LVI The Uneasy Peace in Europe that followed the Fall of Napoleon

Two main causes prevented that period from being a complete social and international peace, and prepared the way for the cycle of wars between 1854 and 1871. The first of these was the tendency of the royal courts concerned, towards the restoration of unfair privilege and interference with freedom of thought and writing and teaching. The second was the impossible system of boundaries drawn by the diplomatists of Vienna.

The inherent disposition of monarchy to march back towards past conditions was first and most particularly manifest in Spain. Here even the Inquisition was restored. Across the Atlantic the Spanish colonies had followed the example of the United States and revolted against the European Great Power System, when Napoleon set his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne in 1810. The George Washington of South America was General Bolivar. Spain was unable to suppress this revolt, it dragged on much as the United States War of Independence had dragged on, and at last the suggestion was made by Austria, in accordance with the spirit of the Holy Alliance, that the European monarch should assist Spain in this struggle. This was opposed by Britain in Europe, but it was the prompt action of President Monroe of the United States in 1823 which conclusively warned off this projected monarchist restoration. He announced that the United States would regard any extension of the European system in the Western Hemisphere as a hostile act. Thus arose the Monroe Doctrine, the doctrine that there must be no extension of extra- American government in America, which has kept the Great Power system out of America for nearly a hundred years and permitted the new states of Spanish America to work out their destinies along their own lines. But if Spanish monarchism lost its colonies, it could at least, under the protection of the Concert of Europe, do what it chose in Europe. A popular insurrection in Spain was crushed by a French army in 1823, with a mandate from a European congress, and simultaneously Austria suppressed a revolution in Naples.

In 1824 Louis XVIII died, and was succeeded by Charles X. Charles set himself to destroy the liberty of the press and universities, and to restore absolute government; the sum of a billion francs was voted to compensate the nobles for the chateau burnings and sequestrations of 1789. In 1830 Paris rose against this embodiment of the ancient regime, and replaced him by Louis Philippe, the son of that Philip, Duke of Orleans, who was executed during the Terror. The other continental monarchies, in face of the open approval of the revolution by Great Britain and a strong liberal ferment in Germany and Austria, did not interfere in this affair. After all, France was still a monarchy. This man Louis Philippe (1830–48) remained the constitutional King of France for eighteen years.

Such were the uneasy swayings of the peace of the Congress of Vienna, which were provoked by the reactionary proceedings of the monarchists. The stresses that arose from the unscientific boundaries planned by the diplomatists at Vienna gathered force more deliberately, but they were even more dangerous to the peace of mankind. It is extraordinarily inconvenient to administer together the affairs of peoples speaking different languages and so reading different literatures and having different general ideas, especially if those differences are exacerbated by religious disputes. Only some strong mutual interest, such as the common defensive needs of the Swiss mountaineers, can justify a close linking of peoples of dissimilar languages and faiths; and even in Switzerland there is the utmost local autonomy. When, as in Macedonia, populations are mixed in a patchwork of villages and districts, the cantonal system is imperatively needed. But if the reader will look at the map of Europe as the Congress of Vienna drew it, he will see that this gathering seems almost as if it had planned the maximum of local exasperation.

It destroyed the Dutch Republic, quite needlessly, it lumped together the Protestant Dutch with the French-speaking Catholics of the old Spanish (Austrian) Netherlands, and set up a kingdom of the Netherlands. It handed over not merely the old republic of Venice, but all of North Italy as far as Milan to the German-speaking Austrians. French-speaking Savoy it combined with pieces of Italy to restore the kingdom of Sardinia. Austria and Hungary, already a sufficiently explosive mixture of discordant nationalities, Germans, Hungarians, Czecho-Slovaks, Jugo-Slavs, Roumanians, and now Italians, was made still more impossible by confirming Austria’s Polish acquisitions of 1772 and 1795. The Catholic and republican-spirited Polish people were chiefly given over to the less civilized rule of the Greek-orthodox Tsar, but important districts went to Protestant Prussia. The Tsar was also confirmed in his acquisition of the entirely alien Finns. The very dissimilar Norwegian and Swedish peoples were bound together under one king. Germany, the reader will see, was left in a particularly dangerous state of muddle. Prussia and Austria were both partly in and partly out of a German confederation, which included a multitude of minor states. The King of Denmark came into the German confederation by virtue of certain German-speaking possessions in Holstein. Luxembourg was included in the German confederation, though its ruler was also King of the Netherlands, and though many of its peoples talked French.

Here was a complete disregard of the fact that the people who talk German and base their ideas on German literature, the people who talk Italian and base their ideas on Italian literature, and the people who talk Polish and base their ideas on Polish literature, will all be far better off and most helpful and least obnoxious to the rest of mankind if they conduct their own affairs in their own idiom within the ring-fence of their own speech. Is it any wonder that one of the most popular songs in Germany during this period declared that wherever the German tongue was spoken, there was the German Fatherland!

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I — Detail from the painting by Jacques-Louis David (1805–07, exhibited 1808; oil on canvas, 6.21 × 9.79 m; Louvre, Paris)

In 1830 French-speaking Belgium, stirred up by the current revolution in France, revolted against its Dutch association in the kingdom of the Netherlands. The powers, terrified at the possibilities of a republic or of annexation to France, hurried in to pacify this situation, and gave the Belgians a monarch, Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. There were also ineffectual revolts in Italy and Germany in 1830, and a much more serious one in Russian Poland. A republican government held out in Warsaw for a year against Nicholas I (who succeeded Alexander in 1825), and was then stamped out of existence with great violence and cruelty. The Polish language was banned, and the Greek Orthodox church was substituted for the Roman Catholic as the state religion ….

Europe after the Congress of Vienna

In 1821 there was an insurrection of the Greeks against the Turks. For six years they fought a desperate war, while the governments of Europe looked on. Liberal opinion protested against this inactivity; volunteers from every European country joined the insurgents, and at last Britain, France and Russia took joint action. The Turkish fleet was destroyed by the French and English at the battle of Navarino (1827), and the Tsar invaded Turkey. By the treaty of Adrianople (1829) Greece was declared free, but she was not permitted to resume her ancient republican traditions. A German king was found for Greece, one Prince Otto of Bavaria, and Christian governors were set up in the Danubian provinces (which are now Roumania) and Serbia (a part of the Jugo-Slav region). Much blood had still to run however before the Turk was altogether expelled from these lands.

LVII The Development of Material Knowledge

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the opening years of the nineteenth century, while these conflicts of the powers and princes were going on in Europe, and the patchwork of the treaty of Westphalia (1648) was changing kaleidoscopically into the patchwork of the treaty of Vienna (1815), and while the sailing ship was spreading European influence throughout the world, a steady growth of knowledge and a general clearing up of men’s ideas about the world in which they lived was in progress in the European and Europeanized world.

It went on disconnected from political life, and producing throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries no striking immediate results in political life. Nor was it affecting popular thought very profoundly during this period. These reactions were to come later, and only in their full force in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was a process that went on chiefly in a small world of prosperous and independent-spirited people. Without what the English call the “private gentleman,” the scientific process could not have begun in Greece, and could not have been renewed in Europe. The universities played a part but not a leading part in the philosophical and scientific thought of this period. Endowed learning is apt to be timid and conservative learning, lacking in initiative and resistent to innovation, unless it has the spur of contact with independent minds.

We have already noted the formation of the Royal Society in 1662 and its work in realizing the dream of Bacon’s New Atlantis. Throughout the eighteenth century there was much clearing up of general ideas about matter and motion, much mathematical advance, a systematic development of the use of optical glass in microscope and telescope, a renewed energy in classificatory natural history, a great revival of anatomical science. The science of geology – foreshadowed by Aristotle and anticipated by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)—began its great task of interpreting the Record of the Rocks.

Early rolling stock on the Liverpool and Manchester railway in the first days of the railway

The progress of physical science reacted upon metallurgy. Improved metallurgy, affording the possibility of a larger and bolder handling of masses of metal and other materials, reacted upon practical inventions. Machinery on a new scale and in a new abundance appeared to revolutionize industry.

In 1804 Trevithick adapted the Watt engine to transport and made the first locomotive. In 1825 the first railway, between Stockton and Darlington, was opened, and Stephenson’s “Rocket,” with a thirteen-ton train, got up to a speed of forty-four miles per hour. From 1830 onward railways multiplied. By the middle of the century a network of railways had spread all over Europe.

Early travelling on the Liverpool and Manchester railway (1833)

Here was a sudden change in what had long been a fixed condition of human life, the maximum rate of land transport. After the Russian disaster, Napoleon travelled from near Vilna to Paris in 312 hours. This was a journey of about 1,400 miles. He was travelling with every conceivable advantage, and he averaged under 5 miles an hour. An ordinary traveller could not have done this distance in twice the time. These were about the same maximum rates of travel as held good between Rome and Gaul in the first century A.D. Then suddenly came this tremendous change. The railways reduced this journey for any ordinary traveller to less than forty-eight hours. That is to say, they reduced the chief European distances to about a tenth of what they had been. They made it possible to carry out administrative work in areas ten times as great as any that had hitherto been workable under one administration. The full significance of that possibility in Europe still remains to be realized. Europe is still netted in boundaries drawn in the horse and road era. In America the effects were immediate. To the United States of America, sprawling westward, it meant the possibility of a continuous access to Washington, however far the frontier travelled across the continent. It meant unity, sustained on a scale that would otherwise have been impossible.

The steamboat *Clermont* (U.S.A., 1807)

The steamboat was, if anything, a little ahead of the steam engine in its earlier phases. There was a steamboat, the Charlotte Dundas, on the Firth of Clyde Canal in 1802, and in 1807 an American named Fulton had a steamer, the Clermont, with British-built engines, upon the Hudson River above New York. The first steamship to put to sea was also an American, the Phoenix, which went from New York (Hoboken) to Philadelphia. So, too, was the first ship using steam (she also had sails) to cross the Atlantic, the Savannah (1819). All these were paddle-wheel boats and paddle-wheel boats are not adapted to work in heavy seas. The paddles smash too easily, and the boat is then disabled. The screw steamship followed rather slowly. Many difficulties had to be surmounted before the screw was a practicable thing. Not until the middle of the century did the tonnage of steamships upon the sea begin to overhaul that of sailing ships. After that the evolution in sea transport was rapid. For the first time men began to cross the seas and oceans with some certainty as to the date of their arrival. The transatlantic crossing, which had been an uncertain adventure of several weeks – which might stretch to months – was accelerated, until in 1910 it was brought down, in the case of the fastest boats, to under five days, with a practically notifiable hour of arrival.

Concurrently with the development of steam transport upon land and sea a new and striking addition to the facilities of human intercourse arose out of the investigations of Volta, Galvani and Faraday into various electrical phenomena. The electric telegraph came into existence in 1835. The first underseas cable was laid in 1851 between France and England. In a few years the telegraph system had spread over the civilized world, and news which had hitherto travelled slowly from point to point became practically simultaneous throughout the earth.

These things, the steam railway and the electric telegraph, were to the popular imagination of the middle nineteenth century the most striking and revolutionary of inventions, but they were only the most conspicuous and clumsy first fruits of a far more extensive process. Technical knowledge and skill were developing with an extraordinary rapidity, and to an extraordinary extent measured by the progress of any previous age. Far less conspicuous at first in everyday life, but finally far more important, was the extension of man’s power over various structural materials. Before the middle of the eighteenth century iron was reduced from its ores by means of wood charcoal, was handled in small pieces, and hammered and wrought into shape. It was material for a craftsman. Quality and treatment were enormously dependent upon the experience and sagacity of the individual iron-worker. The largest masses of iron that could be dealt with under those conditions amounted at most (in the sixteenth century) to two or three tons. (There was a very definite upward limit, therefore, to the size of cannon.) The blast-furnace rose in the eighteenth century and developed with the use of coke. Not before the eighteenth century do we find rolled sheet iron (1728) and rolled rods and bars (1783). Nasmyth’s steam hammer came as late as 1838.

The ancient world, because of its metallurgical inferiority, could not use steam. The steam engine, even the primitive pumping engine, could not develop before sheet iron was available. The early engines seem to the modern eye very pitiful and clumsy bits of ironmongery, but they were the utmost that the metallurgical science of the time could do. As late as 1856 came the Bessemer process, and presently (1864) the open-hearth process, in which steel and every sort of iron could be melted, purified and cast in a manner and upon a scale hitherto unheard of. To-day in the electric furnace one may see tons of incandescent steel swirling about like boiling milk in a saucepan. Nothing in the previous practical advances of mankind is comparable in its consequences to the complete mastery over enormous masses of steel and iron and over their texture and quality which man has now achieved. The railways and early engines of all sorts were the mere first triumphs of the new metallurgical methods. Presently came ships of iron and steel, vast bridges, and a new way of building with steel upon a gigantic scale. Men realized too late that they had planned their railways with far too timid a gauge, that they could have organized their travelling with far more steadiness and comfort upon a much bigger scale.

Before the nineteenth century there were no ships in the world much over 2,000 tons burthen; now there is nothing wonderful about a 50,000-ton liner. There are people who sneer at this kind of progress as being a progress in “mere size,” but that sort of sneering merely marks the intellectual limitations of those who indulge in it. The great ship or the steel-frame building is not, as they imagine, a magnified version of the small ship or building of the past; it is a thing different in kind, more lightly and strongly built, of finer and stronger materials; instead of being a thing of precedent and rule-of-thumb, it is a thing of subtle and intricate calculation. In the old house or ship, matter was dominant – the material and its needs had to be slavishly obeyed; in the new, matter had been captured, changed, coerced. Think of the coal and iron and sand dragged out of the banks and pits, wrenched, wrought, molten and cast, to be flung at last, a slender glittering pinnacle of steel and glass, six hundred feet above the crowded city!

We have given these particulars of the advance in man’s knowledge of the metallurgy of steel and its results by way of illustration. A parallel story could be told of the metallurgy of copper and tin, and of a multitude of metals, nickel and aluminium to name but two, unknown before the nineteenth century dawned. It is in this great and growing mastery over substances, over different sorts of glass, over rocks and plasters and the like, over colours and textures, that the main triumphs of the mechanical revolution have thus far been achieved. Yet we are still in the stage of the first fruits in the matter. We have the power, but we have still to learn how to use our power. Many of the first employments of these gifts of science have been vulgar, tawdry, stupid or horrible. The artist and the adaptor have still hardly begun to work with the endless variety of substances now at their disposal.

Parallel with this extension of mechanical possibilities the new science of electricity grew up. It was only in the eighties of the nineteenth century that this body of enquiry began to yield results to impress the vulgar mind. Then suddenly came electric light and electric traction, and the transmutation of forces, the possibility of sending power, that could be changed into mechanical motion or light or heat as one chose, along a copper wire, as water is sent along a pipe, began to come through to the ideas of ordinary people….

The British and French were at first the leading peoples in this great proliferation of knowledge; but presently the Germans, who had learnt humility under Napoleon, showed such zeal and pertinacity in scientific enquiry as to overhaul these leaders. British science was largely the creation of Englishmen and Scotchmen working outside the ordinary centres of erudition.

Eighteenth century spinning wheel — (Ipswich Museum)
Model of Arkwright’s Spinning Jenny (1769) — (From the specifications in the Patent Office)

The universities of Britain were at this time in a state of educational retrogression, largely given over to a pedantic conning of the Latin and Greek classics. French education, too, was dominated by the classical tradition of the Jesuit schools, and consequently it was not difficult for the Germans to organize a body of investigators, small indeed in relation to the possibilities of the case, but large in proportion to the little band of British and French inventors and experimentalists. And though this work of research and experiment was making Britain and France the most rich and powerful countries in the world, it was not making scientific and inventive men rich and powerful. There is a necessary unworldliness about a sincere scientific man; he is too preoccupied with his research to plan and scheme how to make money out of it. The economic exploitation of his discoveries falls very easily and naturally, therefore, into the hands of a more acquisitive type; and so we find that the crops of rich men which every fresh phase of scientific and technical progress has produced in Great Britain, though they have not displayed quite the same passionate desire to insult and kill the goose that laid the national golden eggs as the scholastic and clerical professions, have been quite content to let that profitable creature starve. Inventors and discoverers came by nature, they thought, for cleverer people to profit by.

In this matter the Germans were a little wiser. The German “learned” did not display the same vehement hatred of the new learning. They permitted its development. The German business man and manufacturer again had not quite the same contempt for the man of science as had his British competitor. Knowledge, these Germans believed, might be a cultivated crop, responsive to fertilizers. They did concede, therefore, a certain amount of opportunity to the scientific mind; their public expenditure on scientific work was relatively greater, and this expenditure was abundantly rewarded. By the latter half of the nineteenth century the German scientific worker had made German a necessary language for every science student who wished to keep abreast with the latest work in his department, and in certain branches, and particularly in chemistry, Germany acquired a very great superiority over her western neighbours. The scientific effort of the sixties and seventies in Germany began to tell after the eighties, and the German gained steadily upon Britain and France in technical and industrial prosperity.

A fresh phase in the history of invention opened when in the eighties a new type of engine came into use, an engine in which the expansive force of an explosive mixture replaced the expansive force of steam. The light, highly efficient engines that were thus made possible were applied to the automobile, and developed at last to reach such a pitch of lightness and efficiency as to render flight— long known to be possible – a practical achievement. A successful flying machine – but not a machine large enough to take up a human body – was made by Professor Langley of the Smithsonian Institute of Washington as early as 1897. By 1909 the aeroplane was available for human locomotion. There had seemed to be a pause in the increase of human speed with the perfection of railways and automobile road traction, but with the flying machine came fresh reductions in the effective distance between one point of the earth’s surface and another. In the eighteenth century the distance from London to Edinburgh was an eight days’ journey; in 1918 the British Civil Air Transport Commission reported that the journey from London to Melbourne, halfway round the earth, would probably in a few years’ time be accomplished in that same period of eight days.

An early weaving machine — (From an engraving by W. Hincks in the British Museum)

Too much stress must not be laid upon these striking reductions in the time distances of one place from another. They are merely one aspect of a much profounder and more momentous enlargement of human possibility. The science of agriculture and agricultural chemistry, for instance, made quite parallel advances during the nineteenth century. Men learnt so to fertilize the soil as to produce quadruple and quintuple the crops got from the same area in the seventeenth century. There was a still more extraordinary advance in medical science; the average duration of life rose, the daily efficiency increased, the waste of life through ill-health diminished. Now here altogether we have such a change in human life as to constitute a fresh phase of history. In a little more than a century this mechanical revolution has been brought about. In that time man made a stride in the material conditions of his life vaster than he had done during the whole long interval between the palaeolithic stage and the age of cultivation, or between the days of Pepi in Egypt and those of George III. A new gigantic material framework for human affairs has come into existence. Clearly it demands great readjustments of our social, economical and political methods. But these readjustments have necessarily waited upon the development of the mechanical revolution, and they are still only in their opening stage to-day.

LVIII The Industrial Revolution

There is a tendency in many histories to confuse together what we have here called the mechanical revolution, which was an entirely new thing in human experience arising out of the development of organized science, a new step like the invention of agriculture or the discovery of metals, with something else, quite different in its origins, something for which there was already an historical precedent, the social and financial development which is called the industrial revolution. The two processes were going on together, they were constantly reacting upon each other, but they were in root and essence different. There would have been an industrial revolution of sorts if there had been no coal, no steam, no machinery; but in that case it would probably have followed far more closely upon the lines of the social and financial developments of the later years of the Roman Republic. It would have repeated the story of dispossessed free cultivators, gang labour, great estates, great financial fortunes, and a socially destructive financial process. Even the factory method came before power and machinery. Factories were the product not of machinery, but of the “division of labour.” Drilled and sweated workers were making such things as millinery cardboard boxes and furniture, and colouring maps and book illustrations and so forth, before even water-wheels had been used for industrial purposes. There were factories in Rome in the days of Augustus. New books, for instance, were dictated to rows of copyists in the factories of the book-sellers. The attentive student of Defoe and of the political pamphlets of Fielding will realize that the idea of herding poor people into establishments to work collectively for their living was already current in Britain before the close of the seventeenth century. There are intimations of it even as early as More’s Utopia (1516). It was a social and not a mechanical development. Up to past the middle of the eighteenth century the social and economic history of western Europe was in fact retreading the path along which the Roman state had gone in the last three centuries B.C. But the political disunions of Europe, the political convulsions against monarchy, the recalcitrance of the common folk and perhaps also the greater accessibility of the western European intelligence to mechanical ideas and inventions, turned the process into quite novel directions. Ideas of human solidarity, thanks to Christianity, were far more widely diffused in the newer European world, political power was not so concentrated, and the man of energy anxious to get rich turned his mind, therefore, very willingly from the ideas of the slave and of gang labour to the idea of mechanical power and the machine.

The mechanical revolution, the process of mechanical invention and discovery, was a new thing in human experience and it went on regardless of the social, political, economic and industrial consequences it might produce. The industrial revolution, on the other hand, like most other human affairs, was and is more and more profoundly changed and deflected by the constant variation in human conditions caused by the mechanical revolution. And the essential difference between the amassing of riches, the extinction of small farmers and small business men, and the phase of big finance in the latter centuries of the Roman Republic on the one hand, and the very similar concentration of capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on the other, lies in the profound difference in the character of labour that the mechanical revolution was bringing about. The power of the old world was human power; everything depended ultimately upon the driving power of human muscle, the muscle of ignorant and subjugated men. A little animal muscle, supplied by draft oxen, horse traction and the like, contributed. Where a weight had to be lifted, men lifted it; where a rock had to be quarried, men chipped it out; where a field had to be ploughed, men and oxen ploughed it; the Roman equivalent of the steamship was the galley with its bank of sweating rowers. A vast proportion of mankind in the early civilizations were employed in purely mechanical drudgery. At its onset, power-driven machinery did not seem to promise any release from such unintelligent toil. Great gangs of men were employed in excavating canals, in making railway cuttings and embankments, and the like. The number of miners increased enormously. But the extension of facilities and the output of commodities increased much more. And as the nineteenth century went on, the plain logic of the new situation asserted itself more clearly. Human beings were no longer wanted as a source of mere indiscriminated power. What could be done mechanically by a human being could be done faster and better by a machine. The human being was needed now only where choice and intelligence had to be exercised. Human beings were wanted only as human beings. The drudge, on whom all the previous civilizations had rested, the creature of mere obedience, the man whose brains were superfluous, had become unnecessary to the welfare of mankind.

Incident in the days of the slave trade — (From a print after Morland in the British Museum)

This was as true of such ancient industries as agriculture and mining as it was of the newest metallurgical processes. For ploughing, sowing and harvesting, swift machines came forward to do the work of scores of men. The Roman civilization was built upon cheap and degraded human beings; modern civilization is being rebuilt upon cheap mechanical power. For a hundred years power has been getting cheaper and labour dearer. If for a generation or so machinery has had to wait its turn in the mine, it is simply because for a time men were cheaper than machinery.

Early factory, in Colebrookdale — (From a print the British Museum)

Now here was a change-over of quite primary importance in human affairs. The chief solicitude of the rich and of the ruler in the old civilization had been to keep up a supply of drudges. As the nineteenth century went on, it became more and more plain to the intelligent directive people that the common man had now to be something better than a drudge. He had to be educated – if only to secure “industrial efficiency.” He had to understand what he was about. From the days of the first Christian propaganda, popular education had been smouldering in Europe, just as it had smouldered in Asia wherever Islam has set its foot, because of the necessity of making the believer understand a little of the belief by which he is saved, and of enabling him to read a little in the sacred books by which his belief is conveyed. Christian controversies, with their competition for adherents, ploughed the ground for the harvest of popular education. In England, for instance, by the thirties and forties of the nineteenth century, the disputes of the sects and the necessity of catching adherents young had produced a series of competing educational organizations for children, the church “National” schools, the dissenting “British” schools, and even Roman Catholic elementary schools. The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of rapid advance in popular education throughout all the Westernized world. There was no parallel advance in the education of the upper classes – some advance, no doubt, but nothing to correspond – and so the great gulf that had divided that world hitherto into the readers and the non-reading mass became little more than a slightly perceptible difference in educational level. At the back of this process was the mechanical revolution, apparently regardless of social conditions, but really insisting inexorably upon the complete abolition of a totally illiterate class throughout the world.

The economic revolution of the Roman Republic had never been clearly apprehended by the common people of Rome. The ordinary Roman citizen never saw the changes through which he lived, clearly and comprehensively as we see them. But the industrial revolution, as it went on towards the end of the nineteenth century, was more and more distinctly seen as one whole process by the common people it was affecting, because presently they could read and discuss and communicate, and because they went about and saw things as no commonalty had ever done before.

LIX The Development of Modern Political and Social Ideas

The institutions and customs and political ideas of the ancient civilizations grew up slowly, age by age, no man designing and no man foreseeing. It was only in that great century of human adolescence, the sixth century B.C., that men began to think clearly about their relations to one another, and first to question and first propose to alter and rearrange the established beliefs and laws and methods of human government.

We have told of the glorious intellectual dawn of Greece and Alexandria, and how presently the collapse of the slave- holding civilizations and the clouds of religious intolerance and absolutist government darkened the promise of that beginning. The light of fearless thinking did not break through the European obscurity again effectually until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We have tried to show something of the share of the great winds of Arab curiosity and Mongol conquest in this gradual clearing of the mental skies of Europe. And at first it was chiefly material knowledge that increased. The first fruits of the recovered manhood of the race were material achievements and material power. The science of human relationship, of individual and social psychology, of education and of economics, are not only more subtle and intricate in themselves but also bound up inextricably with much emotional matter. The advances made in them have been slower and made against greater opposition. Men will listen dispassionately to the most diverse suggestions about stars or molecules, but ideas about our ways of life touch and reflect upon everyone about us.

And just as in Greece the bold speculations of Plato came before Aristotle’s hard search for fact, so in Europe the first political enquiries of the new phase were put in the form of “Utopian” stories, directly imitated from Plato’s Republic and his Laws. Sir Thomas More’s Utopia is a curious imitation of Plato that bore fruit in a new English poor law. The Neapolitan Campanella’s City of the Sun was more fantastic and less fruitful.

By the end of the seventeenth century we find a considerable and growing literature of political and social science was being produced. Among the pioneers in this discussion was John Locke, the son of an English republican, an Oxford scholar who first directed his attention to chemistry and medicine. His treatises on government, toleration and education show a mind fully awake to the possibilities of social reconstruction. Parallel with and a little later than John Locke in England, Montesquieu (1689–1755) in France subjected social, political and religious institutions to a searching and fundamental analysis. He stripped the magical prestige from the absolutist monarchy in France. He shares with Locke the credit for clearing away many of the false ideas that had hitherto prevented deliberate and conscious attempts to reconstruct human society.

The generation that followed him in the middle and later decades of the eighteenth century was boldly speculative upon the moral and intellectual clearings he had made. A group of brilliant writers, the “Encyclopaedists,” mostly rebel spirits from the excellent schools of the Jesuits, set themselves to scheme out a new world (1766). Side by side with the Encyclopaedists were the Economists or Physiocrats, who were making bold and crude enquiries into the production and distribution of food and goods. Morelly, the author of the Code de La Nature, denounced the institution of private property and proposed a communistic organization of society. He was the precursor of that large and various school of collectivist thinkers in the nineteenth century who are lumped together as Socialists.

What is Socialism? There are a hundred definitions of Socialism and a thousand sects of Socialists. Essentially Socialism is no more and no less than a criticism of the idea of property in the light of the public good. We may review the history of that idea through the ages very briefly. That and the idea of internationalism are the two cardinal ideas upon which most of our political life is turning.

Carl Marx

The idea of property arises out of the combative instincts of the species. Long before men were men, the ancestral ape was a proprietor. Primitive property is what a beast will fight for. The dog and his bone, the tigress and her lair, the roaring stag and his herd, these are proprietorship blazing. No more nonsensical expression is conceivable in sociology than the term “primitive communism.” The Old Man of the family tribe of early palaeolithic times insisted upon his proprietorship in his wives and daughters, in his tools, in his visible universe. If any other man wandered into his visible universe he fought him, and if he could he slew him. The tribe grew in the course of ages, as Atkinson showed convincingly in his Primal Law, by the gradual toleration by the Old Man of the existence of the younger men, and of their proprietorship in the wives they captured from outside the tribe, and in the tools and ornaments they made and the game they slew. Human society grew by a compromise between this one’s property and that. It was a compromise with instinct which was forced upon men by the necessity of driving some other tribe out of its visible universe. If the hills and forests and streams were not your land or my land, it was because they had to be our land. Each of us would have preferred to have it my land, but that would not work. In that case the other fellows would have destroyed us. Society, therefore, is from its beginning a mitigation of ownership. Ownership in the beast and in the primitive savage was far more intense a thing than it is in the civilized world to- day. It is rooted more strongly in our instincts than in our reason.

In the natural savage and in the untutored man to-day there is no limitation to the sphere of ownership. Whatever you can fight for, you can own; women-folk, spared captive, captured beast, forest glade, stone-pit or what not. As the community grew, a sort of law came to restrain internecine fighting, men developed rough-and-ready methods of settling proprietorship. Men could own what they were the first to make or capture or claim. It seemed natural that a debtor who could not pay should become the property of his creditor. Equally natural was it that after claiming a patch of land a man should exact payments from anyone who wanted to use it. It was only slowly, as the possibilities of organized life dawned on men, that this unlimited property in anything whatever began to be recognized as a nuisance. Men found themselves born into a universe all owned and claimed, nay! they found themselves born owned and claimed. The social struggles of the earlier civilization are difficult to trace now, but the history we have told of the Roman Republic shows a community waking up to the idea that debts may become a public inconvenience and should then be repudiated, and that the unlimited ownership of land is also an inconvenience. We find that later Babylonia severely limited the rights of property in slaves. Finally, we find in the teaching of that great revolutionist, Jesus of Nazareth, such an attack upon property as had never been before. Easier it was, he said, for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the owner of great possessions to enter the kingdom of heaven. A steady, continuous criticism of the permissible scope of property seems to have been going on in the world for the last twenty-five or thirty centuries. Nineteen hundred years after Jesus of Nazareth we find all the world that has come under the Christian teaching persuaded that there could be no property in human beings. And also the idea that a man may “do what he likes with his own” was very much shaken in relation to other sorts of property.

But this world of the closing eighteenth century was still only in the interrogative stage in this matter. It had got nothing clear enough, much less settled enough, to act upon. One of its primary impulses was to protect property against the greed and waste of kings and the exploitation of noble adventurers. It was largely to protect private property from taxation that the French Revolution began. But the equalitarian formulae of the Revolution carried it into a criticism of the very property it had risen to protect. How can men be free and equal when numbers of them have no ground to stand upon and nothing to eat, and the owners will neither feed nor lodge them unless they toil? Excessively – the poor complained.

To which riddle the reply of one important political group was to set about “dividing up.” They wanted to intensify and universalize property. Aiming at the same end by another route, there were the primitive socialists – or, to be more exact, communists – who wanted to “abolish” private property altogether. The state (a democratic state was of course understood) was to own all property.

It is paradoxical that different men seeking the same ends of liberty and happiness should propose on the one hand to make property as absolute as possible, and on the other to put an end to it altogether. But so it was. And the clue to this paradox is to be found in the fact that ownership is not one thing but a multitude of different things. It was only as the nineteenth century developed that men began to realize that property was not one simple thing, but a great complex of ownerships of different values and consequences, that many things (such as one’s body, the implements of an artist, clothing, toothbrushes) are very profoundly and incurably one’s personal property, and that there is a very great range of things, railways, machinery of various sorts, homes, cultivated gardens, pleasure boats, for example, which need each to be considered very particularly to determine how far and under what limitations it may come under private ownership, and how far it falls into the public domain and may be administered and let out by the state in the collective interest. On the practical side these questions pass into politics, and the problem of making and sustaining efficient state administration. They open up issues in social psychology, and interact with the enquiries of educational science. The criticism of property is still a vast and passionate ferment rather than a science. On the one hand are the Individualists, who would protect and enlarge our present freedoms with what we possess, and on the other the Socialists who would in many directions pool our ownerships and restrain our proprietory acts. In practice one will find every gradation between the extreme individualist, who will scarcely tolerate a tax of any sort to support a government, and the communist who would deny any possessions at all. The ordinary socialist of to-day is what is called a collectivist; he would allow a considerable amount of private property but put such affairs as education, transport, mines, land-owning, most mass productions of staple articles, and the like, into the hands of a highly organized state. Nowadays there does seem to be a gradual convergence of reasonable men towards a moderate socialism scientifically studied and planned. It is realized more and more clearly that the untutored man does not co-operate easily and successfully in large undertakings, and that every step towards a more complex state and every function that the state takes over from private enterprise, necessitates a corresponding educational advance and the organization of a proper criticism and control. Both the press and the political methods of the contemporary state are far too crude for any large extension of collective activities.

But for a time the stresses between employer and employed and particularly between selfish employers and reluctant workers, led to a world-wide dissemination of the very harsh and elementary form of communism which is associated with the name of Marx. Marx based his theories on a belief that men’s minds are limited by their economic necessities, and that there is a necessary conflict of interests in our present civilization between the prosperous and employing classes of people and the employed mass. With the advance in education necessitated by the mechanical revolution, this great employed majority will become more and more class-conscious and more and more solid in antagonism to the (class- conscious) ruling minority. In some way the class-conscious workers would seize power, he prophesied, and inaugurate a new social state. The antagonism, the insurrection, the possible revolution are understandable enough, but it does not follow that a new social state or anything but a socially destructive process will ensue. Put to the test in Russia, Marxism, as we shall note later, has proved singularly uncreative.

Science in the coal mine — Portable electric loading conveyor
Marx sought to replace national antagonism by class antagonisms; Marxism has produced in succession a First, a Second and a Third Workers’ International. But from the starting point of modern individualistic thought it is also possible to reach international ideas. From the days of that great English economist, Adam Smith, onward there has been an increasing realization that for world-wide prosperity free and unencumbered trade about the earth is needed. The individualist with his hostility to the state is hostile also to tariffs and boundaries and all the restraints upon free act and movement that national boundaries seem to justify. It is interesting to see two lines of thought, so diverse in spirit, so different in substance as this class-war socialism of the Marxists and the individualistic free-trading philosophy of the British business men of the Victorian age heading at last, in spite of these primary differences, towards the same intimations of a new world-wide treatment of human affairs outside the boundaries and limitations of any existing state. The logic of reality triumphs over the logic of theory. We begin to perceive that from widely divergent starting points individualist theory and socialist theory are part of a common search, a search for more spacious social and political ideas and interpretations, upon which men may contrive to work together, a search that began again in Europe and has intensified as men’s confidence in the ideas of the Holy Roman Empire and in Christendom decayed, and as the age of discovery broadened their horizons from the world of the Mediterranean to the whole wide world.

To bring this description of the elaboration and development of social, economic and political ideas right down to the discussions of the present day, would be to introduce issues altogether too controversial for the scope and intentions of this book. But regarding these things, as we do here, from the vast perspectives of the student of world history, we are bound to recognize that this reconstruction of these directive ideas in the human mind is still an unfinished task – we cannot even estimate yet how unfinished the task may be. Certain common beliefs do seem to be emerging, and their influence is very perceptible upon the political events and public acts of to-day; but at present they are not clear enough nor convincing enough to compel men definitely and systematically towards their realization. Men’s acts waver between tradition and the new, and on the whole they rather gravitate towards the traditional. Yet, compared with the thought of even a brief lifetime ago, there does seem to be an outline shaping itself of a new order in human affairs. It is a sketchy outline, vanishing into vagueness at this point and that, and fluctuating in detail and formulae, yet it grows steadfastly clearer, and its main lines change less and less.

Constructional detail of the Forth Bridge

It is becoming plainer and plainer each year that in many respects and in an increasing range of affairs, mankind is becoming one community, and that it is more and more necessary that in such matters there should be a common world-wide control. For example, it is steadily truer that the whole planet is now one economic community, that the proper exploitation of its natural resources demands one comprehensive direction, and that the greater power and range that discovery has given human effort makes the present fragmentary and contentious administration of such affairs more and more wasteful and dangerous. Financial and monetary expedients also become world-wide interests to be dealt with successfully only on world-wide lines. Infectious diseases and the increase and migrations of population are also now plainly seen to be world-wide concerns. The greater power and range of human activities has also made war disproportionately destructive and disorganizing, and, even as a clumsy way of settling issues between government and government and people and people, ineffective. All these things clamour for controls and authorities of a greater range and greater comprehensiveness than any government that has hitherto existed.

But it does not follow that the solution of these problems lies in some super-government of all the world arising by conquest or by the coalescence of existing governments. By analogy with existing institutions men have thought of the Parliament of Mankind, of a World Congress, of a President or Emperor of the Earth. Our first natural reaction is towards some such conclusion, but the discussion and experiences of half a century of suggestions and attempts has on the whole discouraged belief in that first obvious idea. Along that line to world unity the resistances are too great. The drift of thought seems now to be in the direction of a number of special committees or organizations, with world-wide power delegated to them by existing governments in this group of matters or that, bodies concerned with the waste or development of natural wealth, with the equalization of labour conditions, with world peace, with currency, population and health, and so forth. The world may discover that all its common interests are being managed as one concern, while it still fails to realize that a world government exists. But before even so much human unity is attained, before such international arrangements can be put above patriotic suspicions and jealousies, it is necessary that the common mind of the race should be possessed of that idea of human unity, and that the idea of mankind as one family should be a matter of universal instruction and understanding.

For a score of centuries or more the spirit of the great universal religions has been struggling to maintain and extend that idea of a universal human brotherhood, but to this day the spites, angers and distrusts of tribal, national and racial friction obstruct, and successfully obstruct, the broader views and more generous impulses which would make every man the servant of all mankind. The idea of human brotherhood struggles now to possess the human soul, just as the idea of Christendom struggled to possess the soul of Europe in the confusion and disorder of the sixth and seventh centuries of the Christian era. The dissemination and triumph of such ideas must be the work of a multitude of devoted and undistinguished missionaries, and no contemporary writer can presume to guess how far such work has gone or what harvest it may be preparing.

Social and economic questions seem to be inseparably mingled with international ones. The solution in each case lies in an appeal to that same spirit of service which can enter and inspire the human heart. The distrust, intractability and egotism of nations reflects and is reflected by the distrust, intractability and egotism of the individual owner and worker in the face of the common good. Exaggerations of possessiveness in the individual are parallel and of a piece with the clutching greed of nations and emperors. They are products of the same instinctive tendencies, and the same ignorances and traditions. Internationalism is the socialism of nations. No one who has wrestled with these problems can feel that there yet exists a sufficient depth and strength of psychological science and a sufficiently planned-out educational method and organization for any real and final solution of these riddles of human intercourse and cooperation. We are as incapable of planning a really effective peace organization of the world to-day as were men in 1820 to plan an electric railway system, but for all we know the thing is equally practicable and may be as nearly at hand.

No man can go beyond his own knowledge, no thought can reach beyond contemporary thought, and it is impossible for us to guess or foretell how many generations of humanity may have to live in war and waste and insecurity and misery before the dawn of the great peace to which all history seems to be pointing, peace in the heart and peace in the world, ends our night of wasteful and aimless living. Our proposed solutions are still vague and crude. Passion and suspicion surround them. A great task of intellectual reconstruction is going on, it is still incomplete, and our conceptions grow clearer and more exact – slowly, rapidly, it is hard to tell which. But as they grow clearer they will gather power over the minds and imaginations of men. Their present lack of grip is due to their lack of assurance and exact rightness. They are misunderstood because they are variously and confusingly presented. But with precision and certainty the new vision of the world will gain compelling power. It may presently gain power very rapidly. And a great work of educational reconstruction will follow logically and necessarily upon that clearer understanding.