Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher — The Condition of England
Of all the fat books and thin pamphlets which have appeared in England in the past year for the entertainment or edification of “educated society,” the above work is the only one which is worth reading. All the multivolume novels with their sad and amusing intricacies, all the edifying and meditative, scholarly and unscholarly Bible commentaries – and novels and books of edification are the two staples of English literature – all these you may with an easy conscience leave unread. Perhaps you will find some books on geology, economics, history or mathematics which contain a small grain of novelty – however these are matters which one studies, but does not read, they represent dry, specialised branches of science, arid botanising, plants whose roots were long ago torn out of the general soil of humanity from which they derived their nourishment. Search as you will, Carlyle’s book is the only one which strikes a human chord, presents human relations and shows traces of a human point of view.
It is remarkable how greatly the upper classes of society, such as the Englishman calls “respectable people,” or “the better sort of people,” etc., have intellectually declined and lost their vigour in England. All energy, all activity, all substance are gone; the landed aristocracy goes hunting, the moneyed aristocracy makes entries in the ledger and at best dabbles in literature which is equally empty and insipid. Political and religious prejudices are inherited from one generation to another; everything is now made easy and there is no longer any need to worry about principles as one had to formerly; they are now picked up already in the cradle, ready made, one has no notion where they come from. What more does one need? One has enjoyed a good education, that is, one has been tormented to no avail with the Romans and Greeks at school, for the rest one is “respectable,” that is, one has so many thousand pounds to one’s name and thus does not have to bother about anything except marrying, if one does not already have a wife.
And now, to cap it all, this bugbear which people call “intellect"! Where should intellect come from, in such a life, and if it did come, where might it find a home with them? Everything there is as fixed and formalised as in China – woe be to the man who oversteps the narrow bounds, woe, thrice woe to the man who offends against a timehonoured prejudice, nine times woe to him if it is a religious prejudice. For all questions they have just two answers, a Whig answer and a Tory answer; and these answers were long ago prescribed by the sage supreme masters of ceremony of both parties, you have no need of deliberation and circumstantiality, everything is cut and dried, Dicky Cobden or Lord John Russell has said this, and Bobby Peel or the Duke, that is, the Duke of Wellington, has said that, and that is an end of the matter.
You good Germans are told year in, year out by the liberal journalists and parliamentarians what wonderful people, what independent men the English are, and all on account of their free institutions, and from a distance it all looks quite impressive. The debates in the Houses of Parliament, the free press, the tumultuous popular meetings, the elections, the jury system – these cannot fail to impress the timid spirit of the average German, and in his astonishment he takes all these splendid appearances for true coin. But ultimately the position of the liberal journalist and parliamentarian is really far from being elevated enough to provide a comprehensive view, whether it be of the development of mankind or just that of a single nation. The English Constitution was quite good in its day and has achieved a fair number of good things, indeed since 1828 it has set to work on its greatest achievement – that is to say, on its own destruction – but it has not achieved what the liberal attributes to it. It has not made independent men of the English. The English, that is, the educated English, according to whom the national character is judged on the Continent, these English are the most despicable slaves under the sun. Only that part of the English nation which is unknown on the Continent, only the workers, the pariahs of England, the poor, are really respectable, for all their roughness and for all their moral degradation. It is from them that England’s salvation will come, they still comprise flexible material; they have no education, but no prejudices either, they still have the strength for a great national deed – they still have a future. The aristocracy – and nowadays that also includes the middle classes – has exhausted itself; such ideas as it had, have been worked out and utilised to their ultimate logical limit, and its rule is approaching its end with giant strides. The Constitution is its work, and the immediate consequence of this work was that it entangled its creators in a mesh of institutions in which any free intellectual movement has been made impossible. The rule of public prejudice is everywhere the first consequence of socalled free political institutions, and in England, the politically freest country in Europe, this rule is stronger than anywhere else – except for North America, where public prejudice is legally acknowledged as a power in the state by Iynch law. The Englishman crawls before public prejudice, he immolates himself to it daily – and the more liberal he is, the more humbly does he grovel in the dust before his idol. Public prejudice in “educated society” is however either of Tory or of Whig persuasion, or at best radical – and even that no longer has quite the odour of propriety. If you should go amongst educated Englishmen and say that you are Chartists or democrats – the balance of your mind will be doubted and your company fled. Or declare you do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and you are done for; if moreover you confess that you are atheists, the next day people will pretend not to know you. And when the independent Englishman for once – and this happens rarely enough – really begins to think and shakes off the fetters of prejudice he has absorbed with his mother’s milk, even then he has not the courage to speak out his convictions openly, even then he feigns an opinion before society that is at least tolerated, and is quite content if occasionally he can discuss his views with some likeminded person in private.
Thus the minds of the educated classes in England are closed to all progress and only kept to some degree in movement by the pressure of the working class. It cannot be expected that the literary diet of their decrepit culture should be different from these classes themselves. The whole of fashionable literature moves in a neverending circle and is just as boring and sterile as this blasé and effete fashionable society.
When Strauss’ Das Leben Jesu and its fame crossed the Channel, no respectable man dared to translate the book, nor any bookseller of repute to print it. Finally it was translated by a socialist “lecturer” (there is no German word for this propagandist term) – a man, therefore, in one of the world’s least fashionable situations – a small socialist printer printed it in instalments at a penny each, and the workers of Manchester, Birmingham and London were the only readers Strauss had in England.
If, by the way, either of the two parties into which the educated section of the English people is split deserves any preference, it is the Tories. In the social circumstances of England the Whig is himself too much of an interested party to be able to judge; industry, that focal point of English society, is in his hands and makes him rich; he can find no fault in it and considers its expansion the only purpose of all legislation, for it has given him his wealth and his power. The Tory on the other hand, whose power and unchallenged dominance have been broken by industry and whose principles have been shaken by it, hates it and sees in it at best a necessary evil. This is the reason for the formation of that group of philanthropic Tories whose chief leaders are Lord Ashley, Ferrand, Walter, Oastler, etc., and who have made it their duty to take the part of the factory workers against the manufacturers. Thomas Carlyle too was originally a Tory and still stands closer to that party than to the Whigs. This much is certain: a Whig would never have been able to write a book that was half so humane as Past and Present.
Thomas Carlyle has become known in Germany through his efforts to make German literature accessible to the English. For several years he has been mainly occupied with the social conditions of England – the only educated man of his country to do so! – and as early as 1838 he wrote a brief work entitled Chartism. At that time the Whigs were in office and proclaimed with much trumpeting that the “spectre” of Chartism, which had arisen round 1835, was now destroyed. Chartism was the natural successor to the old radicalism which had been appeased for a few years by the Reform Bill and reappeared in 183536 with new strength and with its ranks more solid than ever before. The Whigs thought they had suppressed this Chartism, and Thomas Carlyle took this as his cue to expound the real causes of Chartism and the impossibility of eradicating it before these causes were eradicated. It is true that as a whole the position taken by that book is the same as in Past and Present, though with rather stronger Tory colouring, but this is perhaps merely a result of the fact that the Whigs as the ruling party were the most open to criticism. At all events, everything that is in the smaller book is to be found in Past and Present, with greater clarity, with the argument further developed, and with an explicit description of the consequences, and therefore makes a critical analysis of Chartism on our part superfluous.
Past and Present is a parallel between England in the twelfth and in the nineteenth centuries and consists of four sections, entitled “Proem,” “The Ancient Monk,” “The Modern Worker” and “Horoscope.” Let us consider these sections in turn, I cannot resist the temptation to translate the finest of the book’s often marvellously fine passages. – Criticism will no doubt take care of itself.
The first chapter of the “Proem” is called “Midas.”
“The condition of England ... is justly regarded as one of the most ominous, and withal one of the strangest, ever seen in this world. England is full of wealth [...] in every kind; yet England is dying of inanition. With unabated bounty the land of England blooms and grows; waving with yellow harvests; thickstudded with workshops, industrial implements, with fifteen millions of workers, understood to be the strongest, the cunningest and the willingest our Earth ever had; these men are here; the work they have done, the fruit they have realised is here, abundant, exuberant on every hand of us: and behold, some baleful fiat as of Enchantment has gone forth, saying, ‘Touch it not, ye workers, ye masterworkers, ye master-idlers; none of you can touch it, no man of you shall be the better for it, this is enchanted fruit!’”
This fiat falls on the workers first. In 1842 England and Wales counted 1,430,000 paupers, of whom 222,000 were incarcerated in workhouses – Poorlaw Bastilles the common people call them. – Thanks to the humanity of the Whigs! Scotland has no poor law, but poor people in plenty. Ireland, incidentally, can boast of the gigantic number of 2,300,000 paupers.
“At Stockport Assizes” (Cheshire) “a Mother and a Father are arraigned and found guilty of poisoning three of their children, to defraud a ‘burialsociety’ of some 31. 8s. due on the death of each child: [...] and the official authorities, it is whispered, hint that perhaps the case is not solitary, that perhaps you had better not probe farther into that department of things.... Such instances are like the highest mountain apex emerged into view; under which lies a whole mountain region and land, not yet emerged. A human Mother and Father had said to themselves, What shall we do to escape starvation? We are deep sunk here, in our dark cellar; and help is far. – Yes, in the Ugolino Hungertower stern things happen; bestloved little Gaddo fallen dead on his Father’s knees! – The Stockport Mother and Father think and hint: Our poor little starveling Tom, who cries all day for victuals, who will see only evil and not good in this world: if he were out of misery at once; ... and the rest of us perhaps kept alive? It is thought, and hinted; at last it is done. And now Tom being killed, and all spent and eaten, Is it poor little starveling Jack that must go, or poor little starveling Will? – What an inquiry of ways and means!
“In starved sieged cities, in the uttermost doomed ruin of old Jerusalem fallen under the wrath of God, it was prophesied and said, ‘The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children.’ The stern Hebrew imagination could conceive no blacker gulf of wretchedness; that was the ultimatum of degraded godpunished man. And we here, in modern England, exuberant with supply of all kinds, [...] are we reaching that? ” How come these things? Wherefore are they, wherefore should they be?”
This happened in 1841. I would add that five months ago Betty Eules of Bolton was hanged in Liverpool; she had poisoned three children of her own and two stepchildren for the same reason.
So much for the poor. How do things stand with the rich?
“This successful industry of England, with its plethoric wealth, has as yet made nobody rich; it is an enchanted wealth, and belongs yet to nobody. [...] We can spend thousands where we once spent hundreds; but can purchase nothing good with them. [...] Many men eat finer cookery, drink dearer liquors, [...] what increase of blessedness is there? Are they better, beautifuller, stronger, braver? Are they even what they call ’happier’?”
The masterworker is not happier, the masteridler – that is, the aristocratic landowner – is not happier.
“To whom, then, is this wealth of England wealth? Who is it that it blesses; makes happier, wiser, beautifuller, [...] better? [...] As yet no one. [...] Our successful industry is hitherto unsuccessful; [...] In the midst of plethoric plenty, the people perish; with gold walls, and full barns, no man feels himself safe or satisfied. [...]
“Midas longed for gold, and insulted the Olympians. He got gold, so that whatsoever he touched became gold, – and he, with his long ears, was little the better for it. Midas had misjudged the celestial musictones; Midas had insulted Apollo and the gods: the gods gave him his wish, and a pair of long ears, which also were a good appendage to it. What a truth in these old Fables!’”
“How true,” he continues in the second chapter, “is that other old Fable of the Sphinx [....] Nature, like the Sphinx, [...] is a goddess, but one not yet disimprisoned", still half encased in brutishness, in the inarticulate – there is order and wisdom on the one hand, but also darkness, ferocity and fatality.
Sphinxlike nature – German mysticism, say the English, when they read this chapter – has a question to put to every man and every age – happy is the man who answers it aright; he who does not answer it or answers wrongly, falls a prey to that part of the Sphinx which is brutish and ferocious, instead of the beautiful bride he finds a devouring lioness. And so it is with nations too: can you solve the riddle of destiny? And all unfortunate peoples, like all unfortunate individuals, have answered the question wrongly, have taken the semblance for the truth, have abandoned the eternal inner facts of the universe in favour of transient outer’ appearances, and England too has done this. England, as Carlyle later puts it, has fallen a prey to atheism and its present condition is the necessary consequence of that. We shall have occasion to speak of this later, for the present let us simply observe that the parable of the Sphinx, if it is to be accepted in the above pantheistic sense reminiscent of the older Schelling, could well have been developed somewhat further by Carlyle – the answer to the riddle today is, as it was in the myth: man; indeed he is the answer in the widest possible sense. That too will be settled.
The next chapter gives us the following description of the Manchester insurrection of August 1842.
“A million of hungry operative men [...] rose all up, came all out into the streets, and – stood there. What other could they do? Their wrongs and grief were bitter, insupportable, their rage against the same was just: but who are they that cause these wrongs, who that will [...] make effort to redress them? Our enemies are we know not who or what; our friends are we know not where! How shall we attack any one, shoot or be shot by any one? O, if the accursed invisible Nightmare, that is crushing out the life of us and ours, would take a shape approach us like the Hyrcaniana tiger, the Behemoth of Chaos, the Archfiend himself; in any shape that we could see, and fasten on!”
But the misfortune of the workers in the summer insurrection of 1842 was precisely that they did not know whom to fight against. The evil they suffered was social – and social evils cannot be abolished as the monarchy or privileges are abolished. Social evils cannot be cured by People’s Charters, and the people sensed this – otherwise the People’s Charter would be today the basic law of England. Social evils need to be studied and understood, and this the mass of the workers has not yet done up till now. The great achievement of the uprising was that England’s most vital question, the question of the final destiny of the working class, was, as Carlyle says, raised in a manner audible to every thinking ear in England. The question can now no longer be evaded. England must answer it or perish.
Let us pass over the final chapters of this section, and for the moment too the whole of that which follows, and let us straightaway take the third section which treats of "The Modern Worker’, so that we may have before us all of a piece the description of the condition of England which was begun in the “Proem.”
We have abandoned, Carlyle continues, the piety of the Middle Ages and acquired nothing in its place: we have
“forgotten God [....] We have quietly closed our eyes to the eternal Substance of things, and opened .them only to the Shews and Shams of things. We quietly believe this Universe to be intrinsically a great unintelligible Perhaps; extrinsically, clear enough, it is a great, most extensive Cattlefold and Workhouse, with most extensive Kitchenranges, Diningtables, – whereat he is wise who can find a place! All the Truth of this Universe is uncertain; only the profit and loss of it, the pudding and praise of it, are and remain very visible to the practical man.
“There is no longer any God for us! God’s Laws are become a Greatest Happiness Principle, a Parliamentary Expediency: the Heavens overarch us only as an Astronomical Timekeeper; a butt for Herscheltelescopes to shoot science at, to shoot sentimentalities at: – in our and old Jonson’s dialect, man has lost the soul out of him, and now [...] begins to find the want of it! This is verily the plaguespot; centre of the universal Social Gangrene [....] There is no religion; there is no God; man has lost his soul, and vainly seeks antiseptic salt. Vainly: in killing Kings, in [passing] Reform Bills,’ in French Revolutions, Manchester Insurrections, is found no remedy. The foul [...] leprosy, alleviated for an hour, reappears in new force and desperateness next hour.”
Since however the place of the old religion could not remain entirely vacant, we have acquired a new gospel in its stead, a gospel that accords with the hollowness and lack of substance of the age – the gospel of Mammon. The Christian heaven and the Christian hell have been abandoned, the former as doubtful, and the latter as absurd – and you have acquired a new hell; the hell of modern England is the consciousness of “not succeeding, of not making money.”
“True [...] we [...} with our MammonGospel, have come to strange conclusions. We call it a Society; and go about professinge openly the totalest separation, isolation. Our life is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather, cloaked under due lawsofwar, named ‘fair competition’ and so forth, it is a mutual hostility. We have profoundly forgotten [...] that Cashpayment is not the sole relation of human beings; [...] ‘My starving workers?’ answers the rich Millowner: ‘Did not I hire them fairly in the market? Did I not pay them, to the last sixpence, the sum covenanted for? What have I to do with them more?’ – Verily Mammonworship is a melancholy creed.”
“A poor Irish Widow [...] of Edinburgh, went forth with her three children [...] to solicit help from the Charitable Establishments of that City.” At every establishment “she was refused; [...] her strength and heart failed her: she sank down in typhusfever; died, and infected her Lane with fever, so that ‘seventeen other persons’ died of fever there in consequence. The humane Physician” who tells this story – Dr. W. P. Alison – “asks thereupon [...] Would it not have been economy to help this poor Widow? She took typhusfever, and killed seventeen of you! ” Very curious. The forlorn Irish Widow applies to her fellowcreatures [...] ‘Behold I am sinking, bare of help: ye must help me! I am your sister, bone of your bone; one God made us: ye must help me!’ They answer, ’No; impossible: thou art no sister of ours.’ But she proves her sisterhood; her typhusfever kills them: they actually were her brothers, though denying it! Had man ever to go lower for a proof?”
Carlyle, incidentally, is in error here, as is Alison. The rich have no sympathy, no interest in the death of the “seventeen". Is it not a public blessing that the “surplus population” should be reduced by seventeen? If only it were a few million instead of a miserly “seventeen", it would be by so much the better. – This is the reasoning of wealthy English Malthusians.
And then there is the other, even worse gospel of dilettantism which has produced a government which does not govern; this gospel has deprived people of all seriousness and impels them to want to appear that which they are not – the striving for “happiness", that is, for good food and drink; this gospel has lifted crude matter on to the throne and destroyed all spiritual substance, what shall be the consequence of all this?
“But what will reflective readers say of a Governing Class such as ours, addressing its Workers with an indictment of ‘Overproduction’! Overproduction: runs it not so? ‘Ye miscellaneous [...] manufacturing individuals, ye have produced too much! We accuse you of making above twohundred thousand shirts for the bare backs of mankind. Your trousers too, which you have made, of fustian, of cassimere, of Scotchplaid, of [...] nankeen and woollen broadcloth, are they not manifold? Of hats [...], of shoes [...], of stools to sit on, spoons to eat with – Nay [....] You produce goldwatches, jewelleries, silverforks [...], commodes, chiffoniers, stuffed sofas – Heavens, the Commercial Bazaar and multitudinous HowelandJameses cannot contain you. You have produced, produced; – he that seeks your indictment, let him look around. Millions of shirts, and empty pairs of breeches, hang there in judgment against you. We accuse you of overproducing: you are criminally guilty of producing shirts, breeches, hats, shoes and commodities, in a frightful overabundance. And now there is a glut, and your operatives cannot be fed!’”
My lords and gentlemen, of what do you accuse those poor workers? “My lords and gentlemen, – why, it was you that were appointed [...] to guard against ‘gluts’[....] you were appointed to preside over the Distribution and Apportionment of the Wages of Work done; and to see well that there went no labourer without his hire, were it of moneycoins, were it of hemp gallowsropes: that function was yours, and from immemorial time has been [...].These poor shirtspinners have forgotten much, which by the virtual unwritten law of their position they should have remembered: but by any written recognised law of their position, what have they forgotten? They were set to make shirts. The Community [...] commanded them, saying, ’Make shirts’; – and there the shirts are! Too many shirts? Well, that is a novelty, in this intemperate Earth, with its ninehundred millions of bare backs! But the Community commanded you", my lords and gentlemen, “saying, ‘See that the shirts are well apportioned [...]’; – and where is the apportionment? Two million shirtless or illshined workers sit [...] in Workhouse Bastilles, five million more [...] in Ugolino Hungercellars; and for remedy, you say [...] ‘Raise our rents!’ [...] You continue [...] in a [...] triumphant manner: ‘Will you bandy accusations, will you accuse us of overproduction? We take the Heavens and the Earth to witness that we have produced nothing at all. [...] In the wide domains of created Nature, circulates no shirt or thing of our producing. [...] We are innocent of producing; – ye ungrateful, what mountains of things have we not, on the contrary, had to “consume", and make away with! [...] have they not disappeared before us; as if we had the talent of ostriches [...] and a kind of divine faculty to eat? Ye ungrateful! – and did you not grow under the shadow of our wings? Are not your filthy mills built on these fields of ours [...]? And we shall not offer you our own wheat at the price that pleases us [...]? What would become of you, if we’” who own the soil of England “’chose [...] to decide on growing no wheat more?’”
This attitude of the aristocracy, this barbaric question, what would become of you if we did not deign to allow corn to grow, has produced the “mad and miserable Corn Laws” t93; the Corn Laws which are so insane that no arguments can be brought against them but such as “must needs make an Angel in Heaven and an Ass on Earth weep". The Corn Laws prove that the aristocracy has not yet learned to do no mischief, to sit still and do nothing, to say nothing of doing good, and yet this, according to Carlyle, is their duty:
“You are bound to furnish guidance and governance to England! That is the law of your position.” And every worker in the workhouse has the right to ask them above all, ‘"Why am I here?’ His appeal is audible in Heaven; and will become audible enough on Earth too, if it remain unheeded here. His appeal is against you", my lords and gentlemen; “you stand in the frontrank of the accused; you, by the very place you hold, have first of all to answer him [...]’”
“The fate of the Idle Aristocracy, as one reads its horoscope hitherto in CornLaws and such like, is an abyss that fills one with despair. Yes, my rosy foxhunting brothers [...] through those fresh buxom countenances of yours, through your CornLaw Majorities, Sliding-Scales, ProtectingDuties, BriberyElections and triumphant Kentishfire, a thinking eye discerns ghastly images of ruin, too ghastly for words; a handwriting as of Mene, Mene. [...] Good God! did not a French Donothing Aristocracy, hardly above half a century ago, declare in like manner [...] ‘We cannot exist, and continue to dress and parade ourselves, on the [...] rent of the soil [...] we must have farther payment than rent of the soil, we must be exempted from taxes too,’ – we must have a CornLaw to extend our rent? This was in 1789; in four years more” – have you heard of “the Tanneries of Meudon, and the longnaked making for themselves breeches of human skins! May the merciful Heavens avert the omen; may we be wiser, that so we be less wretched.”
And the working aristocracy is caught in the partridge nets of the idle aristocracy and with its “Mammonism” eventually finds itself in dire straits too.
“The Continental people it would seem, are ‘exporting our machinery, beginning to spin cotton and manufacture for themselves, to cut us out of this market and then out of that!’ Sad news indeed; [...] – by no means the saddest news. The saddest news is, that we should find our National Existence, as I sometimes hear it said, depend on selling manufactured cotton at a farthing an ell cheaper than any other People. A most narrow stand for a great Nation to base itself on! A stand which, with all the CornLaw Abrogations conceivable, I do not think will be capable of enduring.”
“No great Nation can stand on the apex of such a pyramid; screwing itself higher and higher; balancing itself on its greattoe!” “In brief, all this MammonGospel” with its Hell of “failing to make money", “of Supplyanddemand, Competition” freetrade, "Laissezfaire, and Devil take the hindmost, begins to be [...] the shabbiest Gospel ever preached on Earth’.”
“Yes, were the CornLaws ended tomorrow, there is nothing yet ended; there is only room made for all manner of things beginning. The CornLaws gone, and Trade made free, it is [...] certain this paralysis of industry will pass away. We shall have another period of commercial enterprise, of victory and prosperity [...]. The strangling band of Famine will be loosened from our necks; we shall have room again to breathe; time to bethink ourselves, to repent and consider! A [...] thriceprecious space of years; wherein to struggle as for life in reforming our foul ways; in alleviating, instructing, regulating our people [...] that something like spiritual food be imparted them, some real governance and guidance be provided them! It will be a priceless time. For our new period [...] of commercial prosperity will and can, on the old methods of ‘Competition and Devil take the hindmost’, prove but a paroxysm: [...] likely enough, [...] our last. [...] If our Trade in twenty years [...] double itself, yet then also [...] our Population is doubled: we shall then be as we are, only twice as many of us, twice and ten times as unmanageable!’”
“Ah me, into what [...] latitudes, in this TimeVoyage, have we wandered; [...] – where the men go about as if by galvanism, with meaningless glaring eyes, and have no soul, but only a beaverfaculty and stomach! The haggard despair of Cottonfactory, Coalmine [operatives], Chandos Farmlabourers, in these days, is painful to behold; but not so painful [...] to the inner sense, as that brutish godforgetting ProfitandLoss Philosophy, and Lifetheory, which we hear jangled on all hands of us, in senatehouses, spoutingclubs, leadingarticles, pulpits and platforms, everywhere as the Ultimate Gospel and candid PlainEnglish of Man’s Life.”
“And yet I will venture to believe that in no time, since the beginnings of Society, was the lot of those same dumb millions of toilers so entirely unbearable as it is [...] now [...]. It is not to die, or even to die of hunger, that makes a man wretched [...] all men must die, – the last exit of us all is in a FireChariot of Pain. But it is to live miserable we know not why; to work sore and yet gain nothing; to be heartworn, weary, yet isolated, unrelated, girt in with a cold universal Laissezfaire: it is to die slowly all our life long, imprisoned in a deaf, dead, Infinite Injustice, as in the accursed [iron] belly of a Phalaris’ Bull! This is and remains forever intolerable to all men whom God has made. Do we wonder at French Revolutions, Chartisms, Revolts of Three Days? The times, if we will consider them, are really unexampled.”
If in such unexampled times the aristocracy shows itself incapable of guiding public affairs, it is necessary to expel it. Hence democracy.
“To what extent Democracy has now reached, how it advances irresistible with ominous, everincreasing speed, he that will open his eyes on any province of human affairs may discern. [...] From the thunder of Napoleon battles, to the jabbering of Openvestry in St. Mary Axe, all things announce Democracy.’”
But what, after all, is democracy?
Nothing but the absence of masters who could govern you, and the acceptance of this unavoidable absence, the attempt to manage without them. “No man oppresses thee, O free and independent Franchiser: but does not this stupid Porterpot oppress thee? No Son of Adam can bid thee come or go; but this absurd Pot of Heavy-wet, this can and doest Thou art the thrall not of Cedric the Saxon, but of thy own brutal appetites [....] And thou pretest of thy ‘liberty’? Thou entire blockhead!’”
“The notion that a man’s liberty consists in giving his vote at electionhustings, and saying, ‘Behold now I too have my twentythousandth part of a Talker in our National Palaver; will not all the gods be good to me?’ – is one of the pleasantest! [...] The liberty especially which has to purchase itself by social isolation, and each man standing separate from the other, haying ‘no business with trim’ but a cash account. [...] This liberty turns out, before it have long continued in action, [...] to be, for the Working Millions a liberty to die by want of food; for the Idle Thousands and Units [...] a [...] liberty to live in want of work [....] Brethren, we know but imperfectly yet, after ages of Constitutional Government, what Liberty is and Slavery is. Democracy [...T shall go its full course [...]. The Toiling Millions [...], in most vital need and passionate instinctive desire of Guidance, shall cast away FalseGuidance; and hope, for an hour, that NoGuidance will suffice them: but it can be for an hour only. [...] The oppression of man by his MockSuperiors [...] let him shake off [...]; I blame him not, I pity and commend him. But oppression by your MockSuperiors well shaken off, the grand problem yet remains to solve: That of finding government by your RealSuperiors!”
“The leadership, as it now exists, is, to be sure, wretched enough. “In the case of the late Bribery Committee” of Parliament “it seemed to be the conclusion of the soundest practical minds that Bribery could not be put down; that Pure Election was a thing we had seen the last of, and must now go on without, as we best could.”
“A Parliament, [...] which proclaims itself elected and eligible by bribery [....] What Legislating can you get out of” that? [...] “Bribery means not only length of purse, [...] but it means dishonesty, and even impudent dishonesty; – brazen insensibility to lying and to making others lie [....] What an improvement, were there once fairly, in Downingstreet, an ElectionOffice opened, with a Tariff of Boroughs! Such and such a population, amount of propertytax, groundrental [...] returns two Members, returns one Member, for so much money down: Ipswich so many thousands Nottingham so many, – [...] now at least you have it fairly by length of purse, and leave the dishonesty, the impudence, the unveracity all handsomely aside.”
“Our [...] Parliament announces itself elected and eligible in this manner [....] What is to become of a Parliament elected or eligible in this manner? Unless Belial and Beelzebub have got possession of the throne of this Universe, such Parliament is preparing itself for new Reformbills. We shall have to try it by Chartism, or any conceivable ism, rather than put up with this! [...] A Parliament working with a lie in its mouth, will have to take itself away. [...] At all hours of the day and night some Chartism’ is advancing, some armed Cromwell is advancing, to apprise such Parliament: ‘Ye are no Parliament. In the name of God, go!’”
This is the condition of England, according to Carlyle. An idle landowning aristocracy which “have not yet learned even to sit still and do no mischief", a working aristocracy submerged in Mammonism, who, when they ought to be collectively the leaders of labour, “captains of industry", are just a gang of industrial buccaneers and pirates. A Parliament elected by bribery, a philosophy of simply looking on, of doing nothing, of laissezfaire, a wornout, crumbling religion, a total disappearance of all general human interests, a universal despair of truth and humanity, and in consequence a universal isolation of men in their own “brute individuality", a chaotic, savage confusion of all aspects of life, a war of all against all, a general death of the spirit, a dearth of “soul", that is, of truly human consciousness: a disproportionately strong working class, in intolerable oppression and wretchedness, in furious discontent and rebellion against the old social order, and hence a threatening, irresistibly advancing democracy – everywhere chaos, disorder, anarchy, dissolution of the old ties of society, everywhere intellectual insipidity, frivolity, and debility. – That is the condition of England. Thus far, if we discount a few expressions that have derived from Carlyle’s particular standpoint, we must allow the truth of all he says. He, alone of the “respectable” class, has kept his eyes open at least towards the facts, he has at least correctly apprehended the immediate present, and that is indeed a very great deal for an “educated” Englishman.
How does the future appear? Matters will not and cannot remain as they are now. We have seen that Carlyle has, as he himself admits, no “Morison’s pill", no panacea for curing the ills of society. In that too he is right. All social philosophy, as long as it still propounds a few principles as its final conclusion, as long as it continues to administer Morison’s pills, remains very imperfect; it is not the bare conclusions of which we are in such need, but rather study; the conclusions are nothing without the reasoning that has led up to them; this we have known since Hegel; and the conclusions are worse than useless if they are final in themselves, if they are not turned into premises for further deductions. But the conclusions must also assume a distinct form for a time, they must in the course of development evolve from vague imprecision into clear ideas, and then of course, in the case of such an exclusively empirical nation as the English are, they cannot avoid becoming “Morison’s pills". Carlyle himself, although he has absorbed much that is German and is quite far removed from crass empiricism, would probably have a few pills to hand if he were less vague and hazy about the future.
Meanwhile he declares everything to be useless and unprofitable as long as mankind persists in atheism, as long as it has not recovered its “soul". Not that traditional Catholicism can be restored in its vigour and vitality, nor that today’s religion can be maintained – he knows very well that rituals, dogmas, litanies and Sinai thunder cannot help, that all the thunder of Sinai does not make the truth any truer, nor does it frighten any sensible person, that we are far beyond the religion of fear, but religion itself must be restored, we ourselves see where “two centuries of Atheist Government” – since the “blessed” restoration of Charles II ” have brought us, and we shall gradually also be obliged to recognise that this atheism is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. But we have seen what Carlyle calls atheism: it is not so much disbelief in a personal God, as disbelief in the inner essence, in the infinity of the universe, disbelief in reason, despair of the intellect and the truth; his struggle is not against disbelief in the revelation of the Bible, but against the most frightful disbelief, the disbelief in the “Bible of Universal History". That is the eternal book of God in which every man, while his spirit and the light of his eyes are yet with him, may see God’s finger write. To make mockery of this is disbelief like none other, a disbelief you would punish, not by burning at the stake, but nevertheless with the most imperative command to keep one’s silence until one has something better to say. Why should blissful silence be broken by loud noise, just to proclaim such stuff? If there is no divine reason in the past, but merely diabolic unreason, it will pass away for ever, speak no more of it; we whose fathers were all hanged, should not talk of ropes!
“But modern England cannot believe in history.” The eye sees of all things only so much as it can see by its own inherent capacity. A godless century cannot comprehend epochs filled with God. It sees in the past (the Middle Ages) only empty strife, the universal rule of brute force, it does not see that in the last analysis might and right coincide, it just sees stupidity, savage unreason, more fitting to Bedlam than to a human world. From this it naturally follows that the same qualities should continue to prevail in our own time. Millions held in Bastille workhouses; Irish widows who prove that they are human beings by typhusfever: what would you have? It was ever so, or worse. Has history not always been the exploitation of obdurate stupidity by successful mountebanks? There was no God in the past; nothing but mechanisms and chaotic brutegods: – how shall the poor "philosophic historian", to whom his own century is all godless, “see any God in other centuries” ?
And yet our age is not so utterly forsaken.
“Nay, in our poor distracted a Europe itself, in these newest times, have there not religious voices risen, – with a religion new and yet the oldest; entirely indisputable to all hearts of men? Some I do know, who did not call or thin} themselves ‘Prophets’ [...]; but who were, in very truth, melodious Voices from the eternal Heart of Nature once again; souls forever venerable to all that have a soul. A French Revolution is one phenomenon; as complement and spiritual exponent thereof, a Poet Goethe and German Literature is to me another. The old Secular or Practical World [...] having gone up in fire, is not here the prophecy and dawn of a new Spiritual World, parent of far nobler, wider, new Practical Worlds? A Life of Antique devoutness, Antique veracity and heroism, has again become possible, is again seen actual there, for the most modern man. A phenomenon, as quiet as it is, comparable for greatness to no other! [...] Touches there are [...] of new Spheremelody; audible once more, in the infinite jargoning discords [...] of the thing called Literature.”
Goethe is the prophet of the “religion of the future,” and its cult is work.
“For there is a perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in Work. Were he never so benighted, forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope in a man that actually and earnestly works: in Idleness alone is there perpetual despair. Work, never so Mammonish, mean, is in communication with Nature; the real desire to get Work done will itself lead one more and more to truth, to Nature’s appointments and regulations....
“An endless significance lies in Work; a man perfects himself by working. Foul jungles are cleared away, fair seedfields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal the man himself first ceases to be a jungle and foul unwholesome desert thereby Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of Labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse,. Indignation, Despair itself, all these like helldogs lie beleaguering the soul of the poor dayworker, as of every man: but he bends himself with free velour against his task, and [...] all these shrink murmuring far off into their caves. The man is now a man. The blessed glow of Labour in him, is it not as purifying fire, wherein all poison is burnt up, and of sour smoke itself there is made bright blessed flame!”
“Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a lifepurpose; he has found it, and will follow it! How, as a freeflowing channel, dug [...] through the sour mudswamp of one’s existence, [...] its runs and flows; – draining off the sour festering water, gradually from the root of the remotest grassblade; making, instead of pestilential swamp, a green fruitful meadow [....] Labour is Life [....] Properly thou hast no other knowledge but what thou hast got by working: the rest is yet all a hypothesis [...] a thing to be argued of in schools, a thing floating in the clouds, in endless logicvortices, till we try it and fix it. ‘Doubt of whatever kind, can be ended by Action alone.’”
“Admirable was that saying’ of the old Monks, ’Laborare est Orare, Work is Worship.’ Older than all preached Gospels was this unpreached, inarticulate, but ineradicable, foreverenduring Gospel: Work, and therein have well-being. Man [...] lies there not, in the innermost heart of thee, a Spirit of active Method, a Force for Work; – and burns like a painfully smouldering fire, giving thee no rest till thou unfold it, till thou write it down in beneficent Facts around thee! What is immethodic, waste, thou shalt make methodic, regulated, arable; obedient and productive to thee. Wheresoever thou findest Disorder, there is thy eternal enemy attack him swiftly, subdue him; make Order of him, the subject not of Chaos, but of Intelligence, Divinity and Thee! [...] But above all, where thou findest Ignorance, Stupidity, Brutemindedness [...] attack it, I say; smite it wisely, unweariedly, and rest not while thou livest and it lives; but smite, smite, in the name of God! [....] Thou [...] shalt work while it is called Today. For the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.
“All true Work is sacred [....] Sweat of the brow; [...] sweat of the brain, sweat of the heart; which includes all Kepler calculations, Newton meditations, all Sciences all spoken Epics, all acted Heroisms, Martyrdoms, – up to that ‘Agony of bloody sweat’, which all men have called divine! [...] If this is not’worship’ [...] the more pity for worship [...]. Who art thou that complainest of thy life of toil? Complain not. [...] To thee Heaven, though severe, is not unkind; Heaven is kind, – as a noble Mother; as that Spartan Mother, saying while she gave her son his shield, ’With it, my son, or upon it!’ [...] Complain not; the very Spartans did not complain.”
"One monster there is in the world: the idle man. What is his ‘Religion’? That Nature is a Phantasm [...]. That God is a lie; and that Man and his Life are a lie.”
But work too has been dragged into the furious vortex of disorder and chaos, the principle which was to cleanse, enlighten, evolve, has succumbed to involution, confusion and obscurity. This really leads to the main issue, the future of work.
“What a business will this be, which our Continental friends, groping this long while somewhat absurdly about it and about it, call ‘organization of Labour’, – which must be taken out of the hands of absurd windy persons, and put into the hands of wise, laborious [...] and valiant men, to begin with it straightway; to proceed with it, and succeed in it more and more, if Europe, at any rate if England, is to continue habitable much longer. Looking at the kind of most noble CornLaw Dukes [or Practical Duces] we have, and also of right reverend SoulOverseers, Christian Spiritual Duces ’on a minimum of four thousand five hundred’, one’s hopes are a little chilled. Courage, nevertheless; there are many brave men in England! My indomitable Plugson, – nay is there not even in thee some hope? Thou art hitherto a Bucanier [...] but in that grim brow, in that indomitable heart which can conquer Cotton, do there not perhaps lie other ten times nobler conquests?’”
“Look around you. Your worldhosts are all in mutiny, in confusion, destitution; on the eve of fiery wreck and madness! They will not march farther for you, on the sixpence a day and supplyanddemand principle: they will not; nor ought they, nor can they. [...] Their souls are driven nigh mad; let yours be [...] saner. Not as a bewildered bewildering mob; but as a firm regimented mass, with real captains over them, will these men march any more. All human interests, combined human endeavours [...] have, at a certain stage of their development, required organising: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it.”
In order to effect this organisation, in order to put true guidance and true government in the place of false guidance, Carlyle longs for a “true aristocracy", a “heroworship", and puts forward the second great problem to discover the a’ptg~or, the best, whose task it is to combine “with inevitable Democracy indispensable Sovereignty.”
From these excerpts Carlyle’s position emerges fairly clearly. His whole outlook is essentially pantheistic, and, more specifically, pantheistic with German overtones. The English have no pantheism but merely scepticism; the conclusion of all English philosophising is the despair of reason, the confessed inability to solve the contradictions with which one is ultimately faced, and consequently on the one hand a relapse into faith and on the other devotion to pure practice, without a further thought for metaphysics, etc. Carlyle with his pantheism derived from German literature is therefore a “phenomenon” in England, and for the practical and sceptical English a pretty incomprehensible one. People gape at him, speak of “German mysticism" and distorted English; others claim there is at bottom something in it, his English, though unusual, is very fine, he is a prophet, etc. – but nobody really knows what to make of it all.
For us Germans, who know the antecedents of Carlyle’s position, the matter is clear enough. On the one hand vestiges of Tory romanticism and humane attitudes originating with Goethe, and on the other scepticalempirical England, these factors are sufficient for one to deduce the whole of Carlyle’s view of the world from them. Like all pantheists, Carlyle has not yet resolved the contradiction, and Carlyle’s dualism is aggravated by the fact that though he is acquainted with German literature, he is not acquainted with its necessary corollary, German philosophy, and all his views are in consequence ingenuous, intuitive, more like Schelling than Hegel. With Schelling ” that is to say, with the old Schelling not the Schelling of the philosophy of revelation – Carlyle really has a great deal in common; with Strauss, whose outlook is similarly pantheistic, he is on common ground in his “heroworship" or “cult of genius.”
The critique of pantheism has recently been so exhaustively set forth in Germany that little more remains to be said. Feuerbach’s “Theses" in the Anekdota and Bruno Bauer’s works contain all the relevant material. We will therefore be able to confine ourselves simply to following up the implications of Carlyle’s position and showing that it is basically only a first step towards the position adopted by this journal.
Carlyle complains about the emptiness and hollowness of the age, about the inner rottenness of all social institutions. The complaint is fair; but by simply complaining one does not dispose of the matter; in order to redress the evil, its cause must be discovered; and if Carlyle had done this, he would have found that this desultoriness and hollowness, this “soullessness” this irreligion and this “atheism” have their roots in religion itself. Religion by its very essence drains man and nature of substance, and transfers this substance to the phantom of an otherworldly God, who in turn then graciously permits man and nature to receive some of his superfluity. Now as long as faith in this otherworldly phantom is vigorous and alive, thus long man will acquire in this roundabout way at least some substance. The strong faith of the Middle Ages did indeed give the whole epoch considerable energy in this way, but it was energy that did not come from without but was already present within human nature, though as yet unperceived and undeveloped. Faith gradually weakened, religion crumbled in the face of the rising level of civilisation, but still man did not perceive that he had worshipped and deified his own being in the guise of a being outside himself. Lacking awareness and at the same time faith, man can have no substance, he is bound to despair of truth, reason and nature, and this hollowness and lack of substance, the despair of the eternal facts of the universe will last until mankind perceives that the being it has worshipped as God was its own, as yet unknown being, until – but why should I copy Feuerbach.
The hollowness has long been there, for religion represents man’s action of making himself hollow; and you are surprised that now, when the purple that concealed it has faded, when the fog that enveloped it has passed away, that now, to your consternation, it emerges in the full light of day?
Carlyle accuses the age furthermore – this is the immediate consequence of the foregoing – of hypocrisy and lying. Naturally the hollowness and enervation must be decently concealed and kept upright by accessories, padded clothes and whalebone stays! We too attack the hypocrisy of the present Christian state of the world; the struggle against it, our liberation from it and the liberation of the world from it are ultimately our sole occupation; but because through the development of philosophy we are able to discern this hypocrisy, and because we are waging the struggle scientifically, the nature of this hypocrisy is no longer so strange and incomprehensible to us as it admittedly still is to Carlyle. This hypocrisy is traced back by us to religion, the first word of which is a lie – or does religion not begin by showing us something human and claiming it is something superhuman, something divine? But because we know that all this Lying and immorality follows from religion, that religious hypocrisy, theology, is the archetype of all other lies and hypocrisy, we are justified in extending the term "theology” to the whole untruth and hypocrisy of the present, as was originally done by Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer. Carlyle should read their works if he wishes to know the origin of the immorality that plagues our whole society.
A new religion, a pantheistic heroworship, a cult of work, ought to be set up or is to be expected; but this is impossible; all the possibilities of religion are exhausted; after Christianity, after absolute, i.e., abstract, religion, after “religion as such", no other form of religion can arise. Carlyle himself realises that Catholic, Protestant or any other kind of Christianity is irresistibly moving towards its downfall; if he knew the nature of Christianity, he would realise that after it no other religion is possible. Not even pantheism! Pantheism itself is another consequence of Christianity and cannot be divorced from its antecedent, at least that is true of modern pantheism, of Spinoza’s, Schelling’s, Hegel’s and also Carlyle’s pantheism. Once more, Feuerbach relieves me of the trouble of providing proof of this.
As I have said, we too are concerned with combating the lack of principle, the inner emptiness, the spiritual deadness, the untruthfulness of the age; we are waging a war to the death against all these things, just as Carlyle is, and there is a much greater probability that we shall succeed than that he will, because we know what we want. We want to put an end to atheism, as Carlyle portrays it, by giving back to man the substance he has lost through religion; not as divine but as human substance, and this whole process of giving back is no more than simply the awakening of selfconsciousness. We want to sweep away everything that claims to be supernatural and superhuman, and thereby get rid of untruthfulness, for the root of all untruth and Lying is the pretension of the human and the natural to be superhuman and supernatural. For that reason we have once and for all declared war on religion and religious ideas and care little whether we are called atheists or anything else. If however Carlyle’s pantheistic definition of atheism were correct, it is not we but our Christian opponents who would be the true atheists. We have no intention of attacking the “eternal inner Facts of the universe", on the contrary, we have for the first time truly substantiated them by proving their perpetuity and rescuing them from the omnipotent arbitrariness of an inherently selfcontradictory God. We have no intention of pronouncing “the world, man and his life a lie"; on the contrary, our Christian opponents are guilty of this act of immorality when they make the world and man dependent on the grace of a God who in reality was only created from the reflected image of man in the crude hyle of his own undeveloped consciousness. We have no intention whatever of doubting or despising the “revelation of history", for history is all and everything to us and we hold it more highly than any other previous philosophical trend, more highly than Hegel even, who after all used it only as a case against which to test his logical problem.
It is the other side that scorns history and disregards the development of mankind; it is the Christians again who, by putting forward a separate “History of the Kingdom of God” deny that real history has any inner substantiality and claim that this substantiality belongs exclusively to their otherworldly, abstract and, what is more, fictitious history; who, by asserting that the culmination of the human species is their Christ, make history attain an imaginary goal, interrupt it in midcourse and are now obliged, if only for the sake of consistency, to declare the following eighteen hundred years to be totally nonsensical and utterly meaningless. We lay claim to the meaning of history; but we see in history not the revelation of “God” but of man and only of man. We have no need, in order to see the splendour of the human character, in order to recognise the development of the human species through history, its irresistible progress, its evercertain victory over the unreason of the individual, its overcoming of all that is apparently supernatural, its hard but successful struggle against nature until the final achievement of free, human self-consciousness, the discernment of the unity of man and nature, and the independent creation – voluntarily and by its own effort – of a new world based on purely human and moral social relationships – in order to recognise all that in its greatness, we have no need first to summon up the abstraction of a “God” and to attribute to it everything beautiful, great, sublime and truly human; we do not need to follow this roundabout path, we do not need first to imprint the stamp of the “divine” on what is truly human, in order to be sure of its greatness and splendour. On the contrary, the “more divine", in other words, the more inhuman, something is, the less we shall be able to admire it. Only the human origin of the content of all religions still preserves for them here and there some claim to respect; only the consciousness that even the wildest superstition nevertheless has within it at bottom the eternal determinants of human nature, in however dislocated and distorted a form, only this awareness saves the history of religion, and particularly of the Middle Ages, from total rejection and eternal oblivion, which would otherwise certainly be the fate of these “godly” histories. The more “godly” they are, the more inhuman, the more bestial, and the “godly” Middle Ages did indeed produce the culmination of human bestiality, serfdom, jus primae noctis, etc. The godlessness of our age, of which Carlyle so much complains, is precisely its saturation with God. From this it also becomes clear why, above, I gave man as the solution to the riddle of the Sphinx. The question has previously always been: what is God? and German philosophy has answered the question in this sense: God is man. Man has only to understand himself, to take himself as the measure of all aspects of life, to judge according to his being, to organise the world in a truly human manner according to the demands of his own nature, and he will have solved the riddle of our time. Not in otherworldly, nonexistent regions, not beyond time and space, not with a “God” immanent in or opposed to the world, is the truth to be found, but much nearer, in man’s own breast. Man’s own substance is far more splendid and sublime than the imaginary substance of any conceivable “God,” who is after all only the more or less indistinct and distorted image of man himself. So when Carlyle follows Ben Jonson in saying, man has lost his soul and is only now beginning to notice the want of it, the right formulation would be: in religion man has lost his own substance, has alienated his humanity, and now that religion, through the progress of history, has begun to totter, he notices his emptiness and instability. But there is no other salvation for him, he cannot regain his humanity, his substance, other than by thoroughly overcoming all religious ideas and returning firmly and honestly, not to “God", but to himself.
All of this may also be found in Goethe, the “prophet,” and anyone who has his eyes open can read this between the lines. Goethe did not like to be concerned with “God”; the word made him uncomfortable, he felt at home only in human matters, and this humanity, this emancipation of art from the fetters of religion is precisely what constitutes Goethe’s greatness. Neither the ancients nor Shakespeare can measure up to him in this respect. But this consummate humanity, this overcoming of the religious dualism can only be apprehended in its full historical significance by those who are not strangers to that other aspect of German national development, philosophy. What Goethe could only express spontaneously, and therefore, it is true, in a certain sense “prophetically,” has been developed and substantiated in contemporary German philosophy. Carlyle too embodies assumptions which, logically, must lead to the position set forth above. Pantheism itself is but the last, preliminary step towards a free and human point of view. History, which Carlyle presents as the real “revelation,” contains only what is human, and only by an arbitrary act can its content be taken away from humanity and credited to the account of a “God.” Work, free activity, in which Carlyle similarly sees a “cult,” is again a purely human matter and can only be linked with “God” in an arbitrary manner. What is the point of continually pushing to the fore a word which at best only expresses the boundlessness of indetermination and, what is more, maintains the illusion of dualism, a word which in itself is the denial of nature and humanity?
So much for the inward, religious aspect of Carlyle’s standpoint. It serves as a point of departure for the assessment of the outward, politicosocial aspect; Carlyle has still enough religion to remain in a state of unfreedom; pantheism still recognises something higher than man himself. Hence his longing for a “true aristocracy,” for “heroes”; as if these heroes could at best be more than men. If he had understood man as man in all his infinite complexity, he would not have conceived the idea of once more dividing mankind into two lots, sheep and goats, rulers and ruled, aristocrats and the rabble, lords and dolts, he would have seen the proper social function of talent not in ruling by force but in acting as a stimulant and taking the lead. The role of talent is to convince the masses of the truth of its ideas, and it will then have no need further to worry about their application, which will follow entirely of its own accord. Mankind is surely not passing through democracy to arrive back eventually at the point of departure. ” What Carlyle says about democracy, incidentally, leaves little to be desired, if we discount what we have just been referring to, his lack of clarity about the goal, the purpose of modern democracy. Democracy, true enough, is only a transitional stage, though not towards a new, improved aristocracy, but towards real human freedom; just as the irreligiousness of the age will eventually lead to complete emancipation from everything that is religious, superhuman and supernatural, and not to its restoration.
Carlyle recognises the inadequacy of “competition, demand” and “supply, Mammonism,” etc., and is far removed from asserting the absolute justification of landownership. So why has he not drawn the straightforward conclusion from all these assumptions and rejected the whole concept of property? How does he think he will destroy “competition", “supply and demand", Mammonism, etc., as long as the root of all these things, private property, exists? “Organisation of labour” cannot help in this respect, it cannot even be applied without a certain identity of interests. Why then does he not act consistently and decisively, proclaiming the identity of interests the only truly human state of affairs, and thereby putting an end to all difficulties, all imprecision and lack of clarity?
In all Carlyle’s rhapsodies, there is not a syllable mentioning the English Socialists. As long as he adheres to his present point of view, which is admittedly infinitely far in advance of that of the mass of educated people in England but still abstract and theoretical, he will indeed not be able to view their efforts with particular sympathy. The English Socialists are purely practical and therefore also propose remedies, homecolonies, etc., rather in the manner of Morison’s pills; their philosophy is truly English, sceptical, in other words they despair of theory, and for all practical purposes they cling to the materialism upon which their whole social system is based; all this will have little appeal for Carlyle, but he is as onesided as they. Both have only overcome the contradiction within the contradiction; the Socialists within the sphere of practice, Carlyle within the sphere of theory, and even there only spontaneously, whereas the Socialists, by means of reasoning, have definitely overcome the practical aspect of the contradiction. The Socialists are still Englishmen, when they ought to be simply men, of philosophical developments on the Continent they are only acquainted with materialism but not with German philosophy, that is their only shortcoming, and they are directly engaged on the rectification of this deficiency by working for the removal of national differences. We have no need to be very hasty in forcing German philosophy on them, they will come to it of their own accord and it could be of little use to them now. But in any case they are the only party in England which has a future, relatively weak though they may be. Democracy, Chartism must soon be victorious, and then the mass of the English workers will have the choice only between starvation and socialism.
For Carlyle and his standpoint, ignorance of German philosophy is not a matter of such indifference. He is himself a theoretician of the German type, and yet at the same time his nationality leads him to empiricism; he is beset by a flagrant contradiction which can only be resolved if he continues to develop his German-theoretical viewpoint to its final conclusion, until it is totally reconciled with empiricism. To surmount the contradiction in which he is working, Carlyle has only one more step to take, but as all experience in Germany has shown, it is a difficult one. Let us hope that he will take it, and although he is no longer young, he will still probably be capable of it, for the progress shown in his last book proves that his views are still developing.
All this shows that Carlyle’s book is ten thousand times more worth translating into German than all the legions of English novels which every day and every hour are imported into Germany, and I can only advocate such a translation. But let our hack translators just keep their hands off it! Carlyle writes a very particular English, and a translator who does not thoroughly understand English and references to English conditions would make the most absurd howlers.
Following this somewhat general introduction, I shall examine in greater detail in the following numbers of this journal the condition of England and the essential part of it, the condition of the working class. The condition of England is of immense importance for history and for all other countries; for as regards social matters England is of course far in advance of all other countries.
Signed: Frederick Engels in Manchester