G. K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton.

Utopia of usurers, and other essays online

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be such a thing as personal dignity, and dif-
ferent modes of robbery would diminish it in
very different ways. Similarly, there is a
truth, but only a half-truth, in the saying that
all modern Powers alike rely on the Capitalist
and make war on the lines of Capitalism. It
is true, and it is disgraceful. But it is not
equally true and equally disgraceful. It is not
true that Montenegro is as much ruled by
financiers as Prussia, just as it is not true that
as many men in the Kaiserstrasse, in Berlin,
wear long knives in their belts as wear them in
the neighbourhood of the Black Mountain. It
is not true that every peasant from one of the
old Russian communes is the immediate serv-


ant of a rich man, as is every employee of Mr.
Rockefeller. It is as false as the statement
that no poor people in America can read or
write. There is an element of Capitalism in
all modern countries, as there is an element of
illiteracy in all modern countries. There are
some who think that the number of our fellow-
citizens who can sign their names ought to
comfort us for the extreme fewness of those
who have anything in the bank to sign it for,
but I am not one of these.

In any case, the position of Krupp has cer-
tain interesting aspects. When we talk of
Army contractors as among the base but active
actualities of war, we commonly mean that
while the contractor benefits by the war, the
war, on the whole, rather suffers by the con-
tractor. We regard this unsoldierly middle-
man with disgust, or great anger, or contemp-
tuous acquiescence, or commercial dread and
silence, according to our personal position and


character. But we nowhere think of him as
having anything to do with fighting in the final
sense. Those worthy and wealthy persons who
employ women's labour at a few shillings a
week do not do it to obtain the best clothes for
the soldiers, but to make a sufficient profit on
the worst. The only argument is whether such
clothes are just good enough for the soldiers,
or are too bad for anybody or anything. We
tolerate the contractor, or we do not tolerate
him; but no one admires him especially, and
certainly no one gives him any credit for any
success in the war. Confessedly or unconfes-
sedly we knock his profits, not only off what
goes to the taxpayer, but what goes to the sol-
dier. We know the Army will not fight any
better, at least, because the clothes they wear
were stitched by wretched women who could
hardly see; or because their boots were made
by harassed helots, who never had time to
think. In war-time it is very widely confessed


that Capitalism is not a good way of ruling a
patriotic or self-respecting people, and all
sorts of other things, from strict State organ-
isation to quite casual personal charity, are
hastily substituted for it. It is recognised that
the "great employer," nine times out of ten, is
no more than the schoolboy or the page who
pilfers tarts and sweets from the dishes as they
go up and down. How angry one is with him
depends on temperament, on the stage of the
dinner — also on the number of tarts.

Now here comes in the real and sinister sig-
nificance of Krupps. There are many capi-
talists in Europe as rich, as vulgar, as selfish,
as rootedly opposed to any fellowship of the
fortunate and unfortunate. But there is no
other capitalist who claims, or can pretend to
claim, that he has very appreciably helped the
activities of his people in war. I will suppose
that Lipton did not deserve the very severe
criticisms made on his firm by Mr. Justice


Darling; but, however blameless he was, no-
body can suppose that British soldiers would
charge better with the bayonet because they
had some particular kind of groceries inside
them. But Krupp can make a plausible claim
that the huge infernal machines to which his
country owes nearly all of its successes could
only have been produced under the equally in-
fernal conditions of the modern factory and
the urban and proletarian civilisation. That is
why the victory of Germany would be simply
the victory of Krupp, and the victory of
Krupp would be simply the victory of Capital-
ism. There, and there alone. Capitalism
would be able to point to something done suc-
cessfully for a whole nation — done ( as it would
certainly maintain) better than small free
States or natural democracies could have done
it. I confess I think the modern Germans mor-
ally second-rate, and I think that even war,
when it is conducted most successfully by ma-


chinery, is second-rate war. But this second-
rate war will become not only the first but the
only brand, if the cannon of Krupp should con-
quer; and, what is very much worse, it will be
the only intelligent answer that any capitalist
has yet given against our case that Capitalism
is as wasteful and as weak as it is certainly
wicked. I do not fear any such finality, for I
happen to believe in the kind of men who fight
best with bayonets and whose fathers ham-
mered their own pikes for the French Revo-


Among the cloudy and symbolic stories in
the beginning of the Bible there is one about
a tower built with such vertical energy as to
take a hold on heaven, but ruined and resulting
only in a confusion of tongues. The story
might be interpreted in many ways — reli-
giously, as meaning that spiritual insolence
starts all human separations; irreligiously, as
meaning that the inhuman heavens grudge
man his magnificent dream; or merely satir-
ically as suggesting that all attempts to reach
a higher agreement always end in more dis-
agreement than there was before. It might be
taken by the partially intelligent Kensitite as
a judgment on Latin Christians for talking
Latin. It might be taken by the somewhat



less intelligent Professor Harnack as a final
proof that all prehistoric humanity talked Ger-
man. But when all was said, the symbol would
remain that a plain tower, as straight as a
sword, as simple as a lily, did nevertheless pro-
duce the deepest divisions that have been
known among men. In any case we of the
world in revolt — Syndicalists, Socialists, Guild
Socialists, or whatever we call ourselves — have
no need to worry about the scripture or the
allegory. We have the reality. For whatever
reason, what is said to have happened to the
people of Shinak has precisely and practically
happened to us.

None of us who have known Socialists (or
rather, to speak more truthfully, none of us
who have been Socialists) can entertain the
faintest doubt that a fine intellectual sincerity
lay behind what was called "L'lnternation-
ale." It was really felt that Socialism was
universal like arithmetic. It was too true for


idiom or turn of phrase. In the formula of
Karl Marx men could find that frigid fellow-
ship which they find when they agree that two
and two make four. It was almost as broad-
minded as a religious dogma.

Yet this universal language has not suc-
ceeded, at a moment of crisis, in imposing it-
self on the whole world. Nay, it has not, at
the moment of crisis, succeeded in imposing it-
self on its own principal champions. Herve is
not talking Economic Esperanto ; he is talking
French. Bebel is not talking Economic Es-
peranto; he is talking German. Blatchford is
not talking Economic Esperanto; he is talking
English, and jolly good English, too. I do
not know whether French or Flemish was Van-
dervelde's nursery speech, but I am quite cer-
tain he will know more of it after this struggle
than he knew before. In short, whether or no
there be a new union of hearts, there has really
and truly been a new division of tongues.


How are we to explain this singular truth,
even if we deplore it? I dismiss with fitting
disdain the notion that it is a mere result of
military terrorism or snobbish social pressure.
The Socialist leaders of modern Europe are
among the most sincere men in history; and
their Nationalist note in this affair has had the
ring of their sincerity. I will not waste time
on the speculation that Vandervelde is bullied
by Belgian priests; or that Blatchford is
frightened of the horse-guards outside White-
hall. These great men support the enthusiasm
of their conventional countrymen because they
share it; and they share it because there is
(though perhaps only at certain great mo-
ments) such a thing as pure democracy.

Timour the Tartar, I think, celebrated some
victory with a tower built entirely out of hu-
man skulls; perhaps he thought that would
reach to heaven. But there is no cement in
such building; the veins and ligaments that


hold humanity together have long fallen away;
the skulls will roll impotently at a touch; and
ten thousand more such trophies could only
make the tower taller and crazier. I think the
modern official apparatus of "votes" is very
like that tottering monument. I think the
Tartar "counted heads," like an electioneering
agent. Sometimes when I have seen from the
platform of some paltry party meeting the
rows and rows of grinning upturned faces, I
have felt inclined to say, as the poet does in
the "The Vision of Sin"—

"Welcome fellow-citizens,
Hollow hearts and empty heads."

Not that the people were personally hollow or
empty, but they had come on a hollow and
empty business : to help the good Mr. Binks to
strengthen the Insurance Act against the
wicked Mr. Jinks who would only promise to


fortify the Insurance Act. That night it did
not blow the democratic gale. Yet it can blow
on these as on others; and when it does blow
men learn many things. I, for one, am not
above learning them.

The Marxian dogma which simplifies all
conflicts to the Class War is so much nobler a
thing than the nose-counting of the parlia-
ments that one must apologise for the compari-
son. And yet there is a comparison. When
we used to say that there were so many thou-
sands of Socialists in Germany, we were
counting by skulls. When we said that the
majority consisting of Proletarians would be
everywhere opposed to the minority, consist-
ing of Capitalists, we were counting by skulls.
Why, yes ; if all men's heads had been cut off
from the rest of them, as they were by the
good sense and foresight of Timour the Tar-
tar; if they had no hearts or bellies to be
moved; no hand that flies up to ward off a


weapon, no foot that can feel a familiar soil —
if things were so the Marxian calculation would
be not only complete but correct. As we know
to-day, the Marxian calculation is complete,
but it is not correct.

Now, this is the answer to the questions of
some kind critics, whose actual words I have
not within reach at the moment, about whether
my democracy meant the rule of the majority
over the minority. It means the rule of the
rule — the rule of the rule over the .exception.
When a nation finds a soul it clothes it with a
body, and does verily act like one living thing.
There is nothing to be said about those who are
out of it, except that they are out of it. After
talking about it in the abstract for decades,
this is Democracy, and it is marvellous in our
eyes. It is not the difference between ninety-
nine persons and a hundred persons; it is one
person — the people. I do not know or care
how many or how few of the Belgians like or


dislike the pictures of Wiertz. They could not
be either justified or condemned by a mere ma-
jority of Belgians. But I am very certain that
the defiance to Prussia did not come from a
majority of Belgians. It came from Belgium
one and indivisible — atheists, priests, princes of
the blood, Frenchified shopkeepers, Flemish
boors, men, women, and children, and the
sooner we understand that this sort of thing
can happen the better for us. For it is this
spontaneous spiritual fellowship of communi-
ties under certain conditions to which the four
or five most independent minds of Europe will-
ingly bear witness to-day.

But is there no exception: is there no one
faithful among the unfaithful found? Is no
great Socialist politician still untouched by the
patriotism of the vulgar? Why, yes; the
rugged Ramsay MacDonald, scarred with a
hundred savage fights against the capitalist
parties, still lifts up his horny hand for peace.


What further need have we of witnesses? I,
for my part, am quite satisfied, and do not
doubt that Mr. MacDonald will be as indus-
trious in damping down democracy in this
form as in every other.


Heaven forbid that I should once more
wade in those swamps of logomachy and tau-
tology in which the old guard of the Deter-
minists still seem to be floundering. The ques-
tion of Fate and Free Will can never attain
to a conclusion, though it may attain to a con-
viction. The shortest philosophic summary is
that both cause and choice are ultimate ideas
within us, and that if one man denies choice
because it seems contrary to cause, the other
man has quite as much right to deny cause be-
cause it seems contrary to choice. The short-
est ethical summary is that Determinism either
affects conduct or it does not. If it does not,
it is morally not worth preaching ; if it does, it
must affect conduct in the direction of impo-



tence and submission. A writer in the "Clar-
ion" says that the reformer cannot help trying
to reform, nor the Conservative help his Con-
servatism. But suppose the reformer tries to
reform the Conservative and turn him into
another reformer? Either he can, in which
case Determinism has made no difference at
all, or he can't, in which case it can only have
made reformers more hopeless and Conserva-
tives more obstinate. And the shortest practi-
cal and political summary is that working men,
most probably, will soon be much too busy
using their Free Will to stop to prove that they
have got it. Nevertheless, I like to watch the
Determinist in the "Clarion" Cockpit every
week, as busy as a squirrel — in a cage. But
being myself a squirrel (leaping lightly from
bough to bough) and preferring the form of
activity which occasionally ends in nuts, I
should not intervene in the matter even indi-
rectly, except upon a practical point. And the


point I have in mind is practical to the extent
of deadly peril. It is another of the numerous
new ways in which the restless rich, now walk-
ing the world with an awful insomnia, may
manage to catch us napping.

Must Be a Mystery

There are two letters in the "Clarion" this
week which in various ways interest me very
much. One is concerned to defend Darwin
against the scientific revolt against him that
was led by Samuel Butler, and among other
things it calls Bernard Shaw a back number.
Well, most certainly "The Origin of Species"
is a back number, in so far as any honest and
interesting book ever can be ; but in pure phi-
losophy nothing can be out of date, since the
universe must be a mystery even to the be-
liever. There is, however, one condition of
things in which I do call it relevant to describe
somebody as behind the times. That is when


the man in question, thinking of some state of
affairs that has passed away, is really helping
the very things he would like to hinder. The
principles cannot alter, but the problems can.
Thus, I should call a man behind the times who,
in the year 1872, pleaded for the peaceful Ger-
man peasants against the triumphant militar-
ism of Napoleon. Or I should call a man out
of date who, in the year 1892, wished for a
stronger Navy to compete with the Nav}^ of
Holland, because it had once swept the sea and
sailed up the Thames. And I certainly call a
man or a movement out of date that, in the
year 1914, when we few are fighting a giant
machine, strengthened with all material wealth
and worked with all the material sciences,
thinks that our chief danger is from an excess
of moral and religious responsibility. He re-
minds me of Mr. Snodgrass, who had the pres-
ence of mind to call out "Fire!" when Mr.
Pickwick fell through the ice.


The other letter consists of the usual wire-
drawn argument for fatalism. Man cannot
imagine the universe being created, and there-
fore is "compelled by his reason" to think the
universe without beginning or end, which (I
may remark) he cannot imagine either. But
the letter ends with something much more omi-
nous than bad metaphysics. Here, in the mid-
dle of the "Clarion," in the centre of a clean
and combative democratic sheet, I meet again
my deplorable old acquaintance, the scientific
criminologist. "The so-called evil-doer should
not be punished for his acts, but restrained."
In forty-eight hours I could probably get a
petition to that eflPect signed by millionaires.
A short time ago a Bill was introduced to hold
irresponsible and "restrain" a whole new class
of people, who were "incapable of managing
their affairs with prudence." Read the sup-
porters' names on the back of that Bill, and
see what sort of democrats they were.


Now, clearing our heads of what is called
popular science (which means going to sleep
to a lullaby of long words) , let us use our own
brains a little, and ask ourselves what is the
real difference between punishing a man and
restraining him. The material difference may
be any or none; for punishment may be very
mild, and restraint may be very ruthless. The
man, of course, must dislike one as much as
the other, or it would not be necessary to re-
strain him at all. And I assure you he will
get no great glow of comfort out of your call-
ing him irresponsible after you have made him
impotent. A man does not necessarily feel
more free and easy in a straight waistcoat than
in a stone cell. The moral difference is that
a man can be punished for a crime because he
is born a citizen; while he can be constrained
because he is born a slave. But one arresting
and tremendous difference towers over all these
doubtful or arguable differences. There is


one respect, vital to all our liberties and all our
lives, in which the new restraint would be dif-
ferent from the old punishment. It is of this
that the plutocrats will take advantage.

The Plain Difference

The perfectly plain difference is this. All
punishment, even the most horrible, proceeds
upon the assumption that the extent of the
evil is known, and that a certain amount of
expiation goes with it. Even if you hang the
man, you cannot hang him twice. Even if you
burn him, you cannot burn him for a month.
And in the case of all ordinary imprisonments,
the whole aim of free institutions from the be-
ginning of the world has been to insist that a
man shall be convicted of a definite crime and
confined for a definite period. But the mo-
ment you admit this notion of medical restraint,
you must in fairness admit that it may go on


as long as the authorities choose to think (or
say) that it ought to go on. The man's punish-
ment refers to the past, which is supposed to
have been investigated, and which, in some de-
gree at least, has been investigated. But his
restraint refers to the future, which his doc-
tors, keepers, and wardens have yet to investi-
gate. The simple result will be that, in the
scientific Utopia of the "Clarion," men like
Mann or Syme or Larkin will not be put in
prison because of what they have done. They
will be kept in prison because of what they
might do. Indeed, the builders of the new
tyranny have already come very near to avow-
ing this scientific and futurist method. When
the lawyers tried to stop the "Suffragette"
from appearing at all, they practically said:
"We do not know your next week's crime, be-
cause it isn't committed yet; but we are scien-
tifically certain you have the criminal type.
And by the sublime and unalterable laws of


heredity, all your poor little papers will in-
herit it."

This is a purely practical question ; and that
is why I insist on it, even in such strenuous
times. The writers on the "Clarion" have a
perfect right to think Christianity is the foe
of freedom, or even that the stupidity and
tyranny of the present Government is due to
the monkish mysticism of Lord Morley and
Mr. John M. Robertson. They have a right
to think the theory of Determinism as true as
Calvin thought it. But I do not like seeing
them walk straight into the enormous iron trap
set open by the Capitalists, who find it con-
venient to make our law even more lawless than
it is. The rich men want a scientist to write
them a lettre de cachet as a doctor writes a
prescription. And so they wish to seal up in
a public gaol the scandals of a private asylum.
Yes; the writers on the "Clarion" are indeed
claiming irresponsibility for human beings.


But it is the governments that will be irrespon-
sible, not the governed.

But I will tell them one small secret in con-
clusion. There is nothing whatever wrong in
the ancient and universal idea of Punishment
— except that we are not punishing the right


One peculiarity of the genuine kind of
enemy of the people is that his slightest phrase
is clamorous with all his sins. Pride, vain-
glory, and hypocrisy seem present in his very
grammar ; in his very verbs or adverbs or prep-
ositions, as well as in what he says, which is
generally bad enough. Thus I see that a Non-
conformist pastor in Bromley has been talking
about the pathetic little presents of tobacco
sent to the common soldiers. This is how he
talks about it. He is reported as having said,
"By the help of God, they wanted this cigarette
business stopped." How one could write a
volume on that sentence, a great thick volume
called "The Decline of the English Middle



Class." In taste, in style, in philosophy, in
feeling, in political project, the horrors of it are
as unfathomable as hell.

First, to begin with the trifle, note something
slipshod and vague in the mere verbiage, typi-
cal of those who prefer a catchword to a creed.
"This cigarette business" might mean any-
thing. It might mean Messrs. Salmon and
Gluckstein's business. But the pastor at
Bromley will not interfere with that, for the
indignation of his school of thought, even when
it is sincere, always instinctively and uncon-
sciously swerves aside from anything that is
rich and powerful like the partners in a big
business, and strikes instead something that is
poor and nameless like the soldiers in a trench.
Nor does the expression make clear who "they"
are — whether the inhabitants of Britain or the
inliabitants of Bromley, or the inhabitants of
this one crazy tabernacle in Bromley ; nor is it
evident how it is going to be stopped or who is


being asked to stop it. All these things are
trifles compared to the more terrible offences
of the phrase; but they are not without their
social and historical interest. About the be-
ginning of the nineteenth century the wealthy
Puritan class, generally the class of the em-
ployers of labour, took a line of argument
which was narrow, but not nonsensical. They
saw the relation of rich and poor quite coldly
as a contract, but they saw that a contract
holds both ways. The Puritans of the middle
class, in short, did in some sense start talking
and thinking for themselves. They are still
talking. They have long ago left off thinking.
They talk about the loyalty of workmen to
their employers, and God knows what rubbish ;
and the first small certainty about the reverend
gentleman whose sentence I have quoted is that
his brain stopped working as a clock stops,
years and years ago.

Second, consider the quality of the religious


literature ! These people are always telling us
that the English translated Bible is sufficient
training for anyone in noble and appropriate
diction; and so it is. Why, then, are they not
trained ? They are always telling us that Bun-
yan, the rude Midland tinker, is as much worth
reading as Chaucer or Spenser; and so he is.
Why, then, have they not read him? I can-
not believe that anyone who had seen, even in
a nightmare of the nursery, Apollyon strad-
dling over the whole breadth of the way could

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Online LibraryG. K. (Gilbert Keith) ChestertonUtopia of usurers, and other essays → online text (page 7 of 8)