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- Mankind in the Making - 30/49 -


public control. You cannot both have a system and not have a system, and the British have a system of hereditary aristocracy that infects the whole atmosphere of English thought with the persuasion that what a man may attempt is determined by his caste. It is here, and nowhere else, that the clue to so much inefficiency as one finds it in contemporary British activity lies. The officers of the British Army instead of being sedulously picked from the whole population are drawn from a really quite small group of families, and, except for those who are called "gentleman rankers," to enlist is the very last way in the world to become a British officer. As a very natural corollary only broken men and unambitious men of the lowest class will consent to become ordinary private soldiers, except during periods of extreme patriotic excitement. The men who enter the Civil Service also, know perfectly well that though they may possess the most brilliant administrative powers and develop and use themselves with relentless energy, they will never win for themselves or their wives one tithe of the public honour that comes by right to the heir to a dukedom. A dockyard hand who uses his brains and makes a suggestion that may save the country thousands of pounds will get--a gratuity.

Throughout all English affairs the suggestion of this political system has spread. The employer is of a different caste from his workmen, the captain is of a different caste from his crew, even the Teachers' Register is specially classified to prevent "young gentlemen" being taught by the only men who, as a class, know how to teach in England, namely, the elementary teachers; everywhere the same thing is to be found. And while it is, it is absurd to expect a few platitudes about Freedom, and snobbishness, and a few pious hopes about efficiency, to counteract the system's universal, incessant teaching, its lesson of limited effort within defined possibilities. Only under one condition may such a system rise towards anything that may be called national vigour, and that is when there exists a vigorous Court which sets the fashion of hard work. A keen King, indifferent to feminine influence, may, for a time, make a keen nation, but that is an exceptional state of affairs, and the whole shape of the fabric gravitates towards relapse. Even under such an influence the social stratification will still, in the majority of cases, prevent powers and posts falling to the best possible man. In the majority of cases the best that can be hoped for, even then, will be to see the best man in the class privileged in relation to any particular service, discharging that service. The most efficient nation in the world to-day is believed to be Germany, which is--roughly speaking--an aristocratic monarchy, it is dominated by a man of most unkingly force of character, and by a noble tradition of educational thoroughness that arose out of the shames of utter defeat, and, as a consequence, a great number of people contrive to forget that the most dazzling display of national efficiency the world has ever seen followed the sloughing of hereditary institutions by France. One credits Napoleon too often with the vigour of his opportunity, with the force and strength it was his privilege to misdirect and destroy. And one forgets that this present German efficiency was paralleled in the eighteenth century by Prussia, whose aristocratic system first winded Republicans at Valmy, and showed at Jena fourteen years after how much it had learnt from that encounter.

Now our main argument lies in this: that the great mass of a generation of children born into a country, all those children who have no more than average intelligence and average moral qualities, will accept the ostensible institutions of that country at their face value, and will be almost entirely shaped and determined by that acceptance. Only a sustained undertone of revolutionary protest can prevent that happening. They will believe that precedences represent real superiority, and they will honour what they see honoured, and ignore what they see treated as of no account. Pious sentiment about Equality and Freedom will enter into the reality of their minds as little as a drop of water into a greasy plate. They will act as little in general intercourse upon the proposition that "the man's the gowd for a' that," as they will upon the proposition that "man is a spirit" when it comes to the alternative of jumping over a cliff or going down by a ladder.

If, however, your children are not average children, if you are so happy as to have begotten children of exceptional intelligence, it does not follow that this fact will save them from conclusions quite parallel to those of the common child. Suppose they do penetrate the pretence that there is no intrinsic difference between the Royal Family and the members of the peerage on the one hand, and the average person in any other class on the other; suppose they discover that the whole scale of precedence and honour in their land is a stupendous sham;-- what then? Suppose they see quite clearly that all these pretensions of an inviolate superiority of birth and breeding vanish at the touch of a Whitaker Wright, soften to a glowing cordiality before the sunny promises of a Hooley. Suppose they perceive that neither King nor lords really believe in their own lordliness, and that at any point in the system one may find men with hands for any man's tip, provided it is only sufficiently large! Even then!--How is that going to react upon our children's social conduct?

In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they will accept the system still, they will accept it with mental reservations. They will see that to repudiate the system by more than a chance word or deed is to become isolated, to become a discontented alien, to lose even the qualified permission to do something in the world. In most cases they will take the oaths that come in their way and kiss the hands--just as the British elementary teachers bow unbelieving heads to receive the episcopal pat, and just as the British sceptic in orders will achieve triumphs of ambiguity to secure the episcopal see. And their reason for submission will not be absolutely despicable; they will know there is no employment worth speaking of without it. After all, one has only one life, and it is not pleasant to pass through it in a state of futile abstinence from the general scheme. Life, unfortunately, does not end with heroic moments of repudiation; there comes a morrow to the Everlasting Nay. One may begin with heroic renunciations and end in undignified envy and dyspeptic comments outside the door one has slammed on one's self. In such reflections your children of the exceptional sort, it may be after a youthful fling or two, a "ransom" speech or so, will find excellent reasons for making their peace with things as they are, just as if they were utterly commonplace. They know that if they can boast a knighthood or a baronetcy or a Privy Councillorship, they will taste day by day and every day that respect, that confidence from all about them that no one but a trained recluse despises. And life will abound in opportunities. "Oh, well!" they will say. Such things give them influence, consideration, power to do things.

The beginning of concessions is so entirely reasonable and easy! But the concessions go on. Each step upward in the British system finds that system more persistently about them. When one has started out under a King one may find amiable but whom one may not respect, admitted a system one does not believe in, when one has rubbed the first bloom off one's honour, it is infinitely easier to begin peeling the skin. Many a man whose youth was a dream of noble things, who was all for splendid achievements and the service of mankind, peers to-day, by virtue of such acquiescences, from between preposterous lawn sleeves or under a tilted coronet, sucked as dry of his essential honour as a spider sucks a fly.

But this is going too far, the reader will object! There must be concessions, there must be conformities, just as there must be some impurity in the water we drink and flaws in the beauty we give our hearts to, and that, no doubt, is true. It is no reason why we should drink sewage and kneel to grossness and base stupidity. To endure the worst because we cannot have the best is surely the last word of folly. Our business as New Republicans is not to waste our lives in the pursuit of an unattainable chemical purity, but to clear the air as much as possible. Practical ethics is, after all, a quantitative science. In the reality of life there are few absolute cases, and it is foolish to forego a great end for a small concession. But to suffer so much Royalty and Privilege as an Englishman has to do before he may make any effectual figure in public life is not a small concession. By the time you have purchased power you may find you have given up everything that made power worth having. It would be a small concession, I admit, a mere personal self-sacrifice, to pretend loyalty, kneel and kiss hands, assist at Coronation mummeries, and all the rest of it, in order, let us say, to accomplish some great improvement in the schools of the country, were it not for the fact that all these things must be done in the sight of the young, that you cannot kneel to the King without presenting a kneeling example to the people, without becoming as good a teacher of servility as though you were servile to the marrow. There lies the trouble. By virtue of this reaction it is that the shams and ceremonies we may fancy mere curious survivals, mere kinks and tortuosities, cloaks and accessories to-day, will, if we are silent and acquiescent, be halfway to reality again in the course of a generation. To our children they are not evidently shams; they are powerful working suggestions. Human institutions are things of life, and whatever weed of falsity lies still rooted in the ground has the promise and potency of growth. It will tend perpetually, according to its nature, to recover its old influence over the imagination, the thoughts, and acts of our children.

Even when the whole trend of economic and social development sets against the real survival of such a social and political system as the British, its pretensions, its shape and implications may survive, survive all the more disastrously because they are increasingly insincere. Indeed, in a sense, the British system, the pyramid of King, land-owning and land-ruling aristocracy, yeomen and trading middle- class and labourers, is dead--it died in the nineteenth century under the wheels of mechanism [Footnote: I have discussed this fully in _Anticipations_, Chapter III., Developing Social Elements.]--and the crude beginnings of a new system are clothed in its raiment, and greatly encumbered by that clothing. Our greatest peers are shareholders, are equipped by marriage with the wealth of Jews and Americans, are exploiters of colonial resources and urban building enterprises; their territorial titles are a mask and a lie. They hamper the development of the new order, but they cannot altogether prevent the emergence of new men. The new men come up to power one by one, from different enterprises, with various traditions, and one by one, before they can develop a sense of class distinction and collective responsibility, the old system with its organized "Society" captures them. If it finds the man obdurate, it takes his wife and daughters, and it waylays his sons. [Footnote: It is not only British subjects that are assimilated in this way, the infection of the British system, the annexation of certain social strata in the Republic by the British crown, is a question for every thoughtful American. America is less and less separate from Europe, and the social development of the United States cannot be a distinct process--it is inevitably bound up in the general social development of the English-speaking community. The taint has touched the American Navy, for example, and there are those who discourage promotion from the ranks--the essential virtue of the democratic state--because men so promoted would be at a disadvantage when they met the officers of foreign navies, who were by birth and training "gentlemen." When they met them socially no doubt was meant; in war the disadvantage might prove the other way about.] Because the hereditary kingdom and aristocracy of Great Britain is less and less representative of economic reality, more and more false to the real needs of the world, it does not follow that it will disappear, any more than malarial fever will disappear from a man's blood because it is irrelevant to the general purpose of his being. These things will only go when a sufficient number of sufficiently capable and powerful people are determined they shall go. Until that time they will remain with us, influencing things about them for evil, as it lies in their nature to do.


Mankind in the Making - 30/49

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