E. Belfort Bax

The Fall of Dilke

(7 August 1886)

The Fall of Dilke, Commonweal, 7th August 1886, pp.145 & 146.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Dilke case and the comment it has excited afford a curious and noteworthy illustration of the manners and morals of latter-day civilisation. We are not going to follow up this remark by descanting, in approved style on the bestiality, the brutality, the criminality, etc., etc., of Sir Charles Dilke’s conduct in the matter in question, although treachery towards a professed friend, and double-dealing, of the worst kind, there undoubtedly was – albeit, perhaps no worse than is common among the circles of high social position in which Sir Charles moved. What is curious and noteworthy is the attitude of public opinion and its press towards the case. The holy horror, the unspeakable disgust, professed at its more sensual side is slightly amusing, when it is an open secret that bizarre forms of eroticism are by no means unknown among persons of high standing in official and governmental circles whom the horrified journalist most delights to honour. As for the lust-element itself, it is enough to say that while the mere animal side of the sexual passion still obtains in human nature as it undoubtedly does to-day, and as it will as long as civilisation exists with its corrupt material conditions and its hypocritical personal ethics and canting of “purity” to fan the flame – just so long shall we find it manifesting itself, and no amount of head-shaking and name-calling will affect it. Not before many generations of rational social life have shaped man will it be modified – of that we may rest assured. Meanwhile “society,” which pretends, with its frowns and its ostracism, when scandal arises, to force men to asceticism, only succeeds in making them hypocrites. It may be a desirable thing that the coarser side of the sexual passion should be eradicated: in any case it will only be affected by a gradual succession of inherited changes in the human organism through the medium of its social and economic surroundings, and not by any amount of enthusiastic determination to be “even as the angels are.” Physiological miracles are as hard to work as any others. A strong inherent tendency must wear itself out by a process of exhaustion, so to speak; if you try to stamp it out, it will only flourish the more luxuriantly, The best receipt for developing eccentric’ forms of lust is to dwell, like a St. Anthony or a St. Theresa, on the beauty of “purity.”

But to our thinking the most noteworthy point to future generations in the Crawford case will be the horror and indignation called forth by a few sexual delinquencies, while the enormities of Dilke’s public career meet with not only no word of reproach, but with approval. Let us remember what Dilke was as a politician. A friend of the arch stock-jobbing political adventurer, Gambetta, his aim in public life was to emulate this worthy. Accordingly the whole of his political career was an attempt to pose as a commercial statesman, the end of his statecraft being of course the acquirement of markets and the “development” of “imperial resources.” It is to him that we owe the whole Egyptian policy of the late Liberal Government. From the bombardment of Alexandria to the Soudan expedition, Dilke, it is now known, was the guilty instigator of the whole infamous series. In pursuit of his one object, personal ambition, he was utterly reckless of all else. What mattered it to him whether injustice and misery were poured put upon weaker races unable to defend themselves, provided he carried a successful “policy” which would henceforward be identified with his name? One of the papers described Sir Charles Dilke as a “heartless miscreant,” and we quite agree with the sentiment, only we find his “heartless miscreancy” exhibited in a far more lurid light in the “public services” with which he is credited than in the comparatively paltry peccadilloes exposed in the divorce court – mean and treacherous as some of these were, in all conscience.

Anyhow, there is a certain satisfaction in the thought that we have heard the last of this blatant, swashbuckling jingo – this second-rate imitation of the French article – and that his unworthy ambition in life has been successfully blasted. Would there were no others of the same kidney to take his place!



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