E. Belfort Bax

The Ideal of the Future

(Part 2)

(June 1881)

Ernest Belfort Bax, Ideal of the Future, Part 2, Modern Thought, 1st June 1881, Vol.III, No.6, p.137-143.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (July 2006).

It has now become a trite observation that the cell, the biological unit, and the individual, the sociological unit, correspond almost completely in the nature of their relations to their respective organisms, which are, of course, in the one case the animal (or human) body, and in the other, human society. That the functions of the “social organism” itself, and the individual body present remarkable and striking analogies is a further familiar observation among thinkers. Now the analogy in both cases being thus far so great, lends a high degree of probability to the assumption that the mode of evolution in the less known and less complete, the sociological or conscious order, presents in the more advanced stages at which we have not yet arrived similar broad analogies with the corresponding known stages of the biological or organic order, as in the less advanced. If, as is so often insisted upon, we are to take individual development as a type of racial or social development, (and that we are warranted in doing so, has been abundantly proved) what right have we to stop short at the existing stage of such development?

The point at which the organic or animal series may be said to end, and the human series proper to begin is individual consciousness, which most thinkers, following Locke, make coincident with the power of forming abstract conceptions or of reflection. The consciousness of self, not discoverable in animals, is seen in its crudest and most elementary form in savages. Social evolution has hitherto consisted in the progressive assertion of the individuality from primitive savagery to the Western Europe of to-day. All organisation – all life – has led up to individual consciousness, the point at which we now stand. The organic epoch in which sentiency takes rank as the highest form of phenomenal existence is closed with the entrance upon the scene of a still higher form, i.e. mind, as exhibited in the consciousness of the individual. There we are upon the threshold of another epoch. The personality as such represents at once the completion of the organic series, and the commencement of the super-organic; it is the meeting point of the two. Sociality constitutes the new point of departure, the first term of the super-organic series, and, as above observed, the super-organic development of society up to its present stage offers an all but complete analogy with the organic development of the individual. It remains to state briefly the main features of this analogy. The individual, the pinnacle of the organic series is a condensed summary of the whole of that series. Professor Huxley says (Encyclopedia Brit. 9th Edition Art. Biology) “If all living beings have come into existence by the gradual modification through a long series of generations, of a primordial living matter, the phenomena of embryonic development ought to be explicable as particular cases of the general law of hereditary transmission. On this view a tadpole is first a fish, and then a tailed amphibian, provided with gills and lungs before it becomes a frog, because the frog was the last term in a series of modifications, whereby some ancient fish became a urodele amphibian, and the urodele amphibian became an anurous amphibian. In fact, the development of the embryo is a recapitulation of the ancestral history of the species.” [1] If this be true, it follows that the development of any organism should furnish the key to its ancestral history ... In practice, however, the reconstruction of the pedigree of a group from the developmental history of its existing members is fraught with difficulties. It is highly probable that the developmental stages of the individual organism never present more than an abbreviated and condensed summary of ancestral conditions; while this summary is often strangely modified by variation and adaptation to conditions, &c., &c.

The individual man in his development, then, may be taken as representing within certain limits the whole order of organic evolution, from the primitive protoplasmic germ upwards to the highest form of organisation. It need scarcely be said that the earlier stages are the most “abbreviated,” and the later the most perfectly represented. It will thus be seen that the adult human organism literally exhibits in itself the consummation and totality of the organic or biological series at the same time as the commencement and unit of the super-organic or sociological series, and that what was above said as to the human individuality being a meeting point between the two is no mere figure of speech, but is true on an objective no less than on a subjective ground. As showing a few instances of the parallel exhibited between the animal organism and the social organism, it may be observed: that in different organisms and in different stages of the same organism, the cell-unit presents different degrees of independence, or of subordination to the animal-whole just as in different societies or different stages of the same society the individual-unit presents different degrees of independence, or of subordination to the social-whole; that the functions of the animal organism proceed in a course of progressive differentiation (division of labour) just as do the functions of the social organism; that the cell-units of the body die off, and are renewed at intervals corresponding to the generations of society; that societies rise, attain a certain maturity, decline and die in the same way as animal bodies; that from the union of two cells, with their simple properties, is evolved the animal organism with its complex functions, just as from a pair possessed of individual characteristics merely, a complex society is, or can be, evolved. From the barest sentiency pertaining to the lowest form of organism through the more and more definite sentiency of organisms higher in the scale finally issues the consciousness of the individual man, which consciousness merely represents the differentiated aggregate of sentiencies present in the cellular constituents of his organism. May we not thence infer, and herein lies the purport of the foregoing, the evolution from the super-organic or social unit, viz., the individual, or personality, of a form of consciousness, based on super-organic conditions, inconceivably higher than the individual or personal consciousness which is based on merely organic conditions; a form of social or collective consciousness as much higher than individual consciousness as that is higher than the simple sentiency of protoplasm, or, as we may term it, “cellular consciousness.” The sentiency of the lower nerve-centres, and still more of the elementary constituents of the organism, is eclipsed by the central consciousness whose objective expression is the specific function of the brain, just as the light of the stars is eclipsed by the light of the sun. And in the same way, individual consciousness qua individual consciousness, although none the less existent, would progressively tend to become absorbed in the collective consciousness of which we speak. Western Europe, representing as it does, the highest society as yet evolved, may be, nevertheless, deemed to occupy a positlou in the super-organic scale no more than parallel to the mollusc in the organic scale. It is, of course, entirely beyond our power to estimate, be it never so vaguely, the millennia necessary to the evolution of a collective consciousness, but a recognition that such will come, seems to me an inevitable and logical consequence of an acceptance of the doctrine of evolution. What right have we to say, if evolution he true at all, that it must terminate with the consciousness of the individual man? Nay, what right have we to fix any limits whatever to the process? It is, at least, as possible, that it should be a progress in infinitum as not. With regard to the argument as to its being limited to the duration of this planet, or for the matter of that, of the solar system, this is readily answered by a reference to the fact that the modification of the physical by the psychical, the supremacy of the psychical that is over the physical, is a special feature of post-conscious evolution, and would progress in proportion with the general course of that evolution; in short, that means would be then at hand to neutralise adverse material conditions, of which we have at present not the smallest conception.

That the personality itself, although forming the completion of the organic series, yet belongs also to the super-organic – that it is based on sociality – is a point well brought out by Comte. All definite thought, the power of abstraction, of reflection – in fact; self-consciousness presupposes at least language the fundamental form of social existence. It is only the lower organic functions which are entirely independent of sociality. Human and social are exchangeable inasmuch as man apart from society presents simply animal characteristics. In proportion as we ascend in the scale, a more complex social development is implied. Even now we see dim indications of the super-organic consciousness above alluded to. What is the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) if it be not an extra-individual – in other words, a social fact? What are those waves of enthusiasm which at times sweep over whole communities, if not a social fact? What means the simultaneous though entirely independent discovery or invention? What widespread intellectual and moral movements such as that of the sixth century before Christ, or of the Modern Revolutionary period, if they are not premonitions of a collective psychic development of the social man in the future. The same may be said of the phenomena known to social pathologists as epidemic mania and epidemic delusion. These things, inconclusive as they may be in themselves, yet surely help to indicate the tendency of the current of evolution.

We now arrive at the goal of the present inquiry – the Human Ideal. It will be already sufficiently clear that inasmuch as it is based on consciousness, the condition of the realisation of any Human Ideal must lie in the intensification of the Conscious. But what must a human ideal be based on? Unquestionably on the feeling of happiness, or if you will, pleasure. We are confronted, however, at the outset of any enquiry respecting an ideal with the apparent ethical antinomy expressed in the question as to the desirability of being the pig happy or Socrates miserable. This really lies at the foundation of all questions respecting the worth of life. The answer first presenting itself is a reference to the distinction between quantity and quality in happiness or pleasure. But this is rather an essential preliminary to the adequate solution of the problem, than the solution itself, inasmuch as the quantity might easily be supposed to counter-balance the quality, and with most men, this is actually the case. Besides, in the extreme instance supposed the reverse of happiness is pictured. What then is it which could possibly determine us to throw in our lot with Socrates, even though the sum of his happiness showed a balance on the wrong side, rather than with the pig whose desires were satisfied to their utmost. In other words, what is it that gives rise in us to the notion of higher and lower in the quality of happiness, and determines us to prefer the limited satisfaction of the former to the complete satisfaction of the latter? Though this may as yet be the case with but few, the inevitable tendency of human development is admittedly in this direction. Expressed in popular language, what is it which forces us to regard “intellectual” or “spiritual” pleasures as intrinsically above mere sensual pleasures or happiness? As a matter of fact, the intellectual man is very frequently in the condition of our hypothetical Socrates, while the unintellectual man is as frequently in the condition of our hypothetical pig. There must, therefore, be an element in the problem other than the pleasure or happiness at present realisable or even conceivable by us. The very distinction between quantity and quality in happiness, when closely viewed, itself implies something beyond a mere calculation of pleasure and pain. What then is this something? The only satisfactory answer seems, to the present writer, that it is an extra-individual or social impulse at present for the most part unconscious, towards an ideal goal which, though in a higher grade of evolution coincident with happiness, is not invariably so at the present time. We all know how frequently the man of genius, the Beethoven, Shelley, or the Chatterton, might envy on the score of happiness the dullest swain. But does he envy him? Can we conceive that Beethoven with all his sufferings would really have exchanged his lot with the drunken bassoon-player depicted in the pastoral symphony? It is often and with truth said that a high intellectual life, under present conditions, tends to lower the physique. There are doubtless many philosophers who might well envy the contented ox browsing on the green, or even the contented human ox browsing in his counting-house, whose one concern it is to “buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest,” and who sees in “new markets” and “extended commerce” the end of progress. But if that which is distinctively Human, the “higher element” in life, cannot compete as actual pleasure with the lower, what becomes of the empirical Utilitarian doctrine? If the test of all things is conceivable or realisable pleasure, what becomes of the terns “higher” and “lower” in this connection? and what of the tendency of progress being toward the higher? That the “higher” makes toward “altruism” may be perfectly true, but this explains nothing on the above hypothesis. It is plain then that empirical utilitarianism by itself, is insufficient, and requires to be supplemented by a utilitarianism of another kind – a utilitarianism having for its standard the ideas constituting the Human Ideal, regarded not as bearing on any actual or conceivable happiness, but on a possible happiness merely, and as being potentially present in the transcendental nature of consciousness.

It has always been recognised that the intensification of consciousness, as consciousness, necessarily implies the increasing prominence of three ideas, the moral idea in its widest sense, whether it be termed Love, Social sympathy, Goodness; the aesthetic idea, Beauty, and the intellectual or philosophic idea, Truth. These, then, together constitute the Human Ideal. The fallacy of Theism consists in transferring these ideas, given only in the consciousness of humanity to an anthropomorphic fiction outside that consciousness. We have no conception of consciousness apart from the conditions under which we know it, nor any warrant for assuming it to exist apart from such conditions. The assumption of unconditioned being as conscious, is not merely baseless but contradictory, inasmuch as consciousness essentially implies conditions. All thought consists in the striking-out of relations subject to the forms of space and time. What Man has illusively seen mirrored in Unconditioned Being outside himself is the Unconditioned becoming realised in and through himself. The illusion is brought about in this way: the three ideas above mentioned are felt to be capable of infinite intensification and expansion; yet they are seen to be only very partially realised in nature or in individual human beings, i.e., in the current phenomenal order; their complete realisation is therefore transferred to a region outside the conditions under which alone, so far as we can know or even conceive, consciousness is possible, instead of being regarded as the ideal or goal which it is the function of consciousness, under its only known or conceivable conditions, to realise. It is the innate feeling in men of the transcendental character of the Human Ideal, and of the insufficiency of its mere empirical realisation which has led them or at least the higher minds among them, to refer these ideas of love, beauty, and truth, to an extra-human source, rather than to regard them as the essential though as yet undeveloped element in consciousness itself, or, in other words, in Humanity. [2] The conviction of the insufficiency of personal consciousness to their complete realisation is perfectly explicable, inasmuch as they pertain more especially to the social than to the individual consciousness. The notion of an individual immortality, which has been postulated to get rid of this insufficiency is daily losing its hold, owing to its unverifiable and in many respects contradictory nature. Theology supposes (I.) that strangest of all contradictions an absolute mind, and (II.) an infinite continuance of this individual mind apart from all the conditions under which alone we have any warrant for assuming it possible; as we only know of mind as inseparably accompanied by a material organism, to assume the possibility of its existing apart from some such organism is obviously an assumption utterly unsupported by experience. [3] We are, of course, at liberty to make it if we will, since it cannot be disproved, but its insufficiency as a social basis has been demonstrated by a career of sixteen hundred years. On the other hand, the conception of a collective immortality, if the foregoing argument has any cogency, not merely perfectly accords with our knowledge of the order of phenomena, but is a legitimate deduction from that knowledge. The latter conception moreover is as eminently altruistic as the former is egoistic. The god-idea again, apart from its philosophical deficiencies is irretrievably condemned by its inability to solve the problem of the existence of evil, the attempts of theologians to do so in accordance with the morality of the deity, having only made this inability the more apparent.

“Nature red in tooth and claw,
With ravine shrieks against the creed.”

But once recognise that moral goodness is meaningless apart from Humanity, that the human ideal exists alone in and for Humanity, and that in the pre-human order, viz., Nature, it has no place, and the problem itself disappears. The “essence of things,” call it by what name you will, “Absolute,” “Unconditioned,” “Noumenon, Pure Being,” exists for us only as manifested or phenomenalised in the human consciousness, and to ascribe the ideas of Love, Beauty, or Truth to this unconditioned essence per se, no matter in how refined or extended a form, is nothing but pure anthropomorphism.

The idea of truth in its highest sense means the complete and systematic correspondence of the subjective and the objective order, the order of ideas and the order of things. Systematisation of conceptions of philosophy is the concrete form of the idea of truth. Truth, namely, the equilibration of subject and object, the ideal and the actual, can only be relative, and can only be conceived as approximatively perfect even within the relative. Scientific conceptions only represent an approximation to the phenomenal truth, while every scientific generalisation abuts on an ultimate fact, an unknown X, beyond which it cannot penetrate. Philosophy itself, the synthesis of all conceptions, has for its Alpha and Omega the notion of the mystery with which reality is bounded, and which, though it can never be an object of thought proper, is a constant emotional factor in the higher consciousness of man. As an intellectual concept it is the most barren and abstract of all concepts. It concerns the passive element in mind feeling rather than the active element thought. And this leads us to the side of the ideal most directly concerned with feeling – the aesthetic, with its leading idea of Beauty (understanding the word in its most extended sense). The concrete form of the idea of Beauty is to be found in Art. All the highest developments of Art contain the element of mystery in an increasing proportion. The moral idea of love, sympathy, or goodness means a sense of oneness of the Individual with Humanity. Friendship, family affection, justice, benevolence, are particular modes of this idea. In the same way, the aesthetic idea of beauty, denotes a particular correspondence of feeling with its object, which in its higher developments appears to transcend the actual. The philosophic idea of truth is ultimately resolvable into the same, although originally it denotes a correspondence of thought, rather than of feeling, with its object. It may indeed be objected that the separation of these ideas is merely arbitrary since they are all resolvable into modes of human or conscious feeling. Such a separation is only a temporary expedient, owing to the different subject-matter of each in their present imperfect stages of development. The view here taken is, that the human ideal, being related to the collective rather than the personal consciousness, will not be realised as an ideal till the attainment of this collective consciousness. It is then only that the ideal will appear in its fulness. Meanwhile we must never forget, that the three ideas constituting the human ideal, though seemingly diverse, form the inseparable elements of one great whole.

We recapitulate in brief the results of our enquiry:– I. Evolution, which shows us a systematic and orderly progression in phenomena, from the inorganic to the organic, from the Non-conscious to the Sentient (or as we may term it the sub-conscious), and from thence to the Conscious, points also to the development of this into a Super-conscious, i.e., a form of consciousness based on super-organic or social conditions, having the individual for a unit, corresponding to the consciousness of the individual which is based on organic conditions having the “cell” for a unit – in other words, a shifting of the seat of consciousness from the individual organism to the social organism. II. The essential nature of consciousness involves an ideal. It is the function of Humanity as representing the highest form of the conscious to realise this ideal, which we have found to be separable into the three ideas of love, beauty, and truth. This ideal has in the past and does still, progress apart from the voluntary co-operation of individuals inasmuch as it is essentially a super-conscious fact impossible of realisation within the limits of individual consciousness. This circumstance has given rise to the higher forms of Theism, which clothes a quasi-unconditioned being with these ideas, as well as to the belief in a higher individual existence after the present life.

Read by the light of evolution, on the other hand, the human ideal is to be conceived as becoming realised in higher and higher forms of consciousness, the conditions of which may indeed differ to an indefinite extent in degree, but not in kind, from those at present known to us. The basis of the ideal is feeling, its test being happiness in a transcendental sense in contradistinction to the empirical sense of the current utilitarian doctrine.

It is to be observed, all action, whether physical or intellectual, implies want. The ideal, therefore, although requiring action in its present states is intrinsically passive. The oriental mind has instinctively felt this truth. Action is only the means to an end. The ultimate end of reason, of intellectual activity, is the attainment of oneness and equilibrium in our conceptions, both inter se and in their relation to the external world. This is the ideal of a perfect philosophy. Once assume this as attained, and it is obvious reason’s occupation will be gone. Again, the ultimate end of physical action is the preservation and development either of the Individual or the social organism. Let this be insured apart from action on our part, and such action loses all value. The moral idea which implies a oneness and equilibrium between individual and man, between self and not-self, in human relations, of course implies an action (moral action) to attain this, but otherwise such action is valueless. The aesthetic idea is too obviously passive to need any comment.

As regards the question of noumenal existence, it is sufficiently demonstrable that though a necessary postulate of philosophic thought, it is and must be, considered in itself simply a barren abstraction; it is only in connection with phenomena or consciousness, viz., as the correlate of the feeling of mystery and infinity which is embodied in the human ideal, that it really concerns us.

There yet remains an important point to notice and this is the question of the test of speculative truth. The tests of scientific truth with which most educated persons are familiar, although they may supply the foundation, cannot themselves be used as tests of speculative truth. That general or speculative truth should not conflict with special or scientific truth is a truism to all but the dogmatic theologian in the present day. That speculation should present some scientific basis, as a sine qua non of the latter, is also a recognised axiom. But to require of any truth, the nature of which is speculative, rigorous inductive demonstration, is a thing none but the above theologian, in the forlorn hope of sheltering his own baseless system, would be unreasonable enough to demand. All that can in justice be expected is that speculation shall express the highest conceivable probability. The only direct test of speculative truth, then, must lie in its being the consentaneous outcome of the independent and unbiassed thought of an age, or in its being deduceable therefrom. Speculation being the attempt of humanity to realise the idea of truth in its transcendental aspect is referable only to a social test since the human ideal, of which this idea forms a part, is a social and not an individual fact. Scientific truth, the necessary preparation of speculative or philosophic truth, on the other hand, can come completely within the range of individual consciousness, and is therefore susceptible of actual demonstration. It should be remembered that a truth to which the mass of the unbiassed thought of an age points expresses the highest probability to which we can possibly attain. The fact that it is only relative and may be widened and corrected to an indefinite extent in the future does not affect its present validity. To set up in opposition to it mere traditional or individual opinion is evidently absurd when we consider that it represents the stored experience and intelligence of past ages acted upon by that of the present, and therefore shows an authority not to be approached by mere traditional opinion which is received at least in the first place without thought, and never represents the spontaneous intelligence of the age. Whatever is true in traditional opinion will be spontaneously confirmed by the main current of speculation, whatever is not so confirmed may be cast aside as false, since even if it receive the assent of high authority we may be sure there is special pleading in the case and it is not the unbiassed result of reasoned conviction. The only instance in which the individual can really invalidate the fundamental positions of current speculations, is by proving them to conflict, not with any other speculation, but with a demonstrable truth of science, for on the universal principle, that the higher is conditioned by the lower, it is obvious speculative must coincide with scientific truth. Science, whose test is immediate and exact, must always take precedence of speculation, whose test is at best mediate and inexact; and since the tests of science are purely objective, and come entirely within the range of the individual intellect, the individual can of course subvert any invalid speculative structure by means of them. But when the individual transcends the region of these tests and turns philosophic thinker, his task is essentially eclectic – to discover the most constant and deep-rooted principles in the thought of his time, to co-ordinate these, and deduce from them other truths which may be hidden within them. The individual can never really transcend the as yet unconscious social intellect, though he may incalculably develop its conclusions. The only sphere in which he can be independent of it is, as I have just now said, in that of positive science.

The foregoing will of itself serve as an answer to a possible insinuation as to the want of novelty in some of the positions of the present paper. I have followed the course of procedure just indicated; I have sought out some of the most fundamental questions of speculation; I have brought these to a focus, and have deduced from them considerations relative to the Human Ideal. Upon the correctness of this deduction rests the cogency of my argument. My data are recognised positions, the doctrine of evolution, and the fact of the extra-conscious or extra-phenomenal existence which is given in the conscious. The view taken, however, of the relation of the finite actual mode of existence which we know, to the infinite possible existence which we know not, and of which we have but a vague impression, I may observe in passing, is the element in speculation most liable to change. The ideal itself has been recognised implicitly or explicitly from the time of Plato. It is impossible to group the elements of the higher consciousness otherwise. Any claim to originality of view which the present paper can offer, lies simply in the application of evolution to the human order by its being shown to imply the progressive intensification of the conscious, in which intensification the realisation of the ideal is involved. The ideal seen confusedly in the light of individual consciousness will, on this view, be fully realised in a collective consciousness just as the vague tactile sensibility of a mollusc becomes in higher organisms the perception of space, with its geometrical proportions, and of the world as we know it. Beyond the point indicated it is idle to speculate in the existing stage of human evolution, whether we choose to conceive of consciousness or humanity as evolving in infinitum newer and newer vistas continually opening up, and the condition of absolute equilibrium and passivity never being attained; or whether we adopt the pessimistic view of Hartmann, and conceive consciousness, with its forms of space and time, merely as a passing foam destined to be absorbed in the ocean of Absolute Being, must continue to be dictated by individual feeling alone.

Respecting the question of the immediate future of society, most thinkers who look below the surface admit that we are passing through a period of revolutionary transition which must issue in some form of social reconstruction. There is a deep-seated feeling, by no means confined to the “revolutionary party” proper, that the material and spiritual conditions of society stand in urgent need of reorganisation, and that we are approaching a crisis when the old order, tottering as it now is, will pass away, and a new be inaugurated on a higher and more enduring basis. This basis it is vain to expect will be founded on the compromises which modern liberalism affects, and which consist, for the most part, in attempting, to use the old metaphor, to put new wine into old bottles, or, in other words, to infuse the spirit of the new order into the forms of the old. Society has passed through the stage of primitive communism, or, as it may be termed, undifferentiated socialism, from which every successive stage of civilisation has been an increasing divergence in the direction of individualism. We have every reason to believe that pure individualism, which presents no element of stability, and which therefore can only be regarded as a transitory phase, has well-nigh run its course, and that the issue of the modern revolution will be a fusion of these two principles, in other words, a differentiated communism or socialism. A redistribution of the material or economical relations of society is the first requisite to a higher social life. Private property is indeed a necessity of human existence and development so far as we can see at present; but private property must be conditioned by a socialism which ensures relative equality of development for all, without excepting any person or class. That vicious offspring of individualism, the capitalist system, the great source of inequality, must perish, and the productive powers of society be systematically regulated by its central organ, the State, as reconstructed on a democratic basis. The constitutionalist system must disappear and give place to some approach to the universal republic before the modern revolution is finally consummated. Lastly, the change of intellectual attitude must receive definite recognition. The forms and expressions of Christianity and Theism now fawned over and caressed in the interests of the status quo, notwithstanding the belief in them having gone, must be definitely and officially superseded. The God-ideal he avowedly supplanted by the Human-ideal. That the revolution throw which we are now passing will be closed by a purely peaceful process and without a convulsion of some kind, is to me scarcely credible. The opposing forces appear far too strong and uncompromising to admit of any well supposition. International warfare must, we are afraid, be succeeded by international revolution before the reign of force shall be finally ended.

Of the four classes in the civil hierarchy – clergy (priestly class), aristocracy (landholding class,) bourgeoisie, (capital-holding class), and proletariat (producing class) – the first and second enjoyed the monopoly of power during the middle ages, holding burgher and labourer in awe; the “third estate,” whose existence dates from the rise of cities, attained to but little considerable power before the French Revolution; in the present century, its growth as a factor in political life has been of unexampled rapidity, and it now constitutes the real governing class. But what has the ascendency of the bourgeois class done for humanity? What has it done towards raising the social level? Capitalism has replaced the old material bases of society – feudalism and free labour. It has succeeded in converting men into machines, and in stereotyping the inequalities, moral as well as material, of society. Moderate liberalism, the bourgeois creed, while patronising the working-classes, fawns on the upper, never looks beyond the wants of the hour, and with all its petty nostrums and reforms does but “skin and film the ulcerous place, while rank corruption, mining all within, infects unseen.” Militarism still continues to flourish under the auspices, for the most part, of the commercial spirit, and for the interests of capitalists. At the present moment there are three great parties struggling for supremacy – the first is the party representing the old aristocratic monarchic and military principle; the second, the party representing the capitalist and commercial interest. These two parties severally use the Christian priesthood (whether Catholic or Protestant) and Christian dogma to serve their purpose. The third party is representative of that human labour which supports the very framework of society. It is this party which is hated by the former in an equal degree as the disturber of privilege and vested interests – its watchword is revolution, and its end reconstruction. Such is, expressed in general terms, the immediate outlook, and it must be admitted never was Humanity in more urgent need of keeping its ideal steadily before it than at the present time.

E. Belfort Bax



1. The italics are my own.

2. I must again observe that the word “humanity” as here used is to be taken as denoting the highest term in the conscious series for all time.

3. All theories of a personal immortality are based at bottom on the primitive animistic notion of mind, being an entity, as opposed to the scientific view of its being a state dependent on material conditions.


Last updated on 4.7.2006