Gilbert Cannan.

Freedom online

. (page 5 of 7)
Online LibraryGilbert CannanFreedom → online text (page 5 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

becomes an engine for the purposes of the slaves
of a country that all those in whom the desire for
Freedom stirs are flung into revolt.

The alternative to the Absolute State is not the
Absolute Individual, but the recognition of theii



relationship. When that is recognised, and not
till then, will it be possible to recognise the
relationship between the different States and to
reconcile the different loves of country which
maintain them. So long as each State claims
absolute dominion over the individual within its
gates, so long must it claim, in theory, absolute
dominion over the other States of the world, and
it will regard their existence, contrary to all the
facts, as inimical to its own. They will contribute
not to the freedom of humanity, but to the warring
world of States, which is so terrible an oppression
upon the world of peaceful and industrious men
and women.

Love of country, love of home, are among the
strongest and most beautiful of human emotions,
but they are defiled by hatred of those who have
other countries, other homes. Is not this great
world large enough for all these loves ? It can be
made so once it is realised that all these vast and
powerful emotions which grip great groups of men
proceed from the instinctive simple loves of men,
which, according as they are satisfied or dissatisfied,
will make their collective emotions good or evil,
apt for enduring constructive work or for the filthy
business of blind destruction which we still call
war and endeavour vainly to disguise and cover up
with the sentiments and phrases of a bygone day.
By such hypocrisy patriotism is tarnished, and its
lustre can only be restored by the solution of this
problem of the Individual and the State and by the


Acclamation of Liberty as the only solvent of the
sorrows and perplexities of the human race.

That is a strange love of country which sets
about to destroy its liberty at the first signs of
danger, yet, in the name of patriotism, in the
European countries the system of conscription has
been steadily enlarged until, as it inevitably must,
it has passed from the purposes of defence to the
purposes of opulence. And in the United States
of America there are signs of a system growing
into being by which men are being virtually
conscripted for the purposes of opulence without
reference to the purposes of defence. The inter-
locking of the Trusts more and more tends to
curtail the liberty of the individual, who, once he
takes his place in the industrial machine, must go
and do according as it grinds him. It needs but
the threat of war against America for the love of
country to be invoked to bring about the com-
pletion of the system of military and industrial
conscription. In Germany, where things are done
frankly which in other countries are done sur-
reptitiously, complete conscription is already in
being, and it has been created in the name of
patriotism. So it will be in all likelihood in
America. To achieve this complete abuse and
reversal of the meaning of patriotism, this base
disloyalty to the spirit of the free men of every
race, it does not matter whether a beginning is
made with opulence or with defence. Once either
opulence or defence is set above liberty, then the



collapse into a system of slavery cannot be averted.
And this is happening in every civilised country
in the world, as in all of them, one by one, the
machinery of industrialism replaces the machinery
of agrarianism and so cuts the ground away from
the institutions built up on it. Nothing can stay
this process : nothing can prop up decrepit institu-
tions, and it is futile to appeal to antiquated ideals
of freedom.

Against aristocratic tyranny it was the habit to
assert the rights of man as an individual. Against
industrial and democratic tyranny it is necessary to
asseverate the rights of man as a social being and
to recognise that it is only as a social being that
man is an individual. Apart from society, man is
a childish egoist. It is only in and through society
that he can develop into a full-grown civilised
creature, capable of a real patriotism, a full and
true love of his country and his kind.

Of what kind of patriotism are men capable in
the industrial system ? Do they love that system ?
It is world-wide : the same in all countries, only
varying in the degree to which overtly or covertly
it makes use of conscription. Do they love their
factories their dull little homes ? Or do they love
the political institutions which in most countries
the industrial system has rendered absurdly in-
adequate ? Or do they love the churches which so
few of them ever enter?

In all countries men love their wives, their
children, and nearly all men have at the back of


their minds some dear scene a rugged hill-top
against the sky, the bend of a river threading
through the willows, a gay and busy street, or
even a grim, dull thoroughfare making a drab
background for gay, fantastic thoughts. These
are the objects of men's loves, and, left to them-
selves, they would know that they could never be
endangered. But upon these basic loves are forced
an arrogant and stupid pride in the superstructure
of their collective existence, the collapse of which
would do no one any great harm and conceivably
much good to many. Yet when the superstructure
is threatened they are easily persuaded that their
basic loves are endangered, and they are then made
to surrender them, to leave their wives and chil-
dren, to risk, perhaps, never again setting eyes
on the beloved scene.

The patriotism which sacrifices the profound
loves of men is a sham. It is known to be a fraud
by those who profit by it, yet so helpless are they
beneath the grinding force of the industrial system
that they, too, have to assume this perverted love
of country and to risk the loss of their sons, though
not that of their wealth. The system is too
powerful to be disturbed by war. To those who
have it gives in abundance, from those who have
not it takes away even that which they have.

It is small wonder that in time of war the cry
of liberty should be raised, for war makes plain the
general condition of slavery, which is so abject that
the cry of liberty lures men deeper into the morass.


Men are possessed by the grotesque idea that they
can win back their liberty by destroying that of
others. One nation accuses another of stealing
liberty, of having base designs upon that which all
have been engaged in destroying. Having failed
to find liberty in life, they seek it in death, and this
is the fatal and inevitable end of the abuse of
patriotism and of the basic loves of men.

Man passes from the prison of the womb to the
prison of the grave. His life should be free; but
abused, gulled, cheated by his fellows, he seems
for ever to be attempting to thrust his way to one
or other of these prisons. Appalled, it would seem,
by the mysteries at either end of his being, he is
for ever demanding of them some clue to his
purpose, some support for his difficulties, and in
both he is met with the silence of eternity. He
longs for deliverance from the obsession of the
womb and the obsession of the grave, and for a
truth that shall reconcile the warmth of the one
with the coldness of the other. Love promises
him a revelation of the truth of the womb; religion
lures him on to seek the truth of the grave. Mean-
while life slips away, and seems so brief that it can
contain no truth. His personal loves are not
enough : he must seek a love in which he can lose
his personality, some great collective passion in
which he can sink his doubts and tremors, his
terrors of his two prisons. These terrors drag him
down until he will make of life another prison that
he may not suffer too violent a change in the form


of his existence and may approximate as near as
possible, without actual sacrifice of existence, to
what, if he sinks so low, he had much better have
been stillborn.

To this end moves the pressure of modern
society, which makes of every country a prison-
yard in which sullen men pace round and round at
the bidding of their warders, until, at last, im-
patient of their tiresome duties, the warders have
set one gang of prisoners against another. They
had to do that or to open the prison-gates and let
them free.

Why complain? Life has taken that form.
Surely it is on the whole better than the mediaeval.

There was more freedom then, and to acquiesce
in this is to say that men are helpless, that life can
do with them as it will. It is to submit to the
tyranny of the womb and the tyranny of the grave,
and to let their darkness put out the light of the

The key to the prison-gates is love love of
humanity, love of country, love of home, love of
children. Let that be the basis of society, and the
light of the world will shine again. It will drive
back the darkness that proceeds from birth and
death, and it will conquer the fear that the darkness
instils into the hearts of men. It will kindle hope,
courage, and energy from which to breed mind,
the only power that can control the industrial
machine or the herds of men who are harnessed
to it. Only in love can freedom be found in love
seeking marriage with truth.


This love is the irresistible power that has driven
men from one torment to another, from prison to
prison, from tragedy to tragedy. For life is tragic.
Let us have done with all foolish pretences that life
is a game or a joke or a time of pleasure. Games,
jokes, pleasures all have their place in life, but
the salt of life is its tragedy, the noble heroisn.
with which men struggle to break free of the dual
tyranny with which they are overshadowed, and by
work and unending bitter effort add to the light of
the sun the .inward light which they have dis-
covered in themselves.

" More light ! More light ! " The light of the
sun reveals the outward world. The inner light
of the soul reveals the inner world, to the explora-
tion of which every energy, every passion, should
be turned. And to this service we must command
the energy and the passion of patriotism. Not a
place in the sun is needed by the love of country,
but a place in the inner world, where harmony and
purpose are to be sought. Here understanding is
bred, and here liberty and tolerance dwell. Here
already is a great international system in which it
is impossible to hate a man because he is a German
or a Russian or an Englishman. Here superficial
differences fall away and fundamental differences
are reconciled. Material and temporal interests
fall into their place and serve spiritual and eternal
unity. Here is peace and here is freedom com-
manding all the activities of men, interlocking
them all, combining all their loves, uniting them


against their hatreds and their foolish, shallow

This is not mere visionary hope. It is a
description of a living actuality. The central peace
of the world cannot be attained by war. The free-
dom won and established in the past cannot b"
destroyed. Those who attempt to defile it destroy
themselves and their dupes, who, though they be
numbered in millions, are yet impotent. Still, the
good deed and the true word will shine like a
candle in a world of shadows.

Truly it is in such a world that we now live
The living are more ghostly than the dead. The
thin howl of their patriotism wastes away into a
shrill scream toorne away by the wind. But in the
hearts of those who desire freedom rises the full
song of the love of country no wistful dreaming
of old memories, but the superb chant of present
glories and the confident hope of future joys as
more and more the visible scene of our pilgrimage
is illuminated by the invisible light. There is a
clear call to the shadows to put on flesh, to exult
in their manhood, to let their eyes so shine that
every one of them is a candle before the Lord.
There is the command : " Put off the uniforms of
patriotism, for they are shrouds. Put on the garb
of honest work, that you may prove your love of
country by making it a grand instrument in the
service of humanity." Only in such service is a
country free, and only in such service can the men
in it be free men, free to love their country, free


to contribute their love in their work to its life,
free to make the homes which are the cells whereof
a country is composed.

With all men working in such a spirit and in
such a service, there would soon be an end of the
foolish superstructure of society in which in the
modern world all men take so false a pride. A
country would then be worthy of love. It would
be inspired with it, thrilling with it. It would be
animated by something worthy to be called


THE failure of men to establish in human
society sufficient liberty to withstand a
general crisis brings sharply to the view
the problem of the freedom of women, the con-
sideration of which soon makes it clear that
here we are probing very near to the heart of the

In regarding the individual as a spiritual entity
in the preceding chapters no sex-difference has
been considered, nor is any such consideration
possible. If the individual is in fact to be a
recognised political entity, then women also must
be considered as individuals.

In the aristocratically constructed society from
which humanity is so painfully emerging only
fortunate individuals were accorded political
entity, which has always been regarded as a
privilege. In a democratically constructed society
it is a right, which is symbolised in the vote.
Women claiming that right have demanded the
vote, and those who believe in political entity as
a privilege have denied it them, thereby admitting
that Great Britain is not in fact democratic. Great
Britain, like every other civilised country, is a
plutocracy, differing from the rest only as being
more subject to the caprices of public opinion.

As the most inflammatory prejudices are those
relating to sex, public opinion is in this matter of
the political claims of women more than usually
capricious and therefore obstinate, and therefore


on the side of privilege, which claims the support
of the orthodox Christian ideal of women as beings
so pure as to be above the distressing squalor of
the masculine hubbub of the market-place and the
legislature. How this ideal is reconciled with the
general subjection of women it is impossible to
say, though probably ideal and practice are, as in
so many other affairs, kept in separate compart-
ments of the mind. An Englishman or an
American will quite honestly assure a woman one
week that she is an angel of whom he is entirely
unworthy, and the next clap her into economic
slavery, even, so strong is the force of tradition,
when she has money of her own or can earn her
own living. The prejudice against the indepen-
dence of women is dying, but it will linger for
many years yet most jealously to watch the
morality they evolve to suit their new condition.

Independence is not freedom. It is only the
opportunity for it which should be granted to
every man and woman. In a properly ordered
world it would be their birthright; but we live in
a world where all men in all countries are economic -
ally enslaved. If a great many can do as they like,
it is because they do not like anything very much,
and the greater number have little chance of liking
anything but what they can get.

The pressure of this vast universal slavery
weighs most heavily upon the woman, who in the
ordinary family has to face the real struggle with
the difficulties of living. At the same time she


has to fulfil the delicate and most precious duties
of a wife and a mother. And the astonishing
creatures who handle this intricate and arduous
position successfully are treated as inferior beings
and unfit for political entity. When they accept
such treatment they become so, and many women
do sink their humanity in their motherhood ana
wifehood. The physical effort needed for child
birth often produces apathy and an unintelligent
satisfaction, and the woman then consents to put
up with such relationship with society as she can
procure through her man.

This is bad enough for the women to whom it
actually happens, but it is outrageous that it should
be taken as the model for the position of women
in society, for it means a despairing fling of the
hands in the face of the physical fact, and that fact
of all the most inspiring, the most life-giving and
revealing. It is as though men, wrenching free of
the tyranny of sex, thrust women down into it
again the ancient delusion of procuring freedom at
someone else's expense, and this delusion has
produced the twin tyrannies of marriage and
prostitution, the legal and the illicit forms of
economic slavery.

To assail marriage is not to deny the essential
spiritual principle of marriage, which is the very
hub and centre of human society; but that principle
is debauched and corrupted by the subjection of
women at the bidding of a supposed economic
necessity. That marriage is alone honourable


which has grown out of a passionate spiritual
necessity and has become a house of freedom
wherein the lovers dwell to bless with their free-
dom all who come in contact with them. Every
other union is a dishonourable folly, and it is just
here that the machinery of society breaks down,
for it is made to attempt that which is beyond it.
It is impossible to test the quality of a marriage
except by experience. If it withstand the test, it
will endure; if not, it will fail and will be a lasting
source of misery. To admit failure in a society
without liberty and tolerance is to meet scandal,
condemnation, and ruin, all of which fall most
heavily upon the woman, who, economically a
slave, politically at a disadvantage, must, if she is
honest and breaks away, face the world crippled,
probably in the end to be driven to seek the
protection of another man. If it be her luck to
make a more successful adventure in marriage,
well and good, though the stigma of her honesty
remains. IT, however, she fails once more or
cynically accepts prostitution that is, sex-accom-
modation as an economic bargain her posftion is
hopeless. Society, it is said, must be protected
against the very evils which itself creates and
aggravates. But a free society would not require
the protection of prejudice. By making room for
marriage at its highest, by allowing generously for
failure, where failure is so fatally easy and so much
the common experience, there would be removed
that exasperation which is the most frequent cause


of immorality. Human passions are only
dangerous and destructive if they are severed from
the central passion for freedom. This is admirably
secured by the code of modern morals, and society
insists upon defending itself from those passions
which it has robbed of health. The passions of
men are diverted into unworthy channels, while
the passions of women are cramped and poisoned
by their captivity. The result is the degradation
of experience into sensationalism and a huge
increase of boredom and misery.

As the industrial system has weighed most
heavily upon women through marriage and prosti-
tution, it is not surprising that they should be the
first to revolt against it, and it seems probable that
it will be from women that the impulse towards
freedom will come to sting men out of the apathy
into which they have been brought, partly by the
monotony of their labours, partly by the apparent
prosperity and security with which they are
rewarded. Women, on the other hand, have to
bear in the home a monotony of toil with which
that of the factory is light, while of the apparent
prosperity and security they have very little. Their
condition is bad enough to produce a spirit of
revolt, a deep feeling of horror and outrage which
in the great mass of men is palliated by the acces-
sibility of small pleasures. These soothe their
anxieties and make it the harder for them to
realise their lack of freedom.

Soothing the anxieties of women is a more


expensive business, and the industrial system has
so far failed to produce wealth enough for that.
Yet millions of women have been numbed by the
horrid difficulties of their domestic servitude and
paralysed by their ignorance and by their vam
efforts to win a certaio modicum of freedom froro
men by devotion.

The natural remedy is being found in the life of
the streets. Women 'also are beginning to seek
outside the home the comfort they have failed to
find in it, as both sexes must fail until they realise
that a home, like other spiritual things, is begotten,
not made. Hands cannot make it, neither can
machines, and if these alone be relied on to
maintain it then it must decay and perish.

What the home is that will the community be
Freedom, therefore, like charity, begins at home,
and the first step towards the freedom of humanity
is the emancipation of women. Once they hav^
tasted freedom they can be entrusted to insist upon
it in men and they will not accept slavish sluggards
as lovers and husbands.

The idea of the emancipation of women is
accomplished, and the fact must follow, for human
life is dragged painfully in the wake of the
conquest of ideas. Once an idea is gained, folly,
prejudice, and privilege are powerless to avert its
realisation. Women cannot work for their living ?
They can and do. Women cannot defend the com-
munity? Their efforts alone have made defence
possible in the Great War. Still, they do not claim


the vote as a reward but as a right, symbolical of
their right to share in the work of civilisation and
in the disposition and distribution of the results
of that work.

Are they incapable of distinguishing between a
Tory and a Liberal ? They are not alone in that.
They can distinguish readily enough between the
sincere, purposeful man and the blatant, ambitious
fool, which in a time of crisis is the only distinction
that matters. Their interests are the most funda-
mental and living interests of the community, and
upon them it is essential for the good of the
community that they should vote.

The political freedom of women is at hand.
Will it bring with it social and moral freedom?
Men will be more jealous of their sexual privileges
than they have been of their political. But with
the emancipation of women those privileges will
have to be amended and promoted into rights.
This will mean a fundamental modification of
theory and practice. More liberty means less
licence, which is one great reason why the
privileged oppose the growth of liberty so stub-
bornly and why they have fought the recognition
of the rights of women so fiercely step by step.

Those battles are over. The rights of women
are recognised. It remains only to be seen what
use women will make of their liberty and how they
will prepare themselves for its enjoyment. I know
of no reason why girls should not run the same
risks as boys, and why they should not be as fully



and as openly educated for the part they are to play
in social life. Emotional experience is even more
vital to a woman than to a man. A woman who
has had the emotional experience proper to her
temperament is almost a creature of a kind quite
other to her sisters in whom emotional experience
has been baffled, and the right to achieve this
miracle is the most fundamental of all the rights
claimed by women. Fully recognised, it could
bring into the world an immense force, a living
beauty, a deep surging song, an inspiration and a
stimulus to imagination and effort which in a very
few generations would change the whole aspect of
humanity. It would transfigure love, illuminate
motherhood, and make of marriage the most holy
phenomenon in the whole range of human
experience. It would create an atmosphere in
which superstition could hardly live, lies and
myths would lose half their power, truth would
shine in the ways of common trade, and the range
of understanding would be immeasurably widened.
For there is in woman so fortunate a quickness of
knowledge, before which the intellect must bow,
as it must bow before the rain and the wind and the
flowers in the hedgerows. Such a woman is like
a fruit-tree in blossom, and such a woman is free

1 2 3 5 7

Online LibraryGilbert CannanFreedom → online text (page 5 of 7)