Ernest Belfort Bax

The Ethics of Socialism

The Revolution of the 19th Century

A Lecture Delivered in 1883

From The Ethics of Socialism, pp.31-55.

THOUGH the observation that our age is one of transition, is perhaps somewhat trite among thinking men, the number of unthinking men who are still possessed by the remains of an “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be” theory of the world and of human nature, is sufficiently great to render its occasional illustration and enforcement desirable. The most obvious way to bring home this fact to the mind incapable of seeing it unaided, is by fixing on a terminus a quo, and showing that while it logically leads to a certain terminus ad quem, we are, historically, but half-way towards the said terminus ad quem; in other words, that the present state of things involves a contradiction. This is the method we shall accordingly pursue in the following observations. The expression, “age of transition,” is, of course, only relative. In one sense the whole of history is a vast transition. “All things flow,” said Herakleitos – and truly; but the flowing sometimes takes the form of a cataract, at others of an even, and almost imperceptible, current. This is only another way of saying that the usually slow and gradual course of evolution is, at certain stages, interrupted by a more or less prolonged period of revolution. The embryo, arrived at maturity, breaks the eggshell, the imago insect its chrysalis skin. The process of transformation, from being gradual and imperceptible, becomes spasmodic and perceptible.

Let our terminus a quo, then, be the mediaeval system of Europe, and we shall see that every advance, every departure, from that system, has led us deeper and deeper into the region of unresolved contradiction, is fast leading us through incompatibility to impossibility, anal thence, let us hope, to a reorganisation of human life which shall mean the resolution of these contradictions. We will examine the system of Mediaevalism first of all in its industrial organisation. With its industrial system is most closely bound up the whole social and family life of a people. But no aspect of a civilisation can be logically separated from the other. The social and the political life, and the intellectual conceptions of an age, act and react upon one another. They are the inseparable aspects of that particular phase in the evolution of the one organic, or, if you will, super-organic, whole – Humanity.

The economical system of antiquity, which was founded on slavery – production being entirely, or almost entirely, confined to slaves, consisting either of prisoners taken in conquest or their descendants, or else of the persons of debtors seized in default of payment – became gradually modified, on the disruption of the Roman Empire, into serfage. As the feudal system consolidated itself, serfage finally and definitely superseded slavery. The serf could not, like the slave, be bought and sold at pleasure, but was generally inseparable from the soil on which he was born. Nevertheless, as with the slave, all that he and his family produced over and above what was barely necessary for food and clothing, was the property of the lord. But since, if the number of his serfs was diminished or their labour-power impaired by ill-treatment, others were not so readily obtainable, as in the case of slaves in ancient times, it became the interest of the lord to maintain them as far as possible in a healthy and contented condition. Besides this it must be remembered that the main object of the feudal lord was not gain, beyond what was necessary for his personal use and that of his retainers what he cared for was to rule over men – to possess a numerous and devoted tenantry. Hence serfage was a distinct advance on slavery, as regards the condition of the labourer. If we look a little more closely at the conditions of production on a feudal estate, we shall find that it was within itself, generally speaking an industrial whole, the links connecting it with the outer world being at most few, and even these seldom indispensable to its existence. The total of the commodities consumed on the estate was, in most cases, derived directly from its own ground. The peasant and his sons tilled the soil, hunted the wild animals, raised domestic stock, or felled trees for building or firewood ; while the wife and daughters spun the raw flag and carded the wool, which they worked up into articles of clothing, distilled the mead or assisted in the in-gathering of the grapes, the making the wine, and, in some cases, in the rougher work of production. Division of labour and distribution, in a society composed on this plan, were obviously, alike, if not unknown, at least unessential. This was the system that continued to form the frame-work of society throughout Europe for centuries,

But with the decline of the mediaeval civilisation, townships began to arise, and with them a new industrial organisation, based on independent guilds of burghers. The township got the feudal services of the citizens within its domain commuted for an annual due or payment. It was thus that free labour arose. Each man now worked to maintain himself and his family, at a particular handicraft, by exchanging or selling the products of his labour. In this way specialisation of labour and an organised system of distribution – of commerce came into existence. Leagues for mutual protection against the robber nobles of the period were formed, such as the Hanseatic League. With the Renaissance in the fifteenth century, and yet more with the Reformation in the sixteenth, the strength of the mediaeval system pure and simple was practically broken up. The middle or trading classes of the towns became more and more powerful, and, with their power, more and more restive at the imposts laid upon them, and at the restrictions put upon their liberty and dignity by governments constituted of the lords of the soil, spiritual and temporal, and the crown. The growing breach between the commons or third estate – a name originally applied to the smaller landholders, but now more particularly used for the burgher population – and the first and second estates, consisting respectively of the lords spiritual and temporal, culminated in the great French Revolution of 1789. In this convulsion the third estate was arrayed against the clergy, the nobility, and the crown. But burgher and noble, or, as the French have it, bourgeois and grand seigneur, in their struggles for supremacy, were oblivious of the rise above the social horizon of a little cloud destined ultimately to overshadow both their interests alike. This fourth estate, distinct from the peasantry of the country as the new commonality or third estate was distinct from the copyholding commonality of feudal times, was none other than the modern proletariat or working class.

On the first rise of the town-system every tradesman, burgher, or citizen combined in his own person, or those of his immediate household, the functions of workman, supervisor, and distributor, as regards his particular commodity. But with the development of the new industrial system these functions became separated. With their separation the distinction between employer and employé, master and workman, bourgeois and prolétaire, arose. The whole processes of production and exchange which had hitherto been carried out on the small scale exclusively adapted to individual work, had become gradually changed by simple co-operation, the ever-extending subdivision of labour, and other causes. The distinction between the middle and the working classes first became definitively marked in a political sense during the French Revolution, and it has been yearly accentuating itself ever since. The middle, or capitalistic, classes have long ago come to a compromise with the landed aristocracy. This compromise has taken the political form of constitutional government, in which Toryism, or landed interest, and Liberalism, or capitalistic interest, take it by turns to sponge upon the people. The prodigious development of capitalism in this century is due to the sudden and revolutionary acceleration of the process of development referred to as previously taking dace gradually, namely, the socialisation of the modes of production. The sudden acceleration of the process, amounting almost to a transformation of previous conditions, is the result of the introduction of machinery. It is to machinery that we owe the polarisation of wealth and poverty we see around us: luxury on the one hand and starvation on the other, colossal fortunes and abject misery. This is rendered possible by the fact that while production has become more and more socialised in character, exchange still remains in individual hands. The workers do not own the means of production or the product, either individually or collectively. Hence the capitalist obtains a leverage power by which he can wring from the working classes all the value of their labour over and above what is barely necessary to their subsistence. It is thus that interest or profit is obtained. This is facilitated by competition, the competition amongst labourers and the competition amongst capitalists themselves. There is an ever-increasing section of the labouring population on the verge of starvation, and ready to work at starvation wages. Small capitalists are being daily thrown into the ranks of the proletariat by their inability to compete with the larger firms. Capital tends daily to a concentration in fewer and fewer bands; in other words, the bulk of the population are forced to labour in order that a smaller and smaller oligarchy of grasping capitalists may enter into the fruits of their labour. As it is, out of the thirteen hundred millions produced annually by this country, the small minority of capitalists and landowners are said to absorb one thousand millions, leaving just three hundred millions for the overwhelming majority of the community. I should say that the landowners only take a hundred and thirty-six millions out of the total, more than half of which is mortgaged back to the capitalist class. This is a fact those who regard land nationalisation alone as the panacea for all evils would do well to consider. Machinery, as employed at present, simply serves to produce profit for the capitalist and to increase the misery of the working-classes. As Mr. Hyndman well puts it

“The socialised system of production revolts against the individualised system of exchange.”

Here, then, is our first contradiction. The homogeneous communistic production of the Middle Ages, in which exchange did not exist, gave place to an individualistic mode of production and of exchange. This is, in its turn, superseded to-day by a highly developed social system of production, which yet remains allied to the old individualist principle of exchange. The logical terminus ad quem, the resolution of the contradiction involved in the situation, is obviously -a return to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries being out of the question-the completion of the process of socialisation, i.e. the complete socialisation not only of production but of exchange as well. This means nothing less than the abolition of the current regime of capitalism and landholding, which furnishes the middle and upper classes, so-called, with interest, profit, and rent by the concentration of land, raw material, instruments of production, and funded property in the hands of a democratic State really representing the people. That this is impossible with our boards of guardians of vested interests furnished under the various constitutional governments, monarchical or republican, it is scarcely necessary to observe.

We have already touched indirectly upon the political question in discussing the economical. First, as to its internal, as distinct from its international aspect. In the Middle Ages all political power was in the hands of the hierarchy of the Crown, with its advisers, the clergy and the large and small landed proprietors, the three estates as they were termed. On the decline, and especially after the break-up, of the medieval system, when the towns and the smaller landed proprietors were becoming a power as against the old feudal nobles, strong efforts were made by the monarchy to utilise the state of things thence arising for rendering its prerogative absolute: a feat which was attempted by all the Tudor and Stuart sovereigns in England, and resulted in the overthrow of Charles I. It was left for the genius of Louis XIV of France to effectually accomplish the change in the nature of the royal authority. The advent of the first crisis of our revolutionary epoch – the French Revolution of 1789 – was thus facilitated. The true significance of this convulsion is the definite assertion by the middle or capitalistic classes of political equality with the noble or landed classes. Although during the actual crisis the fourth estate or proletariat achieved some signal successes, notably in the constitution of ’93, yet these were one and all subsequently swept away again in the ebb of the revolution, the only thing left high and dry, past the chance of subsequent loss, being the political power of the bourgeoisie. Every reform during the present century has tended to increase and consolidate this power. Constitutional government itself is simply a tacit compact for the key of power to be transferred from land to capital, from aristocracy to plutocracy. Even where, as in England, the fundamental basis of the old political order, the Crown, the House of Peers, remain intact formally, the force they embodied is departed from them into other hands. It will be thus readily seen that the political power of the middle classes has grown with the growth of the capitalistic system and increased with its strength, and that the monopoly of political power by knots of influential, i.e. moneyed men, of which modern constitutional governments – be they Liberal or Conservative, monarchical as in England and Germany, or republican as in France and America – one and all consist, is simply the corollary of our industrial contradiction, the monopoly of a socialised or semi-socialised system of production and of its fruits by a comparatively small number of individuals. The social system which contradicts the first laws of justice and of human welfare, merely because the majority are at present too stupid to see this, owing to the complexity of the machinery involved, has as its natural pendant a corresponding political system-a, system which must stand or fall with it.

Now let us look at the other side of the political question, the international or external. The feudal system was essentially Federal in character. The fulcrum of government lay in the local centre, not in the national centre. The autonomy of the different feudal jurisdictions was incomparably greater than is to be found within any existing state. Like the method of production, the system of government was suited to small and semi-independent communities. Each estate of the feudal hierarchy owed direct allegiance only to the one immediately above it; after this the allegiance became more and more indirect, more and more shadowy, even where, as in England, it nominally existed, and between the extremes was altogether nil. At the same time the whole political system of Europe had fur its coping-stone the papacy, and to some extent also the shadowy Roman Emperor of the German nation. But, as we have seen, on the dissolution of the feudal system, monarchy began to assert a centralising influence, and this was the first beginning of our modern State-system. With the Reformation the political power of the papacy was ended, and hence the two opposite checks to national centralisation, the local and the cosmopolitan, were almost simultaneously abolished. On the ruins of feudalism and papal domination, then, arose the modern State-system of Europe. As in the case of industrial production the methods are social but in individual hands, so with the State-system, its tendency and machinery, although involving international relations at every turn, is administered for national ends. The administrative unit, the feudal commune, is abolished, and the nationality takes its place; but while the whole system of modern life is cosmopolitan, government is still carried on in the interests of this racial unit. The illogicality of this administrative halting-place between the local community and the system of nations constituting the civilised world, is shown by the empire-tendency of modern States – that empire-tendency which means the ruthless sacrifice of weaker races for the sake of the stronger. Here again we have a parallel; in industry the larger capitalists absorb the smaller, so in politics the larger States absorb the smaller. Hence, as the tendency of capital is to become concentrated in a few large firms, so the tendency of government is to become concentrated in a few large empires, the smaller independent centres being crushed out.

I have spoken of nations, but it must be remembered that by this term is meant, in modern politics, merely the privileged and ruling classes of nations. Parliaments are little more than boards consisting of members of these classes; and in voting war estimates, railway guarantees, grants for expeditions to occupy territory, or for schemes for “opening up” new channels of commerce, new markets, etc. etc., they are only consulting their own interests, under the specious masks of “national honour” and the public welfare. In foreign politics the capitalist is no less king than in domestic. Well nigh every war within the present generation has been the work of a clique of bourse speculators, stock jobbers, or manufacturers anxious to secure markets. Such was, to a large extent at least, the Franco-German war; such have been, unblushingly, all our small English “wars” (so-called), which might more truly be termed cowardly massacres of untrained and ill-armed barbarians. Such have been no less the French. expeditions in Tunis, Tonquin, and Madagascar. What advantage do the workers of a nation derive from the extension of empire? What does the possession of India, for example, benefit the English working class, or any but the larger capitalists and the functionaries who are their hangers-on? The working classes are taxed for the maintenance of this imperial system, and have as their reward the somewhat barren honour of belonging to it.

Chauvinistic nationalism is the political side of the status quo of which capital is the corner-stone. There is nothing more cherished by the ruling classes than a patriotic cry. It is their most serviceable ally in times of danger. Thus, our second great contradiction – the political – lies in administration being carried on in the quasi-interests of special nationalities in an age when the whole civilised world has really the same interests, as it has the same science, the same inventions, the same communications – in short, when the whole system of things is international. We have noticed the connection existing between this political and the industrial contradiction, in so far as the diplomatic nation really means the “privileged classes” of that nation – or, in other words, the capitalists, the landowners, and their salaried allies. The logical terminus ad quem of the situation is plainly the internationalising of government. The centralisation must be carried to its furthest point, and not arrested at the national frontier, often a mere arbitrary diplomatic or geographical expression. This would have as its natural correlate the rehabilitation within certain limits of the local centre. When we think what the disappearance of capitalism, landlordism, and class privilege would really involve, it is easily seen that national and diplomatic boundaries would, under such circumstances, no longer have any raison d’être. It is thus, and not by bourgeois propagandism and humanitarian talk that war will be abolished and the ostensible ends of the Peace Society accomplished.

We come, finally, to the intellectual or religious contradiction of our epoch. The system of Catholic dogma, the religious system of the Middle Ages, formed a coherent whole in itself, and -with its industrial and political systems. Furthermore, it was consistent with the entire mental attitude of these ages. [1] But, with the new learning, all this began to change. Authority in matters of belief became generally shaken. A climax was reached in the Lutheran Reformation when the standard of authority was definitely shifted from church to dogma, from pope to Bible. This change undermined the Christian theology. The infallibility of the canonical scriptures rested, as did every other dogma, on the authority of councils and church tradition, regarded as traceable in a direct line to the apostles, and through them to the titular founder of the Christian religion. Once the doctrine of apostolical succession and the supreme authority of the Church repudiated, the principle of private judgment in matters doctrinal admitted, and the pillar supporting the entire dogmatic edifice was broken, leaving it only a matter of time for the whole superstructure to fall in. Even the granting of the cardinal dogma of dogmatic Protestantism could not much mend matters, since this leaves it open to any person to dispute every other dogma on biblical authority; seeing that each individual with sufficient ingenuity could devise a system out of that heterogeneous body of literature called the Bible, differing essentially not only from the orthodox one, but from that of his equally original neighbour. Aus der Bibel lässt sich alles beweisen, as the Germans have it. Truly might an eminent Catholic prelate claim for his creed “a complete consistency from its first principle to its last consequence, and to its least institution”; and well might he accuse the Protestant variations of preserving “forms and doctrines, which must have sprung from a principle by them rejected, but which are useless and mistaken the moment they are disjoined from it.” Such is, nevertheless, the doctrine of the modern bourgeois. He is Christian. Oh yes! He must be Christian to the backbone; but in the logicality of the Catholic system the bourgeois discovers its error. And doubtless he is right from his own point of view. He is himself the outgrowth of a logical contradiction, and hence his whole polity and converse are illogical. The landed aristocrat still adheres to at least some semblance of the old Catholic hierarchy and tradition, such as high Anglicanism offers; but the capitalist, large and small, the middle-class man, is the bulwark of Protestantism proper – to wit, that illogical non-sequitur, dogma minis sacerdotalism. The manufacturer or merchant has his evangelical church, the retail linen-draper or grocer his chapel, the butcher or greengrocer his mission-hall, the converted costermonger his open-air service.

The connection between the trading classes and dogmatic Protestantism holds historically. The Reformation was coincident with the first great expansion of the town population, both politically and industrially. It was the industrial classes that the revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove from Prance, to found colonies in England and Germany. The pre-eminently industrial nations – the English, the Germans, the Dutch, etc. adopted Protestantism as their State creed; and even in non-Protestant countries the main strength of the Protestant minority lay in the trading classes. It would not be uninstructive, did space allow, to trace in detail the connection between Protestant cults and dogmas and the aims and aspirations of the middle classes; and this would not be difficult. But we must pass on to a more important aspect of the intellectual contradiction of our civilisation. Every religion presents two sides, an intellectual and a moral. It involves a theory of the how, the whence, and the whither of existence, and an ideal based upon that theory. The theory dominating the medieval civilisation was, as we have said, Christian theology in its only consistent form. But the Christian theology is merely the development of a fundamental idea common to the other ethical religions (so-called) of the world, which in other shapes is traceable to paganism, and thence to still more primitive stages of human culture – I mean the hypothesis of the existence of an intelligent being or beings outside the natural order, by whom that order is regulated. This conception is the groundwork of every religion, properly speaking, that has hitherto existed. The conception of law, of an essentially unchangeable order has, however, from the first rise of physical science at the close of the Middle Ages, been steadily growing, and as steadily supplanting the old notion of volition as a casual agent in the several departments of science, till now no region is left other than completely occupied by it. The intellectual attitude of all educated men in the present day, among all peoples, kindreds, and tongues, is hence separated by a yawning chasm from the intellectual attitude of those of all previous ages by this fact alone, just as the material conditions of life in the nineteenth century throughout the civilised world are separated by a similar abyss from those of all previous ages by the invention of machinery as applied to industry, of the railway, the telegraph, etc. The significance of this change of mental attitude can hardly be exaggerated. All previous changes leave left the cardinal principle of supernaturalism practically untouched. It is now, for the first time, that the principle of the invariability of law is universally established. Yet strange to say – and here lies the main intellectual contradiction of our age – while all our science, all our commerce and industry, all the actions of our daily life, arc based on this great truth, it still remains, so to speak, officially unrecognised by mankind. Old creeds based upon an entirely alien conception of the universe still remain, outwardly at least, intact. Men are categorised as Christians, Mussulmans, or as Catholics and Protestants, irrespective of their real beliefs – churches and religious movements abound, and priesthoods exist. Now and again simpleminded persons try to carry out the principles of supernaturalism to their natural conclusion: they trust in the providence of god, and dispense with medical attendance for their dying children, and, mirabile dictu!, a Christian country arraigns them for manslaughter, and then, perhaps, this latent contradiction involved in our civilisation comes to light for the nonce. The logical terminus ad quem of the situation, it is obvious, is the definite abandonment and abolition by society in its collective capacity of supernaturalism, and the definite recognition of human reason as the sole means of arriving at truth.

If on their intellectual side, as theories of the universe, the older religions are a non possumus for us, they are this none the less on their moral side. The local and tribal religions of ancient times were encountered by the newly awakened ethical conscience of the individual as such. Much in them which was natural symbolism to his ancestors, was repellant to him. But Christianity itself contains the carne opposition in a more developed form. It is useless blinking the fact that the Christian doctrine is more revolting to the higher moral sense of to-day than the Saturnalia or the cult of Proserpine could lave been to the conscience of the early Christian. And more than this, the social and humanistic tendencies of the age, the consciousness of human welfare and human development as “our being’s end and aim,” as the sole object worthy of human devotion, must instinctively shrink from its antithesis, the theological spirit – and this despite the emasculated free Christian and theistic guise in which the latter may appear at the present time. “Ye cannot serve god and humanity,” is the burden of the nobler instincts of our epoch. But here, again, we see the intrinsic unity of the several aspects of human life. What is it which prevents the realisation – ay, and even in most cases the conception – of nobler aims, of a higher intellectual, artistic, and moral existence for men? It is a true saying that though false ideas may be refuted by argument, yet only by true ideas can they be expelled. The true ideal which alone can effectually exorcise the spectre of the Christian theology from our midst is unfortunately confined to a few. And why is it so, but because modern civilisation is composed of two classes, the worshippers of capital and the victims of capital? When “success in life” is the highest ideal of which the majority of men are capable, when the condition of a higher culture is the freedom which the possession of capital alone can afford, we need indeed scarcely be surprised that it is so. The higher human ideal stands in opposition at once to capitalism, the gospel of success, with its refined art of cheating through the process of exchange, or, in short, to worldliness; and to Christianism, the gospel of success in a hypothetical other life, or, in short, to otherworldliness. But a glance around at our various bodies and organisations, charitable or otherwise, of a Christian character will show that at least two-thirds of modern Christianity is simply “capitalism” masquerading in a religious guise. Even where this is not the case, Christianity is none the less an integral part of the status quo. The privileged classes instinctively feel this. So long as human aspiration can be kept along the old lines, so long as the further gaze of men can be kept directed heavenward to the cloud-shapes of god, Christ, and immortality or inward on their own hearts and consciences, and averted from the earthly horizon of social regeneration, all will go well. John Bull’s auxiliary, the minister of the gospel, or possibly the wife or daughter of John Bull, must be able to say to him or her who is not blessed with J.B.’s share of the good things of this life, “What does it matter, dear brother or sister? Why repine? ’Tis but for a season god has placed us in different stations in this life; in the life to come, where we shall hope to meet byand-bye, all will be well.” The idea of the dear brother or sister meeting this consolation in affliction with the rebuff of Faust –

Das drüben mag mich wenig kümmern

* * *

Schlägst du erst diese Welt zu Trümmern
Die andre mag danach entstehen

– or something to the same effect, is naturally repugnant to the bourgeois mind. No, verily, this bringing down of religion from heaven to earth belongs not to the present civilisation of expropriation and privilege!

And now, a word or two on a point dealt with by me more fully elsewhere, to wit, on the ethical contradiction of our epoch. The moral side of Christianity is centred in the notions of individual holiness and responsibility to a supernatural being. This ethical side of Christianity largely overlaid by other influences during the Middle Ages, with Protestantism come again prominently to the fore, has remained so ever since. But now with the growing sense among as earnest men of social utility as the end of all human endeavour, an Ethic based on the notion of individual likeness to God is in flagrant contradiction, a contradiction which can only be resolved by its formal surrender.

We have now touched upon the two aspects – the intellectual and moral – of our last main contradiction, the religious contradiction. We have pointed to the universal prevalence of a natural conception of the universe, with the universal recognition of a supernatural one. We have further pointed to a humanist ideal of life, growing up cheek by jowl with the commercial ideal of worldly success for the individual, varied occasionally by the Christian ideal of other-worldly success, tire whole cemented by the feeling that it is necessary for the “lower orders” to believe “in a sort of a something” which will afford them consolation, and at the same time tend to the stability of society by preventing discontent. As a matter of course, from the three main contradictions – the industrial, the political, and the religious – issues a strain of discord through every sphere of life. A volume might easily be written on the artistic contradiction of the present age, but this is a direct result of the economic and the religious contradictions. Art is degraded to furniture, quantity takes the place of quality in artistic production, comic operas of classical music, simply because art is dominated by capital, and artists impregnated with the gospel of commerce. The true artist is oppressed with the lack of the ideal he sees around him, with the contradiction between theory and practice, between what is recognised and what is really believed.

It has been our object throughout the present lecture to show the mutual implication of the different aspects of the Modern Revolution. Our moral is the futility of attempts to fundamentally change one aspect of the current order of things while conserving another. In vain does one party (of generous and well-meaning men, no doubt) think to batter down current theology, while ignoring, or even justifying, the great social contradiction of the age. In vain do they hurl their thunderbolts at the gaunt spectre of Christian dogma, which only stands “as the air invulnerable,” confronting them with its soulless eyes. What, for instance, though they may show the doctrine of vicarious atonement to have its roots in a bestial superstition pertaining to the worst side of paganism, a superstition which has borne cruelties innumerable in the world’s history as its fruit – the foul doctrine, with the rest of the system of which it forms a typical part, will continue to be fulminated every week from a thousand pulpits while these pulpits are subsidised by capital, and they will continue to be subsidised so long as the status quo, of which capitalism and Christianity are two of the chief elements, subsists. We commend to the attention of secularists the assertion of Mr. Justice North in his summing-up to the jury in the trial of Mr. Foote, to the effect that in the attacking of Christianity the law itself is attacked. Of course! For the law is simply the exponent of the status quo, the nature of which we have been examining, and of which Christianity is the ideal expression.

The futility of attempts to change religion on the lines of the current social and political order, is seen in the fact that, despite the prevalent disbelief pervading the middle and upper classes, all attempts at instituting rationalist churches are conspicuous failures. To the one secularist hall, or even Unitarian chapel – you have your thousand places of Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Wesleyan worship. The soil is productive of the one and barren of the other. To the thousands subscribed to a new chapel, you have your pence to a new hall of science. Whence the cause of this phenomenon ? Has it never struck the ardent secularist that the old metaphor as to pouring the new wine into old bottles has its application? The misfortune is that the conclusion fails. The new wine does not burst the bottle, which possesses the power of contracting its neck so that none goes in, and thus its outer surface only gets affected. Doubtless, could the wine of a humanistic ideal penetrate into the depths of the bourgeois mind, it would “burst” the status quo. But the capitalistic system itself, and the spirit it generates, effectually prevent this. Unconscious humbug is an important ingredient of the Zeitgeist. The bourgeois’ respectability and pietism alike, spring from roots hidden perhaps to himself, but none the less real, to wit, his own pocket, potential and actual, or the pocket of his class generally. He is acute enough to connect Atheism and Communism.

Again, how vain are the efforts of the International Peace Association at effecting the abolition of war in a political system based on the rivalry of nationalities, and consisting mainly of half a dozen powerful States, each with armaments outvying the other, which supply positions for the younger sons of the landed classes, and of which the trading classes are glad enough to avail themselves when they want new markets or fresh commercial channels opened up, little as they may like their cost at other times. The arbitrationists may succeed in getting up a brilliant meeting now and then, in which war is declared to be unchristian; and Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. Samuel Morley, and other worthies of the same ilk, will expatiate on the need of spreading the gospel in the form of the evangelical tract so dear to the British middle-class heart. But such attempts will continue to be regarded by society at large, and justly, as the visionary schemes of a few “philanthropic” talkers.

Lastly, one word on that singular hybrid, the “Christian Socialist.” Though the word Socialism has not been mentioned, it will have been sufficiently evident that the goal indicated in the present articles is none other than Socialism. But the association of Christianism with any form of Socialism is a mystery, rivalling the mysterious combination of ethical and other contradictions in the Christian divinity himself. Notwithstanding that the soi-disant Christian Socialist confessedly finds the natural enemies of his Socialism among Christians of all orthodox denominations, still he persists in retaining the designation, while refusing to employ it in its ordinary signification.

It is difficult to divine the motive for thus preserving a name which, confessedly, in its ordinary meaning, is not only alien but hostile to the doctrine of Socialism. Does the “Free Christian” want a personal object of reverence? We can offer him many such, even now. Let him look eastward at those who have indeed places in which to lay their heads, ay, and in some cases mansions and estates, but who renounce them and court the slow death of imprisonment in fortresses and Siberian mines, who flinch not at the sword, and whose utmost good fortune is the liberty of preaching their gospel in the dark places of civilisation, and oftentimes amid a poverty unrelieved by even a Zaccheus. Let them call to mind the massacres of ’71, and the Paris workman who, on being asked for what he was fighting and dying, replied, “Pour la solidarité humaine.” Or again, let them think of the aged Delescluze closing a life of untiring devotion at the barricades, in harness to the last. Must we for ever insult the living and lately dead, by falling back for our ideal upon the first century? Do nobleness and devotion, indeed, require to be mellowed by the “dim religious light” of ages before we can recognise them as such? This, however, by the way. Our contention is the following. If by Christianity be meant the body of dogma usually connoted by the word, it will probably be conceded by those to whom we refer that it is in hostility to progress. If, on the other hand, this be not meant, but merely the ethical principles Christianity is supposed to embody, then, “even if these principles were distinctly and exclusively Christian which they are not, we challenge them to show this connection or even their compatibility with Socialism. If, again, they fail in this, as fail they must, the whole matter is resolved into one of sentiment. And for the sake of retaining a catchword, fur such it is, and no more, under these circumstances, they would compromise principles, and throw a sop to respectability in its most hypocritical form. To say nothing of the thousands in Europe to whom the name Christian is positively abhorrent, how shall they face the Eastern world when the time comes for so doing? Only those who can tell the Moslem, the Buddhist, the Confucian, we care not for Jesus of Nazareth any more than for Mohammed, for Gautama, or for Kon-fu-tze ; disputes as to the relative merits or demerits of those teachers are vain as they are endless; only those who can say we know of greater men than these – greater, inasmuch as humanity has reached a higher level; greater, inasmuch as they have not posed as great teachers, but have contented themselves with the rank of humble and equal workers – who come in the farm of neither god nor prophet, but of the humanity whose religion is human welfare – not the welfare of a race or a class, but of the whole; whose doctrine is its attainment, through human solidarity, or, in other words – Socialism; only those, we repeat, will ever obtain the ear of the Orient, and never they who come in the hated and blood-stained name of Christianity – name indicative of racial and religious rivalry. What in earlier phases of human evolution has been accomplished as in pre-human evolution by the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence; in other words, what has been hitherto accomplished physically, or unconsciously, must, in the future, be done psychically, or consciously – the struggle for existence must give place to co-operation for existence, and this co-operation though in one sense the result of economical revolution, implies on another side a correlative change in the basis of Ethics and religion. Then, and not till then will the contradiction of our age be resolved in the unity of a fuller and more complete life than any yet experienced by Humanity.



1. For a good exposition of the medieval speculative position Mitman’s History of Latin Christianity (vol.I) may be consulted. The hierarchical order of celestial beings founded on the work of the pseudo-Dionysius beginning with the supreme overlord god, is a striking analogue of the medieval hierarchy of terrestrial beings.


Last updated on 15.1.2006