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Title: Political Ideals

Author: Bertrand Russell

Release Date: December, 2003 [EBook #4776]
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[This file was first posted on March 17, 2002]

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by Bertrand Russell

Chapter I: Political Ideals

In dark days, men need a clear faith and a well-grounded hope; and as
the outcome of these, the calm courage which takes no account of
hardships by the way. The times through which we are passing have
afforded to many of us a confirmation of our faith. We see that the
things we had thought evil are really evil, and we know more
definitely than we ever did before the directions in which men must
move if a better world is to arise on the ruins of the one which is
now hurling itself into destruction. We see that men's political
dealings with one another are based on wholly wrong ideals, and can
only be saved by quite different ideals from continuing to be a source
of suffering, devastation, and sin.

Political ideals must be based upon ideals for the individual life.
The aim of politics should be to make the lives of individuals as good
as possible. There is nothing for the politician to consider outside
or above the various men, women, and children who compose the world.
The problem of politics is to adjust the relations of human beings in
such a way that each severally may have as much of good in his
existence as possible. And this problem requires that we should first
consider what it is that we think good in the individual life.

To begin with, we do not want all men to be alike. We do not want to
lay down a pattern or type to which men of all sorts are to be made by
some means or another to approximate. This is the ideal of the
impatient administrator. A bad teacher will aim at imposing his
opinion, and turning out a set of pupils all of whom will give the
same definite answer on a doubtful point. Mr. Bernard Shaw is said to
hold that _Troilus and Cressida_ is the best of Shakespeare's plays.
Although I disagree with this opinion, I should welcome it in a pupil
as a sign of individuality; but most teachers would not tolerate such
a heterodox view. Not only teachers, but all commonplace persons in
authority, desire in their subordinates that kind of uniformity which
makes their actions easily predictable and never inconvenient. The
result is that they crush initiative and individuality when they can,
and when they cannot, they quarrel with it.

It is not one ideal for all men, but a separate ideal for each
separate man, that has to be realized if possible. Every man has it
in his being to develop into something good or bad: there is a best
possible for him, and a worst possible. His circumstances will
determine whether his capacities for good are developed or crushed,
and whether his bad impulses are strengthened or gradually diverted
into better channels.

But although we cannot set up in any detail an ideal of character
which is to be universally applicable--although we cannot say, for
instance, that all men ought to be industrious, or self-sacrificing,
or fond of music--there are some broad principles which can be used to
guide our estimates as to what is possible or desirable.

We may distinguish two sorts of goods, and two corresponding sorts of
impulses. There are goods in regard to which individual possession is
possible, and there are goods in which all can share alike. The food
and clothing of one man is not the food and clothing of another; if
the supply is insufficient, what one man has is obtained at the
expense of some other man. This applies to material goods generally,
and therefore to the greater part of the present economic life of the
world. On the other hand, mental and spiritual goods do not belong to
one man to the exclusion of another. If one man knows a science, that
does not prevent others from knowing it; on the contrary, it helps
them to acquire the knowledge. If one man is a great artist or poet,
that does not prevent others from painting pictures or writing poems,
but helps to create the atmosphere in which such things are possible.
If one man is full of good-will toward others, that does not mean that
there is less good-will to be shared among the rest; the more
good-will one man has, the more he is likely to create among others.
In such matters there is no _possession_, because there is not a
definite amount to be shared; any increase anywhere tends to produce
an increase everywhere.

There are two kinds of impulses, corresponding to the two kinds of
goods. There are _possessive_ impulses, which aim at acquiring or
retaining private goods that cannot be shared; these center in the
impulse of property. And there are _creative_ or constructive impulses,
which aim at bringing into the world or making available for use the
kind of goods in which there is no privacy and no possession.

The best life is the one in which the creative impulses play the
largest part and the possessive impulses the smallest. This is no new
discovery. The Gospel says: "Take no thought, saying, What shall we
eat? or What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?"
The thought we give to these things is taken away from matters of more
importance. And what is worse, the habit of mind engendered by
thinking of these things is a bad one; it leads to competition, envy,
domination, cruelty, and almost all the moral evils that infest the
world. In particular, it leads to the predatory use of force.
Material possessions can be taken by force and enjoyed by the robber.
Spiritual possessions cannot be taken in this way. You may kill an
artist or a thinker, but you cannot acquire his art or his thought.
You may put a man to death because he loves his fellow-men, but you
will not by so doing acquire the love which made his happiness. Force
is impotent in such matters; it is only as regards material goods that
it is effective. For this reason the men who believe in force are the
men whose thoughts and desires are preoccupied with material goods.

The possessive impulses, when they are strong, infect activities which
ought to be purely creative. A man who has made some valuable
discovery may be filled with jealousy of a rival discoverer. If one
man has found a cure for cancer and another has found a cure for
consumption, one of them may be delighted if the other man's discovery
turns out a mistake, instead of regretting the suffering of patients
which would otherwise have been avoided. In such cases, instead of
desiring knowledge for its own sake, or for the sake of its
usefulness, a man is desiring it as a means to reputation. Every
creative impulse is shadowed by a possessive impulse; even the
aspirant to saintliness may be jealous of the more successful saint.
Most affection is accompanied by some tinge of jealousy, which is a
possessive impulse intruding into the creative region. Worst of all,
in this direction, is the sheer envy of those who have missed
everything worth having in life, and who are instinctively bent on
preventing others from enjoying what they have not had. There is
often much of this in the attitude of the old toward the young.

There is in human beings, as in plants and animals, a certain natural
impulse of growth, and this is just as true of mental as of physical
development. Physical development is helped by air and nourishment
and exercise, and may be hindered by the sort of treatment which made
Chinese women's feet small. In just the same way mental development
may be helped or hindered by outside influences. The outside
influences that help are those that merely provide encouragement or
mental food or opportunities for exercising mental faculties. The
influences that hinder are those that interfere with growth by
applying any kind of force, whether discipline or authority or fear or
the tyranny of public opinion or the necessity of engaging in some
totally incongenial occupation. Worst of all influences are those
that thwart or twist a man's fundamental impulse, which is what shows
itself as conscience in the moral sphere; such influences are likely
to do a man an inward danger from which he will never recover.

Those who realize the harm that can be done to others by any use of
force against them, and the worthlessness of the goods that can be
acquired by force, will be very full of respect for the liberty of
others; they will not try to bind them or fetter them; they will be
slow to judge and swift to sympathize; they will treat every human
being with a kind of tenderness, because the principle of good in him
is at once fragile and infinitely precious. They will not condemn
those who are unlike themselves; they will know and feel that
individuality brings differences and uniformity means death. They
will wish each human being to be as much a living thing and as little
a mechanical product as it is possible to be; they will cherish in
each one just those things which the harsh usage of a ruthless world
would destroy. In one word, all their dealings with others will be
inspired by a deep impulse of _reverence_.

What we shall desire for individuals is now clear: strong creative
impulses, overpowering and absorbing the instinct of possession;
reverence for others; respect for the fundamental creative impulse in
ourselves. A certain kind of self-respect or native pride is
necessary to a good life; a man must not have a sense of utter inward
defeat if he is to remain whole, but must feel the courage and the
hope and the will to live by the best that is in him, whatever outward
or inward obstacles it may encounter. So far as it lies in a man's
own power, his life will realize its best possibilities if it has
three things: creative rather than possessive impulses, reverence for
others, and respect for the fundamental impulse in himself.

Political and social institutions are to be judged by the good or harm
that they do to individuals. Do they encourage creativeness rather
than possessiveness? Do they embody or promote a spirit of reverence
between human beings? Do they preserve self-respect?

In all these ways the institutions under which we live are very far
indeed from what they ought to be.

Institutions, and especially economic systems, have a profound
influence in molding the characters of men and women. They may
encourage adventure and hope, or timidity and the pursuit of safety.
They may open men's minds to great possibilities, or close them
against everything but the risk of obscure misfortune. They may make
a man's happiness depend upon what he adds to the general possessions
of the world, or upon what he can secure for himself of the private
goods in which others cannot share. Modern capitalism forces the
wrong decision of these alternatives upon all who are not heroic or
exceptionally fortunate.

Men's impulses are molded, partly by their native disposition, partly
by opportunity and environment, especially early environment. Direct
preaching can do very little to change impulses, though it can lead
people to restrain the direct expression of them, often with the
result that the impulses go underground and come to the surface again
in some contorted form. When we have discovered what kinds of impulse
we desire, we must not rest content with preaching, or with trying to
produce the outward manifestation without the inner spring; we must
try rather to alter institutions in the way that will, of itself,
modify the life of impulse in the desired direction.

At present our institutions rest upon two things: property and power.
Both of these are very unjustly distributed; both, in the actual
world, are of great importance to the happiness of the individual.
Both are possessive goods; yet without them many of the goods in which
all might share are hard to acquire as things are now.

Without property, as things are, a man has no freedom, and no security
for the necessities of a tolerable life; without power, he has no
opportunity for initiative. If men are to have free play for their
creative impulses, they must be liberated from sordid cares by a
certain measure of security, and they must have a sufficient share of
power to be able to exercise initiative as regards the course and
conditions of their lives.

Few men can succeed in being creative rather than possessive in a
world which is wholly built on competition, where the great majority
would fall into utter destitution if they became careless as to the
acquisition of material goods, where honor and power and respect are
given to wealth rather than to wisdom, where the law embodies and
consecrates the injustice of those who have toward those who have not.
In such an environment even those whom nature has endowed with great
creative gifts become infected with the poison of competition. Men
combine in groups to attain more strength in the scramble for material
goods, and loyalty to the group spreads a halo of quasi-idealism round
the central impulse of greed. Trade-unions and the Labor party are no
more exempt from this vice than other parties and other sections of
society; though they are largely inspired by the hope of a radically
better world. They are too often led astray by the immediate object
of securing for themselves a large share of material goods. That this
desire is in accordance with justice, it is impossible to deny; but
something larger and more constructive is needed as a political ideal,
if the victors of to-morrow are not to become the oppressors of the
day after. The inspiration and outcome of a reforming movement ought
to be freedom and a generous spirit, not niggling restrictions and

The present economic system concentrates initiative in the hands of a
small number of very rich men. Those who are not capitalists have,
almost always, very little choice as to their activities when once
they have selected a trade or profession; they are not part of the
power that moves the mechanism, but only a passive portion of the
machinery. Despite political democracy, there is still an
extraordinary degree of difference in the power of self-direction
belonging to a capitalist and to a man who has to earn his living.
Economic affairs touch men's lives, at most times, much more
intimately than political questions. At present the man who has no
capital usually has to sell himself to some large organization, such
as a railway company, for example. He has no voice in its management,
and no liberty in politics except what his trade-union can secure for
him. If he happens to desire a form of liberty which is not thought
important by his trade-union, he is powerless; he must submit or

Exactly the same thing happens to professional men. Probably a
majority of journalists are engaged in writing for newspapers whose
politics they disagree with; only a man of wealth can own a large
newspaper, and only an accident can enable the point of view or the
interests of those who are not wealthy to find expression in a
newspaper. A large part of the best brains of the country are in the
civil service, where the condition of their employment is silence
about the evils which cannot be concealed from them. A Nonconformist
minister loses his livelihood if his views displease his congregation;
a member of Parliament loses his seat if he is not sufficiently supple
or sufficiently stupid to follow or share all the turns and twists of
public opinion. In every walk of life, independence of mind is
punished by failure, more and more as economic organizations grow
larger and more rigid. Is it surprising that men become increasingly
docile, increasingly ready to submit to dictation and to forego the
right of thinking for themselves? Yet along such lines civilization
can only sink into a Byzantine immobility.

Fear of destitution is not a motive out of which a free creative life
can grow, yet it is the chief motive which inspires the daily work of
most wage-earners. The hope of possessing more wealth and power than
any man ought to have, which is the corresponding motive of the rich,
is quite as bad in its effects; it compels men to close their minds
against justice, and to prevent themselves from thinking honestly on
social questions while in the depths of their hearts they uneasily
feel that their pleasures are bought by the miseries of others. The
injustices of destitution and wealth alike ought to be rendered
impossible. Then a great fear would be removed from the lives of the
many, and hope would have to take on a better form in the lives of the

But security and liberty are only the negative conditions for good
political institutions. When they have been won, we need also the
positive condition: encouragement of creative energy. Security alone
might produce a smug and stationary society; it demands creativeness
as its counterpart, in order to keep alive the adventure and interest
of life, and the movement toward perpetually new and better things.
There can be no final goal for human institutions; the best are those
that most encourage progress toward others still better. Without
effort and change, human life cannot remain good. It is not a
finished Utopia that we ought to desire, but a world where imagination
and hope are alive and active.

It is a sad evidence of the weariness mankind has suffered from
excessive toil that his heavens have usually been places where nothing
ever happened or changed. Fatigue produces the illusion that only
rest is needed for happiness; but when men have rested for a time,
boredom drives them to renewed activity. For this reason, a happy
life must be one in which there is activity. If it is also to be a
useful life, the activity ought to be as far as possible creative, not
merely predatory or defensive. But creative activity requires
imagination and originality, which are apt to be subversive of the
_status quo_. At present, those who have power dread a disturbance of
the _status quo_, lest their unjust privileges should be taken away.
In combination with the instinct for conventionality,[1] which man
shares with the other gregarious animals, those who profit by the
existing order have established a system which punishes originality
and starves imagination from the moment of first going to school down
to the time of death and burial. The whole spirit in which education
is conducted needs to be changed, in order that children may be
encouraged to think and feel for themselves, not to acquiesce
passively in the thoughts and feelings of others. It is not rewards
after the event that will produce initiative, but a certain mental
atmosphere. There have been times when such an atmosphere existed:
the great days of Greece, and Elizabethan England, may serve as
examples. But in our own day the tyranny of vast machine-like
organizations, governed from above by men who know and care little for
the lives of those whom they control, is killing individuality and
freedom of mind, and forcing men more and more to conform to a uniform

[1] In England this is called "a sense of humor."

Vast organizations are an inevitable element in modern life, and it is
useless to aim at their abolition, as has been done by some reformers,
for instance, William Morris. It is true that they make the
preservation of individuality more difficult, but what is needed is a
way of combining them with the greatest possible scope for individual

One very important step toward this end would be to render democratic
the government of every organization. At present, our legislative
institutions are more or less democratic, except for the important
fact that women are excluded. But our administration is still purely
bureaucratic, and our economic organizations are monarchical or
oligarchic. Every limited liability company is run by a small number
of self-appointed or copted directors. There can be no real
freedom or democracy until the men who do the work in a business also
control its management.

Another measure which would do much to increase liberty would be an
increase of self-government for subordinate groups, whether
geographical or economic or defined by some common belief, like
religious sects. A modern state is so vast and its machinery is so
little understood that even when a man has a vote he does not feel
himself any effective part of the force which determines its policy.
Except in matters where he can act in conjunction with an
exceptionally powerful group, he feels himself almost impotent, and
the government remains a remote impersonal circumstance, which must be
simply endured, like the weather. By a share in the control of
smaller bodies, a man might regain some of that sense of personal
opportunity and responsibility which belonged to the citizen of a
city-state in ancient Greece or medieval Italy.

When any group of men has a strong corporate consciousness--such as
belongs, for example, to a nation or a trade or a religious
body--liberty demands that it should be free to decide for itself all
matters which are of great importance to the outside world. This is
the basis of the universal claim for national independence. But
nations are by no means the only groups which ought to have
self-government for their internal concerns. And nations, like other
groups, ought not to have complete liberty of action in matters which
are of equal concern to foreign nations. Liberty demands
self-government, but not the right to interfere with others. The
greatest degree of liberty is not secured by anarchy. The
reconciliation of liberty with government is a difficult problem, but
it is one which any political theory must face.

The essence of government is the use of force in accordance with law
to secure certain ends which the holders of power consider desirable.
The coercion of an individual or a group by force is always in itself
more or less harmful. But if there were no government, the result
would not be an absence of force in men's relations to each other; it
would merely be the exercise of force by those who had strong
predatory instincts, necessitating either slavery or a perpetual
readiness to repel force with force on the part of those whose
instincts were less violent. This is the state of affairs at present
in international relations, owing to the fact that no international
government exists. The results of anarchy between states should
suffice to persuade us that anarchism has no solution to offer for the
evils of the world.

There is probably one purpose, and only one, for which the use of
force by a government is beneficent, and that is to diminish the total
amount of force used m the world. It is clear, for example, that the
legal prohibition of murder diminishes the total amount of violence in
the world. And no one would maintain that parents should have
unlimited freedom to ill-treat their children. So long as some men
wish to do violence to others, there cannot be complete liberty, for
either the wish to do violence must be restrained, or the victims must
be left to suffer. For this reason, although individuals and
societies should have the utmost freedom as regards their own affairs,
they ought not to have complete freedom as regards their dealings with
others. To give freedom to the strong to oppress the weak is not the
way to secure the greatest possible amount of freedom in the world.
This is the basis of the socialist revolt against the kind of freedom
which used to be advocated by _laissez-faire_ economists.

Democracy is a device--the best so far invented--for diminishing as
much as possible the interference of governments with liberty. If a
nation is divided into two sections which cannot both have their way,
democracy theoretically insures that the majority shall have their
way. But democracy is not at all an adequate device unless it is
accompanied by a very great amount of devolution. Love of uniformity,
or the mere pleasure of interfering, or dislike of differing tastes
and temperaments, may often lead a majority to control a minority in
matters which do not really concern the majority. We should none of
us like to have the internal affairs of Great Britain settled by a
parliament of the world, if ever such a body came into existence.
Nevertheless, there are matters which such a body could settle much
better than any existing instrument of government.

The theory of the legitimate use of force in human affairs, where a
government exists, seems clear. Force should only be used against
those who attempt to use force against others, or against those who
will not respect the law in cases where a common decision is necessary
and a minority are opposed to the action of the majority. These seem
legitimate occasions for the use of force; and they should be
legitimate occasions in international affairs, if an international
government existed. The problem of the legitimate occasions for the
use of force in the absence of a government is a different one, with
which we are not at present concerned.

Although a government must have the power to use force, and may on
occasion use it legitimately, the aim of the reformers to have such
institutions as will diminish the need for actual coercion will be
found to have this effect. Most of us abstain, for instance, from
theft, not because it is illegal, but because we feel no desire to
steal. The more men learn to live creatively rather than
possessively, the less their wishes will lead them to thwart others or
to attempt violent interference with their liberty. Most of the
conflicts of interests, which lead individuals or organizations into
disputes, are purely imaginary, and would be seen to be so if men
aimed more at the goods in which all can share, and less at those
private possessions that are the source of strife. In proportion as
men live creatively, they cease to wish to interfere with others by
force. Very many matters in which, at present, common action is
thought indispensable, might well be left to individual decision. It
used to be thought absolutely necessary that all the inhabitants of a
country should have the same religion, but we now know that there is
no such necessity. In like manner it will be found, as men grow more
tolerant in their instincts, that many uniformities now insisted upon
are useless and even harmful.

Good political institutions would weaken the impulse toward force and
domination in two ways: first, by increasing the opportunities for the
creative impulses, and by shaping education so as to strengthen these
impulses; secondly, by diminishing the outlets for the possessive
instincts. The diffusion of power, both in the political and the
economic sphere, instead of its concentration in the hands of
officials and captains of industry, would greatly diminish the
opportunities for acquiring the habit of command, out of which the
desire for exercising tyranny is apt to spring. Autonomy, both for
districts and for organizations, would leave fewer occasions when
governments were called upon to make decisions as to other people's
concerns. And the abolition of capitalism and the wage system would
remove the chief incentive to fear and greed, those correlative
passions by which all free life is choked and gagged.

Few men seem to realize how many of the evils from which we suffer are
wholly unnecessary, and that they could be abolished by a united
effort within a few years. If a majority in every civilized country
so desired, we could, within twenty years, abolish all abject poverty,
quite half the illness in the world, the whole economic slavery which
binds down nine tenths of our population; we could fill the world with
beauty and joy, and secure the reign of universal peace. It is only
because men are apathetic that this is not achieved, only because
imagination is sluggish, and what always has been is regarded as what
always must be. With good-will, generosity, intelligence, these
things could be brought about.

Chapter II: Capitalism and the Wage System


The world is full of preventible evils which most men would be glad to
see prevented.

Nevertheless, these evils persist, and nothing effective is done
toward abolishing them.

This paradox produces astonishment in inexperienced reformers, and too
often produces disillusionment in those who have come to know the
difficulty of changing human institutions.

War is recognized as an evil by an immense majority in every civilized
country; but this recognition does not prevent war.

The unjust distribution of wealth must be obviously an evil to those
who are not prosperous, and they are nine tenths of the population.
Nevertheless it continues unabated.

The tyranny of the holders of power is a source of needless suffering
and misfortune to very large sections of mankind; but power remains in
few hands, and tends, if anything, to grow more concentrated.

I wish first to study the evils of our present institutions, and the
causes of the very limited success of reformers in the past, and then
to suggest reasons for the hope of a more lasting and permanent
success in the near future.

The war has come as a challenge to all who desire a better world. The
system which cannot save mankind from such an appalling disaster is at
fault somewhere, and cannot be amended in any lasting way unless the
danger of great wars in the future can be made very small.

But war is only the final flower of an evil tree. Even in times of
peace, most men live lives of monotonous labor, most women are
condemned to a drudgery which almost kills the possibility of
happiness before youth is past, most children are allowed to grow up
in ignorance of all that would enlarge their thoughts or stimulate
their imagination. The few who are more fortunate are rendered
illiberal by their unjust privileges, and oppressive through fear of
the awakening indignation of the masses. From the highest to the
lowest, almost all men are absorbed in the economic struggle: the
struggle to acquire what is their due or to retain what is not their
due. Material possessions, in fact or in desire, dominate our
outlook, usually to the exclusion of all generous and creative
impulses. Possessiveness--the passion to have and to hold--is the
ultimate source of war, and the foundation of all the ills from which
the political world is suffering. Only by diminishing the strength of
this passion and its hold upon our daily lives can new institutions
bring permanent benefit to mankind.

Institutions which will diminish the sway of greed are possible, but
only through a complete reconstruction of our whole economic system.
Capitalism and the wage system must be abolished; they are twin
monsters which are eating up the life of the world. In place of them
we need a system which will hold in cheek men's predatory impulses,
and will diminish the economic injustice that allows some to be rich
in idleness while others are poor in spite of unremitting labor; but
above all we need a system which will destroy the tyranny of the
employer, by making men at the same time secure against destitution
and able to find scope for individual initiative in the control of the
industry by which they live. A better system can do all these things,
and can be established by the democracy whenever it grows weary of
enduring evils which there is no reason to endure.

We may distinguish four purposes at which an economic system may aim:
first, it may aim at the greatest possible production of goods and at
facilitating technical progress; second, it may aim at securing
distributive justice; third, it may aim at giving security against
destitution; and, fourth, it may aim at liberating creative impulses
and diminishing possessive impulses.

Of these four purposes the last is the most important. Security is
chiefly important as a means to it. State socialism, though it might
give material security and more justice than we have at present, would
probably fail to liberate creative impulses or produce a progressive

Our present system fails in all four purposes. It is chiefly defended
on the ground that it achieves the first of the four purposes, namely,
the greatest possible production of material goods, but it only does
this in a very short-sighted way, by methods which are wasteful in the
long run both of human material and of natural resources.

Capitalistic enterprise involves a ruthless belief in the importance
of increasing material production to the utmost possible extent now
and in the immediate future. In obedience to this belief, new
portions of the earth's surface are continually brought under the sway
of industrialism. Vast tracts of Africa become recruiting grounds for
the labor required in the gold and diamond mines of the Rand,
Rhodesia, and Kimberley; for this purpose, the population is
demoralized, taxed, driven into revolt, and exposed to the
contamination of European vice and disease. Healthy and vigorous
races from Southern Europe are tempted to America, where sweating and
slum life reduce their vitality if they do not actually cause their
death. What damage is done to our own urban populations by the
conditions under which they live, we all know. And what is true of
the human riches of the world is no less true of the physical
resources. The mines, forests, and wheat-fields of the world are all
being exploited at a rate which must practically exhaust them at no
distant date. On the side of material production, the world is living
too fast; in a kind of delirium, almost all the energy of the world
has rushed into the immediate production of something, no matter what,
and no matter at what cost. And yet our present system is defended on
the ground that it safeguards progress!

It cannot be said that our present economic system is any more
successful in regard to the other three objects which ought to be
aimed at. Among the many obvious evils of capitalism and the wage
system, none are more glaring than that they encourage predatory
instincts, that they allow economic injustice, and that they give
great scope to the tyranny of the employer.

As to predatory instincts, we may say, broadly speaking, that in a
state of nature there would be two ways of acquiring riches--one by
production, the other by robbery. Under our existing system, although
what is recognized as robbery is forbidden, there are nevertheless
many ways of becoming rich without contributing anything to the wealth
of the community. Ownership of land or capital, whether acquired or
inherited, gives a legal right to a permanent income. Although most
people have to produce in order to live, a privileged minority are
able to live in luxury without producing anything at all. As these
are the men who are not only the most fortunate but also the most
respected, there is a general desire to enter their ranks, and a
widespread unwillingness to face the fact that there is no
justification whatever for incomes derived in this way. And apart
from the passive enjoyment of rent or interest, the methods of
acquiring wealth are very largely predatory. It is not, as a rule, by
means of useful inventions, or of any other action which increases the
general wealth of the community, that men amass fortunes; it is much
more often by skill in exploiting or circumventing others. Nor is it
only among the rich that our present rgime promotes a narrowly
acquisitive spirit. The constant risk of destitution compels most men
to fill a great part of their time and thought with the economic
struggle. There is a theory that this increases the total output of
wealth by the community. But for reasons to which I shall return
later, I believe this theory to be wholly mistaken.

Economic injustice is perhaps the most obvious evil of our present
system. It would be utterly absurd to maintain that the men who
inherit great wealth deserve better of the community than those who
have to work for their living. I am not prepared to maintain that
economic justice requires an exactly equal income for everybody. Some
kinds of work require a larger income for efficiency than others do;
but there is economic injustice as soon as a man has more than his
share, unless it is because his efficiency in his work requires it, or
as a reward for some definite service. But this point is so obvious
that it needs no elaboration.

The modern growth of monopolies in the shape of trusts, cartels,
federations of employers and so on has greatly increased the power of
the capitalist to levy toll on the community. This tendency will not
cease of itself, but only through definite action on the part of those
who do not profit by the capitalist rgime. Unfortunately the
distinction between the proletariat and the capitalist is not so sharp
as it was in the minds of socialist theorizers. Trade-unions have
funds in various securities; friendly societies are large capitalists;
and many individuals eke out their wages by invested savings. All
this increases the difficulty of any clear-cut radical change in our
economic system. But it does not diminish the desirability of such a

Such a system as that suggested by the French syndicalists, in which
each trade would be self-governing and completely independent, without
the control of any central authority, would not secure economic
justice. Some trades are in a much stronger bargaining position than
others. Coal and transport, for example, could paralyze the national
life, and could levy blackmail by threatening to do so. On the other
hand, such people as school teachers, for example, could rouse very
little terror by the threat of a strike and would be in a very weak
bargaining position. Justice can never be secured by any system of
unrestrained force exercised by interested parties in their own
interests. For this reason the abolition of the state, which the
syndicalists seem to desire, would be a measure not compatible with
economic justice.

The tyranny of the employer, which at present robs the greater part of
most men's lives of all liberty and all initiative, is unavoidable so
long as the employer retains the right of dismissal with consequent
loss of pay. This right is supposed to be essential in order that men
may have an incentive to work thoroughly. But as men grow more
civilized, incentives based on hope become increasingly preferable to
those that are based on fear. It would be far better that men should
be rewarded for working well than that they should be punished for
working badly. This system is already in operation in the civil
service, where a man is only dismissed for some exceptional degree of
vice or virtue, such as murder or illegal abstention from it.
Sufficient pay to ensure a livelihood ought to be given to every
person who is willing to work, independently of the question whether
the particular work at which he is skilled is wanted at the moment or
not. If it is not wanted, some new trade which is wanted ought to be
taught at the public expense. Why, for example, should a hansom-cab
driver be allowed to suffer on account of the introduction of taxies?
He has not committed any crime, and the fact that his work is no
longer wanted is due to causes entirely outside his control. Instead
of being allowed to starve, he ought to be given instruction in motor
driving or in whatever other trade may seem most suitable. At
present, owing to the fact that all industrial changes tend to cause
hardships to some section of wage-earners, there is a tendency to
technical conservatism on the part of labor, a dislike of innovations,
new processes, and new methods. But such changes, if they are in the
permanent interest of the community, ought to be carried out without
allowing them to bring unmerited loss to those sections of the
community whose labor is no longer wanted in the old form. The
instinctive conservatism of mankind is sure to make all processes of
production change more slowly than they should. It is a pity to add
to this by the avoidable conservatism which is forced upon organized
labor at present through the unjust workings of a change.

It will be said that men will not work well if the fear of dismissal
does not spur them on. I think it is only a small percentage of whom
this would be true at present. And those of whom it would be true
might easily become industrious if they were given more congenial work
or a wiser training. The residue who cannot be coaxed into industry
by any such methods are probably to be regarded as pathological cases,
requiring medical rather than penal treatment. And against this
residue must be set the very much larger number who are now ruined in
health or in morale by the terrible uncertainty of their livelihood
and the great irregularity of their employment. To very many,
security would bring a quite new possibility of physical and moral

The most dangerous aspect of the tyranny of the employer is the power
which it gives him of interfering with men's activities outside their
working hours. A man may be dismissed because the employer dislikes
his religion or his politics, or chooses to think his private life
immoral. He may be dismissed because he tries to produce a spirit of
independence among his fellow employees. He may fail completely to
find employment merely on the ground that he is better educated than
most and therefore more dangerous. Such cases actually occur at
present. This evil would not be remedied, but rather intensified,
under state socialism, because, where the State is the only employer,
there is no refuge from its prejudices such as may now accidentally
arise through the differing opinions of different men. The State
would be able to enforce any system of beliefs it happened to like,
and it is almost certain that it would do so. Freedom of thought
would be penalized, and all independence of spirit would die out.

Any rigid system would involve this evil. It is very necessary that
there should be diversity and lack of complete systematization.
Minorities must be able to live and develop their opinions freely. If
this is not secured, the instinct of persecution and conformity will
force all men into one mold and make all vital progress impossible.

For these reasons, no one ought to be allowed to suffer destitution so
long as he or she is _willing_ to work. And no kind of inquiry ought
to be made into opinion or private life. It is only on this basis
that it is possible to build up an economic system not founded upon
tyranny and terror.


The power of the economic reformer is limited by the technical
productivity of labor. So long as it was necessary to the bare
subsistence of the human race that most men should work very long
hours for a pittance, so long no civilization was possible except an
aristocratic one; if there were to be men with sufficient leisure for
any mental life, there had to be others who were sacrificed for the
good of the few. But the time when such a system was necessary has
passed away with the progress of machinery. It would be possible now,
if we had a wise economic system, for all who have mental needs to
find satisfaction for them. By a few hours a day of manual work, a
man can produce as much as is necessary for his own subsistence; and
if he is willing to forgo luxuries, that is all that the community has
a right to demand of him. It ought to be open to all who so desire to
do short hours of work for little pay, and devote their leisure to
whatever pursuit happens to attract them. No doubt the great majority
of those who chose this course would spend their time in mere
amusement, as most of the rich do at present. But it could not be
said, in such a society, that they were parasites upon the labor of
others. And there would be a minority who would give their hours of
nominal idleness to science or art or literature, or some other
pursuit out of which fundamental progress may come. In all such
matters, organization and system can only do harm. The one thing that
can be done is to provide opportunity, without repining at the waste
that results from most men failing to make good use of the

But except in cases of unusual laziness or eccentric ambition, most
men would elect to do a full day's work for a full day's pay. For
these, who would form the immense majority, the important thing is
that ordinary work should, as far as possible, afford interest and
independence and scope for initiative. These things are more
important than income, as soon as a certain minimum has been reached.
They can be secured by gild socialism, by industrial self-government
subject to state control as regards the relations of a trade to the
rest of the community. So far as I know, they cannot be secured in
any other way.

Guild socialism, as advocated by Mr. Orage and the "New Age," is
associated with a polemic against "political" action, and in favor of
direct economic action by trade-unions. It shares this with
syndicalism, from which most of what is new in it is derived. But I
see no reason for this attitude; political and economic action seem to
me equally necessary, each in its own time and place. I think there
is danger in the attempt to use the machinery of the present
capitalist state for socialistic purposes. But there is need of
political action to transform the machinery of the state, side by side
with the transformation which we hope to see in economic institutions.
In this country, neither transformation is likely to be brought about
by a sudden revolution; we must expect each to come step by step, if
at all, and I doubt if either could or should advance very far without
the other.

The economic system we should ultimately wish to see would be one in
which the state would be the sole recipient of economic rent, while
private capitalistic enterprises should be replaced by self-governing
combinations of those who actually do the work. It ought to be
optional whether a man does a whole day's work for a whole day's pay,
or half a day's work for half a day's pay, except in cases where such
an arrangement would cause practical inconvenience. A man's pay
should not cease through the accident of his work being no longer
needed, but should continue so long as he is willing to work, a new
trade being taught him at the public expense, if necessary.
Unwillingness to work should be treated medically or educationally,
when it could not be overcome by a change to some more congenial

The workers in a given industry should all be combined in one
autonomous unit, and their work should not be subject to any outside
control. The state should fix the price at which they produce, but
should leave the industry self-governing in all other respects. In
fixing prices, the state should, as far as possible, allow each
industry to profit by any improvements which it might introduce into
its own processes, but should endeavor to prevent undeserved loss or
gain through changes in external economic conditions. In this way
there would be every incentive to progress, with the least possible
danger of unmerited destitution. And although large economic
organizations will continue, as they are bound to do, there will be a
diffusion of power which will take away the sense of individual
impotence from which men and women suffer at present.


Some men, though they may admit that such a system would be desirable,
will argue that it is impossible to bring it about, and that therefore
we must concentrate on more immediate objects.

I think it must be conceded that a political party ought to have
proximate aims, measures which it hopes to carry in the next session
or the next parliament, as well as a more distant goal. Marxian
socialism, as it existed in Germany, seemed to me to suffer in this
way: although the party was numerically powerful, it was politically
weak, because it had no minor measures to demand while waiting for the
revolution. And when, at last, German socialism was captured by those
who desired a less impracticable policy, the modification which
occurred was of exactly the wrong kind: acquiescence in bad policies,
such as militarism and imperialism, rather than advocacy of partial
reforms which, however inadequate, would still have been steps in the
right direction.

A similar defect was inherent in the policy of French syndicalism as
it existed before the war. Everything was to wait for the general
strike; after adequate preparation, one day the whole proletariat
would unanimously refuse to work, the property owners would
acknowledge their defeat, and agree to abandon all their privileges
rather than starve. This is a dramatic conception; but love of drama
is a great enemy of true vision. Men cannot be trained, except under
very rare circumstances, to do something suddenly which is very
different from what they have been doing before. If the general
strike were to succeed, the victors, despite their anarchism, would be
compelled at once to form an administration, to create a new police
force to prevent looting and wanton destruction, to establish a
provisional government issuing dictatorial orders to the various
sections of revolutionaries. Now the syndicalists are opposed in
principle to all political action; they would feel that they were
departing from their theory in taking the necessary practical steps,
and they would be without the required training because of their
previous abstention from politics. For these reasons it is likely
that, even after a syndicalist revolution, actual power would fall
into the hands of men who were not really syndicalists.

Another objection to a program which is to be realized suddenly at
some remote date by a revolution or a general strike is that
enthusiasm flags when there is nothing to do meanwhile, and no partial
success to lessen the weariness of waiting. The only sort of movement
which can succeed by such methods is one where the sentiment and the
program are both very simple, as is the case in rebellions of
oppressed nations. But the line of demarcation between capitalist and
wage-earner is not sharp, like the line between Turk and Armenian, or
between an Englishman and a native of India. Those who have advocated
the social revolution have been mistaken in their political methods,
chiefly because they have not realized how many people there are in
the community whose sympathies and interests lie half on the side of
capital, half on the side of labor. These people make a clear-cut
revolutionary policy very difficult.

For these reasons, those who aim at an economic reconstruction which
is not likely to be completed to-morrow must, if they are to have any
hope of success, be able to approach their goal by degrees, through
measures which are of some use in themselves, even if they should not
ultimately lead to the desired end. There must be activities which
train men for those that they are ultimately to carry out, and there
must be possible achievements in the near future, not only a vague
hope of a distant paradise.

But although I believe that all this is true, I believe no less firmly
that really vital and radical reform requires some vision beyond the
immediate future, some realization of what human beings might make of
human life if they chose. Without some such hope, men will not have
the energy and enthusiasm necessary to overcome opposition, or the
steadfastness to persist when their aims are for the moment unpopular.
Every man who has really sincere desire for any great amelioration in
the conditions of life has first to face ridicule, then persecution,
then cajolery and attempts at subtle corruption. We know from painful
experience how few pass unscathed through these three ordeals. The
last especially, when the reformer is shown all the kingdoms of the
earth, is difficult, indeed almost impossible, except for those who
have made their ultimate goal vivid to themselves by clear and
definite thought.

Economic systems are concerned essentially with the production and
distribution of material goods. Our present system is wasteful on the
production side, and unjust on the side of distribution. It involves
a life of slavery to economic forces for the great majority of the
community, and for the minority a degree of power over the lives of
others which no man ought to have. In a good community the production
of the necessaries of existence would be a mere preliminary to the
important and interesting part of life, except for those who find a
pleasure in some part of the work of producing necessaries. It is not
in the least necessary that economic needs should dominate man as they
do at present. This is rendered necessary at present, partly by the
inequalities of wealth, partly by the fact that things of real value,
such as a good education, are difficult to acquire, except for the

Private ownership of land and capital is not defensible on grounds of
justice, or on the ground that it is an economical way of producing
what the community needs. But the chief objections to it are that it
stunts the lives of men and women, that it enshrines a ruthless
possessiveness in all the respect which is given to success, that it
leads men to fill the greater part of their time and thought with the
acquisition of purely material goods, and that it affords a terrible
obstacle to the advancement of civilization and creative energy.

The approach to a system free from these evils need not be sudden; it
is perfectly possible to proceed step by step towards economic freedom
and industrial self-government. It is not true that there is any
outward difficulty in creating the kind of institutions that we have
been considering. If organized labor wishes to create them, nothing
could stand in its way. The difficulty involved is merely the
difficulty of inspiring men with hope, of giving them enough
imagination to see that the evils from which they suffer are
unnecessary, and enough thought to understand how the evils are to be
cured. This is a difficulty which can be overcome by time and energy.
But it will not be overcome if the leaders of organized labor have no
breadth of outlook, no vision, no hopes beyond some slight superficial
improvement within the framework of the existing system.
Revolutionary action may be unnecessary, but revolutionary thought is
indispensable, and, as the outcome of thought, a rational and
constructive hope.

Chapter III: Pitfalls in Socialism


In its early days, socialism was a revolutionary movement of which the
object was the liberation of the wage-earning classes and the
establishment of freedom and justice. The passage from capitalism to
the new rgime was to be sudden and violent: capitalists were to be
expropriated without compensation, and their power was not to be
replaced by any new authority.

Gradually a change came over the spirit of socialism. In France,
socialists became members of the government, and made and unmade
parliamentary majorities. In Germany, social democracy grew so strong
that it became impossible for it to resist the temptation to barter
away some of its intransigeance in return for government recognition
of its claims. In England, the Fabians taught the advantage of reform
as against revolution, and of conciliatory bargaining as against
irreconcilable antagonism.

The method of gradual reform has many merits as compared to the method
of revolution, and I have no wish to preach revolution. But gradual
reform has certain dangers, to wit, the ownership or control of
businesses hitherto in private hands, and by encouraging legislative
interference for the benefit of various sections of the wage-earning
classes. I think it is at least doubtful whether such measures do
anything at all to contribute toward the ideals which inspired the
early socialists and still inspire the great majority of those who
advocate some form of socialism.

Let us take as an illustration such a measure as state purchase of
railways. This is a typical object of state socialism, thoroughly
practicable, already achieved in many countries, and clearly the sort
of step that must be taken in any piecemeal approach to complete
collectivism. Yet I see no reason to believe that any real advance
toward democracy, freedom, or economic justice is achieved when a
state takes over the railways after full compensation to the

Economic justice demands a diminution, if not a total abolition, of
the proportion of the national income which goes to the recipients of
rent and interest. But when the holders of railway shares are given
government stock to replace their shares, they are given the prospect
of an income in perpetuity equal to what they might reasonably expect
to have derived from their shares. Unless there is reason to expect a
great increase in the earnings of railways, the whole operation does
nothing to alter the distribution of wealth. This could only be
effected if the present owners were expropriated, or paid less than
the market value, or given a mere life-interest as compensation. When
full value is given, economic justice is not advanced in any degree.

There is equally little advance toward freedom. The men employed on
the railway have no more voice than they had before in the management
of the railway, or in the wages and conditions of work. Instead of
having to fight the directors, with the possibility of an appeal to
the government, they now have to fight the government directly; and
experience does not lead to the view that a government department has
any special tenderness toward the claims of labor. If they strike,
they have to contend against the whole organized power of the state,
which they can only do successfully if they happen to have a strong
public opinion on their side. In view of the influence which the
state can always exercise on the press, public opinion is likely to be
biased against them, particularly when a nominally progressive
government is in power. There will no longer be the possibility of
divergences between the policies of different railways. Railway men
in England derived advantages for many years from the comparatively
liberal policy of the North Eastern Railway, which they were able to
use as an argument for a similar policy elsewhere. Such possibilities
are excluded by the dead uniformity of state administration.

And there is no real advance toward democracy. The administration of
the railways will be in the hands of officials whose bias and
associations separate them from labor, and who will develop an
autocratic temper through the habit of power. The democratic
machinery by which these officials are nominally controlled is
cumbrous and remote, and can only be brought into operation on
first-class issues which rouse the interest of the whole nation. Even
then it is very likely that the superior education of the officials
and the government, combined with the advantages of their position,
will enable them to mislead the public as to the issues, and alienate
the general sympathy even from the most excellent cause.

I do not deny that these evils exist at present; I say only that they
will not be remedied by such measures as the nationalization of
railways in the present economic and political environment. A greater
upheaval, and a greater change in men's habits of mind, is necessary
for any really vital progress.


State socialism, even in a nation which possesses the form of
political democracy, is not a truly democratic system. The way in
which it fails to be democratic may be made plain by an analogy from
the political sphere. Every democrat recognizes that the Irish ought
to have self-government for Irish affairs, and ought not to be told
that they have no grievance because they share in the Parliament of
the United Kingdom. It is essential to democracy that any group of
citizens whose interests or desires separate them at all widely from
the rest of the community should be free to decide their internal
affairs for themselves. And what is true of national or local groups
is equally true of economic groups, such as miners or railway men.
The national machinery of general elections is by no means sufficient
to secure for groups of this kind the freedom which they ought to

The power of officials, which is a great and growing danger in the
modern state, arises from the fact that the majority of the voters,
who constitute the only ultimate popular control over officials, are
as a rule not interested in any one particular question, and are
therefore not likely to interfere effectively against an official who
is thwarting the wishes of the minority who are interested. The
official is nominally subject to indirect popular control, but not to
the control of those who are directly affected by his action. The
bulk of the public will either never hear about the matter in dispute,
or, if they do hear, will form a hasty opinion based upon inadequate
information, which is far more likely to come from the side of the
officials than from the section of the community which is affected by
the question at issue. In an important political issue, some degree
of knowledge is likely to be diffused in time; but in other matters
there is little hope that this will happen.

It may be said that the power of officials is much less dangerous than
the power of capitalists, because officials have no economic interests
that are opposed to those of wage-earners. But this argument involves
far too simple a theory of political human nature--a theory which
orthodox socialism adopted from the classical political economy, and
has tended to retain in spite of growing evidence of its falsity.
Economic self-interest, and even economic class-interest, is by no
means the only important political motive. Officials, whose salary is
generally quite unaffected by their decisions on particular questions,
are likely, if they are of average honesty, to decide according to
their view of the public interest; but their view will none the less
have a bias which will often lead them wrong. It is important to
understand this bias before entrusting our destinies too unreservedly
to government departments.

The first thing to observe is that, in any very large organization,
and above all in a great state, officials and legislators are usually
very remote from those whom they govern, and not imaginatively
acquainted with the conditions of life to which their decisions will
be applied. This makes them ignorant of much that they ought to know,
even when they are industrious and willing to learn whatever can be
taught by statistics and blue-books. The one thing they understand
intimately is the office routine and the administrative rules. The
result is an undue anxiety to secure a uniform system. I have heard
of a French minister of education taking out his watch, and remarking,
"At this moment all the children of such and such an age in France are
learning so and so." This is the ideal of the administrator, an ideal
utterly fatal to free growth, initiative, experiment, or any far
reaching innovation. Laziness is not one of the motives recognized in
textbooks on political theory, because all ordinary knowledge of human
nature is considered unworthy of the dignity of these works; yet we
all know that laziness is an immensely powerful motive with all but a
small minority of mankind.

Unfortunately, in this case laziness is reinforced by love of power,
which leads energetic officials to create the systems which lazy
officials like to administer. The energetic official inevitably
dislikes anything that he does not control. His official sanction
must be obtained before anything can be done. Whatever he finds in
existence he wishes to alter in some way, so as to have the
satisfaction of feeling his power and making it felt. If he is
conscientious, he will think out some perfectly uniform and rigid
scheme which he believes to be the best possible, and he will then
impose this scheme ruthlessly, whatever promising growths he may have
to lop down for the sake of symmetry. The result inevitably has
something of the deadly dullness of a new rectangular town, as
compared with the beauty and richness of an ancient city which has
lived and grown with the separate lives and individualities of many
generations. What has grown is always more living than what has been
decreed; but the energetic official will always prefer the tidiness of
what he has decreed to the apparent disorder of spontaneous growth.

The mere possession of power tends to produce a love of power, which
is a very dangerous motive, because the only sure proof of power
consists in preventing others from doing what they wish to do. The
essential theory of democracy is the diffusion of power among the
whole people, so that the evils produced by one man's possession of
great power shall be obviated. But the diffusion of power through
democracy is only effective when the voters take an interest in the
question involved. When the question does not interest them, they do
not attempt to control the administration, and all actual power passes
into the hands of officials.

For this reason, the true ends of democracy are not achieved by state
socialism or by any system which places great power in the hands of
men subject to no popular control except that which is more or less
indirectly exercised through parliament.

Any fresh survey of men's political actions shows that, in those who
have enough energy to be politically effective, love of power is a
stronger motive than economic self-interest. Love of power actuates
the great millionaires, who have far more money than they can spend,
but continue to amass wealth merely in order to control more and more
of the world's finance.[2] Love of power is obviously the ruling
motive of many politicians. It is also the chief cause of wars, which
are admittedly almost always a bad speculation from the mere point of
view of wealth. For this reason, a new economic system which merely
attacks economic motives and does not interfere with the concentration
of power is not likely to effect any very great improvement in the
world. This is one of the chief reasons for regarding state socialism
with suspicion.

[2] Cf. J. A. Hobson, "The Evolution of Modern Capitalism."


The problem of the distribution of power is a more difficult one than
the problem of the distribution of wealth. The machinery of
representative government has concentrated on _ultimate_ power as the
only important matter, and has ignored immediate executive power.
Almost nothing has been done to democratize administration.
Government officials, in virtue of their income, security, and social
position, are likely to be on the side of the rich, who have been
their daily associates ever since the time of school and college. And
whether or not they are on the side of the rich, they are not likely,
for the reasons we have been considering, to be genuinely in favor of
progress. What applies to government officials applies also to
members of Parliament, with the sole difference that they have had to
recommend themselves to a constituency. This, however, only adds
hypocrisy to the other qualities of a ruling caste. Whoever has stood
in the lobby of the House of Commons watching members emerge with
wandering eye and hypothetical smile, until the constituent is espied,
his arm taken, "my dear fellow" whispered in his ear, and his steps
guided toward the inner precincts--whoever, observing this, has
realized that these are the arts by which men become and remain
legislators, can hardly fail to feel that democracy as it exists is
not an absolutely perfect instrument of government. It is a painful
fact that the ordinary voter, at any rate in England, is quite blind
to insincerity. The man who does not care about any definite
political measures can generally be won by corruption or flattery,
open or concealed; the man who is set on securing reforms will
generally prefer an ambitious windbag to a man who desires the public
good without possessing a ready tongue. And the ambitious windbag, as
soon as he has become a power by the enthusiasm he has aroused, will
sell his influence to the governing clique, sometimes openly,
sometimes by the more subtle method of intentionally failing at a
crisis. This is part of the normal working of democracy as embodied
in representative institutions. Yet a cure must be found if democracy
is not to remain a farce.

One of the sources of evil in modern large democracies is the fact
that most of the electorate have no direct or vital interest in most
of the questions that arise. Should Welsh children be allowed the use
of the Welsh language in schools? Should gipsies be compelled to
abandon their nomadic life at the bidding of the education
authorities? Should miners have an eight-hour day? Should Christian
Scientists be compelled to call in doctors in case of serious illness?
These are matters of passionate interest to certain sections of the
community, but of very little interest to the great majority. If they
are decided according to the wishes of the numerical majority, the
intense desires of a minority will be overborne by the very slight and
uninformed whims of the indifferent remainder. If the minority are
geographically concentrated, so that they can decide elections in a
certain number of constituencies, like the Welsh and the miners, they
have a good chance of getting their way, by the wholly beneficent
process which its enemies describe as log-rolling. But if they are
scattered and politically feeble, like the gipsies and the Christian
Scientists, they stand a very poor chance against the prejudices of
the majority. Even when they are geographically concentrated, like
the Irish, they may fail to obtain their wishes, because they arouse
some hostility or some instinct of domination in the majority. Such a
state of affairs is the negation of all democratic principles.

The tyranny of the majority is a very real danger. It is a mistake to
suppose that the majority is necessarily right. On every new question
the majority is always wrong at first. In matters where the state
must act as a whole, such as tariffs, for example, decision by
majorities is probably the best method that can be devised. But there
are a great many questions in which there is no need of a uniform
decision. Religion is recognized as one of these. Education ought to
be one, provided a certain minimum standard is attained. Military
service clearly ought to be one. Wherever divergent action by
different groups is possible without anarchy, it ought to be
permitted. In such cases it will be found by those who consider past
history that, whenever any new fundamental issue arises, the majority
are in the wrong, because they are guided by prejudice and habit.
Progress comes through the gradual effect of a minority in converting
opinion and altering custom. At one time--not so very long ago--it
was considered monstrous wickedness to maintain that old women ought
not to be burnt as witches. If those who held this opinion had been
forcibly suppressed, we should still be steeped in medieval
superstition. For such reasons, it is of the utmost importance that
the majority should refrain from imposing its will as regards matters
in which uniformity is not absolutely necessary.


The cure for the evils and dangers which we have been considering is a
very great extension of devolution and federal government. Wherever
there is a national consciousness, as in Wales and Ireland, the area
in which it exists ought to be allowed to decide all purely local
affairs without external interference. But there are many matters
which ought to be left to the management, not of local groups, but of
trade groups, or of organizations embodying some set of opinions. In
the East, men are subject to different laws according to the religion
they profess. Something of this kind is necessary if any semblance of
liberty is to exist where there is great divergence in beliefs.

Some matters are essentially geographical; for instance, gas and
water, roads, tariffs, armies and navies. These must be decided by an
authority representing an area. How large the area ought to be,
depends upon accidents of topography and sentiment, and also upon the
nature of the matter involved. Gas and water require a small area,
roads a somewhat larger one, while the only satisfactory area for an
army or a navy is the whole planet, since no smaller area will prevent

But the proper unit in most economic questions, and also in most
questions that are intimately concerned with personal opinions, is not
geographical at all. The internal management of railways ought not to
be in the hands of the geographical state, for reasons which we have
already considered. Still less ought it to be in the hands of a set
of irresponsible capitalists. The only truly democratic system would
be one which left the internal management of railways in the hands of
the men who work on them. These men should elect the general manager,
and a parliament of directors if necessary. All questions of wages,
conditions of labor, running of trains, and acquisition of material,
should be in the hands of a body responsible only to those actually
engaged in the work of the railway.

The same arguments apply to other large trades: mining, iron and
steel, cotton, and so on. British trade-unionism, it seems to me, has
erred in conceiving labor and capital as both permanent forces, which
were to be brought to some equality of strength by the organization of
labor. This seems to me too modest an ideal. The ideal which I
should wish to substitute involves the conquest of democracy and
self-government in the economic sphere as in the political sphere, and
the total abolition of the power now wielded by the capitalist. The
man who works on a railway ought to have a voice in the government of
the railway, just as much as the man who works in a state has a right
to a voice in the management of his state. The concentration of
business initiative in the hands of the employers is a great evil, and
robs the employees of their legitimate share of interest in the larger
problems of their trade.

French syndicalists were the first to advocate the system of trade
autonomy as a better solution than state socialism. But in their view
the trades were to be independent, almost like sovereign states at
present. Such a system would not promote peace, any more than it does
at present in international relations. In the affairs of any body of
men, we may broadly distinguish what may be called questions of home
politics from questions of foreign politics. Every group sufficiently
well-marked to constitute a political entity ought to be autonomous in
regard to internal matters, but not in regard to those that directly
affect the outside world. If two groups are both entirely free as
regards their relations to each other, there is no way of averting the
danger of an open or covert appeal to force. The relations of a group
of men to the outside world ought, whenever possible, to be controlled
by a neutral authority. It is here that the state is necessary for
adjusting the relations between different trades. The men who make
some commodity should be entirely free as regards hours of labor,
distribution of the total earnings of the trade, and all questions of
business management. But they should not be free as regards the price
of what they produce, since price is a matter concerning their
relations to the rest of the community. If there were nominal freedom
in regard to price, there would be a danger of a constant tug-of-war,
in which those trades which were most immediately necessary to the
existence of the community could always obtain an unfair advantage.
Force is no more admirable in the economic sphere than in dealings
between states. In order to secure the maximum of freedom with the
minimum of force, the universal principle is: _Autonomy within each
politically important group, and a neutral authority for deciding
questions involving relations between groups_. The neutral authority
should, of course, rest on a democratic basis, but should, if
possible, represent a constituency wider than that of the groups
concerned. In international affairs the only adequate authority would
be one representing all civilized nations.

In order to prevent undue extension of the power of such authorities,
it is desirable and necessary that the various autonomous groups
should be very jealous of their liberties, and very ready to resist by
political means any encroachments upon their independence. State
socialism does not tolerate such groups, each with their own officials
responsible to the group. Consequently it abandons the internal
affairs of a group to the control of men not responsible to that group
or specially aware of its needs. This opens the door to tyranny and
to the destruction of initiative. These dangers are avoided by a
system which allows any group of men to combine for any given purpose,
provided it is not predatory, and to claim from the central authority
such self-government as is necessary to the carrying out of the
purpose. Churches of various denominations afford an instance. Their
autonomy was won by centuries of warfare and persecution. It is to be
hoped that a less terrible struggle will be required to achieve the
same result in the economic sphere. But whatever the obstacles, I
believe the importance of liberty is as great in the one case as it
has been admitted to be in the other.

Chapter IV: Individual Liberty and Public Control


Society cannot exist without law and order, and cannot advance except
through the initiative of vigorous innovators. Yet law and order are
always hostile to innovations, and innovators are almost always, to
some extent, anarchists. Those whose minds are dominated by fear of a
relapse towards barbarism will emphasize the importance of law and
order, while those who are inspired by the hope of an advance towards
civilization will usually be more conscious of the need of individual
initiative. Both temperaments are necessary, and wisdom lies in
allowing each to operate freely where it is beneficent. But those who
are on the side of law and order, since they are reinforced by custom
and the instinct for upholding the _status quo_, have no need of a
reasoned defense. It is the innovators who have difficulty in being
allowed to exist and work. Each generation believes that this
difficulty is a thing of the past, but each generation is only
tolerant of _past_ innovations. Those of its own day are met with the
same persecution as though the principle of toleration had never been
heard of.

"In early society," says Westermarck, "customs are not only moral
rules, but the only moral rules ever thought of. The savage strictly
complies with the Hegelian command that no man must have a private
conscience. The following statement, which refers to the Tinnevelly
Shanars, may be quoted as a typical example: 'Solitary individuals
amongst them rarely adopt any new opinions, or any new course of
procedure. They follow the multitude to do evil, and they follow the
multitude to do good. They think in herds.'"[3]

[3] "The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas," 2d edition,
Vol. I, p. 119.

Those among ourselves who have never thought a thought or done a deed
in the slightest degree different from the thoughts and deeds of our
neighbors will congratulate themselves on the difference between us
and the savage. But those who have ever attempted any real innovation
cannot help feeling that the people they know are not so very unlike
the Tinnevelly Shanars.

Under the influence of socialism, even progressive opinion, in recent
years, has been hostile to individual liberty. Liberty is associated,
in the minds of reformers, with _laissez-faire_, the Manchester School,
and the exploitation of women and children which resulted from what
was euphemistically called "free competition." All these things were
evil, and required state interference; in fact, there is need of an
immense increase of state action in regard to cognate evils which
still exist. In everything that concerns the economic life of the
community, as regards both distribution and conditions of production,
what is required is more public control, not less--how much more, I
do not profess to know.

Another direction in which there is urgent need of the substitution of
law and order for anarchy is international relations. At present,
each sovereign state has complete individual freedom, subject only to
the sanction of war. This individual freedom will have to be
curtailed in regard to external relations if wars are ever to cease.

But when we pass outside the sphere of material possessions, we find
that the arguments in favor of public control almost entirely

Religion, to begin with, is recognized as a matter in which the state
ought not to interfere. Whether a man is Christian, Mahometan, or Jew
is a question of no public concern, so long as he obeys the laws; and
the laws ought to be such as men of all religions can obey. Yet even
here there are limits. No civilized state would tolerate a religion
demanding human sacrifice. The English in India put an end to suttee,
in spite of a fixed principle of non-interference with native
religious customs. Perhaps they were wrong to prevent suttee, yet
almost every European would have done the same. We cannot _effectively_
doubt that such practices ought to be stopped, however we may theorize
in favor of religious liberty.

In such cases, the interference with liberty is imposed from without
by a higher civilization. But the more common case, and the more
interesting, is when an independent state interferes on behalf of
custom against individuals who are feeling their way toward more
civilized beliefs and institutions.

"In New South Wales," says Westermarck, "the first-born of every lubra
used to be eaten by the tribe 'as part of a religious ceremony.' In
the realm of Khai-muh, in China, according to a native account, it was
customary to kill and devour the eldest son alive. Among certain
tribes in British Columbia the first child is often sacrificed to the
sun. The Indians of Florida, according to Le Moyne de Morgues,
sacrificed the first-born son to the chief....'"[4]

[4] _Op cit._, p. 459.

There are pages and pages of such instances.

There is nothing analogous to these practices among ourselves. When
the first-born in Florida was told that his king and country needed
him, this was a mere mistake, and with us mistakes of this kind do not
occur. But it is interesting to inquire how these superstitions died
out, in such cases, for example, as that of Khai-muh, where foreign
compulsion is improbable. We may surmise that some parents, under the
selfish influence of parental affection, were led to doubt whether the
sun would really be angry if the eldest child were allowed to live.
Such rationalism would be regarded as very dangerous, since it was
calculated to damage the harvest. For generations the opinion would
be cherished in secret by a handful of cranks, who would not be able
to act upon it. At last, by concealment or flight, a few parents
would save their children from the sacrifice. Such parents would be
regarded as lacking all public spirit, and as willing to endanger the
community for their private pleasure. But gradually it would appear
that the state remained intact, and the crops were no worse than in
former years. Then, by a fiction, a child would be deemed to have
been sacrificed if it was solemnly dedicated to agriculture or some
other work of national importance chosen by the chief. It would be
many generations before the child would be allowed to choose its own
occupation after it had grown old enough to know its own tastes and
capacities. And during all those generations, children would be
reminded that only an act of grace had allowed them to live at all,
and would exist under the shadow of a purely imaginary duty to the

The position of those parents who first disbelieved in the utility of
infant sacrifice illustrates all the difficulties which arise in
connection with the adjustment of individual freedom to public
control. The authorities, believing the sacrifice necessary for the
good of the community, were bound to insist upon it; the parents,
believing it useless, were equally bound to do everything in their
power toward saving the child. How ought both parties to act in such
a case?

The duty of the skeptical parent is plain: to save the child by any
possible means, to preach the uselessness of the sacrifice in season
and out of season, and to endure patiently whatever penalty the law
may indict for evasion. But the duty of the authorities is far less
clear. So long as they remain firmly persuaded that the universal
sacrifice of the first-born is indispensable, they are bound to
persecute those who seek to undermine this belief. But they will, if
they are conscientious, very carefully examine the arguments of
opponents, and be willing in advance to admit that these arguments
_may_ be sound. They will carefully search their own hearts to see
whether hatred of children or pleasure in cruelty has anything to do
with their belief. They will remember that in the past history of
Khai-muh there are innumerable instances of beliefs, now known to be
false, on account of which those who disagreed with the prevalent view
were put to death. Finally they will reflect that, though errors
which are traditional are often wide-spread, new beliefs seldom win
acceptance unless they are nearer to the truth than what they replace;
and they will conclude that a new belief is probably either an
advance, or so unlikely to become common as to be innocuous. All
these considerations will make them hesitate before they resort to


The study of past times and uncivilized races makes it clear beyond
question that the customary beliefs of tribes or nations are almost
invariably false. It is difficult to divest ourselves completely of
the customary beliefs of our own age and nation, but it is not very
difficult to achieve a certain degree of doubt in regard to them. The
Inquisitor who burnt men at the stake was acting with true humanity if
all his beliefs were correct; but if they were in error at any point,
he was inflicting a wholly unnecessary cruelty. A good working maxim
in such matters is this: Do not trust customary beliefs so far as to
perform actions which must be disastrous unless the beliefs in
question are wholly true. The world would be utterly bad, in the
opinion of the average Englishman, unless he could say "Britannia
rules the waves"; in the opinion of the average German, unless he
could say "Deutschland ber alles." For the sake of these beliefs,
they are willing to destroy European civilization. If the beliefs
should happen to be false, their action is regrettable.

One fact which emerges from these considerations is that no obstacle
should be placed in the way of thought and its expression, nor yet in
the way of statements of fact. This was formerly common ground among
liberal thinkers, though it was never quite realized in the practice
of civilized countries. But it has recently become, throughout
Europe, a dangerous paradox, on account of which men suffer
imprisonment or starvation. For this reason it has again become worth
stating. The grounds for it are so evident that I should be ashamed
to repeat them if they were not universally ignored. But in the
actual world it is very necessary to repeat them.

To attain complete truth is not given to mortals, but to advance
toward it by successive steps is not impossible. On any matter of
general interest, there is usually, in any given community at any
given time, a received opinion, which is accepted as a matter of
course by all who give no special thought to the matter. Any
questioning of the received opinion rouses hostility, for a number of

The most important of these is the instinct of conventionality, which
exists in all gregarious animals and often leads them to put to death
any markedly peculiar member of the herd.

The next most important is the feeling of insecurity aroused by doubt
as to the beliefs by which we are in the habit of regulating our
lives. Whoever has tried to explain the philosophy of Berkeley to a
plain man will have seen in its unadulterated form the anger aroused
by this feeling. What the plain man derives from Berkeley's
philosophy at a first hearing is an uncomfortable suspicion that
nothing is solid, so that it is rash to sit on a chair or to expect
the floor to sustain us. Because this suspicion is uncomfortable, it
is irritating, except to those who regard the whole argument as merely
nonsense. And in a more or less analogous way any questioning of what
has been taken for granted destroys the feeling of standing on solid
ground, and produces a condition of bewildered fear.

A third reason which makes men dislike novel opinions is that vested
interests are bound up with old beliefs. The long fight of the church
against science, from Giordano Bruno to Darwin, is attributable to
this motive among others. The horror of socialism which existed in
the remote past was entirely attributable to this cause. But it would
be a mistake to assume, as is done by those who seek economic motives
everywhere, that vested interests are the principal source of anger
against novelties in thought. If this were the case, intellectual
progress would be much more rapid than it is.

The instinct of conventionality, horror of uncertainty, and vested
interests, all militate against the acceptance of a new idea. And it
is even harder to think of a new idea than to get it accepted; most
people might spend a lifetime in reflection without ever making a
genuinely original discovery.

In view of all these obstacles, it is not likely that any society at
any time will suffer from a plethora of heretical opinions. Least of
all is this likely in a modern civilized society, where the conditions
of life are in constant rapid change, and demand, for successful
adaptation, an equally rapid change in intellectual outlook. There
should be an attempt, therefore, to encourage, rather than discourage,
the expression of new beliefs and the dissemination of knowledge
tending to support them. But the very opposite is, in fact, the case.
From childhood upward, everything is done to make the minds of men and
women conventional and sterile. And if, by misadventure, some spark
of imagination remains, its unfortunate possessor is considered
unsound and dangerous, worthy only of contempt in time of peace and of
prison or a traitor's death in time of war. Yet such men are known to
have been in the past the chief benefactors of mankind, and are the
very men who receive most honor as soon as they are safely dead.

The whole realm of thought and opinion is utterly unsuited to public
control; it ought to be as free, and as spontaneous as is possible to
those who know what others have believed. The state is justified in
insisting that children shall be educated, but it is not justified in
forcing their education to proceed on a uniform plan and to be
directed to the production of a dead level of glib uniformity.
Education, and the life of the mind generally, is a matter in which
individual initiative is the chief thing needed; the function of the
state should begin and end with insistence on some kind of education,
and, if possible, a kind which promotes mental individualism, not a
kind which happens to conform to the prejudices of government


Questions of practical morals raise more difficult problems than
questions of mere opinion. The thugs honestly believe it their duty
to commit murders, but the government does not acquiesce. The
conscientious objectors honestly hold the opposite opinion, and again
the government does not acquiesce. Killing is a state prerogative; it
is equally criminal to do it unbidden and not to do it when bidden.
The same applies to theft, unless it is on a large scale or by one who
is already rich. Thugs and thieves are men who use force in their
dealings with their neighbors, and we may lay it down broadly that the
private use of force should be prohibited except in rare cases,
however conscientious may be its motive. But this principle will not
justify compelling men to use force at the bidding of the state, when
they do not believe it justified by the occasion. The punishment of
conscientious objectors seems clearly a violation of individual
liberty within its legitimate sphere.

It is generally assumed without question that the state has a right to
punish certain kinds of sexual irregularity. No one doubts that the
Mormons sincerely believed polygamy to be a desirable practice, yet
the United States required them to abandon its legal recognition, and
probably any other Christian country would have done likewise.
Nevertheless, I do not think this prohibition was wise. Polygamy is
legally permitted in many parts of the world, but is not much
practised except by chiefs and potentates. If, as Europeans generally
believe, it is an undesirable custom, it is probable that the Mormons
would have soon abandoned it, except perhaps for a few men of
exceptional position. If, on the other hand, it had proved a
successful experiment, the world would have acquired a piece of
knowledge which it is now unable to possess. I think in all such
cases the law should only intervene when there is some injury
inflicted without the consent of the injured person.

It is obvious that men and women would not tolerate having their wives
or husbands selected by the state, whatever eugenists might have to
say in favor of such a plan. In this it seems clear that ordinary
public opinion is in the right, not because people choose wisely, but
because any choice of their own is better than a forced marriage.
What applies to marriage ought also to apply to the choice of a trade
or profession; although some men have no marked preferences, most men
greatly prefer some occupations to others, and are far more likely to
be useful citizens if they follow their preferences than if they are
thwarted by a public authority.

The case of the man who has an intense conviction that he ought to do
a certain kind of work is peculiar, and perhaps not very common; but
it is important because it includes some very important individuals.
Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale defied convention in obedience to
a feeling of this sort; reformers and agitators in unpopular causes,
such as Mazzini, have belonged to this class; so have many men of
science. In cases of this kind the individual conviction deserves the
greatest respect, even if there seems no obvious justification for it.
Obedience to the impulse is very unlikely to do much harm, and may
well do great good. The practical difficulty is to distinguish such
impulses from desires which produce similar manifestations. Many
young people wish to be authors without having an impulse to write any
particular book, or wish to be painters without having an impulse to
create any particular picture. But a little experience will usually
show the difference between a genuine and a spurious impulse; and
there is less harm in indulging the spurious impulse for a time than
in thwarting the impulse which is genuine. Nevertheless, the plain
man almost always has a tendency to thwart the genuine impulse,
because it seems anarchic and unreasonable, and is seldom able to give
a good account of itself in advance.

What is markedly true of some notable personalities is true, in a
lesser degree, of almost every individual who has much vigor or force
of life; there is an impulse towards activity of some kind, as a rule
not very definite in youth, but growing gradually more sharply
outlined under the influence of education and opportunity. The direct
impulse toward a kind of activity for its own sake must be
distinguished from the desire for the expected effects of the
activity. A young man may desire the rewards of great achievement
without having any spontaneous impulse toward the activities which
lead to achievement. But those who actually achieve much, although
they may desire the rewards, have also something in their nature which
inclines them to choose a certain kind of work as the road which they
must travel if their ambition is to be satisfied. This artist's
impulse, as it may be called, is a thing of infinite value to the
individual, and often to the world; to respect it in oneself and in
others makes up nine tenths of the good life. In most human beings it
is rather frail, rather easily destroyed or disturbed; parents and
teachers are too often hostile to it, and our economic system crushes
out its last remnants in young men and young women. The result is
that human beings cease to be individual, or to retain the native
pride that is their birthright; they become machine-made, tame,
convenient for the bureaucrat and the drill-sergeant, capable of being
tabulated in statistics without anything being omitted. This is the
fundamental evil resulting from lack of liberty; and it is an evil
which is being continually intensified as population grows more dense
and the machinery of organization grows more efficient.

The things that men desire are many and various: admiration,
affection, power, security, ease, outlets for energy, are among the
commonest of motives. But such abstractions do not touch what makes
the difference between one man and another. Whenever I go to the
zological gardens, I am struck by the fact that all the movements of
a stork have some common quality, differing from the movements of a
parrot or an ostrich. It is impossible to put in words what the
common quality is, and yet we feel that each thing an animal does is
the sort of thing we might expect that animal to do. This indefinable
quality constitutes the individuality of the animal, and gives rise to
the pleasure we feel in watching the animal's actions. In a human
being, provided he has not been crushed by an economic or governmental
machine, there is the same kind of individuality, a something
distinctive without which no man or woman can achieve much of
importance, or retain the full dignity which is native to human
beings. It is this distinctive individuality that is loved by the
artist, whether painter or writer. The artist himself, and the man
who is creative in no matter what direction, has more of it than the
average man. Any society which crushes this quality, whether
intentionally or by accident, must soon become utterly lifeless and
traditional, without hope of progress and without any purpose in its
being. To preserve and strengthen the impulse that makes
individuality should be the foremost object of all political


We now arrive at certain general principles in regard to individual
liberty and public control.

The greater part of human impulses may be divided into two classes,
those which are possessive and those which are constructive or
creative. Social institutions are the garments or embodiments of
impulses, and may be classified roughly according to the impulses
which they embody. Property is the direct expression of
possessiveness; science and art are among the most direct expressions
of creativeness. Possessiveness is either defensive or aggressive; it
seeks either to retain against a robber, or to acquire from a present
holder. In either case an attitude of hostility toward others is of
its essence. It would be a mistake to suppose that defensive
possessiveness is always justifiable, while the aggressive kind is
always blameworthy; where there is great injustice in the _status
quo_, the exact opposite may be the case, and ordinarily neither is

State interference with the actions of individuals is necessitated by
possessiveness. Some goods can be acquired or retained by force,
while others cannot. A wife can be acquired by force, as the Romans
acquired the Sabine women; but a wife's affection cannot be acquired
in this way. There is no record that the Romans desired the affection
of the Sabine women; and those in whom possessive impulses are strong
tend to care chiefly for the goods that force can secure. All
material goods belong to this class. Liberty in regard to such goods,
if it were unrestricted, would make the strong rich and the weak poor.
In a capitalistic society, owing to the partial restraints imposed by
law, it makes cunning men rich and honest men poor, because the force
of the state is put at men's disposal, not according to any just or
rational principle, but according to a set of traditional maxims of
which the explanation is purely historical.

In all that concerns possession and the use of force, unrestrained
liberty involves anarchy and injustice. Freedom to kill, freedom to
rob, freedom to defraud, no longer belong to individuals, though they
still belong to great states, and are exercised by them in the name of
patriotism. Neither individuals nor states ought to be free to exert
force on their own initiative, except in such sudden emergencies as
will subsequently be admitted in justification by a court of law. The
reason for this is that the exertion of force by one individual
against another is always an evil on both sides, and can only be
tolerated when it is compensated by some overwhelming resultant good.
In order to minimize the amount of force actually exerted in the
world, it is necessary that there should be a public authority, a
repository of practically irresistible force, whose function should be
primarily to repress the private use of force. A use of force is
_private_ when it is exerted by one of the interested parties, or by
his friends or accomplices, not by a public neutral authority
according to some rule which is intended to be in the public interest.

The rgime of private property under which we live does much too
little to restrain the private use of force. When a man owns a piece
of land, for example, he may use force against trespassers, though
they must not use force against him. It is clear that some
restriction of the liberty of trespass is necessary for the
cultivation of the land. But if such powers are to be given to an
individual, the state ought to satisfy itself that he occupies no more
land than he is warranted in occupying in the public interest, and
that the share of the produce of the land that comes to him is no more
than a just reward for his labors. Probably the only way in which
such ends can be achieved is by state ownership of land. The
possessors of land and capital are able at present, by economic
pressure, to use force against those who have no possessions. This
force is sanctioned by law, while force exercised by the poor against
the rich is illegal. Such a state of things is unjust, and does not
diminish the use of private force as much as it might be diminished.

The whole realm of the possessive impulses, and of the use of force to
which they give rise, stands in need of control by a public neutral
authority, in the interests of liberty no less than of justice.
Within a nation, this public authority will naturally be the state; in
relations between nations, if the present anarchy is to cease, it will
have to be some international parliament.

But the motive underlying the public control of men's possessive
impulses should always be the increase of liberty, both by the
prevention of private tyranny and by the liberation of creative
impulses. If public control is not to do more harm than good, it must
be so exercised as to leave the utmost freedom of private initiative
in all those ways that do not involve the private use of force. In
this respect all governments have always failed egregiously, and there
is no evidence that they are improving.

The creative impulses, unlike those that are possessive, are directed
to ends in which one man's gain is not another man's loss. The man
who makes a scientific discovery or writes a poem is enriching others
at the same time as himself. Any increase in knowledge or good-will
is a gain to all who are affected by it, not only to the actual
possessor. Those who feel the joy of life are a happiness to others
as well as to themselves. Force cannot create such things, though it
can destroy them; no principle of distributive justice applies to
them, since the gain of each is the gain of all. For these reasons,
the creative part of a man's activity ought to be as free as possible
from all public control, in order that it may remain spontaneous and
full of vigor. The only function of the state in regard to this part
of the individual life should be to do everything possible toward
providing outlets and opportunities.

In every life a part is governed by the community, and a part by
private initiative. The part governed by private initiative is
greatest in the most important individuals, such as men of genius and
creative thinkers. This part ought only to be restricted when it is
predatory; otherwise, everything ought to be done to make it as great
and as vigorous as possible. The object of education ought not to be
to make all men think alike, but to make each think in the way which
is the fullest expression of his own personality. In the choice of a
means of livelihood all young men and young women ought, as far as
possible, to be able to choose what is attractive to them; if no
money-making occupation is attractive, they ought to be free to do
little work for little pay, and spend their leisure as they choose.
Any kind of censure on freedom of thought or on the dissemination of
knowledge is, of course, to be condemned utterly.

Huge organizations, both political and economic, are one of the
distinguishing characteristics of the modern world. These
organizations have immense power, and often use their power to
discourage originality in thought and action. They ought, on the
contrary, to give the freest scope that is possible without producing
anarchy or violent conflict. They ought not to take cognizance of any
part of a man's life except what is concerned with the legitimate
objects of public control, namely, possessions and the use of force.
And they ought, by devolution, to leave as large a share of control as
possible in the hands of individuals and small groups. If this is not
done, the men at the head of these vast organizations will infallibly
become tyrannous through the habit of excessive power, and will in
time interfere in ways that crush out individual initiative.

The problem which faces the modern world is the combination of
individual initiative with the increase in the scope and size of
organizations. Unless it is solved, individuals will grow less and
less full of life and vigor, and more and more passively submissive to
conditions imposed upon them. A society composed of such individuals
cannot be progressive or add much to the world's stock of mental and
spiritual possessions. Only personal liberty and the encouragement of
initiative can secure these things. Those who resist authority when
it encroaches upon the legitimate sphere of the individual are
performing a service to society, however little society may value it.
In regard to the past, this is universally acknowledged; but it is no
less true in regard to the present and the future.

Chapter V: National Independence and Internationalism

In the relations between states, as in the relations of groups within
a single state, what is to be desired is independence for each as
regards internal affairs, and law rather than private force as regards
external affairs. But as regards groups within a state, it is
internal independence that must be emphasized, since that is what is
lacking; subjection to law has been secured, on the whole, since the
end of the Middle Ages. In the relations between states, on the
contrary, it is law and a central government that are lacking, since
independence exists for external as for internal affairs. The stage
we have reached in the affairs of Europe corresponds to the stage
reached in our internal affairs during the Wars of the Roses, when
turbulent barons frustrated the attempt to make them keep the king's
peace. Thus, although the goal is the same in the two cases, the
steps to be taken in order to achieve it are quite different.

There can be no good international system until the boundaries of
states coincide as nearly as possible with the boundaries of nations.

But it is not easy to say what we mean by a nation. Are the Irish a
nation? Home Rulers say yes, Unionists say no. Are the Ulstermen a
nation? Unionists say yes, Home Rulers say no. In all such cases it
is a party question whether we are to call a group a nation or not. A
German will tell you that the Russian Poles are a nation, but as for
the Prussian Poles, they, of course, are part of Prussia. Professors
can always be hired to prove, by arguments of race or language or
history, that a group about which there is a dispute is, or is not, a
nation, as may be desired by those whom the professors serve. If we
are to avoid all these controversies, we must first of all endeavor to
find some definition of a nation.

A nation is not to be defined by affinities of language or a common
historical origin, though these things often help to produce a nation.
Switzerland is a nation, despite diversities of race, religion, and
language. England and Scotland now form one nation, though they did
not do so at the time of the Civil War. This is shown by Cromwell's
saying, in the height of the conflict, that he would rather be subject
to the domain of the royalists than to that of the Scotch. Great
Britain was one state before it was one nation; on the other hand,
Germany was one nation before it was one state.

What constitutes a nation is a sentiment and an instinct, a sentiment
of similarity and an instinct of belonging to the same group or herd.
The instinct is an extension of the instinct which constitutes a flock
of sheep, or any other group of gregarious animals. The sentiment
which goes with this is like a milder and more extended form of family
feeling. When we return to England after being on the Continent, we
feel something friendly in the familiar ways, and it is easy to
believe that Englishmen on the whole are virtuous, while many
foreigners are full of designing wickedness.

Such feelings make it easy to organize a nation into a state. It is
not difficult, as a rule, to acquiesce in the orders of a national
government. We feel that it is our government, and that its decrees
are more or less the same as those which we should have given if we
ourselves had been the governors. There is an instinctive and usually
unconscious sense of a common purpose animating the members of a
nation. This becomes especially vivid when there is war or a danger
of war. Any one who, at such a time, stands out against the orders of
his government feels an inner conflict quite different from any that
he would feel in standing out against the orders of a foreign
government in whose power he might happen to find himself. If he
stands out, he does so with some more or less conscious hope that his
government may in time come to think as he does; whereas, in standing
out against a foreign government, no such hope is necessary. This
group instinct, however it may have arisen, is what constitutes a
nation, and what makes it important that the boundaries of nations
should also be the boundaries of states.

National sentiment is a fact, and should be taken account of by
institutions. When it is ignored, it is intensified and becomes a
source of strife. It can only be rendered harmless by being given
free play, so long as it is not predatory. But it is not, in itself,
a good or admirable feeling. There is nothing rational and nothing
desirable in a limitation of sympathy which confines it to a fragment
of the human race. Diversities of manners and customs and traditions
are, on the whole, a good thing, since they enable different nations
to produce different types of excellence. But in national feeling
there is always latent or explicit an element of hostility to
foreigners. National feeling, as we know it, could not exist in a
nation which was wholly free from external pressure of a hostile kind.

And group feeling produces a limited and often harmful kind of
morality. Men come to identify the good with what serves the
interests of their own group, and the bad with what works against
those interests, even if it should happen to be in the interests of
mankind as a whole. This group morality is very much in evidence
during war, and is taken for granted in men's ordinary thought.
Although almost all Englishmen consider the defeat of Germany
desirable for the good of the world, yet nevertheless most of them
honor a German for fighting for his country, because it has not
occurred to them that his actions ought to be guided by a morality
higher than that of the group.

A man does right, as a rule, to have his thoughts more occupied with
the interests of his own nation than with those of others, because his
actions are more likely to affect his own nation. But in time of war,
and in all matters which are of equal concern to other nations and to
his own, a man ought to take account of the universal welfare, and not
allow his survey to be limited by the interest, or supposed interest,
of his own group or nation.

So long as national feeling exists, it is very important that each
nation should be self-governing as regards its internal affairs.
Government can only be carried on by force and tyranny if its subjects
view it with hostile eyes, and they will so view it if they feel that
it belongs to an alien nation. This principle meets with difficulties
in cases where men of different nations live side by side in the same
area, as happens in some parts of the Balkans. There are also
difficulties in regard to places which, for some geographical reason,
are of great international importance, such as the Suez Canal and the
Panama Canal. In such cases the purely local desires of the
inhabitants may have to give way before larger interests. But in
general, at any rate as applied to civilized communities, the
principle that the boundaries of nations ought to coincide with the
boundaries of states has very few exceptions.

This principle, however, does not decide how the relations between
states are to be regulated, or how a conflict of interests between
rival states is to be decided. At present, every great state claims
absolute sovereignty, not only in regard to its internal affairs but
also in regard to its external actions. This claim to absolute
sovereignty leads it into conflict with similar claims on the part of
other great states. Such conflicts at present can only be decided by
war or diplomacy, and diplomacy is in essence nothing but the threat
of war. There is no more justification for the claim to absolute
sovereignty on the part of a state than there would be for a similar
claim on the part of an individual. The claim to absolute sovereignty
is, in effect, a claim that all external affairs are to be regulated
purely by force, and that when two nations or groups of nations are
interested in a question, the decision shall depend solely upon which
of them is, or is believed to be, the stronger. This is nothing but
primitive anarchy, "the war of all against all," which Hobbes asserted
to be the original state of mankind.

There cannot be secure peace in the world, or any decision of
international questions according to international law, until states
are willing to part with their absolute sovereignty as regards their
external relations, and to leave the decision in such matters to some
international instrument of government.[5] An international government
will have to be legislative as well as judicial. It is not enough
that there should be a Hague tribunal, deciding matters according to
some already existing system of international law; it is necessary
also that there should be a body capable of enacting international
law, and this body will have to have the power of transferring
territory from one state to another, when it is persuaded that
adequate grounds exist for such a transference. Friends of peace will
make a mistake if they unduly glorify the _status quo_. Some nations
grow, while others dwindle; the population of an area may change its
character by emigration and immigration. There is no good reason why
states should resent changes in their boundaries under such
conditions, and if no international authority has power to make
changes of this kind, the temptations to war will sometimes become

[5] For detailed scheme of international government see "International
Government," by L. Woolf. Allen & Unwin.

The international authority ought to possess an army and navy, and
these ought to be the only army and navy in existence. The only
legitimate use of force is to diminish the total amount of force
exercised in the world. So long as men are free to indulge their
predatory instincts, some men or groups of men will take advantage of
this freedom for oppression and robbery. Just as the police are
necessary to prevent the use of force by private citizens, so an
international police will be necessary to prevent the lawless use of
force by separate states.

But I think it is reasonable to hope that if ever an international
government, possessed of the only army and navy in the world, came
into existence, the need of force to enact obedience to its decisions
would be very temporary. In a short time the benefits resulting from
the substitution of law for anarchy would become so obvious that the
international government would acquire an unquestioned authority, and
no state would dream of rebelling against its decisions. As soon as
this stage had been reached, the international army and navy would
become unnecessary.

We have still a very long road to travel before we arrive at the
establishment of an international authority, but it is not very
difficult to foresee the steps by which this result will be gradually
reached. There is likely to be a continual increase in the practice
of submitting disputes to arbitration, and in the realization that the
supposed conflicts of interest between different states are mainly
illusory. Even where there is a real conflict of interest, it must in
time become obvious that neither of the states concerned would suffer
as much by giving way as by fighting. With the progress of
inventions, war, when it does occur, is bound to become increasingly
destructive. The civilized races of the world are faced with the
alternative of coperation or mutual destruction. The present war
is making this alternative daily more evident. And it is difficult to
believe that, when the enmities which it has generated have had time
to cool, civilized men will deliberately choose to destroy
civilization, rather than acquiesce in the abolition of war.

The matters in which the interests of nations are supposed to clash
are mainly three: tariffs, which are a delusion; the exploitation of
inferior races, which is a crime; pride of power and dominion, which
is a schoolboy folly.

The economic argument against tariffs is familiar, and I shall not
repeat it. The only reason why it fails to carry conviction is the
enmity between nations. Nobody proposes to set up a tariff between
England and Scotland, or between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Yet the
arguments by which tariffs between nations are supported might be used
just as well to defend tariffs between counties. Universal free trade
would indubitably be of economic benefit to mankind, and would be
adopted to-morrow if it were not for the hatred and suspicion which
nations feel one toward another. From the point of view of preserving
the peace of the world, free trade between the different civilized
states is not so important as the open door in their dependencies.
The desire for exclusive markets is one of the most potent causes of

Exploiting what are called "inferior races" has become one of the main
objects of European statecraft. It is not only, or primarily, trade
that is desired, but opportunities for investment; finance is more
concerned in the matter than industry. Rival diplomatists are very
often the servants, conscious or unconscious, of rival groups of
financiers. The financiers, though themselves of no particular
nation, understand the art of appealing to national prejudice, and of
inducing the taxpayer to incur expenditure of which they reap the
benefit. The evils which they produce at home, and the devastation
that they spread among the races whom they exploit, are part of the
price which the world has to pay for its acquiescence in the
capitalist rgime.

But neither tariffs nor financiers would be able to cause serious
trouble, if it were not for the sentiment of national pride. National
pride might be on the whole beneficent, if it took the direction of
emulation in the things that are important to civilization. If we
prided ourselves upon our poets, our men of science, or the justice
and humanity of our social system, we might find in national pride a
stimulus to useful endeavors. But such matters play a very small
part. National pride, as it exists now, is almost exclusively
concerned with power and dominion, with the extent of territory that a
nation owns, and with its capacity for enforcing its will against the
opposition of other nations. In this it is reinforced by group
morality. To nine citizens out of ten it seems self-evident, whenever
the will of their own nation clashes with that of another, that their
own nation must be in the right. Even if it were not in the right on
the particular issue, yet it stands in general for so much nobler
ideals than those represented by the other nation to the dispute, that
any increase in its power is bound to be for the good of mankind.
Since all nations equally believe this of themselves, all are equally
ready to insist upon the victory of their own side in any dispute in
which they believe that they have a good hope of victory. While this
temper persists, the hope of international coperation must remain

If men could divest themselves of the sentiment of rivalry and
hostility between different nations, they would perceive that the
matters in which the interests of different nations coincide
immeasurably outweigh those in which they clash; they would perceive,
to begin with, that trade is not to be compared to warfare; that the
man who sells you goods is not doing you an injury. No one considers
that the butcher and the baker are his enemies because they drain him
of money. Yet as soon as goods come from a foreign country, we are
asked to believe that we suffer a terrible injury in purchasing them.
No one remembers that it is by means of goods exported that we
purchase them. But in the country to which we export, it is the goods
we send which are thought dangerous, and the goods we buy are
forgotten. The whole conception of trade, which has been forced upon
us by manufacturers who dreaded foreign competition, by trusts which
desired to secure monopolies, and by economists poisoned by the virus
of nationalism, is totally and absolutely false. Trade results simply
from division of labor. A man cannot himself make all the goods of
which he has need, and therefore he must exchange his produce with
that of other people. What applies to the individual, applies in
exactly the same way to the nation. There is no reason to desire that
a nation should itself produce all the goods of which it has need; it
is better that it should specialize upon those goods which it can
produce to most advantage, and should exchange its surplus with the
surplus of other goods produced by other countries. There is no use
in sending goods out of the country except in order to get other goods
in return. A butcher who is always willing to part with his meat but
not willing to take bread from the baker, or boots from the bootmaker,
or clothes from the tailor, would soon find himself in a sorry plight.
Yet he would be no more foolish than the protectionist who desires
that we should send goods abroad without receiving payment in the
shape of goods imported from abroad.

The wage system has made people believe that what a man needs is work.
This, of course, is absurd. What he needs is the goods produced by
work, and the less work involved in making a given amount of goods,
the better. But owing to our economic system, every economy in
methods of production enables employers to dismiss some of their
employees, and to cause destitution, where a better system would
produce only an increase of wages or a diminution in the hours of work
without any corresponding diminution of wages.

Our economic system is topsyturvy. It makes the interest of the
individual conflict with the interest of the community in a thousand
ways in which no such conflict ought to exist. Under a better system
the benefits of free trade and the evils of tariffs would be obvious
to all.

Apart from trade, the interests of nations coincide in all that makes
what we call civilization. Inventions and discoveries bring benefit
to all. The progress of science is a matter of equal concern to the
whole civilized world. Whether a man of science is an Englishman, a
Frenchman, or a German is a matter of no real importance. His
discoveries are open to all, and nothing but intelligence is required
in order to profit by them. The whole world of art and literature and
learning is international; what is done in one country is not done for
that country, but for mankind. If we ask ourselves what are the
things that raise mankind above the brutes, what are the things that
make us think the human race more valuable than any species of
animals, we shall find that none of them are things in which any one
nation can have exclusive property, but all are things in which the
whole world can share. Those who have any care for these things,
those who wish to see mankind fruitful in the work which men alone can
do, will take little account of national boundaries, and have little
care to what state a man happens to owe allegiance.

The importance of international coperation outside the sphere of
politics has been brought home to me by my own experience. Until
lately I was engaged in teaching a new science which few men in the
world were able to teach. My own work in this science was based
chiefly upon the work of a German and an Italian. My pupils came from
all over the civilized world: France, Germany, Austria, Russia,
Greece, Japan, China, India, and America. None of us was conscious of
any sense of national divisions. We felt ourselves an outpost of
civilization, building a new road into the virgin forest of the
unknown. All coperated in the common task, and in the interest of
such a work the political enmities of nations seemed trivial,
temporary, and futile.

But it is not only in the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of abstruse
science that international coperation is vital to the progress of
civilization. All our economic problems, all the questions of
securing the rights of labor, all the hopes of freedom at home and
humanity abroad, rest upon the creation of international good-will.

So long as hatred, suspicion, and fear dominate the feelings of men
toward each other, so long we cannot hope to escape from the tyranny
of violence and brute force. Men must learn to be conscious of the
common interests of mankind in which all are at one, rather than of
those supposed interests in which the nations are divided. It is not
necessary, or even desirable, to obliterate the differences of manners
and custom and tradition between different nations. These differences
enable each nation to make its own distinctive contribution to the sum
total of the world's civilization.

What is to be desired is not cosmopolitanism, not the absence of all
national characteristics that one associates with couriers,
_wagon-lit_ attendants, and others, who have had everything
distinctive obliterated by multiple and trivial contacts with men of
every civilized country. Such cosmopolitanism is the result of loss,
not gain. The international spirit which we should wish to see
produced will be something added to love of country, not something
taken away. Just as patriotism does not prevent a man from feeling
family affection, so the international spirit ought not to prevent a
man from feeling affection for his own country. But it will somewhat
alter the character of that affection. The things which he will
desire for his own country will no longer be things which can only be
acquired at the expense of others, but rather those things in which
the excellence of any one country is to the advantage of all the
world. He will wish his own country to be great in the arts of peace,
to be eminent in thought and science, to be magnanimous and just and
generous. He will wish it to help mankind on the way toward that
better world of liberty and international concord which must be
realized if any happiness is to be left to man. He will not desire
for his country the passing triumphs of a narrow possessiveness, but
rather the enduring triumph of having helped to embody in human
affairs something of that spirit of brotherhood which Christ taught
and which the Christian churches have forgotten. He will see that
this spirit embodies not only the highest morality, but also the
truest wisdom, and the only road by which the nations, torn and
bleeding with the wounds which scientific madness has inflicted, can
emerge into a life where growth is possible and joy is not banished at
the frenzied call of unreal and fictitious duties. Deeds inspired by
hate are not duties, whatever pain and self-sacrifice they may
involve. Life and hope for the world are to be found only in the
deeds of love.


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