The Human Spirit in Shadow
WHAT, then, is wrong with the world? The question has been heard many times these latter months, and I have myself been asked to account for the conditions I described in a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly.1 That article was criticized by one of the leading English reviews, not on the ground that it is untrue, but precisely on the ground that it presents a true picture of Europe to America.
Controversy is not what I seek, but I cannot refrain from remarking that it is not Europe as such of which I am writing, but mankind. It is natural that Europe has suffered more than America from the aftermath of war, both morally and materially; but I would like to have it clear that I am no more blaming a continent than I would dream of blaming the Equator.
Europe happened to be the cockpit of the fight, and it is in Europe that the dreadful moral results of the war can best be studied. Many people have gone to study the material results, but few have thought it necessary to depict the human spirit in the Rembrandtesque shadow in which it is plunged. The spiritual chiaroscuro is terrifying, but those who are in the gloom seem unconscious of the dark ground of the picture. Yet it certainly seems to me better worth while to record the débâcle of spiritual forces than the economic débâcle which cannot be made to interest, precisely because perceptions are blunted, and the meaning of the facts in terms of humanity is not appreciated.
I recently read the gruesome speech of Mr. H. P. Davison, in which he relates the physical facts concerning tremendous tracts of Europe. Wholesale starvation, misery unimaginable, from the Baltic to the Black Sea; and yet America remains apathetic, disinterested, passing by, like the Levite in Scripture, on the other side. But let no American reader suppose that this is a particular reproach to him: Europe no more realizes the intolerable state of many countries in her midst than does America, in spite of the hundreds of reports that have been made, and in spite of the tangible effects which touch everybody. We read these things. They make not the smallest impression on us. Why ? How is it that we are not horrified, and do not resolve that not for a single day shall any preventable evil exist? How is it that, on the contrary, for two years we have been cheerfully engaged in intensifying the sum of human suffering ? Why are we so heedless? Why are we so callous? Why do we allow to be committed, in our name, a thousand atrocities, and to be written, in our name and for our delectation, a million vile words which reveal the most amazing lack either of feeling or of common sense?
There have been crimes perpetrated by the politicians — by all the politicians— which no condemnation could fitly characterize. But the peoples must be blamed. The peoples support the war-making politicians. It is my business to follow the course of events day by day, and it is sometimes difficult to stand back and take a general view. Whenever I do so, I am appalled at the blundering or the wickedness of the leaders of the world. Without party prejudices or personal predilections, an impartial observer, I cannot conceive how it is possible to be always blind to the truth, the glaring truth, that since the Armistice we have never sought to make peace, but have sought only some pretext and method for prolonging the war.
Hate exudes from every journal in speaking of certain peoples — a weary hate, a conventional hate, a hate which is always whipping itself into a passion. It is, perhaps, more strictly, apathy masquerading as hate—which is worst of all. The people are blasé: they seek only bread and circuses for themselves. They regard no bread for others as a rather boring circus for themselves. Every morning there is another war, though the news has almost lost its power to excite; every evening there is a fresh revelation of some warlike menace about which the jaded fancy may play. The key of all the folly and all the unhappiness in Europe is the fact that we cannot do without wars any more than a drug-maniac can do without cocaine or morphine.
It is incredible that not yet have we even tried to cast off the war-spirit and to put on the peace-spirit. We regard everybody and everything through the distorting spectacles which were made for our wear from 1914 to 1918. We demand that those who govern us should serve up somebody’s head on a charger from time to time. When I went to Spa, for example, believing that we were at last to hear conciliatory words spoken, were at last going to discuss methods of coöperation for the restoration of a shattered civilization, I quickly found that the old war Adam was too strong, and saw that coercion was still the only conception of men who should surely be able to place themselves above the passions of the crowd and guide the passions of the crowd. I am certainly neither proGerman nor pro-Russian: I am by temperament and by training wedded to another culture. (I regret that it is necessary to make this personal claim, to defend myself against otherwise inevitable misinterpretation.) But it seemed to me — and surely to many others — indisputably clear that, whatever was our duty in war, it is now our duty to pursue peace as ardently as we ever pursued war. It seemed to me that it is urgent to cast out the unclean spirit whose name is Legion. The health of Europe, who had been dwelling for so long in the tombs, who could not be bound or tamed, who had been running about in the mountains, crying out and cutting herself with stones, demanded instant measures. We were all in the same galley, and that galley was in danger of wreck. The fighting had come to an end, and now mutual aid was indispensable. There was no doubt about the chaos in many lands, and there could be little doubt that the chaos would reach our own. Where was our instinct of self-preservation? Where was our pity? Both the one and the other attributes were lost. Reason and all sweet virtues had been devoured by Moloch.
Of the treaty-making in Paris it is only necessary to say that, apart from Mr. Wilson’s abortive effort to preach peace, it was simply a gathering of cynical diplomatists quarreling over the spoils, and determined to kill, even in the name of the League of Nations, the nascent sentiments of justice and of mercy. After one interlude of hope, during which Peace fluttered timidly over the world, the war regained its empire. Peace conferences were in reality war conferences: when it was not a question of sending troops or asking others to send troops, the peace documents and decisions were only declarations of war in another form. The Versailles Treaty is blamed as a Wilsonian document. It is certainly not that, in the sense in which we had understood Wilsonism. It put a sword on the council-table. It suspended a sword over Europe. Marshal Foch, who is a capable soldier, became the chief of the diplomatists, always ready to threaten, always ready, in his own words, to act as the ‘interpreter’ of Allied thought. Now he is right, as a soldier, to believe in force; but if peace is wanted, the last man to call in is the soldier. I saw the sinister smiles in the Salle de l’Horloge when a League to Establish Universal Peace was spoken of; and it quickly became clear that the world was turning back, after the first fine flush of generous rapture, to the dismal conceptions of eternal war.
I am convinced that, if some great figure had then appeared, the course of history would have been changed, and mankind would have taken a different path. But cynicism soon became naked. In the East all pretence of righteousness was abandoned. Every successive treaty was more frankly the expression of shameful appetites. There was no pretence of conscience in politics. Force ruled without disguise. What was still more amazing was the way in which strife was stirred up gratuitously. What advantage was it, even for a moment, to anyone to foment civil war in Russia, to send against the unhappy famine-stricken country army after army? The result was so obviously to consolidate the Bolshevist government around which were obliged to rally all Russians who had the spirit of nationality. It seemed as if everywhere we were plotting our own ruin and hastening our own end. A strange dementia seized our rulers, who thought peace, replenishment of empty larders, the fraternization of sorely tired nations, ignoble and delusive objects. It appeared that war was for evermore to be humanity’s fate.
Time after time I saw excellent opportunities of universal peace deliberately rejected. There was somebody to wreck every Prinkipo, every Spa. It was almost with dismay that all Europeans who had kept their intelligence unclouded saw the frustration of peace, and heard the peoples applaud the men who frustrated peace. I care not whether they still enjoy esteem: history will judge them harshly and will judge harshly the turbulence which men plumed themselves on creating two years after the war. It will presently appear incredible that there was no whole-hearted attempt at mutual understandings and a settlement on equitable lines, with a firm resolve to repair the havoc of the past war and to prevent its renewal in future.
The war-spirit dominated the world in the so-called years of peace, and it is this war-spirit which explains all the unpleasant phenomena which may be seen, and in particular this shocking indifference to the most terrible events and situations. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ That it has been kept alive is the fault, in the first place, of the warobsessed statesmen. They had made war, and were the last persons in the world competent to make peace. For that purpose, in the interest of mankind as a whole, national sovereignties should have been surrendered, and recognized moral authorities called in to prepare the settlement with the aid of experts. It is impossible to be judge of one’s own cause; and this worldcatastrophe was of such a character, was likely to leave behind it such bitter feelings, that only those who had been au-dessus de la mêlée should have acted as arbitrators.
That there is now a hopeless territorial tangle in Europe, instead of a durable ethnographic and economic settlement, every international political student knows; and the world of the statesmen at Paris and elsewhere will not endure for a day longer than it can be buttressed up by the vanishing forces of the countries which were given a rather illusory hegemony over a great part of the globe.
There is such a criss-cross of principles, such a complicated pattern of interests, such an arbitrary set of solutions which are no solutions, that in any event the scheme of things would come collapsing down—if indeed it has ever been even momentarily built up; if it has not always been like the child’s edifice of toy-bricks which is perpetually falling to pieces as the child reaches for another brick. To attempt to put together the shattered world while leaving out the corner-stone of Russia, while not making sure that America was safely in the foundation; proceeding at haphazard without architectural plans; fitting in Germany anyhow; angrily breaking up Austria into jig-saw bits; carving Turkey into rough-edged chunks, was to betray a total ignorance of the immanent justice, or at least the immanent logic, of the universe. Water is not made to run uphill, and sledgehammer diplomacy, which avails itself of the hatreds of races rather than of their affinities; which pits army against army, faction against faction; which encourages a score of little struggles; which eggs on other nations to attack nations which it cannot directly reach by its own military means; which keeps Europe in a ferment, keeps Asia in a whirl, because it dislikes this doctrine or is prejudiced against that people; subsidizing a brood of adventurers, the condottieri of our time, in the Adriatic, in the Baltic States, in the Middle East, in the Crimea, in Siberia; furnishing them arms when it suits a political purpose, repudiating them when it suits another political purpose; running helplessly about from Boulogne to London, from London to Spa, from Spa to Boulogne, from Boulogne to Hythe, from Hythe to Geneva; arriving at decisions one day which must be reversed the next, always trying to balance the bricks in an impossible equilibrium, is a childish pastime which unfortunately is big with disastrous consequences.
These bricks are, after all, the bricks of human life, of human happiness. It is the human aspect of the statesman’s business which is truly interesting; and not the arid disputes about historical frontiers, and the multiplication of statistics. If in this further survey of the European field I add these criticisms, it is assuredly not for the sake of enunciating my own views about this frontier and that sum which should be given by way of reparation. It is because I think that the political management of Europe, based on the diplomatic doctrine of the inevitability of conflict, is largely responsible for the spiritual state of things. Frontier problems are comparatively trivial beside the all-important temper in which they are tackled. That temper has always been the war-temper. The peace-temper, I repeat, has never been recovered. There may be war in the world, though not a shot be fired. War in action has at least this virtue: that the warmakers may affront personal perils. War in its new form is utterly despicable; the peoples are still drunk with the maddening fumes of war, but they are now too slothful and too cowardly to fight except by proxy.
In Italy Signor Nitti said to me: ‘What is wrong with the world is that we still keep the war-spirit: we do not cultivate the peace-spirit.’
I could not but agree: it was the echo of my own conviction. But how came it that there was in the world no statesman big enough and daring enough to declare indefatigably that peace was not a mere suspension of fighting, — even that was not achieved, — was not a negative but a positive thing, worth attaining by the most laborious efforts, if needs be; worth many sacrifices?
But if the statesmen are primarily to be blamed for the sabotage of the League of Nations and all it originally stood for, the foolish wicked diplomatic history of two years would nevertheless not have been possible if the soul of mankind had not been in shadow. Not only were the cornfields and the vineyards of France ravaged by the war, but the cornfields and vineyards of the spirit were trampled underfoot. The iniquities of peace are born of the war.
If it is certain that France must force another fight with Germany in a short span of years, if she pursues her present policy of implacable antagonism; if it is certain that England is already carefully seeking the European equilibrium, and that a responsible minister has already written of the possibility of a military accord with Germany; if there has been seen, owing to the foolish belief of the Allies in force, — a belief which increases in inverse ratio to the Allied possession of effective force, — the rebirth of Russian militarism, as there will assuredly be seen the rebirth of German militarism; if there are quarrels between Greece and Italy, between Italy and the Jugo-Slavs, between Hungary and Austria, between every tiny nation and its neighbor, even between England and France, it is because, when war has once been invoked it cannot be easily exorcised. It will linger long in Europe: the straw will smoulder and at any moment may break into flame.
To have brought America really into the European concert it was necessary to have acted with a single eye to justice and the establishment of good relations. It was necessary to have shown a real disposition to found a solid League of Nations instead of making it a mere docile instrument in the hands of two or three great powers. I recommend to all who desire proof of my rather platitudinous assertion that out of war only war can come, that war goes on propagating itself, the memorandum of Sir Henry Wilson, which was published in July in England, on the North Russian campaign. The chief of the Imperial General Staff shows how this particular campaign began with 150 men. It was not intended to make it a British war. But it ended its inglorious career with 18,400 men in the field. In Mesopotamia Britain began with two brigades; she finished with 900,000 men. In the Great War itself it was not considered likely that many more than the original six British divisions would be needed: as a fact there were sixty-three engaged at the end and the whole nation was under arms. He draws the moral that, once a military force is involved in operations, it is almost impossible to limit the magnitude of its commitments.
France could tell the same tale. Her Eastern adventures since the Armistice must have cost her dearly, and will probably go on costing her dearly for many years to come. America herself realizes how enormously, how unthinkably, her forces swelled during the war. Once in, there is no getting out. As Kipling sings: ‘There’s no discharge in the war.’ It stops here and it stops there; there is a period of comparative calm; but all these fires blazing about the world; and all these treaties which contain only accidental justice, since the guiding principle has always been ‘Woe to the vanquished!’ and which can only give the impression that war brings its rewards and that what is lost may yet be won back; and all the new nations whose liberation from oppression has only aroused their desire to oppress in their turn; and the general example of egotism set by the big nations, must make of the present socalled European peace a mere truce, a truce in which to take breath; the hush — a troubled hush, but still an hour of relative quietude — before the last phase of Armageddon: that final battle, in which diabolical contrivances of a potency even now hardly dreamed of will make a desert of a continent, will destroy the cities, the wealth, the life of the Old World!
This is not lurid imagining: it is as logical as a piece of Euclidean reasoning. Only by a violent effort to change our fashion of seeing things can it be averted. War-making is now a habit: the Great War has made war familiar and frequent, and may assuredly, in a sinister sense of the oft-repeated phrase, prove to be the war which will end war — by ending mankind! That we shall seize ourselves in time, shall flout the Furies that hurry us on to our fate, and shall escape from war by the sole available path, — not that of a halfpeace, which only leads round the centre of the maze, but that of true peace among peoples, — I cannot doubt. But for this we need a change of heart.
It might have been expected that, whatever the politicians did or did not do to lead the peoples into the Promised Land, the writers of the world would have fought against the three forces of Militarism, Materialism, and Egotism which are rampant to-day. For my part, I anticipated, in sheer reaction to what is usually called Reaction, a great movement which would show itself in the post-war literature. Perhaps it is yet too early to pronounce a definite judgment. Perhaps a little more grace must be given. Perhaps conventional habits of thought, which patriotism and prudence rendered almost obligatory during the war, cannot be thus lightly discarded. The war has killed elasticity of mind, independence of judgment, and liberty of expression. We think not so much of the truth as of conforming to the tacitly accepted fiction of the hour.
The journals offer a striking commentary on this observation. Look at them day by day; look at the gloss they put upon events, the specious interpretation of political facts, which is obviously wrong and which can have been arrived at only through the training of the war in the art of twisting or suppressing awkward truths. There is no longer a censorship, which was quite openly an official institution for the manufacture of false intelligence, or rather for the manipulation of information into a desired shape. But without the censorship the habit persists. This is exceedingly serious, for, as Balzac says, journalism is the religion of modern society; and if the journalist is a charlatan and not a priest, a charlatan who can always be relied upon by governments to disseminate false news and views, society is living on a lie. To live on a lie is as dangerous as to live on a volcano.
News is always approached from a special point of view. Even ordinary incidents, which can have no political significance, are perverted. I was, for example, with other writers, an eyewitness of a drunken brawl at Spa. It can surely be no reflection on Belgium to say that a Belgian officer in his cups brutally assaulted a German engaged on Conference business, who was quietly entering a café. It certainly would not occur to me to draw deductions. It was a purely personal and quite comprehensible affair, for which the Belgian officer was doubtless punished. How is it possible to see either Belgium or Germany involved in such a trivial event? Yet, because it was the fashion to find that Germany — represented by the individual German — must necessarily behave badly, and Belgium — for the Belgian officer grows into Belgium — must behave admirably, there were long accounts of a provocative German, singing his national hymns, hanging out his national flag, dancing with Belgian women, doing I know not what; while the Belgian officer was described as having gently remonstrated, tactfully intervened, to save the German from an exasperated crowd.
When I read such grotesque distortions of incidents which I have seen with my own eyes, and which do not appear to call, in anybody’s interest, for the smallest embroidery, I wonder how it is possible to believe any newspaper story.
Just because I am myself a journalist, I deplore the more this unconscious dishonesty of the press. That it is unconscious in large part, I am sure. It is simply that we were all obliged to put on special spectacles for five years, and to examine even the most unimportant fact through these spectacles. We are no longer forced to wear them, but we do. How long shall we continue to do so? This willingness to lie for the sake of the popular policy of the moment is sometimes amusing. Thus I recall that when M. Krassin came to London to enter into trade-negotiations with the British government, the newspapers which were at once anti-Bolshevist and pro-government were at first puzzled. But by unanimous consent the way out of the dilemma was found by stating that Krassin was the one and only reasonable and sincere Bolshevik, who held in horror the misdeeds of his compatriots.
That there should be such disingenuous and voluntary falsifications is certainly now discreditable, whatever excuses could be urged during the war, when one naturally expected everybody who lived on one side of a stream to be black, and everybody who lived on the other side to be white. Geography was the only morality, unless one admits that time as well as space determines the goodness or badness of people. There was some determinable moment when the Russians, from being our brave Allies, became utterly ignoble. There is doubtless a date on which a Czecho-Slovakian ceased to be an enemy and was treated with respect — indeed, a great part of the population of the Austro-Hungarian Empire escaped rather cheaply and luckily from the glib judgments of journalists. Now, that rivers and mountains and seas divide during the conflict, and that the simpliste view should then prevail, may be held to be permissible; but it is time to drop this nonsense. It is made into a beautiful hash by the changes of nationality— and presumably of character — under the plebiscites.
Is a journalistic reform possible? The journalist must fulfill his functions as the modern priest. If he told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, wars would assuredly not be possible. It is only ignorance, distortion, unilateral praise or blame, refusal to examine the mind of a possible opponent, malicious misunderstanding and misrepresentation, that make war a constant menace. That there was mischief-making before 1914 goes without saying; but I am persuaded that there was not so conspicuous a lack of scruple as now. We have for so long had butts that could not reply, targets on which we could let ourselves go, that to moderate our transports now is hard. One almost regrets the day when there will be no suitable whippingboy for the serious writers in Europe. And oh, those spicy stories of Prince A and those scandalous revelations about Duke B, which could not be contradicted and were so easy for the more audacious writer!
The lack of perspective, or truth, in the trifling items which make up our newspapers, means a lack of perspective and of truth in the gravest parts of the journals; for nothing is so infectious as this slipshod, facile, irresponsible method of recording the world’s events. One of the institutions which has suffered most in reputation because of the war, owing to the bourrage de crâne which was practised, is the press, and nothing will be put right till there is a reform of the press.
It is not only ruinous to the intelligence of nations and disastrous to their morality to feed them upon lies — it is in a definite and demonstrable manner fatal to them in a strictly material sense. One instance — it happens to be a good one, in which cause can be connected with effect with a shattering certainty that is usually not possible — of the folly of basing a society upon any but the solid foundations of truth may be given. It was considered necessary, rightly or wrongly, to keep up the spirits of France by a series of illusions, the chief of which was that Germany would pay. France believed this oftenrepeated fallacy implicitly. The celebrated book of Norman Angell had exposed the impossibility of extracting indemnities of any serious character from a conquered country in modern conditions. You cannot carry off coalmines, with cold logic strip the enemy bare, or make slaves of many millions of men. Even what you get has such queer incalculable effects on worldeconomy that, paradoxical as it sounds, you will probably find yourself ultimately worse off by its possession.
It could not be expected that the man in the café should realize the impossibility of complete reparations. He was actually persuaded that France would be no worse off through the war. The ridiculous legend was repeated so often that few there were who doubted that it represented the reality. The result was the wave of idleness which we saw in France following the Armistice. Why work when Germany would perform all irksome tasks? Why reconstruct the ravaged regions? Was not that Germany’s job? Were not all Frenchmen rentiers for the rest of their lives?
That this political lie had a baneful effect, morally and materially, upon France, no one who lived there during a certain period can doubt. The happy period was followed by another period of blank despair, of national chagrin, as France gradually became disillusioned. It was then that she began to blame all her friends. It was America who had robbed her of the fruits of victory. It was hypocritical England who had been too astute for her. The newspapers let themselves go in a vivid fury, turning savagely on anybody and everybody. Not only did this grotesque reliance upon an obvious inexactitude — as if Germany were occupied by a race of supermen who can not only achieve economic reconstruction quicker than everyone else, but can aid everyone else! — lull France into a perilous state of false security and hinder her in her efforts at restoration, but it nearly cost her the best of her allies and associates, nearly placed her in a position of isolation in Europe, deserted by all. The failure of the lies fanned the discontent (discontent always accompanies the awakening to reality) and might thus have precipitated a social revolution. The thing left its slimy track in every domain of life. When will rulers learn that lies always come home to roost? They may be convenient for a moment, but they are fatal to the State in the long run.
Look where you will, you find that the governments govern more rigorously, and the people are in fetters. The other day in the French Chamber a deputy dared to quote a phrase from the Declaration of the Rights of Man, on which the Republic is founded. He was cried down, and the minister who followed him indignantly denounced him. In England, I remember, somebody was imprisoned for putting forward scriptural passages by way of an anti-militarist tract. Habeas corpus no longer exists. There come from America strange tales of Socialists (call them Bolsheviki, if you like) who are excluded from Congress because of their opinions, and a long sentence of imprisonment passed upon an orator. The fate of Liebknecht in Germany is well known. Many striking instances could be collected to prove the wave of repression, if it were worth while. It is not worth while because we all know that in every country men of the intellectual value of Mr. Bertrand Russell, for example, are treated as common agitators — though why even ‘common agitators’ should now be the synonym of ‘common malefactor,’ I do not know.
I cannot believe that there was ever a revolutionary danger. I suspect it to be as much exaggerated as was the spy danger. The peoples are tame enough. Nothing would rouse them except sheer animal hunger. The social feeling is extinct. There does not exist a rallying cry of any potent appeal. In France there was a great railway strike, and in other countries there is from time to time a half-hearted manifestation of economic unrest. But the strike in France was largely automatic: it had nothing revolutionary in its character. The steps that were taken to crush it and to crush the working classes were unnecessarily drastic. It is, I know, popularly believed that we are perpetually menaced by revolution. The bogey of Bolshevism, that Asiatic, exotic thing, has been agitated so much that the bourgeoisie — to give the middle classes their more expressive and comprehensive French name — are in panic.
Nowhere do I find these signs of an uprising. It might be more hopeful if there were such signs! Myself, I am altogether opposed to the stupid love of a few fanatics for confusion. They seek a bouleversement of Society that could remedy nothing, that could only aggravate the malaise that now reigns. Nothing could be more deplorable than the setting of the mass in movement. The extremists who suppose that disorder will cure all ills, that terrorism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the abolition of parliaments, are desirable in themselves, can only be charitably regarded as mad. They have their institutions neatly fashioned on the pattern of their cheap ready-made doctrines. They would make them fit mankind. The social clothes of mankind are not to be cut according to the measurements of mankind; but mankind is to be cut according to the measurements of the ready-made doctrine! Nothing more stupid was ever imagined; but these individuals are rare, and far too much importance has been given to them. I am persuaded that nowhere does a real revolutionary tendency exist; and greatly as I should detest its existence, I consider it is a tremendous indictment of mankind that we should have become so submissive.
For the governments are provocative. They have done their best to produce the conditions in which crowds may fly into unreasoning fury. There was never so much despotism as to-day, and there is practically no protest. The fact that there have been revolutions in Russia and in Germany does not invalidate my conclusion. The Russian revolution was not a popular push: it was rather the total and spontaneous collapse of a régime which was unequal to its task, which pulled down the pillars of its own institutions and perished in the débris. The Russian revolution was made by the Tsar; the régime fell apart because of its own rottenness. In the confusion anyone with will and energy could have come to power. The people had no will. That it was Lenin rather than another who possessed the will was a pure accident. Had Kerensky been strong enough, he would have been the new Napoleon. Had a grand duke displayed enough character and organizing abiliity, he would have been welcomed. No, the Russian Revolution, if it proves anything, does not prove that the people are critical, vigilant, and difficult to control: it proves the contrary, as any student of Bolshevism will acknowledge. Lenin could never, after placing himself, by his vigorous acceptance of an opportunity, in power, have maintained himself there, had there not been a strange obedience which is the hallmark of immorality, or at least is the negation of morality. The Russians accept anyone — the Tsar or Lenin; but while their acceptance of the Tsar may be attributed in part to tradition, their acceptance of Lenin (for it would of course be absurd to pretend that there is general agreement with his social theories) is an indication of the serf-spirit.
That serf-spirit is not confined to Russia. It distinguishes certainly all European nations, although perhaps other peoples have not sunk so low in this respect. I am reluctant to illustrate this point with concrete examples, for I do not wish to attack persons in this simple exposition of the post-bellum psychology. But there was a period when in Western Europe the meek endurance of tyranny had grown shameful. Governments had not, as in the old days, to study the best method of imposing their wills. Any arbitrary decision was good enough. No illegality was too flagrant. Lettres de cachet were revived; new Bastilles were built; and the people applauded. There never was in Europe, since the Roman days, such despotism; and in America, too, Mr. Wilson made the tremendous mistake of placing himself above all other powers. In international affairs there was nothing beyond the Supreme Council except God; and in national affairs, nothing beyond the Prime Minister, or whoever, in accordance with the Constitution of the particular country, was effectively the chief of the State, except his valet or his secretary or his wife.
The discipline of war persisted. During the war it was possible to clap in jail a poor woman who gave breadcrumbs to canaries, or to break by long confinement a political enemy; and after the war the ordinary rights and safeguards against the abuses of authority did not disappear. D.O.R.A., as the Defence of the Realm Act, with its thousand vexatious consequences, was called in England, lingered on, and it was unfortunate for any lady to bear that name, which is now ruined as being synonymous with acerbity of temper and wilfullness of ways. No English baby will ever again be christened Dora!
The Anglo-Saxon was the first to resent the attempt to keep him in an unnecessary subjection; but in Latin countries the slavery imposed during the war will not easily be shaken off. Now, when anybody asks me if I think there will be revolution, I am, even as an anti-revolutionary, tempted to reply that happily there will not, but unhappily the degree of impossibility is to the discredit of the peoples. That statement should be modified by the proviso that there should be no running away of responsible authorities if circumstances lead to a crisis. The German Revolution was, in the nature of things, impossible. It ought not a priori to have taken place. I think it would not have, if the authorities had sat tight, if the Kaiser had not taken to his heels when defeat was certain. That there was no political opinion behind the revolt is shown by subsequent governments. It was a revolution of circumstance. To imagine that Germany will go Bolshevist, or that Erance will go Bolshevist, is not to know the mentality of these peoples. Only in the event of a spontaneous collapse of bourgeois administrations through their own rottenness, is it possible that some Bolshevik will impose himself by force upon a spiritless country. At the same time, I do not think they could be dragged into a new war. Militarism is strong enough, but it is a militarism which will not for the moment march. It is fatigued and wants to lick its wounds. It will, however, applaud others, just to keep things humming. It would seem that submissiveness is the reverse side of the military medal.
Recently there was a great discussion in England on the eternal subject of whether mankind is progressing or is in decadence. It arose upon the remarkable Romanes Lecture of Dean Inge, who is generally called in the newspapers, ‘The Gloomy Dean.’ His habits of mind lead him naturally to dismal conclusions. I do not adopt them. What I have written may seem to be sheer pessimism. But in truth I think that progress is certain — from the baboon to the barbarian, and from the barbarian to the modern man with his development of mechanical resources, of intelligence, and of the idea of coöperation, there is an undoubted upward drive. But though we have built the edifice high, it is nevertheless in danger of a catastrophic collapse. Civilization has made vast material strides: but morally the whole earth is now darkened and we grope in that darkness to our own destruction. Everything depends upon our return to peace.
Many reservations would have to be made, but on the whole the years immediately preceding the war found a world made better. Science had brought us many gifts. Culture had become more diffused. We had a sound sense of interdependence, which for me is the greatest spiritual conquest of our age. But all this did not prevent us from turning science to our own and to our neighbor’s hurt; from using our culture to deceive ourselves and our neighbors; from battering down the Temple of Life, painfully erected stone by stone, with the battering-ram of knowledge. Progress is a reality; but it turns upon itself like a serpent. It pursues a splendid path, and then suddenly swings round, and we are worse than our fathers.
Quo vadis? Shall we ever advance without these perpetual retrogressions? Or are we doomed to strive like squirrels in a cage? Is the vicious circle a necessity of nature? For my part, I believe that we shall profit even by our war-experience — but that will be later. For the present we have not learned the lesson. For the present Europe is in greater peril of conflict than ever it was in the ante-war years. The spirit of man has been tortured and twisted. Recent revelations in France suggest that it would have been possible to conclude the strife a year earlier; but it was not only that the statesmen refused to examine the possibility, but that the peoples would not have heard of an end. They had grown accustomed to their habits. Again, when a heavy step was taken by M. Millerand this fall, which might have brought down the avalanche once more, while it is true that there were protests, there was, on the whole, joy in his vigorous invitation of the catastrophe. War has got into our bones and blood, and we can hardly do without these wild excitements. If Europe does not settle down, it is because we are men who have been out on a Great Adventure and are now asked to accept the humdrum farm and the fetid factory.
The politicians, as I have shown, have their responsibility. The journalists who have given their pens over to Beelzebub, the Prince of Lies, must be blamed. But the churches cannot escape condemnation. Where has been the clear denunciation of the manifold iniquities perpetrated even for the sake of a righteous cause? What great ecclesiastical authority has made an unmistakable pronouncement? The Pope remained silent. Perhaps he could do no other. His ministers were on both sides, and they proclaimed the justice of their own country. (Bear in mind that for me Germany is the archcriminal; but there is a higher plane than the national plane, on which war itself should be treated as something from which the world must be rid — something which will rid us of the world if the world does not rid us of it.) Since 1918 I have heard no authoritative declaration against scientific slaughter.
Then, too, the women, who might have been expected to shrink in horror from any further trial of strength, have not, in Europe at least, manifested their repugnance for combat, their determination to lend their aid to any movement which has for aim the abolition of such a wasteful and wicked method of settling national disputes. There are disputes between individuals, between towns, between states, between countries which are allies; but these are all settled in a sensible way. I should have thought that the women of the world would cry out without ceasing for the civilized organization of peace, even though it cost as much as the organization of war. Women have been singularly callous: they remain apathetic in face of the tremendous problems big with menace.
What appals me most is the feebleness of the so-called ‘pacifists.’ No big book has yet been written about the war. Sir Philip Gibbs deserves praise for his unflinching revelation of realities, and certainly I should look upon him as the most honest writer on this immense subject. But it is only in imaginative form that the really big book can be cast. H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett attempted to show the emotions of the life at home; and there is much that is fine in their work. But Wells is obviously not altogether sincere — that is to say, he is not consciously insincere, but he would have written differently and more convincingly had he possessed no national interest in the struggle; while Bennett, who is a wonderful painter of what he sees, does not penetrate deep enough — he is always a trifle too facile. As for men who have tried to give us the detailed horrors of the front, I think their work frankly detestable.
Henri Barbusse started it in France; he is an excellent realist, but it is not the physical sufferings of a handful of men, — typical of the rest, — sordid, unpleasant, gruesome, but not penetrated and overhung by any sense of Destiny and profound consciousness of the Human Tragedy, which represent the war. These figures, whether they reappear in the books of George Duhamel, of Roland Dorgelès, or of any of the others who have followed Barbusse, do not interest us. They are so painfully mesquin, so frightfully little. Nothing huge and noble relieves and heightens the effect: it is almost as if we were presented with a detailed account of the horrors with which the execution and cremation of Landru’s victims must have been accompanied. Landru and his victims do not really matter to us; certainly the surgical operations and the particular kind of wounds inflicted, and the mud and the discomforts, do not convey much to us. Blasco Ibañez has, I think, been vastly overrated. In short, there has not emerged a Dostoïevsky of the war who would write another Crime and Punishment, That seems to me to be the type of war-novel for which we are waiting — a great psychological study of the effect of war on the human spirit.
But, for heaven’s sake, spare us little pacifist tracts written by men with smelling-salts at their elbow! It is not a feminine shrinking from violence that will persuade us of the moral shame of war: it is the fierce, flaming language of an old Hebrew prophet, aglow with righteous wrath, which is needed to drive us from the sloth, the vindictiveness, the submissiveness, the cynicism, the insensibility, the cruelty, the egotism of the post-war, and to inspire us with energy to labor together for the reconstruction of the House of Life which our Science has battered down.
- ‘The Menace of the World.’ May, 1920.↩