Copyright
Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

. (page 37 of 39)
Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 37 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Reform was being discussed all around; but it was not being dis-
cussed amicably, and the reformers, instead of helping one
another, were hindering one another and getting in one an-
other's way. There were many of them abroad, and their
temper was not good.

I have just been reading Mr. Bertrand Russell's book on
social reconstruction; and I confess to finding in it a certain
oversight, and that at the point where most people are apt
to be similarly blind. Mr. Russell speaks of the strife that
always goes on in democratic communities between the sup-
porters of established order on one side and the innovators,
the friends of progress, on the other. He shows how these two
tendencies by operating together may be made to work out to a
good result. Now, all that is very important, but it is by no
means the whole of the story. In addition to this strife between
established order and innovation, there is the more active strife
that goes on among the innovators themselves. One of the
commonest mistakes we make is to speak of progress as though
it had a unitary aim, as though all innovators, all advocates of
change, from the nature of the case, formed, a like-minded band
of brothers, agreed on the changes that ought to take place,
agreed on the order in which they ought to come, and agreed
as to the manner in which they ought be to carried out. This
is seldom or never the case when progressive tendencies are
at work. On the contrary, a severe struggle for existence goes
on among these tendencies themselves. This is why so many
promising revolutions have come to nothing. It is not so much
because the old order was wrong as because the new tendencies
became weak by exhausting their strength in mutual quarrels.



AFTER THE CONFLICT 393

In this way the French Revolution ended in the military despo-
tism of Napoleon; and we all can see how a like danger threatens
the Russian Revolution at the present moment.

These things suggest to us the immense importance of good
temper in a democratic community. Of all the forms of govern-
ment man has devised, democracy is the one which requires
the largest amount of sweet reasonableness. It is required in
order to adjust the immense diversities of opinion and policy
which inevitably arise where thought is free and where an open
field is offered for the proposals of the innovator. Per contra,
bad temper is never so disastrous as it is under democratic con-
ditions. Once let it prevail, and the forces of progress, instead
of working together, fall upon one another, hinder one another,
thwart and paralyze one another; intelligence is expended in
party or sectional warfare, strength goes into quarreling, and
there is an immense wastage of good ideas. Under these circum-
stances democratic government is not self-government of the
people, by the people, and for the people and it is only by a
fiction that we can call it even representative. For what is then
done by legislators does not represent what the people want,
but only so much as is left over of what they want after the
various quarreling sections have settled their accounts and
exhausted their spleen and their rhetoric.

Now, this was the condition toward which all classes in
England were drifting before the war. Some people might say
they had actually arrived at it; I will content myself with say-
ing they were drifting toward it. The good of democracy was in
danger of being spoilt and undone by the abominable ebullitions
of bad temper which had broken out among the various parties
and sections in the progressive movement. It was not merely
that the old was arrayed against the new, but the new was
arrayed against itself.

One of the effects of freedom, as we all know, is to breed
strong individualities. Freedom allows men to develop on
their own lines; and when they have developed, the result is
an immense diversity of strongly marked individuals with
opinions of their own as to what ought to be done, and how it



394 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

ought to be done. This is what we all want; the best society
is precisely that which includes the largest variety of character
and type. But the danger is this: that strongly marked individ-
uals are apt to be intolerant of one another. That danger can
be avoided only when the spirit of accommodation, the spirit
of sweet reasonableness I had almost said the spirit of good
humor is in the ascendant. If the opposite spirit prevails,
democracy becomes a mere clash and struggle of the divergent
types it has created; and often it has gone to pieces from that
very cause and has been replaced by some form of autocracy.

The terms I have just used the spirit of accommodation,
and the rest are only other names for what St. Paul calls
"the charity that never faileth." And again I name it as the
basis of reconstruction. As time goes on, the strong individual-
ities which liberty produces will grow stronger, and the dif-
ferences among them will become more and more numerous. I
see no prospect whatever of uniformity of type; all the tendencies
of the time are toward diversities of type.

Let us turn back for a moment to the international situa-
tion. The Allies are fighting for the right of nationalities to
develop on their own lines. If that ideal is realized, what
may we expect? We shall have a large number of nations, a
larger number than ever, each of them developing a culture
and character of its own, becoming a strong and distinct in-
dividual with opinions and ideals of its own diversity of type.
But suppose these nations, each with its own strongly marked
character, should be intolerant of each other. Suppose they
lack the spirit of accommodation, of sweet reasonableness, of
tolerance, of good humor. Will you have peace? No, you will
have war. Dangerous as bad temper is when a dozen distinct
nationalities are involved, it will become far more dangerous
when there are a hundred of them. Once more, all depends on
the charity that never faileth.

Or consider the state of affairs in any one country, say,
England, after the war. Think of the immense number of
reconstructions of all sorts that have been already planned
out. Two pictures arise before the mind. One is a picture of



AFTER THE CONFLICT 395

jostle and chaos in which all these schemes are fighting for
front place, nobody willing to give way, or to make room, each
section insisting on the immediate realization of its own demand,
and threatening this and that if it is refused. If that picture
comes true, there will result an atmosphere as unfavorable as
it well could be to any kind of ethical improvement. The other
picture is more difficult to paint. It is the picture of a good-tem-
pered community animated by a spirit of give and take, accom-
modating, reasonable, considerate, abounding in good fellow-
ship, ready to treat, and to make the best of things until some-
thing better can be provided. In such an atmosphere ethical
improvement would have a favorable climate. Nay, more. The
advent of this social and political good temper, in place of the
bad temper to which we have been accustomed, would itself be
a real step of progress. It would do more to improve the value
of human life than any law that could be put on the statute book.
Indeed, it would do the work of law to a very great extent. For
we should then see that many of the changes we seek to effect
by means of law are far better effected by the exercise of common-
sense and kind feeling as between man and man.

The general conclusion is that if we are to have a real ethical
reconstruction actual improvement of conduct we must have
a basis for it, or rather an atmosphere and climate, in the tem-
per of the community. The question then arises, How are we to
secure good temper? What are the causes of it? Perhaps it
would be well to frame the question rather differently. What are
the causes of bad temper in a community? I rather think if we
could keep bad temper out good temper would come in of itself.

Bad temper inevitably arises whenever material wealth is
the main object of social pursuit. This is so much of a com-
monplace that I need hardly pause to prove it. Some people,
however, hold it in a rather half-hearted way. They hold
that wealth causes bad temper only when it is unfairly dis-
tributed. As an abstract proposition I daresay that is true.
The trouble lies in the application of it. In practice it is extremely
difficult to convince anybody that his share of wealth is a fair
one. It may be a liberal share, it may be a large share, but what



3Q6 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

is to prevent him from thinking and claiming that it ought to
be much larger? People are not easily satisfied on this point,
especially when they are inclined to be suspicious of one another.
Far be it from me, however, to belittle the importance of fair
distribution. Its importance cannot be exaggerated. But no
scheme of that kind, even though it is worked and backed by the
authority of the state, will be successful unless certain conditions
are present. The conditions are that the parties concerned in
the distribution shall be on good terms with one another; that
the various trades, and the various ranks of labor, from the most
skilled to the least, shall have confidence in each other's good
faith, and be ready to take a generous view of each other's merits.
Only in such an atmosphere can anybody be got to accept his
share as a fair one. If the opposite conditions are present, if
the spirit of suspiciousness is abroad, if bad blood is in circula-
tion, if groups and parties have no confidence hi one another, if
men think their neighbors are trying to take advantage of them,
if the habit is to assume that every man is a rascal until he has
proved the contrary, then the scheme of distribution, no matter
what it is, will satisfy nobody. "Fairness" will be treated as a
dodge, and if the state backs the scheme up, the cry will be raised
that the state has been captured by villains. We are fond of
talking of the economic basis of society. I venture to say that
society has no basis in economics either good or bad. The basis
of society is human; it consists in the mutual trust of man hi
man, which no economic scheme can ever replace.

The same holds true of international relations. So long as
the great states of the world base their greatness on material
possessions they will never love one another, and there will
be mighty little of the charity that never faileth in their mutual
dealings. Rich states will always be objects of envy to those
less rich than themselves. We shall always have one state com-
plaining that it hasn't got its fair share a sufficiently large
place in the sun and pointing to some other state which has
more than its fair share which is exactly what Germany, a
very rich state, has been doing for years. It is impossible to
exaggerate the amount of international bad temper which arises



AFTER THE CONFLICT 397

from this very cause and at times it becomes so bad that nations
are perfectly irrational, and the very elements of ethics are cast
to the winds. Of course, the state which is the richest of all,
and has no cause to envy the others, may be in the best possible
temper; but this will not protect it from the evil temper of
the others who envy its supremacy. Its riches will expose it
not only to envy but to robbery; and no sooner does that
start than all the evil passions are let loose. So long as civiliza-
tion is based on wealth the outlook for international good temper
is very black.

Looking now to the inner life of the community, can we
name any other cause of bad temper, besides that connected
with the pursuit of wealth? I believe we can. There is a tend-
ency in all democratic communities to over-legislate, to produce
more laws than are needed. Jeremy Bentham, who knew all that
was to be known in his time about law-making, regarded all
legislation as a necessary evil. Every law provokes a certain
amount of bad temper in the process of making it. It irritates
the community for the time being. In plain language there is
always "a row." Can we name an important law about the mak-
ing of which there was not a row? Well, these rows may be
necessary, and even wholesome up to a point, but don't let us
multiply them to such a point that we get into the row-habit.
Instead of trying how many laws we can make, let us rather try
how many we can do without, if only for the sake of checking
the habit of quarrelsomeness; because, if quarrelsomeness be-
comes chronic, if it becomes the normal temper of the community
then unreasonableness will be general, and ethical reconstruc-
tion will be out of the question. Remember that ethical recon-
struction is always reconstruction by consent. But we shall never
get that consent out of a nasty-tempered community. One of
the main conditions of ethical reconstruction is that we shall
keep legislation within proper bounds, that we shall avoid hav-
ing so much of it that our tempers become permanently spoiled.

Putting all this together, it is evident that ethical recon-
struction depends on certain profound changes in the struc-
ture of civilization. They indicate a time when wealth will



398 ' NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

no longer be the basis of civilization; and when people will
trust one another more than they do and rely less on the arm
of the law. Such changes will not come about suddenly, and
any attempt to make them sudden would only lead to dis-
aster. We have before us no more than an object of gradual
endeavor. Yet to have even that in these tunes of rocking con-
fusion is no small thing, and we can begin at once.

A civilization not based upon wealth; a democracy whose
ideal is not the maximum of legislation but the minimum.
Such is the dream. Can it be realized? In answer let me re-
mind the reader of Plato's conception of the invisible state.
The true state, according to Plato, is not only invisible now,
but remains invisible forever. Its nature is to be invisible;
it can never be otherwise. "I do not believe it is to be found any-
where on earth," says Glaucon at the end of the ninth book of
the Republic. "Ah well," answers Socrates, "the pattern of it
is perhaps laid up in heaven for him who wishes to behold it.
. . . And the question of its present or future existence on
earth is quite unimportant."

But many persons are not content with that. They insist
on turning the invisible state into a visible one. They appear
to think that so long as the state is invisible it is not real and
doesn't work. It never occurs to them that in trying to make
it visible they may do violence to its nature; so that it becomes
not more real but less real, and gets into a condition where it
works badly or doesn't work at all. And yet I believe that such
is often the case.

We see exactly the same process at work in the history of
religion. The mind of man has always kicked against the
notion that the deity is invisible. The notion has been that
a real deity, an effective deity, must be a deity that can be seen;
that an invisible deity, if I may say so, is no good. Hence in the
history of all religions we can trace a process of turning the
invisible deity into the visible one, and the process ends in set-
ting up some wooden idol of the god, a thing one can see and
feel and handle a thing of which one can say ' 'there it is."
Then it is discovered that by making the god visible men have



AFTER THE CONFLICT 399

done violence to his nature. The visible wooden idol won't
work. It can neither save nor help nor deliver. By becoming
visible it has lost the attributes of God and when that is dis-
covered the idol is smashed.

Most of our current notions of the state, even as they are
sometimes expounded by philosophers, are at the stage of
idolatry. They lead to a worship of visible institutions. Now,
I have nothing to say against visible institutions. The need of
them is obvious parliaments, laws, highly trained departments,
systems of town arrangements, and perhaps armies and navies
though of these last I am not so sure. What I object to is the
worship of them. Nothing will ever persuade me that these visible
things, either singly or together, are the state; while, as to wor-
shipping them, I would as soon think of falling down on the
pavement of Whitehall and saying my prayers to the War Office.
These things I can see; but the true state is something which
cannot be seen and which I for one do not expect to see and do not
want to see. I agree with Socrates: the question of its present
or future existence on this earth is quite unimportant.

The coming changes in social structure will take the form
of a fuller recognition of the claims of the invisible state
unless indeed the war end in such a way as to set them back
for the time being as would unquestionably happen if Germany
were to win. We may expect a gradual decline of emphasis on
the visible state, and a gradual increase of emphasis on the in-
visible. The change will come without violence, and there will
be nothing in it to offend the supporters of established order.
Little by little it will be discovered that what is now entrusted
to the visible forces can be much better done by the invisible.
It will be seen that human nature contains immense reserves of
invisible force which have never yet been made use of. The
world's resources of common sense and kind feeling have hardly
been tapped up to now; but we shall tap them more and more,
and by using them we shall build up the true, invisible state.

What the new basis will be is hard to say. Perhaps Mr.
Russell has got the right word creativeness. Quality must
take the place of quantity. The ideal will no longer be to pro-



400 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

duce as much as possible, nor to get as large a share as you can
of what has been produced. The ideal will rather be that every
man shall enjoy his day's work and that a good article shall come
out at the end of it. Beauty, which we have banished from our
common life, with such dreadful consequences to us all, so that
many of us have almost lost the taste for excellence; beauty,
which cannot be bought for gold and riches and is so shy of the
places where men make money, will return with healing on its
wings.

The creation of beauty by which I do not mean mere
pictures to hang in our drawing-rooms or ornaments to place
on the chimney piece but excellent articles of every description,
things which it will be a delight to make, a delight to have, a
delight to use things which plainly declare that the workman
has enjoyed his day's work and that a good article has come out at
the end of it this will provide a slowly widening field for human
intelligence and human energy. It will not do away with com-
petition: but instead of competing as heretofore as to who can
produce most, we shall compete as to who can produce best
a very different thing a kind of competition in which men can
freely indulge without the least danger that they will learn to
hate one another in the process. It will teach them to love one
another. Meanwhile the true state will remain just as invisible
as it now is. But wherever two or three are gathered together,
there it will be in the midst of them.

In conclusion I will add one word more in the hope of per-
suading the reader that the invisible state is the real state. Who
are the members of the state? What are they? Where are they?
Shall we say that the members of the state are the sum total
of the persons who happen to be alive at the moment? Shall we
say that a man remains a member of the state only so long as he
draws the breath of life and ceases to be a member the moment
that breath goes out of his body? What then of the thousands,
of the tens of thousands of men, who have laid down their lives
for the state in these three years? When the bullet struck them
down, when the bursting shell blew them to fragments, did
they cease then and there to be members of the state for which



AFTER THE CONFLICT 401

they had sacrificed their lives? I trow not. I claim them as the
dearest and the closest and the most influential of all my fellow-
citizens in the great commonwealth. And yet they have no
votes, and yet they are invisible ! Votes? If votes could be given
to those who have most influence, to whom would they be given
first? They would be given to the invisible multitudes of the
mighty dead not to these recent dead alone, but to millions
behind them, rank behind rank in the long tale of the buried
generations. That is not the language of psychical research. It
is the language of severe political philosophy. It is the statement
of a fact.



WHAT SHALL WE WIN WITH THE WAR? 1

ERNEST HUNTER WRIGHT

[Ernest Hunter Wright (1882 ) was born in Virginia and pre-
pared for college in the schools of that state. He was graduated from
Columbia University in 1905, and received the Doctor's degree from the
same institution in 1910. Since 1910 he has been a member of the English
Department of Columbia University, and now holds the rank of Assistant
Professor. The article here reprinted is an interesting forecast of some of
the consequences of the war.]

In material gain we do not ask a groat's worth from the war;
that is understood. We shall give billions for freedom, but do
not want a cent in booty. We are ready to pour out our blood
that the world may be rescued, but we would not barter a drop
of it for patches of territory. If the words in which we renounce
the spoils hi advance have grown common with us to the point
of triteness, that very fact is truly remarkable. Except that we
would avoid the semblance of satisfaction, at present, of all
times, we might pause to wonder how often hitherto such an
ideal as this, now commonplace, has moved a people of free
choice to an equal strife and sacrifice. What nation before has
offered all the gold and all the lives that may be needed solely

iFrom The Century, vol. xcvi, p. 339 (July, 1918).
Z



402 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

that an idea may prevail? But let the question be anything
except a boast. It implies a mere fact, accepted as self-evident
among us, and we have not thought to plume ourselves upon it.
Not we, but the world, has learned it. It is one great thing that
we have already won out of the war.

Of immaterial things there are also a number that we do not
ask. We crave no vengeance. Less than twenty years ago
millions of us made patriotism vocal in the cry, "Remember the
Mainel" Now, despite hymns of hate turned finally against
ourselves especially, no one is urging us to remember the Lusi-
tania. We are not trying to forget it, but we have no need to
spur our zeal with slogans clamoring for penalties unpayable for
deeds irreparable, done to us or done to others. Nor are we in
the lists to win mere honor. We would not lose it; we dearly hope
that when the clouds of battle pass we shall have as ample a
measure of it as our friends in the struggle have already gained.
Yet we should never have plunged into a national duel, any more
than our citizens engage in private ones, to settle a point of
honor solely, however important that may be. On the contrary,
even in humiliation we were willing to endure, as in settlement
we stand ready to propose "any unprecedented thing" that
promises to make the world safer. It is solely because safety
will come in no other way that we commit ourselves to fight to
the last ounce of our manhood for its preservation. Whoever
hopes for less than that, or whoever lusts for more, is not of us.
Of that we are certain.

And yet it may be that, if we fight like men for that cause,
we shall win much more. That we do not demand more is the
best reason for believing that we may receive it. Mainly the
gain may come, as is usual with immaterial gams, unsought,
inevitably; but we may possibly do much to speed its coming and
assure its permanency if we form some anticipation of it.
Changes of vast extent are certainly coming upon us. The body
social cannot be stirred and shaken in unprecedented action only
to relapse into its former habitudes. Ancient questions reviewed
by us in this crisis will, some of them, receive new answers, and
new questions will arise. We shall have need more than ever



AFTER THE CONFLICT 403

to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." May we,
then, with our eyes still fastened on the one goal that must be
won, consider for a moment, even thus early, what other win-
nings may be ours?

We may win unity. To many of the more discerning among
us, of whatever social creed, the lack of it has long seemed



Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 37 of 39)