Eustace Percy Percy of Newcastle.

The responsibilites of the League online

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mediaeval Rome could account for our failure
to interpret the discontents around us. After
all, the edifice of our political philosophy
during the last half- century had rested on two
pillars; the idea of representative democracy '
and the idea of " nationality." It is a common-
place that no satisfactory definition of
nationality has ever been drawn up that it
eludes argument no less than the doctrines of
the revolutionaries. It is perhaps not so
commonly realised to what extent the theory of
representative democracy is a legal fiction to the
mind of the average man. Historically, repre-
sentative institutions both in Britain and
America grew up in a state of society where it
was possible and usual for a local community to
send as its representative to Parliament or
Congress a man, who, in the strictest sense,
was a " member " of that community, a repre-
sentative type of it because actually a part of
it and a sharer in its life. This idea still survives
in the United States, where residence is a
necessary qualification for political candidacy,
but even this rule no longer suffices under
modern conditions to ensure the old kind of
representation. Increasingly in every democratic
country at the present day, a member of Parlia-
ment, a Deputy or a Congressman tends of
necessity to be a carpet-bagger. He bears the
same relation to the old type of representative
as the family solicitor bears to a member of the
family whose affairs he conducts. The one
outstanding characteristic of modern politics
is an intense popular dissatisfaction with the


representative system. The agitation for propor-
tional representation, the controversy between
scrutin a arrondissement and scmtin de liste,
the experiments in " direct legislation," the
initiative, referendum and " recall " are only
surface indications of the most moderate
form of this dissatisfaction. Beneath this
surface there are depths of sullen distrust and
eddies of violent indignation which academic
political science has too comfortably ignored.
Curiously enough, this ignorance has been
shared by many who a few years ago figured,
and in some cases still figure, as revolutionary
leaders. It was an inherited confidence in
such uncriticised assumptions that vitiated the
whole socialist case in face of the assaults of
syndicalism and anarchism. Mr. Snowden, for
instance, writing just before the war, thought
he had completely demonstrated the absurdity
of any " fear of the tyranny of the State under
Socialism " when he had pointed out, in a series
of well-worn Victorian phrases, that " the
government and organisation will be demo-
cratic/' that " socialism postulates an intelligent
democracy/' and that " socialism will be demo-
cratic ; the people will rule." Such words as
these, assuming the solution of the very problem
which all men feel to be the most insoluble of
modern politics, might well serve as an epitaph
on orthodox socialism as a living doctrine of
progress. Neither in England nor in America
had pre-war socialism any real contribution to
make to the realisation of the most immediate
popular aspirations. American socialism in the


years immediately preceding the war was
offered a great opportunity for political leader-
ship. It failed to take advantage of this oppor-
tunity, largely because the issue which then
shook the whole system of American politics to
its foundations was a passionate attempt to
reform the machinery of popular representation.
It was the consciousness of misrepresentation
far more than the pressure of economic evils
that gave birth to the radicalism of the Pro-
gressive campaign in 1912. American socialism
never seemed to realise this fact and offered no
remedy for the evils so keenly present to the
popular mind. The failure of socialism has
been even more evident in the application of
the doctrine of representation to industrial
problems. The revolt against trade union
leadership is but an indication of the prevailing
disillusionment which makes so much of the
modern talk about " industrial democracy >J
or " self-government in industry " illusory and
unsatisfying to the average working man.
More and more the experience of every demo-
cratic country has seemed to prove that true
representation is to be found only at the point
where the rainbow touches' the ground. The
professions of political candidates or elected
ministers sound daily more like an echo of that
ancient aspiration, that ancient fiction, as old
as the Hildebrandine Popes the claim made
by political power, at first honestly, later as an
official formality, and finally, with almost
conscious hypocrisy, to be " the servant of the
servants of God."


In spite of its lack of intellectual definition,
or perhaps rather because of it, the principle of
nationality is probably a much more living
force to-day than the principle of representation.
It is not so exclusively a political doctrine
in fact, national movements have tended to
remain sterile so long as they aimed solely at.
political independence. They have almost in-
variably grown powerful through cultural pro-
paganda ; the influence of language has been
infinitely stronger than that of race or historical
tradition. Again, the sins of nationality and
they have been many have been commonly
attributed to other factors ; the crimes of
Magyar ascendancy have been perpetrated by
a corrupt oligarchy and German ambition has
been cloaked by the divine right of kings. The
world has talked much of German Kultur, but
has slipped into the mistake of regarding it as a
mere fiction invented by German propagandists
or by William of Hohenzollern. It has been
forgotten that only the existence of a real
German culture has made Prussianism possible,
and popular belief in the national principle has
greatly benefited by this mistake. Neverthe-
less, signs were not wanting before the war to
indicate how weak an agent of social regenera-
tion was the principle of nationality. European
labour had for many years been growingto suspect
it, and even to regard it as profoundly irrelevant
to the problems of the hour. Now that it has
finally been put to the test by the Peace Con-
ference, millions who had paid lip service to it in
theory are turning back from it as from a mirage.


It is, then, on these two tottering pillars that
much of our old confidence in " democratic
progress " was based, and it is on them that we
liave now built a peace. Our strongest answer
to the critics of the Peace of Versailles is that
these acknowledged props of democracy, and
not any " capitalist imperialism," are the true
basis of our structure. And the answer comes
back, vague and unreasoning, but surely not
incomprehensible : " Do you really mean to
tell us that this is the best that organised
society and the political wisdom of the ages can
do ; that solutions so sordid are a sufficient
reward for the sacrifices you have exacted from
the flower of the human race ? '

This is the spirit which threatens the whole
state system of Europe, root and branch, on the
morning of peace. This is the question to
which the family of nations, individually and
collectively, has to supply an answer. Its
leaders cannot expect, either from the rebels
or from that much larger body of average
opinion, average disappointment and average
idealism which we may call the seekers, an
ordered presentation of their case or an itemised
statement of grievances. Rather, they have to
encounter a sweeping attack on the whole range
of their orthodox postulates. They will be
pilloried for what they have left undone, rather
than for what they have achieved. They will
not be called on to consider a radical pro-
gramme for a comprehensive reconstruction of
an outworn economic system, but rather to
listen to a clamour of deadly weariness against


what they have been trained to regard as the
most progressive and radical principles of
reform an echo of the old Pauline outburst,
" who shall deliver us from the body of this
death ? '

The seekers are a varied and straggling army,
but their numbers, even in our own dull country,
were infinitely larger before the war than
perhaps the orthodox ever realised. Their ranks
included every class and every shade of opinion
and tradition, from the irreconcilables of the
Welsh coal-fields to the young University man,
emerging from his education and his college de-
bates, sick of the old political parties and
preferring syndicalism to the Labour Party and
Connolly to Mr. Redmond. Their discontent
was fed above all things by the curious com-
bination of self-assurance and rank opportunism,
which we have tried to indicate already as the
characteristics of recent democratic politics.
They were sick of stereotyped political argu-
ments and wise debates sick of weighing one
view against another, conscious that either side
of the question could be presented with equal
force by those who made such advocacy their
business. They were weary of the spectacle of
a Parliament in England indulging in mis-
cellaneous social reform with apparently no
other guide than the philanthropy of the
moment ; they were bewildered by the mul-
titudinous strivings of forty-nine legislatures in
the United States, representing much which
made America admirable, fired for the most
part with a real sense of their duties and their


responsibilities, but all engaged in " sniping M
fitfully at isolated abuses, in remedying this or
that grievance, in denouncing this or that form
of oppression, without sense of order or guiding
principle. They could not find their footing in
all this ; they could not live beneath the rule
of whims, however noble. They wanted a
standard, a touchstone. They looked not for
a reform or a system, but for the reform and the
system. Above all, they looked for the guidance
of law. Every scrap of teaching they had
received had bidden them discern the rule of
definite law in the physical world and in the
world of thought ; how could they be satisfied
in the political world by the uncritical assump-
tions of the " reformers " ? " Can you/' they
asked of their teachers and leaders, " predict
with any certainty the immediate, let alone the
ultimate, effect of any single measure you
propose ? Are your counsels of expediency,
your yearly choice of new programmes of legis-
lation to catch the imagination of the voters,
anything more than a confession that you have
lost your way that you are blind children
scribbling on the Sibylline leaves which the
next breath of some strange wind shall carry
you know not whither ? '

The intellectual weight of this vague move-
ment was not perhaps important ; it was only
as the spirit of the seekers was soured into the
temper of the rebels that serious intellectual
expression began to be given to it. That, too,
is characteristic of revolutionary eras, and gives
rise to many of the worst mis judgments of



history; the vague fervours of the fifteenth
century, the wild German pilgrimages to Wils-
nack and Niklashausen, the dreams of Lollardy,
find poor expression in the satires of Erasmus
or the invectives of Luther. Before the war, we
still lived in the earlier phase of the revolt. In
every Babylon from Chicago to Essen people
were asking questions which neither the writers
nor the politicians had ever seriously put to
themselves. They were asking: "Where are
you going, you who have governed us for so
long ? What are your objects ? What are the
ends of government, the promises made to the
fathers ? ' ] There was not a platform or a
pulpit in the land with an answer to these
questions, until the rebels began to oust from
their accustomed tribunes the older hierarchs of

The more modern of these hierarchs had,
however, already prepared the way for the more
moderate of the rebels. Socialism, the rebel of
an earlier era, after shading gradually into
respectable Fabianism and coalescing in various
forms with collectivist liberalism and Tory
democracy, had given birth to guild socialism
and a mixed progeny of social reconstructionism.
These reconstructionists aspired to lead the
seekers to the goal of their desires, but usually
with very little understanding of the feelings they
professed to satisfy. They tried, indeed, to
supply an answer to questionings till then
ignored as dreams, but the answer was often
petty enough. Miss Addams, in " The Spirit
of Youth and the City Streets," tells of the


Russian girl in Chicago who committed suicide
because she felt that Americans were not
" held together by any historic bonds nor
great mutual hopes/' And to this idealism
the reconstructionists could only offer an
economic system and write above the graves of
the martyrs : ' Sufficiency of food, clothing,
shelter and leisure for all men/' Outside
economics they could only repeat the old
formulae of nationality and representative
democracy. They could not realise that, while
the dumb millions on whom our social structure
was built naturally desired happiness, comfort,
prosperity, they desired something so much more
than that, and desired it dimly, it may be, but so
much more ardently, that they were ready to
accept a life of self-sacrifice and grinding toil if
only an end were shown them an end not for
themselves alone, but for the world to which
with certainty they might look forward from afar.
" But we do not/' cried the reconstructionists,
" rule out such aesthetic ideals ; we only offer
the indispensable material basis for their attain-
ment." They were blind to the dreariness of
that doctrine ; they had not perhaps read
history honestly enough to understand that
they were bidding us hope, from a reform of
work and wages, the transformation which
religious revival and the growth of political
liberty had already failed to effect in the hearts
of men. This was not what the seekers wanted ;
they asked rather for Garibaldi's " battles and
death " for corporate work fired by the assur-
ance of a common hope. They wanted, with


Mr. Wells' hero in the " New Machiavelli,"
' a gale out of heaven, a great wind from the
sea," but they could not follow Mr. Wells into
bathos when his hero attempted to raise that
wind by the foundation of a political group
and a weekly review. They were tired of play-
ing with these toy bellows while they felt the
wind of heaven sigh about their windows and
knock at their barred doors.

The gale and the great wind have come, but
not as we asked or thought. On a world too
dull to discern the purposes of peace, too weak
for common vigils, too sceptical to see in the
daily commerce of humanity the " armies of
unalterable law/' with faces set towards an
assured city of God, there came the stormy call
to a more obvious sacrifice in a cause defined
clearly to the eyes of all. The prayer of Ajax
was heard, and, for a space at least, the face
of the battle was made plain. It was not an
interruption but a revelation, and as such the
seekers knew it. If our leaders and teachers
in our own country had not known, as in
Milton's day, what nation it was whereof they
were and whereof they were the governors,
they had no excuse thereafter for misconceiving
the " quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit "
which they had fed with easy sops for so long.
If we as a people had missed the life stirring
beneath the deadly uniformity of poor streets
and blank factory walls ; if we had based our
social policy on the charitable but perverted
theory that in such surroundings no faith, self-
sacrifice or public spirit could survive the


pressure of adverse material conditions if such
had been our attitude of mind, we could no
longer miss our error. For, indeed, the " dis-
inherited " had become in some sort themselves
our leaders and teachers. They responded
to the appeal of causes in Europe of which they
have never heard, not merely in defence of
their country, but because society meant
something more to them than to us, and in
their way they understood better what " his-
toric bonds " and " mutual hopes " really
are than did orthodox historians and political
thinkers. Their temper showed itself especially
in this, that against the whole trend of sophisti-
cated thought they insisted on associating
morals and religion with politics. Mr. Chester-
ton never voiced more accurately the instinc-
tive rebellion of the average man than when,
just before the war, he denounced the
" great talk of trend and tide and wisdom and
destiny/' The orthodox political thinkers
might try to break the links which, in all
ages, from the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
to the " Obedience of a Christian Man/' from
the Solemn League and Covenant to the
Declaration of Independence, had bound politics
to the simplicities of faith and morals ; our
new Machiavellis might prefer another and
more modern bondage, and might seek their
premises in Darwin rather than in the Bible ;
the House of Commons might taboo quotations
from scripture as bad form ; but the people
whom the thinkers aspired to teach and the
House of Commons to represent, were always


ready to enforce their claims upon society
by an appeal to the Golden Rule. It was to
this morality that statesmen made their con-
fident appeal on the morning of the war, and
the response was surely a condemnation of the
meaner leadership of the past.

It was the note struck by Sir Edward Grey's
speech of August 3rd, 1914, the unassuming
sense of the moral nature of international
relations, the simple knowledge that a law had
been violated and the ordinary ties of human
honour and duty broken, that stirred the
people of England, " took them like trumpets,"
and sent the seekers forth to the ends of the
earth. The trenches of Flanders and Gallipoli,
the sands of Egypt and Mesopotamia took
them in their time, but their mantle fell upon
a whole people intensely conscious into what
manner of heritage they had entered. Un-
happily, our leaders and thinkers had not the
vision or the courage to sound the same note
steadily or to understand the true nature of
the hopes they had aroused. They relapsed
into the old political phrases. Largely, it is to
be feared, in response to American criticism,
moved by the demand from the other side of
the Atlantic for statements suited to the com-
prehension of the American press and the
political leaders of the Atlantic seaboard, and
influenced by that exclusively political idealism
to which we have referred in a previous chapter
as the characteristic tone of American thought,
they had recourse to the easy catchwords of
orthodox democracy. They did not realise


until too late the logical consequences of such
doctrines. They waxed eloquent over the
rights of small nations, but hung back from
preaching a war of nationalist revolution.
Committed in the eyes of those who understood
Europe to a championship of Bohemian and
Southern Slav nationalism, they slid into an
indefensible treaty with Italian Ccesarism
and, until the last days of the war, toyed
with the phantom of a separate peace with
Austria. They were unable to reconcile their
lip service to the principle of self-determination
with the exigencies of their military policy or
with the problem of Ireland. They could not
explain the Defence of the Realm Act or the
passport system in terms of their own demo-
cratic formulae. They found themselves less
and less able to demonstrate the difference
between Prussian " militarism " and the mea-
sures to which democracy is driven in times of
danger. Their actual policy, mistaken though
it often was, did not lack solid justification even
where it appeared most difficult to explain ;
but no such justification can be found for their
verbal professions, based as these were on general
principles which they knew themselves to be
powerless to translate into action.

The same mistakes in varying degrees were
made in every belligerent country in Europe,
and not least in Russia where, if leaders did
not talk in terms of Western democracy, they
yet made themselves the mouthpiece of many
of the hopes of Russian liberals. The result
was inevitable. Disillusionment spread and the


rebels, who had lost the greater part of their
influence in the early enthusiasm of the war,
began to build up their schools again, aided
by those small groups of Girondins and Pharisees
who had never felt and could never understand
the spirit of the seekers, but who made it their
title to intellectual leadership that they were
always ready to prove their love for humanity
by hating their immediate neighbours. It was
at this moment, in the middle of the war,
that President Wilson's state papers gained
a rapid popularity. The rebels and the Phari-
sees saw in them, indeed, little but an opportune
stick with which to beat their own govern-
ments ; but their moral flavour, their apparent
attempt to bring back allied policy out of the
sloughs of military expediency to its original
starting point, appealed genuinely to the l
spirit of the seekers. They did not see, and,
not knowing America, could not be expected
to see, that the moral element in these ad-
dresses was traditional rather than original,
representing, not an instinctive effort on the
lines of Sir Edward Grey's speech of August 3rd
to deduce policy from morals, but rather an
attempt, honest enough but intellectual and
laboured, to cast over a purely political idealism
the mantle of moral sentiments. Above all,
Bolshevism did not enter into Mr. Wilson's
calculations at all. It did not fit into any of
his moral categories. In a quite peculiar degree
American democracy had failed to take the
social revolution into account, yet from the
moment that America entered the war the


Russian revolution dominated the international
situation, and Mr. Wilson's loss of moral prestige
began with his failure to apply his philosophy
to it. That was probably more his misfortune
than his fault. His real fault was precisely the
same as that of other allied preachers of demo-
cracy. He moved in the same world of political
maxims as they, and the seekers, who thought
for one brief moment that he had recaptured
the lost chord of morality with which the war
began, have sunk back into a disillusionment
all the more bitter for the momentary hopes he
had aroused.

The Treaty of Versailles marks the culminating
point in this disillusionment, but those who
attack and those who defend it alike miss the
essence of its sin. It fails, not because it
embodies economic selfishness, but because it
gives almost pedantic expression to the old
confidence in nationalism and representative
democracy. It is the last step in our mis-
interpretation of Germany. Germany sinned,
as a matter of fact, precisely by a similar
pedantic allegiance to modern principles. Bis-
marck's real achievement was to prove that
universal state education, advanced social re-
form, universal suffrage, and, finally, universal
military service, the standing democratic prin-
ciple of the continent, though not of Britain
or the United States, are the most perfect engines
of political power. If we had been perfectly
unselfish, a few dark spots on the Treaty would
have been eliminated ; but if we had realised
that a really dangerous and soulless imperialism


always has its roots, not in the caprice of
monarchs, but in the democratic nationalism
of Fichte, we might have reached a radically
different settlement, tolerant, just, and

Of course, this interpretation of the moral
history of the war is very different from the
popular explanation which casts the blame for
present disillusionment on secret diplomatists
and jingo bitter-enders. These also bear their
grave responsibility, but the greater sin lies at the
door of those who have continued to put their
trust in a political philosophy rather than in
plain moralities in that righteousness which,
we are told, the people of the world shall learn
when the judgments of the Lord are in the earth.
This point is all-important to an understanding
of the issues of to-day. Social revolution can

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Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 11 of 20)