G. K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton.

Utopia of usurers, and other essays online

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By gilbert K. CHESTERTON

New York 1917

Copyright, 1917, by
Boni & Liveright, Inc.

Printed in the United States of America


"A drove of cattle came into a village called Swords;
and was stopped by the rioters." — Daily Paper.


^ In the place called Swords on the Irish road
'" It is told for a new renown
«o How we held the horns of the cattle, and how
^ We will hold the horns of the devils now
** Ere the lord of hell with the horn on his brow
Is crowned in Dublin town.

^ UJ

> z>


Light in the East and light in the West,
And light on the cruel lords.
On the souls that suddenly all men knew.
And the green flag flew and the red flag flew,
I ^ And many a wheel of the world stopped, too.
When the cattle were stopped at Swords.

Be they sinners or less than saints

That smite in the street for rage.

We know where the shame shines bright; we

You that they smite at, you their foe.
Lords of the lawless wage and low,

This is your lawful wage.



You pinched a child to a torture price
That you dared not name in words ;
So black a jest was the silver bit
That your own speech shook for the shame of it.
And the coward was plain as a cow they hit
When the cattle have strayed at Swords.

The wheel of the torrent of wives went round
To break men's brotherhood ;
You gave the good Irish blood to grease
The clubs of your country's enemies;
You saw the brave man beat to the knees :
And you saw that it was good.

The rope of the rich is long and long —

The longest of hangmen's cords ;

But the kings and crowds are holding their

In a giant shadow o'er all beneath
Where God stands holding the scales of Death

Between the cattle and Swords.

Haply the lords that hire and lend
The lowest of all men's lords,
Who sell their kind like kine at a fair.
Will find no head of their cattle there ;
But faces of men where cattle were :
Faces of men — and Swords.



A Song of Swords
Utopia of Usurers

I Art and Advertisement i

II Letters and the New Laureates 9

III Unbusinesslike Business i8

IV The War on Holidays 25

V The Church of the Servile State .... 33

VI Science and the Eugenists 38

VII The Evolution of the Prison 45

VIII The Lash for Labour 53

IX The Mask of Socialism 64

The Escape 71

The New Raid 73

The New Name 79

A Workman's History of England .... 89

The French Revolution and the Irish . . 98

Liberalism: a Sample 107



The Fatigue of Fleet Street ,.,... 115

The Amnesty for Aggression . . . . . . 123

Revive the Court Jester 132

The Art of Missing the Point 143

The Servile State Again 151

The Empire of the Ignorant 159

The Symbolism of Krupp 167

The Tov^^er of Bebel 174

A Real Danger 183

The Dregs of Puritanism 193

The Tyranny of Bad Journalism . . . . 200

The Poetry of the Revolution 209



Art and Advertisement

I PROPOSE, subject to the patience of the
reader, to devote two or three articles to
prophecy. Like all healthy-minded prophets,
sacred and profane, I can only prophesy when
I am in a rage and think things look ugly
for everybody. And like all healthy-minded
prophets, I prophesy in the hope that my
prophecy may not come true. For the predic-
tion made by the true soothsayer is like the
warning given by a good doctor. And the doc-
tor has really triumphed when the patient he
condemned to death has revived to life. The
threat is justified at the very moment when it



is falsified. Now I have said again and again
(and I shall continue to say again and again on
all the most inappropriate occasions) that we
must hit Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the
plain and definite reason that it is growing
stronger. Most of the excuses which serve the
capitalists as masks are, of course, the excuses
of hypocrites. They lie when they claim phil-
anthropy; they no more feel any particular
love of men than Albu felt an affection for
Chinamen. They lie when they say they have
reached their position through their own or-
ganising ability. They generally have to pay
men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay
men to go down it. They often lie about their
present wealth, as they generally lie about their
past poverty. But when they say that they
are going in for a "constructive social policy,"
they do not lie. They really are going in for
a constructive social policy. And we must go
in for an equally destructive social policy ; and


destroy, while it is still half -constructed, the
accursed thing which they construct.

The Example of the Arts

Now I propose to take, one after another,
certain aspects and departments of modern life,
and describe what I think they will be like in
this paradise of plutocrats, this Utopia of gold
and brass in which the great story of England
seems so likely to end. I propose to say what
I think our new masters, the mere millionaires,
will do with certain human interests and insti-
tutions, such as art, science, jurisprudence, or
religion — unless we strike soon enough to
prevent them. And for the sake of argument
I will take in this article the example of the

Most people have seen a picture called
"Bubbles," which is used for the advertisement
of a celebrated soap, a small cake of which is
introduced into the pictorial design. And


anybody with an instinct for design (the cari-
caturist of the Daily Herald, for instance),
will guess that it was not originally a part of
the design. He will see that the cake of soap
destroys the picture as a picture; as much as
if the cake of soap had been used to scrub off
the paint. Small as it is, it breaks and con-
fuses the whole balance of objects in the com-
position. I offer no judgment here upon
Millais's action in the matter ; in fact, I do not
know what it was. The important point for
me at the moment is that the picture was not
painted for the soap, but the soap added to the
picture. And the spirit of the corrupting
change which has separated us from that Vic-
torian epoch can be best seen in this : that the
Victorian atmosphere, with all its faults, did
not permit such a style of patronage to pass as
a matter of course. Michael Angelo may have
been proud to have helped an emperor or a
pope; though, indeed, I think he was prouder


than they were on his own account. I do not
believe Sir John Millais was proud of having
helped a soap-boiler. I do not say he thought
it wrong; but he was not proud of it. And
that marks precisely the change from his time
to our own. Our merchants have really
adopted the style of merchant princes. They
have begun openly to dominate the civilisation
of the State, as the emperors and popes openly
dominated in Italy. In Millais's time, broadly
speaking, art was supposed to mean good art ;
advertisement was supposed to mean inferior
art. The head of a black man, painted to ad-
vertise somebody's blacking, could be a rough
symbol, like an inn sign. The black man had
only to be black enough. An artist exhibiting
the picture of a negro was expected to know
that a black man is not so black as he is painted.
He was expected to render a thousand tints of
grey and brown and violet : for there is no such
thing as a black man just as there is no such


thing as a white man. A fairly clear line
separated advertisement from art.

The First Effect

I should say the first effect of the triumph
of the capitalist (if we allow him to triumph)
will be that that line of demarcation will en-
tirely disappear. There will be no art that
might not just as well be advertisement. I do
not necessarily mean that there will be no good
art; much of it might be, much of it already is,
very good art. You may put it, if you please,
in the form that there has been a vast improve-
ment in advertisements. Certainly there would
be nothing surprising if the head of a negro
advertising Somebody's Blacking nowadays
were finished with as careful and subtle colours
as one of the old and superstitious painters
would have wasted on the negro king who
brought gifts to Christ. But the improvement
of advertisements is the degradation of artists.


It is their degradation for this clear and vital
reason: that the artist will work, not only to
please the rich, but only to increase their riches ;
which is a considerable step lower. After all,
it was as a human being that a pope took pleas-
ure in a cartoon of Raphael or a prince took
pleasure in a statuette of Cellini. The prince
paid for the statuette; but he did not expect
the statuette to pay him. It is my impression
that no cake of soap can be found any-
where in the cartoons which the Pope ordered
of Raphael. And no one who knows the small-
minded cynicism of our plutocracy, its secrecy,
its gambling spirit, its contempt of conscience,
can doubt that the artist-advertiser will often
be assisting enterprises over which he will have
no moral control, and of which he could feel no
moral approval. He will be working to spread
quack medicines, queer investments; and will
work for JNIarconi instead of Medici. And to
this base ingenuity he will have to bend the


proudest and purest of the virtues of the intel-
lect, the power to attract his brethren, and the
noble duty of praise. For that picture by
Millais is a very allegorical picture. It is al-
most a prophecy of what uses are awaiting the
beauty of the child unborn. The praise will be
of a kind that may correctly be called soap;
and the enterprises of a kind that may truly be
described as Bubbles.


Letters and the New Laureates

In these articles I only take two or three
examples of the first and fundamental fact of
our time. I mean the fact that the capitalists
of our community are becoming quite openly
the kings of it. In my last (and first) article,
I took the case of Art and advertisement. I
pointed out that Art must be growing worse —
merely because advertisement is growing bet-
ter. In those days Millais condescended to
Pears' soap. In these days I really think it
would be Pears who condescended to Millais.
But here I turn to an art I know more about,
that of journalism. Only in my case the art
verges on artlessness.



The great difficulty with the English lies in
the absence of something one may call demo-
cratic imagination. We find it easy to realise
an individual, but very hard to realise that the
great masses consist of individuals. Our system
has been aristocratic: in the special sense of
there being only a few actors on the stage. And
the back scene is kept quite dark, though it is
really a throng of faces. Home Rule tended
to be not so much the Irish as the Grand Old
Man. The Boer War tended not to be so much
South Africa as simply "Joe." And it is the
amusing but distressing fact that every class of
political leadership, as it comes to the front in
its turn, catches the rays of this isolating lime-
light; and becomes a small aristocracy. Cer-
tainly no one has the aristocratic complaint so
badly as the Labour Party. At the recent
Congress, the real difference between Larkin
and the English Labour leaders was not so
much in anything right or wrong in what he


said, as in something elemental and even mys-
tical in the way he suggested a mob. But it
must be plain, even to those who agree with
the more official policy, that for Mr. Havelock
Wilson the principal question was Mr. Have-
lock Wilson ; and that Mr. Sexton was mainly
considering the dignity and fine feelings of
Mr. Sexton. You may say they were as sensi-
tive as aristocrats, or as sulky as babies; the
point is that the feeling was personal. But
Larkin, like Danton, not only talks like ten
thousand men talking, but he also has some of
the carelessness of the colossus of Arcis ; "Que
mon nom soit fletri, que la France soit libra."

A Dance of Degradation

It is needless to say that this respecting of
persons has led all the other parties a dance
of degradation. We ruin South Africa be-
cause it would be a slight on Lord Gladstone
to save South Africa. We have a bad army.


because it would be a snub to Lord Haldane
to have a good army. And no Tory is allowed
to say "Marconi" for fear Mr. George should
say "Kynoch." But this curious personal ele-
ment, with its appalling lack of patriotism, has
appeared in a new and curious form in an-
other department of life; the department of
literature, especially periodical literature.
And the form it takes is the next example I
shall give of the way in which the capitalists
are now appearing, more and more openly, as
the masters and princes of the community.

I will take a Victorian instance to mark the
change; as I did in the case of the advertise-
ment of "Bubbles." It was said in my child-
hood, by the more apoplectic and elderly sort
of Tory, that W. E. Gladstone was only a Free
Trader because he had a partnership in Gil-
bey's foreign wines. This was, no doubt, non-
sense; but it had a dim symbolic, or mainly
prophetic, truth in it. It was true, to some


extent even then, and it has been increasingly
true since, that the statesman was often an ally
of the salesman; and represented not only a
nation of shopkeepers, but one particular shop.
But in Gladstone's time, even if this was true,
it was never the whole truth ; and no one would
have endured it being the admitted truth. The
politician was not solely an eloquent and per-
suasive bagman travelling for certain business
men ; he was bound to mix even his corruption
with some intelligible ideals and rules of pol-
icy. And the proof of it is this: that at least
it was the statesman who bulked large in the
public eye; and his financial backer was en-
tirely in the background. Old gentlemen
might choke over their port, with the moral
certainty that the Prime Minister had shares
in a wine merchant's. But the old gentleman
would have died on the spot if the wine mer-
chant had really been made as important as
the Prime Minister. If it had been Sir Wal-


ter Gilbey whom Disraeli denounced, or Punch
caricatured; if Sir Walter Gilbey 's favourite
collars (with the design of which I am unac-
quainted) had grown as large as the wings of
an archangel; if Sir Walter Gilbey had been
credited with successfully eliminating the Brit-
ish Oak with his little hatchet; if, near the
Temple and the Courts of Justice, our sight
was struck by a majestic statue of a wine mer-
chant ; or if the earnest Conservative lady who
threw a gingerbread-nut at the Premier had
directed it towards the wine merchant instead,
the shock to Victorian England would have
been very great indeed.

Haloes for Employers

Now something very like that is happening;
the mere wealthy employer is beginning to
have not only the power but some of the glory.
I have seen in several magazines lately, and
magazines of a high class, the appearance of a


new kind of article. Literary men are being
employed to praise a big business man person-
ally, as men used to praise a king. They not
only find political reasons for the commercial
schemes — that they have done for some time
past — they also find moral defences for the
commercial schemers. They describe the capi-
tahst's brain of steel and heart of gold in a
way that Englishmen hitherto have been at
least in the habit of reserving for romantic fig-
ures like Garibaldi or Gordon. In one excel-
lent magazine Mr. T. P. O'Connor, who, when
he likes, can write on letters like a man of let-
ters, has some purple pages in praise of Sir
Joseph Lyons — ^the man who runs those tea-
shop places. He incidentally brought in a de-
lightful passage about the beautiful souls pos-
sessed by some people called Salmon and
Gluckstein. I think I like best the passage
where he said that Lyons's charming social ac-
complishments included a talent for "imitat-


ing a Jew." The article is accompanied with
a large and somewhat leering portrait of that
shopkeeper, which makes the parlour-trick in
question particularly astonishing. Another
literary man, who certainly ought to know bet-
ter, wrote in another paper a piece of hero-
worship about Mr. Selfridge. No doubt the
fashion will spread, and the art of words, as
polished and pointed by Ruskin or Meredith,
will be perfected yet further to explore the
labyrinthine heart of Harrod; or compare the
simple stoicism of Marshall with the saintly
charm of Snelgrove.

Any man can be praised — and rightly
praised. If he only stands on two legs he does
something a cow cannot do. If a rich man can
manage to stand on two legs for a reasonable
time, it is called self-control. If he has only
one leg, it is called (with some truth) self-sac-
rifice. I could say something nice (and true)
about every man I have ever met. Therefore,


I do not doubt I could find something nice
about Lyons or Self ridge if I searched for it.
But I shall not. The nearest postman or cab-
man will provide me with just the same brain
of steel and heart of gold as these unlucky-
lucky men. But I do resent the whole age of
patronage being revived under such absurd pa-
trons; and all poets becoming court poets, un-
der kings that have taken no oath, nor led us
into any battle.


Unbusinesslike Business

The fairy tales we were all taught did not,
like the history we were all taught, consist en-
tirely of lies. Parts of the tale of "Puss in
Boots" or "Jack and the Beanstalk" may
strike the realistic eye as a little unlikely and
out of the common way, so to speak ; but they
contain some very solid and very practical
truths. For instance, it may be noted that
both in "Puss in Boots" and "Jack and the
Beanstalk," if I remember aright, the ogre was
not only an ogre but also a magician. And it
will generally be found that in all such popu-
lar narratives, the king, if he is a wicked king,
is generally also a wizard. Now there is a very



vital human truth enshrined in this. Bad gov-
ernment, hke good government, is a spiritual
thing. Even the tyrant never rules by force
alone ; but mostly by fairy tales. And so it is
with the modern tyrant, the great employer.
The sight of a millionaire is seldom, in the or-
dinary sense, an enchanting sight: neverthe-
less he is in his way an enchanter. As they say
in the gushing articles about him in the maga-
zines, he is a fascinating personality. So is a
snake. At least he is fascinating to rabbits;
and so is the millionaire to the rabbit-witted
sort of people that ladies and gentlemen have
allowed themselves to become. He does, in a
manner, cast a spell, such as that which im-
prisoned princes and princesses under the
shapes of falcons or stags. He has truly
turned men into sheep, as Circe turned them
into swine.

Now, the chief of the fairy tales, by which
he gains this glory and glamour, is a certain


hazy association he has managed to create be-
tween the idea of bigness and the idea of prac-
ticality. Numbers of the rabbit-witted ladies
and gentlemen do really think, in spite of
themselves and their experience, that so long
as a shop has hundreds of different doors and
a great many hot and unhealthy underground
departments (they must be hot; this is very
important), and more people than would be
needed for a man-of-war, or crowded cathe-
dral, to say: "This way, madam," and "The
next article, sir," it follows that the goods are
good. In short, they hold that the big busi-
nesses are businesslike. They are not. Any
housekeeper in a truthful mood, that is to say,
any housekeeper in a bad temper, will tell you
that they are not. But housekeepers, too, are
human, and therefore inconsistent and com-
plex ; and they do not always stick to truth and
bad temper. They are also affected by this
queer idolatry of the enormous and elaborate;


and cannot help feeling that anything so com-
plicated must go like clockwork. But com-
plexity is no guarantee of accuracy — in clock-
work or in anything else. A clock can be as
wrong as the human head; and a clock can
stop, as suddenly as the human heart.

But this strange poetry of plutocracy pre-
vails over people against their very senses.
.You write to one of the great London stores
or emporia, asking, let us say, for an umbrella.
A month or two afterwards you receive a very
elaborately constructed parcel, containing a
broken parasol. You are very pleased. You
are gratified to reflect on what a vast number
of assistants and employees had combined to
break that parasol. You luxuriate in the
memory of all those long rooms and depart-
ments and wonder in which of them the parasol
that you never ordered was broken. Or you
want a toy elephant for your child on Christ-
mas Day ; as children, like all nice and healthy


people, are very ritualistic. Some week or so
after Twelfth Night, let us say, you have the
pleasure of removing three layers of paste-
boards, five layers of brown paper, and fifteen
layers of tissue paper and discovering the
fragments of an artificial crocodile. You smile
in an expansive spirit. You feel that your
soul has been broadened by the vision of in-
competence conducted on so large a scale.
You admire all the more the colossal and Om-
nipresent Brain of the Organiser of Industry,
who amid all his multitudinous cares did not
disdain to remember his duty of smashing even
the smallest toy of the smallest child. Or, sup-
posing you have asked him to send you some
two rolls of cocoa-nut matting : and supposing
(after a due interval for reflection) he duly
delivers to you the five rolls of wire netting.
You take pleasure in the consideration of a
mystery : which coarse minds might have called
a mistake. It consoles you to know how big


the business is : and what an enormous number
of people were needed to make such a mistake.

That is the romance that has been told about
the big shops; in the literature and art which
they have bought, and which (as I said in my
recent articles) will soon be quite indistin-
guishable from their ordinary advertisements.
The literature is commercial; and it is only
fair to say that the commerce is often really
literary. It is no romance, but only rubbish.

The big commercial concerns of to-day are
quite exceptionally incompetent. They will be
even more incompetent when they are omnipo-
tent. Indeed, that is, and always has been, the
whole point of a monopoly ; the old and sound
argument against a monopoly. It is only be-
cause it is incompetent that it has to be omnipo-
tent. When one large shop occupies the whole
of one side of a street (or sometimes both
sides), it does so in order that men may be un-
able to get what they want ; and may be forced


to buy what they don't want. That the rap-
idly approaching kingdom of the CapitaHsts
will ruin art and letters, I have already said.
I say here that in the only sense that can be
called human, it will ruin trade, too.

I will not let Christmas go by, even when
writing for a revolutionary paper necessarily
appealing to many with none of my religious
sympathies, without appealing to those sympa-
thies. I knew a man who sent to a great rich
shop for a figure for a group of Bethlehem. It
arrived broken. I think that is exactly all that
business men have now the sense to do.


The War on Holidays

The general proposition, not always easy to
define exhaustively, that the reign of the capi-
talist will be the reign of the cad — that is, of
the unlicked type that is neither the citizen nor
the gentleman — can be excellently studied in
its attitude towards holidays. The special em-
blematic Employer of to-day, especially the
Model Employer (who is the worst sort) has
in his starved and evil heart a sincere hatred of
holidays. I do not mean that he necessarily
wants all his workmen to work until they
drop ; that only occurs when he happens to be

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Online LibraryG. K. (Gilbert Keith) ChestertonUtopia of usurers, and other essays → online text (page 1 of 8)