ON SOCIAL UNREST

“This is a psychological question, a matter of mental states” (H. G. Wells). It is. And in examining these mental states there are two, out of many factors, on which I do not think too much emphasis can be laid, not only because they are in themselves vital to the evil, but because they both arise from the same prime underlying deficiency in our national life.

The first is the influence on society at large produced by the great and rapid growth of the fiduciary element in the conduct of commercial enterprise and landed estates. The agent, the director, the manager, the trustee, have almost entirely displaced the old-time owner, merchant, and manufacturer, who did business by and for themselves.

A class has been created who, already in a state of professional altruism, are impervious, and on the face of it rightly impervious, to altruism of any other kind.

What large business nowadays is not conducted as a limited company by a board of directors appointed and paid by the shareholders as trustees to produce for them a maximum of profit? What large estate is not managed by a paid agent on the same principle? And, however generous our aspirations, which of us does not know the deflecting power of trusteeship, rigidified, as it is, by law and by the sense that we are paid for the performance of a job inimical to generosity? True—the rates of wages and of rent come not under rules but under the broad heading of policy; and, in deep reality, I suspect it to be equally true that the maximum of generosity ministers in the long run to the maximum of stability and profit; nevertheless there can be no doubt whatever that the trustee system not only befogs and deadens the human relationship between employer and employed, but affords an overwhelming support to our natural instinct to take the immediate view and line of least resistance.

Broadly speaking, where there is trusteeship, as trusteeship is now understood, there is no wide view of the relation of Capital to Labour in the light of the good of Society as a whole; there is only a faithful, cold-blooded, purblind service for the benefit of a cestui que trust, who is himself freed from a sense of personal responsibility and from all apparent need for a wide and human outlook. The trustee system, if not already, will soon be universal, and I see no means of counteracting its secret, dangerous, and irritating effect on the mind of Labour, save by such process of education as shall soak the spirit of the prosperous classes with an altogether larger and saner feeling of the fundamental unity and interdependence of Society, with a good-will so vastly increased that the shareholder and cestui que trust shall no longer require the director or trustee to consider them and them alone, but bid him instead consider equally the interests of the employed. Such a mood of altruism is now, roughly speaking, absent from the minds of the prosperous classes; and to attain to it is a consummation that I fear will never come about under our present system of education.

The second influence on which I would lay great emphasis is the state of mind produced by our system of education in the young of the prosperous classes at our private and public schools, and, to a less extent, at our universities. Before dwelling on this let me suggest two truths. In life, where a fortunate person is brought into contact with one less fortunate, the first step towards cordial relationship must obviously come from the fortunate. For human nature is happily so constituted that the less fortunate feels ashamed to make advances which, liable to misconstruction, are not compatible with self-respect. Every man of any worth can test, indeed is testing, this truth continually in his own life; it cannot indeed be doubted. Again, where advances are made by the fortunate from sheer friendliness and without ulterior motive, they most certainly evoke response in the same friendly spirit from all save exceptional churls.

Now, since these primary truths concerning human nature underlie the whole question of Labour Unrest, it becomes of the first importance to consider how far the young of the prosperous classes are made actively familiar with them. How far are the legions at our private and public schools (those legions from whom the ranks of Capital are, in the main, recruited) made to understand, and—more than understand—to feel that they are fortunate, that Labour is less fortunate, that they will have to live their lives in interdependence with Labour, and that if they do not make—out of a free and fine heart make—the first advances to good-fellowship with less fortunate Labour, those advances can—by a law, and a good law, of human nature—never be made? How far are they at present brought up to see this? I would go so far as to say—hardly at all. In my day at a public school—and I have no reason at all to hope that, whatever be the exceptions, the general rule has greatly changed—the Universe was divided into ourselves and “outsiders,” “bounders,” “chaws,” “cads,” or whatever more or less offensive name best seemed to us to characterise those less fortunate than ourselves. It is true that we applied the name mainly to the lower ranks of Capital rather than to actual Labour, but this was only because we lived so far away from industrial workers that we never even thought of them. Such working folk as we actually came into personal contact with we never dreamed of associating with any such offensive thought in our minds or speech on our tongues; but, generally, the working man did not exist for us except as a person outside, remote, and almost inimical. From our homes, touched already by this class feeling, caught up from political talk by chance overheard, we went to private schools, where the teaching of manners, mainly under clerical supervision, effectually barred us from any contaminating influence; so that if by chance we encountered the “lower class” boy we burned to go for him and correct his “cheek.” Thence we were passed into the great “caste” factory, a public school, where the feeling became, by mere process of being left to itself, as set and hard as iron. It is true that a levelling process went on among the boys themselves, so that a duke’s son was no more accounted of than a stockbroker’s, but nevertheless all learned to consider themselves “the elect.” Of ten public schoolboys, seven have come from “caste-”infected homes and private schools, and have active prejudice already. The remaining three may still be open-minded or indifferent; of these, two will infallibly follow the sway of the herd instinct; one may perhaps develop a line of his own, or adhere to the influence of a home inimical to “caste,” and become a “smug” or Radical. In result, failing definite sustained effort to break up a narrow “caste” feeling, the public school presents a practically solid phalanx of the fortunate, insulated against real knowledge of, or sympathy with, the less fortunate. This phalanx marches out into the professions, into business, into the universities, where, it is true, some awaken to a sense of wider values—but not too many. From the point of view of any one who tries to see things as they are, and see them as a whole, there is something terrific about this automatic “caste” moulding of the young. And in the present condition of our country it is folly, and dangerous folly, to blink it.[6]

For all my love of my old school, for all my realization of the fact that her training equips her children with certain qualities invaluable to public life and public service, I do feel that she and all her sisters are disserving the national welfare by refraining from really active and resolute attempt to destroy the bad side of “caste” feeling. They let it grow of its own momentum through the herd instinct till it blinds the eyes and blunts the feelings of those who, being fortunate, must by the laws of human nature make the first advances toward friendship with the less fortunate, if those advances are to be made at all; and must make them not because to neglect them is dangerous, but out of brotherly feeling and a real hearty wish to give all the help they can to such as are not so lucky as themselves. I do not mean that our public schools and universities are consciously refraining. They are not, and their very unconsciousness in the matter is half the danger. And I do not say that there are no masters, or dons, conscious of the danger and trying their best to remove it, but I do say there are not nearly enough. A few swallows do not make a summer.

Since, in relation to the foregoing, four objections, at all events, are bound to be made, let me make them myself, and answer them too. First: It is not the public school and ’varsity man who is lacking in sympathy and good-will towards Labour; it is the self-made capitalist, or the grammar school man. The truth is that, with exceptions, they all are lacking. But the defect is more dangerous and insidious within “the caste” than without; for not only is “the caste” homogeneous, and far more influential in every way, but it veils its lack of sympathy in this very pretension of having sympathy. Next it will be said: “You accuse us of lack of sympathy! But we would gladly be sympathetic, if they would only let us!” Now this in the main is a perfectly genuine belief in members of “the caste” when they have once gone out into life and rubbed off the rawness of youthful hostility and prejudice. But it is the genuine belief of people only passively inclined to friendship; in other words, the belief of the fortunate not imbued with a spirit sufficiently high and generous to take, from the best motives, active steps towards friendship with the less fortunate.

Further it will be said: “But Labour is not really less fortunate than ourselves—it has freedom from cares, responsibilities, and expenses, such as we can never know; in fact, we are not sure that it is not really the more fortunate class.” Well! Apart from the fact that not one in ten thousand of “the caste” would change places with an industrial worker, there is this answer: “On your hypothesis, evolution, which is ‘caste’s’ main justification, is absurd and our system is standing on its head. If, indeed, you require Labour to consider itself at least as fortunate as yourselves, you must set to work at once and revalue everything, alter every present ideal in your social life, and annul the importance of property. Are you prepared to do this?” Finally it will be objected: “It may be as you say, but the evil is implicit and inevitable, for everything possible is already done by our educational authorities to counteract a narrow ‘caste’ spirit and imbue the children of the fortunate with a brotherly feeling towards the less fortunate.” The answer to this is simply: “Has everything been done? Has anything like everything been done? For example, is the danger of this narrow ‘caste’ spirit ever taken into account in the appointment of these same educational authorities?”

Besides being “snobs” in the best sense of that word, boys are high-spirited, generous, and malleable creatures. Let any fair-minded man of “the caste” ask himself: “What sustained and really ‘felt’ effort did he encounter from his own teachers in school and college days to turn that high spirit, and generosity, and malleability of his into a state of mind that regarded his good fortune as a thing to be held in trust to share to the full with the less fortunate?” A few will answer truly: “Yes, I have met with such effort.” But how few!

Again, then, I am brought to the point of saying: There is a general absence of active and sustained effort to produce in the young of the prosperous classes this “good-will” state of mind; to change such general absence of effort into a general presence of effort is a consummation that will never, I think, be reached under our present system of education.

Both these influences, then, contributing to Social Unrest—the one produced by the increasing presence of the fiduciary element, and the other by the unchecked growth of a narrow “caste” spirit—lead us to the same prime underlying deficiency in our national life, the lack of right purpose in our education. They happen to be both incident to Capital, but it is probable that influences incident to Labour, of which I hesitate to speak, since I cannot from personal experience and feeling, may also in measure be traced to the same underlying deficiency in our education.

No national improvement can come from outside. It must come from within, from gradually improved feeling in the body politic. To hope for growth without this improvement is to hope that a man shall raise himself from the ground by the hair of his own head. But improved feeling has no chance of spreading throughout the body politic without that machinery of infection which we know by the name of education. Therefore education is the most sacred concern, indeed the only hope, of a nation.

How do we now treat our education—this sacred thing, this only hope? In regard to the classes, its direction and control are left entirely to the haphazard beck and call of each separate school or college, without conformity to or guidance from any professed national aim, principle, or ideal. In regard to the masses, it is the concern of a Department of State, just as are Trade, the Post Office, or the Navy, and is treated, not as a spiritual matter underlying all else, but as a material affair. The spiritual side of education is supposed to be the concern of the religious bodies; but if we are quite honest we have to confess that the religious bodies have no longer sufficient hold on classes or masses to inspire in either such wide mutual good-will and sense of service as will forward any real improvement in the relations between Capital and Labour, between the fortunate and less fortunate classes. The religious bodies, let us say, have tried their best, but, since our last state is worse than our first, they must be considered to have failed. Their influence, indeed, is too incoherent and dispersed, pervasive here and there, but without either the centrality or force to promote in us a great national change towards that essence of Christianity—mutual good-will and sense of service. There is no longer, I am afraid, hope in that direction.

Deep down, we know all this, but we have not yet bestirred ourselves to find out what it is that we are trying to do with our civilization, or indeed whether we are trying to do anything except just keep our heads above water from hour to hour.

And we have not yet bestirred ourselves, partly because we are still breathless and uncertain after that long and tremendous struggle within us between Science and Orthodox Religion, which has torn the wings off both, and partly because we are paralysed by the word Democracy. We dare not move for fear of endowing education with too much authority. There may, of course, be another and far more deadly reason why we have not bestirred ourselves. We may be too far gone to devise any improved standard or machinery of education, too flaccid to impart, or even to desire to impart, to our education that spiritual quality, that devotion to an ideal, which is our only hope. If so, we must resign ourselves to a desperate Class struggle, as to some bitter, poisonous tonic, from which we may perhaps gain strength to deal with our disease, but of which we may take too much and die. Personally—being, as they say, a pessimist—I prefer to think that all is not yet lost; that we are still capable of expressing in the form of a faith the aspiration towards Perfection that does, that must, lie inarticulate within us; still capable of finding machinery, and men to work it, that shall drive this faith into the very heart of all classes.

At all events, I refuse to believe that we cannot do a good deal more with education as a solvent of our troubles than we have done hitherto. The main and obvious difficulty—one might say the only real difficulty—in education, as in all the affairs of life, is to find the men; and to find the men we can only make use of machinery which is acceptable to a democratic age. Yes, we cannot now go outside Democracy, and that is something to be profoundly grateful for. The only trouble with Democracy is that it is slow and inarticulate. And I do not feel that the democratic principle—in which I believe as much as any man—will ever do itself justice until it discovers some quicker way than it yet has of shaping out of itself its spiritual essence, some swifter way of extracting from itself and utilizing for its own service the highest aspiration and finest feeling within it. It has succeeded on the whole fairly well in discovering and making use of its best business and administrative minds; but so far it has regarded spirituality as completely outside its province and deliberately left it to religious bodies that have no longer, nationally speaking, a real hold on us, and are professedly autocratic. In fact, Democracy at present—and not only here but in America—offers the spectacle of a man running down a road followed at a more and more respectful distance by his own soul.

Can our education any longer be safely treated in this casual way, be safely left to Churches from whose hand it has too far slipped; be safely left as to the Classes to chance and to vested interests; as to the Masses to mere business management?

Should we not rather trust it coherently and as a whole to the finest spirits and broadest minds in the country; to spirits that can be relied on to hold, and to minds that can be relied on to apply, a really high ideal; relied on, too, to select and train the best men available for the propagation of that Ideal? If by some democratic process we could sift out these minds from among us, and endow them with wholesale powers of selection, appointment, and training of teachers, we should have established a sort of endless band on which might travel a perpetual vitalizing current of the best feeling within us. To find these finest spirits and broadest minds we might conceivably use the existing representative machinery of Parliament, or some reformed representative system; or we might institute a special straining and sifting process, by means of plebiscite within plebiscite, till we were reasonably sure of arriving at the men best fitted to be entrusted with a high, coherent plan of education. We have, then, to found and place under their guidance a great training college, wherein the higher leaders of education may be imbued with the new spirit, trained in the new standards, and pass out, as posts fall vacant, to the headship of schools and colleges. And if it be objected, as it certainly will, that this is to constitute a too rigid spiritual bureaucracy, the answer is two-fold: This is the plan on which you order all your political, your material life, without regarding it as in the least dangerous or undemocratic. And, secondly, you have at present exactly the same bureaucratic methods of appointment in education, only they are exercised in a hole-and-corner manner, quite incoherently, and without any democratic check at all.

There is no revolution in this idea, and it will certainly prove no immediate or quack remedy. It is, in few words, a suggestion that we should adopt for spiritual things, for states of mind, the method that, roughly speaking, we have found works best in material matters. Democracy will never really flourish till it has taken charge, and that right heartily, of its own spirituality.

Life itself is the best education in spirituality a nation gets. But the plea here is only for better machinery to express and direct the experience and latent good-will which is implicit within the nation, and is not now brought out into the light for the nation’s service. We are living in a parched field under which there is plenty of water, but we have sunk no well, put up no pumping gear, with which to make our pasture green. Is the notion that we can still do this a preposterous dream, a mere presumptuous counsel of perfection?

We have at present an air charged with trouble; if we are not to shut our eyes, fold our hands, and drift, all that we do must be in the direction of improving our state of mind. But there is no way of improving a state of mind save by fertilizing it with the faith and good-will of a higher mind. Our machinery for doing this has failed us. Indeed, nationally speaking, we no longer have any such machinery. What more useful efforts, then, can we make than efforts in the direction of discovering a new machinery? And the finer the spirits, the broader the minds, we place in charge thereof, the greater power we give them, always subject to the safeguard of election, the more we may hope to emerge gradually from our sinister situation.