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Faith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War online

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we actually have a sense of pride when we are ordered
about. It makes us feel that we are really serving.

We may notice here a curious side-movement, a
counter-action to the main stream making for union.
Such counter-actions are, of course, always to be ex-
pected and need cause no surprise. Why is it that,
among these great steady forces of union and mutual
trust, we have sudden flashes of the very opposite, es-
pecially of wild suspicions of the herd-leaders? I do not
mean mere spy-mania. That is simple enough, a morbid
excess of a perfectly natural feeling directed against the
common enemy. You desire passionately to capture a
real German spy; and, since you cannot find one, you
make up a bogus one and capture him. I mean a similar
mania, though much weaker and rarer, directed against
the herd itself: the semi-insane suspicions of Prince
Louis of Battenberg, of Lord Haldane, and of persons


even more exalted. Partly, these impulses are the re-
mains of old quarrels in feeble minds. But partly they
have a real biological origin. For while, in ordinary
dangers, the safety of the future race depends on the
individuals serving and trusting their herd, there are
moments when the only chance of safety lies in their
deserting and rejecting it. If once the herd is really con-
quered and in the power of the enemy, then the cry must
be "Sauve qui peut" and the panic which is generally
disastrous is now a protection. Thus these small cases
of panic, though practically unimportant, are psycho-
logically interesting and have their proper evolutionist

So far we have found, first, that the herd draws to-
gether, and next, that the individual subordinates him-
self to the herd. Thirdly, it seems clear that this closer
herd union has an effect upon the emotions, and a two-
fold effect. As all readers of psychology know, herd
union intensifies all the emotions which are felt in com-
mon. The effect is so strong and so striking that some
writers have treated it as a kind of mystery and de-
scribed it in language that is almost mythological. But
there does not seem to be anything inexplicable in the
matter. Emotion is infectious. Each member of a herd
which is in the grasp of some emotion is himself in a
" suggestible' ' state and is also exerting " suggestion"
upon his neighbours. They are all directly stimulating
his emotion and he theirs. And doubtless we should also
remember that, herd emotion being itself a very old and
deep-rooted animal affection, its stimulation has prob-
ably a sympathetic effect on all kinds of similar dis-
turbances, such as fear and anger and animal desires of
various sorts.


Furthermore, herd union often gives the suppressed
subconscious forces their chance of satisfaction. Hence
come the atrocities committed by crowds. Some dor-
mant desire, existing in your nature but normally sup-
pressed, is suddenly encouraged by suggestion. You see
a look in your neighbour's face, and he in yours; and in
a flash you both know what that look means. You dare
to own a feeling which, in your normal condition, you
would have strangled unborn. Suppressed instinct calls
to instinct across the gulf of personality, and the in-
famous thing is half done. For the herd, besides tempt-
ing you, also offers you a road of impunity. You can
repudiate responsibility afterwards. It is never exactly
you that really did the thing. It is the crowd that did
it, and the crowd has now ceased to exist. M. Lenotre,
in his studies of the French Revolution, has commented
on the somewhat ghastly fact that in moments of herd
excitement people on the verge of lunacy, people touched
by persecution mania, by suspicion mania, by actual
homicidal mania, are apt to become leaders and inspire
confidence. The same phenomenon has been noticed in
certain revolutionary movements in Russia.

In England, fortunately, there has been so far almost
no field for this kind of dangerous herd excitement.
There has been of course some ferocity in speech, a com-
paratively harmless safety-valve for bad feelings, and in
some persons a preferable alternative to apoplexy; but
no violent actions and, I think, among decent people,
extraordinarily little vindictiveness.

But herd union does not intensify all emotions. It
intensifies those which are felt in common, but it actually
deadens and shuts down those which are only felt by the
individual. The herd is, as a matter of fact, habitually


callous towards the sufferings of its individual mem-
bers, and it infects each member with its own callous-
ness. To take a trifling instance, a friend writes to me
thus: "I discovered one day on a march that my boot
was hurting me; after an hour or so it became obvious
that my foot was bleeding. In ordinary times I should
have made a fuss and insisted on sympathy, and cer-
tainly not gone on walking for several miles. But as it
was, moving in a steady mass of people who were uninter-
ested in my boots, and I in theirs, I marched on without
making any remark or even feeling much. ,,

The ramifications of this herd callousness are very
curious and intricate. It acts even with fear, that most
contagious of emotions. The herd deadens the fears of
the individual so long as they do not become real herd
fears. Untrained troops will advance in close masses. It
needs good troops to advance individually in open order.
The close masses are much more dangerous and the
open order less so, but in the close mass the herd is all
round you, buttressing you and warming you, and it
deadens your private fear. It may also be that there is
here some hereditary instinct at work, derived from a
time when the act of huddling together was a real pro-
tection, as it is with sheep and cattle attacked by wolves.

If this herd callousness acts with fear, it acts of course
far more with scruples or pities. The first scruple or
ruth or criticism of the herd must rise in the breast of
some individual. If, by good luck, at the same moment
it occurs to some dozen other men, it has a chance of
asserting itself. Otherwise there is only the single unit
standing up, in his infinite weakness, against the great
herd. The scruple is silenced and dies.

Of course, in actual warfare this callousness is im-


mensely increased by the nature of the work which the
combatants are doing, and the immense change in their
habitual standard of expectation. You cannot always
be pitying people, or you would never get on with your
business. A friend of mine, a clever and kindly man, told
me how he and his men, after a long spell in the trenches,
utterly tired and chilled and dropping with sleep, had
at last got into their billets — a sort of warm cellar
where they could just squeeze in. They heard the
scream of shrapnel sweeping the street outside,* and
some soldiers of another regiment and nationality ran
up to the door begging for admittance and shelter. With
one voice, so my friend said, he and his men growled at
them and slammed the door in their faces. It was their
own cellar, and these people were intruders. And they
shut them out into the shrapnel much as, in ordinary
circumstances, they would perhaps have felt justified in
shutting them out into the rain. The strangest devel-
opment of all is perhaps the disregard of the herd for
its wounded, and the readiness of the wounded them-
selves to be so disregarded. Of course there are abun-
dant cases of the opposite sort, where individuals show
the utmost regard for the wounded, risk their lives for
them, and count no labour too hard for their sake. But
I have certainly met with well-authenticated stories,
notably of incidents in the German and Japanese and
Turkish armies, which seem to take one back to some
rather primitive instincts. The true animal herd hates
its wounded and kills them; cattle, wolves, porpoises,
every herd of gregarious animals does the same. Of
course it hates them. They not only tend to hamper its
movements, but they present vividly to its eyes and
senses the very thing that it most loathes — its own


blood and pain. And one finds also curious instances
where the wounded man himself is so absorbed in the
general herd emotion that he insists, even angrily, on
being left alone.

Thus, under the influence of herd union, common
emotions are intensified, individual emotions deadened.

Now thought, unlike emotion, is markedly individual
and personal. It is not infectious. It is communicated by
articulate language. The herd growls, cries, sobs, some-
times laughs; but it finds speech very difficult. Again,
thought is critical, and the herd wants unanimity, not
criticism. Consequently herd union deadens thought.

True, the herd leader must think and plan, and the
herd will obey him. In an organized army, where dis-
cipline and organization powerfully counteract many of
the normal herd characteristics, thought sits enthroned
and directs the whole mass. But it is a special kind of
thought, under central control and devoted simply to
attaining the purposes of the herd. Other thought is

For instance, if the herd is angry, it is quite simply
angry with another herd. This state of mind is normal
among savages and primitive men. Some one belonging
to a tribe over the river has speared one of our cows,
therefore we catch some other person belonging to a
different tribe over the river and club him on the head.
Herd justice is satisfied. It only sees things in herds.
"The Germans" did so-and-so; therefore punish "the
Germans": "the English" did so-and-so; therefore
punish "the English." Whenever a herd is offended by
some action, it is made happy by punishing as dramati-
cally as possible several people who did not do it. Collec-
tive anger, collective punishment, is always opposed to


justice, because justice applies only to individuals. And
again, the more angry a herd is, the less evidence it needs
that there is due cause for its anger. Accuse a man of
some irregularity in his accounts, and the herd will ex-
pect to have the charge duly proved. But accuse him of
having drenched little girls in paraffin and set fire to
them, and the herd will very likely tear him — or some
one else — to pieces at once without further evidence.

By this process of killing out thought the herd sinks
all its members in itself and assimilates them to an
average. And this average is in some ways above but in
most considerably below that of the average man in
normal life. For it is that of the average man not think-
ing but merely feeling. Only the leader has the function
of thinking; hence his enormous and uncanny power.

Lastly, let us consider the effect of this herd union on
religion. At first sight the answer would seem simple.
Religion is a network of primitive collective emotions,
and any stimulus which works upon such emotions is
likely, by force of sympathy, to rouse religious emotion
at the same time. At any rate some of the causes which
have recently roused herd emotion in Europe are just
the causes on which religious emotion is often said to be
based. Man has been made to feel the presence of terrific
forces over which he has no control. He has been taught,
crudely and violently, his dependence on the unknown.
On this line of reasoning, the religious life of the world
should be greatly intensified. Yet there are serious con-
siderations leading to the opposite conclusion. A world
so mad and evil, however terrific, can hardly seem like
the mirror in which to see God. I remember a dreadful
incident in one of the consular reports of the Armenian


massacres of 1895. At that time the universal dread and
horror throughout Armenia sent most people praying
day and night in the churches. But the report tells of
one woman who sat by the road and refused to pray.
"Do you not see what has happened?" she said. "God
has gone mad. It is no use to pray to Him." I have
myself talked on different days to two soldiers who gave
vivid accounts of the hideous proceedings of the war
in Flanders and of their own feelings of terror. Their
accounts agreed, but the conclusions they drew were
different. One man ended by saying with a sort of gasp:
" It made you believe in God, I can tell you." The other,
a more thoughtful man, said: "It made you doubt the
existence of God." I think that the effect of this year
of history will be to discourage the higher kind of reli-
gion and immensely strengthen the lower.

Let me try to analyze this conclusion more closely,
and see what we mean in this context by "higher" and
"lower." I hope that most of my hearers will agree with
me, or at least not disagree violently, in assuming that
the attributes which a man ascribes to his God are con-
ditioned by his own mind, its limitations and its direc-
tion. I could, if necessary, quote at least one Father of
the Church in support of such a view. Thus the God
whom a man worships is in some form a projection of his
own personality. The respective Gods of a seventeenth-
century Puritan, a Quaker, an Arab, a South-Sea Is-
lander, will all differ as their worshippers differ, and the
human qualities attributed to each will be projections
of the emotions of the worshipper. Thus, the lower, and
often the more passionate, religion will be directed to-
wards a God who is a projection of the worshipper's own
terrors and angers and desires and selfishness. The


higher religion weaves its conception of God more out of
its duties and its aspirations. To one of those soldiers
whom I mentioned above God was evidently a Being
of pure terror, fitly mirrored by the action of a host of
high-explosive shells. To many people in great oppres-
sion, again, God is almost an incarnation of their desire
for revenge: let those who doubt it read the history of
persecution. To others, an incarnation of Self. Some
of you will have seen Mr. Dyson's finely tragic cartoon
entitled "Alone with his God." It represents the
Kaiser kneeling, a devout and fully armed figure, before
another Kaiser exactly the same in dress and feature,
but gigantic, august, enthroned amid the incense of
ruined towns and burning churches, blindly staring and
inexpressibly sad. It is a picture to ponder on.

All these emotions, the self-worship, the hate, the
revenge, the terror, will be stimulated, and so will the
kind of religion that depends on them. The higher reli-
gion, of which it is less easy to speak, which expresses
itself in the love of righteousness, in the sense of one's
own imperfection, in the aspiration after a better life and
a world with more love in it . . . that sort of religion, I
fear, will chiefly come in reaction. It cannot be the
main flood. There is too much reflection in it, too much
inhibition. The main flood of herd emotion will sweep
over it for the time being, but it will not die. There is a
strange life in the things of the spirit.

I suggested at the beginning of this very rough and
sketchy analysis that perhaps at the end we might be
able to pass some definite moral judgement on the
change which has taken place in us, and say whether it
is a good or a bad change. But I fear that the suggestion


has not been realized. Herd instinct in itself is neither
good nor bad. It is simply part of the stuff of life, an
immense store of vitality out of which both good and
evil, extreme good and extreme evil, can spring.

Thus it is impossible to say without qualification that
we ought to rejoice in this stimulation of our herd
instincts or that we ought rigorously to master and
reject it. Neither alternative is sufficient. We must do
this and not leave the other undone. We must accept
gladly the quickened pulse, the new strength and cour-
age, the sense of brotherhood, the spirit of discipline and
self-sacrifice. All these things make life a finer thing.
It is nothing against a particular emotion that mankind
shares it with the ape and the tiger. Gorillas are famous
for their family life, and tigresses are, up to their lights,
exemplary mothers. As regards herd feeling in particular,
we should realize that even in its most unthinking forms
it generally makes a man kinder and more trustworthy
towards his immediate neighbours and daily associates;
the evil side of it comes into play much more rarely,
since it is directed against the far-off alien herd which is
seldom met or seen.

And lastly, we should remember one piece of certain
knowledge which is both immensely important and very
difficult to apply: that thwarted instincts act like poison
in human nature, and a normal and temperate satisfac-
tion of instinct is what keeps it sweet and sane. At
the present time, for instance, the people whose minds
have turned sour and vicious are almost always those
who can neither fight nor serve. The fighters and doc-
tors and nurses and public servants — as a rule their
herd desire is satisfied, and they do their work with
fervour and without bitterness.


Yet, after all, we are thinking beings. If we acknowl-
edge our instincts, we need not worship them. Thinking
itself is both an instinct and a form of public service, and
it is our business to watch ourselves. We must see that
this fresh force which we feel within us is not wrongly-
directed, and that the higher and gentler elements of life
are not swamped by this new strong wine. Millions of
men throughout Europe are, without stint or question,
offering all that is in them to the service of their coun-
tries and the command of their leaders. We must see,
so far as lies in our power, that we do not abuse that
heroic blindness. And, among us who remain at home,
we must see as far as possible that the normal texture
of life is not lowered or coarsened.

There has been current in England of recent years a
reaction against reason, an avowed worship of instinct
and tradition and even prejudice. The doctrines of this
reaction are in themselves fascinating, and they have
been preached by fascinating writers. The way of in-
stinct and old habit is so full of ease, so facile and strong
and untroubled. Look at the faces of men who are
wrapped up in some natural and instinctive purpose.
Look at a dog chasing his prey, a lover pursuing his be-
loved, a band of vigorous men advancing to battle, a
crowd of friends drinking and laughing. That shows us,
say the writers aforesaid, what life can be and what it
ought to be. " Let us not think and question," they say.
"Let us be healthy and direct, and not fret against the
main current of instinctive feeling and tradition."

In matters of art such a habit of mind may be valua-
ble ; in matters of truth or of conduct, it is, I believe, as
disastrous as it is alluring. True, the way of instinct is
pleasant. I happened once to be waiting at a railway


station on a summer afternoon. There were several rail-
way men about, rather wearily engaged on work of one
sort or another, when suddenly something happened
which made them look alert and cheerful and put a
kindly smile on their faces. One of them had seen some
small animal — I think a rat — and a little crowd of
them ran blithely and pelted it to death. One would
have seen the same kindly and happy smile, the same
healthy vigour, in the people who amid other circum-
stances let loose their hunting instincts on runaway
slaves or heretics or Jews. And the man among them
who should feel a qualm, who should check himself and
try to think whether such hunting was really a pleasant
and praiseworthy action, would, I have little doubt, have
looked guilty and uneasy and tongue-tied. His face
would have condemned him. "Why should he trouble
himself with thinking and criticizing?" people may say.
"Why not enjoy himself with his mates? Thought is just
as likely to lead you wrong as feeling is."

The answer of mankind to such pleadings should be
firm and clear. Human reason is very far from infallible,
but the only remedy for bad thinking is to think better.
The question was really settled for us thousands and
thousands of years ago, by those little lemurs in the
marshy forests. They took not the path of ease, but the
path of hard brain-work, and we their children must go
on with it. That is the way of life and the bettering of
life, to think and labour and build up; not to glide with
the current. We of the human race have our work in the
scheme of things; and to do our work we must use all our
powers, especially our greatest powers, those of thinking
and judging. And even if we deliberately set our faces in
the other direction, if we yield to the stream of instinct


and let scruples and doubts and inhibitions be swept
away, we shall not really find life easier. At least not
for long. For the powers to which we yield will only
demand more and more.

There is one character in Shakespeare, who is often
taken as a type — a very unflattering type, I admit — of
the follower of the mere instincts; who feels the release,
the joy, the sense of revelation which they bring, and
thinks that they will lead him to glory. And I suspect
that some modern adorers of instinct as against reason
will in the end awake to disillusion like that of Cali-
ban: —

What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a God,
And worship this dull fool I


(March, 1915)

Lord Haldane, Ladies and Gentlemen: —

My task to-night is anything but an easy one. I wish
to speak to one half of my audience only, though I am
more than pleased that the other half should overhear
all I say. I want to speak to the Indian students, and to
speak to them as frankly as possible. It would be easy
and very pleasant to expatiate on the achievements of the
Indian troops in the war and the loyalty shown by the
Indian people to the Empire. But I know that, if I did
so, some Indians would be tempted to smile sardonically,
and suspect that we have taken this loyalty too much as
our due, as a mere testimonial to our good government.
"We are loyal," an Indian friend of mine once said to
me; "but our loyalty is to India, not England." He
spoke only for himself, and I do not feel sure he was
right, even for himself. Loyalty is not a thing that is
owed. It is a thing that grows, or does not grow. When
people have been comrades and worked together for
a long time, — even with occasional quarrels, — there
rises normally among decent human beings a bond of
trust and a mutual expectation. Now, I believe that be-
tween India and England that bond exists. We have had
a long experience together and mostly — mostly — we
have not failed one another. In your times of need, in
1 Address to Indian students.


plague or famine, you confidently expect us to help, and
you find even our roughest subalterns and haughtiest
officials working their fingers to the bone to help your
people. In our times of need — well, you have not often
had the full chance of showing what you could do. It is
one of your grievances, and one with which I warmly
sympathize. But now, when we are threatened to our
very life, you have helped. You have given us more than
we ever dared expect. That message of the Indian kings
and princes which Mr. Roberts read out in the House of
Commons will not easily be forgotten.

We shall, I believe, win this war. India will share our
glory. The same battles will be emblazoned on the
banners of Indian and British regiments. But as you
share our glory you will share our dangers; and it is a
time of extreme gravity that fronts us when we look
into the future. Before the war we were disturbed by
an uncertain and treacherous neighbour. After the war
we shall have a deadly enemy. It seems to me that
the irony of history has been at work with Great
Britain. As a nation we emphatically believe in peace.
We are a people of traders and manufacturers who live
by peace. Our ideals and philosophies are all peaceful.
Yet here we stand, in the centre of an enormous war.
Again, we believe in freedom, democracy, government
by consent. We have largely been the teachers of those
ideals to the world. And here we have climbed or
slipped, steered or drifted, into the administration of a
vast empire where we are governing dozens of other
races by a system imposed from without and not de-
pendent on the consent of the governed. No doubt we

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 5 of 19)