Gerald Stanley Lee.

Crowds : a moving-picture of democracy online

. (page 31 of 43)
Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds : a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 31 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wants to be like ..... when I think of what a man like you
with money can do !

" Am I not tired every day, are you not tired, yourself, of
going about everywhere and seeing money in the hands of all
these second-class, socially feeble-minded men, of seeing col-
umns in the papers of what such men think, of having college
presidents, great universities, domes, churches and thousands
of steeples all deferring to them and bowing to them, and all
the superior, live, interested people ringing their door bells for
their money waiting outside on benches for what they think?

I do not believe that Christ came into the world, two thousand
years ago, to say that only the men who have minds of the
second class, men who are not far-sighted enough in business to
be decently unselfish in this world, should be allowed to have
control of the money and of the peoples' means of living in it.

We are living in an age of big machines and big, inevitable


aggregations, and to say in an age like this, and above all, to
get it out of a Bible, or put it into a hymn book or make a
religion of it, that all the first class minds of the world the
men who see far enough to be unselfish, should give over their
money to second-class men, is the most monstrous, most un-
believing, unfaithful, unbiblical, irreligious thing a world can be
guilty of. The one thing that is now the matter with money,
is that the second-class people have most of it.

"What would happen if we applied asceticism or a tired, dis-
couraged unbelief to having children that we do to having
pounds and pence and dollars and cents? You would not
stand for that would you? "

I looked at his five sons.

" Suppose all the good families of to-day were to take the
ground that having children is a self-indulgence unworthy of
good people; suppose the good people leave having children
in this world almost entirely to bad ones?

" This is what has been happening to money.

" Unbelief in money is unbelief in the spirit. It is paying too
much attention to wealth to say that one must or that one must
not have it."

I cannot recall precisely what was said after this in that long
evening talk of ours but what I tried to say perhaps might have
been something like this:

The essence of the New Testament seems to be the emphasis
of a man's spirit with or without money. Whether a man
should be rich or get out of being rich and earn the right to be
poor (which some very true and big men, artists and inventors
in this world will always prefer) turns on a man's temperament.
If a man has a money genius and can so handle money that he
can make money, and if he can, at the same time, and all in one
bargain, express his own spirit, if he can free the spirits of other
men with money and express his religion in it, he should be
ostracized by all thoughtful, Christian people, if in the des-
perate crisis of an age like this, he tries to get out of being rich.


The one thing a man can be said to be for in this world, is to
express the goodness the religion in him, in something, and
if he is not the kind of man who can express his religion in money
and in employing labour, then let him find something say
music or radium or painting in which he can. It is this bound-
ing off in a world, this making a bare spot in life and saying
"This is not God, this cannot be God!" it is this alone
that is sacriligious.

It may be that I am merely speaking for myself, but I did
discover a man on Fleet Street the other day who quite agreed
with me apparently, that if the thing a man has hi him is religion
he can put it up or express it in almost anything.

This man had tried to express his idea hi a window.

He had done a Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper," in sugar
a kind of bas-relief in sugar.

I do not claim that this kind of foolish, helpless caricature
of a great spiritual truth filled me with a great reverence
or that it does now.

But it did make me think how things were.

If sugar with this man, like money with a banker, was the
one logical thing the man had to express his religion in, or if
what he had had to express had been really true and fine, or if
there had been a true or fine or great man to express, I do not
doubt sugar could have been made to do it.

One single man with enough money and enough religious
skill in human nature, who would get into the Sugar Trust with
some good, fighting, voting stock, who could make the Sugar
Trust do as it would be done by, would make over American
industry in twenty years.

He would have thrown up as on a high mountain, before all
American men, one great specimen, enviable business. He
would have revealed as in a kind of deep, sober apocalypse,
American business to itself. He would have revealed American


business as a new national art form, as an expression of the
practical religion, the genius for real things, that is our real
modern temperament in America and the real modern tempera-
ment in all the nations.

Of course it may not need to be done precisely with the
Sugar Trust.

The Meat Trust might do it first, or the Steel Trust.

But it will be done.

Then the Golden Rule, one great Golden Rule-machine
having been installed in our trust that knew the most, and was
most known, it could be installed in the others.

Religion can be expressed much better to-day in a stock-
holder's meeting than it can in a prayer-meeting.

Charles Cabot, of Boston, walked in quietly to the Stock-
holder's Meeting of the Steel Trust one day and with a
little touch of money $2,900 in one hand, and a copy of
the American Magazine in the other, made (with $2,900)
$1,468,000,000 do right.



EVERY now and then when I am in London (at the in-
stigation of some business man who takes the time off to belong
to it), I drop into a pleasant but other-worldly and absent-
minded place called the House of Commons.

I sit in the windows in the smoking-room and watch the faces
of the members all about me and watch the steamships, strangely,
softly, suddenly Shakespeare and Pepys, outside on the
river, slip gravely by under glass.

Or I go in and sit down under the gallery, face to face with
the Speaker, looking across those profiles of world-makers in
their seats; and I watch and listen in the House itself. There
is a kind of pleasant, convenient, appropriate hush upon the
world there.


The decorous, orderly machinery of knowledge rolls over one
one listens to It, to the soft clatter of the endless belt of

Every now and then one sees a member in the middle of a
speech, or possibly in the middle of a sentence, slip up quietly
and take a look (under glass) at The People, or he uses a micro-
scope, perhaps, or a reading glass on The People, Mr. Bonar
Law's, Mr. Lloyd George's, Ramsay MacDonald's,Will Crook's,
or somebody's. Then he comes back gravely as if he had



got the people attended to now, and finishes what he was

It is a very queer feeling one has about the People in the
House of Commons.

I mean the feeling of their being under glass; they all seem
so manageable, so quiet and so remote, a kind of glazed-over
picture in still life, of themselves. Every now and then, of
course one takes a member seriously when he steps up to the
huge showcase of specimen crowds, which members are always
referring to in their speeches. But nothing comes of it.

The crowds seem very remote there under the glass. One
feels like smashing something getting down to closer terms
with them one longs for a Department Store or a bridge or
a 'bus something that rattles and bangs and is.

All the while outside the mighty street that huge mega-
phone of the crowd, goes shouting past. One wishes the House
would notice it. But no one does. There is always just the
House Itself and that hush or ring of silence around it, all
England listening, all the little country papers far away with
their hands up to their ears and the great serious-minded
Dailies, and the witty Weeklies, the stately Monthlies, and
Quarterlies all acting as if it mattered. . . .

Even during the coal strike nothing really happened in the
House of Commons. There was a sense of the great serious
people, of the crowds on Westminster Bridge surging softly
through glass outside, but nothing got in. Big Ben boomed
down the river, across the pavements, over the hurrying crowds
and over all the men and the women, the real business men and
women. The only thing about the House that seemed to have
anything to do with anybody was Big Ben.

Finally one goes up to Harrod's to get relief, or one takes a
'bus, or one tries Trafalgar Square, or one sees if one can really
get across the Strand or one does something almost anything
to recall one's self to real life.

And then, of course, there is Oxford Street.


Almost always after watching the English people express
themselves or straining to express themselves in the House of
Commons, I try Oxford Street.

I know, of course, that as an art-form for expressing a great
people, Oxford Street is not all that it should be, but there is
certainly something, after all the mooniness and the dim
droniness, and lawyer-mindedness in the way the English
people express themselves or think that they ought to express
themselves in their House of Commons there is certainly
something that makes Oxford Street seem suddenly a fine, free,
candid way for a great people to talk! And there is all the
gusto, too, the 'busses, the taxies, the hundreds of thousands
of men and women saying things and buying things they

Taking in the shops on both sides of the street, and taking
in the things the people are doing behind the counters, and
in the aisles, and up in the office windows three blocks of
Oxford Street really express what the English people really
want and what they really think and what they believe and put
up money on, more than three years of the House of Commons.

If I were an Englishman I would rather be elected to walk up
and down Oxford Street and read what I saw there than to be
elected to a seat in the House of Commons, and I could accom-
plish more and learn more for a nation, with three blocks of
Oxford Street, with what I could gather up and read there,
and with what I could resent and believe there, than I could
with three years of the House of Commons.

I know that anybody, of course, could be elected to walk
up and down Oxford Street. But it is enough for me.

So I almost always try it after the House of Commons.

And when I have taken a little swing down Oxford Street
and got the House of Commons out of my system a little,
perhaps I go down to the Embankment, and drop into my

Then 1 sit in the window and mull.


If the English people express themselves and express what
they want and what they are bound to have, on Oxford Street
and put their money down for it, so much better than they
do in the House of Commons, why should they not do it there?

Why should elaborate, roundabout, mysterious things like
governments, that have to be spoken of in whispers (and that
express themselves usually in a kind of lawyer-minded way, in
picked and dried words like wills), be looked upon so seriously,
and be taken on the whole, as the main reliance the people
have, in a great nation, for expressing themselves?

Why should not a great people be allowed to say what they
are like and to say what they want and what they are bound to
get, in the way Oxford Street says things, in a few straight,
clean-cut, ordinary words, in long quiet rows of deeds, of buying
and selling and acting?

Pounds, shillings, and silence.

Then on to the next thing.

If the House of Commons were more like Oxford Street or
even if it had suddenly something of the tone of Oxford Street,
if suddenly it were to begin some fine morning to express Eng-
land the way Oxford Street does, would not one see, in less than
three months, new kinds and new sizes of men all over England,
wanting to belong to it?

Big, powerful, uncompromising, creative men who have no
time for twiddling, who never would have dreamed of being
tucked away in the House of Commons before, would want to
belong to it.

In the meantime, of course, the men of England who have
empires to express, are not unnaturally expressing them in
more simple language like foundries, soap factories around
a world, tungsten mines, department stores, banks, subways,
railroads for seventy nations, and ships on seven seas, Winnipeg
trolleys and little New York skyscrapers.

Business men of the more usual or humdrum kind could not
do it, but certainly, the first day that business men like thesei


of the first or world-size class, once find the House of Commons
a place they like to be in, once begin expressing the genius of the
English people in government as they are already expressing
the genius of the English people in owning the earth, in buying
and selling, in inventing things and in inventing corporations,
the House of Commons will cease to be a bog of words, an abyss
of committees, and legislation will begin to be run like a rail-
road on a block signal system, rows of things taken up,
gone over, and finished. The click of the signal. Then the
next thing.

I sit in my club and look out of the window and think. Just
outside thousands of taxies shooting all these little mighty wills
of men across my window, across London, across England,
across the world . . . the huge, imperious street ... all
these men hurling themselves about in it, joining their wills on
to telephone wires, to mighty trains and little quiet country
roads, hitching up cables to their wills, and ships hitching
up the very clouds over the sea to their wills and running a
world why are not men like these men who have the
street-spirit in them, this motor genius of driving through to
what they want, taking seats in the House of Commons?

Perhaps Oxford Street is more efficient and more character-
istic in expressing the genius and the will of the English people
than the House of Commons is because of the way in which the
people select the men they want to express them in Oxford

It may be that the men the people have selected to be at
the top of the nation's law-making are not selected by as
skillful, painstaking, or thorough a process as the men who have
been selected to be placed at the top of the nation's buying
and selling.

Possibly the reason the House of Commons does not express
the will of the people is, that its members are merely selected
in a loose, vague way and by merely counting noses.

Possibly, too, the men who are selected by a true, honest,


direct, natural selection to be the leaders and to free the ener-
gies and steer the work of the people, the men who are
selected to lead by being seen and lived with and worked with
all day, every day, are better selected men than men who hav-
ing been voted on on slips of paper, and having been seen in
newspaper paragraphs, travel up to London and begin thought-
lessly running a world.

The business man drops into the House of Commons after
the meeting of his firm in Bond Street, Lombard Street, or
Oxford Street and takes a look at it. He sees before him a huge
tool or piece of machinery a body of men intended to work
together and to get certain grave, particular, and important
things done, that the people want done, and he does not see
how a great good-hearted chaos or welter, a kind of chance
national Weather of Human Nature like the House of Com-
mons, can get the things done.

So he confines himself more and more to business where
he loses less time in wondering what other people think or if
they think at all, cuts out the work he sees, and does it.

He thinks how it would be if things were turned around and
if people tried to get expressed in business in the loose way,
the thoughtless reverie of voting that they use in trying to get
themselves expressed in politics.

He thinks the stockholders of the Sunlight Soap Company,
Limited, would be considerably alarmed to have the president
and superintendent and treasurer and the buyers and salesmen
of the company elected at the polls by the people in the county
or by popular suffrage. He thinks that thousands of the hands
as well as the stockholders would be alarmed too. It does not
seem to him that anybody, poor or rich, employer or employee,
in matters of grave personal concern, would be willing to trust
his interest or would really expect the people, all the people as
a whole, to be represented or to get what they wanted, to act
definitely and efficiently through the vague generalizations of
the polls. Perhaps a natural selection, a dead-earnest rigorous,


selection that men work on nine hours a day, an implacable,
unremitting process during working hours, of sorting men out
(which we call business), is the crowd's most reliable way of
registering what it definitely thinks about the men it wants
to represent it. Business is the crowd's, big, serious, daily
voting in pounds, shillings, and pence its hour to hour,
unceasing, intimate, detailed labour in picking men out, in
putting at the top the men it can work with best, the men who
most express it, who have the most genius to serve crowds, to
reveal to crowds their own minds, and supply to them what
they want.

As full as it is like all broad, honest expressions, of
human shortcomings and of things that are soon to be stopped,
it does remain to be said that business, in a huge, rough way,
daily expressing the crowds as far as they have got the best
in them and the worst in them, is, after all, their most faithful
and true record, their handwriting. Business is the crowds'
autograph its huge, slow, clumsy signature upon our world.

Buying and selling is the life blood of the crowds' thought,
its big, brutal daily confiding to us of its view of human life.
What do the crowds, poor and rich, really believe about life?
Property is the last will and testament of Crowds.

The man-sorting that goes on in distributing and producing
property is the Crowd's most unremitting, most normal, tem-
peramental way of determining and selecting its most efficient
and valuable leaders its men who can express it, and who
can act for it.

This is the first reason I would give against letting the
people rely on having a House of Commons compel business
men to be good.

Men who meet now and again during the year, afternoons or
evenings, who have been picked out to be at the top of the
nation's talking, by a loose absent-minded and illogical
paper-process, cannot expect to control men who have been
picked out to be at the top of a nation's buying and


selling, by a hard-working, closely fitting, logical process
the men that all the people by everything they do, every
day, all day, have picked out to represent them.

Any chance three blocks of Oxford Street could be relied on
to do better.

Keeping the polls open once in so often, a few hours, and
using hearsay and little slips of paper anybody dropping in
seems a rather fluttery and uncertain way to pick out the
representatives of the people, after one has considered three
blocks of Oxford Street.

The next thing the crowd is going to do in getting what it
wants from business men is to deal directly with the business
men themselves and stop feeling, what many people feel
partly from habit, perhaps, that the only way the crowd can
get to what it wants is to go way over or way back or way
around by Robin Hood's barn or the House of Commons.

But there is a second reason:

The trouble is not merely in the way men who sit in the
House of Commons are selected. The real deep-seated trouble
with the men who sit in the House of Commons is that they
like it. The difficulty (as in the American Congress too) seems
to be something in the men themselves. It lies in what might
be called, for lack of a better name, perhaps, the Hem and
Haw or Parliament Temperament.

The dominating type of man in all the world's legislative
bodies, for the time being, seems to be the considerer or recon-
siderer, the man who dotes on the little and tiddly sides of
great problems. The greatness of the problem furnishes, of
course, the pleasant, pale glow, the happy sense of importance
to a man, and then there is all the jolly littleness of the little
things besides the little things that a little man can make
look big by getting them in the way of big ones a great
nation looking on and waiting. . . . For such a man there
always seems to be a certain coziness and hominess in a
Legislative Body. . . .


As a seat in the House of Commons not unnaturally every
year it is hemmed or hawed in, gets farther and farther away
from the people, it is becoming more and more apparent to
the people every year that the Members of their House of
Commons as a class are unlikely to do anything of a very
striking or important or lasting value in the way of getting
business men to be good.

The more efficient and practical business men are coming to
suspect that the members of the House of Commons, speaking
broadly, do not know the will of the people, and that they could
not express it in creative, straightforward and affirmative laws
if they did.


BUT it is not only because the members of the House of
Commons are selected in a vague way or because they are
a vague kind of men, that they fail to represent the people.

The third reason against having a House of Commons try
to compel business men to be good, by law, is its out-of-the-way

The out-of-the-way position that a Parliament occupies in
getting business men to be good, can be best considered,
perhaps, by admitting at the outset that a government
really is one very real and genuine way a great people
may have of expressing themselves, of expressing what they
are like and what they want, and that business is another

Then the question narrows down. Which way of expressing
the people is the one that expresses them the most to the point,
and which expresses them where their being expressed counts
the most?

The people have a Government. And the people have Busi-

What is a Government for?

What is Business for?

Business is the occupation of finding out and anticipating
what the wants of the English people really are and of finding
out ways of supplying them.

The business men on Oxford Street hire twenty or thirty
thousand men and women, keep them at work eight or nine
hours a day, five or six days in a week, finding out what the



things are that the English people want and reporting on them
and supplying them.

They are naturally in a strategic position to find out, not
only what kinds of things the people want, but to find out, too,
just how they want the things placed before them, what kind
of storekeepers and manufacturers, salesmen and saleswomen
they tolerate, like to deal with and prefer to have prosper.

And the business men are not only in the most strategic
and competent position to find out what the people who buy
want, but to find out too, what the people who sell want. They
are in the best position to know, and to know intimately, what
the salesmen and saleswomen want and what they want to be
and what they want to do or not do.

They are in a close and watchful position, too, with regard
to the conditions in the factories from which their goods come
and with regard to what the employers, stockholders, foremen
and workmen in those factories want.

What is more to the point, these same business men, when
they have once found out just what it is the people want, are
the only men who are in a position, all in the same breath,
without asking anybody and without arguing with anybody,
without meddling or convincing anybody to get it for

Finding out what people want and getting it for them is
what may be called, controlling business.

The question not unnaturally arises with all these business
men and their twenty or thirty thousand people working with
them, eight or nine hours a day, five or six days a week, in
controlling business, why should the members of the House
of Commons expect, by taking a few afternoons or evenings
off for it, to control business for them?

If I were an employee and if what I wanted to do was to
improve the conditions of labour in my own calling, I do not

Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds : a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 31 of 43)