Cecil Delisle Burns.

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First published in 1920

(All rights reserved)


NO sensible person desires social chaos : but many
persons not altogether devoid of sense desire a
change in the constitution of society so radical that it
may justly be called revolution. It may be taken for
granted, therefore, that no long argument is needed to
show that revolution does not mean, and need not involve,
social chaos. Indeed, the whole tenor of history would
go to prove that social chaos is worse than useless as
a preparation for social betterment. It should be under-
stood that chaos and confusion and reckless violence are
as much opposed to anything accepted in this book as
they are to the feelings of business men. Revolution
is an entirely different thing.

This is not an apologia, but an exposition of certain
historic ideals, and their application to the circumstances
of our own time. Clearly, it may be argued that they
have no such application : it may be believed that society
is sufficiently well organized or sufficiently progressive
towards reform for revolutionary ideals to be unmeaning
or even impertinent. To suppose the contrary implies a
moral judgment adverse to the main features of our
present society ; and it must be admitted that such an
adverse judgment is accepted as valid in what follows.
This, however, does not make the book a propaganda
pamphlet. If anyone differs as to the extent of the
evils in present society, he may at least find it useful to


1413699 .

The Principles of Revolution

consider the attitude of those who disagree with him :
for indeed the number of those who condemn the present
social structure is great enough to make a considerable
force ; and whether or not the fact is palatable, it should
be recognized to be a fact that social criticism to-day
strikes deeper than a mere objection to this or that
government, and social ideals to-day aim higher than
mere reform. To the opponents of revolutionary change,
therefore, the reference to Rousseau and Marx may be
some explanation of what they are sometimes told is due
to foreign gold or unpatriotic agitators. The forces
moving now are too great to be so explained.

On the other hand, the tendency among those who
desire revolutionary change is to be impatient of critical
thought. Their ideal is too full of emotion. It may,
therefore, be useful, from this point of view, to recall
the work done by past thinkers who claimed to be revo-
lutionary. This is not simply to look backwards, for
indeed the words of these dead prophets are often more
vitalizing than the more recent efforts of rhetoricians.
At certain times one is inclined to believe that

Only the dead men know the tunes
The live world dances to.

None of these great revolutionaries desired violence,
and if some of them thought that revolution would, in
fact, induce reactionaries to attempt violence, they meant
by the revolution they advocated the peaceful intro-
duction of a new social order.

Thus from opposing points of view a use may be found
in gathering together and analysing the influences which
work, not towards destruction, but towards a new order.
These influences come from many different lands ; and



the prophets selected for notice here are proof enough
that in every part of the civihzed Western world men
of intelligence and imagination are in revolt against the
circumstances into which they have been born. Not
even the silliest reactionary can persuade himself
that men like Tolstoi are uneducated and unin-
telligent agitators. Rousseau and Morris were not
starving slum-dwellers irritated by their own grievances.
Mazzini and Marx have had a definite influence on prac-
tical politics. Thus practical genius, fine intelligence,
and altruism can be found in the exponents of revolu-
tionary principles. The movement is too widespread,
the inspiring leaders too great, for suppression or neglect ;
and indeed it is only a question of time for the best
administrators to offer themselves as servants of the public
with a view to radical changes in society.

Whatever view, however, may be held as to the advan-
tage or disadvantage of such changes, the study of revo-
lutionary theories is an essential part of social philosophy,
and the analysis of the ideals which promote revolution
is an essential part of social history. One charge both
reactionary and revolutionary may bring against social
history — that it treats serious issues too lightly : and it
is true that if one is accustomed to travel in other times,
one's own time begins to wear a comic air, and the " great
men " of our day appear to be characters out of Aristo-
phanes or Rabelais. But Heaven save us from solemnity !
Can anyone take even revolution quite so seriously as
the old ladies in Kensington do ?

If it is said to be dangerous to call attention to revolu-
tion, the reply may be made that the British people are not
likely to be inflamed by argument. If, on the contrary,
those who hope for revolution are unwilling to be criti-


The Principles of Revolution

cized, it may be urged against them that they must be
uncertain of their own doctrines. In any case, it should
be noted that an ideal is useless unless it can be translated
into the terms' of definite political and industrial action.
It is useless to say that we should sociaUze the means of
production if we have no definite plan for doing it : and
generations of preachers have not yet discovered how to
apply the Christian ideal to business and to foreign
policy. The task of applying principles still remains
to be accomplished. In this book all that is attempted
is an analysis of principles with a view to their appli-

C. D. B.

May 1920.


PREFACE . . . . .












The Principles of Revolution



THE Treaties of Peace which found a League of
Nations establish the seat of the League in the City
of Geneva. That city was Rousseau's birthplace, and to
it he dedicated his first great work, the Discourse on the
Origin of Inequality, for he thought Geneva happily
situated in a world of domestic despotism and foreign
aggression ; and the whole force of his soul was roused
by the two great evils of the world — tyranny and war.
Therefore he was influenced by a more than filial affection
in looking to Geneva.

Some of the evils with which he contended no longer
exist. The eighteenth century is hardly to be found now
even in Foreign Offices. The world of kings and flunkeys
is somewhat blown upon or at least modified into a bour-
geois plutocracy with decorative appendages : and the
miserable peasantry of Rousseau's day has been freed
at least from the more obvious forms of forced labour.
Rousseau assisted in the change which has destroyed
these old evils, but in many details his ideas are certainly
mistaken. His history is fantastic and his psychology
inadequate. He had not enough evidence before him
as to economic and political facts. His emotions misled


The Principles of Revolution

his reason in dealing with some social abuses ; and his
conceptions of what is desirable in life are often senti-

Again, every one knows that Rousseau himself was not
an ideal character. Much may be put down to circum-
stance, but a preacher is felt to weaken his case if he
evades too obviously the public service which he advo-
cates : and Rousseau had not that sturdy independence
which he believed to be better than the servility of literary
gentlemen. These are preliminary obstacles to appre-
ciation of his great power ; but they do not destroy his
importance as a revolutionary.

An analysis of the relation of Rousseau to our own
time would have to treat of his influence, chiefly in educa-
tion and political thought, throughout the years which
separate him from us. It is already almost two cen-
turies, and during that time his work has had more
influence than that of any of his contemporaries. Thus
the immortality of the man might be seen everywhere
in our modern system of government and education ;
but that would be a purely historical interpretation of
the work of a prophet. It is more important for the
present purpose that his work can still incite to action ;
for perhaps the finest quality of such work as Rousseau's
is the freshness which it retains for each new generation
which reads it. One cannot foretell whether the fresh-
ness is immortal, but at any rate it still exists ; and
therefore Rousseau can be effective to-day to one who
reads him, even without a knowledge of the history of
his influence. His are books which contain a diagnosis
of social life and definite proposals for an alternative to
perceived evils. It makes all the difference to us now
that the diagnosis reveals some evils from which we feel


Rousseau and the New Social Order

ourselves to be suffering, and that the proposals are
still attractive, since what is of immediate importance
is not what happened long ago, but the present world
v/hich we inhabit, and that contains elements which are
fundamentally what they were in Rousseau's time. We
may find in his work not so much a programme of action
as an attitude of mind in which we see our own lives at a
new angle : and what we see there is thus often what is
shown to us by Rousseau.

His indictment of the social system as he saw it and his
vision of a better world — these gave force long ago to
his writing : for these expressed the popular discontent
and inflamed the popular ideals which made the French
Revolution. But Rousseau's new social order did not
follow upon that Revolution. Even as he saw it, the
new world is still unrealized ; and men now want more
than he did : but the fire is the same which smoulders
in the heart of successive generations and bursts into
flame here and there in a great man's work. His fire,
still burning, makes ours fiercer and clearer. Men still
hope for a new social order which will eliminate the evils
from which they now suffer and establish a life more
worth living. That new order appears as a dream or
a vision, and not otherwise than by the light of the flame
of enthusiasm which is still kept alive by the ideals of
Rousseau. Discounting, therefore, all that may be said
against him or his work, enough may be found in them
to agitate the world.

His first hatred was directed against social conven-
tions and social standards. The powder and paint of
the eighteenth century did not hide from him the squalor
it was intended to cover. The elegancies of the draw-
ing-room did not prevent his seeing the rough labour


The Principles of Revolution

on which it depended. All men could see the inequalities
of the social world, and anyone but a fool must have
known that the situation had not always been what
it was in the middle of the eighteenth century ; but
Rousseau had the power to feel, and to make others
feel, that the estabUshed inequality was evil.

Men have come, it was agreed, after many ages to
a stage of civilization from which many derive benefit
and of which all are supposed to be proud. We take
credit for having appeared so lately upon the earth
because our forefathers are dead and cannot make us
their debtors. The civilized world of that time seemed
far away from the roughness and confusion of barbaric
life, if one were in a salon of the eighteenth century ;
but the end at which men had arrived could be viewed
from a new angle. Rousseau found it easy enough to
persuade readers already suffering from ennui that
civilization was a sham. " In the midst of philosophy,
humanity, fine manners, and sublime words we have only
deceit and triviality in our bearing, honours without
virtue, intellect without wisdom, pleasures without
happiness." ^ That is the analysis of the haute monde ;
but below and around lay the world in which the majority
of men lived — poor, unprivileged and enslaved. If
civilization involves all this, it is inexcusable ; and
Rousseau set himself to discover its causes. We have
arrived at this pass, he said, by the institution of private
property. " The first man who enclosed some land, said
' This is mine,' and found people foolish enough to believe
it, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes,
what wars, what murders, what wretchedness, and
what horrors would not the human race have been saved
« Diicouvs, p, 196, Vaughan's Edition.

Rousseau and the New Social Order

by one who plucked up the stakes and levelled the ditch,
and cried to his fellows, ' Beware of listening to this
rascal : you are lost if you forget that the earth belongs
to no one and its fruits to all.' " ^ But from that first
acceptance of selfish isolation we have developed our
present institutions, supported by the power of those
who gain by them and by the credulity and fear of those,
the victims, who are the sources of that very wealth and
power. Such is the diagnosis of the evil.

The only solution is a radical transformation of society,
basing status and livelihood, not on property, but on
the performance of some function. " You reckon on
the present order of society, without considering that
this order is itself subject to inscrutable changes, and
that you can neither foresee nor provide against the
revolution which may affect your children. The great
become small, the rich poor, the king a commoner.
Does Fate strike so^ seldom that you can count on im-
munity from her blows ? The crisis is approaching, and
we are on the edge of a revolution. Who can answer
for your fate ? What man has made, man may destroy.
Nature's characters alone are ineffaceable, and nature
makes neither the prince, the rich man, nor the nobleman.
This satrap whom you have educated for greatness,
what will become of him in his degradation ? This
farmer of the taxes, who can only live on gold, what
will he do in poverty ? This haughty fool who cannot
use his own hands, who prides himself on what is not
really his, what will he do when he is stripped of all ?
In that day, happy will he be who can give up the rank
which is no longer his and be still a man in Fate's despite I
Let men praise as they will that conquered monarch
» Discours, p. 169,

The Principles of Revolution

who like a madman would be buried beneath the frag-
ments of • his throne ; I behold him with scorn ; to me
he is merely a crown, and when that is gone he is nothing.
But he who loses his crown and lives without it is more
than a king ; from the rank of a king, which may be held
by a coward, a villain, or madman, he rises to the rank
of a man, a position few can fill. Thus he triumphs
over Fortune, he dares to look her in the face ; he depends
on himself alone, and when he has nothing left to show
but himself he is not a nonentity, he is somebody. Better
a thousandfold the King of Corinth a schoolmaster at
Syracuse than a wretched Tarquin, unable to be any-
thing but a king, or the heir of the ruler of three king-
doms, the sport of all who would scorn his poverty,
wandering from court to court in search of help, and
finding nothing but insults, for want of knowing any
trade but one which he can no longer practise.

" The man and the citizen, whoever he may be, has
no property to invest in society but himself ; all his
other goods belong to society in spite of himself, and
when a man is rich, either he does not enjoy his wealth,
or the public enjoys it too. In the first case he robs
others as well as himself ; in the second he gives them
nothing. Thus his debt to society is still unpaid, while
he only pays with his property. ' But my father was
serving society while he was acquiring his wealth.'
Just so ; he paid his own debt, not yours. You owe
more to others than if you had been born with nothing,
since you were born under favourable conditions. It
is not fair that what one man has done for society should
pay another's debt, for since every man owes all that
he is, he can only pay his own debt, and no father can
transmit to his son any right to be of no use to mankind.


Rousseau and the New Social Order

' But,' you say, ' this is just what he does when he leaves
me his wealth, the reward of his labour.' The man who
eats in idleness what he has not himself earned is a thief,
and in my eyes the man who lives on an income paid
him by the state for doing nothing differs little from a
highwayman who lives on those who travel his way.
Outside the pale of society, the solitary, owing nothing
to any man, may live as he pleases ; but in society either
he lives at the cost of others, or he owes them in labour
the cost of his keep. There is no exception to this rule.
Man in society is bound to work ; rich or poor, weak or
strong, every idler is a thief." ^

This passage and others like it have had an immense
effect throughout the century following that in which
it was written ; and we now see its latest commentary
in the Constitution of the Russian Soviet Republic,
which gives civic rights only to those who work. All
work, however, is not regarded by Rousseau as equally
good, for he condemns as conventional or corrupting
some work, even if it is demanded. For example, the
keeping of brothels is generally regarded as unsocial,
and a more developed civilization will perhaps regard
in the same way the keeping of drinking saloons. The
criterion testing the value of the work which alone re-
deems society and human life is the " simplicity " of the
life to which it ministers. Rousseau and his school
were accustomed to speak of a return to nature, and
in the eighteenth century there was a conventional
admiration for the countryside. The majority of the
cultured went no further than to put a china figure of
a shepherdess upon their mantelpiece.; but Rousseau
meant something radical by his " return to nature."

I Emile, p. 157.

17 B

The Principles of Revolution

He meant the restoration to predominance of those
simpler activities, the production of those essential
commodities, the service of those plain needs, which
were contrasted with the artificial requirements and the
unproductive activity of the eighteenth-century gentle-
man and lady and their servants. Men priding them-
selves on their culture were incapable of the vigorous
and direct action by which alone the new order could
be established.

This is not the place to consider Rousseau's scheme
for education, but it is clear that the most effective
means of transforming the conventions of a decadent
age into the fair manners of a new social order would
be education. Thus in the Emile the intention is to
sketch the new process which should form the new and
better type of manhood. There is something more,
however, than ^ scheme of reform in Rousseau's
treatment of the conventional. There is a fire of enthu-
siasm which, as Rousseau himself knew, involved
a new attitude towards life and society ; for he
deliberately rejected the cold intellectualism of the
eighteenth-century philosophers.

Rousseau has been taken to be the forerunner of
Romanticism and of anti-intellectualism. He has, in
fact, effected the complete defeat in history of the colour-
less intellectualism of the eighteenth-century Deists :
and his writing is perhaps stronger in the expression
of emotion than in the elaboration of a train of reasoning.
But as for Romanticism, he must obviously be distin-
guished in his social theory from the romantic Burke.
Romance has so vague a meaning that it may cover
both the love of nature and the mere affection for
what has been long familiar. Burke stands for the


Rousseau and the New Social Order

beauty of ruins : Rousseau for the beauty of rocks.
Burke admires what is old, and excuses it, even if
it is evil, on the ground of its age. Indeed, he is
hardly willing to see what is evil in what is old.
Rousseau was never so blind. He cannot be called a
romantic at all, if a romantic is a traditionalist : for
he was much impressed with the lack of development
in the traditional moral emotions and moral enthusiasms
of men. It is not that we have a smaller amount of
moral enthusiasm than our fathers, but that its forms
are still so meagre and primitive. On the other hand,
Rousseau is a romantic in the place he gives to emotion.
Although we have developed our speech and our know-
ledge of man and nature, we have hardly advanced
in our standards of what is great and good ; and our
moral practice is a merely inherited collection of primi-
tive habits. Even intellectual advance seemed to have
done nothing to elevate the moral standards, and there-
fore it was to the emotion of admiration, and not to the
analysis of facts, that Rousseau looked for the foundation
of a better society. As for intellectual ability, he can
be shown to have opposed men whose intelligence was
greater than his on the insecure ground that the emotions
are superior to the intellect. Rousseau had serious
lapses in his philosophy : for obviously it is mere non-
sense to say that intellect is less valuable than emotion.
One might as reasonably compare the eyes with the
hands. Each is good in its place, and each helps the
other. It is not valid, then, to complain against reason-
ing because it cannot be a substitute for emotion, or to
make a great ado about the limits of the powers of

Nevertheless the gravamen of the charge brought by


The Principles of Revolution

Rousseau is only too clear. Those who are devoted to
pursuits usually called " intellectual " become in certain
circumstances the support of social evils. They are
the " hangers-on," the toadies of noble or wealthy non-
entities. They allow themselves to be the amusement
of patrons, and,, worst of all, they are easily bought
to use their knowledge and skill for the support of what
degrades their fellows. Here were the salons of the
eighteenth century, maintained on the degradation of
the poor, and in the salons were the wits, the poets, the
scientists — some of them sons of the poor — supporting
the fabric of inhumanity with the intellectual subtleties
of apologists for evil. They may have believed — they
certainly made their patrons believe — that painting and
music and poetry would disappear if the world of the
salon were invaded by the population of the streets.
But even if some good things should be lost, the balance
of gain was only too clear in the destruction of the old

Intellectualists can be reformers, however, and the
corroding power of thought had its part in the French
Revolution. The satire of intellectuals could strike
keenly at times, and men like Voltaire have many deeds
of courage and kindliness to their credit : but they lacked
the rage which alone can sweep away the ancient evils.
Academic habits breed acquiescence. The life of thought
makes some men blind to the bodily sufferings of 4:heir
fellows. But, Rousseau says, such intellectuaUsm is
dust and ashes to be swept aside in the wind of revolution
which springs from the love of common men.

It was not, however, possible for Rousseau to stop
at this point. The mind might be free, and the intel-
lectuals might be dethroned by a destroying emotion,


Rousseau and the New Social Order

but men would still be enslaved. The poverty and
wretchedness of the majority of men could not be cured
by attacks upon the elegancies of drawing-rooms, and
it v/as becoming plain that the institutions of civil society
were themselves at fault. What was wrong, and what
was the remedy ?

What was wrong was that men were slaves, and those
who seemed to dominate were themselves enchained
by the efforts to secure their power. Society was a des-
potism, not simply because monarchs existed, but because
common folk had no say in directing the forces on which
they were supposed to depend for law and order. It

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Online LibraryCecil Delisle BurnsThe principles of revolution : a study in ideals → online text (page 1 of 11)