Graham Wallas.

Human Nature in Politics Third Edition online

. (page 13 of 19)
Online LibraryGraham WallasHuman Nature in Politics Third Edition → online text (page 13 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

love of truth and of the searching courage of his dialectic.

If again, at an earlier age, children still in school are to be taught
what Mr. Wells calls 'the sense of the State,'[63] we may, by remembering
Athens, get some indication of the conditions on which success depends.
Children will not learn to love London while getting figures by heart as
to the millions of her inhabitants and the miles of her sewers. If their
love is to be roused by words, the words must be as beautiful and as
simple as the chorus in praise of Athens in the _Oedipus Coloneus_. But
such words are not written except by great poets who actually feel what
they write, and perhaps before we have a poet who loves London as
Sophocles loved Athens it may be necessary to make London itself
somewhat more lovely.

[63] _The future in America_, chapter ix.

The emotions of children are, however, most easily reached not by words
but by sights and sounds. If therefore, they are to love the State, they
should either be taken to see the noblest aspects of the State or those
aspects should be brought to them. And a public building or ceremony, if
it is to impress the unflinching eyes of childhood, must, like the
buildings of Ypres or Bruges or the ceremonies of Japan, be in truth
impressive. The beautiful aspect of social life is fortunately not to be
found in buildings and ceremonies only, and no Winchester boy used to
come back uninfluenced from a visit to Father Dolling in the slums of
Landport; though boys' eyes are even quicker to see what is genuine in
personal motive than in external pomp.

More subtle are the difficulties in the way of the deliberate
intensification by adult politicians of their own political emotions. A
life-long worker for education on the London School Board once told me
that when he wearied of his work - when the words of reports become mere
words, and the figures in the returns mere figures - he used to go down
to a school and look closely at the faces of the children in class after
class, till the freshness of his impulse came back. But for a man who is
about to try such an experiment on himself even the word 'emotion' is
dangerous. The worker in full work should desire cold and steady not hot
and disturbed impulse, and should perhaps keep the emotional stimulus of
his energy, when it is once formed, for the most part below the level of
full consciousness. The surgeon in a hospital is stimulated by every
sight and sound in the long rows of beds, and would be less devoted to
his work if he only saw a few patients brought to his house. But all
that he is conscious of during the working hours is the one purpose of
healing, on which the half-conscious impulses of brain and eye and hand
are harmoniously concentrated.

Perhaps indeed most adult politicians would gain rather by becoming
conscious of new vices than of new virtues. Some day, for instance, the
word 'opinion' itself may become the recognised name of the most
dangerous political vice. Men may teach themselves by habit and
association to suspect those inclinations and beliefs which, if they
neglect the duty of thought, appear in their minds they know not how,
and which, as long as their origin is not examined, can be created by
any clever organiser who is paid to do so. The most easily manipulated
State in the world would be one inhabited by a race of Nonconformist
business men who never followed up a train of political reasoning in
their lives, and who, as soon as they were aware of the existence of a
strong political conviction in their minds, should announce that it was
a matter of 'conscience' and therefore beyond the province of doubt or

But, it may be still asked, is it not Utopian to suppose that Plato's
conception of the Harmony of the Soul - the intensification both of
passion and of thought by their conscious co-ordination - can ever become
a part of the general political ideals of a modern nation? Perhaps most
men before the war between Russia and Japan would have answered, Yes.
Many men would now answer, No. The Japanese are apparently in some
respects less advanced in their conceptions of intellectual morality
than, say, the French. One hears, for instance, of incidents which seem
to show that liberty of thought is not always valued in Japanese
universities. But both during the years of preparation for the war, and
during the war itself, there was something in what one was told of the
combined emotional and intellectual attitude of the Japanese, which to a
European seemed wholly new. Napoleon contended against the 'idéologues'
who saw things as they wished them to be, and until he himself submitted
to his own illusions he ground them to powder. But we associate
Napoleon's clearness of vision with personal selfishness. Here was a
nation in which every private soldier outdid Napoleon in his
determination to see in warfare not great principles nor picturesque
traditions, but hard facts; and yet the fire of their patriotism was
hotter than Gambetta's. Something of this may have been due to the
inherited organisation of the Japanese race, but more seemed to be the
effect of their mental environment. They had whole-heartedly welcomed
that conception of Science which in Europe, where it was first
elaborated, still struggles with older ideals. Science with them had
allied, and indeed identified, itself with that idea of natural law
which, since they learnt it through China from Hindustan, had always
underlain their various religions.[64] They had acquired, therefore, a
mental outlook which was determinist without being fatalist, and which
combined the most absolute submission to Nature with untiring energy in
thought and action.

[64] See Okakura, _The Japanese Spirit_ (1905).

One would like to hope that in the West a similar fusion might take
place between the emotional and philosophical traditions of religion,
and the new conception of intellectual duty introduced by Science. The
political effect of such a fusion would be enormous. But for the moment
that hope is not easy. The inevitable conflict between old faith and new
knowledge has produced, one fears, throughout Christendom, a division
not only between the conclusions of religion and science, but also
between the religious and the scientific habit of mind. The scientific
men of to-day no longer dream of learning from an English Bishop, as
their predecessors learnt from Bishop Butler, the doctrine of
probability in conduct, the rule that while belief must never be fixed,
must indeed always be kept open for the least indication of new
evidence, action, where action is necessary, must be taken as resolutely
on imperfect knowledge, if that is the best available, as on the most
perfect demonstration. The policy of the last Vatican Encyclical will
leave few Abbots who are likely to work out, as Abbot Mendel worked out
in long years of patient observation, a new biological basis for organic
evolution. Mental habits count for more in politics than do the
acceptance or rejection of creeds or evidences. When an English
clergyman sits at his breakfast-table reading his _Times_ or _Mail_, his
attitude towards the news of the day is conditioned not by his belief or
doubt that he who uttered certain commandments about non-resistance and
poverty was God Himself, but by the degree to which he has been trained
to watch the causation of his opinions. As it is, Dr. Jameson's prepared
manifesto on the Johannesburg Raid stirred most clergymen like a
trumpet, and the suggestion that the latest socialist member of
Parliament is not a gentleman, produces in them a feeling of genuine
disgust and despair.

It may be therefore that the effective influence in politics of new
ideals of intellectual conduct will have to wait for a still wider
change of mental attitude, touching our life on many sides. Some day the
conception of a harmony of thought and passion may take the place, in
the deepest regions of our moral consciousness, of our present dreary
confusion and barren conflicts. If that day comes much in politics which
is now impossible will become possible. The politician will be able not
only to control and direct in himself the impulses of whose nature he is
more fully aware, but to assume in his hearers an understanding of his
aim. Ministers and Members of Parliament may then find their most
effective form of expression in that grave simplicity of speech which in
the best Japanese State papers rings so strangely to our ears, and
citizens may learn to look to their representatives, as the Japanese
army looked to their generals, for that unbought effort of the mind by
which alone man becomes at once the servant and the master of nature.



But our growing knowledge of the causation of political impulse, and of
the conditions of valid political reasoning, may be expected to change
not only our ideals of political conduct but also the structure of our
political institutions.

I have already pointed out that the democratic movement which produced
the constitutions under which most civilised nations now live, was
inspired by a purely intellectual conception of human nature which is
becoming every year more unreal to us. If, it may then be asked,
representative democracy was introduced under a mistaken view of the
conditions of its working, will not its introduction prove to have been
itself a mistake?

Any defender of representative democracy who rejects the traditional
democratic philosophy can only answer this question by starting again
from the beginning, and considering what are the ends representation is
intended to secure, and how far those ends are necessary to good

The first end may be roughly indicated by the word consent. The essence
of a representative government is that it depends on the periodically
renewed consent of a considerable proportion of the inhabitants; and the
degree of consent required may shade from the mere acceptance of
accomplished facts, to the announcement of positive decisions taken by a
majority of the citizens, which the government must interpret and obey.

The question, therefore, whether our adoption of representative
democracy was a mistake, raises the preliminary question whether the
consent of the members of a community is a necessary condition of good
government. To this question Plato, who among the political philosophers
of the ancient world stood at a point of view nearest to that of a
modern psychologist, unhesitatingly answered, No. To him it was
incredible that any stable polity could be based upon the mere fleeting
shadows of popular opinion. He proposed, therefore, in all seriousness,
that the citizens of his Republic should live under the despotic
government of those who by 'slaving for it'[65] had acquired a knowledge
of the reality which lay behind appearance. Comte, writing when modern
science was beginning to feel its strength, made, in effect, the same
proposal. Mr. H.G. Wells, in one of his sincere and courageous
speculations, follows Plato. He describes a Utopia which is the result
of the forcible overthrow of representative government by a voluntary
aristocracy of trained men of science. He appeals, in a phrase
consciously influenced by Plato's metaphysics, to 'the idea of a
comprehensive movement of disillusioned and illuminated men behind the
shams and patriotisms, the spites and personalities of the ostensible
world....'[66] There are some signs, in America as well as in England,
that an increasing number of those thinkers who are both passionately in
earnest in their desire for social change and disappointed in their
experience of democracy, may, as an alternative to the cold-blooded
manipulation of popular impulse and thought by professional politicians,
turn 'back to Plato'; and when once this question is started, neither
our existing mental habits nor our loyalty to democratic tradition will
prevent it from being fully discussed.

[65] [Greek: douleusanti tê ktêsei autou] (_Republic,_ p. 494).

[66] Wells, _A Modern Utopia_, p. 263. 'I know of no case for the
elective Democratic government of modern States that cannot be knocked
to pieces in five minutes. It is manifest that upon countless important
public issues there is no collective will, and nothing in the mind of
the average man except blank indifference; that an electional system
simply places power in the hands of the most skilful electioneers....'
Wells, _Anticipations_, p. 147.

To such a discussion we English, as the rulers of India, can bring an
experience of government without consent larger than any other that has
ever been tried under the conditions of modern civilisation. The
Covenanted Civil Service of British India consists of a body of about a
thousand trained men. They are selected under a system which ensures
that practically all of them will not only possess exceptional mental
force, but will also belong to a race, which, in spite of certain
intellectual limitations, is strong in the special faculty of
government; and they are set to rule, under a system approaching
despotism, a continent in which the most numerous races, in spite of
their intellectual subtlety, have given little evidence of ability to

Our Indian experiment shows, however, that all men, however carefully
selected and trained, must still inhabit 'the ostensible world.' The
Anglo-Indian civilian during some of his working hours - when he is
toiling at a scheme of irrigation, or forestry, or
famine-prevention - may live in an atmosphere of impersonal science which
is far removed from the jealousies and superstitions of the villagers in
his district. But an absolute ruler is judged not merely by his
efficiency in choosing political means, but also by that outlook on life
which decides his choice of ends; and the Anglo-Indian outlook on life
is conditioned, not by the problem of British India as history will see
it a thousand years hence, but by the facts of daily existence in the
little government stations, with their trying climates, their narrow
society, and the continual presence of an alien and possibly hostile
race. We have not, it is true, yet followed the full rigour of Plato's
system, and chosen the wives of Anglo-Indian officials by the same
process as that through which their husbands pass. But it may be feared
that even if we did so, the lady would still remain typical who said to
Mr. Nevinson, 'To us in India a pro-native is simply a rank

[67] _The Nation_, December 21, 1907.

What is even more important is the fact that, because those whom the
Anglo-Indian civilian governs are also living in the ostensible world,
his choice of means on all questions involving popular opinion depends
even more completely than if he were a party politician at home, not on
things as they are, but on things as they can be made to seem. The
avowed tactics of our empire in the East have therefore always been
based by many of our high officials upon psychological and not upon
logical considerations. We hold Durbars, and issue Proclamations, we
blow men from guns, and insist stiffly on our own interpretation of our
rights in dealing with neighbouring Powers, all with reference to 'the
moral effect upon the native mind.' And, if half what is hinted at by
some ultra-imperialist writers and talkers is true, racial and religious
antipathy between Hindus and Mohammedans is sometimes welcomed, if not
encouraged, by those who feel themselves bound at all costs to maintain
our dominant position.

The problem of the relation between reason and opinion is therefore one
that would exist at least equally in Plato's corporate despotism as in
the most complete democracy. Hume, in a penetrating passage in his essay
on _The First Principles of Government_, says: 'It is ... on opinion
only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most
despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and
the most popular.'[68] It is when a Czar or a bureaucracy find themselves
forced to govern in opposition to a vague national feeling, which may at
any moment create an overwhelming national purpose, that the facts of
man's sublogical nature are most ruthlessly exploited. The autocrat then
becomes the most unscrupulous of demagogues, and stirs up racial, or
religious, or social hatred, or the lust for foreign war, with less
scruple than does the proprietor of the worst newspaper in a democratic

[68] Hume's _Essays_, chap. iv.

Plato, with his usual boldness, faced this difficulty, and proposed that
the loyalty of the subject-classes in his Republic should be secured
once for all by religious faith. His rulers were to establish and teach
a religion in which they need not believe. They were to tell their
people 'one magnificent lie';[69] a remedy which in its ultimate effect
on the character of their rule might have been worse than the disease
which it was intended to cure.

[69] [Greek: gennaión ti èn pseudoménous] (_Republic_, p. 414).

But even if it is admitted that government without consent is a
complicated and ugly process, it does not follow either that government
by consent is always possible, or that the machinery of parliamentary
representation is the only possible, or always the best possible, method
of securing consent.

Government by a chief who is obeyed from custom, and who is himself
restrained by custom from mere tyranny, may at certain stages of culture
be better than anything else which can be substituted for it. And
representation, even when it is possible, is not an unchanging entity,
but an expedient capable of an infinite number of variations. In England
at this moment we give the vote for a sovereign parliament to persons of
the male sex above twenty-one years of age, who have occupied the same
place of residence for a year; and enrol them for voting purposes in
constituencies based upon locality. But in all these respects, age, sex,
qualification, and constituency, as well as in the political power given
to the representative, variation is possible.

If, indeed, there should appear a modern Bentham, trained not by
Fénelon and Helvétius, but by the study of racial psychology, he could
not use his genius and patience better than in the invention of
constitutional expedients which should provide for a real degree of
government by consent in those parts of the British Empire where men are
capable of thinking for themselves on political questions, but where
the machinery of British parliamentary government would not work. In
Egypt, for instance, one is told that at elections held in ordinary
local constituencies only two per cent, of those entitled to vote go to
the poll.[70] As long as that is the case representative government is
impossible. A slow process of education might increase the proportion of
voters, but meanwhile it would surely be possible for men, who
understand the way in which Egyptians or Arabs think and feel, to
discover other methods by which the vague desires of the native
population can be ascertained, and the policy of the government made in
some measure to depend on them.

[70] _Times_, January 6, 1908.

The need for invention is even more urgent in India, and that fact is
apparently being realised by the Indian Government itself. The inventive
range of Lord Morley and his advisers does not, however, for the moment
appear to extend much beyond the adaptation of the model of the English
House of Lords to Indian conditions, and the organisation of an
'advisory Council of Notables';[71] with the possible result that we may
be advised by the hereditary rent-collectors of Bengal in our dealings
with the tillers of the soil, and by the factory owners of Bombay in our
regulation of factory labour.

[71] Mr. Morley in the House of Commons. Hansard, June 6, 1907, p. 885.

In England itself, though great political inventions are always a
glorious possibility, the changes in our political structure which will
result from our new knowledge are likely, in our own time, to proceed
along lines laid down by slowly acting, and already recognisable

A series of laws have, for instance, been passed in the United Kingdom
during the last thirty or forty years, each of which had little
conscious connection with the rest, but which, when seen as a whole,
show that government now tends to regulate, not only the process of
ascertaining the decision of the electors, but also the more complex
process by which that decision is formed; and that this is done not in
the interest of any particular body of opinion, but from a belief in the
general utility of right methods of thought, and the possibility of
securing them by regulation.

The nature of this change may perhaps be best understood by comparing it
with the similar but earlier and far more complete change that has taken
place in the conditions under which that decision is formed which is
expressed in the verdict of a jury. Trial by jury was, in its origin,
simply a method of ascertaining, from ordinary men whose veracity was
secured by religious sanctions, their real opinions on each case.[72] The
various ways in which those opinions might have been formed were matters
beyond the cognisance of the royal official who called the jury
together, swore them, and registered their verdict. Trial by jury in
England might therefore have developed on the same lines as it did in
Athens, and have perished from the same causes. The number of the jury
might have been increased, and the parties in the case might have hired
advocates to write or deliver for them addresses containing distortions
of fact and appeals to prejudice as audacious as those in the _Private
Orations_ of Demosthenes. It might have become more important that the
witnesses should burst into passionate weeping than that they should
tell what they knew, and the final verdict might have been taken by a
show of hands, in a crowd that was rapidly degenerating into a mob. If
such an institution had lasted up to our time, the newspapers would have
taken sides in every important case. Each would have had its own version
of the facts, the most telling points of which would have been reserved
for the final edition on the eve of the verdict, and the fate of the
prisoner or defendant would often have depended upon a strictly party

[72] See, _e.g._, Stephen, _History of the Criminal Law_, vol. i. pp.

But in the English jury trial it has come to be assumed, after a long
series of imperceptible and forgotten changes, that the opinion of the
jurors, instead of being formed before the trial begins, should be
formed in court. The process, therefore, by which that opinion is
produced has been more and more completely controlled and developed,
until it, and not the mere registration of the verdict, has become the
essential feature of the trial.

The jury are now separated from their fellow-men during the whole case.
They are introduced into a world of new emotional values. The ritual of
the court, the voices and dress of judge and counsel, all suggest an
environment in which the petty interests and impulses of ordinary life
are unimportant when compared with the supreme worth of truth and
justice. They are warned to empty their minds of all preconceived
inferences and affections. The examination and cross-examination of the
witnesses are carried on under rules of evidence which are the result of
centuries of experience, and which give many a man as he sits on a jury
his first lesson in the fallibility of the unobserved and uncontrolled
inferences of the human brain. The 'said I's,' and 'thought I's,' and
'said he's,' which are the material of his ordinary reasoning, are here
banished on the ground that they are 'not evidence,' and witnesses are
compelled to give a simple account of their remembered sensations of
sight and hearing.

The witnesses for the prosecution and the defence, if they are
well-intentioned men, often find themselves giving, to their own
surprise, perfectly consistent accounts of the events at issue. The
barristers' tricks of advocacy are to some extent restrained by
professional custom and by the authority of the judge, and they are
careful to point out to the jury each other's fallacies. Newspapers do
not reach the jury box, and in any case are prevented by the law as to
contempt of court from commenting on a case which is under trial. The
judge sums up, carefully describing the conditions of valid inference on
questions of disputed fact, and warning the jury against those forms of
irrational and unconscious inference to which experience has shown them

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGraham WallasHuman Nature in Politics Third Edition → online text (page 13 of 19)