Gilbert Murray.

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

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govern well. Some of you will have criticisms to make,
but on the whole most people admit that we bring to the


art of government unrivalled experience and a great
tradition of public spirit. But, granted that we govern
well, we are still governing from outside, not by means
of free institutions, and not in the spirit that we nor-
mally consider British. And more, we do not see — I
believe no one in the world sees — how any other
method of government is possible, except, indeed, as
a goal to work towards by progressive and careful
change. That was the policy laid down by the Liberal
statesmen of the nineteenth century, and to that I hope
we shall always hold.

What is the end to be? — not now, but hereafter, when
you and I are in our graves to east or west of the great
ocean, and the disputes, and grievances, and schemes of
policy that divided us are forgotten or only remembered
as curious puzzles for future historians to make sense of.
Is the great Empire — I wish there was another word
for it — of which you and I are part, for which your
brothers and mine are shedding their blood together in
Flanders, in Egypt, on the shores of the Persian Gulf, to
grow to be indeed a Commonwealth, the greatest com-
munity of free men and women that the world has seen?
Or is it to fail, to end in bloodshed and ruin? Or again to
establish and stereotype itself as one more in the great
world-list of despotic empires, Babylon, Egypt, Rome,
Byzantium, which have sometimes lasted so long and
passed away so unregretted?

That is the problem on which you and we are set.
Neither of us can reject it. From the ends of the earth
two utterly different civilizations, which yet were closely
akin in their remote origins, have been caught again by
the process of world-history and set together to this
enormous task. Of course we may cut the problem: we


may rush upon failure by mere fratricide. We may shirk
it by abandoning our deepest ideals. We may, by great
labour and heroic patience, by constant hard thinking
and facing of facts, solve it successfully by building up
the great Commonwealth of which I spoke.

I do not underrate the difficulties that lie before us
or the differences that separate us. One of them was
brought home to me suddenly and vividly some time ago.
There was a meeting to discuss our Government's policy
in Persia; one speaker defending the Government sug-
gested that our Ministers, knowing that Germany was
ready to spring at the throat of her rivals at the first
sign of difference between them, thought the danger
of disintegration to Persia not too high a price to pay for
European peace. The plea was I will not say accepted,
but considered reasonable by the meeting. Then there
rose an Indian — not a Parsee. He spoke quietly, not
like a foreigner or one speaking a language strange to
him. He seemed essentially one of us. And with an emo-
tion that vibrated through the room he said that to him
and his, European peace was as dust in the balance com-
pared with the disintegration of Persia. Many of those
who applauded him must have done so with a certain
sense of guilt, a feeling that Persia had been to them a
remote, unknown, half-civilized place which might, in
a great crisis, be legitimately sacrificed to the peace of
Europe. We must try to feel as an Indian would about
such things as this; or at least to understand how he
would feel.

We shall have clashes of that sort, clashes arising
chiefly from facts of geography. We shall have inter-
minable clashes of habit and national character; clashes
of sentiment. An instance is our present war with


Turkey. There has been a strain there, and both sides
have met it with great forbearance. Indian Moslems
have to look on while we batter down the door of a great
Moslem empire. We, because of our relations to you,
have stood a great deal more from Turkey than we
should naturally be inclined to stand. Yes : as the Ger-
mans have pointed out, there are between you and us
the seeds of disunion. Of course there are, any one can
see them. But there are seeds of brotherhood as well.
And it does not follow that seeds of evil need grow more
than other seeds. There is no nation so uniform, no
small society, no band of friends, which has not seeds of
disunion in it. It rests with men themselves, with their
good-will and strength of character, whether amid the
million seeds which life scatters, one land or another
comes to maturity. We must see to it that the seeds
of disunion die while the others ripen.

Again, we shall have clashes arising out of our dif-
ferences of religion. The situation needs toleration, for-
bearance: yes, but it needs more than that. It needs
active mutual appreciation. If Christian and Moslem,
Christian and Hindu, are to form a real Common-
wealth, it is not enough for one of them to say of the
others, " Such-and-such is a good fellow in spite of his
religion." You must see that he is good because of his
religion. There is some inherent religious quality, some
piety, or devotion, which comes out in one religion as
in another, and deserves respect. There are doubtless
also some special qualities which are fostered specially
by each separate religion. I speak from a point of view
which some of you will share, some not; though I have
heard a missionary say nearly as much. To me it seems
to the last degree improbable that any one religion, or


any one form of culture, has the monopoly of truth, and
I expect Christianity to be improved by contact and
comparison of thought with other great religions.

And further: if this is true in religion, it must be true
also in civilization. Look at any single civilization as it
now exists. Look at it with plenty of common sense,
but also a little imagination. England's is a fine civiliza-
tion; it is both stable and progressive. Almost every de-
partment of it, if you ask the experts, is demonstrably

Yet look through England. Go to the hotels and
boarding-houses and notice the people you see ; walk the
streets of the great manufacturing towns; go to the places
of amusement, the theatres and music-halls, and observe
the audiences. Is it a civilization with which one can
feel content? Is it a civilization to impose, untempered,
upon the world? Clearly not. And your own civilization
— I will not be impolite to it. I will leave you yourselves
to think it over; to ask if it is satisfactory, if it is free
from characteristics that fill you with discouragement
and even some sense of shame, if it can. possibly hold up
its head as an equal among the great moving forces of
the modern world except by drawing abundantly on the
enlightenment of the West? I do not know what your
various answers will be. But for my own part I believe
that the true development of this vast heterogeneous
mass of strong life which we call the British Empire will
involve utilizing all the different elements and contribu-
tions which our various races and societies can bring to
the common stock. The process is already going on. It
lies with us to make it into a good process or a bad. It
is very easy to choose the bad and cheap and vulgar
things in one another's habits. The way to do that is to


begin by despising one another and looking out for the
contemptible things. If we respect one another, we shall
tend more to notice and cultivate what is good.

One great permanent difficulty — you see all my
speech is made up of difficulties — is the vastness and
variety of our respective nations. Many a time it must
happen that an Englishman and an Indian, talking as
friends over their national differences, feel that if the
matter lay with them, if they too were their respective
nations, it would not be hard to come to an understand-
ing. But behind each is a trail of innumerable human
beings, utterly unlike the two supposed principals. I
can think of many pairs of sensible people who would do
for my purpose ; several statesmen, a great many writers
and historians. But imagine, for example, Lord Haldane
and the late Mr. Gokhale. Clearly they would under-
stand each other : they might or might not agree on some
special point, but the basis of common action and agree-
ment and mutual respect would be there. But as you
look at England, doubtless you see behind Lord Haldane
masses of people less understanding and less sympa-
thetic, cheerful, ignorant subalterns, common soldiers
who talk contemptuously about " black men"; deter-
mined old gentlemen, most falsely called " imperialists,"
who cry out that India was taken by the sword and must
be held by the sword. You see in your indignant im-
agination the squalid crowds that reel out of our public
houses and music-halls and race-courses, and ask with
secret rage if these are your born masters; if these are
the people who claim by blood and birth and colour to
be your inherent superiors! Is that overstated? No; I
think not; though we must always remember in a well-
ordered modern State how little the baser elements of a


population direct its policy. But there they are. And on
the other side, behind Mr. Gokhale — you can imagine
better than I can describe the extraordinary combina-
tion of peoples, of different habits and ethics, different
religions and superstitions, different levels of culture
from almost the highest to the lowest. "One nation
governing another": put at its crudest, such a principle
implies putting the whole of one of these vast, incoher-
ent, heterogeneous masses on top of the other to govern
it. Any such process would be clearly wrong. It is a
principle which even the stoutest, old-fashioned imperi-
alist has abandoned. The only possible plan is, by one
method or another, to select out of both masses those
capable of governing best, and of best understanding
and learning from one another.

For the rest, we in our home politics have a large task
before us in levelling up the conditions of our poorer
classes to something worthier of our place in the world,
in material conditions, in education, in outlook on the
whole of life. Our task will be heavy; but a task of the
same character lies before you, and yours will be colossal.
You have a far larger field to plough; you have to cut
your way through a far deeper and wilder jungle. To
raise the level of life in Great Britain — in India: the
more they are both raised to the level of their best peo-
ple, the more they will be ready to understand and help
one another, the more all the unnecessary difficulties
between the two parties will tend to disappear.

"Bande Mataram": "Hail, Mother!" I attended
lately an Indian dinner where that Nationalist motto
met one's eye at every turn. You will work in devotion
to your Mother. It is well that you should. And no one
who knows you can doubt that you have among you the


spirit of martyrs. That is a fine thing; in some emergen-
cies of life an indispensable thing. But there is something
far finer, and that is the spirit of a statesman. A martyr
sacrifices himself rather than be false to some principle.
A statesman, without thinking of himself one way or
another, when he finds some evil or dangerous state of
affairs sees how to make it safe or good. Let us serve our
Mothers, you yours and we ours, so far as we can in the
spirit of statesmen.

But is there not — I put this question quite practically
— a Greater Mother whose children we all are, whose
day is coming, but not yet come? Cannot you and we
work together in the service of this Greater Common-
wealth, which is also the service of humanity? We must
be together. I can see no future for an isolated India;
no happy future for a Great Britain which is content to
boast that she holds India merely by the sword. Work-
ing together, we have formidable obstacles to face, but
we have wonderful and unique gifts to contribute.
Nations are apt to see vividly enough one another's
faults, but they would do better to remember, as J. S.
Mill puts it, their " reciprocal superiorities." I will not
try now to define them. My own respect for England — ■
if for the moment I may speak as one who has but little
pure English blood in his veins, being an Australian
Irishman of Scotch descent — has grown steadily with
experience. But I will not dwell on special virtues of
England, nor yet on those of India; on your wonderful
intellectual aptitude and readiness for fine thought; on
your great past which is still living; on your people's
characteristic aloofness from the vulgarity of modern
Western life; on the qualities shown in your Moslem
architecture, your Hindu religious thought. But here


I would venture, if I may, to suggest a caution. Some
writers, I know, hold up for your admiration and exam-
ple that famous episode in the Bhagavad Gita in which
even the noise of battle has to wait unregarded while
the stream of philosophic thinking runs its course. That
spirit is a fine element in life; but, if I may for once give
advice, I will say: Beware of letting it be more than an
clement. To an Indian who wishes to make India great
I would say, Beware of losing yourself in reverie while
others are fighting the battles of life. Beware altogether
of dreams and dreamlike passions. Face facts; get
knowledge; cultivate common sense; learn to trust and
be trusted; serve your community. Do not lose your-
selves in admiration of your own past or your own racial
peculiarities; think of your future, and be not afraid to
uproot from your culture every element which prevents
India taking her place among free and progressive nations.
You need never be afraid that your own special quali-
ties will not remain and exercise their valuable influence
on the world. You will teach us and we you. And other
nations will be near, bringing their help and their lessons :
America not far off with her generous swiftness of move-
ment and her loving-kindness towards all in suffering;
not very far, perhaps, even our present enemies with
their great powers of discipline, of self-devotion, and of
remorseless effectiveness. Let us preserve our national
characters. Let us use our feelings of patriotism and
nationalism to inspire us and to give strength to our
hands; but at the back of our minds let us always re-
member our wider Commonwealth, our Greater Mo-
ther, and think of the time when we brother nations
may bring our various gifts to her feet and say together
our "Bande Mataram."

(October, 1915)

I should like before I begin to express to you the very
real gratitude I feel to a body like this in asking me to
give this address, and in treating one whose religious
views, freely expressed in books and lectures, are prob-
ably to the left of almost all those here present, not as
an outsider, but recognizing that people in my position
are also capable of a religious spirit, and of seeking after
truth in the same way as yourselves. I believe that you
and I are in real and fundamental sympathy both over
religious questions proper, and over a question like this
of the war, which tests one's ultimate beliefs and the real
working religion by which one lives. I think that we
may say that probably all here do begin, in their own
minds, by feeling the war as an ethical problem. Cer-
tainly that is the way it appealed to me, and it is from
that point of view that I wish to speak to-night.

Curiously enough, I remember speaking in this hall,
I suppose about fifteen years ago, against the policy of
the war in South Africa. I little imagined then that I
should live to speak in favour of the policy of a much
greater and more disastrous war, but that is what, on
the whole, I shall do. But I want to begin by facing
certain facts. Do not let us attempt to blind ourselves
or be blinded by phrases into thinking that the war is

1 Address to the Congress of Free Churches, October 27, 1915.


anything but a disaster, and an appalling disaster. Do
not let us be led away by views which have some gleam
of truth in them into believing that this war will put
an end to war — that it will convert Germany, and cer-
tainly convert Russia to liberal opinions, that it will
establish natural frontiers throughout Europe or that it
will work a moral regeneration in nations which were
somehow sapped by too many years of easy living in
peace. There is some truth, and very valuable truth, in
all those considerations, but they do not alter the fact
that the war is, as I said, an appalling disaster. We knew
when we entered upon it that it was a disaster — we
knew that we should suffer, and that all Europe w r ould

Now, let us run over very briefly the ways in which it
is doing evil. Let us face the evil first. There is, first,
the mere suffering, the leagues and leagues of human
suffering that is now spreading across Europe, the suffer-
ing of the soldiers, the actual wounded combatants, and
behind them the suffering of non-combatants, the suffer-
ing of people dispossessed, of refugees, of people turned
suddenly homeless into a world without pity. Behind
that you have the sufferings of dumb animals. We are
not likely to forget them. There is another side which we
are even less likely to forget, and that is our own personal
losses. There are very few people in this room who have
not suffered in that direct, personal way; there will be
still fewer by the end of the war. I do not want to dwell
upon that question ; the tears are very close behind our
eyes when we begin to think of that aspect of things, and
it is not for me to bring them forward. Think, again, of
the State's loss, the loss of all those chosen men; not
mere men taken haphazard, but young, strong men,


largely men of the most generous and self-sacrificing
impulses, who responded most swiftly to the call for
their loyalty and their lives. Some of them are dead,
some will come back injured, maimed, invalided, in
various ways broken. There is an old Greek proverb
which exactly expresses the experience that we shall be
forced to go through, "The spring is taken out of your
year." For a good time ahead the years of England and
of most of Europe will be without a spring. In that con-
sideration I think it is only fair, and I am certain that
an audience like this will agree with me, to add all the
nations together. It is not only we and our allies who are
suffering the loss there; it is a loss to humanity. Accord-
ing to the Russian proverb, "They are all sons of
mothers" — the wildest Senegalese, the most angry
Prussian. And that is the state that we are in. We re-
joice — of course we rejoice — to hear of great German
losses. We face the fact: we do rejoice; yet it is terrible
that we should have to; for the loss of these young Ger-
mans is also a great and a terrible loss to humanity. It
seems almost trivial after these considerations of life and
death, to think too much of our monetary losses; of the
fact that we have spent 1595 millions and that we are
throwing away money at the rate of nearly five millions
a day. Yet just think what it means; that precious sur-
plus with which we meant to make England finer in
every way — that surplus is gone.

From a rich, generous, sanguine nation putting her
hopes in the future, we shall emerge a rather poverty-
stricken nation, bound to consider every penny of in-
creased expenditure; a harassed nation, only fortunate
if we are still free. Just think of all our schemes of re-
form and how they are blown to the four winds —


schemes of social improvement, of industrial improve-
ment; a scheme like Lord Haldane's great education
scheme which was to begin by caring for the health of
the small child, and then lead him up by a great highway
from the primary school to the university ! How some
of us who were specially interested in education revelled
in the thought of that great idea; but it was going to cost
such a lot of money. It would cost nearly as much as
half a week of the war! Think what riches we had then,
and on the whole, although we are perhaps the most
generous nation in Europe, what little use we made of

We speak of spiritual regeneration as one of the results
of war, but here too there is the spiritual evil to be faced.
I do not speak merely of the danger of reaction. There
will be a grave danger of political reaction and of religious
reaction, and you will all have your work cut out for you
in that matter. The political reaction, I believe, will not
take the form of a mere wave of extreme conservatism;
the real danger will be a reaction against anything that
can be called mellow and wise in politics; the real danger
will be a struggle between crude, militarist reaction and
violent, unthinking democracy. As for religion, you are
probably all anxious as to what is going to happen there.
Every narrow form of religion is lifting up its horns
again; rank superstition is beginning to flourish. I am
told that fortune-tellers and crystal-gazers are really
having now the time of their lives. It will be for bodies
like yourselves to be careful about all that. But besides
that there is another more direct spiritual danger. We
cannot go on living an abnormal life without becoming
fundamentally disorganized. We have seen that, es-
pecially in Germany; with them it seems to be a tend-


ency much stronger and much worse than it is with us;
but clearly you cannot permanently concentrate your
mind on injuring your fellow creatures without habituat-
ing yourself to evil thoughts. In Germany, of course,
there is a deliberate cult of hatred. There is a process,
which I will not stop to analyze, a process utterly amaz-
ing, by which a highly civilized and ordinarily humane
nation has gone on from what I can only call atrocity to
atrocity. How these people have ever induced them-
selves to commit the crimes in Belgium which are
attested by Lord Bryce's Commission, or even to or-
ganize the flood of calculated mendacity that they pour
out day by day, and last of all to stand by passive and
apparently approving, while deeds like the new Arme-
nian massacres are going on under their aegis and in the
very presence of their consuls, — all this passes one's
imagination. Now, we do not act like that; there is
something or other in the English nature which will not
allow it. We shall show anger and passion, but we are
probably not capable of that kind of organized cruelty,
and I hope we never shall be. Yet the same forces are
at work.

I do not want to dwell upon this subject too long, but
when people talk of national regeneration or the reverse,
there is one very obvious and plain test which one looks
at first, and that is the drink bill. We have made a great
effort to restrain our drinking; large numbers of people
have given up consuming wine and spirits altogether,
following the King's example. We have made a great
effort and what is the result? The drink bill is up seven
millions as compared with the last year of peace ! That
seven millions is partly due to the increased price; but
at the old prices it would still be up rather over two


millions. And ahead, at the end of all this, what pros-
pect is there? There is sure to be poverty and unem-
ployment, great and long continued, just as there was
after 1815. I trust we shall be better able to face it; we
shall have thought out the difficulties more; we who are
left with any reasonable margin of subsistence will, I
hope, be more generous and more clear-sighted than our
ancestors a century earlier. But in any case there is
coming a time of great social distress and very little
money indeed to meet it with. We shall achieve, no
doubt, peace in Europe, we shall have probably some
better arrangement of frontiers, but underneath the
peace there will be terrific hatred. And in the heart of
Europe, instead of a treacherous and grasping neigh-
bour, we shall be left with a deadly enemy, living for

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I do not think that I have
shirked the indictment of this war. It is a terrible indict-
ment; and you will ask me, perhaps, after that descrip-
tion, if I still believe that our policy in declaring war was
right. Yes, I do. Have I any doubt in any corner of my
mind that the war was right? I have none. We took the

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 6 of 19)