E. Belfort Bax, Love of Country, Social Democrat, September 1900, pp.272-74.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
In Professor Beesly’s article in the August Positivist Review, in reply to my criticisms of his statement anent “Socialists and Patriotism,” I find what I cannot help regarding as a serious misconception (if Professor Beesly will permit me to say so) of the relative positions and importance of the three altruistic objects of the moral consciousness. This misconception, I believe, is inherent in Positivism (a system, be it remembered, excogitated and completed during the first half of the century), and hence not peculiar to Professor Beesly, but it largely explains the difficulty expressed in imagining the possibility of a “good man” being without patriotism. According to Professor Beesly, and, I believe, Positivists generally, the family, the country, and humanity constitute the objective trinity of human morality and religion. Now, as to the family, all Socialists in a sense admit this as a genuine social entity, albeit they point out that the great industry is rapidly undermining the present monogamic family system, in so far as the proletarian masses are concerned. And this leads me to explain, parenthetically, the difference between the term family, as meaning a social étape, recognised by Socialists, and the term family as used by Positivist writers. Modern Socialism, in accordance with modern anthropological research, recognises that the “family” is a continuous growth, that the word has meant different things at different times. In early tribal society, to take one important stage alone, it meant a very diverse social group from the patriarchal family of later tribal society and early civilisation, and this again from the monogamic business-arrangement family of modern times. That this latter is necessarily final Socialists do not admit. To Auguste Comte, and it would seem also to his followers, on the contrary, the indissoluble monogamic family is an institution which was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
However, to enter the lists with Professor Beesly on the subject of the family would take us beyond the limits of the present discussion. Suffice it to say that while conceding the family, with the above caveat, as a true and real social étape, I am quite unable to say as much for the object of present-day patriotism, viz., the modern State or nation. The latter is certainly not a real, in the sense of an essential, articulation or stage of human society, but a mushroom growth dating from the close of the Middle Ages (circa the fifteenth century). Before this there existed no nations in the modern sense, as Professor Beesly is well aware, but more or loss loosely or closely knit confederacies (in the Middle Ages of a feudal character), to which, as such, no such sentiment as patriotism applied. When it did apply in ancient and, to some extent, also in mediaeval times, it was to the city. It is indeed strange that anyone of the historical knowledge and acuteness of Professor Beesly should lump together in one category the “love of country which was carried to the highest pitch in the city States of antiquity” with “the love of country” which inspires the modern music-hall. The devotion of the citizen of, say, the Greek or Italian city was not so much love of country as love of the corporate social body – the choir, visible and invisible, the living, the dead and the unborn – which constituted the real Rome, Athens, Thebes, &c., of the virile period of those city-States. This so-called “patriotism” was a natural extension of the “family” sentiment, that is, of the personal bond (originally of blood-relationship), which is all that the family sentiment means. This somewhat extended, but still comparatively limited, social group, growing directly, as it does, out of the family or tribal relation, retains to a great extent the organic nature of its origin, and as such is a perfectly natural and conceivable object of human devotion. This city-patriotism of the ancient world, and, in a sense, also of the Middle Ages, I can understand. But when I am asked to feel a “patriotic” emotion for that monstrosity, the modern centralised State, made up of an amorphous aggregate of forty or fifty million souls, or, at least, stomachs – an emotion I am on no account to feel for another similar monstrosity across the Channel – when I am told that it is my duty to entertain a special affection for a boozey, God-Save-the-Queen and Rule Britannia bawling mafficker rather than for an equally foolish but not so personally revolting a follower of M. Dérouléde, because, forsooth, the one is my countryman and the other not – then I confess my moral sense does not respond; these things are above or below its apprehension. Professor Beesly repudiates for Positivists my definition of patriotism as implying a “special duty of attachment” to one’s own State “against any other.” But if the words “against any other” do not apply, what becomes of Positivist patriotism? Certainly these words are involved in the ordinary definition of patriotism. If you eliminate them you arrive at the somewhat banal result (from the patriotic point of view) that you are to wish well to your country in all things compatible with the welfare of other countries. Socialists, I am sure, will heartily concur in this amiable sentiment, but patriots, I am afraid, will regard its quality as somewhat thin. In fact, Professor Beesly’s repudiation of the words in question would, I think, go far to justify us in claiming him as an internationalist, and no patriot after all.
For what otherwise is the sense, I ask, in stopping short at this artificial stage in our ethical ascent rather than recognise the essential unity of the nations of modern civilisation? Professor Beesly finds a non-sequitur in my statement that increased economic dependence must tend in the long run towards political unification. To argue the matter here would take too long. I can only say that, at a proper time and place, I am perfectly prepared to maintain my position. But even apart from this, and discussing on Positivist principles alone, I should have thought that the separation of the great nations of the West on the basis of mere nationalist sentiment could be scarcely absolved of the charge of arbitrariness. If we can love a nation of forty millions we can love Humanity at once, or at least that section of humanity which stands on the same general level of development as ourselves, viz, the European peoples and their offshoots. The perpetuation of the rivalry between Englishman, Frenchman, and German, based on distinction of nationality or State-system, to day can obviously alone subserve the selfish interests of the profit-makers of those countries, and by no means of the peoples. But logical modern Social-Democracy, while repudiating patriotism, does not even wish to supplant it by a vague humanitarianism. The object it places in the stead of country is not directly humanity, but the International Social-Democratic Party, the party of the class-conscious proletariat. This, which to-day exists in all countries, has only recently given the world a magnificent testimonial of its strength at the funeral of our dear friend and leader, the late Wilhelm Liebknecht. I mean not merely its strength in numbers but its strength in human enthusiasm and devotion. That the present Socialist Party will ultimately embrace humanity is our fervent hope and belief, but that day is not yet, and meanwhile we are content with the lesser object.
And now, before concluding these few words, I should like to put a question or two to Professor Beesly (whom we all respect) with a view of elucidating his views more fully than as given in the article Inter Arma. Believing, as he apparently does, in the modern centralised nation or State as a permanent political entity, does he consider that it ought to be held responsible for crimes it may commit against the comity of nations, as the individual is for offences against other individuals? If so, ought such a State or nation, as such, to receive punishment for its crimes? If this, again, be admitted, supposing the British State to have committed a crime against international justice, and hence against Humanity, would Professor Beesly feel it his duty, as a good Positivist, to desire, and may be to aid, in the punishment of the British nation, or would he adopt the attitude “my country, right or wrong”? Could he, even apart from this, conceive of any combination of circumstances in which it would be for the good of Humanity that Britain should be discomfited and the British power destroyed or materially weakened, and hence in which it would be his duty as a servant of Humanity to desire and work for this consummation?
E. Belfort Bax
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