The Future of English Liberalism


POLITICAL prophets, as Mr. Chesterton once remarked, owe a good deal of their reputation to their habit of predicting as likely to happen in a dozen years or so something that indubitably did happen a dozen years or so ago. Were they to turn their attention to matters with which the ordinary person is familiar, their methods would soon expose them to ridicule. If after some weeks of summer rain they were to hint that wet wickets would shortly be the rule, or that the trade in muslin frocks might before long be affected, they would call forth the smile of derision. But in politics they are free to be wise after the event, because, with nine people out of ten, political knowledge is merely verbal. The public has by rote a number of words that are frequently repeated on the platform and in the press but it has forgotten, if it ever knew, their meaning.

So it is that when one or another rises to tell us of the approaching demise of Liberalism in England, interested multitudes scan the heavens above and the earth beneath for confirmatory portents. And when a Liberal candidate runs third at a by-election, and forfeits his deposit money for polling no more than a trivial number of voters, great honor immediately accrues to the company of prophets. What the public does not notice is that the prophets are, in fact, simply prophesying the past. Liberalism, the creed of Bright and Cobden, the dogma of laissez faire, laissez aller, is dead already. As to the precise date of its death there may be argument, but certainly it did net survive the guardianship of Lord Rosebery in the nineties of the last century. Even earlier it had shown signs of internal decay, Gladstone’s intervention in Egypt, as well as his alternating policies of boons and coercion in Ireland, had been serious departures from the golden rule of ‘least done, soonest mended’; yet it had been possible to overlook them. Pure Liberalism, it could be urged, was the fine flower of English civilization and not an article of export suitable for men of color and Popish peasants; and the Home-Rule scheme was a return to the letter of the law, needing no sophistry for its justification. Home Rule split the Party, but it kept the true doctrine alive; for no idea could be more thoroughly Liberal than that of ending England’s Irish difficulty by allowing the Irish to go their own way — although it might be a rather bad way.

Quite un-Liberal, on the other hand, were the concurrent plans for making the public sober by Act of Parliament. That the precisians came to accept them without question is a standing proof that in this world political philosophies will always yield to personal prejudices. If so disposed, a Liberal could, without violating his orthodoxy, proclaim that ale was the Devil in solution, and that sensible people would, therefore, eschew this Hell-brewed liquor, while the foolish died to the benefit of the body politic; but it was sheer heresy for such a Liberal to control by legislation the public taste in taps. All the same, it would be true to say that if the late Gladstonian Liberalism was in this direction obviously corrupt, it was, taking a wide view, recognizably Liberal. It stood for the theory that men were free and equal; must be allowed to make their way in the world on their own feet, and occasionally on the shoulders of others if they could mount so high unaided; go to Heaven by their own chosen roads, or, if they chose, to the Devil, provided it was not the Devil which publicans dispersed on Sunday afternoons. When all is said and done, the creed was less brutal than it sounds. It rested on the assumption that humanity was, in the lump, good.

The advent of Lord Rosebery wrought a change. It meant that the exception in regard to alcohol was to become the rule in regard to all human existence. The new leader called himself a Liberal mainly because he came of Whig stock, resented having to sit in the House of Lords, and had a personal affection for Gladstone. He was, in fact, a cross between a modern Conservative and a Fabian Socialist. In all directions he was activist, while the very essence of true Liberalism is, first to clear away all obstruction to the free play of forces, and then to give those forces the freest play. Lord Rosebery was Imperialist, and, despite all that ingenuous writers have said, there is a profound incompatibility between Imperialism and Liberalism. He was Socialist, in the sense that he desired to make the State, not merely the defender against foreign enemies, the keeper of domestic order, and the enforcer of contracts, but also the creator of happiness and prosperity. The dream was, and is, attractive, and perhaps it is wrong to call it a dream. But it was not Liberal. ‘Social Reform,’ whatever can be said for it, — and nobody nowadays dares to say a word against it, — does mean forcing some people to do what they dislike, and also forcing them to abstain from doing what they do like. And it is mostly based on the assumption that humanity is, in the lump, bad, and the very poor, rather worse.

When the Liberal Party came to power in 1906 with its sweeping victories, although there had been a considerable resurrection of Liberalism in the country, there was less in the Cabinet. The vote for Free Trade and against denominational education, as well as the condemnation of the Unionist policies in South Africa, seemed to show that the average man was anxious for a return to old ways. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman himself would have been quite agreeable. ‘Trust the people’ was the foundation of his statesmanship, and he probably would have given it as his opinion that the English had as much right to freedom as the Boers. But few of his Ministers shared his views. Among them were men such as Mr. John Burns and Mr. Lloyd George, whose desideratum was bureaucracy; others, such as Sir Edward Grey, in whose programme the needs of Empire stood first; and there was Mr. Haldane who, being at once Fabian and Imperialist, could be Liberal neither at home nor abroad. Mr. Asquith was by temperament a Simon-pure, but in practice ever ready to be swayed by whoever made the most noise. Lord Crewe and the other peers were Whigs. Lord Morley, indeed, had been Liberalism incarnate, if the expression may be employed in regard to one who himself seemed somehow incorporeal; but he was sent to the Indian Office where, after a spell of dealing with seditious Hindus, he wrote down the chief clauses of his former credo as a series of ‘abstract catchwords.’

Nor did Mr. Asquith’s attainment of the premiership change the character of the Government. True, he preached laissez faire in Parliament and on the platform, but he practised it mainly in the Cabinet, and when Mr. Lloyd George in the plentitude of his vigor suggested measures for turning the country upside down, and then regimenting it on German lines, the Prime Minister, while doing lip service to the Radical philosophers, remained true to his private principles by taking the line of least resistance.

In justice to the leader and all concerned it must be admitted that to an extent, at least, they were the slaves of circumstances. The great Liberals of the nineteenth century had seen very clearly as far as the tips of their noses — and not one inch farther. When they proposed that Government should confine itself to keeping the peace and coining money, they did not mean that things and people required no further regulation whatsoever. On the contrary, they believed that there was in the world, independent of Kings, Ministers, and assemblies, a great regulating force as constant as the sun and tides, and they called it ‘Competition.’ There was, they said, no need to legislate on such problems as prices, wages, hours, and conditions of labor, because competition would duly and satisfactorily settle these matters. The idea that a merchant could be what is now known as a profiteer did not occur to them. Other merchants, as far as they could see, would always bring him to order by selling at a more reasonable price. Still less did they imagine certain workmen bringing an industry to ruin by demanding more for their labor than the industry could produce. Other workers, they held, would always be ready to take their places on more reasonable terms.

In brief, the old Liberals did not foresee how competition was in almost every sphere to give way to combination. To-day it is obvious that their philosophy is in practical politics no longer tenable. The Government which acted on it, professing to leave the people free, would in fact be conferring freedom on sundry powerful corporations only, and delivering ordinary men, women, and children to a tyranny the like of which has never yet been known. A few, a very few Conservatives are now the sole upholders of the individualism that was the essence of Liberalism in the Victorian age.


From all this, two salient facts emerge. In the first place, Liberalism as understood in the nineteenth century is a thing of the past. Secondly, the Party which retains the name of Liberal is out of favor with the country, because, having lost its principles, it has nothing in particular to offer. ‘Politics,’ said an American divine of last century, ‘is the science of exigencies’; but though this view may be taken by the spiritually minded man who contemplates mundane affairs, as well as by the complete cynic, it does not commend itself to the multitude. Tadpole and Taper, eternal types of the wirepuller, may be very disrespectful behind the scenes when principles are mentioned, but they know better than anybody else that a principle at the time of a general election is a sine qua non. It is the plank on which your party man stands; without it, he will be for a moment in mid-air, and the next sprawling in the mud. He who does not profess belief in some perfectly definite, comprehensible principle is naturally suspected like the candidate in the ‘Biglow Papers.’ Mr. Lloyd George’s Coalition fell because it could not be recognized as fish, flesh, or fowl. The Liberal Party is moving toward collapse for the same reason.

Of the three Parties in the State, it shows, as a Party, the least character, and to-day is generally regarded as nothing but a halfway house between the Conservative and Labor camps. Its members, instead of attempting to dissipate that notion, encourage it by demanding a change in the electoral system which will, or may, bring them every voter’s second vote. Such a change would, no doubt, alter the present face of politics; among other things it would make a Centre party permanent in Parliament. But it would do nothing toward a Liberal resurrection. For the genuine Liberal is neither a timorous wobbler nor a respectable trimmer; neither a moderate Tory nor a mild Socialist; but one who is bound to take strong views on all subjects, and on some to be an extremist.

Even at the present period of the Liberal Party’s degeneracy, its members show by an occasional kick that they do not hold their duty fulfilled in maintaining the middle way. Thus, in their opposition to Protection or Preference, with few exceptions they are absolutely firm; whereas in the Labor ranks there is schism, doubt, and hesitation. Those Laborites who were graduated in the Liberal schools, and read from the primer of Mill before embarking on an advanced course in Marx, may still be Free-Traders. They hang to their thin relic of a childish faith as Vautrin clasped his soiled rags of virtue; but the genuine Socialist, commonly a Scot, has none of this weakness. Thus Mr. Johnston, editor of the Clydeside Forward, declared the other day in the House of Commons for a prohibitive tariff against the goods of countries which did not adopt a fortyeight hours’ working week, and for ‘the finest possible preference’ to Australia, where a high minimum wage has been enforced in all skilled trades. Pledged to international solidarity of the proletariat, his associates must either support him or avow a derisory inconsistency. The logic of Socialism, as of Conservatism, leads inevitably to fiscal discrimination, just as surely as the logic of Liberalism means an open market.

Again, at several stages of the recent debate on the London Traffic Bill, Laborites and Tories have been seen working hand in hand. This measure for the control of the shockingly congested streets of the British capital appeared wise and necessary to both. It had been drafted under Mr, Baldwin’s Government, and with some minor alterations it was accepted by Mr. MacDonald’s Government. The Liberals, on the contrary, fought the bill on the ground that it would rivet a traffic monopoly on the metropolis, and deprive the ‘pirate’ — otherwise the owner of one or a dozen omnibuses — of his liberty to ply a trade. And, whatever the merits of the problem, there can be no question that they were fighting for elementary Liberalism when they pleaded the cause of green, blue, and chocolate omnibuses in competition with the red vehicles of Lord Ashfield’s dominant combination.

On the increasingly rare occasions when the Liberal stands by his guns the taunt of pedantry is often raised against him. The taunt would lose its sting did he stand by them less seldom. Advocacy of freedom is certainly not pedantic, but there is a touch of buckram sentimentality about the politician who continues to insist on free imports while agreeing to every other sort of interference with the laws of supply and demand. Equally, it is absurd to demand freedom of the streets while voting for laws which will enchain a man under the roof he may not call his own, worry him in bed or at board, weigh upon him at business or at play. Apart from merely partisan attacks, the charge of pedantry is not made against the modern Liberal because he wears a calico shirt of the pattern of the fifties, but because he takes such inordinate pride in a garment so scanty and worn so thin that it cannot cover his nakedness. If he had maintained the full Cobdenic wardrobe — adapted sufficiently to the new time — all would have been well with him.


Yet chances of the Liberals regaining the ground lost of late to the Socialists ought by no means to be ignored. In the main, the appeal of the newer party has always been religious or emotional. ‘ Socialism, ‘ wrote Mr. Wells, ‘ lights up certain once hopeless evils in human affairs and shows the path by which escape is possible. . . . Socialism is hope.’ But with Labor in office Socialism has become hope deferred and is rapidly making the general heart sick. Should Labor attain to real power the hope may be destroyed. The Party, it would seem, is in the fairly near future bound to evolve in one of three directions. It may settle into the jog trot of solid Trades-Unionism, concentrating on the problem of raising the condition of the workers, and far too intent on bread and jam even to dream of the millennium. Or it may become revolutionary — in which case the bread and jam will probably be sacrificed to a dream ending in blood and hunger. Or, again, it may come to be directed by the coterie of intellectuals, which would mean a kind of lay theocracy and, consequently, a very horrid tyranny.

Should the Trades-Unionists prevail, there would certainly be a split in the party. The eager visionaries, the seekers after earthly paradises, could never accommodate their mental pace to the speed limit which a Henderson or a Walsh would impose in practical affairs. Should the revolutionaries take the lead it is equally sure that the English workingman would, after a few steps, refuse to follow. Whether unity could be preserved under ‘intellectual’ direction would depend almost entirely on the personal abilities of the directors, and at the moment the prospects are scarcely bright. Mr. MacDonald has a good presence, fluent command of commonplace, self-satisfaction, Parliamentary adroitness, the art of being all things to all men, but no streak of genius. His ingrained conventionality of mind has made him the ideal man to be first Labor Premier, but as the second he would strain the patience of his friends, and he would, I think, never be allowed a third term. Mr. Snowden, despite a popular Budget, has already shrunk to insignificance. Mr. Webb, with a library of Fabian tracts behind him, is rapidly qualifying for a seat in the Lords, where he will do nothing in particular and do it very well — superlatively well if only his chief will be so super-venturesome as at the same time to award another peerage to Mrs. Webb. With one exception, the other personages are even less impressive. Messrs. Trevelyan, Buxton, and Ponsonby have their Ministerial places only to remind us that Labor’s occupation of the Treasury Bench has not so much as broken the line of succession of our ruling families. The solitary member of the Government who stands half a head above the rest is Mr. Wheatley; but Mr. Wheatley is hardly likely to go much further than he has gone already. He is what the late Lord Fisher would have called ‘a great conceptionist,’ and to Trades-Union secretaries and such as they he appears a dangerous visionary. On the other hand, the ‘advanced’ thinkers know perfectly well that, because he is a believing and practising Roman Catholic, there are a great many points beyond which he will not advance with them.

If the positions gained are to be held and improved, Labor in the next few years must discover to the world a new leader capable of translating into practical politics those high hopes raised by the evangelists of yesterday. He will have to be a statesman, but much more than an ordinary statesman; for he must at once satisfy the men and women whose thoughts of life are as humdrum as the toil by which they earn a living, and keep at the right pitch of exaltation the spirits of those who are yearning for Utopia. The first are the voting strength of the party; the second its sole spiritual driving force. Without the two together, Labor must relapse into impotence as a political body, though the idea that this can happen is now generally derided.

The Conservative Party has its ups and downs, but in comparison with the others is fixed and solid. Even under the ludicrously bad management of Mr. Baldwin it holds its place as the largest single Party in Great Britain, and there is no likelihood that it will be further reduced in the near future. The struggle of to-morrow and the day after will be between the ‘Progressives’ for second place.

In this combat two considerations must be taken into account. It is frequently stated as axiomatic that Labor will keep and improve its lead; but a merchant of bulls might be excused for saying that the odds are even. Until the last general election Mr. MacDonald’s party had glamour as its prime asset. It was the unknown quantity — therefore magnificent. But the glamour is already going, and before long it will be gone, unless there should appear above the political horizon some inspired and inspiring leader as yet unknown. But when we come to consider the prospects for the Liberals, something more than a mere decline in Socialist prestige must be premised before a Liberal revival can be expected. As long as the Liberals choose to be no more than a right wing to the Socialists or a left wing to the Tories, there will be no improvement in their fortunes, and there may well be a declension. People who want Socialism will deal at Mr. MacDonald’s store, where, if the goods do not come up to expectation, they are at all events the best available. People who want Toryism will still go to the old shop where, despite the outrageous blunders of the managing director, a fine tradition lingers. While Mr. Lloyd George continues to advertise something ‘just as good as Socialism, ‘ the public may gape about his stall as about a cheap-jack’s, but they will not buy. The conservatively minded may secretly sigh for the wares which Mr. Asquith could give them if he were really in business. But he is like the superannuated tradesman who, while he cannot leave the shop altogether, does not trouble about selling anything. Like Dr. Johnson’s reformed tallow-chandler, he loves to attend on ‘melting days,5 in order to sniff the familiar odors; but he is vastly more interested in the art and machinery of politics than in anything politics might produce. Further, he does not advertise at all.


The Liberal Party, in fine, can, if it likes, recover much of its old power. But the condition of such revival is that Liberalism shall again mean something, if not precisely what the old Liberalism meant. And while adapting itself to the times, it must not belie its whole tradition; it must remain fundamentally Liberal. Every Liberal candidate must be able to go to his constituency with the words, ‘I am a Liberal because I believe in Liberty,’ and successful candidates will subsequently have to back their words by their votes. Mr. Lloyd George struck the right note the other day when he told his Welsh supporters that the traditional task of his party was ‘defending and extending the boundaries of freedom.’ Unfortunately, everybody knows that the tradition is no longer followed, and that few British statesmen have done more to curtail the boundaries than Mr. Lloyd George himself. In the ballad of the American flag, freedom is depicted as descending ‘from her mountain height’; in Mr. George’s opinion some uninhabitable crag of his native land is her proper abiding-place. On the lower planes, where we must live and work and die, he has no use for her save as a rhetorical figure. During the war he was but one of the many Ministers in all the Allied countries who were responsible for restrictive legislation; but with him it could never be felt, as with some others, that the laws he fathered or sanctioned were devised to meet an exceptional emergency. With him the country is always in danger, in peace as in war, and his invariable plan to meet the danger is some kind of interference with the right of ordinary men to order their lives as they please. His ideal seems to be a beneficent and energetic bureaucracy, with a general election every five years or so to confirm its decrees. Should confirmation not be forthcoming, one suspects that he would sacrifice the ballot box rather than the beneficence and the energy. Now and then, of course, he does almost persuade us that he is in earnest about freeing the land from ‘the rusty chains of feudalism,’ or, at least, he almost persuades those of us who live in towns. But in rural England they are more skeptical. The modern squire, as a squire, does not after all suggest feudalism to personal acquaintances. Either he is an impoverished person who can be pronounced harmless, or a wealthy townsman who spends in the village a little of the money he has made in the city. So long as this money lasts, he is a not unwelcome, though probably a derided, object of the countryside.

Under Mr. Lloyd George, no revival of Liberalism is, I imagine, possible. Nor is it much more likely should Mr. Asquith succeed in holding a position always threatened. Though without any burning faith in democracy, and even with a certain lawyerlike distrust of mankind in the mass, he is orthodox enough. With hand on heart he could repeat his predecessor’s dictum that ‘good government is no substitute for self-government.’ But all the while he would be making the mental reservation that good government is a mere figment of the imagination. The real trouble about Mr. Asquith, however, is that he is an economist, and of late years has become an economist of energy. Were he Prime Minister again, with a number of faithful second lieutenants to drudge for him, and a substantial majority on the benches behind him, he would do respectably well; but he is not of those who ‘face a hopeless hill with sparking and delight,’ and he has got into the habit of regarding as hopeless every hill to be climbed. He could keep together an army (mostly marking time) that had never known rout or serious discomfiture. He is not the man to inspire courage in a Party that once, twice, and thrice has endured dire defeat.

But, whereas the Labor leader of tomorrow will require to be gifted with something very like supermanhood to satisfy the hopes set on him, the Liberal leadership could be successfully filled by one of abilities but a degree above mediocrity. The task before him is not particularly hard. It will not be his business to persuade the public to accompany him through several wildernesses into a promised but unglimpsed land of milk and honey. On the contrary, his main concern will be to urge them to follow their own noses. True, the advice will seem novel to them, and it will, therefore, have to be repeated several times, and with energy, before they grasp its implication. But it is impossible to think that liberty, either as word or fact, has lost all the lure it has exercised over humanity since the beginning of recorded time. Judged at its lowest, simply as a slogan, there is magic in it. ‘The people have a right to make their own mistakes’ — the essence of Liberalism is in that spell-binding phrase. It ought to be popular, and it is very hard to understand why none of our ambitious young politicians is shouting it from the housetops.

All this, of course, is not to hint that Liberals can go back to unmitigated laissez-faire, which modern conditions have made impossible. Young Manchester has killed the anarchical ideals of Old Manchester. ‘Angels alone, that soar above, enjoy such liberty’ as the early Cobdenites postulated for all and sundry; but there is no obvious reason why the Liberal Party should not again announce its championship of the individual both as regards his person and his property. Lest there should be any mistake as to their meaning, the word ‘individual’ would have to be emphasized.

As things are, control, and even increased control, may be necessary for the great Capitalist corporations, and checks against the tyranny of Labor combinations may have to be devised. But the right of the individual to go his own way as long as he remains an individual is quite another matter. A reformed Liberal Party might, in opposition, do worse than concentrate on safeguarding such personal liberties as the individual still possesses, and in office might set itself to the restoration of many that have been lost. The Party would thus regain its character, and, having once more a raison d’être, could no longer be treated by its adversaries with contempt. No special harm would be done to the community, and, it may be, much good. The ordinary swing of the political pendulum would be a guaranty against exaggerated licence, and, as periods of freedom would alternate with periods of paternal rule, the fear of paternalism hardening into oppressive Prussianism, which at present is very real, would be removed.


That Labor is making the way easy for such a Liberal revival, and may end by making it inevitable, leaps to the eyes. As yet the average Englishman only grumbles at the trammels put upon him by Government after Government, and is not actively in revolt against them. If he is not allowed to buy tobacco after eight o’clock in the evening, he calls the law an ass, and perhaps bribes the barmaid at the nearest public house to supply him with a packet of cigarettes; but his annoyance does not affect his vote at the next election. For one thing, none of the candidates offers to take up the question for him. If, again, he hears that the police now have the right to search private dwellings for improper books and pictures, his resentment against this potential invasion of his home is wholly abstract. The principle involved does not really stir him.

Principles, indeed, do not bulk largely in the English mind until and unless they are made matter for a political agitation. Then, they will often fill it to the exclusion of every material consideration. What happened when the Lords threw out Mr. George’s Budget in 1909 is worth remembering. In advance, the man in the street did not seem to care much, one way or the other; but when the whole eloquence of the Liberal Party was employed in telling him that the Chamber in which he was represented had been flouted by the Chamber that represented a class only, his ire was aroused. That he would stand for defense of the House of Commons and not for the house in which he lives, is incredible. So far, however, no politician has thought it worth while to tell him that his house is seriously threatened. The middle-class elector still tries to fancy that, whatever else is taken from him, his house is his castle. The proletarian knows that it is nothing of the sort, and is sore about it; but nobody — least of all the Labor Party — offers him redress. Governments come and go, but, as far as he can see, he is going to be inspected and spied and pried on until the earth covers his coffin.

It is, however, clear that we are but at the beginning of the assault on the Englishman’s status as a free man. Unless he happens to belong to the comparatively small section of the income-tax payers, in which case he is painfully aware of his obligation to work for the State during several months of the year, he is as yet far from accounting himself a serf. The assailing forces have been careful to advance little by little, with a law here and a bylaw there, a restriction one year and a perquisition the next. Often the individual is unaware of the barriers erected about him until the inevitable moment arrives when he knocks his head against one of them. But an important fact has to be borne in mind. Labor cannot afford to advance quite as slowly and cautiously as the parties which have hitherto held office. Either it must put into operation some of its plans for the regeneration of Britain — or perish; and every intelligent Socialist agrees that without a number of new and drastic restraints on ordinary men and women these plans cannot be sensibly advanced. When, therefore, Labor starts its big push, the threat will be, not to our minor liberties, but to some or all of those rights which have ever been treated as inherent in each human being born outside servitude.

First and foremost, perhaps, is the whole question of a man’s right to own property. The merely sentimental Laborite sometimes says he has no objection to an individual owning a property provided it is a little one, and that if he favors confiscation at all it is only in the case of those of great possessions. As talk, this is pretty — but it is not practical politics. Tarquin struck down his largest adversaries first, and was deposed for his temerity. In these days his mistake is never repeated. The Socialist Minister, at war with property, will strike first at the small owners; and, though even at them he will strike indirectly, there is no reason why he should not strike hard. When he has disposed of them, he may turn his attention to the big men, who will then be friendless. No British Parliament will from start to finish be asked to pass a law for transferring lands or houses to the State, or even mines and railways; but the position of the existing owners can be made untenable within a short space of time. Mr. Wheatley’s Housing Bill illustrates the point. Whether it will fulfill its ostensible purpose of obtaining houses in which people can live, remains to be seen; but it will certainly multiply the great present difficulties of every person to whom a house belongs and will break the poorer of them. As an act it will serve to prevent any individual of modest means from building or buying a house of his own. And so the attack on private ownership will continue.

Other Socialists, again, are fond of telling the public that it is only real property at which they aim, and that the acquisition of personal property has their warm approval. The distinction is unpractical. A house, a field, a garden, are real property, but they are also among the most personal things a man can have and hold, and, were they as widely distributed among the population in England as in France and Ireland, their transfer to municipalities or the State could not be contemplated. In existing conditions it would appear that the protection and restoration of small property might be made a prominent item in any programme of genuine Liberalism as a counter to the Socialist proposals. Something of the kind is occasionally mentioned in inconspicuous corners of Liberal addresses, but its vote-winning value has not been exploited since the days of three acres and a cow. That cry, or its topical equivalent — a four-roomed dwelling and a wireless installation, in some neighborhoods — is the obvious reply to such as Mr. Wheatley.

Intimately connected with the problem of nationalization is that of the right to work or to withhold work. During a recent railway strike a Labor Minister told the House of Commons that the Government could not be expected to carry on the services of a public-utility company run by private capital. Had the line belonged to and been managed by the State, what would he have said and done? Another Minister has lately refused reinstatement to certain police strikers, and, from the point of view of a logical Socialist, he was unquestionably right. Nationalization of an industry must mean that all employed in it are brought to the police level. The miner, for instance, is just as necessary to the community as the constable; but, although his immediate employer is, or can be envisaged as, a private person, he can ‘down tools’ at will. As an official, he would lose that privilege. That the rest of us might be more comfortable under those conditions may be granted or disputed, but it does not affect the issue. The Liberal, because presumably he values liberty as more precious than efficiency, must stand for the right to strike even though it involves many hardships. Equally, by the way, he must stand for the right to work. Just as he must oppose dragooning by the employer, public or private, so must he defend the individual who is ready to labor when a Trades-Union has ordered a stoppage. Socialism, of course, implies industrial conscription, and all Socialists must, on pain of stultification, approve Trotzky’s dictum that those who will not work shall not eat. Choice of employment must evidently be restricted, if not abolished, under any system of bona fide Socialism.

But here, perhaps, we are looking rather far ahead. For the present Liberals can confine themselves to resisting nationalization, and can do so on two grounds. First, because it is the denial of a man’s right to own property, and secondly, because it is the end of a man’s right to own even himself.

It may be, however, that the greatest of all the struggles between the Socialist ideal of good government and the Liberal ideal of self-government will be waged over the question of marriage and the family. Nothing is more certain than that permanence can be given to the paradises of Labor only in a country where a perfect balance is struck between national wealth and national population. This is fully realized already by all save the most shallow thinkers in the Socialist Party. The Socialist who is not utterly befuddled by his visions is, of necessity, a Malthusian. So far he is only a propagandist, but, if he is sincere, he will be no more content to stop at propaganda than anybody else who sees a chance of imposing a sincerely held opinion. Gradually he is moving to the point where compulsory birth-control can be made a rule with no more than the usual number of exceptions. A people kept or employed by the State could quite easily be prohibited from having more than a certain number of children, and, in some cases, from having any children at all. A people increasingly dependent on the State could be regulated in the same way with only a little more difficulty. And here again Liberalism dictates unflinching opposition. Whatever else has been taken from individuals, this at least. Liberals would say, must be left to them. To have children or not — that is emphatically their affair. A thorough Liberal would of course add, ‘But they must not expect others thereafter to maintain them.’

How England will decide between these two ideals, between Socialist and Liberal, cannot be foreseen; yet enough has been said to suggest that the Liberal still has good cards to play. One more thing is to be added. Liberalism, the defense of liberty, has the advantage of being unfamiliar in contemporary politics. Whenever its standard is raised, it will be mistaken for a brandnew standard. The English people will see over it the halo which till yesterday hung above the red flag of Labor. It will appeal as a novelty even if it does not at once convince as a philosophy.