Now the point of view which will be displayed in relation to a number of wide questions in these pages is primarily that of the writer’s. But he hopes and believes that among those who read what he has to say, there will be found not only many to understand, but some to agree with him. In many ways he is inclined to believe the development of his views may be typical of the sort of development that has gone on to a greater or lesser extent in the minds of many of the younger men during the last twenty years, and it is in that belief that he is now presenting them.
And the questions that will be dealt with in relation to this point of view are all those questions outside a man’s purely private self—if he have a purely private self—in which he interacts with his fellow-man. Our attempt will be to put in order, to reduce to principle, what is at present in countless instances a mass of inconsistent proceedings, to frame a general theory in accordance with modern conditions of social and political activity.
This is one man’s proposal, his attempt to supply a need that has oppressed him for many years, a need that he has not only found in his own schemes of conduct, but that he has observed in the thought of numberless people about him, rendering their action fragmentary, wasteful in the gross, and ineffective in the net result, the need for some general principle, some leading idea, some standard, sufficiently comprehensive to be of real guiding value in social and political matters, in many doubtful issues of private conduct, and throughout the business of dealing with one’s fellow-men. No doubt there are many who do not feel such a need at all, and with these we may part company forthwith; there are, for example, those who profess the artistic temperament and follow the impulse of the moment, and those who consult an inner light in some entirely mystical manner. But neither of these I believe is the most abundant type in the English-speaking communities. My impression is that with most of the minds I have been able to examine with any thoroughness, the attempt to systematize one’s private and public conduct alike, and to reduce it to spacious general rules, to attempt, if not to succeed, in making it coherent, consistent, and uniformly directed, is an almost instinctive proceeding.
There is an objection I may anticipate at this point. If I am to leave this statement unqualified, it would certainly be objected that such a need is no more nor less than the need of religion, that a properly formulated religion does supply a trustworthy guide at every fork and labyrinth in life. By my allusion to the failure of old formulæ and methods to satisfy now, I am afraid many people will choose to understand that I refer to what is often spoken of as the conflict of religion and science, and that I intend to propound some contribution to the conflict. I will at any rate anticipate that objection here, in order to mark out my boundaries with greater precision.
Taken in its completeness, I submit that it is a greater claim than almost any religion can justifiably make, to satisfy the need I have stated. No religion prescribes rules that can be immediately applied to every eventuality. Between the general rules laid down and the particular instance there is always a wide gap, into which doubts and alternatives enter and the private judgment has play. No doubt upon certain defined issues of every-day life some religions are absolutely explicit; the Mahomedan religion, for example, is very uncompromising upon the use of wine, and the law of the Ten Commandments completely prohibits the making of graven images, and almost all the great variety of creeds professed among us English-speaking peoples prescribe certain general definitions of what is righteous and what constitutes sin. But upon a thousand questions of great public importance, on the question of forms of government, of social and educational necessities, of one’s course and attitude towards such great facts as the press, trusts, housing, and the like, religion, as it is generally understood, gives by itself no conclusive light. It may, no doubt, give a directing light in some cases, but not a conclusive light. It leaves us inconsistent and uncertain amidst these unavoidable problems. Yet upon these questions most people feel that something more is needed than the mood of the moment or the spin of a coin. Religious conviction may help us, it may stimulate us to press for clearer light upon these matters, but it certainly does not give us any decisions.
It is possible to be either intensely religious or utterly indifferent to religious matters and yet care nothing for these things. One may be a Pietist to whom the world is a fleeting show of no importance whatever, or one may say, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to- morrow we die”: the net result in regard to my need is the same. These questions appear to be on a different plane from religion and religious discussion; they look outward, while essentially religion looks inward to the soul, and, given the necessary temperament, it is possible to approach them in an unbiassed manner from almost any starting-point of religious profession. One man may believe in the immortality of the soul and another may not; one man may be a Swedenborgian, another a Roman Catholic, another a Calvinistic Methodist, another an English High Churchman, another a Positivist, or a Parsee, or a Jew; the fact remains that they must go about doing all sorts of things in common every day. They may derive their ultimate motives and sanctions from the most various sources, they may worship in the most contrasted temples and yet meet unanimously in the market-place with a desire to shape their general activities to the form of a “public spirited” life, and when at last the life of every day is summed up, “to leave the world better than they found it.” And it is from that most excellent expression I would start, or rather from a sort of amplified restatement of that expression—outside the province of religious discussion altogether.
A man who will build on that expression as his foundation in political and social matters, has at least the possibility of agreement in the scheme of action these papers will unfold. For though we theorize it is at action that our speculations will aim. They will take the shape of an organized political and social doctrine. It will be convenient to give this doctrine a name, and for reasons that will be clear enough to those who have read my book Anticipations this doctrine will be spoken of throughout as “New Republicanism,” the doctrine of the New Republic.
The central conception of this New Republicanism as it has shaped itself in my mind, lies in attaching pre-eminent importance to certain aspects of human life, and in subordinating systematically and always, all other considerations to these cardinal aspects. It begins with a way of looking at life. It insists upon that way, it will regard no human concern at all except in that way. And the way, putting the thing as compactly as possible, is to reject and set aside all abstract, refined, and intellectualized ideas as starting propositions, such ideas as Right, Liberty, Happiness, Duty or Beauty, and to hold fast to the assertion of the fundamental nature of life as a tissue and succession of births. These other things may be important, they may be profoundly important, but they are not primary. We cannot build upon any one of them and get a structure that will comprehend all the aspects of life.
For the great majority of mankind at least it can be held that life resolves itself quite simply and obviously into three cardinal phases. There is a period of youth and preparation, a great insurgence of emotion and enterprise centering about the passion of Love, and a third period in which, arising amidst the warmth and stir of the second, interweaving indeed with the second, the care and love of offspring becomes the central interest in life. In the babble of the grandchildren, with all the sons and daughters grown and secure, the typical life of humanity ebbs and ends. Looked at thus with a primary regard to its broadest aspect, life is seen as essentially a matter of reproduction; first a growth and training to that end, then commonly mating and actual physical reproduction, and finally the consummation of these things in parental nurture and education. Love, Home and Children, these are the heart-words of life. Not only is the general outline of the normal healthy human life reproductive, but a vast proportion of the infinitely complex and interwoven interests that fill that outline with incessant interest can be shown by a careful analysis to be more or less directly reproductive also. The toil of a man’s daily work is rarely for himself alone, it goes to feed, to clothe, to educate those cardinal consequences of his being, his children; he builds for them, he plants for them, he plans for them, his social intercourse, his political interests, whatever his immediate motives, tend finally to secure their welfare. Even more obviously is this the case with his wife. Even in rest and recreation life still manifests its quality; the books the ordinary man reads turn enormously on love-making, his theatre has scarcely ever a play that has not primarily a strong love interest, his art rises to its most consummate triumphs in Venus and Madonna, and his music is saturated in love suggestions. Not only is this so with the right and proper life, but the greater portion of those acts we call vice draw their stimulus and pleasure from the impulses that subserve this sustaining fact of our being, and they are vicious only because they evade or spoil their proper end. This is really no new discovery at all, only the stripping bare of it is new. In nearly every religious and moral system in the world indeed, the predominant mass of the exposition of sin and saving virtue positively or negatively centres upon birth. Positively in the enormous stresses, the sacramental values which are concentrated upon marriage and the initial circumstances of being, and negatively in a thousand significant repudiations. Even when the devotee most strenuously renounces this world and all its works, when St. Anthony flees into the desert or the pious Durtal wrestles in his cell, when the pale nun prays in vigil and the hermit mounts his pillar, it is Celibacy, that great denial of life, that sings through all their struggle, it is this business of births as the central fact of life they still have most in mind.
This is not human life merely, it is all life. This living world, as the New Republican will see it, is no more than a great birth-place, an incessant renewal, an undying fresh beginning and unfolding of life. Take away this fact of birth and what is there remaining? A world without flowers, without the singing of birds, without the freshness of youth, with a spring that brings no seedlings and a year that bears no harvest, without beginnings and without defeats, a vast stagnation, a universe of inconsequent matter—Death. Not only does the substance of life vanish if we eliminate births and all that is related to births, but whatever remains, if anything remains, of æsthetic and intellectual and spiritual experience, collapses utterly and falls apart, when this essential substratum of all experience is withdrawn. So at any rate the world presents itself in the view the New Republican takes. And if it should chance that the reader finds this ring untrue to him, then he may take it that he stands outside us, that the New Republic is not for him.
It may be submitted that this statement that Life is a texture of births may be accepted by minds of the most divergent religious and philosophical profession. No fundamental or recondite admissions are proposed here, but only that the every-day life for every-day purposes has this shape and nature. The utter materialist may say that life to him is a fortuitous concurrence of atoms, a chance kinking in the universal fabric of matter. It is not our present business to confute him. The fact remains this is the form the kinking has taken. The believer, sedulous for his soul’s welfare, may say that Life is to him an arena of spiritual conflict, but this is the character of the conflict, this is the business from which all the tests and exercises of his soul are drawn. It matters not in this present discussion if Life is no more than a dream; the dream is this.
And now one comes to another step. The reader may give his assent to this statement as obvious or he may guard his assent with a qualification or so, but I doubt if he will deny it. No one, I expect, will categorically deny it. But although no one will do that, a great number of people who have not clearly seen things in this light, do in thought and in many details of their practice follow a line that is, in effect, a flat denial of what is here proposed. Life no doubt is a fabric woven of births and the struggle to maintain and develop and multiply lives. It does not follow that life is consciously a fabric woven of births and the struggle to maintain and develop and multiply lives. I do not suppose a cat or a savage sees it in that light. A cat’s standpoint is probably strictly individualistic. She sees the whole universe as a scheme of more or less useful, pleasurable and interesting things concentrated upon her sensitive and interesting personality. With a sinuous determination she evades disagreeables and pursues delights; life is to her quite clearly and simply a succession of pleasures, sensations and interests, among which interests there happen to be—kittens!
And this way of regarding life is by no means confined to animals and savages. I would even go so far as to suggest that it is only within the last hundred years that any considerable number of thoughtful people have come to look at life steadily and consistently as being shaped to this form, to the form of a series of births, growths and births. The most general truths are those last apprehended. The universal fact of gravitation, for example, which pervades all being, received its complete recognition scarcely two hundred years ago. And again children and savages live in air, breathe air, are saturated with air, die for five minutes’ need of it, and never definitely realize there is such a thing as air at all. The vast mass of human expression in act and art and literature takes a narrower view than we have here formulated; it presents each man not only as isolated from and antagonized with the world about him, but as cut off sharply and definitely from the past before he lived and the future after he is dead; it puts what is, in relation to the view we have taken, a disproportionate amount of stress upon his egotism, upon the pursuit of his self-interest and his personal virtue and his personal fancies, and it ignores the fact, the familiar rediscovery which the nineteenth century has achieved, that he is after all only the transitory custodian of an undying gift of life, an inheritor under conditions, the momentary voice and interpreter of a being that springs from the dawn of time and lives in offspring and thought and material consequence, for ever.
This over-accentuation in the past of man’s egoistic individuality, or, if one puts it in another way, this unsuspicious ignorance of the real nature of life, becomes glaringly conspicuous in such weighed and deliberate utterances as The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Throughout these frank and fundamental discourses one traces a predominant desire for a perfected inconsequent egotism. Body is repudiated as a garment, position is an accident, the past that made us exists not since it is past, the future exists not for we shall never see it; at last nothing but the abstracted ego remains,—a sort of complimentary Nirvana. One citation will serve to show the colour of all his thought. “A man,” he remarks, “is very devout to prevent the loss of his son. But I would have you pray rather against the fear of losing him. Let this be the rule for your devotions.”1 That indeed is the rule for all the devotions of that departing generation of wisdom. Rather serenity and dignity than good ensuing. Rather a virtuous man than any resultant whatever from his lifetime, for the future of the world. It points this disregard of the sequence of life and birth in favour of an abstract and fruitless virtue, it points it indeed with a barbed point that the son of Marcus Aurelius was the unspeakable Commodus, and that the Roman Empire fell from the temporizing detachment of his rule into a century of disorder and misery.
To the thoughtful reader to whom these papers appeal, to the reader whose mind is of the modern cast, who has surveyed the vistas of the geological record and grasped the secular unfolding of the scheme of life, who has found with microscope and scalpel that the same rhythm of birth and re-birth is woven into the minutest texture of things that has covered the earth with verdure and shaped the massifs of the Alps, to such a man the whole literature the world produced until the nineteenth century had well progressed, must needs be lacking in any definite and pervading sense of the cardinal importance in the world of this central reproductive aspect, of births and of the training and preparation for future births. All that literature, great and imposing as we are bound to admit it is, has an outlook less ample than quite common men may have to-day. It is a literature, as we see it in the newer view, of abstracted personalities and of disconnected passions and impressions.
To one extraordinary and powerful mind in the earlier half of the nineteenth century this realization of the true form of life came with quite overwhelming force, and that was to Schopenhauer, surely at once the most acute and the most biassed of mortal men. It came to him as a most detestable fact, because it happened he was an intensely egotistical man. But his intellect was of that noble and exceptional sort that aversion may tint indeed but cannot blind, and we owe to him a series of philosophical writings, written with an instinctive skill and a clearness and a vigour uncommon in philosophers, in which a very complete statement of the new view is presented to the reader in terms of passionate protest.2 “Why,” he asked, “must we be for ever tortured by this passion and desire to reproduce our kind, why are all our pursuits tainted with this application, all our needs deferred to the needs of the new generation that tramples on our heels?” and he found the answer in the presence of an overwhelming Will to Live manifesting itself throughout the universe of Matter, thrusting us ruthlessly before it, as a strong swimmer thrusts a wave before him as he swims. That the personal egotism should be subordinated to and overwhelmed by a pervading Will to Live filled his soul with passionate rebellion and coloured his exposition with the hues of despair. But to minds temperamentally different from his, minds whose egotism is qualified by a more unselfish humour, it is possible to avail one’s self of Schopenhauer’s vision, without submitting one’s self to his conclusions, to see our wills only as temporary manifestations of an ampler will, our lives as passing phases of a greater Life, and to accept these facts even joyfully, to take our places in that larger scheme with a sense of relief and discovery, to go with that larger being, to serve that larger being, as a soldier marches, a mere unit in the larger being of his army, and serving his army, joyfully into battle.
However, it is not to Schopenhauer and his writings, at least among the English-speaking peoples, that this increasing realization of life as essentially a succession of births, is chiefly ascribed. It is mainly, as I have already suggested, the result of that great expansion of our sense of time and causation that has ensued from the idea of organic Evolution. In the course of one brief century, the human outlook upon the order of the world has been profoundly changed. It is not simply that it has become much more spacious, it is not only that it has opened out from the little history of a few thousand years to a stupendous vista of ages, but, in addition to its expanded dimensions, it has experienced a change in character. That wonderful and continually more elaborate and penetrating analysis of the evolutionary process by Darwin and his followers and successors and antagonists, the entire subordination of the individual lot to the specific destiny that these criticisms and researches have emphasized, has warped and altered the aspect of a thousand human affairs. It has made reasonable and in order what Schopenhauer found so suggestively perplexing, it has dispelled problems that have seemed insoluble mysteries to many generations of men. I do not say it has solved them, but it has dispelled them and made them irrelevant and uninteresting. So long as one believed that life span unprogressively from generation to generation, that generation followed generation unchangingly for ever, the enormous preponderance of sexual needs and emotions in life was a distressing and inexplicable fact—it was a mystery, it was sin, it was the work of the devil. One asked, why does man build houses that others may live therein; plant trees whose fruit he will never see? And all the toil and ambition, the stress and hope of existence, seemed, so far as this life went, and before these new lights came, a mere sacrifice to this pointless reiteration of lives, this cosmic crambe repetita. To perceive this aspect, and to profess an entire detachment from the whole vacuous business was considered by a large proportion of the more thoughtful people of the world the supreme achievement of philosophy. The acme of old-world wisdom, the ultimate mystery of Oriental philosophy is to contemn women and offspring, to abandon costume, cleanliness, and all the decencies and dignities of life, and to crawl, as scornfully as possible, but at any rate to crawl out of all these earthly shows and snares (which so obviously lead to nothing), into the nearest tub.
And the amazing revelation of our days is that they do not lead to nothing! Directly the discovery is made clear—and it is, I firmly believe, the crowning glory of the nineteenth century to have established this discovery for all time—that one generation does not follow another in fac simile, directly we come within sight of the reasonable persuasion that each generation is a step, a definite measurable step, and each birth an unprecedented experiment, directly it grows clear that instead of being in an eddy merely, we are for all our eddying moving forward upon a wide voluminous current, then all these things are changed.
That change alters the perspective of every human affair. Things that seemed permanent and final, become unsettled and provisional. Social and political effort are seen from a new view-point. Everywhere the old direction posts, the old guiding marks, have got out of line and askew. And it is out of the conflict of the new view with the old institutions and formulæ, that there arises the discontent and the need, and the attempt at a wider answer, which this phrase and suggestion of the “New Republic” is intended to express.
Every part contributes to the nature of the whole, and if the whole of life is an evolving succession of births, then not only must a man in his individual capacity (physically as parent, doctor, food dealer, food carrier, home builder, protector, or mentally as teacher, news dealer, author, preacher) contribute to births and growths and the future of mankind, but the collective aspects of man, his social and political organizations must also be, in the essence, organizations that more or less profitably and more or less intentionally, set themselves towards this end. They are finally concerned with the birth and with the sound development towards still better births, of human lives, just as every implement in the toolshed of a seedsman’s nursery, even the hoe and the roller, is concerned finally with the seeding and with the sound development towards still better seeding of plants. The private and personal motive of the seedsman in procuring and using these tools may be avarice, ambition, a religious belief in the saving efficacy of nursery keeping or a simple passion for bettering flowers, that does not affect the definite final purpose of his outfit of tools.
And just as we might judge completely and criticise and improve that outfit from an attentive study of the welfare of plants and with an entire disregard of his remoter motives, so we may judge all collective human enterprises from the standpoint of an attentive study of human births and development. Any collective human enterprise, institution, movement, party or state, is to be judged as a whole and completely, as it conduces more or less to wholesome and hopeful births, and according to the qualitative and quantitative advance due to its influence made by each generation of citizens born under its influence towards a higher and ampler standard of life.
Or putting the thing in a slightly different phrasing, the New Republican idea amounts to this: the serious aspect of our private lives, the general aspect of all our social and co-operative undertakings, is to prepare as well as we possibly can a succeeding generation, which shall prepare still more capably for still better generations to follow. We are passing as a race out of a state of affairs when the unconscious building of the future was attained by individualistic self-seeking (altogether unenlightened or enlightened only by the indirect moralizing influence of the patriotic instinct and religion) into a clear consciousness of our co-operative share in that process. That is the essential idea my New Republic would personify and embody. In the past man was made, generation after generation, by forces beyond his knowledge and control. Now a certain number of men are coming to a provisional understanding of some at least of these forces that go to the Making of Man. To some of us there is being given the privilege and responsibility of knowledge. We may plead lack of will or lack of moral impetus, but we can no longer plead ignorance. Just as far as our light upon the general purpose goes, just so far goes our responsibility (whether we respect it or not) to shape and subdue our wills to the Making of Mankind.
Directly the man, who has found akin to himself and who has accepted and assimilated this new view, turns to the affairs of the political world, to the general professions of our great social and business undertakings, and to the broad conventions of human conduct, he will find, I think, a very wide discrepancy from the implications of this view. He will find—the New Republican finds—that the declared aims and principles of the larger amount of our social and political effort are astonishingly limited and unsatisfactory, astonishingly irrelevant to the broad reality of Life. He will find great masses of men embarked collectively upon enterprises that will seem to his eyes to have no definable relation to this real business of the world, or only the most accidental relationship, he will find others in partial lop-sided co-operation or unintelligently half helpful and half obstructive, and he will find still other movements and developments which set quite in the opposite direction, which make neither for sound births nor sound growth, but through the thinnest shams of excuse and purpose, through the most hypnotic and unreal of suggestions and motives, directly and even plainly towards waste, towards sterility, towards futility and death and extinction.
But not deliberately towards Death. It is only in the theoretical aspirations of Schopenhauer that he will find an expression of conscious and resolved opposition to the pervading will and purpose in things. In the common affairs of the world he will find neither deliberate opposition nor deliberate co-operation, chance opposition indeed and chance co-operation, but for the most part only a complete unconsciousness, a blind irrelevance or a purely accidental accordance to the essential aspect of Life.
Take, for example, the great enthusiasm that set all England waving bunting in June, 1902. It was made clear to the most unwilling observer that the great mass of English people consider themselves aggregated together in one nation mainly to support, honour, and obey a King, and that they rejoice in this conception of their national purpose. Great sums of money were spent to emphasize this purpose, public work of all sorts was dislocated, and the channels of public discussion clogged and choked. A discussion of the education of the next generation, a matter of supreme interest from the New Republican point of view, passed from public sight amidst the happy tumults and splendours of the time. The land was filled with poetry in the Monarch’s praise, bad beyond any suspicion of insincerity. All that was certainly great in the land, all that has any hold upon the motives and confidence of the English, gathered itself into a respectful proximity, assumed attitudes of reverent subordination to the Monarch. All that was eminent in science and literature and art, the galaxy of the episcopate, the crowning intellectualities of the army, came to these rites, clad in robes and raiment that no sane person would ever voluntarily assume in public except under circumstances of extreme necessity. The whole business was conducted with a zest and gravity that absolutely forbids the theory that it was a mere formality, a curious survival of mediævalism cherished by a country that makes no breaks with its past. The spirit and idea of the whole thing was intensely real and contemporary; one could believe only that those who took part in it regarded it as a matter of primary importance, as one of the cardinal things for which they existed. The alternative is to imagine that they believe nothing to be of primary importance in this world; a quite incredible levity of soul to ascribe to all those great and distinguished people.
But it reflects not at all upon the high intelligence, the unobtrusive but sterling moral qualities, the tact, dignity, and personal charm of the central figure in their pageantries, a charm the pathetic circumstances of his unseasonable illness very greatly enhanced, if the New Republican fails to consider these ceremonials of primary importance, if he declines to see them as of any necessary importance at all, until it has been conclusively shown that they do minister to the bettering of births and of the lives intervening between birth and birth. On the surface they do not do that. Unless they can be shown to do that they are dissipations of energy, they are irrelevant and wrong, from the New Republican point of view. The New Republican can take no part in these things, or only a very grudging and qualified part, on his way to real service. He may or he may not, after deliberate examination, leave these things on one side, unchallenged but ignored.
It may be urged that all the subserviences that distinguish our kingdom and that become so amazingly conspicuous about a coronation, the kissing of hands, the shambling upon knees, the crawling of body and mind, the systematic encouragement of that undignified noisiness that nowadays distinguishes the popular rejoicings of our imperial people, are simply a proof of the earnest preoccupation of our judges, bishops, and leaders and great officers of all sorts with remoter and nobler aims. The kingdom happens to exist, and it would be complex and troublesome to get rid of it. They stand these things, they get done with these things, and so are able to get to their work. The paraphernalia of a Court, the sham scale of honours, the submissions, the ceremonial subjection, are, it is argued, entirely irrelevant to the purpose and honour of our race, but then so would rebellion against these things be also irrelevant and secondary. To submit or to rebel is a diversion of our energies from the real purpose in things, and of the two it is infinitely less bother to submit. In private conversation, I find, this is the line nine out of ten of the King’s servants will take. They will tell you the public understands; the thing is a mere excuse for festivity and colour; their loyalty is of a piece with their Fifth of November anti-popery. They will tell you the peers understand, the bishops understand, the coronating archbishop has his tongue in his cheek. They all understand—men of the world together. The King understands, a most admirable gentleman, who submits to these traditional things, but who admits his preference is for the simple, pure delight of the incognito, for being “plain Mr. Jones.”
It may be so. Though the psychologist will tell you that a man who behaves consistently as though he believed in a thing, will end in believing it. Assuredly whatever these others do, the New Republican must understand. In his inmost soul there must be no loyalty or submission to any king or colour, save only if it conduces to the service of the future of the race. In the New Republic all kings are provisional, if, indeed—and this I shall discuss in a later paper—they can be regarded as serviceable at all.
And just as kingship is a secondary and debatable thing to the New Republican, to every man, that is, whom the spirit of the new knowledge has taken for its work, so also are the loyalties of nationality, and all our local and party adhesions.
Much that passes for patriotism is no more than a generalized jealousy rather gorgeously clad. Amidst the collapse of the old Individualistic Humanitarianism, the Rights of Man, Human Equality, and the rest of those broad generalizations that served to keep together so many men of good intention in the age that has come to its end, there has been much hasty running to obvious shelters, and many men have been forced to take refuge under this echoing patriotism—for want of a better gathering place. It is like an incident during an earthquake, when men who have abandoned a cleft fortress will shelter in a drinking bothy. But the very upheavals that have shattered the old fastnesses of altruistic men, will be found presently to be taking the shape of a new gathering place—and of this the New Republic presents an early guess and anticipation. I do not see how men, save in the most unexpected emergency, can be content to accept such an artificial convention as modern patriotism for one moment. On the one hand there are the patriots of nationality who would have us believe that the miscellany of European squatters in the Transvaal are one nation and those in Cape Colony another, and on the other the patriots of Empire who would have me, for example, hail as my fellow-subjects and collaborators in man-making a host of Tamil-speaking, Tamil-thinking Dravadians, while separating me from every English-speaking, English-thinking person who lives south of the Great Lakes. So long as men are content to work in the grooves set for them by dead men, to derive all their significances from the past, to accept whatever is as right and to drive along before the compulsions of these acquiescences, they may do so. But directly they take to themselves the New Republican idea, directly they realize that life is something more than passing the time, that it is constructive with its direction in the future, then these things slip from them as Christian’s burthen fell from him at the very outset of his journey. Until grave cause has been shown to the contrary, there is every reason why all men who speak the same language, think the same literature, and are akin in blood and spirit, and who have arrived at the great constructive conception that so many minds nowadays are reaching, should entirely disregard these old separations. If the old traditions do no harm there is no reason to touch them, any more than there is to abolish the boundary between this ancient and invincible kingdom of Kent in which I write and that extremely inferior country, England, which was conquered by the Normans and brought under the feudal system. But so soon as these old traditions obstruct sound action, so soon as it is necessary to be rid of them, we must be prepared to sacrifice our archæological emotions ruthlessly and entirely.
And these repudiations extend also to the political parties that struggle to realize themselves within the forms of our established state. There is not in Great Britain, and I understand there is not in America, any party, any section, any group, any single politician even, based upon the manifest trend and purpose of life as it appears in the modern view. The necessities of continuity in public activity and of a glaring consistency in public profession, have so far prevented any such fundamental reconstruction as the new generation requires. One hears of Liberty, of Compromise, of Imperial Destinies and Imperial Unity, one hears of undying loyalty to the Memory of Mr. Gladstone and the inalienable right of Ireland to a separate national existence. One hears, too, of the sacred principle of Free Trade, of Empires and Zollvereins, and the Rights of the Parent to blockade the education of his children, but one hears nothing of the greater end. At the best all the objects of our political activity can be but means to that end, their only claim to our recognition can be their adequacy to that end, and none of these vociferated “cries,” these party labels, these programme items, are ever propounded to us in that way. I cannot see how, in England at any rate, a serious and perfectly honest man, holding as true that ampler view of life I have suggested, can attach himself loyally to any existing party or faction. At the utmost he may find their faction-fighting may be turned for a time towards his remoter ends. These parties derive from that past when the new view of life had yet to establish itself, they carry faded and obliterated banners that the glare and dust of conflict, the vote-storms of great campaigns, have robbed long since of any colour of reality they once possessed. They express no creative purpose now, whatever they did in their inception, they point towards no constructive ideals. Essentially they are things for the museum or the bonfire, whatever momentary expediency may hold back the New Republican from an unqualified advocacy of such a destination. The old party fabrics are no more than dead rotting things, upon which a great tangle of personal jealousies, old grudges, thorny nicknames, prickly memories, family curses, Judas betrayals and sacred pledges, a horrible rubbish thicket, maintains a saprophytic vitality.
It is quite possible I misjudge the thing altogether. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, for example, may hide the profoundest and most wide-reaching aims beneath his superficial effect of utter superficiality. His impersonation of an amiable, spirited, self-conscious, land-owning gentleman with a passion for justice in remote places and a whimsical dislike of motor cars in his immediate neighbourhood, may veil the operations of a stupendous intelligence bent upon the regeneration of the world. It may do, but if it does, it is a very amazing and purposeless impersonation. I at any rate do not believe that it does. I do not believe that he or any other Liberal leader or any Conservative minister has any comprehensive aim at all—as we of the new generation measure comprehensiveness. These parties, and the phrases of party exposition—in America just as in England—date from the days of the limited outlook. They display no consciousness of the new dissent. They are absorbed in the long standing game, the getting in, the turning out, the contests and governments, that has just about the same relation to the new perception of affairs, to the real drift of life, as the game of cricket with the wheel as a wicket would have to the destinies of a ship. They find their game highly interesting and no doubt they play it with remarkable wit, skill and spirit, but they entirely disregard the increasing number of passengers who are concerning themselves with the course and destination of the ship.
Those particular passengers in the figure, present the New Republic. It is a dissension, an inquiry, it is the vague unconsolidated matter for a new direction. “We who are young,” says the spirit of the New Republic, “we who are in earnest can no more compass our lives under these old kingships and loyalties, under these old leaders and these old traditions, constitutions and pledges, with their party liabilities, their national superstitions, their rotting banners and their accumulating legacy of feuds and lies, than we can pretend we are indeed impassioned and wholly devoted subjects of King Edward, spending our lives in the service of his will. It is not that we have revolted from these things, it is not that we have grown askew to them and that patching and amendment will serve our need; it is that we have travelled outside them altogether—almost inadvertently, but quite beyond any chance of return to a simple acceptance again. We are no more disposed to call ourselves Liberals or Conservatives and to be stirred to party passion at the clash of these names, than we are to fight again the battles of the Factio Albata or the Factio Prasina. These current dramas, these current conflicts seem scarcely less factitious. Men without faith may be content to spend their lives for things only half believed in, and for causes that are contrived. But that is not our quality. We want reality because we have faith, we seek the beginning of realism in social and political life, we seek it and we are resolved to find it.”
So we attempt to give a general expression to the forces that are new at this time, to render something at least of the spirit of the New Republic in a premature and experimental utterance. It is, at any rate, a spirit that finds itself out of intimacy and co-ordination with all the older movements of the world, that sees all pre-existing formulæ and political constitutions and political parties and organizations rather as instruments or obstacles than as guiding lines and precedents for its new developing will, its will which will carry it at last irresistibly to the conscious and deliberate making of the future of man. “We are here to get better births and a better result from the births we get; each one of us is going to set himself immediately to that, using whatever power he finds to his hand,” such is the form its will must take. And such being its will and spirit these papers will address themselves comprehensively to the problem, What will the New Republic do? All the rest of this series will be a discussion of the forces that go to the making of man, and how far and how such a New Republic might seek to lay its hands upon them.
It is for the adversary to explain how presumptuous such an enterprise must be. But presumption is ineradically interwoven with every beginning that the world has ever seen. I venture to think that even to a reader who does not accept or sympathize with the conception of this New Republic, a general review of current movements and current interpretations of morality from this new standpoint may be suggestive and interesting. Assuredly it is only by some such general revision, if not on these lines then on others, that a practicable way of escape is to be found for any one, from that base and shifty opportunism in public and social matters, that predominance of fluctuating aims and spiritless conformities, in which so many of us, without any great positive happiness at all to reward us for the sacrifice we are making, bury the solitary talents of our lives.
1. The Meditations of M. A. Antoninus, ix. 40. [back]