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Title: First and Last Things: A Confession of Faith and Rule of Life
Author: Wells, H. G. (Herbert George)
Language: English
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By H.G. Wells








































































Recently I set myself to put down what I believe. I did this with no
idea of making a book, but at the suggestion of a friend and to interest
a number of friends with whom I was associated. We were all, we found,
extremely uncertain in our outlook upon life, about our religious
feelings and in our ideas of right and wrong. And yet we reckoned
ourselves people of the educated class and some of us talk and lecture
and write with considerable confidence. We thought it would be of very
great interest to ourselves and each other if we made some sort of frank
mutual confession. We arranged to hold a series of meetings in which
first one and then another explained the faith, so far as he understood
it, that was in him. We astonished ourselves and our hearers by the
irregular and fragmentary nature of the creeds we produced, clotted at
one point, inconsecutive at another, inconsistent and unconvincing to a
quite unexpected degree. It would not be difficult to caricature one of
those meetings; the lecturer floundering about with an air of exquisite
illumination, the audience attentive with an expression of thwarted
edification upon its various brows. For my own part I grew so interested
in planning my lecture and in joining up point and point, that my notes
soon outran the possibilities of the hour or so of meeting for which I
was preparing them. The meeting got only a few fragments of what I had
to say, and made what it could of them. And after that was over I let
myself loose from limits of time and length altogether and have expanded
these memoranda into a book.

It is as it stands now the frank confession of what one man of the early
Twentieth Century has found in life and himself, a confession just as
frank as the limitations of his character permit; it is his metaphysics,
his religion, his moral standards, his uncertainties and the expedients
with which he has met them. On every one of these departments and
aspects I write--how shall I put it?--as an amateur. In every section of
my subject there are men not only of far greater intellectual power and
energy than I, but who have devoted their whole lives to the sustained
analysis of this or that among the questions I discuss, and there is a
literature so enormous in the aggregate that only a specialist scholar
could hope to know it. I have not been unmindful of these professors
and this literature; I have taken such opportunities as I have found, to
test my propositions by them. But I feel that such apology as one
makes for amateurishness in this field has a lesser quality of
self-condemnation than if one were dealing with narrower, more defined
and fact-laden matters. There is more excuse for one here than for the
amateur maker of chemical theories, or the man who evolves a system of
surgery in his leisure. These things, chemistry, surgery and so forth,
we may take on the reputation of an expert, but our own fundamental
beliefs, our rules of conduct, we must all make for ourselves. We may
listen and read, but the views of others we cannot take on credit; we
must rethink them and “make them our own.” And we cannot do without
fundamental beliefs, explicit or implicit. The bulk of men are obliged
to be amateur philosophers,--all men indeed who are not specialized
students of philosophical subjects,--even if their philosophical
enterprise goes no further than prompt recognition of and submission to

And it is not only the claim of the specialist that I would repudiate.
People are too apt to suppose that in order to discuss morals a man must
have exceptional moral gifts. I would dispute that naive supposition.
I am an ingenuous enquirer with, I think, some capacity for religious
feeling, but neither a prophet nor a saint. On the whole I should be
inclined to classify myself as a bad man rather than a good; not indeed
as any sort of picturesque scoundrel or non-moral expert, but as
a person frequently irritable, ungenerous and forgetful, and
intermittently and in small but definite ways bad. One thing I claim, I
have got my beliefs and theories out of my life and not fitted them to
its circumstances. As often as not I have learnt good by the method of
difference; by the taste of the alternative. I tell this faith I hold as
I hold it and I sketch out the principles by which I am generally trying
to direct my life at the present time, because it interests me to do so
and I think it may interest a certain number of similarly constituted
people. I am not teaching. How far I succeed or fail in that private and
personal attempt to behave well, has nothing to do with the matter of
this book. That is another story, a reserved and private affair. I offer
simply intellectual experiences and ideas.

It will be necessary to take up the most abstract of these questions of
belief first, the metaphysical questions. It may be that to many readers
the opening sections may seem the driest and least attractive. But I
would ask them to begin at the beginning and read straight on, because
much that follows this metaphysical book cannot be appreciated at its
proper value without a grasp of these preliminaries.



As a preliminary to that experiment in mutual confession from which this
book arose, I found it necessary to consider and state certain truths
about the nature of knowledge, about the meaning of truth and the value
of words, that is to say I found I had to begin by being metaphysical.
In writing out these notes now I think it is well that I should state
just how important I think this metaphysical prelude is.

There is a popular prejudice against metaphysics as something at once
difficult and fruitless, as an idle system of enquiries remote from any
human interest. I suppose this odd misconception arose from the vulgar
pretensions of the learned, from their appeal to ancient names and
their quotations in unfamiliar tongues, and from the easy fall into
technicality of men struggling to be explicit where a high degree of
explicitness is impossible. But it needs erudition and accumulated
and alien literature to make metaphysics obscure, and some of the most
fruitful and able metaphysical discussion in the world was conducted by
a number of unhampered men in small Greek cities, who knew no language
but their own and had scarcely a technical term. The true metaphysician
is after all only a person who says, “Now let us take a thought for a
moment before we fall into a discussion of the broad questions of life,
lest we rush hastily into impossible and needless conflict. What is the
exact value of these thoughts we are thinking and these words we are
using?” He wants to take thought about thought. Those other ardent
spirits on the contrary, want to plunge into action or controversy
or belief without taking thought; they feel that there is not time to
examine thought. “While you think,” they say, “the house is burning.”
 They are the kin of those who rush and struggle and make panics in
theatre fires.

Now it seems to me that most of the troubles of humanity are really
misunderstandings. Men’s compositions and characters are, I think, more
similar than their views, and if they had not needlessly different modes
of expression upon many broad issues, they would be practically at one
upon a hundred matters where now they widely differ.

Most of the great controversies of the world, most of the wide religious
differences that keep men apart, arise from this: from differences in
their way of thinking. Men imagine they stand on the same ground and
mean the same thing by the same words, whereas they stand on slightly
different grounds, use different terms for the same thing and express
the same thing in different words. Logomachies, conflicts about
words,--into such death-traps of effort those ardent spirits run and

This is now almost a commonplace; it has been said before by numberless
people. It has been said before by numberless people, but it seems to
me it has been realised by very few--and until it is realised to the
fullest extent, we shall continue to live at intellectual cross purposes
and waste the forces of our species needlessly and abundantly.

This persuasion is a very important thing in my mind.

I think that the time has come when the human mind must take up
metaphysical discussion again--when it must resume those subtle but
necessary and unavoidable problems that it dropped unsolved at the close
of the period of Greek freedom, when it must get to a common and general
understanding upon what its ideas of truth, good, and beauty amount to,
and upon the relation of the name to the thing, and of the relation of
one mind to another mind in the matter of resemblance and the matter of
difference--upon all those issues the young science student is as apt to
dismiss as Rot, and the young classical student as Gas, and the austere
student of the science of Economics as Theorising, unsuitable for his
methods of research.

In our achievement of understandings in the place of these evasions
about fundamental things lies the road, I believe, along which the human
mind can escape, if ever it is to escape, from the confusion of purposes
that distracts it at the present time.


It seems to me that the Greek mind up to the disaster of the Macedonian
Conquest was elaborately and discursively discussing these questions of
the forms and methods of thought and that the discussion was abruptly
closed and not naturally concluded, summed up hastily as it were, in the
career and lecturings of Aristotle.

Since then the world never effectually reopened these questions until
the modern period. It went on from Plato and Aristotle just as the
art of the seventeenth and eighteenth century went on from Raphael and
Michael Angelo. Effectual criticism was absolutely silent until
the Renaissance, and then for a time was but a matter of scattered
utterances having only the slightest collective effect. In the past
half century there has begun a more systematic critical movement in the
general mind, a movement analogous to the Pre-Raphaelite movement in
art--a Pre-Aristotelian movement, a scepticism about things supposed to
be settled for all time, a resumed inquiry into the fundamental laws
of thought, a harking back to positions of the older philosophers and
particularly to Heraclitus, so far as the surviving fragments of his
teaching enable one to understand him, and a new forward movement from
that recovered ground.


Necessarily when one begins an inquiry into the fundamental nature
of oneself and one’s mind and its processes, one is forced into
autobiography. I begin by asking how the conscious mind with which I am
prone to identify myself, began.

It presents itself to me as a history of a perception of the world
of facts opening out from an accidental centre at which I happened to

I do not attempt to define this word fact. Fact expresses for me
something in its nature primary and unanalyzable. I start from that. I
take as a typical statement of fact that I sit here at my desk writing
with a fountain pen on a pad of ruled scribbling paper, that the
sunlight falls upon me and throws the shadow of my window mullion across
the page, that Peter, my cat, sleeps on the window-seat close at hand
and that this agate paper-weight with the silver top that once was
Henley’s holds my loose memoranda together. Outside is a patch of lawn
and then a fringe of winter-bitten iris leaves and then the sea, greatly
wrinkled and astir under the south-west wind. There is a boat going out
which I think may be Jim Pain’s, but of that I cannot be sure...

These are statements of a certain quality, a quality that extends
through a huge universe in which I find myself placed.

I try to recall how this world of fact arose in my mind. It began with a
succession of limited immediate scenes and of certain minutely perceived
persons; I recall an underground kitchen with a drawered table, a window
looking up at a grating, a back yard in which, growing out by a dustbin,
was a grape-vine; a red-papered room with a bookcase over my father’s
shop, the dusty aisles and fixtures, the regiments of wine-glasses and
tumblers, the rows of hanging mugs and jugs, the towering edifices
of jam-pots, the tea and dinner and toilet sets in that emporium, its
brighter side of cricket goods, of pads and balls and stumps. Out of the
window one peeped at the more exterior world, the High Street in front,
the tailor’s garden, the butcher’s yard, the churchyard and Bromley
church tower behind; and one was taken upon expeditions to fields
and open places. This limited world was peopled with certain familiar
presences, mother and father, two brothers, the evasive but interesting
cat, and by intermittent people of a livelier but more transient
interest, customers and callers.

Such was my opening world of fact, and each day it enlarged and widened
and had more things added to it. I had soon won my way to speech and was
hearing of facts beyond my visible world of fact. Presently I was at a
Dame’s school and learning to read.

From the centre of that little world as primary, as the initiatory
material, my perception of the world of fact widened and widened, by new
sights and sounds, by reading and hearing descriptions and histories, by
guesses and inferences; my curiosity and interest, my appetite for fact,
grew by what it fed upon, I carried on my expansion of the world of fact
until it took me through the mineral and fossil galleries of the
Natural History Museum, through the geological drawers of the College of
Science, through a year of dissection and some weeks at the astronomical
telescope. So I built up my conceptions of a real world out of facts
observed and out of inferences of a nature akin to fact, of a world
immense and enduring, receding interminably into space and time. In that
I found myself placed, a creature relatively infinitesimal, needing and
struggling. It was clear to me, by a hundred considerations, that I in
my body upon this planet Earth, was the outcome of countless generations
of conflict and begetting, the creature of natural selection, the heir
of good and bad engendered in that struggle.

So my world of fact shaped itself. I find it altogether impossible to
question or doubt that world of fact. Particular facts one may question
as facts. For instance, I think I see an unseasonable yellow wallflower
from my windows, but you may dispute that and show that it is only a
broken end of iris leaf accidentally lit to yellow. That is merely a
substitution of fact for fact. One may doubt whether one is perceiving
or remembering or telling facts clearly, but the persuasion that there
are facts, independent of one’s interpretations and obdurate to one’s
will, remains invincible.


At first I took the world of fact as being exactly as I perceived it.
I believed my eyes. Seeing was believing, I thought. Still more did I
believe my reasoning. It was only slowly that I began to suspect that
the world of fact could be anything different from the clear picture it
made upon my mind.

I realised the inadequacy of the senses first. Into that I will not
enter here. Any proper text book of physiology or psychology will supply
a number of instances of the habitual deceptions of sight and touch and
hearing. I came upon these things in my reading, in the laboratory, with
microscope or telescope, lived with them as constant difficulties. I
will only instance one trifling case of visual deception in order to
lead to my next question. One draws two lines strictly parallel; so

(two horizontal and parallel lines.)

Oblique to them one draws a series of lines; so

(a series of parallel and closely-spaced lines drawn through each
horizontal line, one series (top) sloping to the right, the other
(bottom) to the left)

and instantly the parallelism seems to be disturbed. If the second
figure is presented to any one without sufficient science to understand
this delusion, the impression is created that these lines converge to
the right and diverge to the left. The vision is deceived in its mental
factor and judges wrongly of the thing seen.

In this case we are able to measure the distance of the lines, to find
how the main lines looked before the cross ones were drawn, to bring
the deception up against fact of a different sort and so correct the
mistake. If the ignorant observer were unable to do that, he might
remain permanently under the impression that the main lines were out of
parallelism. And all the infirmities of eye and ear, touch and taste,
are discovered and checked by the fact that the erroneous impressions
presently strike against fact and discover an incompatibility with it.
If they did not we should never have discovered them. If on the other
hand they are so incompatible with fact as to endanger the lives of
the beings labouring under such infirmities, they would tend to be
eliminated from among our defects.

The presumption to which biological science brings one is that the
senses and mind will work as well as the survival of the species may
require, but that they will not work so very much better. There is no
ground in matter-of-fact experience for assuming that there is any more
inevitable certitude about purely intellectual operations than there
is about sensory perceptions. The mind of a man may be primarily only a
food-seeking, danger-avoiding, mate-finding instrument, just as the mind
of a dog is, just as the nose of a dog is, or the snout of a pig.

You see the strong preparatory reason there is in this view of life for
entertaining the suppositions that:--

The senses seem surer than they are.

The thinking mind seems clearer than it is and is more positive than it
ought to be.

The world of fact is not what it appears to be.


After I had studied science and particularly biological science for some
years, I became a teacher in a school for boys. I found it necessary
to supplement my untutored conception of teaching method by a more
systematic knowledge of its principles and methods, and I took the
courses for the diplomas of Licentiate and Fellow of the London College
of Preceptors which happened to be convenient for me. These courses
included some of the more elementary aspects of psychology and logic
and set me thinking and reading further. From the first, Logic as it was
presented to me impressed me as a system of ideas and methods remote and
secluded from the world of fact in which I lived and with which I had to
deal. As it came to me in the ordinary textbooks, it presented itself
as the science of inference using the syllogism as its principal
instrument. Now I was first struck by the fact that while my teachers in
Logic seemed to be assuring me I always thought in this form:--

    “M is P,
     S is M,
     S is P,”

the method of my reasoning was almost always in this form:--

    “S1 is more or less P,
     S2 is very similar to S1,
     S2 is very probably but not certainly more or less P.
     Let us go on that assumption and see how it works.”

That is to say, I was constantly reasoning by analogy and applying
verification. So far from using the syllogistic form confidently, I
habitually distrusted it as anything more than a test of consistency
in statement. But I found the textbooks of logic disposed to ignore my
customary method of reasoning altogether or to recognise it only where
S1 and S2 could be lumped together under a common name. Then they put it
something after this form as Induction:--

    “S1, S2, S3, and S4 are P
     S1 + S2 + S3 + S4 +... are all S
     All S is P.”

I looked into the laws of thought and into the postulates upon which the
syllogistic logic is based, and it slowly became clear to me that from
my point of view, the point of view of one who seeks truth and reality,
logic assumed a belief in the objective reality of classification of
which my studies in biology and mineralogy had largely disabused me.
Logic, it seemed to me, had taken a common innate error of the mind and
had emphasised it in order to develop a system of reasoning that should
be exact in its processes. I turned my attention to the examination
of that. For in common with the general run of men I had supposed that
logic professed to supply a trustworthy science and method for the
investigation and expression of reality.

A mind nourished on anatomical study is of course permeated with the
suggestion of the vagueness and instability of biological species.
A biological species is quite obviously a great number of unique
individuals which is separable from other biological species only by
the fact that an enormous number of other linking individuals are
inaccessible in time--are in other words dead and gone--and each
new individual in that species does, in the distinction of its own
individuality, break away in however infinitesimal degree from the
previous average properties of the species. There is no property of any
species, even the properties that constitute the specific definition,
that is not a matter of more or less.

If, for example, as species be distinguished by a single large red spot
on the back, you will find if you go over a great number of specimens
that red spot shrinking here to nothing, expanding there to a more
general redness, weakening to pink, deepening to russet and brown,
shading into crimson, and so on and so on. And this is true not only of
biological species. It is true of the mineral specimens constituting a
mineral species, and I remember as a constant refrain in the lectures of
Professor Judd upon rock classification, the words, “they pass into one
another by insensible gradations.” It is true, I hold, of all things.

You will think perhaps of atoms of the elements as instances of
identically similar things, but these are things not of experience
but of theory, and there is not a phenomenon in chemistry that is not
equally well explained on the supposition that it is merely the immense
quantities of atoms necessarily taken in any experiment that masks by
the operation of the law of averages the fact that each atom also has
its unique quality, its special individual difference.

This ideal of uniqueness in all individuals is not only true of the
classifications of material science; it is true and still more evidently
true of the species of common thought; it is true of common terms. Take
the word “Chair.” When one says chair, one thinks vaguely of an
average chair. But collect individual instances; think of armchairs and
reading-chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that
pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees,
dentist’s chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts, those
miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and Crafts
exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is this
simple straightforward term. In co-operation with an intelligent joiner
I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or chairishness that
you gave me. Chairs just as much as individual organisms, just as much
as mineral and rock specimens, are unique things--if you know them
well enough you will find an individual difference even in a set of
machine-made chairs--and it is only because we do not possess minds
of unlimited capacity, because our brain has only a limited number
of pigeon-holes for our correspondence with an unlimited universe of
objective uniques, that we have to delude ourselves into the belief that
there is a chairishness in this species common to and distinctive of all

Classification and number, which in truth ignore the fine differences of
objective realities, have in the past of human thought been imposed upon

Greek thought impresses me as being over much obsessed by an objective
treatment of certain necessary preliminary conditions of human
thought--number and definition and class and abstract form! But these
things,--number, definition, class and abstract form,--I hold, are
merely unavoidable conditions of mental activity--regrettable conditions
rather than essential facts. THE FORCEPS OF OUR MINDS ARE CLUMSY FORCEPS

Let me give you a rough figure of what I am trying to convey in this
first attack upon the philosophical validity of general terms. You have
seen the result of those various methods of black and white reproduction
that involve the use of a rectangular net. You know the sort of process
picture I mean--it used to be employed very frequently in reproducing
photographs. At a little distance you really seem to have a faithful
reproduction of the original picture, but when you peer closely you
find not the unique form and masses of the original, but a multitude of
little rectangles, uniform in shape and size. The more earnestly you go
into the thing, the closelier you look, the more the picture is lost
in reticulations. I submit, the world of reasoned inquiry has a very
similar relation to the world of fact. For the rough purposes of every
day the network picture will do, but the finer your purpose the less it
will serve, and for an ideally fine purpose, for absolute and general
knowledge that will be as true for a man at a distance with a telescope
as for a man with a microscope, it will not serve at all.

It is true you can make your net of logical interpretation finer and
finer, you can fine your classification more and more--up to a certain
limit. But essentially you are working in limits, and as you come
closer, as you look at finer and subtler things, as you leave the
practical purpose for which the method exists, the element of error
increases. Every species is vague, every term goes cloudy at its edges;
and so in my way of thinking, relentless logic is only another name for
a stupidity--for a sort of intellectual pigheadedness. If you push
a philosophical or metaphysical inquiry through a series of valid
syllogisms--never committing any generally recognised fallacy--you
nevertheless leave behind you at each step a certain rubbing and
marginal loss of objective truth, and you get deflections that are
difficult to trace at each phase in the process. Every species waggles
about in its definition, every tool is a little loose in its handle,
every scale has its individual error. So long as you are reasoning for
practical purposes about finite things of experience you can every now
and then check your process and correct your adjustments. But not when
you make what are called philosophical and theological inquiries, when
you turn your implement towards the final absolute truth of things.

This real vagueness of class terms is equally true whether we consider
those terms used extensively or intensively, that is to say whether
in relation to all the members of the species or in relation to an
imaginary typical specimen. The logician begins by declaring that S
is either P or not P. In the world of fact it is the rarest thing to
encounter this absolute alternative; S1 is pink, but S2 is pinker, S3 is
scarcely pink at all, and one is in doubt whether S4 is not properly to
be called scarlet. The finest type specimen you can find simply has the
characteristic quality a little more rather than a little less. The neat
little circles the logician uses to convey his idea of P or not P to the
student are just pictures of boundaries in his mind, exaggerations of
a natural mental tendency. They are required for the purposes of his
science, but they are departures from the nature of fact.


Classes in logic are not only represented by circles with a hard firm
outline, whereas in fact they have no such definite limits, but also
there is a constant disposition to think of all names as if they
represented positive classes. With words just as with numbers and
abstract forms there have been definite phases of human development.
There was with regard to number, the phase when man could barely count
at all, or counted in perfect good faith and sanity upon his fingers.
Then there was the phase when he struggled with the development of
number, when he began to elaborate all sorts of ideas about numbers,
until at last he developed complex superstitions about perfect numbers
and imperfect numbers, about threes and sevens and the like. The same
was the case with abstract forms; and even to-day we are scarcely more
than heads out of the vast subtle muddle of thinking about spheres
and ideally perfect forms and so on, that was the price of this little
necessary step to clear thinking. How large a part numerical and
geometrical magic, numerical and geometrical philosophy have played in
the history of the mind! And the whole apparatus of language and mental
communication is beset with like dangers. The language of the savage is
I suppose purely positive; the thing has a name, the name has a thing.
This indeed is the tradition of language, and even to-day, we, when
we hear a name are predisposed--and sometimes it is a very vicious
disposition--to imagine forthwith something answering to the name. WE
TERMS. If I say to you Wodget or Crump, you find yourself passing over
the fact that these are nothings, these are, so to speak mere blankety
blanks, and trying to think what sort of thing a Wodget or a Crump may
be. You find yourself led insensibly by subtle associations of sound and
ideas to giving these blank terms attributes.

Now this is true not only of quite empty terms but of terms that carry
a meaning. It is a mental necessity that we should make classes and use
general terms, and as soon as we do that we fall into immediate danger
of unjustifiably increasing the intension of these terms. You will find
a large proportion of human prejudice and misunderstanding arises from
this universal proclivity.


There is a particular sort of empty terms that has been and is
conspicuously dangerous to the thinker, the class of negative terms. The
negative term is in plain fact just nothing; “Not-A” is the absence
of any trace of the quality that constitutes A, it is the rest of
everything for ever. But there seems to be a real bias in the mind
towards regarding “Not-A” as a thing mysteriously in the nature of A, as
though “Not-A” and A were species of the same genus. When one speaks of
Not-pink one is apt to think of green things and yellow things and to
ignore anger or abstract nouns or the sound of thunder. And logicians,
following the normal bias of the mind, do actually present A and not-A
in this sort of diagram:--

(the letter A inside a circular boundary, together with the words Not A,
all inside a bigger circular boundary.)

ignoring altogether the difficult case of the space in which these words
are printed. Obviously the diagram that comes nearer experienced fact

(the word Not, followed by the letter A inside a circular boundary,
followed by the letter A)

with no outer boundary. But the logician finds it necessary for his
processes to present that outer Not-A as bounded (Vide e.g. Kayne’s
“Formal Logic” re Euler’s diagrams and Immediate Inferences.), and to
speak of the total area of A and Not-A as the Universe of Discourse; and
the metaphysician and the commonsense thinker alike fall far too
readily into the belief that this convention of method is an adequate
representation of fact.

Let me try and express how in my mind this matter of negative terms has
shaped itself. I think of something which I may perhaps best describe
as being off the stage or out of court, or as the Void without
Implications, or as Nothingness, or as Outer Darkness. This is a sort of
hypothetical Beyond to the visible world of human thought, and thither
I think all negative terms reach at last, and merge and become nothing.
Whatever positive class you make, whatever boundary you draw, straight
away from that boundary begins the corresponding negative class and
passes into the illimitable horizon of nothingness. You talk of pink
things, you ignore, as the arbitrary postulates of Logic direct, the
more elusive shades of pink, and draw your line. Beyond is the not-pink,
known and knowable, and still in the not-pink region one comes to the
Outer Darkness. Not blue, not happy, not iron, all the NOT classes meet
in that Outer Darkness. That same Outer Darkness and nothingness is
infinite space and infinite time and any being of infinite qualities;
and all that region I rule out of court in my philosophy altogether. I
will neither affirm nor deny if I can help it about any NOT things.
I will not deal with not things at all, except by accident and
inadvertence. If I use the word “infinite” I use it as one often
uses “countless,” “the countless hosts of the enemy”--or
“immeasurable”--“immeasurable cliffs”--that is to say as the limit of
measurement, as a convenient equivalent to as many times this cloth yard
as you can, and as many again, and so on and so on until you and your
numerical system are beaten to a standstill.

Now a great number of apparently positive terms are, or have become,
practically negative terms and are under the same ban with me. A
considerable number of terms that have played a great part in the world
of thought, seem to me to be invalidated by this same defect, to have
no content or an undefined content or an unjustifiable content. For
example, that word Omniscient, as implying infinite knowledge, impresses
me as being a word with a delusive air of being solid and full, when it
is really hollow with no content whatever. I am persuaded that knowing
is the relation of a conscious being to something not itself, that
the thing known is defined as a system of parts and aspects and
relationships, that knowledge is comprehension, and so that only finite
things can know or be known. When you talk of a being of infinite
extension and infinite duration, omniscient and omnipotent and perfect,
you seem to me to be talking in negatives of nothing whatever.


There is another infirmity of the mind to which my attention has been
called by an able paper read this spring to the Cambridge Moral Science
Club by my friend Miss Amber Reeves. In this she has developed a
suggestion of Mr. F.C.S. Schiller’s. The current syllogistic logic
rests on the assumption that either A is B or it is not B. The practical
reality, she contends, is that nothing is permanent; A is always
becoming more or less B or ceasing to be more or less B. But it would
seem the human mind cannot manage with that. It has to hold a thing
still for a moment before it can think it. It arrests the present moment
for its struggle as Joshua stopped the sun. It cannot contemplate things
continuously, and so it has to resort to a series of static snapshots.
It has to kill motion in order to study it, as a naturalist kills and
pins out a butterfly in order to study life.

You see the mind is really pigeon-holed and discontinuous in two
respects, in respect to time and in respect to classification; whereas
one has a strong persuasion that the world of fact is unbounded or


Finally; the Logician, intent upon perfecting the certitudes of his
methods rather than upon expressing the confusing subtleties of truth,
has done little to help thinking men in the perpetual difficulty that
arises from the fact that the universe can be seen in many different
fashions and expressed by many different systems of terms, each
expression within its limits true and yet incommensurable with
expression upon a differing system. There is a sort of stratification
in human ideas. I have it very much in mind that various terms in our
reasoning lie, as it were, at different levels and in different
planes, and that we accomplish a large amount of error and confusion
by reasoning terms together that do not lie or nearly lie in the same

Let me endeavour to make myself a little less obscure by a flagrant
instance from physical things. Suppose some one began to talk seriously
of a man seeing an atom through a microscope, or better perhaps of
cutting one in half with a knife. There are a number of non-analytical
people who would be quite prepared to believe that an atom could be
visible to the eye or cut in this manner. But any one at all conversant
with physical conceptions would almost as soon think of killing the
square root of 2 with a rook rifle as of cutting an atom in half with
a knife. One’s conception of an atom is reached through a process of
hypothesis and analysis, and in the world of atoms there are no knives
and no men to cut. If you have thought with a strong consistent mental
movement, then when you have thought of your atom under the knife blade,
your knife blade has itself become a cloud of swinging grouped atoms,
and your microscope lens a little universe of oscillatory and vibratory
molecules. If you think of the universe, thinking at the level of atoms,
there is neither knife to cut, scale to weigh, nor eye to see. The
universe at that plane to which the mind of the molecular physicist
descends has none of the shapes or forms of our common life whatever.
This hand with which I write is, in the universe of molecular physics,
a cloud of warring atoms and molecules, combining and recombining,
colliding, rotating, flying hither and thither in the universal
atmosphere of ether.

You see, I hope, what I mean when I say that the universe of
molecular physics is at a different level from the universe of common
experience;--what we call stable and solid is in that world a freely
moving system of interlacing centres of force, what we call colour and
sound is there no more than this length of vibration of that. We have
reached to a conception of that universe of molecular physics by a great
enterprise of organised analysis, and our universe of daily experiences
stands in relation to that elemental world as if it were a synthesis of
those elemental things.

I would suggest to you that this is only a very extreme instance of
the general state of affairs, that there may be finer and subtler
differences of level between one term and another, and that terms may
very well be thought of as lying obliquely and as being twisted through
different levels.

It will perhaps give a clearer idea of what I am seeking to convey if
I suggest a concrete image for the whole world of a man’s thought and
knowledge. Imagine a large clear jelly, in which at all angles and in
all states of simplicity or contortion his ideas are imbedded. They are
all valid and possible ideas as they lie, none incompatible with any. If
you imagine the direction of up or down in this clear jelly being as it
were the direction in which one moves by analysis or synthesis, if you
go down for example from matter to atoms and centres of force and up
to men and states and countries--if you will imagine the ideas lying
in that manner--you will get the beginnings of my intention. But our
instrument, our process of thinking, like a drawing before the discovery
of perspective, appears to have difficulties with the third dimension,
appears capable only of dealing with or reasoning about ideas by
projecting them upon the same plane. It will be obvious that a great
multitude of things may very well exist together in a solid jelly, which
would be overlapping and incompatible and mutually destructive when
projected together upon one plane. Through the bias in our instrument
to do this, through reasoning between terms not in the same plane, an
enormous amount of confusion, perplexity, and mental deadlocking occurs.

The old theological deadlock between predestination and free will serves
admirably as an example of the sort of deadlock I mean. Take life at
the level of common sensation and common experience and there is no more
indisputable fact than man’s freedom of will, unless it is his complete
moral responsibility. But make only the least penetrating of scientific
analyses and you perceive a world of inevitable consequences, a rigid
succession of cause and effect. Insist upon a flat agreement between the
two, and there you are! The instrument fails.

So far as this particular opposition is concerned, I shall point out
later the reasonableness and convenience of regarding the common-sense
belief in free will as truer for one’s personal life than determinism.


Now what is the practical outcome of all these criticisms of the human
mind? Does it follow that thought is futile and discussion vain? By no
means. Rather these considerations lead us toward mutual understanding.
They clear up the deadlocks that come from the hard and fast use of
terms, they establish mutual charity as an intellectual necessity.
The common way of speech and thought which the old system of logic has
simply systematized, is too glib and too presumptuous of certainty. We
must needs use language, but we must use it always with the thought in
our minds of its unreal exactness, its actual habitual deflection from
fact. All propositions are approximations to an elusive truth, and we
employ them as the mathematician studies the circle by supposing it to
be a polygon of a very great number of sides.

We must make use of terms and sometimes of provisional terms. But
we must guard against such terms and the mental danger of excessive
intension they carry with them. The child takes a stick and says it is
a sword and does not forget, he takes a shadow under the bed and says it
is a bear and he half forgets. The man takes a set of emotions and says
it is a God, and he gets excited and propagandist and does forget; he is
involved in disputes and confusions with the old gods of wood and stone,
and presently he is making his God a Great White Throne and fitting him
up with a mystical family.

Essentially we have to train our minds to think anew, if we are to think
beyond the purposes for which the mind seems to have been evolved. We
have to disabuse ourselves from the superstition of the binding nature
of definitions and the exactness of logic. We have to cure ourselves of
the natural tricks of common thought and argument. You know the way
of it, how effective and foolish it is; the quotation of the exact
statement of which every jot and tittle must be maintained, the
challenge to be consistent, the deadlock between your terms and mine.

More and more as I grow older and more settled in my views am I bored by
common argument, bored not because I am ceasing to be interested in
the things argued about, but because I see more and more clearly the
futility of the methods pursued.

How then are we to think and argue and what truth may we attain? Is not
the method of the scientific investigator a valid one, and is there not
truth to the world of fact in scientific laws? Decidedly there is. And
the continual revision and testing against fact that these laws get
is constantly approximating them more and more nearly to a trustworthy
statement of fact. Nevertheless they are never true in that dogmatic
degree in which they seem true to the unphilosophical student of
science. Accepting as I do the validity of nearly all the general
propositions of modern science, I have constantly to bear in mind that
about them too clings the error of excessive claims to precision.

The man trained solely in science falls easily into a superstitious
attitude; he is overdone with classification. He believes in the
possibility of exact knowledge everywhere. What is not exact he declares
is not knowledge. He believes in specialists and experts in all fields.

I dispute this universal range of possible scientific precision. There
is, I allege, a not too clearly recognised order in the sciences which
forms the gist of my case against this scientific pretension. There is
a gradation in the importance of the individual instance as one passes
from mechanics and physics and chemistry through the biological
sciences to economics and sociology, a gradation whose correlations and
implications have not yet received adequate recognition, and which does
profoundly affect the method of study and research in each science.

Let me repeat in slightly altered terms some of the points raised in the
preceding sections. I have doubted and denied that there are identically
similar objective experiences; I consider all objective beings as
individual and unique. It is now understood that conceivably only in
the subjective world, and in theory and the imagination, do we deal with
identically similar units, and with absolutely commensurable quantities.
In the real world it is reasonable to suppose we deal at most with
PRACTICALLY similar units and PRACTICALLY commensurable quantities.
But there is a strong bias, a sort of labour-saving bias, in the normal
human mind, to ignore this, and not only to speak but to think of a
thousand bricks or a thousand sheep or a thousand Chinamen as though
they were all absolutely true to sample. If it is brought before a
thinker for a moment that in any special case this is not so, he slips
back to the old attitude as soon as his attention is withdrawn. This
type of error has, for instance, caught many of the race of chemists,
and ATOMS and IONS and so forth of the same species are tacitly assumed
to be similar to one another.

Be it noted that, so far as the practical results of chemistry and
physics go, it scarcely matters which assumption we adopt, the number
of units is so great, the individual difference so drowned and lost. For
purposes of enquiry and discussion the incorrect one is infinitely more

But this ceases to be true directly we emerge from the region of
chemistry and physics. In the biological sciences of the eighteenth
century, common-sense struggled hard to ignore individuality in shells
and plants and animals. There was an attempt to eliminate the more
conspicuous departures as abnormalities, as sports, nature’s weak
moments; and it was only with the establishment of Darwin’s great
generalizations that the hard and fast classificatory system broke down
and individuality came to its own. Yet there had always been a clearly
felt difference between the conclusions of the biological sciences and
those dealing with lifeless substance, in the relative vagueness, the
insubordinate looseness and inaccuracy of the former. The naturalist
accumulated facts and multiplied names, but he did not go triumphantly
from generalization to generalization after the fashion of the chemist
or physicist. It is easy to see, therefore, how it came about that the
inorganic sciences were regarded as the true scientific bed-rock. It was
scarcely suspected that the biological sciences might perhaps after all
be TRUER than the experimental, in spite of the difference in practical
value in favour of the latter. It was, and is by the great majority of
people to this day, supposed to be the latter that are invincibly true;
and the former are regarded as a more complex set of problems merely,
with obliquities and refractions that presently will be explained away.
Comte and Herbert Spencer certainly seem to me to have taken that
much for granted. Herbert Spencer no doubt talked of the unknown and
unknowable, but not in this sense as an element of inexactness running
through all things. He thought, it seems to me, of the unknown as the
indefinable Beyond of an immediate world that might be quite clearly and
definitely known.

There is a growing body of people which is beginning to hold the
converse view--that counting, classification, measurement, the whole
fabric of mathematics, is subjective and untrue to the world of fact,
and that the uniqueness of individuals is the objective truth. As the
number of units taken diminishes, the amount of variety and inexactness
of generalization increases, because individuality tells for more and
more. Could you take men by the thousand billion, you could generalize
about them as you do about atoms; could you take atoms singly, it may be
that you would find them as individual as your aunts and cousins. That
concisely is the minority belief, and my belief.

Now what is called the scientific method in the physical sciences
rests upon the ignoring of individualities; and like many mathematical
conventions, its great practical convenience is no proof whatever of its
final truth. Let me admit the enormous value, the wonder of its results
in mechanics, in all the physical sciences, in chemistry, even in
physiology,--but what is its value beyond that? Is the scientific method
of value in biology? The great advances made by Darwin and his school in
biology were not made, it must be remembered, by the scientific method,
as it is generally conceived, at all. His was historical research.
He conducted research into pre-documentary history. He collected
information along the lines indicated by certain interrogations; and the
bulk of his work was the digesting and critical analysis of that. For
documents and monuments he had fossils and anatomical structures and
germinating eggs too innocent to lie. But, on the other hand, he had
to correspond with breeders and travellers of various sorts; classes
entirely analogous, from the point of view of evidence, to the
writers of history and memoirs. I question profoundly whether the
word “science,” in current usage anyhow, ever means such patient
disentanglement as Darwin pursued. It means the attainment of something
positive and emphatic in the way of a conclusion, based on amply
repeated experiments capable of infinite repetition, “proved,” as they
say, “up to the hilt.”

It would be of course possible to dispute whether the word “science”
 should convey this quality of certitude, but to most people it certainly
does at the present time. So far as the movements of comets and electric
trams go, there is no doubt practically cock-sure science; and Comte
and Herbert Spencer seem to me to have believed that cock-sure could
be extended to every conceivable finite thing. The fact that Herbert
Spencer called a certain doctrine Individualism reflects nothing on the
non-individualizing quality of his primary assumptions and of his mental
texture. He believed that individuality (heterogeneity) was and is an
evolutionary product from an original homogeneity, begotten by folding
and multiplying and dividing and twisting it, and still fundamentally
IT. It seems to me that the general usage is entirely for the limitation
of the word “science” to knowledge and the search after knowledge of a
high degree of precision. And not simply the general usage; “Science is
measurement,” Science is “organized commonsense,” proud in fact of its
essential error, scornful of any metaphysical analysis of its terms.

Now my contention is that we can arrange the fields of human thought
and interest about the world of fact in a sort of scale. At one end the
number of units is infinite and the methods exact, at the other we
have the human subjects in which there is no exactitude. The science
of society stands at the extreme end of the scale from the molecular
sciences. In these latter there is an infinitude of units; in sociology,
as Comte perceived, there is only one unit. It is true that Herbert
Spencer, in order to get classification somehow, did, as Professor
Durkheim has pointed out, separate human society into societies, and
made believe they competed one with another and died and reproduced just
like animals, and that economists following List have for the purposes
of fiscal controversy discovered economic types; but this is a
transparent device, and one is surprised to find thoughtful and
reputable writers off their guard against such bad analogy. But indeed
it is impossible to isolate complete communities of men, or to trace
any but rude general resemblances between group and group. These alleged
units have as much individuality as pieces of cloud; they come, they go,
they fuse and separate. And we are forced to conclude that not only is
the method of observation, experiment, and verification left far away
down the scale, but that the method of classification under types, which
has served so useful a purpose in the middle group of subjects, the
subjects involving numerous but a finite number of units, has also to be
abandoned in social science. We cannot put Humanity into a museum or dry
it for examination; our one single still living specimen is all
history, all anthropology, and the fluctuating world of men. There is
no satisfactory means of dividing it, and nothing else in the real
world with which to compare it. We have only the remotest ideas of its
“life-cycle” and a few relics of its origin and dreams of its destiny.

This denial of scientific precision is true of all questions of general
human relations and attitude. And in regard to all these matters
affecting our personal motives, our self-control and our devotions, it
is much truer.

From this it is an easy step to the statement that so far as the
clear-cut confident sort of knowledge goes, the sort of knowledge one
gets from a time-table or a text-book of chemistry, or seeks from a
witness in a police court, I am, in relation to religious and moral
questions an agnostic. I do not think any general propositions partaking
largely of the nature of fact can be known about these things. There is
nothing possessing the general validity of fact to be stated or known.

1.11. BELIEFS.

Yet it is of urgent practical necessity that we should have such
propositions and beliefs. All those we conjure out of our mental
apparatus and the world of fact dissolve and disappear again under
scrutiny. It is clear we must resort to some other method for these

Now I make my beliefs as I want them. I do not attempt to distil them
out of fact as physicists distil their laws. I make them thus and not
thus exactly as an artist makes a picture so and not so. I believe that
is how we all make our beliefs, but that many people do not see this
clearly and confuse their beliefs with perceived and proven fact.

I draw my beliefs exactly as an artist draws lines to make a picture, to
express my impression of the world and my purpose.

The artist cannot defend his expression as a scientific man defends his,
and demonstrate that they are true upon any assumptions whatsoever.
Any loud fool may stand in front of a picture and call it inaccurate,
untrustworthy, unbeautiful. That last, the most vital issue of all, is
the one least assured. Loud fools always do do that sort of thing. Take
quite ignorant people before almost any beautiful work of art and they
will laugh at it as absurd. If one sits on a popular evening in that
long room at South Kensington which contains Raphael’s cartoons, one
remarks that perhaps a third of those who stray through and look at all
those fine efforts, titter. If one searches in the magazines of a
little while ago, one finds in the angry and resentful reception of the
Pre-Raphaelites another instance of the absolutely indefensible nature
of many of the most beautiful propositions. And as a still more striking
and remarkable case, take the onslaught made by Ruskin upon the works
of Whistler. You will remember that a libel action ensued and that
these pictures were gravely reasoned about by barristers and surveyed by
jurymen to assess their merits...

In the end it is the indefensible truth that lasts; it lasts because
it works and serves. People come to it and remain and attract other
understanding and enquiring people.

Now when I say I make my beliefs and that I cannot prove them to you and
convince you of them, that does not mean that I make them wantonly and
regardless of fact, that I throw them off as a child scribbles on a
slate. Mr. Ruskin, if I remember rightly, accused Whistler of throwing
a pot of paint in the face of the public,--that was the essence of his
libel. The artistic method in this field of beliefs, as in the field
of visual renderings, is one of great freedom and initiative and great
poverty of test, but of no wantonness; the conditions of rightness are
none the less imperative because they are mysterious and indefinable. I
adopt certain beliefs because I feel the need for them, because I feel
an often quite unanalyzable rightness in them; because the alternative
of a chaotic life distresses me. My belief in them rests upon the fact
that they WORK for me and satisfy my desire for harmony and beauty. They
are arbitrary assumptions, if you will, that I see fit to impose upon my

But though they are arbitrary, they are not necessarily individual. Just
so far as we all have a common likeness, just so far can we be brought
under the same imperatives to think and believe.

And though they are arbitrary, each day they stand wear and tear, and
each new person they satisfy, is another day and another voice towards
showing they do correspond to something that is so far fact and real.

This is Pragmatism as I conceive it; the abandonment of infinite
assumptions, the extension of the experimental spirit to all human

1.12. SUMMARY.

In concluding this first Book let me give a summary of the principal
points of what has gone before.

I figure the mind of man as an imperfect being obtaining knowledge by
imperfect eyesight, imperfect hearing and so forth; who must needs
walk manfully and patiently, exercising will and making choices and
determining things between the mysteries of external and internal fact.

Essentially man’s mind moves within limits depending upon his individual
character and experience. These limits constitute what Herbart called
his “circle of thought,” and they differ for everyone.

That briefly is what I consider to be the case with my own mind, and I
believe it is the case with everyone’s.

Most minds, it seems to me, are similar, but none are absolutely alike
in character or in contents.

We are all biassed to ignore our mental imperfections and to talk and
act as though our minds were exact instruments,--something wherewith to
scale the heavens with assurance,--and also we are biassed to believe
that, except for perversity, all our minds work exactly alike.

Man, thinking man, suffers from intellectual over-confidence and a vain
belief in the universal validity of reasoning.

We all need training, training in the balanced attitude.

Of everything we need to say: this is true but it is not quite true.

Of everything we need to say: this is true in relation to things in or
near its plane, but not true of other things.

Of everything we have to remember: this may be truer for us than for
other people.

In disputation particularly we have to remember this (and most with
our antagonist): that the spirit of an utterance may be better than the

We have to discourage the cheap tricks of controversy, the retort, the
search for inconsistency. We have to realize that these things are as
foolish and ill-bred and anti-social as shouting in conversation or
making puns; and we have to work out habits of thought purged from the
sin of assurance. We have to do this for our own good quite as much as
for the sake of intercourse.

All the great and important beliefs by which life is guided and
determined are less of the nature of fact than of artistic expression.



And now having stated my conception of the true relationship between
our thoughts and words to facts, having distinguished between the more
accurate and frequently verified propositions of science and the more
arbitrary and infrequently verified propositions of belief, and made
clear the spontaneous and artistic quality that inheres in all our moral
and religious generalizations, I may hope to go on to my confession of
faith with less misunderstanding.

Now my most comprehensive belief about the external and the internal
and myself is that they make one universe in which I and every part are
ultimately important. That is quite an arbitrary act of my mind. It is
quite possible to maintain that everything is a chaotic assembly, that
any part might be destroyed without affecting any other part. I do not
choose to argue against that. If you choose to say that, I am no more
disposed to argue with you than if you choose to wear a mitre in Fleet
Street or drink a bottle of ink, or declare the figure of Ally Sloper
more dignified and beautiful than the head of Jove. There is no Q.E.D.
that you cannot do so. You can. You will not like to go on with it, I
think, and it will not answer, but that is a different matter.

I dismiss the idea that life is chaotic because it leaves my life
ineffectual, and I cannot contemplate an ineffectual life patiently. I
am by my nature impelled to refuse that. I assert that it is not so.
I assert therefore that I am important in a scheme, that we are all
important in that scheme, that the wheel-smashed frog in the road and
the fly drowning in the milk are important and correlated with me. What
the scheme as a whole is I do not know; with my limited mind I cannot
know. There I become a Mystic. I use the word scheme because it is the
best word available, but I strain it in using it. I do not wish to
imply a schemer, but only order and co-ordination as distinguished from
haphazard. “All this is important, all this is profoundly significant.”
 I say it of the universe as a child that has not learnt to read might
say it of a parchment agreement. I cannot read the universe, but I can
believe that this is so.

And this unfounded and arbitrary declaration of the ultimate rightness
and significance of things I call the Act of Faith. It is my fundamental
religious confession. It is a voluntary and deliberate determination to
believe, a choice made.


You may say if you will that this scheme I talk about, this something
that gives importance and correlation and significance, is what is meant
by God. You may embark upon a logical wrangle here with me if you have
failed to master what I have hitherto said about the meaning of words.
If a Scheme, you will say, then there must be a Schemer.

But, I repeat, I am using scheme and importance and significance here
only in a spirit of analogy because I can find no better words, and
I will not allow myself to be entangled by an insistence upon their

Yet let me confess that I am greatly attracted by such fine phrases as
the Will of God, the Hand of God, the Great Commander. These do most
wonderfully express aspects of this belief I choose to hold. I think if
there had been no gods before, I would call this God. But I feel that
there is a great danger in doing this sort of thing unguardedly. Many
people would be glad for rather trivial and unworthy reasons that I
should confess a faith in God, and few would take offence. But the run
of people even nowadays mean something more and something different when
they say “God.” They intend a personality exterior to them and limited,
and they will instantly conclude I mean the same thing. To permit
that misconception is, I feel, the first step on the slippery slope
of meretricious complaisance, is to become in some small measure
a successor of those who cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
 Occasionally we may best serve the God of Truth by denying him.

Yet at times I admit the sense of personality in the universe is very
strong. If I am confessing, I do not see why I should not confess up
to the hilt. At times in the silence of the night and in rare lonely
moments, I come upon a sort of communion of myself and something great
that is not myself. It is perhaps poverty of mind and language obliges
me to say that then this universal scheme takes on the effect of a
sympathetic person--and my communion a quality of fearless worship.
These moments happen, and they are the supreme fact in my religious life
to me, they are the crown of my religious experiences.

None the less, I do not usually speak of God even in regard to these
moments, and where I do use that word it must be understood that I use
it as a personification of something entirely different in nature from
the personality of a human being.


And now let me return to a point raised in the first Book in Chapter
1.9. Is the whole of this scheme of things settled and done? The whole
trend of Science is to that belief. On the scientific plane one is a
fatalist, the universe a system of inevitable consequences. But as I
show in that section referred to, it is quite possible to accept as true
in their several planes both predestination and free will. (I use
free will in the sense of self-determinisn and not as it is defined
by Professor William James, and predestination as equivalent to the
conception of a universe rigid in time and space.) If you ask me, I
think I should say I incline to believe in predestination and do quite
completely believe in free will. The important belief is free will.

But does the whole universe of fact, the external world about me, the
mysterious internal world from which my motives rise, form one rigid and
fated system as determinists teach? Do I believe that, had one a mind
ideally clear and powerful, the whole universe would seem orderly and
absolutely predestined? I incline to that belief. I do not harshly
believe it, but I admit its large plausibility--that is all. I see no
value whatever in jumping to a decision. One or two Pragmatists, so far
as I can understand them, do not hold this view of predestination at
all; but as a provisional assumption it underlies most scientific work.

I glance at this question rather to express a detachment than a view.

For me as a person this theory of predestination has no practical value.
At the utmost it is an interesting theory like the theory that there is
a fourth dimension. There may be a fourth dimension of space, but
one gets along quite well by assuming there are just three. It may
be knowable the next time I come to cross roads which I shall take.
Possibly that knowledge actually exists somewhere. There are those who
will tell you that they can get intimations in the matter from packs of
cards or the palms of my hands, or see by peering into crystals. Of such
beliefs I am entirely free. The fact is I believe that neither I know
nor anybody else who is practically concerned knows which I shall take.
I hesitate, I choose just as though the thing was unknowable. For me and
my conduct there is that much wide practical margin of freedom.

I am free and freely and responsibly making the future--so far as I am
concerned. You others are equally free. On that theory I find my life
will work, and on a theory of mechanical predestination nothing works.

I take the former theory therefore for my everyday purposes, and as
a matter of fact so does everybody else. I regard myself as a free
responsible person among free responsible persons.


Now I have already given a first picture of the world of fact as it
shaped itself upon my mind. Let me now give a second picture of this
world in which I find myself, a picture in a rather different key and
at a different level, in which I turn to a new set of aspects and bring
into the foreground the other minds which are with me in the midst of
this great spectacle.

What am I?

Here is a question to which in all ages men have sought to give a
clear unambiguous answer, and to which a clear unambiguous answer is
manifestly unfitted. Am I my body? Yes or no? It seems to me that I can
externalize and think of as “not myself” nearly everything that pertains
to my body, hands and feet, and even the most secret and central of
those living and hidden parts, the pulsing arteries, the throbbing
nerves, the ganglionic centres, that no eye, save for the surgeon’s
knife has ever seen or ever will see until they coagulate in decay. So
far I am not my body; and then as clearly, since I suffer through it,
see the whole world through it and am always to be called upon where it
is, I am it. Am I a mind mysteriously linked to this thing of matter and

So I can present myself. I seem to be a consciousness, vague and
insecure, placed between two worlds. One of these worlds seems clearly
“not me,” the other is more closely identified with me and yet is still
imperfectly me. The first I call the exterior world, and it presents
itself to me as existing in Time and Space. In a certain way I seem able
to interfere with it and control it. The second is the interior world,
having no forms in space and only a vague evasive reference to time,
from which motives arise and storms of emotion, which acts and reacts
constantly and in untraceable way with my conscious mind. And that
consciousness itself hangs and drifts about the region where the inner
world and the outer world meet, much as a patch of limelight drifts
about the stage, illuminating, affecting, following no manifest law
except that usually it centres upon the hero, my Ego.

It seems to me that to put the thing much more precisely than this is to
depart from the reality of the matter.

But so departing a little, let me borrow a phrase from Herbart and
identify myself more particularly with my mental self. It seems to me
that I may speak of myself as a circle of thought and experience hung
between these two imperfectly understood worlds of the internal and the
external and passing imperceptibly into the former. The external world
impresses me as being, as a practical fact, common to me and many
other creatures similar to myself; the internal, I find similar but not
identical with theirs. It is MINE. It seems to me at times no more than
something cut off from that external world and put into a sort of pit or
cave, much as all the inner mystery of my body, those living, writhing,
warm and thrilling organs are isolated, hidden from all eyes and
interference so long as I remain alive. And I myself, the essential me,
am the light and watcher in the mouth of the cave.

So I think of myself, and so I think of all other human beings, as
circles of thought and experience, each a little different from the
others. Each human being I see as essentially a circle of thought
between an internal and an external world.

I figure these circles of thought as more or less imperfectly focussed
pictures, all a little askew and vague as to margins and distances.
In the internal world arise motives, and they pass outward through the
circle of thought and are modified and directed by it into external
acts. And through speech, example, and a hundred various acts, one such
circle, one human mind, lights and enlarges and plays upon another. That
is the image under which the interrelation of minds presents itself to


Now each self among us, for all its fluctuations and vagueness of
boundary, is, as I have already pointed out, invincibly persuaded of
Free Will. That is to say, it has a persuasion of responsible control
over the impulses that teem from the internal world and tend to express
themselves in act. The problem of that control and its solution is the
reality of life. “What am I to do?” is the perpetual question of our
existence. Our metaphysics, our beliefs are all sought as subsidiary to
that and have no significance without it.

I confess I find myself a confusion of motives beside which my confusion
of perceptions pales into insignificance.

There are many various motives and motives very variously
estimated--some are called gross, some sublime, some--such as
pride--wicked. I do not readily accept these classifications.

Many people seem to make a selection among their motives without much
enquiry, taking those classifications as just; they seek to lead what
they call pure lives or useful lives and to set aside whole sets of
motives which do not accord with this determination. Some exclude the
seeking of pleasure as a permissible motive, some the love of beauty;
some insist upon one’s “being oneself” and prohibit or limit responses
to exterior opinions. Most of such selections strike me as wanton and
hasty. I decline to dismiss any of my motives at all in that wholesale
way. Just as I believe I am important in the scheme of things, so I
believe are all my motives. Turning one’s back on any set of them seems
to me to savour of the headlong actions of stupidity. To suppress a
passion or a curiosity for the sake of suppressing a passion is to my
mind just the burial of a talent that has been entrusted to one’s care.
One has, I feel, to take all these things as weapons and instruments,
material in the service of the scheme; one has to take them in the end
gravely and do right among them unbiassed in favour of any set. To
take some poor appetite and fling it out is to my mind a cheap and
unsatisfactory way of simplifying one’s moral problems. One has to
accept these things in oneself, I feel--even if one knows them to be
dangerous things, even if one is sure they have an evil side.

Let me, however, in order to express my attitude better, make a rough
grouping of the motives I find in myself and the people about me.


I cannot divide them into clearly defined classes, but I may perhaps
begin with those that bring one into the widest sympathy with living
things and go on to those one shares only with highly intelligent and
complex human beings.

There come first the desires one shares with those more limited souls
the beasts, just as much as one does with one’s fellow man. These are
the bodily appetites and the crude emotions of fear and resentment.
These first clamour for attention and must be assuaged or controlled
before the other sets come into play.

Now in this matter of physical appetites I do not know whether to
describe myself as a sensualist or an ascetic. If an ascetic is one who
suppresses to a minimum all deference to these impulses, then certainly
I am not an ascetic; if a sensualist is one who gives himself to
heedless gratification, then certainly I am not a sensualist. But I find
myself balanced in an intermediate position by something that I will
speak of as the sense of Beauty. This sense of Beauty is something in
me which demands not simply gratification but the best and keenest of
a sense or continuance of sense impressions, and which refuses coarse
quantitative assuagements. It ranges all over the senses, and just as I
refuse to wholly cut off any of my motives, so do I refuse to limit its
use to the plane of the eye or the ear.

It seems to me entirely just to speak of beauty in matters of scent and
taste, to talk not only of beautiful skies and beautiful sounds but of
beautiful beer and beautiful cheese! The balance as between asceticism
and sensuality comes in, it seems to me, if we remember that to drink
well one must not have drunken for some time, that to see well one’s eye
must be clear, that to make love well one must be fit and gracious and
sweet and disciplined from top to toe, that the finest sense of all--the
joyous sense of bodily well-being--comes only with exercises
and restraints and fine living. There I think lies the way of my
disposition. I do not want to live in the sensual sty, but I also do not
want to scratch in the tub of Diogenes.

But I diverge a little in these comments from my present business of
classifying motives.

Next I perceive hypertrophied in myself and many sympathetic human
beings a passion that many animals certainly possess, the beautiful and
fearless cousin of fear, Curiosity, that seeks keenly for knowing and
feeling. Apart from appetites and bodily desires and blind impulses,
I want most urgently to know and feel, for the sake of knowing and
feeling. I want to go round corners and see what is there, to cross
mountain ranges, to open boxes and parcels. Young animals at least have
that disposition too. For me it is something that mingles with all my
desires. Much more to me than the desire to live is the desire to taste
life. I am not happy until I have done and felt things. I want to get as
near as I can to the thrill of a dog going into a fight or the delight
of a bird in the air. And not simply in the heroic field of war and
the air do I want to understand. I want to know something of the jolly
wholesome satisfaction that a hungry pig must find in its wash. I want
to get the quintessence of that.

I do not think that in this I confess to any unusual temperament. I
think that the more closely mentally animated people scrutinize their
motives the less is the importance they will attach to mere physical and
brute urgencies and the more to curiosity.

Next after curiosity come those desires and motives that one shares
perhaps with some social beasts, but far more so as a conscious thing
with men alone. These desires and motives all centre on a clearly
apprehended “self” in relation to “others”; they are the essentially
egotistical group. They are self-assertion in all its forms. I have
dealt with motives toward gratification and motives towards experience;
this set of motives is for the sake of oneself. Since they are the most
acutely conscious motives in unthinking men, there is a tendency on
the part of unthinking philosophers to speak of them as though vanity,
self-seeking, self-interest were the only motives. But one has but to
reflect on what has gone before to realize that this is not so. One
finds these “self” motives vary with the mental power and training of
the individual; here they are fragmentary and discursive, there drawn
tight together into a coherent scheme. Where they are weak they
mingle with the animal motives and curiosity like travellers in a busy
market-place, but where the sense of self is strong they become rulers
and regulators, self-seeking becomes deliberate and sustained in the
case of the human being, vanity passes into pride.

Here again that something in the mind so difficult to define, so easy
for all who understand to understand, that something which insists
upon a best and keenest, the desire for beauty, comes into the play of
motives. Pride demands a beautiful self and would discipline all other
passions to its service. It also demands recognition for that beautiful
self. Now pride, I know, is denounced by many as the essential quality
of sin. We are taught that “self-abnegation” is the substance of virtue
and self-forgetfulness the inseparable quality of right conduct. But
indeed I cannot so dismiss egotism and that pride which was the first
form in which the desire to rule oneself as a whole came to me. Through
pride one shapes oneself towards a best, though at first it may be an
ill-conceived best. Pride is not always arrogance and aggression. There
is that pride that does not ape but learn humility.

And with the human imagination all these elementary instincts, of the
flesh, of curiosity, of self-assertion, become only the basal substance
of a huge elaborate edifice of secondary motive and intention. We live
in a great flood of example and suggestion, our curiosity and our social
quality impel us to a thousand imitations, to dramatic attitudes and
subtly obscure ends. Our pride turns this way and that as we respond to
new notes in the world about us. We are arenas for a conflict between
suggestions flung in from all sources, from the most diverse and
essentially incompatible sources. We live long hours and days in a
kind of dream, negligent of self-interest, our elementary passions in
abeyance, among these derivative things.


Such it seems to me are the chief masses of the complex of motives in
us, the group of sense, the group of pride, curiosity and the imitative
and suggested motives, making up the system of impulses which is our
will. Such has been the common outfit of motives in every age, and
in every age its melee has been found insufficient in itself. It is
a heterogeneous system, it does not form in any sense a completed or
balanced system, its constituents are variable and compete amongst
themselves. They are not so much arranged about one another as
superposed and higgledy-piggledy. The senses and curiosity war with
pride and one another, the motives suggested to us fall into conflict
with this element or that of our intimate and habitual selves. We find
all our instincts are snares to excess. Excesses of indulgence lead to
excesses of abstinence, and even the sense of beauty may be clouded
and betray. So to us all, even for the most balanced of us, come
disappointments, regrets, gaps; and for most of us who are ill-balanced,
miseries and despairs. Nearly all of us want something to hold us
together--something to dominate this swarming confusion and save us from
the black misery of wounded and exploded pride, of thwarted desire, of
futile conclusions. We want more oneness, some steadying thing that will
afford an escape from fluctuations.

Different people, of differing temperament and tradition, have sought
oneness, this steadying and universalizing thing, in various manners.
Some have attained it in this manner, and some in that. Scarcely a
religious system has existed that has not worked effectively and proved
true for someone. To me it seems that the need is synthetic, that some
synthetic idea and belief is needed to harmonize one’s life, to give a
law by which motive may be tried against motive and an effectual peace
of mind achieved. I want an active peace and not a quiescence, and I do
not want to suppress and expel any motive at all. But to many people the
effort takes the form of attempts to cut off some part of oneself as
it were, to repudiate altogether some straining or distressing or
disappointing factor in the scheme of motives, and find a tranquillizing
refuge in the residuum. So we have men and women abandoning their
share in economic development, crushing the impulses and evading the
complications that arise out of sex and flying to devotions and simple
duties in nunneries and monasteries; we have people cutting their lives
down to a vegetarian dietary and scientific research, resorting to
excesses of self-discipline, giving themselves up wholly to some “art”
 and making everything else subordinate to that, or, going in another
direction, abandoning pride and love in favour of an acquired appetite
for drugs or drink.

Now it seems to me that this desire to get the confused complex of life
simplified is essentially what has been called the religious motive, and
that the manner in which a man achieves that simplification, if he does
achieve it, and imposes an order upon his life, is his religion. I find
in the scheme of conversion and salvation as it is presented by many
Christian sects, a very exact statement of the mental processes I am
trying to express. In these systems this discontent with the complexity
of life upon which religion is based, is called the conviction of sin,
and it is the first phase in the process of conversion--of finding
salvation. It leads through distress and confusion to illumination, to
the act of faith and peace.

And after peace comes the beginning of right conduct. If you believe and
you are saved, you will want to behave well, you will do your utmost to
behave well and to understand what is behaving well, and you will feel
neither shame nor disappointment when after all you fail. You will
say then: “so it is failure I had to achieve.” And you will not feel
bitterly because you seem unsuccessful beside others or because you are
misunderstood or unjustly treated, you will not bear malice nor cherish
anger nor seek revenge, you will never turn towards suicide as a relief
from intolerable things; indeed there will be no intolerable things. You
will have peace within you.

But if you do not truly believe and are not saved, you will know it
because you will still suffer the conflict of motives; and in regrets,
confusions, remorses and discontents, you will suffer the penalties of
the unbeliever and the lost. You will know certainly your own salvation.


I will boldly adopt the technicalities of the sects. I will speak as
a person with experience and declare that I have been through the
distresses of despair and the conviction of sin and that I have found


I believe in the scheme, in the Project of all things, in the
significance of myself and all life, and that my defects and uglinesses
and failures, just as much as my powers and successes, are things that
are necessary and important and contributory in that scheme, that scheme
which passes my understanding--and that no thwarting of my conception,
not even the cruelty of nature, now defeats or can defeat my faith,
however much it perplexes my mind.

And though I say that scheme passes my understanding, nevertheless I
hope you will see no inconsistency when I say that necessarily it has an
aspect towards me that I find imperative.

It has an aspect that I can perceive, however dimly and fluctuatingly.

I take it that to perceive this aspect to the utmost of my mental power
and to shape my acts according to that perception is my function in the
scheme; that if I hold steadfastly to that conception, I am SAVED. I
find in that idea of perceiving the scheme as a whole towards me and in
this attempt to perceive, that something to which all my other emotions
and passions may contribute by gathering and contributing experience,
and through which the synthesis of my life becomes possible.

Let me try to convey to you what it is I perceive, what aspect this
scheme seems to bear on the whole towards me.

The essential fact in man’s history to my sense is the slow unfolding
of a sense of community with his kind, of the possibilities of
co-operations leading to scarce dreamt-of collective powers, of a
synthesis of the species, of the development of a common general idea, a
common general purpose out of a present confusion. In that awakening of
MIND. Between you and me as we set our minds together, and between us
and the rest of mankind, there is SOMETHING, something real, something
that rises through us and is neither you nor me, that comprehends us,
that is thinking here and using me and you to play against each other in
that thinking just as my finger and thumb play against each other as I
hold this pen with which I write.

Let me point out that this is no sentimental or mystical statement. It
is hard fact as any hard fact we know. We, you and I, are not only parts
in a thought process, but parts of one flow of blood and life. Let me
put that in a way that may be new to some readers. Let me remind you
of what is sometimes told as a jest, the fact that the number of one’s
ancestors increases as we look back in time. Disregarding the chances of
intermarriage, each one of us had two parents, four grandparents, eight
great-grandparents, and so on backward, until very soon, in less than
fifty generations, we should find that, but for the qualification
introduced, we should have all the earth’s inhabitants of that time as
our progenitors. For a hundred generations it must hold absolutely true,
that everyone of that time who has issue living now is ancestral to all
of us. That brings the thing quite within the historical period. There
is not a western European palaeolithic or neolithic relic that is not
a family relic for every soul alive. The blood in our veins has handled

And there is something more. We are all going to mingle our blood again.
We cannot keep ourselves apart; the worst enemies will some day come
to the Peace of Verona. All the Montagues and Capulets are doomed to
intermarry. A time will come in less than fifty generations when all
the population of the world will have my blood, and I and my worst enemy
will not be able to say which child is his or mine.

But you may retort--perhaps you may die childless. Then all the sooner
the whole species will get the little legacy of my personal achievement,
whatever it may be.

You see that from this point of view--which is for me the vividly true
and dominating point of view--our individualities, our nations and
states and races are but bubbles and clusters of foam upon the great
stream of the blood of the species, incidental experiments in the
growing knowledge and consciousness of the race.

I think this real solidarity of humanity is a fact that is only slowly
being apprehended, that it is an idea that we who have come to realize
it have to assist in thinking into the collective mind. I believe the
species is still as a whole unawakened, still sunken in the delusion of
the permanent separateness of the individual and of races and nations,
that so it turns upon itself and frets against itself and fails to see
the stupendous possibilities of deliberate self-development that lie
open to it now.

I see myself in life as part of a great physical being that strains and
I believe grows towards beauty, and of a great mental being that strains
and I believe grows towards knowledge and power. In this persuasion that
I am a gatherer of experience, a mere tentacle that arranges thought
beside thought for this being of the species, this being that grows
beautiful and powerful, in this persuasion I find the ruling idea of
which I stand in need, the ruling idea that reconciles and adjudicates
among my warring motives. In it I find both concentration of myself and
escape from myself; in a word, I find Salvation.


I would like in a parenthetical section to expand and render rather more
concrete this idea of the species as one divaricating flow of blood,
by an appeal to its arithmetical aspect. I do not know if it has ever
occurred to the reader to compute the number of his living ancestors at
some definite date, at, let us say, the year one of the Christian era.
Everyone has two parents and four grandparents, most people have eight
great-grandparents, and if we ignore the possibility of intermarriage we
shall go on to a fresh power of two with every generation, thus:--

Column 1: Number of generations.

Column 2: Number of ancestors.

     3:             8
     4:            16
     5:            32
     7:           128
    10:         1,024
    20:       126,976
    30:    15,745,024
    40: 1,956,282,976

I do not know whether the average age of the parent at the birth of a
child under modern conditions can be determined from existing figures.
There is, I should think, a strong presumption that it has been a rising
age. There may have been a time in the past when most women were mothers
in their early teens and bore most or all of their children before
thirty, and when men had done the greater part of their procreation
before thirty-five; this is still the case in many tropical climates,
and I do not think I favour my case unduly by assuming that the average
parent must be about, or even less than, five and twenty. This
gives four generations to a century. At that rate and DISREGARDING
INTERMARRIAGE OF RELATIONS the ancestors living a thousand years ago
needed to account for a living person would be double the estimated
population of the world. But it is obvious that if a person sprang from
a marriage of first cousins, the eight ancestors of the third generation
are cut down to six; if of cousins at the next stage, to fourteen in the
fourth. And every time that a common pair of ancestors appears in any
generation, the number of ancestors in that generation must be reduced
by two from our original figures, or if it is only one common ancestor,
by one, and as we go back that reduction will have to be doubled,
quadrupled and so on. I daresay that by the time anyone gets to the 8916
names of his Elizabethan ancestors he will find quite a large number
repeated over and over again in the list and that he is cut down to
perhaps two or three thousand separate persons. But this does not
effectually invalidate my assumption that if we go back only to the
closing years of the Roman Republic, we go back to an age in which
nearly every person living within the confines of what was then the
Roman Empire who left living offspring must have been ancestral to every
person living within that area to-day. No doubt they were so in very
variable measure. There must be for everyone some few individuals in
that period who have so to speak intermarried with themselves again
and again and again down the genealogical series, and others who are
represented by just one touch of their blood. The blood of the Jews, for
example, has turned in upon itself again and again; but for all we know
one Italian proselyte in the first year of the Christian era may have
made by this time every Jew alive a descendant of some unrecorded
bastard of Julius Caesar. The exclusive breeding of the Jews is in fact
the most effectual guarantee that whatever does get into the charmed
circle through either proselytism, the violence of enemies, or feminine
unchastity, must ultimately pervade it universally.

It may be argued that as a matter of fact humanity has until recently
been segregated in pools; that in the great civilization of China, for
example, humanity has pursued its own interlacing system of inheritances
without admixture from other streams of blood. But such considerations
only defer the conclusion; they do not stave it off indefinitely. It
needs only that one philoprogenitive Chinaman should have wandered into
those regions that are now Russia, about the time of Pericles, to link
east and west in that matter; one Tartar chieftain in the Steppes may
have given a daughter to a Roman soldier and sent his grandsons east and
west to interlace the branches of every family tree in the world. If
any race stands apart it is such an isolated group as that of the now
extinct Tasmanian primitives or the Australian black. But even here, in
the remote dawn of navigation, may have come some shipwrecked Malays,
or some half-breed woman kidnapped by wandering Phoenicians have carried
this link of blood back to the western world. The more one lets one’s
imagination play upon the incalculable drift and soak of population,
the more one realizes the true value of that spreading relation with the

But now let us turn in the other direction, the direction of the future,
because there it is that this series of considerations becomes most
edifying. It is the commonest trick to think of a man’s descendants
as though they were his own. We are told that one of the dearest human
motives is the desire to found a family, but think how much of a family
one founds at the best. One’s son is after all only half one’s blood,
one grandson only a quarter, and so one goes on until it may be that in
ten brief generations one’s heir and namesake has but 1/1024th of one’s
inherited self. Those other thousand odd unpredictable people thrust
in and mingle with one’s pride. The trend of all things nowadays--the
ever-increasing ease of communication, the great and increasing drift of
population, the establishment of a common standard of civilization--is
to render such admixture far more probable and facile in the future than
in the past.

It is a pleasant fancy to imagine some ambitious hoarder of wealth,
some egotistical founder of name and family, returning to find
his descendants--HIS descendants--after the lapse of a few brief
generations. His heir and namesake may have not a thousandth part of
his heredity, while under some other name, lost to all the tradition and
glory of him, enfeebled and degenerate through much intermarriage, may
be a multitude of people who have as much as a fiftieth or even more of
his quality. They may even be in servitude and dependence to the really
alien person who is head of the family. Our founder will go through the
spreading record of offspring and find it mixed with that of people he
most hated and despised. The antagonists he wronged and overcame will
have crept into his line and recaptured all they lost; have played the
cuckoo in his blood and acquisitions, and turned out his diluted strain
to perish.

And while I am being thus biological let me point out another queer
aspect in which our egotism is overridden by physical facts. Men and
women are apt to think of their children as being their very own,
blood of their blood and bone of their bone. But indeed one of the
most striking facts in this matter is the frequent want of resemblance
between parents and children. It is one of the commonest things in the
world for a child to resemble an aunt or an uncle, or to revive a trait
of some grandparent that has seemed entirely lost in the intervening
generation. The Mendelians have given much attention to facts of this
nature; and though their general method of exposition seems to me quite
unjustifiably exact and precise, it cannot be denied that it is often
vividly illuminating. It is so in this connexion. They distinguish
between “dominant” and “recessive” qualities, and they establish cases
in which parents with all the dominant characteristics produce offspring
of recessive type. Recessive qualities are constantly being masked by
dominant ones and emerging again in the next generation. It is not the
individual that reproduces himself, it is the species that reproduces
through the individual and often in spite of his characteristics.

The race flows through us, the race is the drama and we are the
incidents. This is not any sort of poetical statement; it is a statement
of fact. In so far as we are individuals, in so far as we seek to
follow merely individual ends, we are accidental, disconnected, without
significance, the sport of chance. In so far as we realize ourselves as
experiments of the species for the species, just in so far do we escape
from the accidental and the chaotic. We are episodes in an experience
greater than ourselves.

Now none of this, if you read me aright, makes for the suppression of
one’s individual difference, but it does make for its correlation. We
have to get everything we can out of ourselves for this very reason that
we do not stand alone; we signify as parts of a universal and immortal
development. Our separate selves are our charges, the talents of which
much has to be made. It is because we are episodical in the great
synthesis of life that we have to make the utmost of our individual
lives and traits and possibilities.


What stupendous constructive mental and physical possibilities are
there to which I feel I am contributing, you may ask, when I feel that
I contribute to this greater Being; and at once I confess I become vague
and mystical. I do not wish to pass glibly over this point. I call your
attention to the fact that here I am mystical and arbitrary. I am what
I am, an individual in this present phase. I can see nothing of
these possibilities except that they will be in the nature of those
indefinable and overpowering gleams of promise in our world that we call
Beauty. Elsewhere (in my “Food of the Gods”) I have tried to render my
sense of our human possibility by monstrous images; I have written of
those who will “stand on this earth as on a footstool and reach out
their hands among the stars.” But that is mere rhetoric at best, a
straining image of unimaginable things. Things move to Power and Beauty;
I say that much and I have said all that I can say.

But what is Beauty, you ask, and what will Power do? And here I reach
my utmost point in the direction of what you are free to call the
rhapsodical and the incomprehensible. I will not even attempt to
define Beauty. I will not because I cannot. To me it is a final, quite
indefinable thing. Either you understand it or you do not. Every true
artist and many who are not artists know--they know there is something
that shows suddenly--it may be in music, it may be in painting, it may
be in the sunlight on a glacier or a shadow cast by a furnace or
the scent of a flower, it may be in the person or act of some fellow
creature, but it is right, it is commanding, it is, to use theological
language, the revelation of God.

To the mystery of Power and Beauty, out of the earth that mothered us,
we move.

I do not attempt to define Beauty nor even to distinguish it from Power.
I do not think indeed that one can effectually distinguish these aspects
of life. I do not know how far Beauty may not be simply fulness and
clearness of sensation, a momentary unveiling of things hitherto seen
but dully and darkly. As I have already said, there may be beauty in
the feeling of beer in the throat, in the taste of cheese in the mouth;
there may be beauty in the scent of the earth, in the warmth of a body,
in the sensation of waking from sleep. I use the word Beauty therefore
in its widest possible sense, ranging far beyond the special beauties
that art discovers and develops. Perhaps as we pass from death to life
all things become beautiful. The utmost I can do in conveying what
I mean by Beauty is to tell of things that I have perceived to be
beautiful as beautifully as I can tell of them. It may be, as I suggest
elsewhere, that Beauty is a thing synthetic and not simple; it is a
common effect produced by a great medley of causes, a larger aspect of

But the question of what Beauty is does not very greatly concern me
since I have known it when I met it and since almost every day in life I
seem to apprehend it more and to find it more sufficient and satisfying.
Objectively it may be altogether complex and various and synthetic,
subjectively it is altogether simple. All analysis, all definition, must
in the end rest upon and arrive at unanalyzable and indefinable things.
Beauty is light--I fall back upon that image--it is all things that
light can be, beacon, elucidation, pleasure, comfort and consolation,
promise, warning, the vision of reality.


It seems to me that the whole living creation may be regarded as walking
in its sleep, as walking in the sleep of instinct and individualized
illusion, and that now out of it all rises man, beginning to perceive
his larger self, his universal brotherhood and a collective synthetic
purpose to increase Power and realize Beauty...

I write this down. It is the form of my belief, and that unanalyzable
something called Beauty is the light that falls upon that form.

It is only by such images, it is only by the use of what are practically
parables, that I can in any way express these things in my mind. These
two things, I say, are the two aspects of my belief; one is the form and
the other the light. The former places me as it were in a scheme, the
latter illuminates and inspires me. I am a member in that great being,
and my function is, I take it, to develop my capacity for beauty
and convey the perception of it to my fellows, to gather and store
experience and increase the racial consciousness. I hazard no whys
nor wherefores. That is how I see things; that is how the universe, in
response to my demand for a synthesizing aspect, presents itself to me.


These are my beliefs. They begin with arbitrary assumptions; they end in
a mystery.

So do all beliefs that are not grossly utilitarian and material,
promising houris and deathless appetite or endless hunting or a cosmic
mortgage. The Peace of God passeth understanding, the Kingdom of
Heaven within us and without can be presented only by parables. But the
unapproachable distance and vagueness of these things makes them none
the less necessary, just as a cloud upon a mountain or sunlight remotely
seen upon the sea are as real as, and to many people far more necessary
than, pork chops. The driven swine may root and take no heed, but man
the dreamer drives. And because these things are vague and impalpable
and wilfully attained, it is none the less important that they should be
rendered with all the truth of one’s being. To be atmospherically vague
is one thing; to be haphazard, wanton and untruthful, quite another.

But here I may give a specific answer to a question that many find
profoundly important, though indeed it is already implicitly answered in
what has gone before.

I do not believe I have any personal immortality. I am part of an
immortality perhaps; but that is different. I am not the continuing
thing. I personally am experimental, incidental. I feel I have to
do something, a number of things no one else could do, and then I am
finished and finished altogether. Then my substance returns to the
common lot. I am a temporary enclosure for a temporary purpose; that
served, and my skull and teeth, my idiosyncracy and desire, will
disperse, I believe, like the timbers of a booth after a fair.

Let me shift my ground a little and ask you to consider what is involved
in the opposite belief.

My idea of the unknown scheme is of something so wide and deep that I
cannot conceive it encumbered by my egotism perpetually. I shall serve
my purpose and pass under the wheel and end. That distresses me not at
all. Immortality would distress and perplex me. If I may put this in a
mixture of theological and social language, I cannot respect, I cannot
believe in a God who is always going about with me.

But this is after all what I feel is true and what I choose to believe.
It is not a matter of fact. So far as that goes there is no evidence
that I am immortal and none that I am not.

I may be altogether wrong in my beliefs; I may be misled by the
appearances of things. I believe in the great and growing Being of the
Species from which I rise, to which I return, and which, it may be, will
ultimately even transcend the limitation of the Species and grow into
the Conscious Being, the eternally conscious Being of all things.
Believing that, I cannot also believe that my peculiar little thread
will not undergo synthesis and vanish as a separate thing.

And what after all is my distinctive something, a few capacities, a few
incapacities, an uncertain memory, a hesitating presence? It matters
no doubt in its place and time, as all things matter in their place
and time, but where in it all is the eternally indispensable? The great
things of my life, love, faith, the intimation of beauty, the things
most savouring of immortality, are the things most general, the things
most shared and least distinctively me.


And here perhaps, before I go on to the question of Conduct, is the
place to define a relationship to that system of faith and religious
observance out of which I and most of my readers have come. How do these
beliefs on which I base my rule of conduct stand to Christianity?

They do not stand in any attitude of antagonism. A religious system so
many-faced and so enduring as Christianity must necessarily be saturated
with truth even if it be not wholly true. To assume, as the Atheist and
Deist seem to do, that Christianity is a sort of disease that came
upon civilization, an unprofitable and wasting disease, is to deny that
conception of a progressive scheme and rightness which we have taken
as our basis of belief. As I have already confessed, the Scheme of
Salvation, the idea of a process of sorrow and atonement, presents
itself to me as adequately true. So far I do not think my new faith
breaks with my old. But it follows as a natural consequence of my
metaphysical preliminaries that I should find the Christian theology
Aristotelian, over defined and excessively personified. The painted
figure of that bearded ancient upon the Sistine Chapel, or William
Blake’s wild-haired, wild-eyed Trinity, convey no nearer sense of God
to me than some mother-of-pearl-eyed painted and carven monster from
the worship of the South Sea Islanders. And the Miltonic fable of the
offended creator and the sacrificial son! it cannot span the circle of
my ideas; it is a little thing, and none the less little because it is
intimate, flesh of my flesh and spirit of my spirit, like the drawings
of my youngest boy. I put it aside as I would put aside the gay figure
of a costumed officiating priest. The passage of time has made his
canonicals too strange, too unlike my world of common thought and
costume. These things helped, but now they hinder and disturb. I cannot
bring myself back to them...

But the psychological experience and the theology of Christianity are
only a ground-work for its essential feature, which is the conception
of a relationship of the individual believer to a mystical being at once
human and divine, the Risen Christ. This being presents itself to the
modern consciousness as a familiar and beautiful figure, associated with
a series of sayings and incidents that coalesce with a very distinct and
rounded-off and complete effect of personality. After we have cleared
off all the definitions of theology, He remains, mystically suffering
for humanity, mystically asserting that love in pain and sacrifice in
service are the necessary substance of Salvation. Whether he actually
existed as a finite individual person in the opening of the Christian
era seems to me a question entirely beside the mark. The evidence at
this distance is of imperceptible force for or against. The Christ we
know is quite evidently something different from any finite person,
a figure, a conception, a synthesis of emotions, experiences and
inspirations, sustained by and sustaining millions of human souls.

Now it seems to be the common teaching of almost all Christians, that
Salvation, that is to say the consolidation and amplification of one’s
motives through the conception of a general scheme or purpose, is to be
attained through the personality of Christ. Christ is made cardinal to
the act of Faith. The act of Faith, they assert, is not simply, as I
hold it to be, BELIEF, but BELIEF IN HIM.

We are dealing here, be it remembered, with beliefs deliberately
undertaken and not with questions of fact. The only matters of fact
material here are facts of experience. If in your experience Salvation
is attainable through Christ, then certainly Christianity is true for
you. And if a Christian asserts that my belief is a false light and that
presently I shall “come to Christ,” I cannot disprove his assertion. I
can but disbelieve it. I hesitate even to make the obvious retort.

I hope I shall offend no susceptibilities when I assert that this great
and very definite personality in the hearts and imaginations of mankind
does not and never has attracted me. It is a fact I record about myself
without aggression or regret. I do not find myself able to associate Him
in any way with the emotion of Salvation.

I admit the splendid imaginative appeal in the idea of a divine-human
friend and mediator. If it were possible to have access by prayer, by
meditation, by urgent outcries of the soul, to such a being whose feet
were in the darknesses, who stooped down from the light, who was at once
great and little, limitless in power and virtue and one’s very brother;
if it were possible by sheer will in believing to make and make one’s
way to such a helper, who would refuse such help? But I do not find such
a being in Christ. I do not find, I cannot imagine, such a being. I wish
I could. To me the Christian Christ seems not so much a humanized God as
an incomprehensibly sinless being neither God nor man. His sinlessness
wears his incarnation like a fancy dress, all his white self unchanged.
He had no petty weaknesses.

Now the essential trouble of my life is its petty weaknesses. If I am
to have that love, that sense of understanding fellowship, which is,
I conceive, the peculiar magic and merit of this idea of a personal
Saviour, then I need someone quite other than this image of virtue, this
terrible and incomprehensible Galilean with his crown of thorns, his
blood-stained hands and feet. I cannot love him any more than I can
love a man upon the rack. Even in the face of torments I do not think
I should feel a need for him. I had rather then a hundred times have
Botticelli’s armed angel in his Tobit at Florence. (I hope I do not seem
to want to shock in writing these things, but indeed my only aim is to
lay my feelings bare.) I know what love for an idealized person can be.
It happens that in my younger days I found a character in the history
of literature who had a singular and extraordinary charm for me, of
whom the thought was tender and comforting, who indeed helped me through
shames and humiliations as though he held my hand. This person was
Oliver Goldsmith. His blunders and troubles, his vices and vanities,
seized and still hold my imagination. The slights of Boswell, the
contempt of Gibbon and all his company save Johnson, the exquisite
fineness of spirit in his “Vicar of Wakefield,” and that green suit of
his and the doctor’s cane and the love despised, these things together
made him a congenial saint and hero for me, so that I thought of him as
others pray. When I think of that youthful feeling for Goldsmith, I know
what I need in a personal Saviour, as a troglodyte who has seen a candle
can imagine the sun. But the Christian Christ in none of his three
characteristic phases, neither as the magic babe (from whom I am cut off
by the wanton and indecent purity of the Immaculate Conception), nor
as the white-robed, spotless miracle worker, nor as the fierce unreal
torment of the cross, comes close to my soul. I do not understand the
Agony in the Garden; to me it is like a scene from a play in an unknown
tongue. The la t cry of despair is the one human touch, discordant with
all the rest of the story. One cry of despair does not suffice. The
Christian’s Christ is too fine for me, not incarnate enough, not
flesh enough, not earth enough. He was never foolish and hot-eared
and inarticulate, never vain, he never forgot things, nor tangled his
miracles. I could love him I think more easily if the dead had not risen
and if he had lain in peace in his sepulchre instead of coming back more
enhaloed and whiter than ever, as a postscript to his own tragedy.

When I think of the Resurrection I am always reminded of the “happy
endings” that editors and actor managers are accustomed to impose upon
essentially tragic novels and plays...

You see how I stand in this matter, puzzled and confused by the
Christian presentation of Christ. I know there are many will answer--as
I suppose my friend the Rev. R.J. Campbell would answer--that what
confuses me is the overlaying of the personality of Jesus by stories
and superstitions and conflicting symbols; he will in effect ask me to
disentangle the Christ I need from the accumulated material, choosing
and rejecting. Perhaps one may do that. He does, I know, so present Him
as a man inspired, and strenuously, inadequately and erringly presenting
a dream of human brotherhood and the immediate Kingdom of Heaven on
earth and so blundering to his failure and death. But that will be a
recovered and restored person he would give me, and not the Christ
the Christians worship and declare they love, in whom they find their

When I write “declare they love” I throw doubt intentionally upon the
universal love of Christians for their Saviour. I have watched men and
nations in this matter. I am struck by the fact that so many Christians
fall back upon more humanized figures, upon the tender figure of Mary,
upon patron saints and such more erring creatures, for the effect of
mediation and sympathy they need.

You see it comes to this: that I think Christianity has been true and is
for countless people practically true, but that it is not true now for
me, and that for most people it is true only with modifications.
Every believing Christian is, I am sure, my spiritual brother, but if
systematically I called myself a Christian I feel that to most men I
should imply too much and so tell a lie.


In the same manner, in varying degree, I hold all religions to be in
a measure true. Least comprehensible to me are the Indian formulae,
because they seem to stand not on common experience but on those
intellectual assumptions my metaphysical analysis destroys.
Transmigration of souls without a continuing memory is to my mind
utter foolishness, the imagining of a race of children. The aggression,
discipline and submission of Mahommedanism makes, I think, an
intellectually limited but fine and honourable religion--for men. Its
spirit if not its formulae is abundantly present in our modern world.
Mr. Rudyard Kipling, for example, manifestly preaches a Mahommedan God,
a modernised God with a taste for engineering. I have no doubt that in
devotion to a virile, almost national Deity and to the service of His
Empire of stern Law and Order, efficiently upheld, men have found and
will find Salvation.

All these religions are true for me as Canterbury Cathedral is a true
thing and as a Swiss chalet is a true thing. There they are, and they
have served a purpose, they have worked. Men and women have lived in and
by them. Men and women still do. Only they are not true for me to
live in them. I have, I believe, to live in a new edifice of my own
discovery. They do not work for me.

These schemes are true, and also these schemes are false! in the sense
that new things, new phrasings, have to replace them.


Such are the essential beliefs by which I express myself. But now comes
the practical outcome of these things, and that is to discuss and show
how upon this metaphysical basis and these beliefs, and in obedience to
the ruling motive that arises with them, I frame principles of conduct.



I hold that the broad direction of conduct follows necessarily from
belief. The believer does not require rewards and punishments to direct
him to the right. Motive and idea are not so separable. To believe
truly is to want to do right. To get salvation is to be unified by a
comprehending idea of a purpose and by a ruling motive.

The believer wants to do right, he naturally and necessarily seeks to do
right. If he fails to do right, if he finds he has done wrong instead
of right, he is not greatly distressed or terrified, he naturally and
cheerfully does his best to correct his error. He can be damned only
by the fading and loss of his belief. And naturally he recurs to and
refreshes his belief.

I write in phrases that the evangelical Christianity of my childhood
made familiar to me, because they are the most expressive phrases I have
ever met for the psychological facts with which I am dealing.

But faith, though it banishes fear and despair and brings with it a real
prevailing desire to know and do the Good, does not in itself determine
what is the Good or supply any simple guide to the choice between
alternatives. If it did, there would be nothing more to be said, this
book upon conduct would be unnecessary.


It seems to me one of the heedless errors of those who deal in
philosophy, to suppose all things that have simple names or unified
effects are in their nature simple and may be discovered and isolated as
a sort of essence by analysis. It is natural to suppose--and I think it
is also quite wrong to suppose--that such things as Good and Beauty can
be abstracted from good and beautiful things and considered alone. But
pure Good and pure Beauty are to me empty terms. It seems to me that
these are in their nature synthetic things, that they arise out of the
coming together of contributory things and conditions, and vanish at
their dispersal; they are synthetic just as more obviously Harmony is
synthetic. It is consequently not possible to give a definition of Good,
just as it is not possible to give a definition of that other something
which is so closely akin to it, Beauty. Nor is it to be maintained that
what is good for one is good for another. But what is good of one’s
general relations and what is right in action must be determined by the
nature of one’s beliefs about the purpose in things. I have set down my
broad impression of that purpose in respect to me, as the awakening and
development of the consciousness and will of our species, and I have
confessed my belief that in subordinating myself and all my motives to
that idea lies my Salvation. It follows from that, that the good life
is the life that most richly gathers and winnows and prepares experience
and renders it available for the race, that contributes most effectively
to the collective growth.

This is in general terms my idea of Good. So soon as one passes from
general terms to the question of individual good, one encounters
individuality; for everyone in the differing quality and measure of
their personality and powers and possibilities, good and right must be
different. We are all engaged, each contributing from his or her own
standpoint, in the collective synthesis; whatever one can best do, one
must do that; in whatever manner one can best help the synthesis, one
must exert oneself; the setting apart of oneself, secrecy, the service
of secret and personal ends, is the waste of life and the essential
quality of Sin.

That is the general expression for right living as I conceive it.


In the study of what is Good, it is very convenient to make a rough
division of our subject into general and particular. There are first the
interests and problems that affect us all collectively, in which we have
a common concern and from which no one may legitimately seek exemption;
of these interests and problems we may fairly say every man should do so
and so, or so and so, or the law should be so and so, or so and so; and
secondly there are those other problems in which individual difference
and the interplay of one or two individualities is predominant. This
is of course no hard and fast classification, but it gives a method of
approach. We can begin with the generalized person in ourselves and end
with individuality.

In the world of ideas about me, I have found going on a great social and
political movement that correlates itself with my conception of a great
synthesis of human purpose as the aspect towards us of the universal
scheme. This movement is Socialism. Socialism is to me no clear-cut
system of theories and dogmas; it is one of those solid and extensive
and synthetic ideas that are better indicated by a number of different
formulae than by one, just as one only realizes a statue by walking
round it and seeing it from a number of points of view. I do not think
it is to be completely expressed by any one system of formulae or by
any one man. Its common quality from nearly every point of view is the
subordination of the will of the self-seeking individual to the idea of
a racial well-being embodied in an organized state, organized for every
end that can be obtained collectively. Upon that I seize; that is the
value of Socialism for me.

Socialism for me is a common step we are all taking in the great
synthesis of human purpose. It is the organization, in regard to a
great mass of common and fundamental interests that have hitherto been
dispersedly served, of a collective purpose.

I see humanity scattered over the world, dispersed, conflicting,
unawakened... I see human life as avoidable waste and curable confusion.
I see peasants living in wretched huts knee-deep in manure, mere
parasites on their own pigs and cows; I see shy hunters wandering in
primaeval forests; I see the grimy millions who slave for industrial
production; I see some who are extravagant and yet contemptible
creatures of luxury, and some leading lives of shame and indignity; tens
of thousands of wealthy people wasting lives in vulgar and unsatisfying
trivialities, hundreds of thousands meanly chaffering themselves, rich
or poor, in the wasteful byways of trade; I see gamblers, fools, brutes,
toilers, martyrs. Their disorder of effort, the spectacle of futility,
fills me with a passionate desire to end waste, to create order, to
develop understanding... All these people reflect and are part of the
waste and discontent of my life, and this co-ordination of the species
to a common general end, and the quest for my personal salvation, are
the social and the individual aspect of essentially the same desire...

And yet dispersed as all these people are, they are far more closely
drawn together to common ends and common effort than the filthy savages
who ate food rotten and uncooked in the age of unpolished stone. They
live in the mere opening phase of a synthesis of effort the end of which
surpasses our imagination. Such intercourse and community as they
have is only a dawn. We look towards the day, the day of the organized
civilized world state. The first clear intimation of that conscious
synthesis of human thought to which I look, the first edge of the
dayspring, has arisen--as Socialism, as I conceive of Socialism.
Socialism is to me no more and no less than the awakening of a
collective consciousness in humanity, a collective will and a collective
mind out of which finer individualities may arise forever in a perpetual
series of fresh endeavours and fresh achievements for the race.


It is necessary to point out that a Socialism arising in this way out
of the conception of a synthesis of the will and thought of the species
will necessarily differ from conceptions of Socialism arrived at
in other and different ways. It is based on a self-discontent and
self-abnegation and not on self-satisfaction, and it will be a scheme
of persistent thought and construction, essentially, and it will support
this or that method of law-making, or this or that method of economic
exploitation, or this or that matter of social grouping, only
incidentally and in relation to that.

Such a conception of Socialism is very remote in spirit, however it may
agree in method, from that philanthropic administrative socialism one
finds among the British ruling and administrative class. That seems to
me to be based on a pity which is largely unjustifiable and a pride
that is altogether unintelligent. The pity is for the obvious wants and
distresses of poverty, the pride appears in the arrogant and aggressive
conception of raising one’s fellows. I have no strong feeling for
the horrors and discomforts of poverty as such, sensibilities can be
hardened to endure the life led by the “Romans” in Dartmoor jail a
hundred years ago (See “The Story of Dartmoor Prison” by Basil Thomson
(Heinemann--1907).), or softened to detect the crumpled rose-leaf; what
disgusts me is the stupidity and warring purposes of which poverty is
the outcome. When it comes to the idea of raising human beings, I must
confess the only person I feel concerned about raising is H.G. Wells,
and that even in his case my energies might be better employed. After
all, presently he must die and the world will have done with him. His
output for the species is more important than his individual elevation.

Moreover, all this talk of raising implies a classification I doubt. I
find it hard to fix any standards that will determine who is above me
and who below. Most people are different from me I perceive, but
which among them is better, which worse? I have a certain power of
communicating with other minds, but what experiences I communicate
seem often far thinner and poorer stuff than those which others less
expressive than I half fail to communicate and half display to me.
My “inferiors,” judged by the common social standards, seem indeed
intellectually more limited than I and with a narrower outlook; they
are often dirtier and more driven, more under the stress of hunger and
animal appetites; but on the other hand have they not more vigorous
sensations than I, and through sheer coarsening and hardening of fibre,
the power to do more toilsome things and sustain intenser sensations
than I could endure? When I sit upon the bench, a respectable
magistrate, and commit some battered reprobate for trial for this
lurid offence or that, or send him or her to prison for drunkenness or
such-like indecorum, the doubt drifts into my mind which of us after
all is indeed getting nearest to the keen edge of life. Are I and my
respectable colleagues much more than successful evasions of THAT?
Perhaps these people in the dock know more of the essential strains and
stresses of nature, are more intimate with pain. At any rate I do not
think I am justified in saying certainly that they do not know...

No, I do not want to raise people using my own position as a standard, I
do not want to be one of a gang of consciously superior people, I do not
want arrogantly to change the quality of other lives. I do not want to
interfere with other lives, except incidentally--incidentally, in this
way that I do want to get to an understanding with them, I do want to
share and feel with them in our commerce with the collective mind. I
suppose I do not stretch language very much when I say I want to get
rid of stresses and obstacles between our minds and personalities and to
establish a relation that is understanding and sympathy.

I want to make more generally possible a relationship of communication
and interchange, that for want of a less battered and ambiguous word I
must needs call love.

And if I disavow the Socialism of condescension, so also do I disavow
the Socialism of revolt. There is a form of Socialism based upon the
economic generalizations of Marx, an economic fatalistic Socialism that
I hold to be rather wrong in its vision of facts, rather more distinctly
wrong in its theory, and altogether wrong and hopeless in its spirit. It
preaches, as inevitable, a concentration of property in the hands of
a limited number of property owners and the expropriation of the great
proletarian mass of mankind, a concentration which is after all no more
than a tendency conditional on changing and changeable conventions about
property, and it finds its hope of a better future in the outcome of a
class conflict between the expropriated Many and the expropriating Few.
Both sides are to be equally swayed by self-interest, but the toilers
are to be gregarious and mutually loyal in their self-interest--Heaven
knows why, except that otherwise the Marxist dream will not work. The
experience of contemporary events seems to show at least an equal power
of combination for material ends among owners and employers as among

Now this class-war idea is one diametrically opposed to that
religious-spirited Socialism which supplies the form of my general
activities. This class-war idea would exacerbate the antagonism of the
interests of the many individuals against the few individuals, and I
would oppose the conceiving of the Whole to the self-seeking of the
Individual. The spirit and constructive intention of the many to-day
are no better than those of the few, poor and rich alike are
over-individualized, self-seeking and non-creative; to organize the
confused jostling competitions, over-reachings, envies and hatreds of
to-day into two great class-hatreds and antagonisms will advance
the reign of love at most only a very little, only so far as it will
simplify and make plain certain issues. It may very possibly not
advance the reign of love at all, but rather shatter the order we have.
Socialism, as I conceive it, and as I have presented it in my book, “New
Worlds for Old,” seeks to change economic arrangements only by the way,
as an aspect and outcome of a great change, a change in the spirit and
method of human intercourse.

I know that here I go beyond the limits many Socialists in the past,
and some who are still contemporary, have set themselves. Much Socialism
to-day seems to think of itself as fighting a battle against poverty and
its concomitants alone. Now poverty is only a symptom of a profounder
evil and is never to be cured by itself. It is one aspect of divided
and dispersed purposes. If Socialism is only a conflict with poverty,
Socialism is nothing. But I hold that Socialism is and must be a battle
against human stupidity and egotism and disorder, a battle fought
all through the forests and jungles of the soul of man. As we get
intellectual and moral light and the realization of brotherhood, so
social and economic organization will develop. But the Socialist may
attack poverty for ever, disregarding the intellectual and moral factors
that necessitate it, and he will remain until the end a purely economic
doctrinaire crying in the wilderness in vain.

And if I antagonize myself in this way to the philanthropic Socialism of
kindly prosperous people on the one hand and to the fierce class-hatred
Socialism on the other, still more am I opposed to that furtive
Socialism of the specialist which one meets most typically in the
Fabian Society. It arises very naturally out of what I may perhaps call
specialist fatigue and impatience. It is very easy for writers like
myself to deal in the broad generalities of Socialism and urge their
adoption as general principles; it is altogether another affair with
a man who sets himself to work out the riddle of the complications of
actuality in order to modify them in the direction of Socialism. He
finds himself in a jungle of difficulties that strain his intellectual
power to the utmost. He emerges at last with conclusions, and they are
rarely the obvious conclusions, as to what needs to be done. Even the
people of his own side he finds do not see as he sees; they are, he
perceives, crude and ignorant.

Now I hold that his duty is to explain his discoveries and intentions
until they see as he sees. But the specialist temperament is often not a
generalizing and expository temperament. Specialists are apt to measure
minds by their speciality and underrate the average intelligence. The
specialist is appalled by the real task before him, and he sets himself
by tricks and misrepresentations, by benevolent scoundrelism in fact,
to effect changes he desires. Too often he fails even in that. Where he
might have found fellowship he arouses suspicion. And even if a thing is
done in this way, its essential merit is lost. For it is better, I hold,
for a man to die of his disease than to be cured unwittingly. That is
to cheat him of life and to cheat life of the contribution his
consciousness might have given it.

The Socialism of my beliefs rests on a profounder faith and broader
proposition. It looks over and beyond the warring purposes of to-day
as a general may look over and beyond a crowd of sullen, excited and
confused recruits, to the day when they will be disciplined, exercised,
trained, willing and convergent on a common end. It holds persistently
to the idea of men increasingly working in agreement, doing things
that are sane to do, on a basis of mutual helpfulness, temperance and
toleration. It sees the great masses of humanity rising out of base and
immediate anxieties, out of dwarfing pressures and cramped surroundings,
to understanding and participation and fine effort. It sees the
resources of the earth husbanded and harvested, economized and used with
scientific skill for the maximum of result. It sees towns and cities
finely built, a race of beings finely bred and taught and trained, open
ways and peace and freedom from end to end of the earth. It sees beauty
increasing in humanity, about humanity and through humanity. Through
this great body of mankind goes evermore an increasing understanding, an
intensifying brotherhood. As Christians have dreamt of the New Jerusalem
so does Socialism, growing ever more temperate, patient, forgiving and
resolute, set its face to the World City of Mankind.


Before I go on to point out the broad principles of action that flow
from this wide conception of Socialism, I may perhaps give a section to
elucidating that opposition of hate and love I made when I dealt with
the class war. I have already used the word love several times; it is an
ambiguous word and it may be well to spend a few words in making clear
the sense in which it is used here. I use it in a very broad sense to
convey all that complex of motives, impulses, sentiments, that incline
us to find our happiness and satisfactions in the happiness and sympathy
of others. Essentially it is a synthetic force in human affairs, the
merger tendency, a linking force, an expression in personal will and
feeling of the common element and interest. It insists upon resemblances
and shares and sympathies. And hate, I take it, is the emotional aspect
of antagonism, it is the expression in personal will and feeling of the
individual’s separation from others. It is the competing and destructive
tendency. So long as we are individuals and members of a species, we
must needs both hate and love. But because I believe, as I have already
confessed, that the oneness of the species is a greater fact than
individuality, and that we individuals are temporary separations from a
collective purpose, and since hate eliminates itself by eliminating its
objects, whilst love multiplies itself by multiplying its objects, so
love must be a thing more comprehensive and enduring than hate.

Moreover, hate must be in its nature a good thing. We individuals exist
as such, I believe, for the purpose in things, and our separations and
antagonisms serve that purpose. We play against each other like hammer
and anvil. But the synthesis of a collective will in humanity, which is
I believe our human and terrestrial share in that purpose, is an idea
that carries with it a conception of a secular alteration in the scope
and method of both love and hate. Both widen and change with man’s
widening and developing apprehension of the purpose he serves. The
savage man loves in gusts a fellow creature or so about him, and fears
and hates all other people. Every expansion of his scope and ideas
widens either circle. The common man of our civilized world loves not
only many of his friends and associates systematically and enduringly,
but dimly he loves also his city and his country, his creed and his
race; he loves it may be less intensely but over a far wider field and
much more steadily. But he hates also more widely if less passionately
and vehemently than a savage, and since love makes rather harmony and
peace and hate rather conflict and events, one may easily be led to
suppose that hate is the ruling motive in human affairs. Men band
themselves together in leagues and loyalties, in cults and organizations
and nationalities, and it is often hard to say whether the bond is one
of love for the association or hatred of those to whom the association
is antagonized. The two things pass insensibly into one another. London
people have recently seen an edifying instance of the transition, in
the Brown Dog statue riots. A number of people drawn together by
their common pity for animal suffering, by love indeed of the most
disinterested sort, had so forgotten their initial spirit as to erect a
monument with an inscription at once recklessly untruthful, spiteful in
spirit and particularly vexatious to one great medical school of London.
They have provoked riots and placarded London with taunts and irritating
misrepresentation of the spirit of medical research, and they have
infected a whole fresh generation of London students with a bitter
partizan contempt for the humanitarian effort that has so lamentably
misconducted itself. Both sides vow they will never give in, and the
anti-vivisectionists are busy manufacturing small china copies of
the Brown Dog figure, inscription and all, for purposes of domestic
irritation. Here hate, the evil ugly brother of effort, has manifestly
slain love the initiator and taken the affair in hand. That is a little
model of human conflicts. So soon as we become militant and play against
one another, comes this danger of strain and this possible reversal of
motive. The fight begins. Into a pit of heat and hate fall right and
wrong together.

Now it seems to me that a religious faith such as I have set forth in
the second Book, and a clear sense of our community of blood with all
mankind, must necessarily affect both our loving and our hatred. It will
certainly not abolish hate, but it will subordinate it altogether to
love. We are individuals, so the Purpose presents itself to me, in
order that we may hate the things that have to go, ugliness, baseness,
insufficiency, unreality, that we may love and experiment and strive
for the things that collectively we seek--power and beauty. Before our
conversion we did this darkly and with our hate spreading to persons and
parties from the things for which they stood. But the believer will hate
lovingly and without fear. We are of one blood and substance with our
antagonists, even with those that we desire keenly may die and leave
no issue in flesh or persuasion. They all touch us and are part of one
necessary experience. They are all necessary to the synthesis, even if
they are necessary only as the potato-peel in the dust-bin is necessary
to my dinner.

So it is I disavow and deplore the whole spirit of class-war Socialism
with its doctrine of hate, its envious assault upon the leisure and
freedom of the wealthy. Without leisure and freedom and the experience
of life they gave, the ideas of Socialism could never have been born.
The true mission of Socialism is against darkness, vanity and cowardice,
that darkness which hides from the property owner the intense beauty,
the potentialities of interest, the splendid possibilities of life, that
vanity and cowardice that make him clutch his precious holdings and
fear and hate the shadow of change. It has to teach the collective
organization of society; and to that the class-consciousness and intense
class-prejudices of the worker need to bow quite as much as those of the
property owner. But when I say that Socialism’s mission is to teach, I
do not mean that its mission is a merely verbal and mental one; it must
use all instruments and teach by example as well as precept. Socialism
by becoming charitable and merciful will not cease to be militant.
Socialism must, lovingly but resolutely, use law, use force, to
dispossess the owners of socially disadvantageous wealth, as one coerces
a lunatic brother or takes a wrongfully acquired toy from a spoilt and
obstinate child. It must intervene between all who would keep their
children from instruction in the business of citizenship and the lessons
of fraternity. It must build and guard what it builds with laws and
with that sword which is behind all laws. Non-resistance is for the
non-constructive man, for the hermit in the cave and the naked saint in
the dust; the builder and maker with the first stroke of his foundation
spade uses force and opens war against the anti-builder.


The belief I have that contributing to the development of the collective
being of man is the individual’s general meaning and duty, and the
formulae of the Socialism which embodies this belief so far as our
common activities go, give a general framework and direction how a man
or woman should live. (I do throughout all this book mean man or woman
equally when I write of “man,” unless it is manifestly inapplicable.)

And first in this present time he must see to it that he does live, that
is to say he must get food, clothing, covering, and adequate leisure for
the finer aspects of living. Socialism plans an organized civilization
in which these things will be a collective solicitude, and the gaining
of a subsistence an easy preliminary to the fine drama of existence, but
in the world as we have it we are forced to engage much of our energy
in scrambling for these preliminary necessities. Our problems of conduct
lie in the world as it is and not in the world as we want it to be.
First then a man must get a living, a fair civilized living for himself.
It is a fundamental duty. It must be a fair living, not pinched nor mean
nor strained. A man can do nothing higher, he can be no service to any
cause, until he himself is fed and clothed and equipped and free.
He must earn this living or equip himself to earn it in some way not
socially disadvantageous, he must contrive as far as possible that
the work he does shall be constructive and contributory to the general

And these primary necessities of food, clothing and freedom being
secured, one comes to the general disposition of one’s surplus energy.
With regard to that I think that a very simple proposition follows from
the broad beliefs I have chosen to adopt. The general duty of a man,
his existence being secured, is to educate, and chiefly to educate
and develop himself. It is his duty to live, to make all he can out of
himself and life, to get full of experience, to make himself fine and
perceiving and expressive, to render his experience and perceptions
honestly and helpfully to others. And in particular he has to educate
himself and others with himself in Socialism. He has to make and keep
this idea of synthetic human effort and of conscious constructive effort
clear first to himself and then clear in the general mind. For it is an
idea that comes and goes. We are all of us continually lapsing from
it towards individual isolation again. He needs, we all need, constant
refreshment in this belief if it is to remain a predominant living fact
in our lives.

And that duty of education, of building up the collective idea and
organization of humanity, falls into various divisions depending in
their importance upon individual quality. For all there is one personal
work that none may evade, and that is thinking hard, criticising
strenuously and understanding as clearly as one can religion, socialism
and the general principle of one’s acts. The intellectual factor is
of primary importance in my religion. I can see no more reason why
salvation should come to the intellectually incapable than to the
morally incapable. For simple souls thinking in simple processes,
salvation perhaps comes easily, but there is none for the intellectual
coward, for the mental sloven and sluggard, for the stupid and obdurate
mind. The Believer will think hard and continue to grow and learn, to
read and seek discussion as his needs determine.

Correlated with one’s own intellectual activity, part of it and growing
out of it for almost everyone, is intellectual work with and upon
others. By teaching we learn. Not to communicate one’s thoughts to
others, to keep one’s thoughts to oneself as people say, is either
cowardice or pride. It is a form of sin. It is a duty to talk, teach,
explain, write, lecture, read and listen. Every truly religious man,
every good Socialist, is a propagandist. Those who cannot write or
discuss can talk, those who cannot argue can induce people to listen to
others and read. We have a belief and an idea that we want to spread,
each to the utmost of his means and measure, throughout all the world.
We have a thought that we want to make humanity’s thought. And it is
a duty too that one should, within the compass of one’s ability, make
teaching, writing and lecturing possible where it has not existed
before. This can be done in a hundred ways, by founding and enlarging
schools and universities and chairs, for example; by making print
and reading and all the material of thought cheap and abundant, by
organizing discussion and societies for inquiry.

And talk and thought and study are but the more generalized aspects of
duty. The Believer may find his own special aptitude lies rather
among concrete things, in experimenting and promoting experiments in
collective action. Things teach as well as words, and some of us are
most expressive by concrete methods. The Believer will work himself
and help others to his utmost in all those developments of material
civilization, in organized sanitation for example, all those
developments that force collective acts upon communities and collective
realizations into the minds of men. And the whole field of scientific
research is a field of duty calling to everyone who can enter it, to add
to the permanent store of knowledge and new resources for the race.

The Mind of that Civilized State we seek to make by giving ourselves
into its making, is evidently the central work before us. But while
the writer, the publisher and printer, the bookseller and librarian and
teacher and preacher, the investigator and experimenter, the reader
and everyone who thinks, will be contributing themselves to this great
organized mind and intention in the world, many sorts of specialized
men will be more immediately concerned with parallel and more concrete
aspects of the human synthesis. The medical worker and the medical
investigator, for example, will be building up the body of a new
generation, the body of the civilized state, and he will be doing all
he can, not simply as an individual, but as a citizen, to ORGANIZE his
services of cure and prevention, of hygiene and selection. A great
and growing multitude of men will be working out the apparatus of the
civilized state; the organizers of transit and housing, the engineers
in their incessantly increasing variety, the miners and geologists
estimating the world’s resources in metals and minerals, the mechanical
inventors perpetually economizing force. The scientific agriculturist
again will be studying the food supply of the world as a whole, and how
it may be increased and distributed and economized. And to the student
of law comes the task of rephrasing his intricate and often quite
beautiful science in relation to modern conceptions. All these and a
hundred other aspects are integral to the wide project of Constructive
Socialism as it shapes itself in my faith.


When we lay down the proposition that it is one’s duty to get one’s
living in some way not socially disadvantageous, and as far as possible
by work that is contributory to the general well-being and development,
when we state that one’s surplus energies, after one’s living is gained,
must be devoted to experience, self-development and constructive work,
it is clear we condemn by implication many modes of life that are
followed to-day.

For example, it is manifest we condemn living in idleness or on
non-productive sport, on the income derived from private property, and
all sorts of ways of earning a living that cannot be shown to conduce to
the constructive process. We condemn trading that is merely speculative,
and in fact all trading and manufacture that is not a positive social
service; we condemn living by gambling or by playing games for either
stakes or pay. Much more do we condemn dishonest or fraudulent trading
and every act of advertisement that is not punctiliously truthful. We
must condemn too the taking of any income from the community that is
neither earned nor conceded in the collective interest. But to this last
point, and to certain issues arising out of it, I will return in the
section next following this one.

And it follows evidently from our general propositions that every form
of prostitution is a double sin, against one’s individuality and against
the species which we serve by the development of that individuality’s
preferences and idiosyncracies.

And by prostitution I mean not simply the act of a woman who sells
for money, and against her thoughts and preferences, her smiles and
endearments and the secret beauty and pleasure of her body, but the act
of anyone who, to gain a living, suppresses himself, does things in a
manner alien to himself and subserves aims and purposes with which he
disagrees. The journalist who writes against his personal convictions,
the solicitor who knowingly assists the schemes of rogues, the barrister
who pits himself against what he perceives is justice and the right,
the artist who does unbeautiful things or less beautiful things than
he might, simply to please base employers, the craftsman who makes
instruments for foolish uses or bad uses, the dealer who sells and
pushes an article because it fits the customer’s folly; all these are
prostitutes of mind and soul if not of body, with no right to lift an
eyebrow at the painted disasters of the streets.


These broad principles about one’s way of living are very simple;
our minds move freely among them. But the real interest is with the
individual case, and the individual case is almost always complicated
by the fact that the existing social and economic system is based upon
conditions that the growing collective intelligence condemns as unjust
and undesirable, and that the constructive spirit in men now seeks to
supersede. We have to live in a provisional State while we dream of and
work for a better one.

The ideal life for the ordinary man in a civilized, that is to say a
Socialist, State would be in public employment or in private enterprise
aiming at public recognition. But in our present world only a small
minority can have that direct and honourable relation of public service
in the work they do; most of the important business of the community is
done upon the older and more tortuous private ownership system, and the
great mass of men in socially useful employment find themselves working
only indirectly for the community and directly for the profit of a
private owner, or they themselves are private owners. Every man who has
any money put by in the bank, or any money invested, is a private owner,
and in so far as he draws interest or profit from this investment he is
a social parasite. It is in practice almost impossible to divest oneself
of that parasitic quality however straightforward the general principle
may be.

It is practically impossible for two equally valid sets of reasons.
The first is that under existing conditions, saving and investment
constitute the only way to rest and security in old age, to leisure,
study and intellectual independence, to the safe upbringing of a family
and the happiness of one’s weaker dependents. These are things that
should not be left for the individual to provide; in the civilized
state, the state itself will insure every citizen against these
anxieties that now make the study of the City Article almost a duty.
To abandon saving and investment to-day, and to do so is of course to
abandon all insurance, is to become a driven and uncertain worker,
to risk one’s personal freedom and culture and the upbringing and
efficiency of one’s children. It is to lower the standard of one’s
personal civilization, to think with less deliberation and less
detachment, to fall away from that work of accumulating fine habits and
beautiful and pleasant ways of living contributory to the coming State.
And in the second place there is not only no return for such a sacrifice
in anything won for Socialism, but for fine-thinking and living people
to give up property is merely to let it pass into the hands of more
egoistic possessors. Since at present things must be privately owned,
it is better that they should be owned by people consciously working for
social development and willing to use them to that end.

We have to live in the present system and under the conditions of the
present system, while we work with all our power to change that system
for a better one.

The case of Cadburys the cocoa and chocolate makers, and the practical
slavery under the Portuguese of the East African negroes who grow
the raw material for Messrs. Cadbury, is an illuminating one in this
connection. The Cadburys, like the Rowntrees, are well known as an
energetic and public-spirited family, their social and industrial
experiments at Bournville and their general social and political
activities are broad and constructive in the best sense. But they find
themselves in the peculiar dilemma that they must either abandon an
important and profitable portion of their great manufacture or continue
to buy produce grown under cruel and even horrible conditions. Their
retirement from the branch of the cocoa and chocolate trade concerned
would, under these circumstances, mean no diminution of the manufacture
or of the horrors of this particular slavery; it would merely mean that
less humanitarian manufacturers would step in to take up the abandoned
trade. The self-righteous individualist would have no doubts about the
question; he would keep his hands clean anyhow, retrench his social
work, abandon the types of cocoa involved, and pass by on the other
side. But indeed I do not believe we came into the mire of life simply
to hold our hands up out of it. Messrs. Cadbury follow a better line;
they keep their business going, and exert themselves in every way to
let light into the secrets of Portuguese East Africa and to organize a
better control of these labour cruelties. That I think is altogether the
right course in this difficulty.

We cannot keep our hands clean in this world as it is. There is no
excuse indeed for a life of fraud or any other positive fruitless
wrong-doing or for a purely parasitic non-productive life, yet all but
the fortunate few who are properly paid and recognized state servants
must in financial and business matters do their best amidst and through
institutions tainted with injustice and flawed with unrealities. All
Socialists everywhere are like expeditionary soldiers far ahead of the
main advance. The organized state that should own and administer their
possessions for the general good has not arrived to take them over; and
in the meanwhile they must act like its anticipatory agents according to
their lights and make things ready for its coming.

The Believer then who is not in the public service, whose life lies
among the operations of private enterprise, must work always on the
supposition that the property he administers, the business in which
he works, the profession he follows, is destined to be taken over and
organized collectively for the commonweal and must be made ready for
the taking over; that the private outlook he secures by investment,
the provision he makes for his friends and children, are temporary,
wasteful, though at present unavoidable devices to be presently
merged in and superseded by the broad and scientific previsions of the
co-operative commonwealth.


These principles give a rule also for the problem that faces the great
majority of thinking wives and mothers to-day. The most urgent and
necessary social work falls upon them; they bear, and largely educate
and order the homes of, the next generation, and they have no direct
recognition from the community for either of these supreme functions.
They are supposed to perform them not for God or the world, but to
please and satisfy a particular man. Our laws, our social conventions,
our economic methods, so hem a woman about that, however fitted for and
desirous of maternity she may be, she can only effectually do that
duty in a dependent relation to her husband. Nearly always he is the
paymaster, and if his payments are grudging or irregular, she has
little remedy short of a breach and the rupture of the home. Her duty
is conceived of as first to him and only secondarily to her children and
the State. Many wives become under these circumstances mere prostitutes
to their husbands, often evading the bearing of children with their
consent and even at their request, and “loving for a living.” That is a
natural outcome of the proprietary theory of the family out of which our
civilization emerges. But our modern ideas trend more and more to regard
a woman’s primary duty to be her duty to the children and to the world
to which she gives them. She is to be a citizen side by side with her
husband; no longer is he to intervene between her and the community. As
a matter of contemporary fact he can do so and does so habitually, and
most women have to square their ideas of life to that possibility.

Before any woman who is clear-headed enough to perceive that this great
business of motherhood is one of supreme public importance, there are a
number of alternatives at the present time. She may, like Grant Allan’s
heroine in “The Woman Who Did,” declare an exaggerated and impossible
independence, refuse the fetters of marriage and bear children to a
lover. This, in the present state of public opinion in almost every
existing social atmosphere, would be a purely anarchistic course. It
would mean a fatherless home, and since the woman will have to play the
double part of income-earner and mother, an impoverished and struggling
home. It would mean also an unsocial because ostracized home. In most
cases, and even assuming it to be right in idea, it would still be on
all fours with that immediate abandonment of private property we have
already discussed, a sort of suicide that helps the world nothing.

Or she may “strike,” refuse marriage and pursue a solitary and childless
career, engaging her surplus energies in constructive work. But that
also is suicide; it is to miss the keenest experiences, the finest
realities life has to offer.

Or she may meet a man whom she can trust to keep a treaty with her and
supplement the common interpretations and legal insufficiencies of the
marriage bond, who will respect her always as a free and independent
person, will abstain absolutely from authoritative methods, and will
either share and trust his income and property with her in a frank
communism, or give her a sufficient and private income for her personal
use. It is only fair under existing economic conditions that at marriage
a husband should insure his life in his wife’s interest, and I do not
think it would be impossible to bring our legal marriage contract into
accordance with modern ideas in that matter. Certainly it should be
legally imperative that at the birth of each child a new policy upon its
father’s life, as the income-getter, should begin. The latter provision
at least should be a normal condition of marriage and one that the
wife should have power to enforce when payments fall away. With such
safeguards and under such conditions marriage ceases to be a haphazard
dependence for a woman, and she may live, teaching and rearing and free,
almost as though the co-operative commonwealth had come.

But in many cases, since great numbers of women marry so young and
so ignorantly that their thinking about realities begins only after
marriage, a woman will find herself already married to a man before she
realizes the significance of these things. She may be already the mother
of children. Her husband’s ideas may not be her ideas. He may dominate,
he may prohibit, he may intervene, he may default. He may, if he sees
fit, burthen the family income with the charges of his illegitimate

We live in the world as it is and not in the world as it should be. That
sentence becomes the refrain of this discussion.

The normal modern married woman has to make the best of a bad position,
to do her best under the old conditions, to live as though she was under
the new conditions, to make good citizens, to give her spare energies
as far as she can to bringing about a better state of affairs. Like the
private property owner and the official in a privately owned business,
her best method of conduct is to consider herself an unrecognized public
official, irregularly commanded and improperly paid. There is no good
in flagrant rebellion. She has to study her particular circumstances and
make what good she can out of them, keeping her face towards the coming
time. I cannot better the image I have already used for the thinking
and believing modern-minded people of to-day as an advance guard cut
off from proper supplies, ill furnished so that makeshift prevails,
and rather demoralized. We have to be wise as well as loyal; discretion
itself is loyalty to the coming State.


In the previous section I have dealt with the single individual’s duty
in relation to the general community and to law and generally received
institutions. But there is a new set of questions now to be considered.
Let us take up the modifications that arise when it is not one
isolated individual but a group of individuals who find themselves in
disagreement with contemporary rule or usage and disposed to find a
rightness in things not established or not conceded. They too live in
the world as it is and not in the world as it ought to be, but their
association opens up quite new possibilities of anticipating coming
developments of living, and of protecting and guaranteeing one another
from what for a single unprotected individual would be the inevitable
consequences of a particular line of conduct, conduct which happened to
be unorthodox or only, in the face of existing conditions, unwise.

For example, a friend of mine who had read a copy of the preceding
section wrote as follows:--

“I can see no reason why even to-day a number of persons avowedly united
in the same ‘Belief’ and recognizing each other as the self-constituted
social vanguard should not form a recognized spiritual community
centering round some kind of ‘religious’ edifice and ritual, and agree
to register and consecrate the union of any couples of the members
according to a contract which the whole community should have voted
acceptable. The community would be the guardian of money deposited or
paid in gradually as insurance for the children. And the fact of
the whole business being regular, open and connected with a common
intellectual and moral ritual and a common name, such for example as
your name of ‘The Samurai,’ would secure the respect of outsiders, so
that eventually these new marriage arrangements would modify the old
ones. People would ask, ‘Were you married before the registrar?’ and the
answer would be, ‘No, we are Samurai and were united before the
Elders.’ In Catholic countries those who use only the civil marriage
are considered outcasts by the religiously minded, which shows that
recognition by the State is not as potent as recognition by the
community to which one belongs. The religious marriage is considered
the only one binding by Catholics, and the civil ceremony is respected
merely because the State has brute force behind it.”

There is in this passage one particularly valuable idea, the idea of
an association of people to guarantee the welfare of their children in
common. I will follow that a little, though it takes me away from my
main line of thought. It seems to me that such an association might be
found in many cases a practicable way of easing the conflict that so
many men and women experience, between their individual public service
and their duty to their own families. Many people of exceptional gifts,
whose gifts are not necessarily remunerative, are forced by these
personal considerations to direct them more or less askew, to divert
them from their best application to some inferior but money-making
use; and many more are given the disagreeable alternative of evading
parentage or losing the freedom of mind needed for socially beneficial
work. This is particularly the case with many scientific investigators,
many sociological and philosophical workers, many artists, teachers and
the like. Even when such people are fairly prosperous personally they do
not care to incur the obligation to keep prosperous at any cost to their
work that a family in our competitive system involves. It gives great
ease of mind to any sort of artistic or intellectual worker to feel
free to become poor. I do not see why a group of such people should not
attempt a merger of their family anxieties and family adventures,
insure all its members, and while each retains a sufficient personal
independence for freedom of word and movement, pool their family
solicitudes and resources, organize a collective school and a
common maintenance fund for all the children born of members of
the association. I do not see why they should not in fact develop a
permanent trust to maintain, educate and send out all their children
into the world, a trust to which their childless friends and associates
could contribute by gift and bequest, and to which the irregular good
fortune that is not uncommon in the careers of these exceptional types
could be devoted. I do not mean any sort of charity but an enlarged
family basis.

Such an idea passes very readily into the form of a Eugenic association.
It would be quite possible and very interesting for prosperous people
interested in Eugenics to create a trust for the offspring of a selected
band of beneficiaries, and with increasing resources to admit new
members and so build up within the present social system a special
strain of chosen people. So far people with eugenic ideas and people
with conceptions of associated and consolidated families have been too
various and too dispersed for such associations to be practicable, but
as such views of life become more common, the chance of a number of
sufficiently homogeneous and congenial people working out the method of
such a grouping increases steadily.

Moreover, I can imagine no reason to prevent any women who are in
agreement with the moral standards of the “Woman who Did” (standards I
will not discuss at this present point but defer for a later section)
combining for mutual protection and social support and the welfare of
such children as they may bear. Then certainly, to the extent that
this succeeds, the objections that arise from the evil effects upon the
children of social isolation disappear. This isolation would be at worst
a group isolation, and there can be no doubt that my friend is right
in pointing out that there is much more social toleration for an act
committed under the sanction of a group than for an isolated act that
may be merely impulsive misbehaviour masquerading as high principle.

It seems to me remarkable that, to the best of my knowledge, so
obvious a form of combination has never yet been put in practice. It
is remarkable but not inexplicable. The first people to develop novel
ideas, more particularly of this type, are usually people in isolated
circumstances and temperamentally incapable of disciplined cooperation.


The idea of organizing the progressive elements in the social chaos into
a regular developing force is one that has had a great attraction
for me. I have written upon it elsewhere, and I make no apology
for returning to it here and examining it in the light of various
afterthoughts and with fresh suggestions.

I first broached this idea in a book called “Anticipations,” wherein I
described a possible development of thought and concerted action which
I called the New Republicanism, and afterwards I redrew the thing
rather more elaborately in my “Modern Utopia.” I had been struck by the
apparently chaotic and wasteful character of most contemporary reform
movements, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that those who aimed at
organizing society and replacing chaos and waste by wise arrangements,
might very well begin by producing a more effective organization
for their own efforts. These complexities of good intention made me
impatient, and I sought industriously in my mind for a short cut
through them. In doing so I think I overlooked altogether too much how
heterogeneous all progressive thought and progressive people must be.

In my “Modern Utopia” I turned this idea of an organized brotherhood
about very thoroughly and looked at it from this point and that; I
let it loose as it were, and gave it its fullest development, and so
produced a sort of secular Order of governing men and women. In a spirit
entirely journalistic I called this the Order of the Samurai, for at the
time I wrote there was much interest in Bushido because of the capacity
for hardship and self-sacrifice this chivalrous culture appears to
have developed in the Japanese. These Samurai of mine were a sort of
voluntary nobility who supplied the administrative and organizing forces
that held my Utopian world together. They were the “New Republicans”
 of my “Anticipations” and “Mankind in the Making,” much developed and
supposed triumphant and ruling the world.

I sought of course to set out these ideas as attractively as possible in
my books, and they have as a matter of fact proved very attractive to a
certain number of people. Quite a number have wanted to go on with them.
Several little organizations of Utopians and Samurai and the like have
sprung up and informed me of themselves, and some survive; and young men
do still at times drop into my world “personally or by letter” declaring
themselves New Republicans.

All this has been very helpful and at times a little embarrassing to
me. It has given me an opportunity of seeing the ideals I flung into
the distance beyond Sirius and among the mountain snows coming home
partially incarnate in girls and young men. It has made me look into
individualized human aspirations, human impatience, human vanity and a
certain human need of fellowship, at close quarters. It has illuminated
subtle and fine traits; it has displayed nobilities, and it has brought
out aspects of human absurdity to which only the pencil of Mr. George
Morrow could do adequate justice. The thing I have had to explain most
generally is that my New Republicans and Samurai are but figures of
suggestion, figures to think over and use in planning disciplines, but
by no means copies to follow. I have had to go over again, as though it
had never been raised before in any previous writings, the difference
between the spirit and the letter.

These responses have on the whole confirmed my main idea that there is
a real need, a need that many people, and especially adolescent people,
feel very strongly, for some sort of constructive brotherhood of a
closer type than mere political association, to co-ordinate and partly
guide their loose chaotic efforts to get hold of life--but they have
also convinced me that no wide and comprehensive organization can supply
that want.

My New Republicans were presented as in many respects harsh and
overbearing people, “a sort of outspoken secret society” for the
organization of the world. They were not so much an ideal order as the
Samurai of the later book, being rather deduced as a possible outcome of
certain forces and tendencies in contemporary life (A.D. 1900) than,
as literary people say, “created.” They were to be drawn from among
engineers, doctors, scientific business organizers and the like, and I
found that it is to energetic young men of the more responsible classes
that this particular ideal appeals. Their organization was quite
informal, a common purpose held them together.

Most of the people who have written to me to call themselves New
Republicans are I find also Imperialists and Tariff Reformers, and I
suppose that among the prominent political figures of to-day the
nearest approach to my New Republicans is Lord Milner and the
Socialist-Unionists of his group. It is a type harshly constructive,
inclined to an unscrupulous pose and slipping readily into a
Kiplingesque brutality.

The Samurai on the other hand were more picturesque figures, with a much
more elaborated organization.

I may perhaps recapitulate the points about that Order here.

In the “Modern Utopia” the visitor from earth remarks:--

“These Samurai form the real body of the State. All this time that I
have spent going to and fro in this planet, it has been growing upon me
that this order of men and women, wearing such a uniform as you wear,
and with faces strengthened by discipline and touched with devotion, is
the Utopian reality; that but for them the whole fabric of these fair
appearances would crumble and tarnish, shrink and shrivel, until at
last, back I should be amidst the grime and disorders of the life of
earth. Tell me about these Samurai, who remind me of Plato’s guardians,
who look like Knight Templars, who bear a name that recalls the
swordsmen of Japan. What are they? Are they an hereditary cast, a
specially educated order, an elected class? For, certainly, this world
turns upon them as a door upon its hinges.”

His informant explains:--

“Practically the whole of the responsible rule of the world is in their
hands; all our head teachers and disciplinary heads of colleges,
our judges, barristers, employers of labour beyond a certain limit,
practising medical men, legislators, must be Samurai, and all the
executive committees and so forth, that play so large a part in our
affairs, are drawn by lot exclusively from them. The order is not
hereditary--we know just enough of biology and the uncertainties of
inheritance to know how silly that would be--and it does not require an
early consecration or novitiate or ceremonies and initiations of that
sort. The Samurai are, in fact, volunteers. Any intelligent adult in a
reasonably healthy and efficient state may, at any age after five and
twenty, become one of the Samurai and take a hand in the universal

“Provided he follows the Rule.”

“Precisely--provided he follows the Rule.”

“I have heard the phrase, ‘voluntary nobility.’”

“That was the idea of our Founders. They made a noble and privileged
order--open to the whole world. No one could complain of an unjust
exclusion, for the only thing that could exclude them from the order was
unwillingness or inability to follow the Rule.

“The Rule aims to exclude the dull and base altogether, to discipline
the impulses and emotions, to develop a moral habit and sustain a man
in periods of stress, fatigue and temptation, to produce the maximum
co-operation of all men of good-intent, and in fact to keep all the
Samurai in a state of moral and bodily health and efficiency. It does
as much of this as well as it can, but of course, like all general
propositions, it does not do it in any case with absolute precision. AT
RIGHTEOUS MAN, but it has undergone, and still undergoes, revision and
expansion, and every year it becomes a little better adapted to the need
of a general rule of life that all men may try to follow. We have now
a whole literature with many very fine things in it, written about the

“The Rule consists of three parts; there is the list of things that
qualify, the list of things that must not be done, and the list of
things that must be done. Qualification exacts a little exertion as
evidence of good faith and it is designed to weed out the duller dull
and many of the base.”

He goes on to tell of certain intellectual qualifications and

“Next to the intellectual qualification comes the physical, the man must
be in sound health, free from certain foul, avoidable and demoralizing
diseases, and in good training. We reject men who are fat, or thin, or
flabby, or whose nerves are shaky--we refer them back to training. And
finally the man or woman must be fully adult.”

“Twenty-one? But you said twenty-five!”

“The age has varied. At first it was twenty-five or over; then the
minimum became twenty-five for men and twenty-one for women. Now there
is a feeling that it ought to be raised. We don’t want to take advantage
of mere boy and girl emotions--men of my way of thinking, at any rate,
don’t--we want to get our Samurai with experiences, with settled mature
conviction. Our hygiene and regimen are rapidly pushing back old age and
death, and keeping men hale and hearty to eighty and more. There’s no
need to hurry the young. Let them have a chance of wine, love and song;
let them feel the bite of full-blooded desire, and know what devils they
have to reckon with...

“We forbid a good deal. Many small pleasures do no great harm, but we
think it well to forbid them none the less, so that we can weed out the
self-indulgent. We think that a constant resistance to little seductions
is good for a man’s quality. At any rate, it shows that a man is
prepared to pay something for his honour and privileges. We prescribe
a regimen of food, forbid tobacco, wine, or any alcoholic drink, all
narcotic drugs...

“Originally the Samurai were forbidden usury, that is to say, the
lending of money at fixed rates of interest. They are still under that
interdiction, but since our commercial code practically prevents usury
altogether, and our law will not recognize contracts for interest upon
private accommodation loans to unprosperous borrowers,” (he is speaking
of Utopia), “it is now scarcely necessary. The idea of a man growing
richer by mere inaction and at the expense of an impoverished debtor is
profoundly distasteful to Utopian ideas, and our State insists pretty
effectually now upon the participation of the lender in the borrower’s
risks. This, however, is only one part of a series of limitations of
the same character. It is felt that to buy simply in order to sell again
brings out many unsocial human qualities; it makes a man seek to enhance
profits and falsify values, and so the Samurai are forbidden to buy or
sell on their own account or for any employer save the State, unless by
some process of manufacture they change the nature of the commodity (a
mere change in bulk or packing does not suffice), and they are forbidden
salesmanship and all its arts. Nor may the Samurai do personal services,
except in the matter of medicine or surgery; they may not be barbers,
for example, nor inn waiters nor boot cleaners, men do such services for
themselves. Nor may a man under the Rule be any man’s servant, pledged
to do whatever he is told. He may neither be a servant nor keep one;
he must shave and dress and serve himself, carry his own food from the
helper’s place, redd his sleeping room and leave it clean...”

Finally came the things they had to do. Their Rule contained:--

“many precise directions regarding his health, and rules that would aim
at once at health and that constant exercise or will that makes life
good. Save in specified exceptional circumstances, the Samurai must
bathe in cold water and the men shave every day; they have the precisest
directions in such matters; the body must be in health, the skin and
nerves and muscles in perfect tone, or the Samurai must go to the
doctors of the order and give implicit obedience to the regimen
prescribed. They must sleep alone at least four nights in five; and they
must eat with and talk to anyone in their fellowship who cares for their
conversation for an hour at least, at the nearest club-house of the
Samurai, once on three chosen days in every week. Moreover they must
read aloud from the Book of the Samurai for at least five minutes every
day. Every month they must buy and read faithfully through at least one
book that has been published during the past five years, and the only
intervention with private choice in that matter is the prescription of
a certain minimum of length for the monthly book or books. But the full
rule in these minor compulsory matters is voluminous and detailed,
and it abounds with alternatives. Its aim is rather to keep before the
Samurai by a number of simple duties, as it were, the need of and some
of the chief methods towards health of body and mind rather than
to provide a comprehensive rule, and to ensure the maintenance of a
community of feeling and interests among the Samurai through habit,
intercourse and a living contemporary literature. These minor
obligations do not earmark more than an hour in the day. Yet they
serve to break down isolations of sympathy, all sorts of physical and
intellectual sluggishness and the development of unsocial preoccupations
of many sorts...

“So far as the Samurai have a purpose in common in maintaining the State
and the order and discipline of the world, so far, by their discipline
and denial, by their public work and effort, they worship God together.
But the ultimate fount of motives lies in the individual life, it lies
in silent and deliberate reflections, and at this the most striking of
all the rules of the Samurai aims. For seven consecutive days of the
year, at least, each man or woman under the Rule must go right out of
all the life of men into some wild and solitary place, must speak to no
man or woman and have no sort of intercourse with mankind. They must go
bookless and weaponless, without pen or paper or money. Provision must
be taken for the period of the journey, a rug or sleeping sack--for they
must sleep under the open sky--but no means of making a fire. They may
study maps before to guide them, showing any difficulties and dangers
in the journey, but they may not carry such helps. They must not go by
beaten ways or wherever there are inhabited houses, but into the bare,
quiet places of the globe--the regions set apart for them.

“This discipline was invented to secure a certain stoutness of heart
and body in the Samurai. Otherwise the order might have lain open to
too many timorous, merely abstemious men and women. Many things had
been suggested, sword-play and tests that verged on torture, climbing
in giddy places and the like, before this was chosen. Partly, it is to
ensure good training and sturdiness of body and mind, but partly also,
it is to draw the minds of the Samurai for a space from the insistent
details of life, from the intricate arguments and the fretting effort to
work, from personal quarrels and personal affections and the things of
the heated room. Out they must go, clean out of the world...”

These passages will at least serve to present the Samurai idea and the
idea of common Rule of conduct it embodied.

In the “Modern Utopia” I discuss also a lesser Rule and the modification
of the Rule for women and the relation to the order of what I call the
poietic types, those types whose business in life seems to be rather to
experience and express than to act and effectually do. For those things
I must refer the reader to the book itself. Together with a sentence
I have put in italics above, they serve to show that even when I was
devising these Samurai I was not unmindful of the defects that are
essential to such a scheme.

This dream of the Samurai proved attractive to a much more various
group of readers than the New Republican suggestion, and there have been
actual attempts to realise the way of life proposed. In most of these
cases there was manifest a disposition greatly to over-accentuate
organization, to make too much of the disciplinary side of the Rule and
to forget the entire subordination of such things to active thought and
constructive effort. They are valuable and indeed only justifiable as
a means to an end. These attempts of a number of people of very
miscellaneous origins and social traditions to come together and work
like one machine made the essential wastefulness of any terrestrial
realization of my Samurai very clear. The only reason for such an Order
is the economy and development of force, and under existing conditions
disciplines would consume more force than they would engender. The
Order, so far from being a power, would be an isolation. Manifestly the
elements of organization and uniformity were overdone in my Utopia; in
this matter I was nearer the truth in the case of my New Republicans.
These, in contrast with the Samurai, had no formal general organization,
they worked for a common end, because their minds and the suggestion of
their circumstances pointed them to a common end. Nothing was enforced
upon them in the way of observance or discipline. They were not
shepherded and trained together, they came together. It was assumed
that if they wanted strongly they would see to it that they lived in the
manner most conducive to their end just as in all this book I am taking
it for granted that to believe truly is to want to do right. It was
not even required of them that they should sedulously propagate their
constructive idea.

Apart from the illumination of my ideas by these experiments and
proposals, my Samurai idea has also had a quite unmerited amount of
subtle and able criticism from people who found it at once interesting
and antipathetic. My friends Vernon Lee and G.K. Chesterton, for
example, have criticized it, and I think very justly, on the ground
that the invincible tortuousness of human pride and class-feeling would
inevitably vitiate its working. All its disciplines would tend to give
its members a sense of distinctness, would tend to syndicate power and
rob it of any intimacy and sympathy with those outside the Order...

It seems to me now that anyone who shares the faith I have been
developing in this book will see the value of these comments and
recognize with me that this dream is a dream; the Samurai are just one
more picture of the Perfect Knight, an ideal of clean, resolute and
balanced living. They may be valuable as an ideal of attitude but not as
an ideal of organization. They are never to be put, as people say, upon
a business footing and made available as a refuge from the individual

To modernize the parable, the Believer must not only not bury his talent
but he must not bank it with an organization. Each Believer must decide
for himself how far he wants to be kinetic or efficient, how far he
needs a stringent rule of conduct, how far he is poietic and may loiter
and adventure among the coarse and dangerous things of life. There is
no reason why one should not, and there is every reason why one should,
discuss one’s personal needs and habits and disciplines and elaborate
one’s way of life with those about one, and form perhaps with those of
like training and congenial temperament small groups for mutual support.
That sort of association I have already discussed in the previous
section. With adolescent people in particular such association is in
many cases an almost instinctive necessity. There is no reason moreover
why everyone who is lonely should not seek out congenial minds and
contrive a grouping with them. All mutual lovers for example are Orders
of a limited membership, many married couples and endless cliques
and sets are that. Such small and natural associations are indeed
force-giving Orders because they are brought together by a common innate
disposition out of a possibility of mutual assistance and inspiration;
they observe a Rule that springs up and not a Rule imposed. The more
of such groups and Orders we have the better. I do not see why having
formed themselves they should not define and organize themselves. I
believe there is a phase somewhere between fifteen and thirty, in the
life of nearly everybody, when such a group is sought, is needed and
would be helpful in self-development and self-discovery. In leagues and
societies for specific ends, too, we must all participate. But the order
of the Samurai as a great progressive force controlling a multitude of
lives right down to their intimate details and through all the phases of
personal development is a thing unrealizable. To seek to realize it is
impatience. True brotherhood is universal brotherhood. The way to that
is long and toilsome, but it is a way that permits of no such energetic
short cuts as this militant order of my dream would achieve.


When one is discussing this possible formation of cults and
brotherhoods, it may be well to consider a few of the conditions that
rule such human re-groupings. We live in the world as it is and not in
the world as we want it to be, that is the practical rule by which we
steer, and in directing our lives we must constantly consider the forces
and practicabilities of the social medium in which we move.

In contemporary life the existing ties are so various and so imperative
that the detachment necessary as a preliminary condition to such new
groupings is rarely found. This is not a period in which large numbers
of people break away easily and completely from old connexions. Things
change less catastrophically than once they did. More particularly
is there less driving out into the wilderness. There is less heresy
hunting; persecution is frequently reluctant and can be evaded by slight
concessions. The world as a whole is less harsh and emphatic than it
was. Customs and customary attitudes change nowadays not so much by
open, defiant and revolutionary breaches as by the attrition of partial
negligences and new glosses. Innovating people do conform to current
usage, albeit they conform unwillingly and imperfectly. There is a
constant breaking down and building up of usage, and as a consequence
a lessened need of wholesale substitutions. Human methods have become
viviparous; the New nowadays lives for a time in the form of the Old.
The friend I quote in Chapter 2.10 writes of a possible sect with a
“religious edifice” and ritual of its own, a new religious edifice and
a new ritual. In practice I doubt whether “real” people, people
who matter, people who are getting things done and who have already
developed complex associations, can afford the extensive re-adjustment
implied in such a new grouping. It would mean too much loss of time,
too much loss of energy and attention, too much sacrifice of existing

New cults, new religions, new organizations of all sorts, insisting
upon their novelty and difference, are most prolific and most successful
wherever there is an abundant supply of dissociated people, where
movement is in excess of deliberation, and creeds and formulae
unyielding and unadaptable because they are unthinking. In England,
for example, in the last century, where social conditions have been
comparatively stable, discussion good and abundant and internal
migration small, there have been far fewer such developments than in
the United States of America. In England toleration has become an
institution, and where Tory and Socialist, Bishop and Infidel, can all
meet at the same dinner-table and spend an agreeable week-end together,
there is no need for defensive segregations. In such an atmosphere
opinion and usage change and change continually, not dramatically as the
results of separations and pitched battles but continuously and fluently
as the outcome of innumerable personal reactions. America, on the other
hand, because of its material preoccupations, because of the dispersal
of its thinking classes over great areas, because of the cruder
understanding of its more heterogeneous population (which constantly
renders hard and explicit statement necessary), MEANS its creeds much
more literally and is at once more experimental and less compromising
and tolerant. It is there if anywhere that new brotherhoods and new
creeds will continue to appear. But even in America I think the trend
of things is away from separations and segregations and new starts, and
towards more comprehensive and graduated methods of development.

New religions, I think, appear and are possible and necessary in phases
of social disorganization, in phases when considerable numbers of people
are detached from old systems of direction and unsettled and distressed.
So, at any rate, it was Christianity appeared, in a strained and
disturbed community, in the clash of Roman and Oriental thought, and for
a long time it was confined to the drifting population of seaports
and great cities and to wealthy virgins and widows, reaching the most
settled and most adjusted class, the pagani, last of all and in its
most adaptable forms. It was the greatest new beginning in the world’s
history, and the wealth of political and literary and social and
artistic traditions it abandoned had subsequently to be revived and
assimilated to it fragment by fragment from the past it had submerged.
Now, I do not see that the world to-day presents any fair parallelism
to that sere age of stresses in whose recasting Christianity played the
part of a flux. Ours is on the whole an organizing and synthetic rather
than a disintegrating phase throughout the world. Old institutions
are neither hard nor obstinate to-day, and the immense and various
constructive forces at work are saturated now with the conception
of evolution, of secular progressive development, as opposed to the
revolutionary idea. Only a very vast and terrible war explosion can, I
think, change this state of affairs.

This conveys in general terms, at least, my interpretation of the
present time, and it is in accordance with this view that the world
is moving forward as a whole and with much dispersed and discrepant
rightness, that I do not want to go apart from the world as a whole
into any smaller community, with all the implication of an exclusive
possession of right which such a going apart involves. Put to the test
by my own Samurai for example by a particularly urgent and enthusiastic
discipline, I found I did not in the least want to be one of that
organization, that it only expressed one side of a much more complex
self than its disciplines permitted. And still less do I want to
hamper the play of my thoughts and motives by going apart into the
particularism of a new religion. Such refuges are well enough when the
times threaten to overwhelm one. The point about the present age, so
far as I am able to judge the world, is that it does not threaten to
overwhelm; that at the worst, by my standards, it maintains its way of
thinking instead of assimilating mine.


Now all this leads very directly to a discussion of the relations of a
person of my way of thinking to the Church and religious institutions
generally. I have already discussed my relation to commonly accepted
beliefs, but the question of institutions is, it seems to me, a
different one altogether. Not to realize that, to confuse a church
with its creed, is to prepare the ground for a mass of disastrous and
life-wasting errors.

Now my rules of conduct are based on the supposition that moral
decisions are to be determined by the belief that the individual life
guided by its perception of beauty is incidental, experimental, and
contributory to the undying life of the blood and race. I have decided
for myself that the general business of life is the development of
a collective consciousness and will and purpose out of a chaos of
individual consciousnesses and wills and purposes, and that the way
to that is through the development of the Socialist State, through
the socialization of existing State organizations and their merger of
pacific association in a World State. But so far I have not taken up
the collateral aspect of the synthesis of human consciousness, the
development of collective feeling and willing and expression in the
form, among others, of religious institutions.

Religious institutions are things to be legitimately distinguished from
the creeds and cosmogonies with which one finds them associated. Customs
are far more enduring things than ideas,--witness the mistletoe at
Christmas, or the old lady turning her money in her pocket at the sight
of the new moon. And the exact origin of a religious institution is of
much less significance to us than its present effect. The theory of a
religion may propose the attainment of Nirvana or the propitiation of
an irascible Deity or a dozen other things as its end and aim; the
practical fact is that it draws together great multitudes of diverse
individualized people in a common solemnity and self-subordination
however vague, and is so far, like the State, and in a manner far more
intimate and emotional and fundamental than the State, a synthetic
power. And in particular, the idea of the Catholic Church is charged
with synthetic suggestion; it is in many ways an idea broader and
finer than the constructive idea of any existing State. And just as
the Beliefs I have adopted lead me to regard myself as in and of the
existing State, such as it is, and working for its rectification and
development, so I think there is a reasonable case for considering
oneself in and of the Catholic Church and bound to work for its
rectification and development; and this in spite of the fact that one
may not feel justified in calling oneself a Christian in any sense of
the term.

It may be maintained very plausibly that the Catholic Church is
something greater than Christianity, however much the Christians may
have contributed to its making. From the historical point of view it is
a religious and social method that developed with the later development
of the world empire of Rome and as the expression of its moral and
spiritual side. Its head was, and so far as its main body is concerned
still is, the pontifex maximus of the Roman world empire, an official
who was performing sacrifices centuries before Christ was born. It
is easy to assert that the Empire was converted to Christianity and
submitted to its terrestrial leader, the bishop of Rome; it is quite
equally plausible to say that the religious organization of the Empire
adopted Christianity and so made Rome, which had hitherto had no
priority over Jerusalem or Antioch in the Christian Church, the
headquarters of the adopted cult. And if the Christian movement could
take over and assimilate the prestige, the world predominance and
sacrificial conception of the pontifex maximus and go on with that as
part at any rate of the basis of a universal Church, it is manifest
that now in the fulness of time this great organization, after its
accumulation of Christian tradition, may conceivably go on still further
to alter and broaden its teaching and observances and formulae.

In a sense no doubt all we moderns are bound to consider ourselves
children of the Catholic Church, albeit critical and innovating children
with a tendency to hark back to our Greek grandparents; we cannot detach
ourselves absolutely from the Church without at the same time detaching
ourselves from the main process of spiritual synthesis that has made us
what we are. And there is a strong case for supposing that not only is
this reasonable for us who live in the tradition of Western Europe, but
that we are legitimately entitled to call upon extra European peoples to
join with us in that attitude of filiation to the Catholic Church since,
outside it, there is no organization whatever aiming at a religious
catholicity and professing or attempting to formulate a collective
religious consciousness in the world. So far as they come to a
conception of a human synthesis they come to it by coming into our

I write here of the Catholic Church as an idea. To come from that
idea to the world of present realities is to come to a tangle of
difficulties. Is the Catholic Church merely the Roman communion or does
it include the Greek and Protestant Churches? Some of these bodies
are declaredly dissentient, some claim to be integral portions of the
Catholic Church which have protested against and abandoned certain
errors of the central organization. I admit it becomes a very confusing
riddle in such a country as England to determine which is the Catholic
Church; whether it is the body which possesses and administers
Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, or the bodies claiming to
represent purer and finer or more authentic and authoritative forms
of Catholic teaching which have erected that new Byzantine-looking
cathedral in Westminster, or Whitfield’s Tabernacle in the Tottenham
Court Road, or a hundred or so other organized and independent bodies.
It is still more perplexing to settle upon the Catholic Church in
America among an immense confusion of sectarian fragments.

Many people, I know, take refuge from the struggle with this tangle
of controversies by refusing to recognize any institutions whatever as
representing the Church. They assume a mystical Church made up of all
true believers, of all men and women of good intent, whatever their
formulae or connexion. Wherever there is worship, there, they say, is
a fragment of the Church. All and none of these bodies are the true

This is no doubt profoundly true. It gives something like a working
assumption for the needs of the present time. People can get along
upon that. But it does not exhaust the question. We seek a real and
understanding synthesis. We want a real collectivism, not a poetical
idea; a means whereby men and women of all sorts, all kinds of humanity,
may pray together, sing together, stand side by side, feel the same wave
of emotion, develop a collective being. Doubtless right-spirited men are
praying now at a thousand discrepant altars. But for the most part those
who pray imagine those others who do not pray beside them are in
error, they do not know their common brotherhood and salvation. Their
brotherhood is masked by unanalyzable differences; theirs is a dispersed
collectivism; their churches are only a little more extensive than their
individualities and intenser in their collective separations.

The true Church towards which my own thoughts tend will be the conscious
illuminated expression of Catholic brotherhood. It must, I think,
develop out of the existing medley of Church fragments and out of all
that is worthy in our poetry and literature, just as the worldwide
Socialist State at which I aim must develop out of such state and casual
economic organizations and constructive movements as exist to-day. There
is no “beginning again” in these things. In neither case will going
apart out of existing organizations secure our ends. Out of what is,
we have to develop what has to be. To work for the Reformation of the
Catholic Church is an integral part of the duty of a believer.

It is curious how misleading a word can be. We speak of a certain
phase in the history of Christianity as the Reformation, and that word
effectually conceals from most people the simple indisputable fact that
there has been no Reformation. There was an attempt at a Reformation
in the Catholic Church, and through a variety of causes it failed.
It detached great masses from the Catholic Church and left that
organization impoverished intellectually and spiritually, but it
achieved no reconstruction at all. It achieved no reconstruction because
the movement as a whole lacked an adequate grasp of one fundamentally
necessary idea, the idea of Catholicity. It fell into particularism
and failed. It set up a vast process of fragmentation among Christian
associations. It drove huge fissures through the once common platform.
In innumerable cases they were fissures of organization and prejudice
rather than real differences in belief and mental habit. Sometimes
it was manifestly conflicting material interests that made the split.
People are now divided by forgotten points of difference, by sides taken
by their predecessors in the disputes of the sixteenth century, by mere
sectarian names and the walls of separate meeting places. In the present
time, as a result of the dissenting method, there are multitudes of
believing men scattered quite solitarily through the world.

The Reformation, the Reconstruction of the Catholic Church lies still
before us. It is a necessary work. It is a work strictly parallel to
the reformation and expansion of the organized State. Together, these
processes constitute the general duty before mankind.


The whole trend of my thought in matters of conduct is against
whatever accentuates one’s individual separation from the collective
consciousness. It follows naturally from my fundamental creed that
avoidable silences and secrecy are sins, just as abstinences are in
themselves sins rather than virtues. And so I think that to leave
any organization or human association except for a wider and larger
association, to detach oneself in order to go alone, or to go apart
narrowly with just a few, is fragmentation and sin. Even if one
disagrees with the professions or formulae or usages of an association,
one should be sure that the disagreement is sufficiently profound to
justify one’s secession, and in any case of doubt, one should remain. I
count schism a graver sin than heresy.

No profession of faith, no formula, no usage can be perfect. It is only
required that it should be possible. More particularly does this apply
to churches and religious organizations. There never was a creed nor a
religious declaration but admitted of a wide variety of interpretations
and implied both more and less than it expressed. The pedantically
conscientious man, in his search for an unblemished religious
brotherhood, has tended always to a solitude of universal dissent.

In the religious as in the economic sphere one must not look for perfect
conditions. Setting up for oneself in a new sect is like founding
Utopias in Paraguay, an evasion of the essential question; our real
business is to take what we have, live in and by it, use it and do our
best to better such faults as are manifest to us, in the direction of
a wider and nobler organization. If you do not agree with the church
in which you find yourself, your best course is to become a reformer
IN that church, to declare it a detached forgetful part of the greater
church that ought to be, just as your State is a detached unawakened
part of the World State. You take it at what it is and try and broaden
it towards reunion. It is only when secession is absolutely unavoidable
that it is right to secede.

This is particularly true of state churches such as is the Church of
England. These are bodies constituted by the national law and amenable
to the collective will. I do not think a man should consider himself
excluded from them because they have articles of religion to which he
cannot subscribe and creeds he will not say. A national state church has
no right to be thus limited and exclusive. Rather then let any man,
just to the very limit that is possible for his intellectual or moral
temperament, remain in his church to redress the balance and do his
utmost to change and broaden it.

But perhaps the Church will not endure a broad-minded man in its body,
speaking and reforming, and will expel him?

Be expelled--well and good! That is altogether different. Let them expel
you, struggling valiantly and resolved to return so soon as they release
you, to hammer at the door. But withdrawing--sulking--going off in a
serene huff to live by yourself spiritually and materially in your own
way--that is voluntary damnation, the denial of the Brotherhood of
Man. Be a rebel or a revolutionary to your heart’s content, but a mere
seceder never.

For otherwise it is manifest that we shall have to pay for each step
of moral and intellectual progress with a fresh start, with a conflict
between the new organization and the old from which it sprang, a
perpetually-recurring parricide. There will be a series of religious
institutions in developing order, each containing the remnant too dull
or too hypocritical to secede at the time of stress that began the new
body. Something of the sort has indeed happened to both the Catholic
and the English Protestant churches. We have the intellectual and
moral guidance of the people falling more and more into the hands of an
informal Church of morally impassioned leaders, writers, speakers, and
the like, while the beautiful cathedrals in which their predecessors
sheltered fall more and more into the hands of an uninspiring,
retrogressive but conforming clergy.

Now this was all very well for the Individualist Liberal of the Early
Victorian period, but Individualist Liberalism was a mere destructive
phase in the process of renewing the old Catholic order, a clearing up
of the site. We Socialists want a Church through which we can feel and
think collectively, as much as we want a State that we can serve and be
served by. Whether as members or external critics we have to do our best
to get rid of obsolete doctrinal and ceremonial barriers, so that
the churches may merge again in a universal Church, and that Church
comprehend again the whole growing and amplifying spiritual life of the

I do not know if I make my meaning perfectly clear here. By conformity I
do not mean silent conformity. It is a man’s primary duty to convey his
individual difference to the minds of his fellow men. It is because I
want that difference to tell to the utmost that I suggest he should
not leave the assembly. But in particular instances he may find it more
striking and significant to stand out and speak as a man detached from
the general persuasion, just as obstructed and embarrassed ministers
of State can best serve their country at times by resigning office and
appealing to the public judgment by this striking and significant act.

3.15. A DILEMMA.

We are led by this discussion of secession straight between the horns of
a moral dilemma. We have come to two conclusions; to secede is a grave
sin, but to lie is also a grave sin.

But often the practical alternative is between futile secession or
implicit or actual falsehood. It has been the instinct of the aggressive
controversialist in all ages to seize upon collective organizations and
fence them about with oaths and declarations of such a nature as to bar
out anyone not of his own way of thinking. In a democracy, for example,
to take an extreme caricature of our case, a triumphant majority in
power, before allowing anyone to vote, might impose an oath whereby the
leader of the minority and all his aims were specifically renounced. And
if no country goes so far as that, nearly all countries and all churches
make some such restrictions upon opinion. The United States, that land
of abandoned and receding freedoms, imposes upon everyone who crosses
the Atlantic to its shores a childish ineffectual declaration against
anarchy and polygamy. None of these tests exclude the unhesitating liar,
but they do bar out many proud and honest minded people. They “fix” and
kill things that should be living and fluid; they are offences against
the mind of the race. How is a man then to behave towards these test
oaths and affirmations, towards repeating creeds, signing assent to
articles of religion and the like? Do not these unavoidable barriers to
public service, or religious work, stand on a special footing?

Personally I think they do.

I think that in most cases personal isolation and disuse is the greater
evil. I think if there is no other way to constructive service except
through test oaths and declarations, one must take then. This is a
particular case that stands apart from all other cases. The man who
preaches a sermon and pretends therein to any belief he does not truly
hold is an abominable scoundrel, but I do not think he need trouble
his soul very greatly about the barrier he stepped over to get into
the pulpit, if he felt the call to preach, so long as the preaching be
honest. A Republican who takes the oath of allegiance to the King and
wears his uniform is in a similar case. These things stand apart; they
are so formal as to be scarcely more reprehensible than the falsehood of
calling a correspondent “Dear,” or asking a tiresome lady to whom one is
being kind and civil, for the pleasure of dancing with her. We ought to
do what we can to abolish these absurd barriers and petty falsehoods,
but we ought not to commit a social suicide against them.

That is how I think and feel in this matter, but if a man sees the
matter more gravely, if his conscience tells him relentlessly and
uncompromisingly, “this is a lie,” then it is a lie and he must not
be guilty of it. But then I think it ill becomes him to be silently
excluded. His work is to clamour against the existence of the barrier
that wastes him.

I do not see that lying is a fundamental sin. In the first place some
lying, that is to say some unavoidable inaccuracy of statement, is
necessary to nearly everything we do, and the truest statement becomes
false if we forget or alter the angle at which it is made, the direction
in which it points. In the next the really fundamental and most
generalized sin is self-isolation. Lying is a sin only because
self-isolation is a sin, because it is an effectual way of cutting
oneself off from human co-operation. That is why there is no sin in
telling a fairy tale to a child. But telling the truth when it will be
misunderstood is no whit better than lying; silences are often blacker
than any lies. I class secrets with lies and cannot comprehend the moral
standards that exonerate secrecy in human affairs.

To all these things one must bring a personal conscience and be prepared
to examine particular cases. The excuses I have made, for example, for
a very broad churchman to stay in the Church might very well be twisted
into an excuse for taking an oath in something one did not to the
slightest extent believe, in order to enter and betray some organization
to which one was violently hostile. I admit that there may be every
gradation between these two things. The individual must examine his
special case and weigh the element of treachery against the possibility
of co-operation. I do not see how there can be a general rule. I have
already shown why in my own case I hesitate to profess a belief in
God, because, I think, the misleading element in that profession would
outweigh the advantage of sympathy and confidence gained.

3.16. A COMMENT.

The preceding section has been criticized by a friend who writes:--

“In religious matters apparent assent produces false unanimity. There is
no convention about these things; if there were they would not exist.
On the contrary, the only way to get perfunctory tests and so forth
abrogated, is for a sufficient number of people to refuse to take them.
It is in this case as in every other; secession is the beginning of a
new integration. The living elements leave the dead or dying form and
gradually create in virtue of their own combinations a new form more
suited to present things. There is a formative, a creative power in
sincerity and also in segregation itself. And the new form, the new
species produced by variation and segregation will measure itself and
its qualities with the old one. The old one will either go to the wall,
accept the new one and be renewed by it, or the new one will itself be
pushed out of existence if the old one has more vitality and is better
adapted to the circumstances. This process of variation, competition
and selection, also of intermarriage between equally vital and equally
adapted varieties, is after all the process by which not only races
exist but all human thoughts.”

So my friend, who I think is altogether too strongly swayed by
biological analogies. But I am thinking not of the assertion of opinions
primarily but of co-operation with an organization with which, save for
the matter of the test, one may agree. Secession may not involve the
development of a new and better moral organization; it may simply mean
the suicide of one’s public aspect. There may be no room or no need of a
rival organization. To secede from State employment, for example, is
not to create the beginnings of a new State, however many--short of a
revolution--may secede with you. It is to become a disconnected private
person, and throw up one’s social side.

3.17. WAR.

I do not think a discussion of man’s social relations can be considered
at all complete or satisfactory until we have gone into the question of
military service. To-day, in an increasing number of countries, military
service is an essential part of citizenship and the prospect of war lies
like a great shadow across the whole bright complex prospect of human
affairs. What should be the attitude of a right-living man towards his
State at war and to warlike preparations?

In no other connexion are the confusions and uncertainty of the
contemporary mind more manifest. It is an odd contradiction that in
Great Britain and Western Europe generally, just those parties that
stand most distinctly for personal devotion to the State in economic
matters, the Socialist and Socialistic parties, are most opposed to the
idea of military service, and just those parties that defend individual
self-seeking and social disloyalty in the sphere of property are most
urgent for conscription. No doubt some of this uncertainty is due to the
mixing in of private interests with public professions, but much more
is it, I think, the result of mere muddle-headedness and an insufficient
grasp of the implications of the propositions under discussion. The
ordinary political Socialist desires, as I desire, and as I suppose
every sane man desires as an ultimate ideal, universal peace, the merger
of national partitions in loyalty to the World State. But he does
not recognize that the way to reach that goal is not necessarily by
minimizing and specializing war and war responsibility at the present
time. There he falls short of his own constructive conceptions and
lapses into the secessionist methods of the earlier Radicals. We
have here another case strictly parallel to several we have already
considered. War is a collective concern; to turn one’s back upon it, to
refuse to consider it as a possibility, is to leave it entirely to those
who are least prepared to deal with it in a broad spirit.

In many ways war is the most socialistic of all forces. In many ways
military organization is the most peaceful of activities. When
the contemporary man steps from the street of clamorous insincere
advertisement, push, adulteration, under-selling and intermittent
employment, into the barrack-yard, he steps on to a higher social plane,
into an atmosphere of service and co-operation and of infinitely more
honourable emulations. Here at least men are not flung out of employment
to degenerate because there is no immediate work for them to do. They
are fed and drilled and trained for better services. Here a man is
at least supposed to win promotion by self-forgetfulness and not by
self-seeking. And beside the feeble and irregular endowment of research
by commercialism, its little short-sighted snatches at profit by
innovation and scientific economy, see how remarkable is the steady
and rapid development of method and appliances in naval and military
affairs! Nothing is more striking than to compare the progress of civil
conveniences which has been left almost entirely to the trader, to the
progress in military apparatus during the last few decades. The house
appliances of to-day for example, are little better than they were fifty
years ago. A house of to-day is still almost as ill-ventilated, badly
heated by wasteful fires, clumsily arranged and furnished as the house
of 1858. Houses a couple of hundred years old are still satisfactory
places of residence, so little have our standards risen. But the rifle
or battleship of fifty years ago was beyond all comparison inferior to
those we possess; in power, in speed, in convenience alike. No one has a
use now for such superannuated things.


What is the meaning of war in life?

War is manifestly not a thing in itself, it is something correlated with
the whole fabric of human life. That violence and killing which between
animals of the same species is private and individual becomes socialized
in war. It is a co-operation for killing that carries with it also
a co-operation for saving and a great development of mutual help and
development within the war-making group.

War, it seems to me, is really the elimination of violent competition as
between man and man, an excretion of violence from the developing
social group. Through war and military organization, and through war and
military organization only, has it become possible to conceive of peace.

This violence was a necessary phase in human and indeed in all animal
development. Among low types of men and animals it seems an inevitable
condition of the vigour of the species and the beauty of life. The more
vital and various individual must lead and prevail, leave progeny and
make the major contribution to the synthesis of the race; the weaker
individual must take a subservient place and leave no offspring. That
means in practice that the former must directly or indirectly kill the
latter until some mitigated but equally effectual substitute for that
killing is invented. That duel disappears from life, the fight of the
beasts for food and the fight of the bulls for the cows, only by virtue
of its replacement by new forms of competition. With the development
of primitive war we have such a replacement. The competition becomes
a competition to serve and rule in the group, the stronger take the
leadership and the larger share of life, and the weaker co-operate in
subordination, they waive and compromise the conflict and use their
conjoint strength against a common rival.

Competition is a necessary condition of progressive life. I do not
know if so far I have made that belief sufficiently clear in these
confessions. Perhaps in my anxiety to convey my idea of a human
synthesis I have not sufficiently insisted upon the part played by
competition in that synthesis. But the implications of the view that I
have set forth are fairly plain. Every individual, I have stated, is
an experiment for the synthesis of the species, and upon that idea my
system of conduct so far as it is a system is built. Manifestly
the individual’s function is either self-development, service and
reproduction, or failure and an end.

With moral and intellectual development the desire to serve and
participate in a collective purpose arises to control the blind and
passionate impulse to survival and reproduction that the struggle for
life has given us, but it does not abolish the fact of selection, of
competition. I contemplate no end of competition. But for competition
that is passionate, egoistic and limitless, cruel, clumsy and wasteful,
I desire to see competition that is controlled and fair-minded and
devoted, men and women doing their utmost with themselves and making
their utmost contribution to the specific accumulation, but in the end
content to abide by a verdict.

The whole development of civilization, it seems to me, consists in the
development of adequate tests of survival and of an intellectual and
moral atmosphere about those tests so that they shall be neither cruel
nor wasteful. If the test is not to be ‘are you strong enough to kill
everyone you do not like?’ that will only be because it will ask still
more comprehensively and with regard to a multitude of qualities other
than brute killing power, ‘are you adding worthily to the synthesis by
existence and survival?’

I am very clear in my mind on this perpetual need of competition. I
admit that upon that turns the practicability of all the great series of
organizing schemes that are called Socialism. The Socialist scheme must
show a system in which predominance and reproduction are correlated with
the quality and amount of an individual’s social contribution, and so
far I acknowledge it is only in the most general terms that this can be
claimed as done. We Socialists have to work out all these questions far
more thoroughly than we have done hitherto. We owe that to our movement
and the world.

It is no adequate answer to our antagonists to say, indeed it is a
mere tu quoque to say, that the existing system does not present such
a correlation, that it puts a premium on secretiveness and self-seeking
and a discount on many most necessary forms of social service. That is a
mere temporary argument for a delay in judgment.

The whole history of humanity seems to me to present a spectacle of
this organizing specialization of competition, this replacement of the
indiscriminate and collectively blind struggle for life by an organized
and collectively intelligent development of life. We see a secular
replacement of brute conflict by the law, a secular replacement of
indiscriminate brute lust by marriage and sexual taboos, and now with
the development of Socialistic ideas and methods, the steady replacement
of blind industrial competition by public economic organization. And
moreover there is going on a great educational process bringing a
greater and greater proportion of the minds of the community into
relations of understanding and interchange.

Just as this process of organization proceeds, the violent and
chaotic conflict of individuals and presently of groups of individuals
disappears, personal violence, private war, cut-throat competition,
local war, each in turn is replaced by a more efficient and more
economical method of survival, a method of survival giving constantly
and selecting always more accurately a finer type of survivor.

I might compare the social synthesis to crystals growing out of a fluid
matrix. It is where the growing order of the crystals has as yet not
spread that the old resource to destruction and violent personal or
associated acts remains.

But this metaphor of crystals is a very inadequate one, because crystals
have no will in themselves; nor do crystals, having failed to grow in
some particular form, presently modify that form more or less and try
again. I see the organizing of forces, not simply law and police which
are indeed paid mercenaries from the region of violence, but legislation
and literature, teaching and tradition, organized religion, getting
themselves and the social structure together, year after year and age
after age, halting, failing, breaking up in order to try again. And
it seems to me that the amount of lawlessness and crime, the amount of
waste and futility, the amount of war and war possibility and war danger
in the world are just the measure of the present inadequacy of the
world’s system of collective organization to the purpose before them.

It follows from this very directly that only one thing can end war
on the earth and that is a subtle mental development, an idea, the
development of the idea of the world commonweal in the collective mind.
The only real method of abolishing war is to perceive it, to realize it,
to express it, to think it out and think about it, to make all the world
understand its significance, and to clear and preserve its significant
functions. In human affairs to understand an evil is to abolish it; it
is the only way to abolish any evil that arises out of the untutored
nature of man. Which brings me back here again to my already repeated
persuasion, that in expressing things, rendering things to each other,
discussing our differences, clearing up the metaphysical conceptions
upon which differences are discussed, and in a phrase evolving the
collective mind, lies not only the cures of war and poverty but the
general form of all a man’s duty and the essential work of mankind.


In our contemporary world, in our particular phase, military and naval
organization loom up, colossal and unprecedent facts. They have the
effect of an overhanging disaster that grows every year more tremendous,
every year in more sinister contrast with the increasing securities and
tolerations of the everyday life. It is impossible to imagine now what a
great war in Europe would be like; the change in material and method has
been so profound since the last cycle of wars ended with the downfall
of the Third Napoleon. But there can be little or no doubt that it
would involve a destruction of property and industrial and social
disorganization of the most monstrous dimensions. No man, I think, can
mark the limits of the destruction of a great European conflict were it
to occur at the present time; and the near advent of practicable flying
machines opens a whole new world of frightful possibilities.

For my own part I can imagine that a collision between such powers as
Great Britain, Germany or America, might very well involve nearly every
other power in the world, might shatter the whole fabric of credit upon
which our present system of economics rests and put back the orderly
progress of social construction for a vast interval of time. One figures
great towns red with destruction while giant airships darken the sky,
one pictures the crash of mighty ironclads, the bursting of tremendous
shells fired from beyond the range of sight into unprotected cities. One
thinks of congested ways swarming with desperate fighters, of torrents
of fugitives and of battles gone out of the control of their generals
into unappeasable slaughter. There is a vision of interrupted
communications, of wrecked food trains and sunken food ships, of vast
masses of people thrown out of employment and darkly tumultuous in the
streets, of famine and famine-driven rioters. What modern population
will stand a famine? For the first time in the history of warfare the
rear of the victor, the rear of the fighting line becomes insecure,
assailable by flying machines and subject to unprecedented and
unimaginable panics. No man can tell what savagery of desperation these
new conditions may not release in the soul of man. A conspiracy of
adverse chances, I say, might contrive so great a cataclysm. There is no
effectual guarantee that it could not occur.

But in spite of that, I believe that on the whole there is far more good
than evil in the enormous military growths that have occurred in the
last half century. I cannot estimate how far the alternative to war is
lethargy. It is through military urgencies alone that many men can be
brought to consent to the collective endowment of research, to
public education and to a thousand interferences with their private
self-seeking. Just as the pestilence of cholera was necessary before men
could be brought to consent to public sanitation, so perhaps the
dread of foreign violence is an unavoidable spur in an age of chaotic
industrial production in order that men may be brought to subserve the
growth of a State whose purpose might otherwise be too high for them to
understand. Men must be forced to care for fleets and armies until they
have learnt to value cities and self development and a beautiful social

The real danger of modern war lies not in the disciplined power of the
fighting machine but in the undisciplined forces in the collective mind
that may set that machine in motion. It is not that our guns and ships
are marvellously good, but that our press and political organizations
are haphazard growths entirely inferior to them. If this present phase
of civilization should end in a debacle, if presently humanity finds
itself beginning again at a lower level of organization, it will not
be because we have developed these enormous powers of destruction but
because we have failed to develop adequate powers of control for them
and collective determination. This panoply of war waits as the test of
our progress towards the realization of that collective mind which I
hold must ultimately direct the evolution of our specific being. It is
here to measure our incoherence and error, and in the measure of those
defects to refer us back to our studies.

Just as we understand does war become needless.

But I do not think that war and military organization will so much
disappear as change its nature as the years advance. I think that the
phase of universal military service we seem to be approaching is one
through which the mass of mankind may have to pass, learning something
that can be learnt in no other way, that the uniforms and flags, the
conceptions of order and discipline, the tradition of service and
devotion, of physical fitness, unstinted exertion and universal
responsibility, will remain a permanent acquisition, though the last
ammunition has been used ages since in the pyrotechnic display that
welcomed the coming of the ultimate Peace.


From these large issues of conduct, let me come now to more intimate
things, to one’s self control, the regulation of one’s personal life.
And first about abstinences and disciplines.

I have already confessed (Chapter 2.6) that my nature is one that
dislikes abstinences and is wearied by and wary of excess.

I do not feel that it is right to suppress altogether any part of one’s
being. In itself abstinence seems to me a refusal to experience, and
that, upon the lines of thought I follow, is to say that abstinence for
its own sake is evil. But for an end all abstinences are permissible,
and if the kinetic type of believer finds both his individual and his
associated efficiency enhanced by a systematic discipline, if he is
convinced that he must specialize because of the discursiveness of his
motives, because there is something he wants to do or be so good that
the rest of them may very well be suppressed for its sake, then he must
suppress. But the virtue is in what he gets done and not in what he does
not do. Reasonable fear is a sound reason for abstinence, as when a
man has a passion like a lightly sleeping maniac that the slightest
indulgence will arouse. Then he must needs adopt heroic abstinence, and
even more so must he take to preventive restraint if he sees any motive
becoming unruly and urgent and troublesome. Fear is a sound reason for
abstinence and so is love. Many who have sensitive imaginations nowadays
very properly abstain from meat because of butchery. And it is often
needful, out of love and brotherhood, to abstain from things harmless to
oneself because they are inconveniently alluring to others linked to us.
The moderate drinker who sits at table sipping his wine in the sight of
one he knows to be a potential dipsomaniac is at best an unloving fool.

But mere abstinence and the doing of barren toilsome unrewarding things
for the sake of the toil, is a perversion of one’s impulses. There is
neither honour nor virtue nor good in that.

I do not believe in negative virtues. I think the ideas of them arise
out of the system of metaphysical errors I have roughly analyzed in
my first Book, out of the inherent tendency of the mind to make
the relative absolute and to convert quantitative into qualitative
differences. Our minds fall very readily under the spell of such
unmitigated words as Purity and Chastity. Only death beyond decay,
absolute non-existence, can be Pure and Chaste. Life is impurity, fact
is impure. Everything has traces of alien matter; our very health is
dependent on parasitic bacteria; the purest blood in the world has
a tainted ancestor, and not a saint but has evil thoughts. It was
blindness to that which set men stoning the woman taken in adultery.
They forgot what they were made of. This stupidity, this unreasonable
idealism of the common mind, fills life to-day with cruelties and
exclusions, with partial suicides and secret shames. But we are born
impure, we die impure; it is a fable that spotless white lilies sprang
from any saint’s decay, and the chastity of a monk or nun is but
introverted impurity. We have to take life valiantly on these conditions
and make such honour and beauty and sympathy out of our confusions,
gather such constructive experience, as we may.

There is a mass of real superstition upon these points, a belief in a
magic purity, in magic personalities who can say:--

    My strength is as the strength of ten
    Because my heart is pure,

and wonderful clairvoyant innocents like the young man in Mr. Kipling’s
“Finest Story in the World.”

There is a lurking disposition to believe, even among those who lead
the normal type of life, that the abstinent and chastely celibate are
exceptionally healthy, energetic, immune. The wildest claims are made.
But indeed it is true for all who can see the facts of life simply and
plainly, that man is an omnivorous, versatile, various creature and
can draw his strength from a hundred varieties of nourishment. He has
physiological idiosyncrasies too that are indifferent to biological
classifications and moral generalities. It is not true that his
absorbent vessels begin their task as children begin the guessing
game, by asking, “Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” He responds to
stimulation and recuperates after the exhaustion of his response, and
his being is singularly careless whether the stimulation comes as a drug
or stimulant, or as anger or music or noble appeals.

Most people speak of drugs in the spirit of that admirable firm of
soap-boilers which assures its customers that the soap they make
“contains no chemicals.” Drugs are supposed to be a mystic diabolical
class of substance, remote from and contrasting in their nature with
all other things. So they banish a tonic from the house and stuff their
children with manufactured cereals and chocolate creams. The drunken
helot of this system of absurdities is the Christian Scientist who
denies healing only to those who have studied pathology, and declares
that anything whatever put into a bottle and labelled with directions
for its use by a doctor is thereby damnable and damned. But indeed all
drugs and all the things of life have their uses and dangers, and there
is no wholesale truth to excuse us a particular wisdom and watchfulness
in these matters. Unless we except smoking as an unclean and needless
artificiality, all these matters of eating and drinking and habit are
matters of more or less. It seems to me foolish to make anything that is
stimulating and pleasurable into a habit, for that is slowly and surely
to lose a stimulus and pleasure and create a need that it may become
painful to check or control. The moral rule of my standards is
irregularity. If I were a father confessor I should begin my catalogue
of sins by asking: “are you a man of regular life?” And I would charge
my penitent to go away forthwith and commit some practicable saving
irregularity; to fast or get drunk or climb a mountain or sup on
pork and beans or give up smoking or spend a month with publicans and
sinners. Right conduct for the common unspecialized man lies delicately
adjusted between defect and excess as a watch is adjusted and adjustable
between fast and slow. We none of us altogether and always keep the
balance or are altogether safe from losing it. We swing, balancing and
adjusting, along our path. Life is that, and abstinence is for the most
part a mere evasion of life.


One aspect of life I had very much in mind when I planned those Samurai
disciplines of mine. It was forgetting.

We forget.

Even after we have found Salvation, we have to keep hold of Salvation;
believing, we must continue to believe. We cannot always be at a high
level of noble emotion. We have clambered on the ship of Faith and found
our place and work aboard, and even while we are busied upon it, behold
we are back and drowning in the sea of chaotic things.

Every religious body, every religious teacher, has appreciated this
difficulty and the need there is of reminders and renewals. Faith needs
restatement and revival as the body needs food. And since the Believer
is to seek much experience and be a judge of less or more in many
things, it is particularly necessary that he should keep hold upon a
living Faith.

How may he best do this?

I think we may state it as a general duty that he must do whatever he
can to keep his faith constantly alive. But beyond that, what a man must
do depends almost entirely upon his own intellectual character.
Many people of a regular type of mind can refresh themselves by some
recurrent duty, by repeating a daily prayer, by daily reading or
re-reading some devotional book. With others constant repetition leads
to a mental and spiritual deadening, until beautiful phrases become
unmeaning, eloquent statements inane and ridiculous,--matter for parody.
All who can, I think, should pray and should read and re-read what they
have found spiritually helpful, and if they know of others of kindred
dispositions and can organize these exercises, they should do so.
Collective worship again is a necessity for many Believers. For many,
the public religious services of this or that form of Christianity
supply an atmosphere rich in the essential quality of religion and
abounding in phrases about the religious life, mellow from the use of
centuries and almost immediately applicable. It seems to me that if one
can do so, one should participate in such public worship and habituate
oneself to read back into it that collective purpose and conscience it
once embodied.

Very much is to be said for the ceremony of Holy Communion or the Mass,
for those whom accident or scruples do not debar. I do not think your
modern liberal thinkers quite appreciate the finer aspects of this,
the one universal service of the Christian Church. Some of them are
set forth very finely by a man who has been something of a martyr for
conscience’ sake, and is for me a hero as well as a friend, in a world
not rich in heroes, the Rev. Stewart Headlam, in his book, “The Meaning
of the Mass.”

With others again, Faith can be most animated by writing, by confession,
by discussion, by talk with friends or antagonists.

One or other or all of these things the Believer must do, for the mind
is a living and moving process, and the thing that lies inert in it is
presently covered up by new interests and lost. If you make a sort of
King Log of your faith, presently something else will be sitting upon
it, pride or self-interest, or some rebel craving, King de facto of your
soul, directing it back to anarchy.

For many types that, however, is exactly what happens with public
worship. They DO get a King Log in ceremony. And if you deliberately
overcome and suppress your perception of and repugnance to the
perfunctoriness of religion in nine-tenths of the worshippers about you,
you may be destroying at the same time your own intellectual and moral
sensitiveness. But I am not suggesting that you should force yourself to
take part in public worship against your perceptions, but only that if
it helps you to worship you should not hesitate to do so.

We deal here with a real need that is not to be fettered by any general
prescription. I have one Cambridge friend who finds nothing so uplifting
in the world as the atmosphere of the afternoon service in the choir of
King’s College Chapel, and another, a very great and distinguished and
theologically sceptical woman, who accustomed herself for some time to
hear from a distant corner the evening service in St. Paul’s Cathedral
and who would go great distances to do that.

Many people find an exaltation and broadening of the mind in mountain
scenery and the starry heavens and the wide arc of the sea; and as I
have already said, it was part of the disciplines of these Samurai of
mine that yearly they should go apart for at least a week of solitary
wandering and meditation in lonely and desolate places. Music again is
a frequent means of release from the narrow life as it closes about us.
One man I know makes an anthology into which he copies to re-read any
passage that stirs and revives in him the sense of broad issues. Others
again seem able to refresh their nobility of outlook in the atmosphere
of an intense personal love.

Some of us seem to forget almost as if it were an essential part of
ourselves. Such a man as myself, irritable, easily fatigued and bored,
versatile, sensuous, curious, and a little greedy for experience, is
perpetually losing touch with his faith, so that indeed I sometimes turn
over these pages that I have written and come upon my declarations and
confessions with a sense of alien surprise.

It may be, I say, that for some of us forgetting is the normal process,
that one has to believe and forget and blunder and learn something and
regret and suffer and so come again to belief much as we have to eat and
grow hungry and eat again. What these others can get in their temples
we, after our own manner, must distil through sleepless and lonely
nights, from unavoidable humiliations, from the smarting of bruised


And now having dealt with the general form of a man’s duty and with
his duty to himself, let me come to his attitude to his individual

The broad principles determining that attitude are involved in things
already written in this book. The belief in a collective being gathering
experience and developing will, to which every life is subordinated,
renders the cruder conception of aristocracy, the idea of a select life
going on amidst a majority of trivial and contemptible persons who “do
not exist,” untenable. It abolishes contempt. Indeed to believe at all
in a comprehensive purpose in things is to abandon that attitude and
all the habits and acts that imply it. But a belief in universal
significance does not altogether preclude a belief in an aristocratic
method of progress, in the idea of the subordination of a number
of individuals to others who can utilize their lives and help and
contributory achievements in the general purpose. To a certain extent,
indeed, this last conception is almost inevitable. We must needs so
think of ourselves in relation to plants and animals, and I see no
reason why we should not think so of our relations to other men. There
are clearly great differences in the capacity and range of experience of
man and man and in their power of using and rendering their experiences
for the racial synthesis. Vigorous persons do look naturally for help
and service to persons of less initiative, and we are all more or less
capable of admiration and hero-worship and pleased to help and give
ourselves to those we feel to be finer or better or completer or more
forceful and leaderly than ourselves. This is natural and inevitable

For that reason it is not to be organized. We organize things that are
not inevitable, but this is clearly a complex matter of accident and
personalities for which there can be no general rule. All organized
aristocracy is manifestly begotten by that fallacy of classification my
Metaphysical book set itself to expose. Its effect is, and has been in
all cases, to mask natural aristocracy, to draw the lines by wholesale
and wrong, to bolster up weak and ineffectual persons in false positions
and to fetter or hamper strong and vigorous people. The false aristocrat
is a figure of pride and claims, a consumer followed by dupes. He is
proudly secretive, pretending to aims beyond the common understanding.
The true aristocrat is known rather than knows; he makes and serves. He
exacts no deference. He is urgent to makes others share what he knows
and wants and achieves. He does not think of others as his but as the

There is a base democracy just as there is a base aristocracy, the
swaggering, aggressive disposition of the vulgar soul that admits
neither of superiors nor leaders. Its true name is insubordination. It
resents rules and refinements, delicacies, differences and organization.
It dreams that its leaders are its delegates. It takes refuge from all
superiority, all special knowledge, in a phantom ideal, the People, the
sublime and wonderful People. “You can fool some of the people all the
time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the
people all the time,” expresses I think quite the quintessence of this
mystical faith, this faith in which men take refuge from the demand for
order, discipline and conscious light. In England it has never been
of any great account, but in America the vulgar individualist’s
self-protective exaltation of an idealized Common Man has worked and is
working infinite mischief.

In politics the crude democratic faith leads directly to the submission
of every question, however subtle and special its issues may be, to a
popular vote. The community is regarded as a consultative committee of
profoundly wise, alert and well-informed Common Men. Since the common
man is, as Gustave le Bon has pointed out, a gregarious animal,
collectively rather like a sheep, emotional, hasty and shallow, the
practical outcome of political democracy in all large communities under
modern conditions is to put power into the hands of rich newspaper
proprietors, advertising producers and the energetic wealthy generally
who are best able to flood the collective mind freely with the
suggestions on which it acts.

But democracy has acquired a better meaning than its first crude
intentions--there never was a theory started yet in the human mind that
did not beget a finer offspring than itself--and the secondary meaning
brings it at last into entire accordance with the subtler conception
of aristocracy. The test of this quintessential democracy is neither a
passionate insistence upon voting and the majority rule, nor an arrogant
bearing towards those who are one’s betters in this aspect or that, but
fellowship. The true democrat and the true aristocrat meet and are one
in feeling themselves parts of one synthesis under one purpose and one
scheme. Both realize that self-concealment is the last evil, both make
frankness and veracity the basis of their intercourse. The general
rightness of living for you and others and for others and you is to
understand them to the best of your ability and to make them all, to the
utmost limits of your capacity of expression and their understanding and
sympathy, participators in your act and thought.


My ethical disposition is all against punctilio and I set no greater
value on unblemished honour than I do on purity. I never yet met a man
who talked proudly of his honour who did not end by cheating or
trying to cheat me, nor a code of honour that did not impress me as
a conspiracy against the common welfare and purpose in life. There
is honour among thieves, and I think it might well end there as an
obligation in conduct. The soldier who risks a life he owes to his army
in a duel upon some silly matter of personal pride is no better to me
than the clerk who gambles with the money in his master’s till. When I
was a boy I once paid a debt of honour, and it is one of the things I
am most ashamed of. I had played cards into debt and I still remember
burningly how I went flushed and shrill-voiced to my mother and got the
money she could so ill afford to give me. I would not pay such a debt of
honour now. If I were to wake up one morning owing big sums that I had
staked overnight I would set to work at once by every means in my power
to evade and repudiate that obligation. Such money as I have I owe under
our present system to wife and sons and my work and the world, and I see
no valid reason why I should hand it over to Smith because he and I have
played the fool and rascal and gambled. Better by far to accept that
fact and be for my own part published fool and rascal.

I have never been able to understand the sentimental spectacle of sons
toiling dreadfully and wasting themselves upon mere money-making to save
the secret of a father’s peculations and the “honour of the family,” or
men conspiring to weave a wide and mischievous net of lies to save the
“honour” of a woman. In the conventional drama the preservation of the
honour of a woman seems an adequate excuse for nearly any offence
short of murder; the preservation that is to say of the appearance of
something that is already gone. Here it is that I do definitely part
company with the false aristocrat who is by nature and intent a humbug
and fabricator of sham attitudes, and ally myself with democracy.
Fact, valiantly faced, is of more value than any reputation. The false
aristocrat is robed to the chin and unwashed beneath, the true goes
stark as Apollo. The false is ridiculous with undignified insistence
upon his dignity; the true says like God, “I am that I am.”


One word has so far played a very little part in this book, and that is
the word Justice.

Those who have read the opening book on Metaphysics will perhaps see
that this is a necessary corollary of the system of thought developed
therein. In my philosophy, with its insistence upon uniqueness and
marginal differences and the provisional nature of numbers and classes,
there is little scope for that blind-folded lady with the balances,
seeking always exact equivalents. Nowhere in my system of thought is
there work for the idea of Rights and the conception of conscientious
litigious-spirited people exactly observing nicely defined

You will note, for example, that I base my Socialism on the idea of a
collective development and not on the “right” of every man to his own
labour, or his “right” to work, or his “right” to subsistence. All these
ideas of “rights” and of a social “contract” however implicit are merely
conventional ways of looking at things, conventions that have arisen in
the mercantile phase of human development.

Laws and rights, like common terms in speech, are provisional things,
conveniences for taking hold of a number of cases that would otherwise
be unmanageable. The appeal to Justice is a necessarily inadequate
attempt to de-individualize a case, to eliminate the self’s biassed
attitude. I have declared that it is my wilful belief that everything
that exists is significant and necessary. The idea of Justice seems to
me a defective, quantitative application of the spirit of that belief
to men and women. In every case you try and discover and act upon
a plausible equity that must necessarily be based on arbitrary

There is no equity in the universe, in the various spectacle outside our
minds, and the most terrible nightmare the human imagination has ever
engendered is a Just God, measuring, with himself as the Standard,
against finite men. Ultimately there is no adequacy, we are all weighed
in the balance and found wanting.

So, as the recognition of this has grown, Justice has been tempered with
Mercy, which indeed is no more than an attempt to equalize things
by making the factors of the very defect that is condemned, its
condonation. The modern mind fluctuates uncertainly somewhere between
these extremes, now harsh and now ineffectual.

To me there seems no validity in these quasi-absolute standards.

A man seeks and obeys standards of equity simply to economize his moral
effort, not because there is anything true or sublime about justice, but
because he knows he is too egoistic and weak-minded and obsessed to do
any perfect thing at all, because he cannot trust himself with his own
transitory emotions unless he trains himself beforehand to observe
a predetermined rule. There is scarcely an eventuality in life that
without the help of these generalizations would not exceed the average
man’s intellectual power and moral energy, just as there is scarcely an
idea or an emotion that can be conveyed without the use of faulty and
defective common names. Justice and Mercy are indeed not ultimately
different in their nature from such other conventions as the rules of
a game, the rules of etiquette, forms of address, cab tariffs and
standards of all sorts. They are mere organizations of relationship
either to economize thought or else to facilitate mutual understanding
and codify common action. Modesty and self-submission, love and service
are, in the right system of my beliefs, far more fundamental rightnesses
and duties.

We are not mercantile and litigious units such as making Justice our
social basis would imply, we are not select responsible persons mixed
with and tending weak irresponsible wrong persons such as the notion
of Mercy suggests, we are parts of one being and body, each unique
yet sharing a common nature and a variety of imperfections and working
together (albeit more or less darkly and ignorantly) for a common end.

We are strong and weak together and in one brotherhood. The weak have
no essential rights against the strong, nor the strong against the weak.
The world does not exist for our weaknesses but our strength. And the
real justification of democracy lies in the fact that none of us are
altogether strong nor altogether weak; for everyone there is an aspect
wherein he is seen to be weak; for everyone there is a strength
though it may be only a little peculiar strength or an undeveloped
potentiality. The unconverted man uses his strength egotistically,
emphasizes himself harshly against the man who is weak where he is
strong, and hates and conceals his own weakness. The Believer, in the
measure of his belief, respects and seeks to understand the different
strength of others and to use his own distinctive power with and not
against his fellow men, in the common service of that synthesis to which
each one of them is ultimately as necessary as he.


Now here the friend who has read the first draft of this book falls
into something like a dispute with me. She does not, I think, like this
dismissal of Justice from a primary place in my scheme of conduct.

“Justice,” she asserts, “is an instinctive craving very nearly akin to
the physical craving for equilibrium. Its social importance corresponds.
It seeks to keep the individual’s claims in such a position as to
conflict as little as possible with those of others. Justice is the
root instinct of all social feeling, of all feeling which does not take
account of whether we like or dislike individuals, it is the feeling
of an orderly position of our Ego towards others, merely considered
AS others, and of all the Egos merely AS Egos towards each other. LOVE
cannot be felt towards others AS others. Love is the expression of
individual suitability and preference, its positive existence in some
cases implies its absolute negation in others. Hence Love can never be
the essential and root of social feeling, and hence the necessity for
the instinct of abstract justice which takes no account of preferences
or aversions. And here I may say that all application of the word LOVE
to unknown, distant creatures, to mere OTHERS, is a perversion and
a wasting of the word love, which, taking its origin in sexual and
parental preference, always implies a preference of one object to the
other. To love everybody is simply not to love at all. And it is
JUST BECAUSE of the passionate preference instinctively felt for
some individuals, that mankind requires the self-regarding and
self-respecting passion of justice.”

Now this is not altogether contradictory of what I hold. I disagree that
because love necessarily expresses itself in preference, selecting this
rather than that, that it follows necessarily that its absolute negation
is implied in the non-selected cases. A man may go into the world as a
child goes into a garden and gathers its hands full of the flowers that
please it best and then desists, but only because its hands are full and
not because it is at an end of the flowers that it can find delight in.
So the man finds at last his memory and apprehensions glutted. It is
not that he could not love those others. And I dispute that to love
everybody is not to love at all. To love two people is surely to love
more than to love just one person, and so by way of three and four to
a very large number. But if it is put that love must be a preference
because of the mental limitations that forbid us to apprehend and
understand more than a few of the multitudinous lovables of life, then
I agree. For all the individuals and things and cases for which we have
inadequate time and energy, we need a wholesale method--justice. That is
exactly what I have said in the previous section.


One is apt to write and talk of strong and weak as though some were
always strong, some always weak. But that is quite a misleading version
of life. Apart from the fact that everyone is fluctuatingly strong and
fluctuatingly weak, and weak and strong according to the quality we
judge them by, we have to remember that we are all developing and
learning and changing, gaining strength and at last losing it, from
the cradle to the grave. We are all, to borrow the old scholastic term,
pupil-teachers of Life; the term is none the less appropriate because
the pupil-teacher taught badly and learnt under difficulties.

It may seem to be a crowning feat of platitude to write that “we have
to remember” this, but it is overlooked in a whole mass of legal, social
and economic literature. Those extraordinary imaginary cases as between
a man A and a man B who start level, on a desert island or elsewhere,
and work or do not work, or save or do not save, become the basis
of immense schemes of just arrangement which soar up confidently and
serenely regardless of the fact that never did anything like that equal
start occur; that from the beginning there were family groups and old
heads and young heads, help, guidance and sacrifice, and those who had
learnt and those who had still to learn, jumbled together in confused
transactions. Deals, tradings and so forth are entirely secondary
aspects of these primaries, and the attempt to get an idea of abstract
relationship by beginning upon a secondary issue is the fatal pervading
fallacy in all these regions of thought. At the present moment the
average age of the world is I suppose about 21 or 22, the normal death
somewhen about 44 or 45, that is to say nearly half the world is “under
age,” green, inexperienced, demanding help, easily misled and put in
the wrong and betrayed. Yet the younger moiety, if we do indeed assume
life’s object is a collective synthesis, is more important than the
older, and every older person bound to be something of a guardian to the
younger. It follows directly from the fundamental beliefs I have assumed
that we are missing the most important aspects of life if we are not
directly or indirectly serving the young, helping them individually
or collectively. Just in the measure that one’s living falls away from
that, do we fall away from life into a mere futility of existence, and
approach the state, the extraordinary and wonderful middle state of (for
example) those extinct and entirely damned old gentlemen one sees and
hears eating and sleeping in every comfortable London club.

That constructive synthetic purpose which I have made the ruling idea in
my scheme of conduct may be indeed completely restated in another form,
a form I adopted for a book I wrote some years ago called “Mankind in
the Making.” In this I pointed out that “Life is a tissue of births”;

“and if the whole of life is an evolving succession of births, then
not only must a man in his individual capacity (physically as parent,
doctor, food dealer, food carrier, home builder, protector; or mentally
as teacher, news dealer, author, preacher) contribute to births and
growths and the fine future of mankind, but the collective aspects
of man, his social and political organizations must also be, in the
essence, organizations that more or less profitably and more or
less intentionally set themselves towards this end. They are finally
concerned with the birth, and with the sound development towards still
better births, of human lives, just as every implement in the toolshed
of a seedsman’s nursery, even the hoe and the roller, is concerned
finally with the seeding and with the sound development towards still
better seeding of plants. The private and personal motive of the
seedsman in procuring and using these tools may be avarice, ambition, a
religious belief in the saving efficacy of nursery keeping or a simple
passion for bettering flowers, that does not affect the definite final
purpose of his outfit of tools.

“And just as we might judge completely and criticize and improve that
outfit from an attentive study of the welfare of plants, and with an
entire disregard of his remoter motives, so we may judge all collective
human enterprises from the standpoint of an attentive study of human

And individual conduct, quite as much as collective affairs, comes under
the same test. We are guides and school builders, helpers and influences
every hour of our lives, and by that standard we can and must judge all
our ways of living.


These two ideas, firstly the pupil-teacher parental idea and secondly
the democratic idea (that is to say the idea of an equal ultimate
significance), the second correcting any tendency in the first to
pedagogic arrogance and tactful concealments, do I think give, when
taken together, the general attitude a right-living man will take to
his individual fellow creature. They play against each other, providing
elements of contradiction and determining a balanced course. It seems to
me to follow necessarily from my fundamental beliefs that the Believer
will tend to be and want to be and seek to be friendly to, and
interested in, all sorts of people, and truthful and helpful and hating
concealment. To be that with any approach to perfection demands an
intricate and difficult effort, introspection to the hilt of one’s
power, a saving natural gift; one has to avoid pedantry, aggression,
brutality, amiable tiresomeness--there are pitfalls on every side. The
more one thinks about other people the more interesting and pleasing
they are; I am all for kindly gossip and knowing things about them, and
all against the silly and limiting hardness of soul that will not look
into one’s fellows nor go out to them. The use and justification of most
literature, of fiction, verse, history, biography, is that it lets
us into understandings and the suggestion of human possibilities. The
general purpose of intercourse is to get as close as one can to the
realities of the people one meets, and to give oneself to them just so
far as possible.

From that I think there arises naturally a newer etiquette that would
set aside many of the rigidities of procedure that keep people apart
to-day. There is a fading prejudice against asking personal questions,
against talking about oneself or one’s immediate personal interests,
against discussing religion and politics and any such keenly felt
matter. No doubt it is necessary at times to protect oneself against
clumsy and stupid familiarities, against noisy and inattentive egotists,
against intriguers and liars, but only in the last resort do such
breaches of patience seem justifiable to me; for the most part our
traditions of speech and intercourse altogether overdo separations, the
preservation of distances and protective devices in general.

3.28. SEX.

So far I have ignored the immense importance of Sex in our lives and for
the most part kept the discussion so generalized as to apply impartially
to women and men. But now I have reached a point when this great
boundary line between two halves of the world and the intense and
intimate personal problems that play across it must be faced.

For not only must we bend our general activities and our intellectual
life to the conception of a human synthesis, but out of our bodies
and emotional possibilities we have to make the new world bodily and
emotionally. To the test of that we have to bring all sorts of questions
that agitate us to-day, the social and political equality and personal
freedom of women, the differing code of honour for the sexes, the
controls and limitations to set upon love and desire. If, for example,
it is for the good of the species that a whole half of its individuals
should be specialized and subordinated to the physical sexual life, as
in certain phases of human development women have tended to be, then
certainly we must do nothing to prevent that. We have set aside the
conception of Justice as in any sense a countervailing idea to that of
the synthetic process.

And it is well to remember that for the whole of sexual conduct there is
quite conceivably no general simple rule. It is quite possible that,
as Metchnikoff maintains in his extraordinarily illuminating “Nature
of Man,” we are dealing with an irresolvable tangle of disharmonies. We
have passions that do not insist upon their physiological end, desires
that may be prematurely vivid in childhood, a fantastic curiosity, old
needs of the ape but thinly overlaid by the acquisitions of the man,
emotions that jar with physical impulses, inexplicable pains and
diseases. And not only have we to remember that we are dealing with
disharmonies that may at the very best be only patched together, but
we are dealing with matters in which the element of idiosyncrasy is
essential, insisting upon an incalculable flexibility in any rule
we make, unless we are to take types and indeed whole classes of
personality and write them down as absolutely bad and fit only for
suppression and restraint. And on the mental side we are further
perplexed by the extraordinary suggestibility of human beings. In sexual
matters there seems to me--and I think I share a general ignorance
here--to be no directing instinct at all, but only an instinct to do
something generally sexual; there are almost equally powerful desires to
do right and not to act under compulsion. The specific forms of conduct
imposed upon these instincts and desires depend upon a vast confusion of
suggestions, institutions, conventions, ways of putting things. We are
dealing therefore with problems ineradicably complex, varying endlessly
in their instances, and changing as we deal with them. I am inclined to
think that the only really profitable discussion of sexual matters is
in terms of individuality, through the novel, the lyric, the
play, autobiography or biography of the frankest sort. But such
generalizations as I can make I will.

To me it seems manifest that sexual matters may be discussed generally
in at least three permissible and valid ways, of which the consideration
of the world as a system of births and education is only the dominant
chief. There is next the question of the physical health and beauty
of the community and how far sexual rules and customs affect that, and
thirdly the question of the mental and moral atmosphere in which sexual
conventions and laws must necessarily be an important factor. It is
alleged that probably in the case of men, and certainly in the case of
women, some sexual intercourse is a necessary phase in existence; that
without it there is an incompleteness, a failure in the life cycle, a
real wilting and failure of energy and vitality and the development of
morbid states. And for most of us half the friendships and intimacies
from which we derive the daily interest and sustaining force in our
lives, draw mysterious elements from sexual attraction, and depend and
hesitate upon our conception of the liberties and limits we must give to
that force.


The individual attitudes of men to women and of women to men are
necessarily determined to a large extent by certain general ideas of
relationship, by institutions and conventions. One of the most important
and debatable of these is whether we are to consider and treat women
as citizens and fellows, or as beings differing mentally from men and
grouped in positions of at least material dependence to individual men.
Our decision in that direction will affect all our conduct from the
larger matters down to the smallest points of deportment; it will affect
even our manner of address and determine whether when we speak to a
woman we shall be as frank and unaffected as with a man or touched with
a faint suggestion of the reserves of a cat which does not wish to be
suspected of wanting to steal the milk.

Now so far as that goes it follows almost necessarily from my views upon
aristocracy and democracy that I declare for the conventional equality
of women, that is to say for the determination to make neither sex nor
any sexual characteristic a standard of superiority or inferiority, for
the view that a woman is a person as important and necessary, as much
to be consulted, and entitled to as much freedom of action as a man. I
admit that this decision is a choice into which temperament enters,
that I cannot produce compelling reasons why anyone else should adopt my
view. I can produce considerations in support of my view, that is all.
But they are so implicit in all that has gone before that I will not
trouble to detail them here.

The conception of equality and fellowship between men and women is
an idea at least as old as Plato and one that has recurred wherever
civilization has reached a phase in which men and women were
sufficiently released from militant and economic urgency to talk and
read and think. But it has never yet been, at least in the historical
period and in any but isolated social groups, a working structural idea.
The working structural idea is the Patriarchal Family in which the woman
is inferior and submits herself and is subordinated to the man, the head
of the family.

We live in a constantly changing development and modification of that
tradition. It is well to bring that factor of constant change into mind
at the outset of this discussion and to keep it there. To forget it, and
it is commonly forgotten, is to falsify every issue. Marriage and the
Family are perennially fluctuating institutions, and probably scarcely
anything in modern life is changing so much; they are in their legal
constitution or their moral and emotional quality profoundly different
things from what they were a hundred years ago. A woman who marries
nowadays marries, if one may put it quantitatively, far less than she
did even half a century ago; the married woman’s property act, for
example, has revolutionized the economic relationship; her husband has
lost his right to assault her and he cannot even compel her to cohabit
with him if she refuses to do so. Legal separations and divorces have
come to modify the quality and logical consequences of the bond.
The rights of parent over the child have been even more completely
qualified. The State has come in as protector and educator of the
children, taking over personal powers and responsibilities that have
been essential to the family institution ever since the dawn of history.
It inserts itself more and more between child and parent. It invades
what were once the most sacred intimacies, and the Salvation Army is
now promoting legislation to invade those overcrowded homes in which
children (it is estimated to the number of thirty or forty thousand) are
living as I write, daily witnesses of their mother’s prostitution or in
constant danger of incestuous attack from drunken fathers and brothers.
And finally as another indication of profound differences, births were
almost universally accidental a hundred years ago; they are now in an
increasing number of families controlled and deliberate acts of will.
In every one of their relations do Marriage and the Family change and
continue to change.

But the inherent defectiveness of the human mind which my metaphysical
book sets itself to analyze, does lead it constantly to speak of
Marriage and the Family as things as fixed and unalterable as, let us
say, the characteristics of oxygen. One is asked, Do you believe in
Marriage and the Family? as if it was a case of either having or not
having some definite thing. Socialists are accused of being “against
the Family,” as if it were not the case that Socialists, Individualists,
high Anglicans and Roman Catholics are ALL against Marriage and the
Family as these institutions exist at the present time. But once we have
realized the absurdity of this absolute treatment, then it should become
clear that with it goes most of the fabric of right and wrong, and
nearly all those arbitrary standards by which we classify people into
moral and immoral. Those last words are used when as a matter of fact
we mean either conforming or failing to conform to changing laws and
developing institutional customs we may or may not consider right
or wrong. Their use imparts a flavour of essential wrong-doing and
obliquity into acts and relations that may be in many cases no more than
social indiscipline, which may be even conceivably a courageous act of
defiance to an obsolescent limitation. Such, until a little while ago,
was a man’s cohabitation with his deceased wife’s sister. This, which
was scandalous yesterday, is now a legally honourable relationship,
albeit I believe still regarded by the high Anglican as incestuous

Now I will not deal here with the institutional changes that are
involved in that general scheme of progress called Socialism. I have
discussed the relation of Socialism to Marriage and the Family quite
fully in my “New Worlds for Old” (“New Worlds for Old” (A. Constable and
Co., 1908).) and to that I must refer the reader. Therein he will see
how the economic freedom and independent citizenship of women, and
indeed also the welfare of the whole next generation, hang on the idea
of endowing motherhood, and he will find too how much of the nature
of the marriage contract is outside the scope of Socialist proposals

Apart from the broad proposals of Socialism, as a matter of personal
conviction quite outside the scope of Socialism altogether, I am
persuaded of the need of much greater facilities of divorce than exist
at present, divorce on the score of mutual consent, of faithlessness, of
simple cruelty, of insanity, habitual vice or the prolonged imprisonment
of either party. And this being so I find it impossible to condemn on
any ground, except that it is “breaking ranks” and making a confusion,
those who by anticipating such wide facilities as I propose have sinned
by existing standards. How far and in what manner such breaking of ranks
is to be condoned I will presently discuss. But it is clear it is
an offence of a different nature from actions one believes to be in
themselves and apart from the law reprehensible things.

But my scepticisms about the current legal institutions and customary
code are not exhausted by these modifications I have suggested.
I believe firmly in some sort of marriage, that is to say an open
declaration of the existence of sexual relations between a man and a
woman, because I am averse to all unnecessary secrecies and because the
existence of these peculiarly intimate relationships affects everybody
about the persons concerned. It is ridiculous to say as some do that
sexual relations between two people affect no one but themselves unless
a child is born. They do, because they tend to break down barriers and
set up a peculiar emotional partnership. It is a partnership that kept
secret may work as anti-socially as a secret business partnership or
a secret preferential railway tariff. And I believe too in the general
social desirability of the family group, the normal group of father,
mother and children, and in the extreme efficacy in the normal human
being of the blood link and pride link between parent and child in
securing loving care and upbringing for the child. But this clear
adhesion to Marriage and to the Family grouping about mother and father
does not close the door to a large series of exceptional cases which our
existing institutions and customs ignore or crush.

For example, monogamy in general seems to me to be clearly indicated (as
doctors say) by the fact that there are not several women in the world
for every man, but quite as clearly does it seem necessary to recognize
that the fact that there are (or were in 1901) 21,436,107 females to
20,172,984 males in our British community seems to condemn our present
rigorous insistence upon monogamy, unless feminine celibacy has its
own delights. But, as I have said, it is now largely believed that the
sexual life of a woman is more important to her than his sexual life to
a man and less easily ignored.

It is true also on the former side that for the great majority of
people one knows personally, any sort of household but a monogamous one
conjures up painful and unpleasant visions. The ordinary civilized
woman and the ordinary civilized man are alike obsessed with the idea
of meeting and possessing one peculiar intimate person, one special
exclusive lover who is their very own, and a third person of either sex
cannot be associated with that couple without an intolerable sense of
privacy and confidence and possession destroyed. It is difficult to
imagine a second wife in a home who would not be and feel herself to
be a rather excluded and inferior person. But that does not abolish the
possibility that there are exceptional people somewhere capable of,
to coin a phrase, triangular mutuality, and I do not see why we should
either forbid or treat with bitterness or hostility a grouping we may
consider so inadvisable or so unworkable as never to be adopted, if
three people of their own free will desire it.

The peculiar defects of the human mind when they approach these
questions of sex are reinforced by passions peculiar to the topic, and
it is perhaps advisable to point out that to discuss these possibilities
is not the same thing as to urge the married reader to take unto himself
or herself a second partner or a series of additional partners. We
are trained from the nursery to become secretive, muddle-headed and
vehemently conclusive upon sexual matters, until at last the editors of
magazines blush at the very phrase and long to put a petticoat over
the page that bears it. Yet our rebellious natures insist on being
interested by it. It seems to me that to judge these large questions
from the personal point of view, to insist upon the whole world without
exception living exactly in the manner that suits oneself or accords
with one’s emotional imagination and the forms of delicacy in which one
has been trained, is not the proper way to deal with them. I want as
a sane social organizer to get just as many contented and law-abiding
citizens as possible; I do not want to force people who would otherwise
be useful citizens into rebellion, concealments and the dark and furtive
ways of vice, because they may not love and marry as their temperaments
command, and so I want to make the meshes of the law as wide as
possible. But the common man will not understand this yet, and seeks to
make the meshes just as small as his own private case demands.

Then marriage, to resume my main discussion, does not necessarily mean
cohabitation. All women who desire children do not want to be entrusted
with their upbringing. Some women are sexual and philoprogenitive
without being sedulously maternal, and some are maternal without much
or any sexual passion. There are men and women in the world now, great
allies, fond and passionate lovers who do not live nor want to live
constantly together. It is at least conceivable that there are women
who, while desiring offspring, do not want to abandon great careers for
the work of maternity, women again who would be happiest managing and
rearing children in manless households that they might even share with
other women friends, and men to correspond with these who do not wish to
live in a household with wife and children. I submit, these temperaments
exist and have a right to exist in their own way. But one must recognize
that the possibility of these departures from the normal type of
household opens up other possibilities. The polygamy that is degrading
or absurd under one roof assumes a different appearance when one
considers it from the point of view of people whose habits of life do
not centre upon an isolated home.

All the relations I have glanced at above do as a matter of fact exist
to-day, but shamefully and shabbily, tainted with what seems to me an
unmerited and unnecessary ignominy. The punishment for bigamy seems to
me insane in its severity, contrasted as it is with our leniency to the
common seducer. Better ruin a score of women, says the law, than marry
two. I do not see why in these matters there should not be much ampler
freedom than there is, and this being so I can hardly be expected to
condemn with any moral fervour or exclude from my society those who have
seen fit to behave by what I believe may be the standards of A.D. 2000
instead of by the standards of 1850. These are offences, so far as
they are offences, on an altogether different footing from murder, or
exacting usury, or the sweating of children, or cruelty, or transmitting
diseases, or unveracity, or commercial or intellectual or physical
prostitution, or any such essentially grave anti-social deeds. We must
distinguish between sins on the one hand and mere errors of judgment and
differences of taste from ourselves. To draw up harsh laws, to practise
exclusions against everyone who does not see fit to duplicate one’s own
blameless home life, is to waste a number of courageous and exceptional
persons in every generation, to drive many of them into a forced
alliance with real crime and embittered rebellion against custom and the


But the reader must keep clear in his mind the distinction between
conduct that is right or permissible in itself and conduct that becomes
either inadvisable or mischievous and wrong because of the circumstances
about it. There is no harm under ordinary conditions in asking a boy
with a pleasant voice to sing a song in the night, but the case is
altered altogether if you have reason to suppose that a Red Indian is
lying in wait a hundred yards off, holding a loaded rifle and ready to
fire at the voice. It is a valid objection to many actions that I do
not think objectionable in themselves, that to do them will discharge
a loaded prejudice into the heart of my friend--or even into my own. I
belong to the world and my work, and I must not lightly throw my time,
my power, my influence away. For a splendid thing any risk or any
defiance may be justifiable, but is it a sufficiently splendid thing?
So far as he possibly can a man must conform to common prejudices,
prevalent customs and all laws, whatever his estimate of them may be.
But he must at the same time to his utmost to change what he thinks to
be wrong.

And I think that conformity must be honest conformity. There is no more
anti-social act than secret breaches, and only some very urgent and
exceptional occasion justifies even the unveracity of silence about the
thing done. If your personal convictions bring you to a breach, let it
be an open breach, let there be no misrepresentation of attitudes, no
meanness, no deception of honourable friends. Of course an open breach
need not be an ostentatious breach; to do what is right to yourself
without fraud or concealment is one thing, to make a challenge and
aggression quite another. Your friends may understand and sympathize
and condone, but it does not lie upon you to force them to identify
themselves with your act and situation. But better too much openness
than too little. Squalid intrigue was the shadow of the old intolerably
narrow order; it is a shadow we want to illuminate out of existence.
Secrets will be contraband in the new time.

And if it chances to you to feel called upon to make a breach with the
institution or custom or prejudice that is, remember that doing so
is your own affair. You are going to take risks and specialize as an
experiment. You must not expect other people about you to share the
consequences of your dash forward. You must not drag in confidants and
secondaries. You must fight your little battle in front on your own
responsibility, unsupported--and take the consequences without repining.


So far as breaches of the prohibitions and laws of marriage go, to me it
seems they are to be tolerated by us in others just in the measure that,
within the limits set by discretion, they are frank and truthful and
animated by spontaneous passion and pervaded by the quality of beauty.
I hate the vulgar sexual intriguer, man or woman, and the smart and
shallow atmosphere of unloving lust and vanity about the type as I hate
few kinds of human life; I would as lief have a polecat in my home as
this sort of person; and every sort of prostitute except the victim of
utter necessity I despise, even though marriage be the fee. But honest
lovers should be I think a charge and pleasure for us. We must judge
each pair as we can.

One thing renders a sexual relationship incurably offensive to others
and altogether wrong, and that is cruelty. But who can define cruelty?
How far is the leaving of a third person to count as cruelty? There
again I hesitate to judge. To love and not be loved is a fate for which
it seems no one can be blamed; to lose love and to change one’s loving
belongs to a subtle interplay beyond analysis or control, but to be
deceived or mocked or deliberately robbed of love, that at any rate is
an abominable wrong.

In all these matters I perceive a general rule is in itself a possible
instrument of cruelty. I set down what I can in the way of general
principles, but it all leaves off far short of the point of application.
Every case among those we know I think we moderns must judge for
ourselves. Where there is doubt, there I hold must be charity. And with
regard to strangers, manifestly our duty is to avoid inquisitorial and
uncharitable acts.

This is as true of financial and economic misconduct as of sexual
misconduct, of ways of living that are socially harmful and of political
faith. We are dealing with people in a maladjusted world to whom
absolute right living is practically impossible, because there are no
absolutely right institutions and no simple choice of good or evil, and
we have to balance merits and defects in every case.

Some people are manifestly and essentially base and self-seeking and
regardless of the happiness and welfare of their fellows, some in
business affairs and politics as others in love. Some wrong-doers again
are evidently so through heedlessness, through weakness, timidity or
haste. We have to judge and deal with each sort upon no clear issue, but
upon impressions they have given us of their spirit and purpose. We owe
it to them and ourselves not to judge too rashly or too harshly, but for
all that we are obliged to judge and take sides, to avoid the malignant
and exclude them from further opportunity, to help and champion the
cheated and the betrayed, to forgive and aid the repentant blunderer
and by mercy to save the lesser sinner from desperate alliance with the
greater. That is the broad rule, and it is as much as we have to go upon
until the individual case comes before us.



It has been most convenient to discuss all that might be generalized
about conduct first, to put in the common background, the vistas and
atmosphere of the scene. But a man’s relations are of two orders, and
these questions of rule and principle are over and about and round
more vivid and immediate interests. A man is not simply a relationship
between his individual self and the race, society, the world and God’s
Purpose. Close about him are persons, friends and enemies and lovers
and beloved people. He desires them, lusts after them, craves their
affection, needs their presence, abhors them, hates and desires to limit
and suppress them. This is for most of us the flesh and blood of life.
We go through the noble scene of the world neither alone, nor alone with
God, nor serving an undistinguishable multitude, but in a company of
individualized people.

Here is a system of motives and passions, imperious and powerful, which
follows no broad general rule and in which each man must needs be a
light unto himself upon innumerable issues. I am satisfied that
these personal urgencies are neither to be suppressed nor crudely nor
ruthlessly subordinated to the general issues. Religious and moral
teachers are apt to make this part of life either too detached or too
insignificant. They teach it either as if it did not matter or as if
it ought not to matter. Indeed our individual friends and enemies stand
between us and hide or interpret for us all the larger things. Few of
us can even worship alone. We must feel others, and those not strangers,
kneeling beside us.

I have already spoken under the heading of Beliefs of the part that the
idea of a Mediator has played and can play in the religious life. I have
pointed out how the imagination of men has sought and found in certain
personalities, historical or fictitious, a bridge between the blood-warm
private life and the intolerable spaciousness of right and wrong. The
world is full of such figures and their images, Christ and Mary and the
Saints and all the lesser, dearer gods of heathendom. These things
and the human passion for living leaders and heroes and leagues and
brotherhoods all confess the mediatory role, the mediatory possibilities
of personal love between the individual and the great synthesis of which
he is a part and agent. The great synthesis may become incarnate in
personal love, and personal love lead us directly to universal service.

I write “may” and temper that sentence to the quality of a possibility
alone. This is only true for those who believe, for those who have
faith, whose lives have been unified, who have found Salvation. For
those whose lives are chaotic, personal loves must also be chaotic; this
or that passion, malice, a jesting humour, some physical lust, gratified
vanity, egotistical pride, will rule and limit the relationship and
colour its ultimate futility. But the Believer uses personal love and
sustains himself by personal love. It is his provender, the meat and
drink of his campaign.


It is well perhaps to look a little into the factors that make up Love.

Love does not seem to me to be a simple elemental thing. It is, as I
have already said, one of the vicious tendencies of the human mind to
think that whatever can be given a simple name can be abstracted as a
single something in a state of quintessential purity. I have pointed out
that this is not true of Harmony or Beauty, and that these are synthetic
things. You bring together this which is not beautiful and that which is
not beautiful, and behold! Beauty! So also Love is, I think, a synthetic
thing. One observes this and that, one is interested and stirred;
suddenly the metal fuses, the dry bones live! One loves.

Almost every interest in one’s being may be a factor in the love
synthesis. But apart from the overflowing of the parental instinct
that makes all that is fine and delicate and young dear to us and to be
cherished, there are two main factors that bring us into love with our
fellows. There is first the emotional elements in our nature that arise
out of the tribal necessity, out of a fellowship in battle and hunting,
drinking and feasting, out of the needs and excitements and delights of
those occupations; and there is next the intenser narrower desirings
and gratitudes, satisfactions and expectations that come from sexual
intercourse. Now both these factors originate in physical needs and
consummate in material acts, and it is well to remember that this great
growth of love in life roots there, and, it may be, dies when its roots
are altogether cut away.

At its lowest, love is the mere sharing of, or rather the desire to
share, pleasure and excitement, the excitements of conflict or lust or
what not. I think that the desire to partake, the desire to merge one’s
individual identity with another’s, remains a necessary element in all
personal loves. It is a way out of ourselves, a breaking down of our
individual separation, just as hate is an intensification of that.
Personal love is the narrow and intense form of that breaking down, just
as what I call Salvation is its widest, most extensive form. We cast
aside our reserves, our secrecies, our defences; we open ourselves;
touches that would be intolerable from common people become a mystery
of delight, acts of self-abasement and self-sacrifice are charged with
symbolical pleasure. We cannot tell which of us is me, which you. Our
imprisoned egoism looks out through this window, forgets its walls, and
is for those brief moments released and universal.

For most of us the strain of primordial sexual emotion in our loves is
very strong. Many men can love only women, many women only men, and
some can scarcely love at all without bodily desire. But the love of
fellowship is a strong one also, and for many, love is most possible and
easy when the thought of physical lovemaking has been banished. Then
the lovers will pursue interests together, will work together or journey
together. So we have the warm fellowships of men for men and women for
women. But even then it may happen that men friends together will talk
of women, and women friends of men. Nevertheless we have also the strong
and altogether sexless glow of those who have fought well together, or
drunk or jested together or hunted a common quarry.

Now it seems to me that the Believer must also be a Lover, that he will
love as much as he can and as many people as he can, and in many moods
and ways. As I have said already, many of those who have taught religion
and morality in the past have been neglectful or unduly jealous of the
intenser personal loves. They have been, to put it by a figure, urgent
upon the road to the ocean. To that they would lead us, though we come
to it shivering, fearful and unprepared, and they grudge it that we
should strip and plunge into the wayside stream. But all streams, all
rivers come from this ocean in the beginning, lead to it in the end.

It is the essential fact of love as I conceive it, that it breaks
down the boundaries of self. That love is most perfect which does most
completely merge its lovers. But no love is altogether perfect, and for
most men and women love is no more than a partial and temporary lowering
of the barriers that keep them apart. With many, the attraction of love
seems always to fall short of what I hold to be its end, it draws people
together in the most momentary of self-forgetfulnesses, and for the rest
seems rather to enhance their egotisms and their difference. They are
secret from one another even in their embraces. There is a sort of love
that is egotistical lust almost regardless of its partner, a sort of
love that is mere fleshless pride and vanity at a white heat. There is
the love-making that springs from sheer boredom, like a man reading a
story-book to fill an hour. These inferior loves seek to accomplish an
agreeable act, or they seek the pursuit or glory of a living possession,
they aim at gratification or excitement or conquest. True love seeks
to be mutual and easy-minded, free of doubts, but these egotistical
mockeries of love have always resentment in them and hatred in them and
a watchful distrust. Jealousy is the measure of self-love in love.

True love is a synthetic thing, an outcome of life, it is not a
universal thing. It is the individualized correlative of Salvation; like
that it is a synthetic consequence of conflicts and confusions. Many
people do not desire or need Salvation, they cannot understand it, much
less achieve it; for them chaotic life suffices. So too, many never,
save for some rare moment of illumination, desire or feel love. Its
happy abandonment, its careless self-giving, these things are mere
foolishness to them. But much has been said and sung of faith and love
alike, and in their confused greed these things also they desire and
parody. So they act worship and make a fine fuss of their devotions.
And also they must have a few half-furtive, half-flaunting fallen
love-triumphs prowling the secret backstreets of their lives, they know
not why.

(In setting this down be it remembered I am doing my best to tell what
is in me because I am trying to put my whole view of life before the
reader without any vital omissions. These are difficult matters to
explain because they have no clear outlines; one lets in a hard light
suddenly upon things that have lurked in warm intimate shadows, dim
inner things engendering motives. I am not only telling quasi-secret
things but exploring them for myself. They are none the less real and
important because they are elusive.)

True love I think is not simply felt but known. Just as Salvation as
I conceive it demands a fine intelligence and mental activity, so love
calls to brain and body alike and all one’s powers. There is always
elaborate thinking and dreaming in love. Love will stir imaginations
that have never stirred before.

Love may be, and is for the most part, one-sided. It is the going out
from oneself that is love, and not the accident of its return. It is the
expedition whether it fail or succeed.

But an expedition starves that comes to no port. Love always seeks
mutuality and grows by the sense of responses, or we should love
beautiful inanimate things more passionately than we do. Failing a full
return, it makes the most of an inadequate return. Failing a sustained
return it welcomes a temporary coincidence. Failing a return it finds
support in accepted sacrifices. But it seeks a full return, and the
fulness of life has come only to those who, loving, have met the lover.

I am trying to be as explicit as possible in thus writing about Love.
But the substance in which one works here is emotion that evades
definition, poetic flashes and figures of speech are truer than prosaic
statements. Body and the most sublimated ecstasy pass into one another,
exchange themselves and elude every net of words we cast.

I have put out two ideas of unification and self-devotion, extremes upon
a scale one from another; one of these ideas is that devotion to the
Purpose in things I have called Salvation; the other that devotion to
some other most fitting and satisfying individual which is passionate
love, the former extensive as the universe, the latter the intensest
thing in life. These, it seems to me, are the boundary and the living
capital of the empire of life we rule.

All empires need a comprehending boundary, but many have not one capital
but many chief cities, and all have cities and towns and villages beyond
the capital. It is an impoverished capital that has no dependent towns,
and it is a poor love that will not overflow in affection and eager
kindly curiosity and sympathy and the search for fresh mutuality. To
love is to go living radiantly through the world. To love and be loved
is to be fearless of experience and rich in the power to give.


Love is a thing to a large extent in its beginnings voluntary and
controllable, and at last quite involuntary. It is so hedged about by
obligations and consequences, real and artificial, that for the most
part I think people are overmuch afraid of it. And also the tradition of
sentiment that suggests its forms and guides it in the world about us,
is far too strongly exclusive. It is not so much when love is glowing as
when it is becoming habitual that it is jealous for itself and others.
Lovers a little exhausting their mutual interest find a fillip in an
alliance against the world. They bury their talent of understanding and
sympathy to return it duly in a clean napkin. They narrow their interest
in life lest the other lover should misunderstand their amplitude as

Our institutions and social customs seem all to assume a definiteness
of preference, a singleness and a limitation of love, which is not
psychologically justifiable. People do not, I think, fall naturally into
agreement with these assumptions; they train themselves to agreement.
They take refuge from experiences that seem to carry with them the risk
at least of perplexing situations, in a theory of barred possibilities
and locked doors. How far this shy and cultivated irresponsive
lovelessness towards the world at large may not carry with it the
possibility of compensating intensities, I do not know. Quite equally
probable is a starvation of one’s emotional nature.

The same reasons that make me decide against mere wanton abstinences
make me hostile to the common convention of emotional indifference to
most of the charming and interesting people one encounters. In pleasing
and being pleased, in the mutual interest, the mutual opening out of
people to one another, is the key of the door to all sweet and mellow


For he who has faith, death, so far as it is his own death, ceases to
possess any quality of terror. The experiment will be over, the rinsed
beaker returned to its shelf, the crystals gone dissolving down the
waste-pipe; the duster sweeps the bench. But the deaths of those we love
are harder to understand or bear.

It happens that of those very intimate with me I have lost only one, and
that came slowly and elaborately, a long gradual separation wrought by
the accumulation of years and mental decay, but many close friends and
many whom I have counted upon for sympathy and fellowship have passed
out of my world. I miss such a one as Bob Stevenson, that luminous,
extravagant talker, that eager fantastic mind. I miss him whenever I
write. It is less pleasure now to write a story since he will never read
it, much less give me a word of praise for it. And I miss York Powell’s
friendly laughter and Henley’s exuberant welcome. They made a warmth
that has gone, those men. I can understand why I, with my fumbling
lucidities and explanations, have to finish up presently and go,
expressing as I do the mood of a type and of a time; but not those
radiant presences.

And the gap these men have left, these men with whom after all I only
sat now and again, or wrote to in a cheerful mood or got a letter from
at odd times, gives me some measure of the thing that happens, that may
happen, when the mind that is always near one’s thoughts, the person who
moves to one’s movement and lights nearly all the common flow of events
about one with the reminder of fellowship and meaning--ceases.

Faith which feeds on personal love must at last prevail over it. If
Faith has any virtue it must have it here when we find ourselves bereft
and isolated, facing a world from which the light has fled leaving it
bleak and strange. We live for experience and the race; these individual
interludes are just helps to that; the warm inn in which we lovers met
and refreshed was but a halt on a journey. When we have loved to the
intensest point we have done our best with each other. To keep to that
image of the inn, we must not sit overlong at our wine beside the fire.
We must go on to new experiences and new adventures. Death comes to part
us and turn us out and set us on the road again.

But the dead stay where we leave them.

I suppose that is the real good in death, that they do stay; that it
makes them immortal for us. Living they were mortal. But now they
can never spoil themselves or be spoilt by change again. They have
finished--for us indeed just as much as themselves. There they sit for
ever, rounded off and bright and done. Beside these clear and certain
memories I have of my dead, my impressions of the living are vague
provisional things.

And since they are gone out of the world and become immortal memories
in me, I feel no need to think of them as in some disembodied and
incomprehensible elsewhere, changed and yet not done. I want actual
immortality for those I love as little as I desire it for myself.

Indeed I dislike the idea that those I have loved are immortal in any
real sense; it conjures up dim uncomfortable drifting phantoms, that
have no kindred with the flesh and blood I knew. I would as soon think
of them trailing after the tides up and down the Channel outside my
window. Bob Stevenson for me is a presence utterly concrete, slouching,
eager, quick-eyed, intimate and profound, carelessly dressed (at
Sandgate he commonly wore a little felt hat that belonged to his son)
and himself, himself, indissoluble matter and spirit, down to the
heels of his boots. I cannot conceive of his as any but a concrete
immortality. If he lives, he lives as I knew him and clothed as I knew
him and with his unalterable voice, in a heaven of daedal flowers or
a hell of ineffectual flame; he lives, dreaming and talking and
explaining, explaining it all very earnestly and preposterously, so I
picture him, into the ear of the amused, incredulous, principal person
in the place.

I have a real hatred for those dreary fools and knaves who would have me
suppose that Henley, that crippled Titan, may conceivably be tapping at
the underside of a mahogany table or scratching stifled incoherence
into a locked slate! Henley tapping!--for the professional purposes of
Sludge! If he found himself among the circumstances of a spiritualist
seance he would, I know, instantly smash the table with that big fist of
his. And as the splinters flew, surely York Powell, out of the dead past
from which he shines on me, would laugh that hearty laugh of his back
into the world again.

Henley is nowhere now except that, red-faced and jolly like an October
sunset, he leans over a gate at Worthing after a long day of picnicking
at Chanctonbury Ring, or sits at his Woking table praising and quoting
“The Admiral Bashville,” or blue-shirted and wearing that hat that
Nicholson has painted, is thrust and lugged, laughing and talking aside
in his bath-chair, along the Worthing esplanade...

And Bob Stevenson walks for ever about a garden in Chiswick, talking in
the dusk.


That parable of the talents I have made such free use of in this book
has one significant defect. It gives but two cases, and three are
possible. There was first the man who buried his talent, and of his
condemnation we are assured. But those others all took their talents
and used them courageously and came back with gain. Was that gain
inevitable? Does courage always ensure us victory? because if that is so
we can all be heroes and valour is the better part of discretion. Alas!
the faith in such magic dies. What of the possible case of the man who
took his two or three talents and invested them as best he could and was
deceived or heedless and lost them, interest and principal together?

There is something harder to face than death, and that is the
realization of failure and misdirected effort and wrong-doing. Faith is
no Open Sesame to right-doing, much less is it the secret of success.
The service of God on earth is no processional triumph. What if one does
wrong so extremely as to condemn one’s life, to make oneself part of the
refuse and not of the building? Or what if one is misjudged, or it may
be too pitilessly judged, and one’s co-operation despised and the help
one brought becomes a source of weakness? Or suppose that the fine
scheme one made lies shattered or wrecked by one’s own act, or through
some hidden blemish one’s offering is rejected and flung back and one is
thrust out?

So in the end it may be you or I will find we have been anvil and not
hammer in the Purpose of God.

Then indeed will come the time for Faith, for the last word of Faith, to
say still steadfastly, disgraced or dying, defeated or discredited, that
all is well:--

“This and not that was my appointed work, and this I had to be.”


So these broken confessions and statements of mood and attitude come to
an end.

But at this end, since I have, I perceive, run a little into a pietistic
strain, I must repeat again how provisional and personal I know all
these things to be. I began by disavowing ultimates. My beliefs, my
dogmas, my rules, they are made for my campaigning needs, like the
knapsack and water-bottle of a Cockney soldier invading some stupendous
mountain gorge. About him are fastnesses and splendours, torrents and
cataracts, glaciers and untrodden snows. He comes tramping on heel-worn
boots and ragged socks. Beauties and blue mysteries shine upon him and
appeal to him, the enigma of beauty smiling the faint strange smile of
Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. He sees a light on the grass like music; and
the blossom on the trees against the sky brings him near weeping. Such
things come to him, give themselves to him. I do not know why he should
not in response fling his shabby gear aside and behave like a god; I
only know that he does not do so. His grunt of appreciation is absurd,
his speech goes like a crippled thing--and withal, and partly by virtue
of the knapsack and water-bottle, he is conqueror of the valley. The
valley is his for the taking.

There is a duality in life that I cannot express except by such images
as this, a duality so that we are at once absurd and full of sublimity,
and most absurd when we are most anxious to render the real splendours
that pervade us. This duplicity in life seems to me at times
ineradicable, at times like the confusing of something essentially
simple, like the duplication when one looks through a doubly refracting
medium. You think in this latter mood that you have only to turn the
crystal of Iceland spar about in order to have the whole thing plain.
But you never get it plain. I have been doing my halting utmost to get
down sincerely and simply my vision of life and duty. I have permitted
myself no defensive restraints; I have shamelessly written my starkest,
and it is plain to me that a smile that is not mine plays over my most
urgent passages. There is a rebellious rippling of the grotesque under
our utmost tragedy and gravity. One’s martialled phrases grimace as one
turns, and wink at the reader. None the less they signify. Do you note
how in this that I have written, such a word as Believer will begin to
wear a capital letter and give itself solemn ridiculous airs? It does
not matter. It carries its message for all that necessary superficial

Thought has made me shameless. It does not matter at last at all if one
is a little harsh or indelicate or ridiculous if that also is in the
mystery of things.

Behind everything I perceive the smile that makes all effort and
discipline temporary, all the stress and pain of life endurable. In the
last resort I do not care whether I am seated on a throne or drunk or
dying in a gutter. I follow my leading. In the ultimate I know, though I
cannot prove my knowledge in any way whatever, that everything is right
and all things mine.


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