sovereign power may appear as plaintiff against any other sovereign power or group of powers. The plea, I take it, will always be in the form that the defendant power or powers is engaged in proceedings "calculated to lead to a breach of the peace," and calling upon the League for an injunction against such proceedings. I suppose the proceedings that can be brought into court in this way fall under such headings as these that follow; restraint of trade by injurious tariffs or suchlike differentiations or by interference with through traffic, improper treatment of the subjects _or their property_ (here I put a query) of the plaintiff nation in the defendant state, aggressive military or naval preparation, disorder spreading over the frontier, trespass (as, for instance, by airships), propaganda of disorder, espionage, permitting the organization of injurious activities, such as raids or piracy. Clearly all such actions must come within the purview of any world-supreme court organized to prevent war. But in addition there is a more doubtful and delicate class of case, arising out of the discontent of patches of one race or religion in the dominions of another. How far may the supreme court of the world attend to grievances between subject and sovereign?
Such cases are highly probable, and no large, vague
propositions about the "self-determination" of peoples can meet all
the cases. In
Here, you see, I do no more than ask a question. It is a difficult one, and it has to be answered before we can clear the way to the League of Free Nations.
But the Supreme Court, whether it is to have the wider or the narrower scope here suggested, would be merely the central function of the League of Free Nations. Behind the decisions of the Supreme Court must lie power. And here come fresh difficulties for patriotic digestions. The armies and navies of the world must be at the disposal of the League of Free Nations, and that opens up a new large area of delegated authority. The first impulse of any power disposed to challenge the decisions of the Supreme Court will be, of course, to arm; and it is difficult to imagine how the League of Free Nations can exercise any practical authority unless it has power to restrain such armament. The League of Free Nations must, in fact, if it is to be a working reality, have power to define and limit the military and naval and aerial equipment of every country in the world. This means something more than a restriction of state forces. It must have power and freedom to investigate the military and naval and aerial establishments of all its constituent powers. It must also have effective control over every armament industry. And armament industries are not always easy to define. Are aeroplanes, for example, armament? Its powers, I suggest, must extend even to a restraint upon the belligerent propaganda which is the natural advertisement campaign of every armament industry. It must have the right, for example, to raise the question of the proprietorship of newspapers by armament interests. Disarmament is, in fact, a necessary factor of any League of Free Nations, and you cannot have disarmament unless you are prepared to see the powers of the council of the League extend thus far. The very existence of the League presupposes that it and it alone is to have and to exercise military force. Any other belligerency or preparation or incitement to belligerency becomes rebellion, and any other arming a threat of rebellion, in a world League of Free Nations.
But here, again, has the general mind yet thought out all
that is involved in this proposition? In all the great belligerent countries
the armament industries are now huge interests with enormous powers. Krupp's
business alone is as powerful a thing in
Here is a giant in the path....
But let us remember that it is only necessary to defeat the propaganda of this vile and dangerous industry in four great countries. And for the common citizen, touched on the tenderest part of his patriotic susceptibilities, there are certain irrefutable arguments. Whether the ways of the world in the years to come are to be the paths of peace or the paths of war is not going to alter this essential fact, that the great educated world communities, with a social and industrial organization on a war-capable scale, are going to dominate human affairs. Whether they spend their power in killing or in educating and creating, France, Germany, however much we may resent it, the two great English-speaking communities, Italy, Japan China, and presently perhaps a renascent Russia, are jointly going to control the destinies of mankind. Whether that joint control comes through arms or through the law is a secondary consideration. To refuse to bring our affairs into a common council does not make us independent of foreigners. It makes us more dependent upon them, as a very little consideration will show.
I am suggesting here that the League of Free Nations shall
practically control the army, navy, air forces, and armament industry of every
nation in the world. What is the alternative to that? To do as we please? No,
the alternative is that any malignant country will be free to force upon all
the rest just the maximum amount of armament it chooses to adopt. Since 1871
But power over the military resources of the world is by no
means the limit of the necessary powers of an effective League of Free Nations.
There are still more indigestible implications in the idea, and, since they
have got to be digested sooner or later if civilization is not to collapse,
there is no reason why we should not begin to bite upon them now. I was much
interested to read the British press upon the alleged proposal of the German
Chancellor that we should give up (presumably to
Well, at the risk of rousing much patriotic wrath, I must
admit that I think we _have_ to reconsider our
position. Our argument is that in
It is quite justifiable for us British, no doubt, if we do
really play the part of honest trustees, to remain in
The plain truth is that the League of Free Nations, if it is
to be a reality, if it is to effect a real pacification of the world, must do
no less than supersede Empire; it must end not only this new German
imperialism, which is struggling so savagely and powerfully to possess the
earth, but it must also wind up British imperialism and French imperialism,
which do now so largely and inaggressively possess it. And, moreover, this idea
queries the adjective of Belgian, Portuguese, French, and British Central
I was recently privileged to hear the views of one of those
titled and influential ladies--with a general education at about the fifth
standard level, plus a little French, German, Italian, and music--who do so
much to make our
I was moved to ask her what she would do about
Unhappily I share the evident opinion of Labour that we are
not blessed with any profoundly wise class of people who have definite
knowledge and clear intentions about Africa, that these "_people who
know_" are mostly a pretentious bluff, and so, in spite of a very earnest
desire to take refuge in my "ignorance" from the burthen of thinking
about African problems, I find myself obliged, like most other people, to do
so. In the interests of our country, our children, and the
world, we common persons _have_ to have opinions about these matters. A
The gist of the Labour proposal is an international control
of Africa between the Zambesi and the
And the essential thing I would like to point out to these authorities upon African questions is that not one of them even hints at any other formula which covers the broad essentials of the African riddle.
What are these broad essentials? What are the ends that _must_
be achieved if
The first most obvious danger of
But in practice this involves something else. A practical
consequence of this disarmament idea must be an effective control of the
importation of arms into the "tutelage" areas of
And closely connected with this function of controlling the
arms trade is another great necessity of
But there is another question in
But how are we to prevent the enslavement and economic
exploitation of the blacks if we have no general watcher of African conditions?
We want a common law for
There is still a fourth aspect of the African question in
which every mother's son in
Now this I take it is the gist of the Labour proposal.
This--and no more than this--is what is intended by the "international
control of tropical
Upon that Commission the interested nations, that is to say--putting them in alphabetical order--the Africander, the Briton, the Belgian, the Egyptian, the Frenchman, the Italian, the Indian the Portuguese--might all be represented in proportion to their interest. Whether the German would come in is really a question for the German to consider; he can come in as a good European, he cannot come in as an imperialist brigand. Whether, too, any other nations can claim to have an interest in African affairs, whether the Commission would not be better appointed by a League of Free Nations than directly by the interested Governments, and a number of other such questions, need not be considered here. Here we are discussing only the main idea of the Labour proposal.
Now beneath the supervision and restraint of such a
delegated Commission I do not see why the existing administrations of tutelage
That is my vision of the Labour project. It is something
very different, I know, from the nightmare of an international police of
cosmopolitan scoundrels in nondescript uniforms, hastening to loot and ravish
It is idle to pretend that even at the present time the idea of the League of Free Nations has secure possession of the British mind. There is quite naturally a sustained opposition to it in all the fastnesses of aggressive imperialism. Such papers as the _Times_ and the _Morning Post_ remain hostile and obstructive to the expression of international ideas. Most of our elder statesmen seem to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing during the years of wildest change the world has ever known. But in the general mind of the British peoples the movement of opinion from a narrow imperialism towards internationalism has been wide and swift. And it continues steadily. One can trace week by week and almost day by day the Americanization of the British conception of the Allied War Aims. It may be interesting to reproduce here three communications upon this question made at different times by the present writer to the press. The circumstances of their publication are significant. The first is in substance identical with a letter which was sent to the _Times_ late in May, 1917, and rejected as being altogether too revolutionary. For nowadays the correspondence in the _Times_ has ceased to be an impartial expression of public opinion. The correspondence of the _Times_ is now apparently selected and edited in accordance with the views upon public policy held by the acting editor for the day. More and more has that paper become the organ of a sort of Oxford Imperialism, three or four years behind the times and very ripe and "expert." The letter is here given as it was finally printed in the issue of the _Daily Chronicle_ for June 4th, 1917, under the heading, "Wanted a Statement of Imperial Policy."
Sir,--The time seems to have come for much clearer statements of outlook and intention from this country than it has hitherto been possible to make. The entry of America into the war and the banishment of autocracy and aggressive diplomacy from Russia have enormously cleared the air, and the recent great speech of General Smuts at the Savoy Hotel is probably only the first of a series of experiments in statement. It is desirable alike to clear our own heads, to unify our efforts, and to give the nations of the world some assurance and standard for our national conduct in the future, that we should now define the Idea of our Empire and its relation to the world outlook much more clearly than has ever hitherto been done. Never before in the history of mankind has opinion counted for so much and persons and organizations for so little as in this war. Never before has the need for clear ideas, widely understood and consistently sustained, been so commandingly vital.
What do we mean by our Empire, and what is its relation to that universal desire of mankind, the permanent rule of peace and justice in the world? The whole world will be the better for a very plain answer to that question.
Is it not time for us British not merely to admit to
ourselves, but to assure the world that our Empire as it exists to-day is a
provisional thing, that in scarcely any part of the world do we regard it as
more than an emergency arrangement, as a necessary association that must give
place ultimately to the higher synthesis of a world league, that here we hold
as trustees and there on account of strategic considerations that may presently
disappear, and that though we will not contemplate the replacement of our flag
anywhere by the flag of any other competing nation, though we do hope to hold
together with our kin and with those who increasingly share our tradition and
our language, nevertheless we are prepared to welcome great renunciations of
our present ascendency and privileges in the interests of mankind as a whole.
We need to make the world understand that we do not put our nation nor our Empire before the commonwealth of man. Unless
presently we are to follow
Is it not the plain lesson of this stupendous and disastrous war that there is no way to secure civilization from destruction except by an impartial control and protection in the interests of the whole human race, a control representing the best intelligence of mankind, of these main causes of war.
(1) The politically undeveloped tropics;
(2) Shipping and international trade; and
(3) Small nationalities and all regions in a state of political impotence or confusion?
It is our case against the Germans that in all these three
cases they have subordinated every consideration of justice and the general
human welfare to a monstrous national egotism. That argument has a double edge.
At present there is a vigorous campaign in
I do not mean here mere diplomatic discussions and "understandings," I mean such full and plain statements as will be spread through the whole world and grasped and assimilated by ordinary people everywhere, statements by which we, as a people, will be prepared to stand or fall.
Almost as urgent is the need for some definite statement
Finally, the time is drawing near when the Egyptian and the
This letter was presently followed up by an article in the _Daily News_, entitled "A Reasonable Man's Peace." This article provoked a considerable controversy in the imperialist press, and it was reprinted as a pamphlet by a Free Trade organization, which distributed over 200,000 copies. It is particularly interesting to note, in view of what follows it, that it was attacked with great virulence in the _Evening News_, the little fierce mud-throwing brother of the _Daily Mail_.
The international situation at the present time is beyond
question the most wonderful that the world has ever seen. There is not a
country in the world in which the great majority of sensible people are not
passionately desirous of peace, of an enduring peace, and--the war goes on. The
conditions of peace can now be stated, in general terms that are as acceptable
to a reasonable man in
Why, then, does the waste and killing go on? Why is not the Peace Conference sitting now?
Manifestly because a small minority of people in positions of peculiar advantage, in positions of trust and authority, and particularly the German reactionaries, prevent or delay its assembling.
The answer which seems to suffice in all the Allied countries is that the German Imperial Government--that the German Imperial Government alone--stands in the way, that its tradition is incurably a tradition of conquest and aggression, that until German militarism is overthrown, etc. Few people in the Allied countries will dispute that that is broadly true. But is it the whole and complete truth? Is there nothing more to be done on our side? Let us put a question that goes to the very heart of the problem. Why does the great mass of the German people still cling to its incurably belligerent Government?
The answer to that question is not overwhelmingly difficult.
The German people sticks to its militarist imperialism as Mazeppa stuck to his
horse; because it is bound to it, and the wolves pursue. The attentive student
of the home and foreign propaganda literature of the German Government will
realize that the case made by German imperialism, the main argument by which it
sticks to power, is this, that the Allied Governments are also imperialist,
that they also aim at conquest and aggression, that for Germany the choice is
world empire or downfall and utter ruin. This is the argument that holds the
German people stiffly united. For most men in most countries it would be a convincing
argument, strong enough to override considerations of right and wrong. I find
that I myself am of this way of thinking, that whether
Is that true? Our leaders say so, and we believe them. We would not support them if we did not. And if it is true, have the statesmen of the Allies made it as transparently and convincingly clear to the German people as possible? That is one of the supreme questions of the present time. We cannot too earnestly examine it. Because in the answer to it lies the reason why so many men were killed yesterday on the eastern and western front, so many ships sunk, so much property destroyed, so much human energy wasted for ever upon mere destruction, and why to-morrow and the next day and the day after--through many months yet, perhaps--the same killing and destroying must still go on.
In many respects this war has been an amazing display of human inadaptability. The military history of the war has still to be written, the grim story of machinery misunderstood, improvements resisted, antiquated methods persisted in; but the broad facts are already before the public mind. After three years of war the air offensive, the only possible decisive blow, is still merely talked of. Not once nor twice only have the Western Allies had victory within their grasp--and failed to grip it. The British cavalry generals wasted the great invention of the tanks as a careless child breaks a toy. At least equally remarkable is the dragging inadaptability of European statecraft. Everywhere the failure of ministers and statesmen to rise to the urgent definite necessities of the present time is glaringly conspicuous. They seem to be incapable even of thinking how the war may be brought to an end. They seem incapable of that plain speaking to the world audience which alone can bring about a peace. They keep on with the tricks and feints of a departed age. Both on the side of the Allies and on the side of the Germans the declarations of public policy remain childishly vague and disingenuous, childishly "diplomatic." They chaffer like happy imbeciles while civilization bleeds to death. It was perhaps to be expected. Few, if any, men of over five-and-forty completely readjust themselves to changed conditions, however novel and challenging the changes may be, and nearly all the leading figures in these affairs are elderly men trained in a tradition of diplomatic ineffectiveness, and now overworked and overstrained to a pitch of complete inelasticity. They go on as if it were still 1913. Could anything be more palpably shifty and unsatisfactory, more senile, more feebly artful, than the recent utterances of the German Chancellor? And, on our own side--
Let us examine the three leading points about this peace business in which this jaded statecraft is most apparent.
Let the reader ask himself the following questions:--
Does he know what the Allies mean to do with the problem of
But has the reader any assurance that this sane solution of
the African problem has the support of the Allied Governments? At best he has
only a vague persuasion. And consider how the matter looks "over
there." The German Government assures the German people that the Allies
intend to cut off
A second question is equally essential to any really
permanent settlement, and it is one upon which these eloquent but
unsatisfactory mouthpieces of ours turn their backs with an equal resolution,
and that is the fate of the
The third great issue about which there is nothing but fog
and uncertainty is the so-called "War After the
War," the idea of a permanent economic alliance to prevent the economic
By doing so they leave
Some weeks later I was able, at the invitation of the editor, to carry the controversy against imperialism into the _Daily Mail_, which has hitherto counted as a strictly imperialist paper. The article that follows was published in the _Daily Mail_ under the heading, "Are we Sticking to the Point? A Discussion of War Aims."
Has this War-Aims controversy really got down to essentials? Is the purpose of this world conflict from first to last too complicated for brevity, or can we boil it down into a statement compact enough for a newspaper article?
And if we can, why is there all this voluminous, uneasy, unquenchable disputation about War Aims?
As to the first question, I would say that the gist of the dispute between the Central Powers and the world can be written easily without undue cramping in an ordinary handwriting upon a postcard. It is the second question that needs answering. And the reason why the second question has to be asked and answered is this, that several of the Allies, and particularly we British, are not being perfectly plain and simple-minded in our answer to the first, that there is a division among us and in our minds, and that our division is making us ambiguous in our behaviour, that it is weakening and dividing our action and strengthening and consolidating the enemy, and that unless we can drag this slurred-over division of aim and spirit into the light of day and _settle it now_, we are likely to remain double-minded to the end of the war, to split our strength while the war continues and to come out of the settlement at the end with nothing nearly worth the strain and sacrifice it has cost us.
And first, let us deal with that postcard and say what is the essential aim of the war, the aim to which all other
aims are subsidiary. It is, we have heard repeated again and again by
every statesman of importance in every Allied country, to defeat and destroy
military imperialism, to make the world safe for ever against any such
deliberate aggression as
There is our common agreement. So far, at any rate, we are united. The question I would put to the reader is this: Are we all logically, sincerely, and fully carrying out the plain implications of this War Aim? Or are we to any extent muddling about with it in such a way as to confuse and disorganize our Allies, weaken our internal will, and strengthen the enemy?
Now the plain meaning of this supreme declared War Aim is
that we are asking
But do we, as a nation, stick closely to this clear and
necessary, this only possible, meaning of our declared War Aim? That great, clear-minded leader among the Allies, that Englishman
who more than any other single man speaks for the whole English-speaking and
Western-thinking community, President Wilson, has said definitely that this is
In every war there must be two sets of War Aims kept in mind; we ought to know what we mean to do in the event of victory so complete that we can dictate what terms we choose, and we ought to know what, in the event of a not altogether conclusive tussle, are the minimum terms that we should consider justified us in a discontinuance of the tussle. Now, unless our leading statesmen are humbugs and unless we are prepared to quarrel with America in the interests of the monarchist institutions of Europe, we should, in the event of an overwhelming victory, destroy both the Hohenzollern and Hapsburg Imperialisms, and that means, if it means anything at all and is not mere lying rhetoric, that we should insist upon Germany becoming free and democratic, that is to say, in effect if not in form republican, and upon a series of national republics, Polish, Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and the like, in Eastern Europe, grouped together if possible into congenial groups--crowned republics it might be in some cases, in the case of the Serb for example, but in no case too much crowned--that we should join with this renascent Germany and with these thus liberalized Powers and with our Allies and with the neutrals in one great League of Free Nations, trading freely with one another, guaranteeing each other freedom, and maintaining a world-wide peace and disarmament and a new reign of law for mankind.
If that is not what we are out for, then I do not understand what we are out for; there is dishonesty and trickery and diplomacy and foolery in the struggle, and I am no longer whole-hearted for such a half-hearted war. If after a complete victory we are to bolster up the Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs, and their relations, set up a constellation of more cheating little subordinate kings, and reinstate that system of diplomacies and secret treaties and secret understandings, that endless drama of international threatening and plotting, that never-ending arming, that has led us after a hundred years of waste and muddle to the supreme tragedy of this war, then the world is not good enough for me and I shall be glad to close my eyes upon it. I am not alone in these sentiments. I believe that in writing thus I am writing the opinion of the great mass of reasonable British, French, Italian, Russian, and American men. I believe, too, that this is the desire also of great numbers of Germans, and that they would, if they could believe us, gladly set aside their present rulers to achieve this plain common good for mankind.
But, the reader will say, what evidence is there of any republican
That, however, is a question by the way. It is not the main thing that I have to say here. What I have to say here is that in Great Britain--I will not discuss the affairs of any of our Allies--there are groups and classes of people, not numerous, not representative, but placed in high and influential positions and capable of free and public utterance, who are secretly and bitterly hostile to this great War Aim, which inspires all the Allied peoples. These people are permitted to deny--our peculiar censorship does not hamper them--loudly and publicly that we are fighting for democracy and world freedom; "Tosh," they say to our dead in the trenches, "you died for a mistake"; they jeer at this idea of a League of Nations making an end to war, an idea that has inspired countless brave lads to face death and such pains and hardships as outdo even death itself; they perplex and irritate our Allies by propounding schemes for some precious economic league of the British Empire--that is to treat all "foreigners" with a common base selfishness and stupid hatred--and they intrigue with the most reactionary forces in Russia.
These British reactionaries openly, and with perfect impunity,
represent our war as a thing as mean and shameful as
But it is the truculent wing of this same anti-democratic
movement that is far more active. While our sons suffer and die for their
comforts and conceit, these people scheme to prevent any communication between
the Republican and Socialist classes in
Let me put it to the reader exactly why our failure to say
plainly and exactly and conclusively what we mean to do about a score of points, and particularly about German economic life after
the war, paralyses the penitents and friends and helpers that we could now find
But suppose a German wished to try to start a revolutionary
movement in Germany at the present time, have we given him any reason at all
for supposing that a Germany liberated and democratized, but, of course,
divided and weakened as she would be bound to be in the process, would get
better terms from the Allies than a Germany still facing them, militant,
imperialist, and wicked? He would have no reason for believing anything of the
sort. If we Allies are honest, then if a revolution started in
A plain statement of our war aims that did no more than set out honestly and convincingly the terms the Allies would make with a democratic republican Germany--republican I say, because where a scrap of Hohenzollern is left to-day there will be a fresh militarism to-morrow--would absolutely revolutionize the internal psychology of Germany. We should no longer face a solid people. We should have replaced the false issue of Germany and Britain fighting for the hegemony of Europe, the lie upon which the German Government has always traded, and in which our extreme Tory Press has always supported the German Government, by the true issue, which is freedom versus imperialism, the League of Nations versus that net of diplomatic roguery and of aristocratic, plutocratic, and autocratic greed and conceit which dragged us all into this vast welter of bloodshed and loss.
Here, quite compactly, is the plain statement of the essential cause and process of the war to which I would like to see the Allied Foreign Offices subscribe, and which I would like to have placed plainly before the German mind. It embodies much that has been learnt and thought out since this war began, and I think it is much truer and more fundamental than that mere raging against German "militarism," upon which our politicians and press still so largely subsist.
The enormous development of war methods and war material within the last fifty years has made war so horrible and destructive that it is impossible to contemplate a future for mankind from which it has not been eliminated; the increased facilities of railway, steamship, automobile travel and air navigation have brought mankind so close together that ordinary human life is no longer safe anywhere in the boundaries of the little states in which it was once secure. In some fashion it is now necessary to achieve sufficient human unity to establish a world peace and save the future of mankind.
In one or other of two ways only is that unification
possible. Either men may set up a common league to keep the peace of the earth,
or one state must ultimately become so great and
powerful as to repeat for all the world what
While the rulers of
Is it to be union by conquest or is it to be union by league? For any sort of man except the German the question is, Will you be a free citizen or will you be an underling to the German imperialism? For the German now the question is a far graver and more tragic one. For him it is this: "You belong to a people not now increasing very rapidly, a numerous people, but not so numerous as some of the great peoples of the world, a people very highly trained, very well drilled and well armed, perhaps as well trained and drilled and equipped as ever it will be. The collapse of Russian imperialism has made you safe if now you can get peace, and you _can_ get a peace now that will neither destroy you nor humiliate you nor open up the prospect of fresh wars. The Allies offer you such a peace. To accept it, we must warn you plainly, means refusing to go on with the manifest intentions of your present rulers, which are to launch you and your children and your children's children upon a career of struggle for war predominance, which may no doubt inflict untold deprivations and miseries upon the rest of mankind, but whose end in the long run, for Germany and things German, can be only Judgment and Death."
In such terms as these the Oceanic Allies could now state their war-will and carry the world straightway into a new phase of human history. They could but they do not. For alas! not one of them is free from the entanglements of past things; when we look for the wisdom of statesmen we find the cunning of politicians; when open speech and plain reason might save the world, courts, bureaucrats, financiers and profiteers conspire.
From the very outset of this war it was manifest to the
clear-headed observer that only the complete victory of German imperialism
could save the dynastic system in
After 1871, a constellation of quasi-divine Teutonic
monarchs, of which the German Emperor, the German Queen Victoria, the German
Czar, were the greatest stars, formed a caste apart, intermarried only among
themselves, dominated the world and was regarded with a mystical awe by the
ignorant and foolish in most European countries. The marriages, the funerals,
the coronations, the obstetrics of this amazing breed of idols were matters of
almost universal worship. The Czar and Queen Victoria professed also to be the
heads of religion upon earth. The court-centered diplomacies of the more firmly
rooted monarchies steered all the great liberating movements of the nineteenth
century into monarchical channels.
Of course the stability of this Teutonic dynastic system in
You can still hear very old dull men say gravely that
"kings are better than pronunciamentos"; there was an article upon
Because no doubt if monarchy is to survive
The stars in their courses, the logic of circumstances, the everyday needs and everyday intelligence of men, all these things march irresistibly towards a permanent world peace based on democratic republicanism. The question of the future of monarchy is not whether it will be able to resist and overcome that trend; it has as little chance of doing that as the Lama of Thibet has of becoming Emperor of the Earth. It is whether it will resist openly, become the centre and symbol of a reactionary resistance, and have to be abolished and swept away altogether everywhere, as the Romanoffs have already been swept away in Russia, or whether it will be able in this country and that to adapt itself to the necessities of the great age that dawns upon mankind, to take a generous and helpful attitude towards its own modification, and so survive, for a time at any rate, in that larger air.
It is the fashion for the apologists of monarchy in the
There are many reasons for hoping that it will do so. The
_Times_ has styled the crown the "golden link" of the empire.
Australians and Canadians, it was argued, had little love for the motherland
but the greatest devotion to the sovereign, and still truer was this of
Indians, Egyptians, and the like. It might be easy to press this theory of
devotion too far, but there can be little doubt that the British Crown does at
present stand as a symbol of unity over diversity such as no other crown,
unless it be that of
Now many things are going on behind the scenes, many little
indications peep out upon the speculative watcher and vanish again; but there
is very little that is definite to go upon at the present time to determine how
far the monarchy will rise to the needs of this great occasion. Certain acts
and changes, the initiative to which would come most gracefully from royalty
itself, could be done at this present time. They may be done quite soon. Upon
the doing of them wait great masses of public opinion. The first of these
things is for the British monarchy to sever itself definitely from the German
dynastic system, with which it is so fatally entangled by marriage and descent,
and to make its intention of becoming henceforth more and more British in blood
as well as spirit, unmistakably plain. This idea has been put forth quite
prominently in the _Times_. The king has been asked to give his countenance to
the sweeping away of all those restrictions first set up by George the Third,
upon the marriage of the Royal Princes with British, French and American
No doubt the Anglicization of the royal family by national marriages would gradually merge that family into the general body of the British peerage. Its consequent loss of distinction might be accompanied by an associated fading out of function, until the King became at last hardly more functional than was the late Duke of Norfolk as premier peer. Possibly that is the most desirable course from many points of view.
It must be admitted that the abandonment of marriages within
the royal caste and a bold attempt to introduce a strain of British blood in
the royal family does not in itself fulfil all that is needed if the British
king is indeed to become the crowned president of his people and the nominal
and accepted leader of the movement towards republican institutions. A thing
that is productive of an enormous amount of republican talk in
And in a phase of tottering thrones it is very undesirable
that the British habit of asylum should be abused. We have already in
The security of the British monarchy lies in such a
courageous severance of its destinies from the Teutonic dynastic system. Will
it make that severance? There I share an almost universal ignorance. The
loyalty of the British is not to what kings are too prone to call "my
person," not to a chosen and admired family, but to a renascent mankind.
We have fought in this war for
These are things in the scales of fate. I will not pretend to be able to guess even which way the scales will swing.
Great as the sacrifices of prejudice and preconception which
any effective realization of this idea of a League of Free Nations will demand,
difficult as the necessary delegations of sovereignty must be, none the less
are such sacrifices and difficulties unavoidable. People in
Whether this war ends in the complete defeat of
Now, there are two chief arguments, running one into the
other, for the necessity of merging our existing sovereignties into a greater
and, if possible, a world-wide league. The first is the present geographical
impossibility of nearly all the existing European states and empires; and the
second is the steadily increasing disproportion between the tortures and
destructions inflicted by modern warfare and any possible advantages that may
arise from it. Underlying both arguments is the fact that modern developments
of mechanical science have brought the nations of
It is the unhappy usage of our schools and universities to
study the history of mankind only during periods of mechanical
unprogressiveness. The historical ideas of Europe range between the time when
the Greeks were going about the world on foot or horseback or in galleys or
sailing ships to the days when Napoleon,
Let me ask the British reader who is disposed to sneer at
the League of Nations and say he is very well content with the empire, thank
you, to get his atlas and consider one or two propositions. And, first, let him
think of aviation. I can assure him, because upon this matter I have some
special knowledge, that long-distance air travel for men, for letters and light
goods and for bombs, is continually becoming more practicable. But the air
routes that air transport will follow must go over a certain amount of land,
for this reason that every few hundred miles at the longest the machine must
come down for petrol. A flying machine with a safe non-stop range of 1500 miles
is still a long way off. It may indeed be permanently impracticable because
there seems to be an upward limit to the size of an aeroplane engine. And now
will the reader take the map of the world and study the air routes from
And as a second illustration of the way
in which changing conditions are altering political questions, let the reader
take his atlas and consider the case of that impregnable fastness, that great
naval station, that Key to the Mediterranean,
I will not multiply disagreeable instances of this sort,
though it would be easy enough to do so in the case both of
If the reader will revert again to his atlas he will see
very clearly that a strongly consolidated League of Free Nations, even if it
consisted only of our present allies, would in itself form a combination with
so close a system of communication about the world, and so great an economic
advantage, that in the long run it could oblige Germany and the rest of the
world to come in to its council. Divided the Oceanic Allies are, to speak
plainly, geographical rags and nakedness; united they are a world. To set about
organizing that League now, with its necessary repudiation on the part of
Britain, France, and Italy, of a selfish and, it must be remembered in the
light of these things I have but hinted at here, a _now hopelessly
unpracticable imperialism_, would, I am convinced, lead quite rapidly to a
great change of heart in Germany and to a satisfactory peace. But even if I am
wrong in that, then all the stronger is the reason for binding, locking and
uniting the allied powers together. It is the most dangerous of delusions for
each and all of them to suppose that either
And turning now to the other aspect of these consequences of
the development of material science, it is too often assumed that this war is
being as horrible and destructive as war can be. There never was so great a
delusion. This war has only begun to be horrible. No doubt it is much more horrible
and destructive than any former war, but even in comparison with the full
possibilities of known and existing means of destruction it is still a mild
war. Perhaps it will never rise to its full possibilities. At the present stage
there is not a combatant, except perhaps
It must always be remembered that this war is a mechanical
war conducted by men whose discipline renders them uninventive, who know little
or nothing of mechanism, who are for the most part struggling blindly to get
things back to the conditions for which they were trained, to Napoleonic
conditions, with infantry and cavalry and comparatively light guns, the
so-called "war of manoeuvres." It is like a man engaged in a
desperate duel who keeps on trying to make it a game of cricket. Most of these
soldiers detest every sort of mechanical device; the tanks, for example, which,
used with imagination, might have given the British and French overwhelming
victory on the western front, were subordinated to the usual cavalry
"break through" idea. I am not making any particular complaint
against the British and French generals in saying this. It is what must happen
to any country which entrusts its welfare to soldiers. A soldier has to be a
severely disciplined man, and a severely disciplined man cannot be a versatile
man, and on the whole the British army has been as receptive to novelties as
any. The German generals have done no better; indeed, they have not done so
well as the generals of the Allies in this respect. But after the war, if the
world does not organize rapidly for peace, then as resources accumulate a
little, the mechanical genius will get to work on the possibilities of these
ideas that have merely been sketched out in this war. We shall get big land
ironclads which will smash towns. We shall get air offensives--let the
experienced London reader think of an air raid going on hour after hour, day
after day--that will really burn out and wreck towns, that will drive people
mad by the thousand. We shall get a very complete cessation of sea transit.
Even land transit may be enormously hampered by aerial attack. I doubt if any
sort of social order will really be able to stand the strain of a fully worked
out modern war. We have still, of course, to feel the full shock effects even
of this war. Most of the combatants are going on, as sometimes men who have
incurred grave wounds will still go on for a time--without feeling them. The
educational, biological, social, economic punishment that has already been
taken by each of the European countries is, I feel, very much greater than we
shock effects of this, as the shock of breaking a finger-nail has to the
shock of crushing in a body. In
Such are the two sets of considerations that will, I think, ultimately prevail over every prejudice and every difficulty in the way of the League of Free Nations. Existing states have become impossible as absolutely independent sovereignties. The new conditions bring them so close together and give them such extravagant powers of mutual injury that they must either sink national pride and dynastic ambitions in subordination to the common welfare of mankind or else utterly shatter one another. It becomes more and more plainly a choice between the League of Free Nations and a famished race of men looting in search of non-existent food amidst the smouldering ruins of civilization. In the end I believe that the common sense of mankind will prefer a revision of its ideas of nationality and imperialism, to the latter alternative. It may take obstinate men a few more years yet of blood and horror to learn this lesson, but for my own part I cherish an obstinate belief in the potential reasonableness of mankind.
All the talk, all the aspiration and work that is making now towards this conception of a world securely at peace, under the direction of a League of Free Nations, has interwoven with it an idea that is often rather felt than understood, the idea of Democracy. Not only is justice to prevail between race and race and nation and nation, but also between man and man; there is to be a universal respect for human life throughout the earth; the world, in the words of President Wilson, is to be made "safe for democracy." I would like to subject that word to a certain scrutiny to see whether the things we are apt to think and assume about it correspond exactly with the feeling of the word. I would like to ask what, under modern conditions, does democracy mean, and whether we have got it now anywhere in the world in its fulness and completion.
And to begin with I must have a quarrel with the word
itself. The eccentricities of modern education make us dependent for a number
of our primary political terms upon those used by the thinkers of the small
Greek republics of ancient times before those petty states collapsed, through
sheer political ineptitude, before the Macedonians. They thought in terms of
states so small that it was possible to gather all the citizens together for
the purposes of legislation. These states were scarcely more than what we
English might call sovereign urban districts. Fast communications were made by
runners; even the policeman with a bicycle of the modern urban district was
beyond the scope of the Greek imagination. There were no railways, telegraphs,
telephones, books or newspapers, there was no need for the state to maintain a
system of education, and the affairs of the state were so simple that they
could be discussed and decided by the human voice and open voting in an
assembly of all the citizens. That is what democracy, meant. In
Now the modern intelligence, being under a sort of magic
slavery to the ancient Greeks, has to adapt all these terms to the problems of
states so vast and complex that they have the same relation to the Greek states
that the anatomy of a man has to the anatomy of a jellyfish. They are not only
greater in extent and denser in population, but they are increasingly
innervated by more and more rapid means of communication and excitement. In the
classical past--except for such special cases as the feeding of
Now there are two primary classes of idea about government in the modern world depending upon our conception of the political capacity of the common man. We may suppose he is a microcosm, with complete ideas and wishes about the state and the world, or we may suppose that he isn't. We may believe that the common man can govern, or we may believe that he can't. We may think further along the first line that he is so wise and good and right that we only have to get out of his way for him to act rightly and for the good of all mankind, or we may doubt it. And if we doubt that we may still believe that, though perhaps "you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time," the common man, expressing himself by a majority vote, still remains the secure source of human wisdom. But next, while we may deny this universal distribution of political wisdom, we may, if we are sufficiently under the sway of modern ideas about collective psychology, believe that it is necessary to poke up the political indifference and inability of the common man as much as possible, to thrust political ideas and facts upon him, to incite him to a watchful and critical attitude towards them, and above all to secure his assent to the proceedings of the able people who are managing public affairs. Or finally, we may treat him as a thing to be ruled and not consulted. Let me at this stage make out a classificatory diagram of these elementary ideas of government in a modern country.
CLASS I. It is supposed that the common man _can_ govern:
(1) without further organization (Anarchy);
(2) through a majority vote by delegates.
CLASS II. It is supposed that the common man _cannot_ govern, and that government therefore must be through the agency of Able Persons who may be classified under one of the following sub-heads, either as
(1) persons elected by the common man because he believes them to be persons able to govern--just as he chooses his doctors as persons able to secure health, and his electrical engineers as persons able to attend to his tramways, lighting, etc., etc.;
(2) persons of a special class, as, for example, persons born and educated to rule (e.g. _Aristocracy_), or rich business adventurers _(Plutocracy)_ who rule without consulting the common man at all.
To which two sub-classes we may perhaps add a sort of intermediate stage between them, namely:
(3) persons elected by a special class of voter.
Monarchy may be either a special case of Class II.(1), (2) or (3), in which the persons who rule have narrowed down in number to one person, and the duration of monarchy may be either for life or a term of years. These two classes and the five sub-classes cover, I believe, all the elementary political types in our world.
Now in the constitution of a modern state, because of the conflict and confusion of ideas, all or most of these five sub-classes may usually be found intertwined. The British constitution, for instance, is a complicated tangle of arrangements, due to a struggle between the ideas of Class I.(2), Class II.(3), tending to become Class II.(1) and Class II.(2) in both its aristocratic and monarchist forms. The American constitution is largely dominated by Class I.(2), from which it breaks away in the case of the President to a short-term monarchist aspect of Class II.(1). I will not elaborate this classification further. I have made it here in order to render clear first, that what we moderns mean by democracy is not what the Greeks meant at all, that is to say, direct government by the assembly of all the citizens, and secondly and more important, that the word "democracy" is being used very largely in current discussion, so that it is impossible to say in any particular case whether the intention is Class I.(2) or Class II.(1), and that we have to make up our minds whether we mean, if I may coin two phrases, "delegate democracy" or "selective democracy," or some definite combination of these two, when we talk about "democracy," before we can get on much beyond a generous gesture of equality and enfranchisement towards our brother man. The word is being used, in fact, confusingly for these two quite widely different things.
Now, it seems to me that though there has been no very clear
discussion of the issue between those two very opposite conceptions of
democracy, largely because of the want of proper distinctive terms, there has
nevertheless been a wide movement of public opinion away from "delegate
democracy" and towards "selective democracy." People have gone
on saying "democracy," while gradually changing its meaning from the
former to the latter. It is notable in
The movement for electoral reform in
"... little Liber-al,
or else a little Conservative,"
he must at least be a Liberal-Unionist or a Conservative Free-Trader. But seeking a fair representation for party minorities, these reformers produced a system of voting at once simple and incapable of manipulation, that leads straight, not to the representation of small parties, but to a type of democratic government by selected best men.
Before giving the essential features of that system, it may be well to state in its simplest form the evils at which the reform aims. An election, the reformers point out, is not the simple matter it appears to be at the first blush. Methods of voting can be manipulated in various ways, and nearly every method has its own liability to falsification. We may take for illustration the commonest, simplest case--the case that is the perplexity of every clear-thinking voter under British or American conditions--the case of a constituency in which every elector has one vote, and which returns one representative to Parliament. The naive theory on which people go is that all the possible candidates are put up, that each voter votes for the one he likes best, and that the best man wins. The bitter experience is that hardly ever are there more than two candidates, and still more rarely is either of these the best man possible. Suppose, for example, the constituency is mainly Conservative. A little group of pothouse politicians, wire-pullers, busybodies, local journalists, and small lawyers, working for various monetary interests, have "captured" the local Conservative organization. They have time and energy to capture it, because they have no other interest in life except that. It is their "business," and honest men are busy with other duties. For reasons that do not appear these local "workers" put up an unknown Mr. Goldbug as the official Conservative candidate. He professes a generally Conservative view of things, but few people are sure of him and few people trust him. Against him the weaker (and therefore still more venal) Liberal organization now puts up a Mr. Kentshire (formerly Wurstberg) to represent the broader thought and finer generosities of the English mind. A number of Conservative gentlemen, generally too busy about their honest businesses to attend the party "smokers" and the party cave, realize suddenly that they want Goldbug hardly more than they want Wurstberg. They put up their long-admired, trusted, and able friend Mr. Sanity as an Independent Conservative.
Every one knows the trouble that follows. Mr. Sanity is "going to split the party vote." The hesitating voter is told, with considerable truth, that a vote given for Mr. Sanity is a vote given for Wurstberg. At any price the constituency does not want Wurstberg. So at the eleventh hour Mr. Sanity is induced to withdraw, and Mr. Goldbug goes into Parliament to misrepresent this constituency. And so with most constituencies, and the result is a legislative body consisting largely of men of unknown character and obscure aims, whose only credential is the wearing of a party label. They come into parliament not to forward the great interests they ostensibly support, but with an eye to the railway jobbery, corporation business, concessions and financial operations that necessarily go on in and about the national legislature. That in its simplest form is the dilemma of democracy. The problem that has confronted modern democracy since its beginning has not really been the representation of organized minorities--they are very well able to look after themselves--but _the protection of the unorganized mass of busily occupied, fairly intelligent men from the tricks of the specialists who work the party machines_. We know Mr. Sanity, we want Mr. Sanity, but we are too busy to watch the incessant intrigues to oust him in favour of the obscurely influential people, politically docile, who are favoured by the organization. We want an organizer-proof method of voting. It is in answer to this demand, as the outcome of a most careful examination of the ways in which voting may be protected from the exploitation of those who _work_ elections, that the method of Proportional Representation with a single transferable vote has been evolved. It is organizer-proof. It defies the caucus. If you do not like Mr. Goldbug you can put up and vote for Mr. Sanity, giving Mr. Goldbug your second choice, in the most perfect confidence that in any case your vote cannot help to return Mr. Wurstberg.
With Proportional Representation with a single transferable vote (this specification is necessary, because there are also the inferior imitations of various election-riggers figuring as proportional representation), it is _impossible to prevent the effective candidature of independent men of repute beside the official candidates_.
The method of voting under the Proportional Representation system has been ignorantly represented as complex. It is really almost ideally simple. You mark the list of candidates with numbers in the order of your preference. For example, you believe A to be absolutely the best man for parliament; you mark him 1. But B you think is the next best man; you mark him 2. That means that if A gets an enormous amount of support, ever so many more votes than he requires for his return, your vote will not be wasted. Only so much of your vote as is needed will go to A; the rest will go to B. Or, on the other hand, if A has so little support that his chances are hopeless, you will not have thrown your vote away upon him; it will go to B. Similarly you may indicate a third, a fourth, and a fifth choice; if you like you may mark every name on your paper with a number to indicate the order of your preferences. And that is all the voter has to do. The reckoning and counting of the votes presents not the slightest difficulty to any one used to the business of computation. Silly and dishonest men, appealing to still sillier audiences, have got themselves and their audiences into humorous muddles over this business, but the principles are perfectly plain and simple. Let me state them here; they can be fully and exactly stated, with various ornaments, comments, arguments, sarcastic remarks, and digressions, in seventy lines of this type.
It will be evident that, in any election under this system, any one who has got a certain proportion of No. 1 votes will be elected. If, for instance, five people have to be elected and 20,000 voters vote, then any one who has got 4001 first votes or more _must_ be elected. 4001 votes is in that case enough to elect a candidate. This sufficient number of votes is called the _quota_, and any one who has more than that number of votes has obviously got more votes than is needful for election. So, to begin with, the voting papers are classified according to their first votes, and any candidates who have got more than a quota of first votes are forthwith declared elected. But most of these elected men would under the old system waste votes because they would have too many; for manifestly a candidate who gets more than the quota of votes _needs only a fraction of each of these votes to return him_. If, for instance, he gets double the quota he needs only half each vote. He takes that fraction, therefore, under this new and better system, and the rest of each vote is entered on to No. 2 upon that voting paper. And so on. Now this is an extremely easy job for an accountant or skilled computer, and it is quite easily checked by any other accountant and skilled computer. A reader with a bad arithmetical education, ignorant of the very existence of such a thing as a slide rule, knowing nothing of account keeping, who thinks of himself working out the resultant fractions with a stumpy pencil on a bit of greasy paper in a bad light, may easily think of this transfer of fractions as a dangerous and terrifying process. It is, for a properly trained man, the easiest, exactest job conceivable. The Cash Register people will invent machines to do it for you while you wait. What happens, then, is that every candidate with more than a quota, beginning with the top candidate, sheds a traction of each vote he has received, down the list, and the next one sheds his surplus fraction in the same way, and so on until candidates lower in the list, who are at first below the quota, fill up to it. When all the surplus votes of the candidates at the head of the list have been disposed of, then the hopeless candidates at the bottom of the list are dealt with. The second votes on their voting papers are treated as whole votes and distributed up the list, and so on. It will be plain to the quick-minded that, towards the end, there will be a certain chasing about of little fractions of votes, and a slight modification of the quota due to voting papers having no second or third preferences marked upon them, a chasing about that it will be difficult for an untrained intelligence to follow. _But untrained intelligences are not required to follow it_. For the skilled computer these things offer no difficulty at all. And they are not difficulties of principle but of manipulation. One might as well refuse to travel in a taxicab until the driver had explained the magneto as refuse to accept the principle of Proportional Representation by the single transferable vote until one had remedied all the deficiencies of one's arithmetical education. The fundamental principle of the thing, that a candidate who gets more votes than he wants is made to hand on a fraction of each vote to the voter's second choice, and that a candidate whose chances are hopeless is made to hand on the whole vote to the voter's second choice, so that practically only a small number of votes are ineffective, is within the compass of the mind of a boy of ten.
But simple as this method is, it completely kills the organization and manipulation of voting. It completely solves the Goldbug-Wurstberg-Sanity problem. It is knave-proof--short of forging, stealing, or destroying voting papers. A man of repute, a leaderly man, may defy all the party organizations in existence and stand beside and be returned over the head of a worthless man, though the latter be smothered with party labels. That is the gist of this business. The difference in effect between Proportional Representation and the old method of voting must ultimately be to change the moral and intellectual quality of elected persons profoundly. People are only beginning to realize the huge possibilities of advance inherent in this change of political method. It means no less than a revolution from "delegate democracy" to "selective democracy."
Now, I will not pretend to be anything but a strong partizan
in this matter. When I speak of "democracy" I mean "selective
democracy." I believe that "delegate democracy" is already
provably a failure in the world, and that the reason why to-day, after three
and a half years of struggle, we are still fighting German autocracy and
fighting with no certainty of absolute victory, is because the affairs of the
three great Atlantic democracies have been largely in the hands not of selected
men but of delegated men, men of intrigue and the party machine, of dodges
rather than initiatives, second-rate men. When Lord Haldane, defending his
party for certain insufficiencies in their preparation for the eventuality of
the great war, pleaded that they had no
"mandate" from the country to do anything of the sort, he did more
than commit political suicide, he bore conclusive witness against the whole
system which had made him what he was. Neither
British political life resists cleansing with all the vigour of a dirty little boy. It is nothing to your politician that the economic and social organization of all the world, is strained almost to the pitch of collapse, and that it is vitally important to mankind that everywhere the whole will and intelligence of the race should be enlisted in the great tasks of making a permanent peace and reconstructing the shattered framework of society. These are remote, unreal considerations to the politician. What is the world to him? He has scarcely heard of it. He has been far too busy as a politician. He has been thinking of smart little tricks in the lobby and brilliant exploits at question time. He has been thinking of jobs and appointments, of whether Mr. Asquith is likely to "come back" and how far it is safe to bank upon L. G. His one supreme purpose is to keep affairs in the hands of his own specialized set, to keep the old obscure party game going, to rig his little tricks behind a vast, silly camouflage of sham issues, to keep out able men and disinterested men, the public mind, and the general intelligence, from any effective interference with his disastrous manipulations of the common weal.
I do not see how any intelligent and informed man can have followed the recent debates in the House of Commons upon Proportional Representation without some gusts of angry contempt. They were the most pitiful and alarming demonstration of the intellectual and moral quality of British public life at the present time.
From the wire-pullers of the Fabian Society and from the
party organizers of both Liberal and Tory party alike, and from the knowing
cards, the pothouse shepherds, and jobbing lawyers who "work" the
constituencies, comes the chief opposition to this straightening out of our
electoral system so urgently necessary and so long overdue. They have fought it
with a zeal and efficiency that is rarely displayed in the nation's interest.
From nearly every outstanding man outside that little inner world of political
shams and dodges, who has given any attention to the question, comes, on the
other hand, support for this reform. Even the great party leaders, Mr. Balfour
and Mr. Asquith, were in its favour. One might safely judge this question by
considering who are the advocates on either side. But
the best arguments for Proportional Representation arise out of its opponents'
speeches, and to these I will confine my attention now. Consider Lord
Harcourt--heir to the most sacred traditions of the party game--hurling scorn
at a project that would introduce "faddists, mugwumps," and so on and
so on--in fact independent thinking men--into the legislature. Consider the
value of Lord Curzon's statement that
After some slight difficulty I ascertained that my
representative is a Mr. Burdett Coutts, who was, in the romantic eighties, Mr.
Ashmead-Bartlett. And by a convenient accident I find that the other day he
moved to reject the Proportional Representation Amendment made by the House of
Lords to the Representation of the People Bill, so that I am able to look up
the debate in Hansard and study my opinions as he represented them and this
question at one and the same time. And, taking little things first, I am proud
and happy to discover that the member for me was the only participator in the
debate who, in the vulgar and reprehensible phrase, "threw a dead
cat," or, in polite terms, displayed classical learning. My member said,
"_Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes_," with a
rather graceful compliment to the Labour Conference at
The other parts of my member's speech do not, I confess,
fill me with the easy confidence I would like to feel in my proxy. Let me
extract a few gems of eloquence from the speech of this voice which speaks for
me, and give also the only argument he advanced that needs consideration.
"History repeats itself," he said, "very often in curious ways
as to facts, but generally with very different results." That, honestly, I
like. It is a sentence one can read over several times. But he went on to talk
of the entirely different scheme for minority representation, which was
introduced into the Reform Bill of 1867, and there I am obliged to part company with him. That was a silly scheme for giving
two votes to each voter in a three-member constituency. It has about as much
resemblance to the method of scientific voting under discussion as a bath-chair
has to an aeroplane. "But that measure of minority representation led to a
baneful invention," my representative went on to say, "and left
behind it a hateful memory in the
Now, I swear by Heaven that, lowly creature as I am, a lost vote,
a nothing, voiceless and helpless in public affairs, I am not going to stand
the imputation that that sort of reasoning represents the average mental
quality of Westminster--outside Parliament, that is. Most of my neighbours in
St. James's Court, for example, have quite large pieces of head above their
eyebrows. Read these above sentences over and ponder their significance--so far
as they have any significance. Never mind my keen personal humiliation at this
display of the mental calibre of my representative, but consider what the
mental calibre of a House must be that did not break out into loud guffaws at
such a passage. The line of argument is about as lucid as if one reasoned that
because one can break a window with a stone it is no use buying a telescope.
And it remains entirely a matter for speculation whether my member is arguing
that a caucus _can_ rig an election carried on under the Proportional
Representation system or that it cannot. At the first blush it seems to read as
if he intended the former. But be careful! Did he? Let me suggest that in that
last sentence he really expresses the opinion that it cannot. It can be read
either way. Electors under modern conditions are not going to obey the
"orders" of even the "most drastic caucus"--whatever a
"drastic caucus" may be. Why should they? In the
But let me turn now to the views of other people's representatives.
Perhaps the most damning thing ever said against the present
system, damning because of its empty absurdity, was uttered by Sir Thomas
Whittaker. He was making the usual exaggerations of the supposed difficulties
of the method. He said English people didn't like such
"complications." They like a "straight fight between two
men." Think of it! A straight fight! For more than a quarter-century I
have been a voter, usually with votes in two or three constituencies, and never
in all that long political life have I seen a single straight fight in an
election, but only the dismallest sham fights it is possible to conceive.
Thrice only in all that time have I cast a vote for a man whom I respected. On
all other occasions the election that mocked my citizenship was either an
arranged walk-over for one party or the other, or I had a choice between two
unknown persons, mysteriously selected as candidates by obscure busy people
with local interests in the constituency. Every intelligent person knows that
this is the usual experience of a free and independent voter in
And consider just what these "complications" are
of which the opponents of Proportional Representation chant so loudly. In the
sham election of to-day, which the politicians claim gives them a mandate to
muddle up our affairs, the voter puts a x against the
name of the least detestable of the two candidates that are thrust upon him.
Under the Proportional Representation method there will be a larger
constituency, a larger list of candidates, and a larger number of people to be
elected, and he will put I against the name of the man he most wants to be
elected, 2 against his second choice, and if he likes he may indulge in marking
a third, or even a further choice. He may, if he thinks fit, number off the
whole list of candidates. That is all he will have to do. That is the
stupendous intricacy of the method that flattens out the minds of Lord Harcourt
and Sir Thomas Whittaker. And as for the working of it, if you must go into
that, all that happens is that if your first choice gets more votes than he
needs for his return, he takes only the fraction of your vote that he requires,
and the rest of the vote goes on to your Number 2. If 2 isn't
in need of all of it, the rest goes on to 3. And so on. That is the profound
mathematical mystery, that is the riddle beyond the wit of
But let us be just; it is not all pretence; the inability of
Mr. Austen Chamberlain to grasp the simple facts before him was undoubtedly
genuine. He followed Mr. Burdett Coutts, in support of Mr. Burdett Coutts, with
the most Christian disregard of the nasty things Mr. Burdett Coutts had seemed
to be saying about the
Only in a house of habitually inattentive men could any one talk such nonsense without reproof, but I look in vain through Hansard's record of this debate for a single contemptuous reference to Mr. Chamberlain's obtuseness. And the rest of his speech was a lamentable account of the time and trouble he would have to spend upon his constituents if the new method came in. He was the perfect figure of the parochially important person in a state of defensive excitement. No doubt his speech appealed to many in the House.
Of course Lord Harcourt was quite right in saying that the character of the average House of Commons member will be changed by Proportional Representation. It will. It will make the election of obscure and unknown men, of carpet-bag candidates who work a constituency as a hawker works a village, of local pomposities and village-pump "leaders" almost impossible. It will replace such candidates by better known and more widely known men. It will make the House of Commons so much the more a real gathering of the nation, so much the more a house of representative men. (Lord Harcourt's "faddists and mugwumps.") And it is perfectly true as Mr. Ramsay Macdonald (also an opponent) declares, that Proportional Representation means constituencies so big that it will be impossible for a poor man to cultivate and work them. That is unquestionable. But, mark another point, it will also make it useless, as Mr. Chamberlain has testified, for rich men to cultivate and work them. All this cultivating and working, all this going about and making things right with this little jobber here, that contractor there, all the squaring of small political clubs and organizations, all the subscription blackmail and charity bribery, that now makes a Parliamentary candidature so utterly rotten an influence upon public life, will be killed dead by Proportional Representation. You cannot job men into Parliament by Proportional Representation. Proportional Representation lets in the outsider. It lets in the common, unassigned voter who isn't in the local clique. That is the clue to nearly all this opposition of the politicians. It makes democracy possible for the first time in modern history. And that poor man of Mr. Ramsay Macdonald's imagination, instead of cadging about a constituency in order to start politician, will have to make good in some more useful way--as a leader of the workers in their practical affairs, for example--before people will hear of him and begin to believe in him.
The opposition to Proportional Representation of Mr. Sidney Webb and his little circle is a trifle more "scientific" in tone than these naive objections of the common run of antagonist, but underlying it is the same passionate desire to keep politics a close game for the politician and to bar out the politically unspecialized man. There is more conceit and less jobbery behind the criticisms of this type of mind. It is an opposition based on the idea that the common man is a fool who does not know what is good for him. So he has to be stampeded. Politics, according to this school, is a sort of cattle-driving.
The Webbites do not deny the broad facts of the case. Our present electoral system, with our big modern constituencies of thousands of voters, leads to huge turnovers of political power with a relatively small shifting of public opinion. It makes a mock of public opinion by caricature, and Parliament becomes the distorting mirror of the nation. Under some loud false issue a few score of thousands of votes turn over, and in goes this party or that with a big sham majority. This the Webbites admit. But they applaud it. It gives us, they say, "a strong Government." Public opinion, the intelligent man outside the House, is ruled out of the game. He has no power of intervention at all. The artful little Fabian politicians rub their hands and say, "_Now_ we can get to work with the wires! No one can stop us." And when the public complains of the results, there is always the repartee, "_You_ elected them." But the Fabian psychology is the psychology of a very small group of pedants who believe that fair ends may be reached by foul means. It is much easier and more natural to serve foul ends by foul means. In practice it is not tricky benevolence but tricky bargaining among the interests that will secure control of the political wires. That is a bad enough state of affairs in ordinary times, but in times of tragic necessity like the present men will not be mocked in this way. Life is going to be very intense in the years ahead of us. If we go right on to another caricature Parliament, with perhaps half a hundred leading men in it and the rest hacks and nobodies, the baffled and discontented outsiders in the streets may presently be driven to rioting and the throwing of bombs. Unless, indeed, the insurrection of the outsiders takes a still graver form, and the Press, which has ceased entirely to be a Party Press in Great Britain, helps some adventurous Prime Minister to flout and set aside the lower House altogether. There is neither much moral nor much physical force behind the House of Commons at the present time.
The argument of the Fabian opponents to Proportional Representation is frankly that the strongest Government is got in a House of half a hundred or fewer leading men, with the rest of the Parliament driven sheep. But the whole mischief of the present system is that the obscure members of Parliament are not sheep; they are a crowd of little-minded, second-rate men just as greedy and eager and self-seeking as any of us. They vote straight indeed on all the main party questions, they obey their Whips like sheep then; but there is a great bulk of business in Parliament outside the main party questions, and obedience is not without its price. These are matters vitally affecting our railways and ships and communications generally, the food and health of the people, armaments, every sort of employment, the appointment of public servants, the everyday texture of all our lives. Then the nobody becomes somebody, the party hack gets busy, the rat is in the granary....
In these recent debates in the House of Commons one can see every stock trick of the wire-puller in operation. Particularly we have the old dodge of the man who is "in theory quite in sympathy with Proportional Representation, but ..." It is, he declares regretfully, too late. It will cause delay. Difficult to make arrangements. Later on perhaps. And so on. It is never too late for a vital issue. Upon the speedy adoption of Proportional Representation depends, as Mr. Balfour made plain in an admirable speech, whether the great occasions of the peace and after the peace are to be handled by a grand council of all that is best and most leaderlike in the nation, or whether they are to be left to a few leaders, apparently leading, but really profoundly swayed by the obscure crowd of politicians and jobbers behind them. Are the politicians to hamper and stifle us in this supreme crisis of our national destinies or are we British peoples to have a real control of our own affairs in this momentous time? Are men of light and purpose to have a voice in public affairs or not? Proportional Representation is supremely a test question. It is a question that no adverse decision in the House of Commons can stifle. There are too many people now who grasp its importance and significance. Every one who sets a proper value upon purity in public life and the vitality of democratic institutions will, I am convinced, vote and continue to vote across every other question against the antiquated, foul, and fraudulent electoral methods that have hitherto robbed democracy of three-quarters of its efficiency.
In the preceding chapter I have dealt with the discussion of
Proportional Representation in the British House of Commons in order to
illustrate the intellectual squalor amidst which public affairs have to be
handled at the present time, even in a country professedly
"democratic." I have taken this one discussion as a sample to
illustrate the present imperfection of our democratic instrument. All over the
world, in every country, great multitudes of intelligent and serious people are
now inspired by the idea of a new order of things in the world, of a world-wide
establishment of peace and mutual aid between nation and nation and man and
man. But, chiefly because of the elementary crudity of existing electoral
methods, hardly anywhere at present, except at
This general stifling of the better intelligence of the world and its possible release to expression and power, seems to me to be the fundamental issue underlying all the present troubles of mankind. We cannot get on while everywhere fools and vulgarians hold the levers that can kill, imprison, silence and starve men. We cannot get on with false government and we cannot get on with mob government; we must have right government. The intellectual people of the world have a duty of co-operation they have too long neglected. The modernization of political institutions, the study of these institutions until we have worked out and achieved the very best and most efficient methods whereby the whole community of mankind may work together under the direction of its chosen intelligences, is the common duty of every one who has a brain for the service. And before everything else we have to realize this crudity and imperfection in what we call "democracy" at the present time. Democracy is still chiefly an aspiration, it is a spirit, it is an idea; for the most part its methods are still to seek. And still more is this "League of Free Nations" as yet but an aspiration. Let us not underrate the task before us. Only the disinterested devotion of hundreds of thousands of active brains in school, in pulpit, in book and press and assembly can ever bring these redeeming conceptions down to the solid earth to rule.
All round the world there is this same obscuration of the
real intelligence of men. In Germany, human good will and every fine mind are
subordinated to political forms that have for a mouthpiece a Chancellor with
his brains manifestly addled by the theories of _Welt-Politik_ and the
Bismarckian tradition, and for a figurehead a mad Kaiser. Nevertheless there
comes even from
It is absurd to suppose that anywhere to-day the nationalisms, the suspicions and hatreds, the cants and policies, and dead phrases that sway men represent the current intelligence of mankind. They are merely the evidences of its disorganization. Even now we _know_ we could do far better. Give mankind but a generation or so of peace and right education and this world could mock at the poor imaginations that conceived a millennium. But we have to get intelligences together, we have to canalize thought before it can work and produce its due effects. To that end, I suppose, there has been a vast amount of mental activity among us political "negligibles." For my own part I have thought of the idea of God as the banner of human unity and justice, and I have made some tentatives in that direction, but men, I perceive, have argued themselves mean and petty about religion. At the word "God" passions bristle. The word "God" does not unite men, it angers them. But I doubt if God cares greatly whether we call Him God or no. His service is the service of man. This double idea of the League of Free Nations, linked with the idea of democracy as universal justice, is free from the jealousy of the theologians and great enough for men to unite upon everywhere. I know how warily one must reckon with the spite of the priest, but surely these ideas may call upon the teachers of all the great world religions for their support. The world is full now of confused propaganda, propaganda of national ideas, of traditions of hate, of sentimental and degrading loyalties, of every sort of error that divides and tortures and slays mankind. All human institutions are made of propaganda, are sustained by propaganda and perish when it ceases; they must be continually explained and re-explained to the young and the negligent. And for this new world of democracy and the League of Free Nations to which all reasonable men are looking, there must needs be the greatest of all propagandas. For that cause every one must become a teacher and a missionary. "Persuade to it and make the idea of it and the necessity for it plain," that is the duty of every school teacher, every tutor, every religious teacher, every writer, every lecturer, every parent, every trusted friend throughout the world. For it, too, every one must become a student, must go on with the task of making vague intentions into definite intentions, of analyzing and destroying obstacles, of mastering the ten thousand difficulties of detail....
I am a man who looks now towards the end of life; fifty-one years have I scratched off from my calendar, another slips by, and I cannot tell how many more of the sparse remainder of possible years are really mine. I live in days of hardship and privation, when it seems more natural to feel ill than well; without holidays or rest or peace; friends and the sons of my friends have been killed; death seems to be feeling always now for those I most love; the newspapers that come in to my house tell mostly of blood and disaster, of drownings and slaughterings, of cruelties and base intrigues. Yet never have I been so sure that there is a divinity in man and that a great order of human life, a reign of justice and world-wide happiness, of plenty, power, hope, and gigantic creative effort, lies close at hand. Even now we have the science and the ability available for a universal welfare, though it is scattered about the world like a handful of money dropped by a child; even now there exists all the knowledge that is needed to make mankind universally free and human life sweet and noble. We need but the faith for it, and it is at hand; we need but the courage to lay our hands upon it and in a little space of years it can be ours.