The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, , at sacred-texts.com
How we reckon up accounts with the one-sided utopias of the partisans.
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THERE have been many periods when men did not think it possible to make life in the community reach much higher levels than it had attained, without working a change upon human nature. The working of this change has been one of the chief preoccupations of religion; but no one can pretend that it has met, during the historic period, with any overwhelming success. In the eighteenth century men became impatient with the ministrations of institutional religion, and sought to effect an improvement in the common life by a different methodby improving the political, economic, and social mechanisms of society.
Up to this time the only method that had seemed feasible for improving the technique of social organization was the mandate of law. Although Aristotle, for instance, predicted that slavery would come to an end on the condition that the shuttle should weave by itself and the lyre play without human hand, no one in the Greek community of his time saw very much likelihood of improvement through mechanical inventions or wholesale innovations in agriculture; and no one, apparently, concerned himself seriously with the mechanical side of affairs.
It was the same during the Middle Age. If the men of that time were not exuberantly happy over their
civilization, they had the dogmatic conviction that nothing very satisfactory could come of a race that had inherited the curse of Adama race whose only salvation could come when its individuals were purged one by one of sin, and delivered, by the intercession of the saints and the grace of God, into a more benignly constituted afterworld. One might relieve the pressure a little if the shoe pinched, perhaps, but scarcely anyone dreamed of travelling in seven-league boots, or of establishing an Arcadia in which boots could be dispensed with. It was foolish to look for a more perfect society in a world that was rife with imperfect men.
The Renascence, as we have seen, changed all this. Presently a school of philosophers followed on the heels of the utopians who devoted themselves to preparing fairly minute plans and specifications for the social order. In the beginning, these plans were devoted to politics and criminal reform, like those of Rousseau, Beccaria, Bentham, Jefferson, Godwin, and the eighteenth century reformers generally; in the nineteenth century the main accent was economic, and a number of movements arose which could be traced back to the semi-scientific investigations of Adam Smith, Ricardo, Proudhon, Malthus, Marx, and perhaps half a dozen other thinkers of outstanding importance, among whom we should perhaps include such latter day figures as Mill, Spencer, and Henry George.
All of these thinkers have in one way or another influenced our thoughts and deflected our actions; and if one adds to this galaxy the reforming elements which remained in the churches and the missionary brotherhoods and the philanthropic organizations, we can observe, growing up in the nineteenth century, a multitude
of partisan organizations and movements, each of which is strenuously bent on realizing its private and partisan utopia. It is these private and partisan utopias that I purpose to make a slight reckoning with in the present chapter; but the field is such a huge and formidable one that I shall limit my criticism in the main to those that attempted to effect a change in the economic order.
For all the activities that men engage in we have separate words. This is a great misfortune; for in using these words we tend to believe that each action takes place in a separate compartment. Instead of beginning with a whole man interacting in a whole community, we are likely to consider only a partial man in a partial community, and by a mental sleight of hand, before we know it, we have let the part stand for the whole. It is this sort of abstraction, I believe, that has been responsible for a good deal of fallacious thinking with regard to the place of industry in the community. The economists seem to have made the error first by talking of a creature whom they called the Economic Man, a creature who had no instincts but those of construction and acquisition, no habits but of working and saving, and no other ultimate purpose than to become such a captain of industry as would make him a candidate for the biographic sketches of Mr. Samuel Smiles, and his present successors in the newspapers and popular magazines.
Now this Economic Man was the embodiment of honest labor and rapacious greed. Out of the better quality, Karl Marx painted the picture of the faithful
laborer in Coketown whose masters swindled him out of the "surplus value" he produced; out of the worse quality classical economists like Ricardo painted an equally entrancing picture of the beneficent capitalist, through whose foresight, organizing ability, and boldness business could be conducted on a scale a simpler age had scarcely dreamed of. It was out of these conceptions, as they were elaborated and rationalized in books like Porter's Progress of the Nineteenth Century and Marx's Capital, that there grew up the notion that the only fundamental problem in the modern world was the labor problemthe problem as to who should control industry, who should profit by its advances, and who should own the complicated instruments by which it was conducted.
Our business here is not to examine the various programs that were offered during the last century in answer to these problems; merely to catalog them with the barest explanation of their purpose would be an imposing task, were it not for the fact that it has been neatly done for us by Mr. Savel Zimand. It is enough to see here the common element in capitalism, copartnery, State Socialism, Guild Socialism, Co-operation, Communism, Syndicalism, the One Big Union, Trades Unionism, and the like; whether these movements represent actual facts, like capitalism, copartnery, or trades unionism, or whether they are simply projections, like Syndicalism and the One Big Union.
If our excursion through the classic utopias has been of any use, it must have shown us how pathetic is this notion that the key to a good society rests simply on the ownership and control of the industrial plant of the community. Is it any less absurd when we confess that
most of the movements which were founded upon this assumption were actuated by generous and humane motives, and that Francis Place, the tailor of Charing Cross, who believed in a radical application of laissez faire principles, was just as sincere a believer in the common weal as Karl Marx, who predicted a dictatorship of the proletariat? If a great many of these programs have had the notion that industrial machinery, under socialism or guildism or co-operation was to be used for the common benefit, what was lacking was any common notion as to what the common benefit was.
All that was common to these partisan utopias was a desire to get rid of positive evils such as overwork or starvation or irregularity of employment. In their rejection of the existing order of Coketown, with its rubbish heaps for the disposal of material waste, and its jails, hospitals, sanatoria, doss houses, Salvation Army Headquarters, and charitable organizations for the disposal of the human excrement of industrialismin turning their backs upon these things and asserting the simple elements of human dignity, all our radical programs were right and inevitable. To reject what industrial society had to offer its members in the filthy factory districts and wretched slums of Coketown was obviously to reject barbarism and degradation of the worst sort: the incredible thing about the industrial revolution, indeed, is not that there were a few riots here and there against the use of machinery, but that the industrial population has not been in a state of continual insurrection, and that the industrial towns have not been looted and razed again and again. It is nothing less than a tribute to the fundamental good nature and sweetness of human beings that the strikes
by which the workers have expressed their sense of grievance have not demolished the material hovels that today stand upright in the valleys of York-Riding, in the valleys of the Ohio and its tributaries, or in that terrible slum which stretches in back of the Jersey meadows from Elizabeth into Patterson. There are many districts in these areas which are scarcely worth the respect of orderly demolition. To give a grim rejection to the society that produced them only mildly meets the situation. They should be destroyed by trumpets and God's wrathlike Jericho!
So much for what is sound and valid in the various one-sided programs for reform. But if their attitude towards the past performances of industrialism was sound, their gesture towards the future, and their attitude towards the whole milieu, was little less than indifferent. There were to be certain gains in money wages, in political control, in the distribution of products, and so forth; but the realization of these gains was never projected in any very vivid waya vague fellowship in peace and plenty under gay red banners was all that was left over when the current efforts to "educate the masses," "revise the constitution," or "organize the revolution" were taken for granted.
In his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Friedrich Engels made a plea for a realistic method of thought, which limited itself to a here and now, as against what he derided as the utopian method, the attempt on the part of a single thinker to give a detailed picture of the society of the future. Yet at the present time it is easy to see that if the utopian socialism of Owen has been ineffective, the realistic socialism of Marx has been equally ineffective; for while Owen's kind of socialism
has been partly fulfilled in the co-operative movement, the dictatorship of the proletariat rests upon very shaky foundations, and such success as it has had is due perhaps as much to Marx's literary picture of what it would be like as to anything else. I do not doubt that the partisan movements have achieved many specific gains; consumer's co-operation alone has in England measurably lightened the physical burden of existence for a great many people. Their weakness consists in the fact that they have not altered the contents of the modern social order, even when they have altered the method of distribution; and in addition, a good many of these partisan utopias, for lack of any definite and coherent scheme of values, crumble away as soon as they meet the opposition of such powerful collective utopias as Coketown or the Country House. In America, particularly, the labor movement is paralyzed by this perpetual movement into the bourgeoisieconcretely speaking, into Suburbia and the Country Houseand in Great Britain much the same sort of dereliction can be observed within the narrower group from which the leaders of the trades unions and the Labor Party are drawn.
Hence also the less interesting problem of the Tired Radical, which Mr. Walter Weyl suggestively outlined. There is indeed a pertinent criticism of the paper environment of Megalopolis, in the tenacious way in which people continue to cling to abstract programs and to movements which never approach perceptibly nearer their fulfillment. The marvel is that the concrete utopia of the Country House has not exercised a more potent influence than it actually does. When one compares the vast amount of agitation during the last
centurythe Chartist Movement, the Socialist Movement, the International Peace Movementwith the actual results in the reconstruction of work, place, and people, or with the actual effects any reconstruction has had upon our polity, our culture, our artit is surprising that these movements have had any effective claim upon our allegiance. Men will indeed work for an ideathe notion that they will not is a superstitionbut sooner or later the spirit must be made manifest in the flesh, and if it never comes to birth, or at best is an abortion, the idea is hound to wither away.
How long would the parliamentary clatter of socialism have mechanically kept onhad it not been for the dislocation of war? How long could its abstract programs have remained in the air, before coming down to specifications? I obviously cannot answer these questions; but it seems plain enough that our radical programs have had simply a sentimental interest: they moved people without giving them a specific task, they stirred them emotionally without giving them an outlet, and so, at best, they are but partial utopias of escape, using the powers of organization, collective meetings, and pronunciamentos to take the place of the emotional stimuli which the avowed utopia of escape, like News from Nowhere, supplies by introducing a beautiful girl. In this aspect, the Socialist Party, with its revolutionary demands, did not differ in its psychological performance from the Republican Party, which specialized in the rhetorical device of the full dinner pail; nor did it differ in any fundamental way from the defunct Progressive Party, which for a time believed in a new heaven and earth to follow the initiative,
referendum, and recall with an intensity of moral conviction beside which the social revolutionist was positively tame.
Who doubts the honesty and sincerity of most of the members of these parties? Who doubts their devotion to revolution or "uplift"? It is all beside the point. A machine which doesn't work because it is badly constructed is just as useless as one that doesn't work because its maker is a deliberate fraud; and all the sincerity and good will and honesty doesn't make any one a smile the happier. It is about time that we faced the facts and realized that in all our sundry mechanisms of reform "there is a screw loose somewhere." This pregnant metaphor of the industrial age is usually applied to neurotic disorder; and I am using it in the present context with fell intentions. I mean that the utopia of the partisan is, psychologically speaking, a fetish; that is to say, it is an attempt to substitute the part for the whole, and to pour into the part all the emotional content that belongs to the whole. When a man gets hold of a lady's handkerchief or garter, and behaves towards that object with as much intensity and interest as he would towards its flesh and blood owner, the handkerchief or garter is said to be a fetish. I hazard the judgment that Socialism, Prohibition, Proportional Representation, and the various other abstract "isms" are the fetishes of the partisan: they are attempts to make some particular instrument or function of the community stand for the whole. It is doubtless much easier to filch a handkerchief than to win a girl. By the same token, it is easier to concentrate on the use of liquor or the ownership of machinery and land than upon the totality of
a community's activities. It is easier indeed; but it is fatal; for the result of this fetishism is perhaps that the girl remains unmated, and the society fails to undergo any fundamental change. Moreover, the reforming elements in society become incapacitated by their practice of fetishism to take a normal part in the community's activities; and remain so much waste materialat best, they wander between two worlds, "one dead, the other powerless to be born."
We know these disoriented reformers, these disillusioned revolutionaries, these tired radicals; we could mention names if it were not so needless and so cruel. Apart from anything else, their original mistake was to keep their problem within the compartment of politics and economics, instead of venting it to the wide world. They forgot that the adjustment of some single activity or institution, without respect to the rest, begged the very difficulty they were- trying to overcome. If they were anti-militarists, they saw the world simply as an armed camp; if they were socialists, they saw it as a gigantic mechanism of exploitation; and alas! they saw only so much of the world as would conveniently fit within these diagrams. The world is perhaps an armed camp and a mechanism of exploitation; it is all that and much more; but any attempt to deal with it on a wholesale plan by eliminating all the qualifying elements in the problem is bound to encounter the brute nature of things; and if the nature of things is essentially antagonistic, the reform itself will fail.
To say all this is to emphasize the obvious. If any further emphasis were needed it would be necessary only to compare the doctrines of Marx, as expounded by Lenin at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, and
the doctrines of Lenin, as tempered by experience and circumstance a few years later.
There was still another weakness that characterized all the partisan utopias of the nineteenth century. That weakness was their externalism.
If the mediæval thinkers were convinced that, on the whole, nothing could be done to rectify men's institutions, while men themselves were so easily bitten by corruption, their successors in the nineteenth century committed the opposite kind of error and absurdity: they believed that human nature was unsocial and obstreperous only because the church, the state, or the institution of property perverted every human impulse. Men like Rousseau, Bentham, Godwin, Fourier, and Owen might be miles apart from one another in their criticism of society, but there was an underlying consensus in their belief in human nature. They looked upon human institutions as altogether external to men; these were so many straitjackets that cunning rulers had thrown over the community to make sane and kindly people behave like madmen; and they could conceive of changing the institutions without changing the habits and redirecting the impulses of the people by whom and for whom they had been created. If one devised neat political constitutions, with plenty of checks and balances, or laid out pauper colonies and invited the countryside to make use of themwell, all would be to the good.
There was, it is true, one great exception to this notion that institutions might be reformed without, in that process, making over men. I refer to the belief
in education which accompanied these classic criticisms of human institutions; for this seems to point to a perception that men needed a special training and discipline before they could enter freely into the life of a reconstituted community. But upon examination, this exception melts away. The emphasis in the new programs of education was upon the formal, institutional acquirement of the apparatus of knowledge; and they, too, began with the clean slate of a new generation, whereas the critical difficulty was that of getting the adult community sufficiently educated, in a realistic sense, to be able to make over its educational institutions; and in this respect the reformers were just as much in Cuckooland aswell, Campanella. So it follows that the Country House and Coketown shared honors in building up the new educational organizations; and the outcome of the sort of education that the public school and college provided was to make these redoubtable utopias practically unassailable.
Besides, there were the adults: consider Robert Owen!
Robert Owen, one of the most sanguine advocates of popular education, was himself a living example of the need for a different kind of discipline than his narrow and homiletic mind, with its childish interpretation of religious belief and its equally childish rationalism, was capable of framing. No one ever frustrated so many good ideas, from the plan of garden cities down to the project for co-operative production than this same Owen, whose bumptiousness, arrogance, and conceit were bound to provoke reactions in other people which would have defeated the plans of Omnipotence itself. The capital program was to get any sort of social improvement
in a world that was full of refractory Owens. A locomotive may, in a sense, be a more perfect thing than the man who made it; but no social order can be better than the human beings who take part in it; for whereas the locomotive can stand apart from its operatives and perform all its functions effectively even if the workers themselves are deficient in every other respect than mechanics, with a social order the product and the producer continue to be one.
Not merely does a community need a Buddha, let us say, before it can produce Buddhism; it needs a whole succession of Buddhas if the religion itself is not to fritter away into the hideous ecclesiastical grind it became in Thibet. This principle has a general application. The social critics of the last century confused the mechanical problem of transforming an institution or of creating a new organization with the personal and social problem of spurring people to effect the transformation and see it through. Their tactics were those of a general who would go into battle without training his army; their strategy was that of the demagogue who talks of a million armed men springing up overnight. The personal problem, the problem of education, was as easy as that!
If we are to account for the poverty of our achievements in renovating the community, in contrast with the enormous amount of quite justifiable economic and political agitation, research, and criticism, it is perhaps not altogether fair to put the entire burden of failure upon the partisan's lop-sided utopia. The plans of our reformers have indeed been weak and jerrybuilt in themselves; but that is not all. What has perhaps been even more conspicuously lacking has been people
who are accessible to the existing knowledge, people whose minds have been trained to play freely with the facts, people who have learned the fine and exacting art of co-operating with their fellows; people who are as critical of their own mental processes and habits of behavior as they are of the institutions they wish to alter. As Viola Paget says: "The bulk of thinking and feeling intended to help on human improvement has not really been good enough for the purpose. Not good enough in the sense of not sufficiently impersonal and disciplined."
Between our programs, our utopias, and their fulfillment there has usually dropt a thick veil of personalities; and were the plan itself the collaborate product of the best minds of the race; as Mr. H. G. Wells satirically pictured in Boon, it would still have to take its chances with the wild asses of the devil that human weakness, apathy, greed, lust for power, might release. Walt Whitman said of Carlyle that behind the tally of his work and genius stood the stomach, and gave a sort of casting vote. So one may say of every social movement, that behind the tally of its theoretic background and its concrete programs stand human beingshale and sick, neurotic and stable, well-intentioned and maliciousand give the casting vote.
Anyone who has read an important book, and then met the author, who has respected an apparently significant social movement, and then met the leaders behind the scenes, will realize how frequent is the difficulty of reconciling theoretic agreement with the inaccessibilities and prejudices and repugnances of particular personalities. No one can join the work of even the most trivial sort of committeebe it a delegation to
shake hands with the Congressman or a body designated to revise the rules of a tennis clubwithout discovering how the work in hand is perpetually being balked and diverted by the play of personalities.
It is not a little significant that popular speech gives the word "personalities" a derogatory meaning. Again and again the success or failure in large collaborations hinges upon human factors that have no bearing on the question at issue. Pope's satiric words about wretches hanging that jurymen may dine touches the point neatly. Our programs for reconstruction that have not reckoned with the perpetual cussedness of human nature and have no method for exorcising are as shallow as those older theologies which sought to make men live in grace without altering the social order in which they functioned. Perhaps they could learn something from the story of that ancient agitator who cured the blind, the maimed, the sick, and the halt before he bade them enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Emerson well said in his essay on Man the Reformer that it was stupid to expect any real or permanent change from any social program which was unable to regenerate or convertthese are religious phases for a common psychological phenomenonthe people who are to engineer it and carry it through.
It would be so easy, this business of making over the world, if it were only a matter of creating machinery. There has probably never been lacking the sort of energy and talent that is needed for this sort of work; and at any rate, during the last three centuries, with the growth of technology, the mechanical services at the command of our engineers and organizers are huge and adequate. Unfortunately, we are still in the same
ditch that Carlyle mordantly pointed out in his essay on Characteristics: Given a world of knaves, we are trying by various cunning devices to produce an honesty from their united action. I do not share Carlyle's contempt for human nature in the raw, but he is quite right, I believe, in making fun of the superficiality of our partisan utopias. These utopias were so concerned to alter the shell of the community's institutions that they neglected to pay attention to the habits of the creature itselfor its habitat. That is why mechanical devices play such an important part, perhaps, in all these utopias, from Jeremy Bentham, with his Panopticon method of reforming criminals, down to the hideous cog-and-wheel utopia of Edward Bellamy.
The conceptions of human life that our reforming groups have had have been pretty thin and unsatisfying. Any adequate conception of a new social order would, it seems to me, include the scenery, the actors, and the play. It is a mark of our immaturity that we never seem able to get beyond the scene shifting. Our social theorists, in so far as they consider the actors at all, are inclined to treat them as mechanical puppets. As for the play itselfthe universal drama of courtship and trial and adventure and contest and achievement, in which every human being is potentially the hero or heroinethe play itself has hardly entered into their consciousness. Their values have not been human values: they have been such values as have been authenticated by commerce and industry, values such as efficiency, fair wages, and what not. These, at any rate, have been the immediate objects of effort, and if human values hung vaguely in the background, they were to be realized in a distant and unascertainable future. So
one often feels that no matter how base and deteriorated the modern community is, it nevertheless retains in its totality a greater measure of human values than many of the groups that have attacked its inadequacy have to offer.
All this comes out pretty plainly in the attitude of the labor groups towards the current situation. Whether they are organized for political action or for industrial warfare, their aims are curiously similar. In the very act of contending against the present order, they have accepted the ends for which that order stands and have been content to demand simply that they he universalized. This perhaps accounts for the essential uncreativeness of the labor movement. By a revolution they do not mean a transvaluation of values: they mean a dilution and spreading out of established practices and institutions. There may indeed he plenty of excuse for this attitude in any particular situationa group of unorganized and semi-destitute workers such as those in many American steel plantsbut the worst of it is that this attitude characterizes the more advanced and economically secure groups, and creeps into such ultimate programs as one can deduce from attempts to create workers educational institutionsas if a change in ownership or the balance of power would alter the face of Coketown so that its fires would no longer burn and its cinders no longer smut.
I have emphasized what is the weakness, as it seems to me, of the labor movement; not because I am necessarily out of sympathy with any particular measure that might be proposed, but because it illustrates upon an enormous scale the point which I desire to make. The prohibition movement, or the charity organization
movementtowards both of which I feel, on the contrary, a cordial antipathywould serve just as well for illustration; for they all have this common distinction: they lack any explicit, consciously projected humane ends which would make any particular measure that they might offer justified.
Let me now anticipate the answer which this criticism will probably meet. To some people it will seem that the current movements for reform are inevitably secular; that they have no business to concern themselves with the ultimate faith of men; that they inevitably deal with a limited here and now, a dollar more of wages, a drop less of liquor, a touch more of uniformity, and so forth. In short, our partial utopias need not concern themselves with any of the questions that have to do with the life of the spirit.
The simple answer to this crude philosophy isso much the worse for them. The breach between the institutions that deal with the material life and those that deal with the ideal life results either in a complete dissociation, by which each set of institutions becomes paralytic and imbecile; or, as so often happens, in a capitulation of the spiritual power to the temporal, and its complete engrossment in temporal ends. I am aware that these phrases, "spiritual" and "temporal," have a certain old-fashioned smell; but they precisely express my meaning: it is plain that every community contains the corresponding institutionsone group being devoted to values and the other to means. When our reforms are not touched by a sense of values, the result is that purely temporal ends are taken as ultimate,
and we have such notions as efficiency or organization regarded as the very touchstone of social improvement. This is scarcely an improvement over the old order of things, with which we are now so dismally familiarthe state in which our values were not fertilized by any intercourse with the concrete and actual world about us, and so remained remote and sterile. In short, unless our reformers concern themselves with the ultimate values of men, with what constitutes a good life, they are bound to pander to such immediate faiths and superstitions as the National State, Efficiency, or the White Man's Burden.
There is a final criticism of the partial utopias: our one-sided reforms have had this fatal defectthey are one-sided. This partisanship was expressed by their relation to the facts upon which their programs were based, and in their attitude towards the people who were to be affected by them.
The mood of partisanship has been that of a lawyer who is getting up an argument and is looking for such facts as will bolster up his case. That mood is inimical to free and intelligent thought: its object is rhetorical triumph. Now it happens that in all the matters which intimately concern a community, a person's attitude towards the facts not merely seems more important than the facts themselves, but seems so deucedly important that the facts are ignored. The attitude of a group of Southern whites who will lynch a negro on the report that he has raped a white woman before they investigate the truth of the assertion is a bestial exaggeration of a very natural human tendency. Men are built for action
rather than thought; or rather, since thought, on the psychologist's interpretation, is inhibited action, the business of inhibition naturally comes a little hard to us; and when we arc in a place where we have the rough choice of pushing through the obstacle, under a strong impulse of resentment (instinct of pugnacity) or may quietly withdraw from the obstacle, survey it, and frame a plan of action to circumvent it, our fundamental impulse is to follow the first mode.
It is easy to see, for example, how the hideous human suffering which accompanied the growth of the capitalist organizationand still exists!caused the socialists to concentrate attention upon the subjects of ownership and profits, and long blinded them to the specific problems of organization, distribution, and control within the industries that might be affected by the program of socialization. This concentration upon the particular aspect of a problem, like the concentration upon a particular aspect of the solution, has the weakness of ignoring the total situation, and it too crudely simplifies the difficulties. In their haste to arrive at solutions and remediesfor the life of man is short and the needs of the moment are pressingthe partisans neglect to make a complete tally of the facts; and they are too ready to let "common knowledge" take the place of a thorough investigation of the data.
This weakness arises out of an almost instinctive tendency towards partisanship; and it is one of the reasons that partisanship continues. If nothing else prevents groups from getting together, their failure to agree about the facts, and their lack of a method for getting at the facts and focussing them, is responsible. If an examination of the facts did nothing else, it might
show at least the impossibility of drawing any conclusion from them, and it might warn the partisan to step warily. Thus the testimony that was offered for and against Prohibition carne from fairly high authorities on both sides; and if there had been anything like right reason in the strategically stronger camp, it would have convinced those who were interested in the welfare of the community that nothing could be wisely done while the very basis for judgmentscientific knowledge as to the place of alcoholic stimuli in the life of the human organismhad not been established.
It is of course conceivable that men will quarrel and split when they are fully apprised of the facts: we may well remember the story of the British ambassador who confessed to his French colleague that the reason he did not get on very well with the Americans was that both countries unfortunately spoke the same language; but it is inconceivable that they should ever reach an intelligent agreement before they are in common possession of the facts. By ignoring the necessity for substantiating his claims and assertions the partisan frequently not merely fails to see his whole problem in all its implications, but also prevents any one else from seeing it. Even when the partisan is not intentionally blind, he lacks the discipline which is essential to an open-eyed judgment of the case. What that discipline may be I shall attempt to discuss in the next chapter.
The second weakness of partisanship is that it breaks the community into vertical divisions, and promotes fictitious antagonisms and kinships which run against the horizontal affiliations and loyalties of a man's life. This tendency was nicely illustrated in a play by Mr. St. John Ervine, called Mixed Marriage, which dealt
with the love affair of a young girl and a young man who were separated by the religions that had been handed down by their parents. In Mr. Ervine's wretched little Ulster community, these religions served as an excuse to keep people from being friendly and decent to their neighbors. Now it is obvious that mating, and making friends with those who have common interests and sentiments, and mixing freely within the whole community, are highly important horizontal interests; they tend to unite people in a common bond which is fundamental for the reason that these interests and activities are essentially human. The antagonism between two Christian sects, on the other hand, undermines the good life as a whole, because it insists that there is no other good than a religious gooda good embodied in a pope, or in the practice of scoffing at a popewhile it is obvious to anyone who has possession of his senses that kissing a pretty girl is good, and having a friendly pipe with one's neighbor is good, and that institutions which prevent one from doing these things at appropriate times are perverted and antisocial. It is true that people who emphasize religious interests take "high ground," as the saying is, and that those who value the friendly pipe seem by implication to take low ground: but what the partisans fail to see is that there is a good human case for low ground, and that, for the great majority of people it may prove to be not merely the only practicable ground, but in its own right a good and sufficient one.
Now for Catholic and Protestant in Mr. St. John Ervine's play one may substitute Democrat and Republican, White Guard and Red Guard, Socialist and Financier, Prohibitionist and anti-Prohibitionist and
the results will be just as deplorably the same. There are any number of interests in a well-wrought life which lie altogether beyond these categories, and it is the chief misdemeanor of partisanism, as opposed to utopianism, that it tends to slight these general interests, and either bring them into the service of the "ism" or urge that they be neglected in devotion to the "cause." The first method has been used by the apostles of nationalism. The National State, recognizing that art and culture and science could not be altogether engrossed in the strategy of political warfare, promptly put these goods in the pigeon hole labelled national resources. The partisans of the State talked about American science as opposed to German science, of Italian art as opposed to French art; and thus emphasized the things which men in America had with other Americans in order to mark off more clearly the things they had apart from men of similar interests in other countries. The same thing happened in the Russian communist state, with its attempt to set aside the common cultural heritage of mankind at large and define a purely proletarian culture. The results in every case are, I believe, incurably mischievous; and those who would promote the good life must cease this infantile practice of asserting vainly that "my father knows more than your father," "my mother is more beautiful than your mother"and so on.
For the most part the second method has been indefatigably used. In the political state the partisans make a great show of the gulf which separates the political party in power from that which is outside, and every other interest in life is supposed to be secondary to this abysmal cleavage. In relatively crude communities,
like the United States and Ireland, these differences seem to be taken by the great mass of people at their face value; whereas in England, which at least has the virtues of disillusion, it is the great tradition of Parliament that all the animosities of the floor are ignored in the bar of the House of Commons, while all the congenialities and convivialities that bind men together are emphasized. Lest I be accused of prejudice where none exists, let me add that in the most substantial reconstruction movement that Ireland possessesI refer to agricultural co-operation as promoted by Sir Horace Plunkett and A. E.the horizontal interests which bind men together as farmers and members of a local community are successfully emphasized to the exclusion of irrelevant vertical differences, at least in matters touching the organization and conduct of the Irish Agricultural Organization Society; and that, as .far as I can see, this single organization has done more to promote the good life in Ireland than any other institution, with the possible exception of the equally non-partisan literary association which grew up in Dublin under the leadership of A. E., William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, and the rest of that fine and glorious crew.
Obviously, it is not altogether for nothing that men have joined together in vertical organizations which are as broad as a continent, let us say, or the European world. There is a sense in which the Christians of Jerusalem have more in common with the Christians of Rome than they have with the Jews and Mohammedans of their local region. In the same way, I find myself more deeply drawn to certain friends of mine in Bombay and London than I am towards my next
door neighbor, with whom the only recognizable bond is our common animus against a rapacious landlord. So long as the vertical affiliation with people of the same views in politics or religion or philosophy is a spiritual affiliation a great deal of good may come out of it. When, however, the things that draw people together as members of a vertical group are used as a means of inflicting similar opinions or practices upon the local community, without respect to its regional qualities, the results are little less than disastrous. The rain falls on the just and the unjust; more than that, the food that we grow, the houses that we build, the roads that we lay down, the thoughts that we think, belong to us as members of the human species who have inherited the earth and the fullness thereof; and it is absurd to let differences in our idola prevent us from participating equally in this common heritage.
At long last, the things that unite human beings as human beings, the social inheritance that enables them to realize their stature as human beings, are more important than any particular element that the partisan may lay hold of. Whether our partisanism consists in being first and foremost an American or first and foremost a Theosophist, it tends to limit the world with which we may have commerce and so impoverishes the personality. The person who insists upon being a hundred per cent. American has by that very emphasis become something less than half a man. By fastening attention upon a segment of the world, the partisan creates a segment of a personality. It is these segments or sects that any movement which aims at a general good in the community must contend against. So long as work for the common welfare meets with
irrelevant partisanisms, so long will we lack the means of creating whole men and women; and so long will the main concerns of civilization be side-tracked:
What a vision these partisan utopias present! They are like the scattered bones that the prophet saw in the terrible valley, and one doubts whether even the breath of the Lord could knit them together again into real bodies. . . .
One of these partisan utopias issues from a bundle of red-tape; everything is filed and ticketed and labelled there; and anything in life that cannot be treated in this fashion does not exist. Another is a mechanical contraption; somehow it seems to litter little mechanical contraptions; and its aim is, it would seem, to do away with vegetation and reproduction, so that everything under the sun might be performed with the sterile accuracy of the machine. A third utopia of the partisan calls human beings, with all their color and thickness, "individuals," and makes the good life a matter of legal relationships without any regard to their necessities in time and space; such a utopia could almost be carried in one's pocket, so much is it a matter of verbal statement. We need not go down the line. Singly, it is plain that not one of these utopias would create a happy community; while if all of these partisanisms could be realized the result could scarcely be anything else than discordsuch a discord as now exists and every day becomes more raucous.
It would seem that we are at an impasse. Even if I have absurdly exaggerated the futility of the reformers and revolutionaries, their lack of any fundamental program
and their inability to conceive an essential reorientation in modern society, come out pretty plainly. If our analysis did not prove this, the atmosphere of disillusion which we breathe today, and which permeates every branch of literature, would tell as much. In so far as we have accepted the modern social order we are in ruin; and the next war that now threatens will, if it actually comes to pass, only carry the ruin a little further. In so far as we have pinned our hopes to current movements for reconstruction or revolution, our plans are sickly and debilitated. In fact, the only genuine signs of life seem to be in regions like Ireland, Denmark, India, and China, which have stood outside the movement of industrial civilization and have retained the values of an order which elsewhere has been undermined and almost destroyed. It is not a pretty situation to face; and small wonder that we are so slow and so reluctant to face it. Whichever way we look, bankruptcy seems to threaten us.
It is time we endeavored to cash in the paper roubles of the partisan. If our civilization is to hold together we must place its intellectual currency on a new basis; we must exchange our abstract idealisms, our abstract programs, our paperized pursuit of happiness for some of the golden coinage of life, even though we cannot have our gold without mixing it with baser metals.