Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category
The Rev. James Bicheno (1751-1831) was the father of James Ebenezer Bicheno, a British author, naturalist and colonial official in Australia (Tasmania). The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1851 (Vol. 190, p. 436) describes the elder Bicheno as “an eminent dissenting minister of the Baptist persuasion and was the author of several publications of a politico-religious character.” From the website Dissenting Academies Online we learn that Rev. Bicheno studied at Cambridge and the Bristol Baptist Academy, and are told this interesting detail: “kidnapped to America and sold to a planter in Virginia. Returned around 1774.” His discourse on ‘The Consequences of Unjust War’ shows his eloquence and piety, as well as his knowledge of the Bible. The work is somewhat peculiar in the strong anti-Catholic sentiments it expresses throughout. For example, one of his concerns about the British war against Napoleon is that the French Republic had at least been a victory against “Popery.” These expressions of personal prejudice, which remind us that even the saintliest and noblest writers retain a capacity for human error, do not, however, detract from the substance of the sermon’s message — a message clearly relevant for Americans today.
Source: Rev. James Bicheno. The Consequences of Unjust War. London: J. Johnson & Co., 1810. (Subtitle: A Discourse Delivered at Newbury, February 28, 1810, being the Day appointed by Proclamation for a General Fast.)
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“The duty of religious fasting, on suitable occasions, has been sanctioned by the practice of all ages, and is inculcated in the New Testament, as well as in the Old; and [that] national fasts, when kept without hypocrisy, and for ends worthy of God, possess that peculiar solemnity, which is calculated to impress the mind with extraordinary judgments, no enlightened Christian can doubt. And I hope there is no one here, who does not think it his duty to pray for our … government, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. [1Tim 2] There is not one of us, I hope, who does not consider it as his duty, habitually to pray for the peace and prosperity of our beloved country. This is an essential duty of religion; but, convinced that nothing so contaminates devotion as the passions which spring from partial self-love; knowing, that he to whom we pray is equally the father of all, and no respecter of persons or nations, neither the love of our country, nor the power of self-interest, can exclude even our enemies from an interest in our prayers; nor induce us anxiously to solicit any favour at his hand, which is inconsistent with universal charity.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 1-2)
“If we come with hearts fired with anger and revenge against our enemies, and, perverted by pride and self-love, call for fire from heaven to destroy them we hate; or, without devout consideration, not caring whether our cause be just or unjust, pray to the Father of mercies, because we may think we are commanded to do so, to go forth with our fleets and armies, and enable them to kill and burn and destroy; such services will be despised, and be more likely to bring down judgments than to avert them.“
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 2-3)
“Our business to-day, then, is to satisfy ourselves (if we have not already done so) as to the character of the war we are engaged in, and what part of our conduct it is, that has been the more immediate cause of exposing us to those judgments which we are called upon to deprecate; that thus our devotions may be guided by that reason, which our Maker has given us to exercise; and have their foundation in that genuine, enlightened, piety, without which our religious services are mockery. If it should appear, on a candid examination, that our cause is decidedly just, and the war originally necessary for the defence of our country, our lives, and liberties; or should it appear to be quite the reverse, neither just nor necessary; or should the question be involved in doubt; in either of these cases, we shall then know how to order our speech before our judge [Job 37:19]; and, what to pray for as we ought [Rom 8:26].”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 3)
“It appears to me to be the duty … of every man, however humble his station, who knows any thing of the worth of our constitution and liberties; and particularly of the ministers of religion, on such a day as this, to do all in their power to enable the people to form a right judgment as to the character of the present war and times; and to show them their errors and transgressions, that high and low may be undeceived, and repent, and turn, and live [cf. Ezek 18:32]. This would be to keep an acceptable fast to the Lord [cf. Isa 58:5]. But woe to them who endeavour to prolong and propagate delusion! woe to them who wish to deceive, or who are willing to be deceived!”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 4)
“Now, though the dispensation of God, in different ages, and towards different people, may be dissimilar; yet he is, through all generations, the righteous governor among the nations, and the principles of his government must always be essentially the same; making a difference between the righteous and the wicked, as it respects nations, as well as individuals. And the people who maintain the purity of God’s worship and the freedom of conscience, and whose political institutions promote the distribution of impartial justice, and which are formed for the promotion of general good and happiness, may for ever be said to be on the Lord’s side; whilst the corrupters of his worship, the persecutors of conscience, and the people whose institutions are formed for the oppression of mankind, must ever be considered as the ungodly, and as those who hate the Lord.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 10)
“National departures from humanity and justice; forgetfulness of God, and contempt of the obligations of religion, we may expect to be followed by national calamities. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people [Prov 14:34]. They bend their tongues, like their bow, for lies; but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord [Jer 9:3]. — Shall I not visit them for these things? Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? [Jer 9:9]“
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 18)
“Never was the hand of God more evidently displayed, than in the surprising occurrences which have so rapidly succeeded each other in the course of the last twenty years…. If events have not convinced us that the providence of God is against us, then nothing can. Would you war yet seventeen years more to ascertain the fact? … Every expectation has been disappointed. By every effort which we have made, we have contributed to the aggrandizement of the enemy, and hastened the ruin of those we attempted to help. Calamity or dishonour has been the only fruit of all our measures. Every new exertion has only served to place us at a greater distance from every object of the war.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 18-19)
“And after all this, are we still unconvinced, or without suspicion, that we have been fighting against the providence of God? Must you see greater calamities than you have seen, and still more striking accomplishments of God’s word, before you believe? Then, neither would you believe, though one rose from the dead [Luke 16:31]. “
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 20)
“The success, or non-success, of a cause, simply and alone, proves nothing. The cause itself must be examined, and judged of by the principles of eternal wisdom and justice. This being done, then, if there appear to be those remarkable interpositions, which, as far as mortals are able to judge, bespeak the finger of God, piety will allow them their due weight. And if the judgment hang in doubt, as, to the justice or injustice of a cause, a course of very extraordinary occurrences, such as we have seen, will weigh much with every man who feels the presence of the Deity, and truly believes in this moral and Providential government. The ways of Providence are unsearchable. The designs of Heaven are operated by a complication of means, which human penetration can but very imperfectly trace, or comprehend. We ought to adore the long-suffering mercy of God for the exclusive protection we have hitherto experienced; and we cannot be too thankful for the safety we have thus far enjoyed, from the protection of our navy. But we cannot hence conclude, either that our cause is originally or essentially good; or that our safety is likely to be perpetual. I wish not to discourage the humble hopes of the good, but it would be criminal to flatter the confidence of the presumptuous, who are ingenious to find out arguments to encourage the continuance of those measures, which have brought the nation to the brink of ruin. But is it not easy to suppose, that our temporary preservation, and naval successes, may make a part of the great scheme of divine Providence, without implying either the justice of our cause, or our perpetual safety. It is probable that, whilst our enemy is the great instrument to break to pieces the nations, we may be the instrument of Providence, at once to chastise him, and, by the aid which we afford to those to be destroyed, and by the measures we pursue, to operate, indirectly, the destruction of those whom we intended to help. They who have attentively observed the progress of things, for the last seventeen years, will not be disposed to reject this hypothesis, as undeserving of all notice.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 21-22)
“If mere preservation and partial success be the marks of divine favour, what favourites must our enemies be!”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 23)
“Let me intreat you to turn your attention to those intimations of Divine displeasure, and to those signs of hastening calamities, which exist in the very bowels of the empire, and affect its most vital parts…. Reflect on the vast accumulation of our national debt; the immensity of our annual expenditure … and the consequent burdens under which the nation groans.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 23-24)
“Reflect on the obstinate resistance which is made to all that reform, which might preserve our constitution from degenerating into tyranny; and restore it to be in practice, what it is in theory: and thus prevent that indifference to the public welfare, in the mass of the people, which is more to be dreaded than all the legions of the enemy.—Reflect on the infatuation and imbecility which seems to direct our public affairs, and on the narrow policy and ill-timed bigotry, which insults and divides, when the common danger so imperiously demands measures of conciliation and union. Are liberal measures proposed for uniting the energies of men, of all religious opinions, and for extinguishing in the common flood of patriotism, that spirit of discord which divides and weakens?“
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 24-25)
“Reflect on the general insensibility of the people, both to their danger, and to their public duties; on the dissipation and universal corruption of manners; on the great forgetfulness of God, and neglect of religious duties; and say, are there no signs of hastening ruin? are there no reasons to fear that the wrath of God is upon us, and that he hath, turned our wise men backward, and made their knowledge foolishness [Isa 44:25]? “Although the great body of the people are still blind to the hand of God; and although too many still cry for war, yet the more thoughtful are recovering from their delusion: — the mists have begun to disperse. You begin to perceive the mighty danger, as a giant advancing towards you; you feel the hollow ground on which you stand tremble; you begin to perceive the peril into which our country is brought. Ah! our Sion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her [Lam 1:17a]. There is none to guide her among all the sons she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up [Isa 51:18]. “O my country! when we contemplate thy varied character, thy conduct, and the dangers which threaten thee, how mingled are our sensations? How many are thy charms to inspire our love, and make us cling to thy destinies! But many are the blemishes which deface thy beauty, and the magnitude of thy vices threatens thy life! — How many great and amiable qualities adorn thy character! How wise are many of thy institutions! — How pure thy courts of justice! — How numerous and extensive are thy charities! — How great thy care for the poor and needy! — But, thy children in the midst of thee, have forgotten God. There is a conspiracy of thy prophets, like a roaring lion; and thy great men are like the wolves, ravening the prey [Ezek 22:25]. — How charming are thy precepts of liberty: and under the protection of thy shield, the persecuted have found safety! But, thou hast forgotten thine own precepts, and what it was that made thee great; and for which we chiefly loved thee.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 25-27)
“I think I should sin against God and my country, if on this day, I were not to bear a faithful testimony, and say, that, unless we cleanse ourselves from our corruptions, personal and national, in church and state; unless we cease from the career we have long been running, and are directed by wiser counsels than those which have brought us to the brink of ruin, a heavy visitation must be expected. Yes, it is our duty to humble ourselves before God, against whom we have sinned by the misimprovement of the extraordinary light with which he has distinguished us, and the abuse of our power and wealth. It is our duty to pray to God, that that delusion, which has led the nation astray, may be dissipated before it be too late; that the errors into which the nation or government may have fallen, may be pardoned; and that our great and many sins may not issue in our ruin; that all may be enlightened to know what is good to be done in this time of danger, and that every heart may be inspired with those just sentiments which are necessary to a right conduct. It is our duty to repent, and immediately enter on a thorough reformation, as the best means of averting those judgments which have fallen upon the surrounding nations…. By such a conduct, if general and sincere, we might derive a good hope that these judgments will not be necessary to our renovation; will not be necessary to bring us to that purity of manners, and to reduce us to that just and benevolent temper, that piety towards God and charity to all mankind, which our religion inculcates, as essential to the favor of God; and without which, no nation can be truly and permanently happy and prosperous; without which, wars, and commotions, and revolutions, must be expected, as the fruit and chastisement of their follies and sins.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 27-28)
“It is incumbent on us, also, to rouse ourselves to an active attention to the duties of our several stations; and not only to those more common duties of life which occur every day, but to those political obligations that we are under…. Our duty is to bear testimony, in every legal way we can, against corruptions and war; and to lift up our voice for that political reformation, without which, neither our property, nor our liberties, nor our country, can long be safe.”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, p. 29)
“But my voice is too feeble to be heard; my efforts can be but of little use in so great a work as the salvation of [a nation] ….” True, if there were no voice but yours, it would be better to fly from danger than oppose it. But, let all the thousands who complain and murmur in solitude, discharge the duty which the constitution directs, and their voice will be powerful as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings [Rev 19:6], to appal corruption, and awake the nation from its fatal slumber. But does each, from motives of indolence, or of interest, or of fear, draw back from his duty? Of what practical worth, then, are the rights which we have received from our ancestors? If, absorbed in self, and dead to all public spirit, we fold our arms and stand silent, when the safety or the liberty of our country calls for our help, whom shall we have to accuse when the awful moment arrives, and calamities burst upon us as a flood? And whom will our children, and children’s children, have to accuse, if, regardless of our duty, and insensible to the value and use of our rights, we silently contemplate the approaching ruin without an attempt to repel its progress?”
~ Rev. James Bicheno (The Consequences of Unjust War; 1810, pp. 29-30)
Written by John Uebersax
April 10, 2013 at 3:32 pm
My latest letter to Sen. Boxer (D-CA), requesting an official rationale for our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. I will post her reply, whenever it arrives.
September 12, 2012
The Honorable Barbara Boxer
United States Senate
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-0505
Dear Senator Boxer,
Subject: Please explain US goals in Afghanistan
I request a communication from your office that explains why the US is still fighting in Afghanistan.
In previous letters, you have (1) acknowledged that Al Qaeda has little if any presence in Afghanistan, and (2) suggested that our goal there is not so much to prevent domestic terrorism as it is “geopolitical” in nature.
You also alluded to “volatility” in the region.
At this time I request clarification of your references to geopolitics and volatility, as these vague terms have a wide range of possible meanings. What, specifically, is the concern of the US in Afghanistan? Are we trying to counter potential influence of China in the region? Or perhaps of Russia? Or Iran? Or Pakistan? Is this necessary for our national security? Why?
Or is our goal to prevent Pakistani nuclear arms from falling into the hands of terrorists?
Or is the thinking that we need to set up a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan in order to support the general Westernization of the Caspian Sea region? And if that is the case, are our motives humanitarian, or selfishly economic?
Rather than continue to speculate as to motives, I would prefer that you, my Senator, kindly inform me as to what they are.
I would also strongly encourage you to investigate the possibility of including moderate factions of the Taliban in negotiations aimed at ending hostilities.
John S. Uebersax
On 30 April 2012, counter-terrorism czar John Brennan, in remarks delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington DC, attempted to present the clearest legal and ethical justification so far for America’s anti-terrorism policies, including drone warfare in Pakistan and Yemen.
An optimistic interpretation of the speech is that it signals a new attitude of openness and transparency in the Obama administration’s approach to drone strikes. A more cynical view is that Brennan’s remarks offer mere rationalizations for a policy pursued for more dubious motives. The truth is likely somewhere between these two extremes.
In any case, Brennan made several arguments to justify the ethics of drone strikes, and these deserve a response. The following are some of the points which Brennan’s speech did not adequately address:
1. It remains ambiguous as to whether the claimed legal and moral justification for drone strikes derives from a war paradigm, a criminal justice paradigm, or some different paradigm altogether. This administration, like the previous one, seems to flip-flop on this question, choosing either position to suit its interests. Brennan’s comments, which included references to the killing of German and Japanese commanders in World War II, seem to lean towards the war paradigm. However: if drone strikes are considered acts of war, then international law does not recognize civilian drone operators as lawful combatants. More generally, why wouldn’t the US be bound by the Geneva Conventions? These would require that the US be much more cautious to avoid civilian casualties (and, I believe, to report them when they occur.) Another particularly offensive point in this regard is the alleged follow-up strikes which target militants (or others) who come to recover bodies of victims of an initial strike.
2. Again, if we are following a war paradigm, is there not a moral requirement to attempt negotiations, or at least some sort of discussions, with al Qaida? This would seem to follow directly from the ‘war only as last resort’ principle of just war theory.
3. Brennan contended that drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are aimed at killing high-level commanders of al Qaida and affiliated groups – because they constitute a direct threat and are involved in planning or implementing terrorist acts against the United States. However, it is the general perception that the drone war in Pakistan is primarily an extension of the Afghanistan war – i.e., directed at least as much against Taliban militants (who pose no direct threat to the US) as against al Qaida. Failure to consider this point seems, at the least, somewhat disingenuous by Brennan.
4. The monochromatic portrayal of al Qaida as an international terrorist organization with no aim other than harming the United States is surely incomplete. Rather, it would seem that, at least as an immediate priority, al Qaida factions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere, are more concerned with regime change in their own countries than in attacking the United States. It is hard to believe that an al Qaida field commander in Pakistan or Yemen, engaged in a dire struggle against domestic military forces, has much spare time to master-mind a terrorist attack within US borders.
5. Supporting the previous point, note that al Qaida actively participated in the Libyan coalition to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi in 2011. In that sense, the Libyan al Qaida factions were de facto allies of the United States.
6. We must also not neglect to mention the role that the illegal Israeli occupation and virtual annexation of the West Bank plays as a motive in al Qaida activity. The Obama administration seems to accept that the occupation is illegal. Should this not then be seen as a mitigating factor in measuring our response to al Qaida (i.e., a reason to be proportionately less extreme in application of force)?
7. Brennan’s assertions that our drone strike and other counter-terrorist actions are working is less than fully credible. The strikes are winning no friends internationally. Clearly they are making Pakistanis angry; and, while there are no firm facts and figures available, the possibility that this is drawing new recruits to al Qaida and other insurgency groups must be taken seriously.
8. Brennan’s remarks do not indicate that he or President Obama recognize that drone strikes are morally different from other forms of warfare in these three important respects. First, the very presence of drones in the skies must be seen as terrorizing. Second, drone assassination is like shooting fish in a barrel or extermination of animals; their use is inherently inhumane. Third is the dehumanizing effects of requiring drone operators to act as exterminators — a far cry from what used to pass as ‘honorable warfare.’ If you’re being shot at yourself, risking life an limb, its undoubtedly easier to soothe a conscience over the killing of another human being. Drone operators do not have this remedy.
An important and valuable example of American anti-war literature – more relevant than ever – this speech was given by William Graham Sumner in 1899, just after the Spanish-American war. Sumner was a prominent member of the American Anti-Imperialist League along with Mark Twain, William James, John Dewey and others.There are important parallels between what Sumner spoke out against then and our present situation. His main thesis is that there is a true basis for the traditional belief of America as being uniquely founded on principles of freedom and self-determination, and that this gives us a corresponding unique responsibility to maintain – and to not betray – these principles.
At one point he summarizes the message succinctly:
The point which I have tried to make in this lecture is that expansion and imperialism are at war with the best traditions, principles, and interests of the American people, and that they will plunge us into a network of difficult problems and political perils, which we might have avoided, while they offer us no corresponding advantage in return.
According to Sumner, if one thing epitomized the values and intentions of the founding generations, it was a complete rejection of Empire and everything associated with it.
To express this in terms of today: We vividly remember G. W. Bush defending the wars abroad, claiming we need to defend ourselves from enemies who “hate us because we are free.” But what is the meaning of our freedom? That’s what this speech considers. Freedom is not just a word. It’s not just something to say we have. When you look closely at what freedom truly means to us, it becomes apparent that militarism of the kind our country currently pursues is utterly inconsistent with it. On the rationale of “defending our freedom”, we are abandoning our freedom. And at this point in history – that of our country and that of the world – there is a very real danger that this freedom, once abandoned, will not be recovered for a painfully long time.
Sumner’s speech crescendos, reaching a climax in Section III, and especially in the last three paragraphs included below. For the full speech, see this link or this link. The title suggests that, despite having militarily defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War, the U.S. was in danger of being conquered by imperialism, as Spain had been previously.
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The Conquest of the United States by Spain (1899)
William Graham Sumner (1840-1910)
Section III (pars. 40-43]
 Another answer which the imperialists make is that Americans can do anything. They say that they do not shrink from responsibilities. They are willing to run into a hole, trusting to luck and cleverness to get out. There are some things that Americans cannot do. Americans cannot make 2 + 2 = 5. You may answer that that is an arithmetical impossibility and is not in the range of our subject. Very well; Americans cannot collect two dollars a gallon tax on whiskey. They tried it for many years and failed. That is an economic or political impossibility, the roots of which are in human nature. It is as absolute an impossibility on this domain as the former on the domain of mathematics. So far as yet appears, Americans cannot govern a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants so as to get comfort and convenience in it at a low cost and without jobbery. The fire department of this city is now demoralized by political jobbery – and Spain and all her possessions are not worth as much to you and me as the efficiency of the fire department of New Haven. The Americans in Connecticut cannot abolish the rotten borough system. The English abolished their rotten borough system seventy years ago, in spite of nobles and landlords. We cannot abolish ours in spite of the small towns. Americans cannot reform the pension list. Its abuses are rooted in the methods of democratic self-government, and no one dares to touch them. It is very doubtful indeed if Americans can keep up an army of one hundred thousand men in time of peace. Where can one hundred thousand men be found in this country who are willing to spend their lives as soldiers; or if they are found, what pay will it require to induce them to take this career? Americans cannot disentangle their currency from the confusion into which it was thrown by the Civil War, and they cannot put it on a simple, sure, and sound basis which would give stability to the business of the country. This is a political impossibility. Americans cannot assure the suffrage to negroes throughout the United States; they have tried it for thirty years and now, contemporaneously with this war with Spain, it has been finally demonstrated that it is a failure. Inasmuch as the negro is now out of fashion, no further attempt to accomplish this purpose will be made. It is an impossibility on account of the complexity of our system of State and Federal government. If I had time to do so, I could go back over the history of negro suffrage and show you how curbstone arguments, exactly analogous to the arguments about expansion, were used to favor it, and how objections were thrust aside in this same blustering and senseless manner in which objections to imperialism are met. The ballot, we were told, was an educator and would solve all difficulties in its own path as by magic. Worse still, Americans cannot assure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to negroes inside of the United States. When the negro postmaster’s house was set on fire in the night in South Carolina, and not only he, but his wife and children, were murdered as they came out, and when, moreover, this incident passed without legal investigation or punishment, it was a bad omen for the extension of liberty, etc., to Malays and Tagals by simply setting over them the American flag. Upon a little serious examination the off-hand disposal of an important question of policy by the declaration that Americans can do any thing proves to be only a silly piece of bombast, and upon a little reflection we find that our hands are quite full at home of problems by the solution of which the peace and happiness of the American people could be greatly increased. The laws of nature and of human nature are just as valid for Americans as for anybody else, and if we commit acts we shall have to take consequences, just like other people. Therefore prudence demands that we look ahead to see what we are about to do, and that we gauge the means at our disposal, if we do not want to bring calamity on ourselves and our children. We see that the peculiarities of our system of government set limitations on us. We cannot do things which a great centralized monarchy could do. The very blessings and special advantages which we enjoy, as compared with others, bring disabilities with them. That is the great fundamental cause of what I have tried to show throughout this lecture, that we cannot govern dependencies consistently with our political system, and that, if we try it, the State which our fathers founded will suffer a reaction which will transform it into another empire just after the fashion of all the old ones. That is what imperialism means. That is what it will be; and the democratic republic, which has been, will stand in history, like the colonial organization of earlier days, as a mere transition form.
 And yet this scheme of a republic which our fathers formed was a glorious dream which demands more than a word of respect and affection before it passes away. Indeed, it is not fair to call it a dream or even an ideal; it was a possibility which was within our reach if we had been wise enough to grasp and hold it. It was favored by our comparative isolation, or, at least, by our distance from other strong states. The men who came here were able to throw off all the trammels of tradition and established doctrine. They went out into a wilderness, it is true, but they took with them all the art, science, and literature which, up to that time, civilization had produced. They could not, it is true, strip their minds of the ideas which they had inherited, but in time, as they lived on in the new world, they sifted and selected these ideas, retaining what they chose. Of the old-world institutions also they selected and adopted what they chose and threw aside the rest. It was a grand opportunity to be thus able to strip off all the follies and errors which they had inherited, so far as they chose to do so. They had unlimited land with no feudal restrictions to hinder them in the use of it. Their idea was that they would never allow any of the social and political abuses of the old world to grow up here. There should be no manors, no barons, no ranks, no prelates, no idle classes, no paupers, no disinherited ones except the vicious. There were to be no armies except a militia, which would have no functions but those of police. They would have no court and no pomp; no orders, or ribbons, or decorations, or titles. They would have no public debt. They repudiated with scorn the notion that a public debt is a public blessing. If debt was incurred in war it was to be paid in peace and not entailed on posterity. There was to be no grand diplomacy, because they intended to mind their own business and not be involved in any of the intrigues to which European statesmen were accustomed. There was to be no balance of power and no “reason of state” to cost the life and happiness of citizens. The only part of the Monroe doctrine which is valid was their determination that the social and political systems of Europe should not be extended over any part of the American continent, lest people who were weaker than we should lose the opportunity which the new continent gave them to escape from those systems if they wanted to. Our fathers would have an economical government, even if grand people called it a parsimonious one, and taxes should be no greater than were absolutely necessary to pay for such a government. The citizen was to keep all the rest of his earnings and use them as he thought best for the happiness of himself and his family; he was, above all, to be insured peace and quiet while he pursued his honest industry and obeyed the laws. No adventurous policies of conquest or ambition, such as, in the belief of our fathers, kings and nobles had forced, for their own advantage, on European states, would ever be undertaken by a free democratic republic. Therefore the citizen here would never be forced to leave his family or to give his sons to shed blood for glory and to leave widows and orphans in misery for nothing. Justice and law were to reign in the midst of simplicity, and a government which had little to do was to offer little field for ambition. In a society where industry, frugality, and prudence were honored, it was believed that the vices of wealth would never flourish.
 We know that these beliefs, hopes, and intentions have been only partially fulfilled. We know that, as time has gone on and we have grown numerous and rich, some of these things have proved impossible ideals, incompatible with a large and flourishing society, but it is by virtue of this conception of a commonwealth that the United States has stood for something unique and grand in the history of mankind and that its people have been happy. It is by virtue of these ideals that we have been “isolated,” isolated in a position which the other nations of the earth have observed in silent envy; and yet there are people who are boasting of their patriotism, because they say that we have taken our place now amongst the nations of the earth by virtue of this war. My patriotism is of the kind which is outraged by the notion that the United States never was a great nation until in a petty three months’ campaign it knocked to pieces a poor, decrepit, bankrupt old state like Spain. To hold such an opinion as that is to abandon all American standards, to put shame and scorn on all that our ancestors tried to build up here, and to go over to the standards of which Spain is a representative.
The soul-state homology posits a close connection between the individual soul and political organizations like a city and state. The relationship is stronger than a mere analogy. Rather, soul and state are seen as two expressions of a common archetype ; or that the state’s affairs are outward expressions or materializations of the soul’s affairs. The phrase, ‘as within, so without’ explains the notion succinctly. Whatever happens within your own soul is paralleled by events and processes at the societal level.
Expressions of this homology can be found in various spiritual and philosophical traditions. In the West, its most elaborate and articulate presentation is found in Plato’s Republic. The same general idea can be found in various Eastern religions, and elsewhere.
If true, the homology has important practical implications.
First, the it implies a distinct view of how one thinks of oneself in relation to society. Today especially, idealistic people take a keen interest in the world. The avidly read the news, identify problems, and remain in a state of irritation or outrage. This easily becomes a preoccupation approaching an obsession with the world’s affairs and problems.
The soul-state homology, however, suggests a different, more appropriate response: if society has problems and is unjust, these same problems must exist within the personal soul. The soul, not society, is our first concern: because the soul is closer to us, because we are uniquely responsible for its cultivation and integrity, and because it is immortal. If something should preoccupy us, then, it should be concern about the integrity and welfare of our soul. It is by tending to the soul that we find happiness.
Moreover, to the extent that disorders in a nation are manifestations of disorders of soul, then by concentrating our attention on self-knowledge and self-improvement, we are more likely to effect positive changes in society.
An extension of this principle is that the main purpose of the material world is to teach us about our souls. Thus, if we look to politics and see strife and discord between ‘left’ and ‘right’, the purpose of that is to alert us and teach us about some corresponding internal conflict.
A second implication of the homology concerns charity. At some level, all other people — at least insofar as we perceive and experience them — are manifestations of ourselves. And since the ideal of a perfect soul is one where all elements are harmoniously ordered and united in concern for the welfare of the entire self, so this must also be true of society.
It therefore becomes impossible or even absurd to deny the entitlement of any other person to ones love, or to seek a social system that is not perfectly just and fair.
This, in turn, suggests that one function of society and social institutions is to supply an arena for action: a field laboratory, as it were, for the soul’s alchemy. By working to help other people or to make society more just, we simultaneously engage in a kind of healthy transformative medicine or magic in our souls.
So much, then, for theoretical speculation; ultimately, the soul-state homology is the kind of idea that will either appeal to one or not. Either way, not much can be said here to make it appear more or less plausible than it already is.
Rather, let’s consider what the homology would imply today:
- Your soul is in crisis, and has been for about 10 years.
- War is threatening to break out between your inner United States and your inner Iran.
- An old order, based on money, materialism and social disparity is decaying. A new order is emerging.
- You have some kind of internal government (with Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches).
- Your internal government has been co-opted by selfish special interests.
- A resistance movement has developed, but is currently poorly organized and lacks a clear vision of the future.
- You have the inner equivalent of news sources, but these supply false opinions, rather than true facts. You have an inner Fox News, CNN, etc.
- Your inner citizens are polarized into two diametrically opposed camps: ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives.’ Each camp demonizes and blames the other for everything wrong.
- This conflict is promoted by special interests, who use the inner government and inner news sources for this purpose.
We could go on, but this is enough to convey the general idea and sufficient food for thought.
What, then, would be the practical implications? Clearly, if our individual souls are as troubled and messy as the outside world today, then we need to focus a great deal of attention on cleaning house! The homology suggests we should redouble efforts toward self-improvement. It also means that, while we can learn much from the world, we should retain the ability to be detached from it. If we let worry over injustice or war upset our thinking, and place our minds under the control of fear and anger, rather than clear reason, then we are unable to focus attention on self-improvement, which is where our attention should be.
One further feature of the soul-state homology might encourage us. A standard tenet of religion is that, while one has a personal moral responsibility to apply oneself to self-improvement, ultimately improvement comes by grace from a Supreme Being.
This makes sense. To the extent that we are fallen, or perhaps simply immature, we are not wise enough to direct our own spiritual and moral growth. Help must come from a higher source.
Our attitude, then, must be one of humility. While we intensely want to change for the better — if, for no other reason, than because our life is filled with frustration and unfulfilled hopes — this must not manifest itself as an egoistic striving, which only makes matters worse. Our personal responsibility is not to change ourselves, as much as to choose to cooperate with grace for our self-improvement.
A similar humility, then, should govern our approach to the outside world. We should believe that a higher power already has a benevolent plan; and we should trust and cooperate with this plan, chiefly by removing whatever obstacles we ourselves are presenting to its attainment.
The other day I was walking around Brussels, noticing, as I often do, the people walking in the streets, and also thinking about how I can help to make the world a better place. For some reason the words, “Each man a scholar” came into my head, as if whispered by a Muse (and yes, I understood this to mean ‘each woman’, too). What struck me was the intelligence in the faces I saw. Brussels is a very sophisticated city, and I have no doubt but that the people I was seeing were capable of great achievements. Yet I suspect that most of the bright, well-educated people, were going home to watch television, sink on the sofa, or just worry about life in general.
That’s when the words, “each man a scholar” came to me. Along with these few words came all at once a much broader and grander idea — or vision you might say. The idea is that in this age of computers and the Internet, the role of each person in their society is different. Each person, say, can become an expert in some small, but important subject, and share the results of their work with the entire world. Not only is that possible, it seems like this what God is calling us to do, for He has placed us on the earth, you and I, at the precise moment in human history where all this technology has become available.
This, I propose, is the most direct and fundamental solution to the problems that confront us today. The solutions to our problems — to hunger, poverty, injustice, disease, alienation, war — all exist. What we lack is a model for organizing ourselves to solve them. The Internet provides us with opportunity to forge such a new paradigm. Each person who is able — and I mean especially all those who are well-educated and oriented to computers in the first place — spend an hour or two every week donating their time to public service in this way? (Written in 2008)
This essay by the eminent British philosopher and social critic, Sir Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) was published as the final chapter of his book, Why Men Fight (The Century Co., 1917; download). It nicely complements the theories of Pitirim Sorokin on social change — for example, Russell similarly emphasizes the role of integrality and alignment with a higher, transpersonal intuitive principle or spirit.
While my original plan was to supply only excerpts, it soon became apparent that so much merits quotation — it reads, as with Emerson’s essays, as a steady stream of insights — that it would be simpler to supply the entire piece. Not long, it will reward the efforts of any activist who reads it — likely a better investment of time than perusing today’s headlines, and taking no more time.
Russell, who lived nearly 100 years, had the unique distinction of famously opposing both WWI and the Vietnam War! In 1916, he spent six months in prison for his pacifism.
What We Can Do
Bertrand Russell (1917)
WHAT can we do for the world while we live!
Many men and women would wish to serve mankind, but they are perplexed and their power seems infinitesimal. Despair seizes them; those who have the strongest passion suffer most from the sense of impotence, and are most liable to spiritual ruin through lack of hope.
So long as we think only of the immediate future, it seems that what we can do is not much. It is probably impossible for us to bring the war to an end. We cannot destroy the excessive power of the State or of private property. We cannot, here and now, bring new life into education. In such matters, though we may see the evil, we cannot quickly cure it by any of the ordinary methods of politics. We must recognize that the world is ruled in a wrong spirit, and that a change of spirit will not come from one day to the next. Our expectations must not be for to-morrow, but for the time when what is thought now by a few shall have become the common thought of many. If we have courage and patience, we can think the thoughts and feel the hopes by which; sooner or later, men will be inspired, and weariness and discouragement will be turned into energy and ardor. For this reason, the first thing we have to do is to be clear in our own minds as to the kind of life we think good and the kind of change that we desire in the world.
The ultimate power of those whose thought is vital is far greater than it seems to men who suffer from the irrationality of contemporary politics. Religious toleration was once the solitary speculation of a few bold philosophers. Democracy, as a theory, arose among a handful of men in Cromwell’s army; by them, after the Restoration, it was carried to America, where it came to fruition in the War of Independence. From America, Lafayette and the other Frenchmen who fought by the side of Washington brought the theory of democracy to France, where it united itself with the teaching of Rousseau and inspired the Revolution. Socialism, whatever we may think of its merits, is a great and growing power, which is transforming economic and political life; and socialism owes its origin to a very small number of isolated theorists. The movement against the subjection of women, which has become irresistible and is not far from complete triumph, began in the same way with a few impracticable idealists — Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, John Stuart Mill. The power of thought, in the long run, is greater than any other human power. Those who have the ability to think and the imagination to think in accordance with men’s needs, are likely to achieve the good they aim at sooner or later, though probably not while they are still alive.
But those who wish to gain the world by thought must be content to lose it as a support in the present. Most men go through life without much questioning, accepting the beliefs and practices which they find current, feeling that the world will be their ally if they do not put themselves in opposition to it. New thought about the world is incompatible with this comfortable acquiescence; it requires a certain intellectual detachment, a certain solitary energy, a power of inwardly dominating the world and the outlook that the world engenders. Without some willingness to be lonely new thought cannot be achieved. And it will not be achieved to any purpose if the loneliness is accompanied by aloofness, so that the wish for union with others dies, or if intellectual detachment leads to contempt. It is because the state of mind required is subtle and difficult, because it is hard to be intellectually detached yet not aloof, that fruitful thought on human affairs is not common, and that most theorists are either conventional or sterile. The right kind of thought is rare and difficult, but it is not impotent. It is not the fear of impotence that need turn us aside from thought if we have the wish to bring new hope into the world.
In seeking a political theory which is to be useful at any given moment, what is wanted is not the invention of a Utopia, but the discovery of the best direction of movement. The direction which is good at one time may be superficially very different from that which is good at another time. Useful thought is that which indicates the right direction for the present time. But in judging what is the right direction there are two general principles which are always applicable.
1. The growth and vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible.
2. The growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another.
The second of these principles, as applied by an individual in his dealings with others, is the principle of reverence, that the life of another has the same importance which we feel in our own life. As applied impersonally in politics, it is the principle of liberty, or rather it includes the principle of liberty as a part. Liberty in itself is a negative principle; it tells us not to interfere, but does not give any basis for construction. It shows that many political and social institutions are bad and ought to be swept away, but it does not show what ought to be put in their place. For this reason a further principle is required, if our political theory is not to be purely destructive.
The combination of our two principles is not in practice an easy matter. Much of the vital energy of the world runs into channels which are oppressive. The Germans have shown themselves extraordinarily full of vital energy, but unfortunately in a form which seems incompatible with the vitality of their neighbors. Europe in general has more vital energy than Africa, but it has used its energy to drain Africa, through industrialism, of even such life as the negroes possessed. The vitality of southeastern Europe is being drained to supply cheap labor for the enterprise of American millionaires. The vitality of men has been in the past a hindrance to the development of women, and it is possible that in the near future women may become a similar hindrance to men. For such reasons the principle of reverence, though not in itself sufficient, is of very great importance, and is able to indicate many of the political changes that the world requires.
In order that both principles may be capable of being satisfied, what is needed is a unifying or integration, first of our individual lives, then of the life of the community and of the world, without sacrifice of individuality. The life of an individual, the life of a community, and even the life of mankind, ought to be, not a number of separate fragments but in some sense a whole. When this is the case, the growth of the individual is fostered, and is not incompatible with the growth of other individuals. In this way the two principles are brought into harmony.
What integrates an individual life is a consistent creative purpose or unconscious direction. Instinct alone will not suffice to give unity to the life of a civilized man or woman: there must be some dominant object, an ambition, a desire for scientific or artistic creation, a religious principle, or strong and lasting affections. Unity of life is very difficult for a man or woman who has suffered a certain kind of defeat, the kind by which what should have been the dominant impulse is checked and made abortive. Most professions inflict this kind of defeat upon a man at the very outset. If a man becomes a journalist, he probably has to write for a newspaper whose politics he dislikes; this kills his pride in work and his sense of independence. Most medical men find it very hard to succeed without humbug, by which whatever scientific conscience they may have had is destroyed. Politicians are obliged, not only to swallow the party program but to pretend to be saints, in order to conciliate religious supporters; hardly any man can enter Parliament without hypocrisy. In no profession is there any respect for the native pride without which a man cannot remain whole; the world ruthlessly crushes it out, because it implies independence, and men desire to enslave others more than they desire to be free themselves. Inward freedom is infinitely precious, and a society which will preserve it is immeasurably to be desired.
The principle of growth in a man is not crushed necessarily by preventing him from doing some definite thing, but it is often crushed by persuading him to do something else. The things that crush growth are those that produce a sense of impotence in the directions in which the vital impulse wishes to be effective. The worst things are those to which the will assents. Often, chiefly from failure of self-knowledge, a man’s will is on a lower level than his impulse: his impulse is towards some kind of creation, while his will is towards a conventional career, with a sufficient income and the respect of his contemporaries. The stereotyped illustration is the artist who produces shoddy work to please the public. But something of the artist’s definiteness of impulse exists in very many men who are not artists. Because the impulse is deep and dumb, because what is called common sense is often against it, because a young man can only follow it if he is willing to set up his own obscure feelings against the wisdom and prudent maxims of elders and friends, it happens in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred that the creative impulse, out of which a free and vigorous life might have sprung, is checked and thwarted at the very outset: the young man consents to become a tool, not an independent workman; a mere means to the fulfilment of others, not the artificer of what his own nature feels to be good. In the moment when he makes this act of consent something dies within him. He can never again become a whole man, never again have the undamaged self-respect, the upright pride, which might have kept him happy in his soul in spite of all outward troubles and difficulties — except, indeed, through conversion and a fundamental change in his way of life.
Outward prohibitions, to which the will gives no assent, are far less harmful than the subtler inducements which seduce the will. A serious disappointment in love may cause the most poignant pain, but to a vigorous man it will not do the same inward damage as is done by marrying for money. The achievement of this or that special desire is not what is essential: what is essential is the direction, the kind of effectiveness which is sought. When the fundamental impulse is opposed by will, it is made to feel helpless: it has no longer enough hope to be powerful as a motive. Outward compulsion does not do the same damage unless it produces the same sense of impotence; and it will not produce the same sense of impotence if the impulse is strong and courageous. Some thwarting of special desires is unavoidable even in the best imaginable community, since some men’s desires, unchecked, lead to the oppression or destruction of others. In a good community Napoleon could not have been allowed the profession of his choice, but he might have found happiness as a pioneer in Western America. He could not have found happiness as a City clerk, and no tolerable organization of society would compel him to become a City clerk. The integration of an individual life requires that it should embody whatever creative impulse a man may possess, and that his education should have been such as to elicit and fortify this impulse. The integration of a community requires that the different creative impulses of different men and women should work together towards some common life, some common purpose, not necessarily conscious, in which all the members of the community find a help to their individual fulfilment. Most of the activities that spring from vital impulses consist of two parts: one creative, which furthers one’s own life and that of others with the same kind of impulse or circumstances, and one possessive, which hinders the life of some group with a different kind of impulse or circumstances. For this reason, much of what is in itself most vital may nevertheless work against life, as, for example, seventeenth-century Puritanism did in England, or as nationalism does throughout Europe at the present day. Vitality easily leads to strife or oppression, and so to loss of vitality. War, at its outset, integrates the life of a nation, but it disintegrates the life of the world, and in the long run the life of a nation too, when it is as severe as the present war.
The war has made it clear that it is impossible to produce a secure integration of the life of a single community while the relations between civilized countries are governed by aggressiveness and suspicion. For this reason any really powerful movement of reform will have to be international. A merely national movement is sure to fail through fear of danger from without. Those who desire a better world, or even a radical improvement in their own country, will have to cooperate with those who have similar desires in other countries, and to devote much of their energy to overcoming that blind hostility which the war has intensified. It is not in partial integrations, such as patriotism alone can produce, that any ultimate hope is to be found. The problem is, in national and international questions as in the individual life, to keep what is creative in vital impulses, and at the same time to turn into other channels the part which is at present destructive.
Men’s impulses and desires may be divided into those that are creative and those that are possessive. Some of our activities are directed to creating what would not otherwise exist, others are directed towards acquiring or retaining what exists already. The typical creative impulse is that of the artist; the typical possessive impulse is that of property. The best life is that in which creative impulses play the largest part and possessive impulses the smallest. The best institutions are those which produce the greatest possible creativeness and the least possessiveness compatible with self-preservation. Possessiveness may be defensive or aggressive: in the criminal law it is defensive, and in criminals it is aggressive. It may perhaps be admitted that the criminal law is less abominable than the criminal, and that defensive possessiveness is unavoidable so long as aggressive possessiveness exists. But not even the most purely defensive forms of possessiveness are in themselves admirable; indeed, as soon as they are strong they become hostile to the creative impulses. “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink, or Wherewithal shall we be clothed ?” Whoever has known a strong creative impulse has known the value of this precept in its exact and literal sense: it is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly. The State and Property are the great embodiments of possessiveness; it is for this reason that they are against life, and that they issue in war. Possession means taking or keeping some good thing which another is prevented from enjoying; creation means putting into the world a good thing which otherwise no one would be able to enjoy. Since the material goods of the world must be divided among the population, and since some men are by nature brigands, there must be defensive possession, which will be regulated, in a good community, by some principle of impersonal justice. But all this is only the preface to a good life or good political institutions, in which creation will altogether outweigh possession, and distributive justice will exist as an uninteresting matter of course.
The supreme principle, both in politics and in private life, should be to promote all that is creative, and so to diminish the impulses and desires that center round possession. The State at present is very largely an embodiment of possessive impulses: internally, it protects the rich against the poor; externally, it uses force for the exploitation of inferior races, and for competition with other States. Our whole economic system is concerned exclusively with possession; yet the production of goods is a form of creation, and except in so far as it is irredeemably mechanical and monotonous, it might afford a vehicle for creative impulses. A great deal might be achieved towards this end by forming the producers of a certain kind of commodity into an autonomous democracy, subject to State control as regards the price of their commodity but not as to the manner of its production.
Education, marriage, and religion are essentially creative, yet all three have been vitiated by the intrusion of possessive motives. Education is usually treated as a means of prolonging the status quo by instilling prejudices, rather than of creating free thought and a noble outlook by the example of generous feeling and the stimulus of mental adventure. In marriage, love, which is creative, is kept in chains by jealousy, which is possessive. Religion, which should set free the creative vision of the spirit, is usually more concerned to repress the life of instinct and to combat the subversiveness of thought. In all these ways the fear that grows out of precarious possession has replaced the hope inspired by creative force. The wish to plunder others is recognized, in theory, to be bad; but the fear of being plundered is little better. Yet these two motives between them dominate nine-tenths of politics and private life.
The creative impulses in different men are essentially harmonious, since what one man creates cannot be a hindrance to what another is wishing to create. It is the possessive impulses that involve conflict. Although, morally and politically, the creative and possessive impulses are opposites, yet psychologically either passes easily into the other, according to the accidents of circumstance and opportunity. The genesis of impulses and the causes which make them change ought to be studied; education and social institutions ought to be made such as to strengthen the impulses which harmonize in different men, and to weaken those that involve conflict. I have no doubt that what might be accomplished in this way is almost unlimited.
It is rather through impulse than through will that individual lives and the life of the community can derive the strength unity of a single direction. Will is of two kinds, of which one is directed outward and the other inward. The first, which is directed outward, is called into play by external obstacles, either the opposition of others or the technical difficulties of an undertaking. This kind of will is an expression of strong impulse or desire, whenever instant success is impossible; it exists in all whose life is vigorous, and only decays when their vital force is enfeebled. It is necessary to success in any difficult enterprise, and without it great achievement is very rare. But the will which is directed inward is only necessary in so far as there is an inner conflict of impulses or desires; a perfectly harmonious nature would have no occasion for inward will. Such perfect harmony is of course a scarcely realizable ideal: in all men impulses arise which are incompatible with their central purpose, and which must be checked if their life as a whole is not to be a failure. But this will happen least with those whose central impulses are strongest; and it will happen less often in a society which aims at freedom than in a society like ours, which is full of artificial incompatibilities created by antiquated institutions and a tyrannous public opinion. The power to exert inward will when the occasion arises must always be needed by those who wish their lives to embody some central purpose, but with better institutions the occasions when inward will is necessary might be made fewer and less important. This result is very much to be desired, because when will checks impulses which are only accidentally harmful, it diverts a force which might be spent on overcoming outward obstacles, and if the impulses checked are strong and serious, it actually diminishes the vital force available. A life full of inhibitions is likely not to remain a very vigorous life but to become listless and without zest. Impulse tends to die when it is constantly held in check and if it does not die, it is apt to work underground, and issue in some form much worse than that in which it has been checked. For these reasons the necessity for using inward will ought to be avoided as much as possible, and consistency of action ought to spring rather from consistency of impulse than from control of impulse by will.
The unifying of life ought not to demand the suppression of the casual desires that make amusement and play; on the contrary, everything ought to be done to make it easy to combine the main purposes of life with all kinds of pleasure that are not in their nature harmful. Such things as habitual drunkenness, drugs, cruel sports, or pleasure in inflicting pain are essentially harmful, but most of the amusements that civilized men naturally enjoy are either not harmful at all or only accidentally harmful through some effect which might be avoided in a better society. What is needed is, not asceticism or a drab Puritanism, but capacity for strong impulses and desires directed towards large creative ends. When such impulses and desires are vigorous, they bring with them, of themselves, what is needed to make a good life.
But although amusement and adventure ought to have their share, it is impossible to create a good life if they are what is mainly desired. Subjectivism, the habit of directing thought and desire to our own states of mind rather than to something objective, inevitably makes life fragmentary and unprogressive. The man to whom amusement is the end of life tends to lose interest gradually in the things out of which he has been in the habit of obtaining amusement, since he does not value these things on their own account, but on account of the feelings which they arouse in him. When they are no longer amusing, boredom drives him to seek some new stimulus, which fails him in its turn. Amusement consists in a series of moments without any essential continuity; a purpose which unifies life is one which requires some prolonged activity, and is like building a monument rather than a child’s castle in the sand.
Subjectivism has other forms beside the mere pursuit of amusement. Many men, when they are in love, are more interested in their own emotion than in the object of their love; such love does not lead to any essential union, but leaves fundamental separateness undiminished. As soon as the emotion grows less vivid the experience has served its purpose, and there seems no motive for prolonging it. In another way, the same evil of subjectivism was fostered by Protestant religion and morality, since they directed attention to sin and the state of the soul rather than to the outer world and our relations with it. None of these forms of subjectivism can prevent a man’s life from being fragmentary and isolated. Only a life which springs out of dominant impulses directed to objective ends can be a satisfactory whole, or be intimately united with the lives of others. The pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of virtue alike suffer from subjectivism: Epicureanism and Stoicism are infected with the same taint. Marcus Aurelius, enacting good laws in order that he might be virtuous, is not an attractive figure. Subjectivism is a natural outcome of a life in which there is much more thought than action: while outer things are being remembered or desired, not actually experienced, they seem to become mere ideas. What they are in themselves becomes less interesting to us than the effects which they produce in our own minds. Such a result tends to be brought about by increasing civilization, because increasing civilization continually diminishes the need for vivid action and enhances the opportunities for thought. But thought will not have this bad result if it is active thought, directed towards achieving some purpose; it is only passive thought that leads to subjectivism. What is needed is to keep thought in intimate union with impulses and desires, making it always itself an activity with an objective purpose. Otherwise, thought and impulse become enemies, to the great detriment of both.
In order to make the lives of average men and women less fragmentary and separate, and to give greater opportunity for carrying out creative impulses, it is not enough to know the goal we wish to reach, or to proclaim the excellence of what we desire to achieve. It is necessary to understand the effect of institutions and beliefs upon the life of impulse, and to discover ways of improving this effect by a change in institutions. And when this intellectual work has been done, our thought will still remain barren unless we can bring it into relation with some powerful political force. The only powerful political force from which any help is to be expected in bringing about such changes as seem needed is Labor. The changes required are very largely such as Labor may be expected to welcome, especially during the time of hardship after the war. When the war is over, labor discontent is sure to be very prevalent throughout Europe, and to constitute a political force by means of which a great and sweeping reconstruction may be effected.
The civilized world has need of fundamental change if it is to be saved from decay — change both in its economic structure and in its philosophy of life. Those of us who feel the need of change must not sit still in dull despair: we can, if we choose, profoundly influence the future. We can discover and preach the kind of change that is required — the kind that preserves what is positive in the vital beliefs of our time, and, by eliminating what is negative and inessential, produces a synthesis to which all that is not purely reactionary can give allegiance. As soon as it has become clear what kind of change is required, it will be possible to work out its parts in more detail. But until the war is ended there is little use in detail, since we do not know what kind of world the war will leave. The only thing that seems indubitable is that much new thought will be required in the new world produced by the war.
Traditional views will give little help. It is clear that men ‘s most important actions are not guided by the sort of motives that are emphasized in traditional political philosophies. The impulses by which the war has been produced and sustained come out of a deeper region than that of most political argument. And the opposition to the war on the part of those few who have opposed it comes from the same deep region. A political theory, if it is to hold in times of stress, must take account of the impulses that underlie explicit thought: it must appeal to them, and it must discover how to make them fruitful rather than destructive.
Economic systems have a great influence in promoting or destroying life. Except slavery, the present industrial system is the most destructive of life that has ever existed. Machinery and large-scale production are ineradicable, and must survive in any better system which is to replace the one under which we live. Industrial federal democracy is probably the best direction for reform to take.
Philosophies of life, when they are widely believed, also have a very great influence on the vitality of a community. The most widely accepted philosophy of life at present is that what matters most to a man’s happiness is his income. This philosophy, apart from other demerits, is harmful because it leads men to aim at a result rather than an activity, an enjoyment of material goods in which men are not differentiated, rather than a creative impulse which embodies each man’s individuality. More refined philosophies, such as are instilled by higher education, are too apt to fix attention on the past rather than the future, and on correct behavior rather than effective action. It is not in such philosophies that men will find the energy to bear lightly the weight of tradition and of ever-accumulating knowledge.
The world has need of a philosophy, or a religion, which will promote life. But in order to promote life it is necessary to value something other than mere life. Life devoted only to life is animal without any real human value, incapable of preserving men permanently from weariness and the feeling that all is vanity. If life is to be fully human it must serve some end which seems, in some sense, outside human life, some end which is impersonal and above mankind, such as God or truth or beauty. Those who best promote life do not have life for their purpose. They aim rather at what seems like a gradual incarnation, a bringing into our human existence of something eternal, something that appears to imagination to live in a heaven remote from strife and failure and the devouring jaws of Time. Contact with this eternal world — even if it be only a world of our imagining — brings a strength and a fundamental peace which cannot be wholly destroyed by the struggles and apparent failures of our temporal life. It is this happy contemplation of what is eternal that Spinoza calls the intellectual love of God. To those who have once known it, it is the key of wisdom.
What we have to do practically is different for each one of us, according to our capacities and opportunities. But if we have the life of the spirit within us, what we must do and what we must avoid will become apparent to us.
By contact with what is eternal, by devoting our life to bringing something of the Divine into this troubled world, we can make our own lives creative even now, even in the midst of the cruelty and strife and hatred that surround us on every hand. To make the individual life creative is far harder in a community based on possession than it would be in such a community as human effort may be able to build up in the future. Those who are to begin the regeneration of the world must face loneliness, opposition, poverty, obloquy. They must be able to live by truth and love, with a rational unconquerable hope; they must be honest and wise, fearless, and guided by a consistent purpose. A body of men and women so inspired will conquer — first the difficulties and perplexities of their individual lives, then, in time, though perhaps only in a long time, the outer world. Wisdom and hope are what the world needs; and though it fights against them, it gives its respect to them in the end.
When the Goths sacked Rome, St. Augustine wrote the “City of God,” putting a spiritual hope in place of the material reality that had been destroyed. Throughout the centuries that followed St. Augustine’s hope lived and gave life, while Rome sank to a village of hovels. For us, too, it is necessary to create a new hope, to build up by our thought a better world than the one which is hurling itself into ruin. Because the times are bad, more is required of us than would be required in normal times.
Only a supreme fire of thought and spirit can save future generations from the death that has befallen the generation which we knew and loved. It has been my good fortune to come in contact as a teacher with young men of many different nations — young men in whom hope was alive, in whom the creative energy existed that would have realized in the world some part at least of the imagined beauty by which they lived. They have been swept into the war, some on one side, some on the other. Some are still fighting, some are maimed for life, some are dead; of those who survive it is to be feared that many will have lost the life of the spirit, that hope will have died, that energy will be spent, and that the years to come will be only a weary journey towards the grave. Of all this tragedy, not a few of those who teach seem to have no feeling: with ruthless logic, they prove that these young men have been sacrificed unavoidably for some coldly abstract end; undisturbed themselves, they lapse quickly into comfort after any momentary assault of feeling. In such men the life of the spirit is dead. If it were living, it would go out to meet the spirit in the young, with a love as poignant as the love of father or mother. It would be unaware of the bounds of self; their tragedy would be its own. Something would cry out: “No, this is not right; this is not good; this is not a holy cause, in which the brightness of youth is destroyed and dimmed. It is we, the old, who have sinned; we have sent these young men to the battlefield for our evil passions, our spiritual death, our failure to live generously out of the warmth of the heart and out of the living vision of the spirit. Let us come out of this death, for it is we who are dead, not the young men who have died through our fear of life. Their very ghosts have more life than we: they hold us up for ever to the shame and obloquy of all the ages to come. Out of their ghosts must come life, and it is we whom they must vivify.”