E P Thompson 1978

Outside the Whale

Source: A chapter in E P Thompson (ed), Out Of Apathy (Stevens and Sons, London, 1960; revised version in E P Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (Merlin, London, 1978). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Thompson added this note to the revised version: ‘This essay was first published in Out of Apathy (1960), which was a collection of essays under my editorship by Raphael Samuel, Stuart Hall, Alasdair MacIntyre, Peter Worsley and Ken Alexander. It has been reprinted with the permission of Stevens and Sons Ltd. The essay, as published, was severely cut for reasons of space. I have now replaced some passages from the original typescript, but I have also cut out some dated allusions and rhetoric from the final pages of the published version.’

The essay has been presented in its fullest form. The differences between the two versions are indicated in footnotes. Notes have been provided by the MIA except where noted.’

‘You know, I have connections – even in California.’ – TS Eliot, The Cocktail Party

‘The Vision That Eludes Us All’

In the General Election of 1955 the British people elected the government which was to see them through the crises of Quemoy, Suez, Hungary, hydrogen bomb tests, Jordan and other critical incidents of the twentieth century. The three major parties ensured that the election was conducted entirely within the political and strategic premises of NATO. And it was an election in which the great majority of British intellectuals were silent.

There was a notable exception. Lord Russell, the 83-year-old philosopher, intervened – upon a Labour candidate’s platform – to remind the electorate that ‘the only alternative to living together is dying together’. It was, appropriately, Mr Alistair Cooke, the New York correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, who was employed to reduce this intervention to the proper scale of electoral trivia. Mr Cooke cocked an ironic eyebrow at ‘Lord Russell’s Modern Apocalypse’:

A midget suspended against a huge CinemaScope screen, the last of the Whigs snapped his eaglet eyes under the white thatch of hair and flexed his arms at the elbow in a ‘hey presto’ motion, like a charming puppet straining for a miracle and in the act wobbling the tiny wire frame of his body.

After some more of this, Mr Cooke permitted the ‘charming puppet’ to speak:

‘It is’, he said in his high nasal voice, ‘the most important question that men have ever had to decide in the whole history of the human race.’

Even Pasternak’s more vulgar traducers made some pretence of attacking him for his ideas. They did not whinny at his ‘nasal voice’ nor mock the infirmities of an elderly man (’the frail figure’, Mr Cooke went on to tell us, ‘pattered to the middle of the stage’). But the conclusion to the report must be quoted at greater length. Lord Russell was speaking of the dangers of chemical, bacteriological and nuclear warfare: ‘There is no end to what science can do by way of destruction, and also no end to what it can do the opposite way’:

There was a great surge of applause for this sentiment, and the stolid housekeepers pounded their hands in the hope that belief would create its object. The noble and ageing lord himself was seized with the same emotion, and what practical steps we could take to... bully the great protagonists into loving each other, were forgotten in a long and poignant passage about the shining alternative to the world we know...

Poverty was wholly unnecessary. ‘China, India and Africa could all be raised up to a standard of living that would equal that of the most prosperous countries... the things by which we stand together are infinitely more important than the things which divide us.’ Again another wave of wishful applause.

‘The brotherhood of man is an old idea and it has been propounded by very many wise men. Now it is the alternative to death.’

He clenched his bony hands again, to grasp the vision that eludes us all, not least our legislators, and begged them to go away and bring about an era of ‘happiness such as has never existed before... If we would, we could make life splendid and beautiful.’

He had done. The decent crowd clapped him all the way out on his careful legs...

Since that time the old philosopher has found others to stand on platforms beside him. But the questions raised by Lord Russell’s intervention and Mr Cooke’s handling of it still remain. And they are very many. Why, in 1955, was Lord Russell’s action an exception to the rule of intellectual passivity? (A fair number of ‘cultural workmen’ shared his opinions, but in the world’s ‘oldest democracy’ they felt that there was ‘nothing they could do’. Why?) What had become, in 1955, of the socialist generation of the 1935-45 [1] decade? And what of those whom Mr Cooke patronised as the ‘stolid housekeepers’, the ‘decent crowd'? These survivors of the victory of 1945 do not seem to have contracted out of political citizenship. How was it that Mr Cooke could assume, when writing for the favourite newspaper of British intellectuals, that the very picture of this ‘decent crowd’ listening to Lord Russell’s ‘Apocalypse’ would raise a sophisticated laugh? Could assume, moreover, a conditioned sensibility upon which he could play for known responses – which would endorse the ideas of the brotherhood of man and of human happiness as vieux jeux, [2] and would find the spectacle of an old humanist offering the prospect (the faint prospect) of progress to mankind as quaint and ineffectual?

The questions are related. They are the proper concern of this essay. What is argued here is that in the fifties there has been a polarisation of human consciousness which has corresponded to the polarisation of world power. The world orthodoxies have been constructed in mutual antagonism. In the Soviet Union the ideology is clearly defined, since it is enclosed by censorship, reinforced by repressive institutions and periodically confirmed or revised by Authority. In the ‘free world’ (or Natopolis) the centres of ideological orthodoxy are rarely defined. The diversity of intellectual trends within the orthodoxy, the indeterminate and shifting character of its boundaries, the existence of real centres of dissent (and the licence given to even Stalinist opposition) – all these conspire to create the central illusion of ‘Natopolitan’ culture, that there is in fact no orthodoxy but only an infinite variety of opinions among which each man is free to choose. But beneath this illusion there are both outer and inner compulsions which give to Natopolitan ideology its peculiar power.

Running across Europe there has been not only the frontier of power but also a cultural fault. And this fault has opened up within the minds of individual men on either side of the divide. Its location will be found among those assumptions about the nature of man, and about the way in which men make, or cannot make, their own history which underlie most disciplines. And while the pressures inducing conformity have at times appeared overwhelming on both sides, it has never been inevitable that individual minds should submit. In fact, the pure ‘Stalinist’, the pure ‘Natopolitan’, has been rare; there have been many intermediate positions within each pattern of default, and many stubborn centres of resistance. We do not introduce the term ‘Natopolitan’ as one more label for indiscriminate abuse, but to indicate the existence of an active ideological pattern.

This ideology is the active component of apathy, just as prevailing circumstances have provoked apathy as a passive response. It is an intellectual and cultural fact in its own right – a certain stance in relation to circumstances, a capitulation of the centres of agency. While the prevalence of this ideology of apathy endangers the world, it was not thought up by some master of deceit in a conscious plot to destroy the world. Rather, it grew by its own logic within a social context conducive to its growth. In its growth it went through two stages. In the first stage, responsible minds recoiled from a social reality which they found inexplicable or unbearable. The characteristic form of recoil was disillusion in Communism, so that by the mid-forties this disenchantment had become a central motif within Western culture. The resultant withdrawal has been reminiscent of the disillusion among the radical intelligentsia in Britain in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when, upon Napoleon’s ascendancy:

... all was quieted by iron bonds [3]
Of military sway. The shifting aims,
The moral interests, the creative might, [4]
The varied functions and high attributes
Of civil action, yielded to a power
Formal, and odious, and contemptible.
– In Britain ruled a panic dread of change;
The weak were praised, rewarded, and advanced;
And, from the impulse of a just disdain,
Once more did I retire into myself.

(Wordsworth, Excursion III, 821 et seq)

In the second stage, withdrawal leads on to capitulation to the status quo; it is proper to speak of a cultural default. Disenchantment ceases to be a recoil of the responsible in the face of difficult social experience; it becomes an abdication of intellectual responsibility in the face of all social experience. And, in the context of the Cold War, and of exhausted imperialism, the withdrawal or despair of the disenchanted was twisted – often by lesser men – into an apologia for complicity with reaction. This apologia was more than a cultural ‘norm’ – those loose assumptions and received ideas which the mind exposed in the fifties tended to take as ‘given’. It was an active cultural pattern, a logic which carried the mind down established grooves from one premise to the next, a drift of the sensibility. It remains the dominant ideology as we enter the sixties, and it tends towards the negation of man.

If history has repeated itself, it has most certainly done so as farce. Half a century, and years of self-examination, divide Wordsworth, the ardent revolutionary, from Wordsworth, the Laureate of Queen Victoria. In our time the reversion took place in a decade. Napoleonic disenchantment and Victorian conformity have been telescoped into one. Wordsworth’s Solitary and Dickens’ Mr Podsnap have inhabited a single skin.

‘The Menacing Shapes of Our Fever...’

To understand the first stage of this regress, we may turn to Auden’s Spain, which was published in pamphlet form in 1937. It was republished in the volume Another Time in 1940, with significant omissions and revisions. The poem is constructed in four movements. First, a series of stanzas whose cumulative historical impressionism brings the struggle of ‘today’ within the perspective of the evolution of civilisation. Second, a passage in which poet, scientist and poor invoke an amoral life-force to rescue them from their predicament; and the life-force responds by placing the responsibility for moral choice and action upon them ('I am whatever you do... I am your choice, your decision. Yes, I am Spain.’) The third, and central, movement of the poem follows immediately upon this reply:

Many have heard it on remote peninsulas,
Or sleepy plains, in the aberrant fisherman’s islands
Or the corrupt heart of the city,
Have heard and migrated like birds or the seeds of a flower.

They clung like birds to the long expresses that lurch
Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the alpine tunnel;
They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes. All presented their lives. [5]

On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot
Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe;
On that tableland scored by rivers,
Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever

Are precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
To the medicine ad and the brochure of winter cruises
Have become invading battalions;
And our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruin

Are projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb.
Madrid is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom
As the ambulance and the sandbag;
Our hours of friendship into a people’s army.

Tomorrow, perhaps the future... [6]

In the fourth movement we pass away, once again, from the Spanish war, into a passage of inventive impressionism (balancing the first movement) suggestive of an imagined socialist future; and this leads to the coda, which picks up once again the theme of the third movement, and which places ‘today’ in a critical poise of action and choice between yesterday and tomorrow:

Today the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
Today the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting

Today the makeshift consolations: the shared cigarette,
The cards in the candlelit barn, and the scraping concert,
The masculine jokes; today the
Fumbled and unsatisfactory embrace before hurting. [7]

The stars are dead. The animals will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.

The poem is commonly underestimated today. And readers of the amended version, as presented in Another Time (1949) and in the Collected Shorter Poems (1950), may be forgiven for overlooking its strengths. [8] The crucial section of the third movement now reads:

On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot
Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe;
On that tableland scored by rivers,
Our fever’s menacing shapes are precise and alive.

Tomorrow, perhaps the future... [9]

Two verses have been cut out, thereby excising in a single operation the fulcrum of the poem’s formal organisation and the focus of the preceding and succeeding imagery. Mr Auden cannot be exonerated from a calculated act of mutilation upon his own poem. [10]

His motives are not our immediate concern, although it should be noted that all his early poems were submitted to a similar process of political bowdlerisation. [11] The important point is that the stanzas were excised because they indicated an affirmation which, by 1940, Mr [12] Auden had abjured. In his earlier poems there is a fruitful ambiguity in his diagnosis of the human malaise. There is a running argument between the ‘change of heart’ invoked in ‘Sir, no man’s enemy...’ and the concept of man who ‘is changed by his living’ in the Chorus to The Dog Beneath the Skin:

Do not speak of a change of heart, meaning five hundred
a year and a room of one’s own,
As if that were all that is necessary...

The guilts and anxieties, the deformities of ‘love’, are seen within the context of a diseased society, which may only be healed by political revolution; and yet fascism and reaction are seen as the projection of neuroses, and revolution is envisaged as the product of an affirmation of love, both of which must originate from the individual heart. The ambiguity is productive of tensions in thought and feeling, and gives to some poems their probing, undoctrinaire, diagnostic tone; but insofar as it is the expression of irresolute thought and unresolved conflict it can also be felt as a limitation, the source of a slurring of definitions, abrupt shifts of focus, and evasions covered up by passages of hectoring or clever pastiche. [13] The importance of Spain is that Auden found in the Spanish Civil War a theme capable of bearing the full weight of this ambiguity and demanding a resolution.

This resolution was offered in the two verses excised. It was in Spain that the heart must be changed, and upon the outcome might depend the answer to the questions of poet, scientist and poor. The ‘meaning’ of history remains undefined because it has yet to find its definition in its outcome; and this outcome is not inevitable, but will be the product of human actions and choices which the Spanish War symbolises. The war is the objectification of the human malaise; but it is a malaise capable of cure, since men may remake their own nature in action. ‘Our thoughts have bodies’, and the guilts, neuroses and anxieties are objectified in the ‘invading battalions’ of fascism, while ‘love’ ('our moments of tenderness’) and the affirmative social values are objectified in the ‘people’s army’. If the source of the conflict may still be traced to the individual human heart, the issue must be decided in the Spanish theatre of war. And the decision, if favourable, may prove to be a watershed for human history and human nature alike. [14] ‘Tomorrow’ (’the walks by the lake... the bicycle races / Through the suburbs on summer evenings...’) may be an epoch of unheroic, but affirmative and untormented, social intercourse. There is no ambiguity. And seen within this context the refrain to the poem ('But today the struggle’) seems no more inappropriate than the refrain to Yeats’ Easter 1916. If the issue was indeed so pregnant with historical consequence, then the generation of ‘today’ might with reason feel called to endure sacrifice in the interests of ‘tomorrow’, and (but there are quicksands here) not feel too many scruples on the way: [15]

Not caring if the wind did now and then
Blow keen upon an eminence that gave
Prospects so large into futurity.

(Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805), X, 750) [16]

Auden cannot have been unaware of the significance of such a resolution – shedding light backwards upon his earlier work. And, in 1940, he had come to feel that this light was darkness. The reasons for this change lay in the international events of 1937 to 1939; among them, the Soviet purges and their repercussions throughout the international Communist movement, the debacle of Munich, the struggle for power within the Spanish Republican forces, the increasing ideological orthodoxy of the Popular Front, and the Russo-German pact of 1939. And, in the knowledge that world war was imminent, Auden wrote his poem, 1 September 1939.

This is a poem which expertly expresses the tensions of a mind in recoil from experiences too difficult and painful to admit of any easy resolution. But the shedding of the illusions of the thirties ('As the clever hopes expire / Of a low dishonest decade’) is perhaps too facile. (Which hopes? Were all the hopes dishonest? And can the poet’s personal responsibility be shuffled off so easily?) And from this there follows a rejection of the ‘meaning’ of history, which he had offered in Spain. If a meaning can be found, it is at best irrelevant, since beneath the sequence of cause and effect can be found an extra-historical cause in human nature:

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

The madness of European culture is no longer seen as the function of an acquisitive society; it is in the last analysis the function of man’s capacity for evil. Whence comes this evil? It is ‘the error bred in the bone / of each woman and each man’: self-love. Self-love may be rooted in the biological, psychological or moral nature of man – but we are recognisably entering within the pattern of traditional Christian doctrine and the locus of original sin. The remedy, if there is any remedy, must be in a change of heart: ‘We must love one another or die.’ But whence is this change to come, since both rulers and ruled (the ‘dense commuters’ and the ‘helpless governors’) are in common victims within the reciprocal circuit of evil? It can only come from outside the circuit – from healer, prophet or priest, or from the handful of disenchanted intellectuals who have seen through the lie:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

For a second time, the ambiguity of Auden’s earlier work is resolved. But the resolution contradicts at every point the resolution of Spain.

Let us look at the revision of that poem again: [17]

On that tableland scored by rivers,
Our fever’s menacing shapes are precise and alive. [18]

Nothing more: no Madrid, no invading battalions, no hours of friendship, no people’s army; no historic conflict between good and evil, neurosis and health, objectified in an actual political conflict. Although the structure of the poem is made irrelevant, and the preceding and succeeding imagery are deprived of their nexus, Auden felt it to be necessary to excise the notions of purposive historical commitment and of the redemption of man through political action. [19] ‘Our fever’ is now undiagnosed; it might, indeed, be ‘the error bred in the bone’. Spain is now the symbol not of a particular and critical predicament of men in history but of ‘the human predicament’.

‘And, from the impulse of a just disdain, / Once more did I retire within myself’: in 1 September 1939 Auden had reached this point of withdrawal. Nor is there dishonour here. The extent of the European disaster in 1939 could not be medicated with some cheap intellectual balm. But if it is true that ‘We must love one another or die’, this is still only to state the problem; the problem itself – how this ‘love’ is to be expressed in human relations and embodied in history – remains. The central place of cultural conflict is the place where the arguments of ‘love’ and the arguments of necessity contend. But if it is part of the ‘human predicament’ that love will always be overruled by power, then the affirmation of ‘love’ may appear only as a personal resolution: ‘love’ appears as a state of personal experience, but no longer as an effective and active social attitude. And it is here that the second stage of regress begins, where recoil can lead on to capitulation. Already we can detect elements which were later twisted into the discrete ideology of intellectual alienation and of quietism, the apologia for apathy. In the ‘dense commuters’ we have already a suggestion of Mr Cooke’s ‘stolid housekeepers’ and ‘decent crowd’. In the ‘helpless governors’ we have ‘the vision that eludes us all, not least our legislators’. In the ironic ‘Just’ who see through the ‘lie of Authority’ but who are powerless to offer any challenge we have foreshadowed the attitude which informed the ‘Natopolitan’ intellectual of the fifties.

It is not the authenticity of Mr [20] Auden’s experience which we are disputing, but the default implicit in his response. There is, after all, some difference between confronting a problem and giving it up. The giving up of the problem was punctuated by his emigration to America. In the interval between 1939 and 1945, when many of the housekeepers and commuters were showing an affirming flame on the seven fronts of fire and oppression unleashed by the Spanish defeat, Mr [21] Auden’s own flame had been dowsed: he had surrendered to ‘negation and despair’. He emerged in 1945 as a sort of unauthorised literary amanuensis of a Kierkegaardian Mr Eliot. Mr Cooke’s smile at Lord Russell’s vision (any vision) of human brotherhood finds its sanction in this – or a dozen other equally derivative passages:

In our bath, or the subway, or the middle of the night,
We know very well we are not unlucky but evil,
That the dream of a Perfect State or No State at all,
To which we fly for refuge, is a part of our punishment.
Let us therefore be contrite but without anxiety,
For Powers and Times are not gods but mortal gifts from God;
Let us acknowledge our defeats but without despair,
For all societies and epochs are transient details,
Transmitting an everlasting opportunity
That the Kingdom of Heaven may come, not in our Present
And not in our Future, but in the Fullness of Time.
Let us Pray.

The courageous individual flame, burning in despite of a seemingly incomprehensible and evil world, has become an acquiescent prayer; and a prayer for something whose topography in Time and chronology in Space is portentously evasive.

And here we must effect a transition from Mr [22] Auden’s personal regression, and the way in which, within a particular social context, the regression exemplified in his case has been twisted into the pattern of Natopolitan ideology. For this most materialist of civilisations, characterised by conspicuous consumption within and nuclear power strategy without, has secreted a protective ideology so metaphysical in form and so purged of social referents that it must make the Yogi ashamed of depending upon a bed of nails. The most marvellous thing about a strict adherence to the doctrine of original sin (in its Manichaean connotation) [23] is that there is nothing to be done about it. The sin is there; and to attempt any large-scale demolition project would be blasphemy. The quietist knows that ‘all societies and epochs are transient details’: he has attained through meditation and spiritual exercise to the great Natopolitan truth first stumbled on by Henry Ford: ‘History is bunk.’

And this truth leads on to a moral determinism no less rigid than in orthodox Stalinism. If, in the one, evil may be justified in the name of ‘historical necessity’, then in the other it is accepted as a necessary part of the ‘human condition’. It is not a question of the ‘loss of vision'; granted the premises, any affirmative social vision is suspect (Auden’s Herod was, of course, a liberal humanist). At a certain point in the declension, the blaring moral loudspeakers ('progress’, ‘humanism’, ‘history’ and the rest) were simply switched off with a tired gesture, since if evil is a necessary part of the human condition there is not much point in bursting one’s moral boilers about it.

Within this regression, we can understand why Auden deleted from Collected Shorter Poems the stanza of 1 September 1939 which embodied its strongest affirmation:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police: [24]
We must love one another or die.

It was futile (perhaps dangerous) to try to ‘undo the folded lie’, futile to try to speak to the ‘sensual man-in-the-street’. Art and social reality had divided into two worlds, between which communication was impossible or purposeless:

No more movements. No more manifestoes. Every poet stands alone... The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow poets. (WH Auden in Poets at Work (1948))

It was also futile to affirm ‘love’ in its active social connotations; hence that retreat, in Auden’s subsequent verse, into an abstract capitalised ‘Love’, undefined by any context of human obligation. And in this, once again, Auden exemplifies a more general pattern of regression.

Among the middle-aged disenchanted, only one manifestation of ‘evil’ really provokes a sharp, engaged response. Since disillusion in Communism stands at the very origin of the pattern of default, it becomes a psychological necessity for this disillusion to be continually renewed. As in Christian ritual the God must be crucified anew each year, so in Natopolitan ritual the Communist God must be seen each year to have ‘failed’. But the nature of the requisite failure becomes, with every year, more complex. On one level, the Soviet Union, the nation of moon rockets and gargantuan industrial growth, is all too successful. On another level, the failure of Stalinist ideology – its reduction to a perfunctory state orthodoxy, riddled with contradictions and in imminent expectation of general disintegration – is so manifest that any critique appears superfluous. But it is not Stalin, nor Mr Khrushchev, nor even Mr Gomulka [25] who must be seen to have failed, so much as the entire historic struggle to attain a classless society with which the particular, and more or less ephemeral, systems of Communist Party organisation and doctrine have been associated. What must be seen to have ‘failed’ is the aspiration itself: the revolutionary potential – not within Russian society alone – but within any society, within man himself.

Some years ago the occasion for the Cold War became forgotten. It now commands the lives of mankind through its own inertia. The permanent war economy is one reason for its existence; the rivalry of military and political strategies has its own developing knowledge. And increasingly, within Natopolitan culture it is the idea and not the actuality of Communism which is the point of origin for a permanent defensive ideology. The ritual demolitions of Marxism perform necessary theological functions. They would remain a necessity to Natopolis, as a Satanic idea, even if the Soviet Union were to vanish from the Earth. And the remaining intellectual apologists for Stalinism are as necessary to the functioning of the cultural life of the Free World as was the odd atheist, witch or Saracen within mediŠval Christendom. [26]

For the most part, the characteristic tone of the Natopolitan ideology is one of tired disenchantment. It is not necessary to follow the logic to its end: the Manichaean doctrine [27] of original sin is not obligatory – some rationalist surrogate can make do, such as the doctrine of original acquisitiveness, or of original sexual repression, or the original gullibility of mass man. It is sufficient that the broad prospects of social aspiration be barred, and a notice in Gothic script – No Through Road – be nailed across. Its tone is that of a generation which has ‘had’ all the large optimistic abstractions, and has stopped its ears to the booming ‘rhetoric of time’. This tone has permeated the arts and such social sciences as it recognises. But the utilitarian sciences, which make the Bomb and the conspicuously-consumed goods, are dismissed as irrelevant. Herod (the liberal) is never more boring than when he appears in the guise of the ameliorative man of science, offering automation or improved methods of birth control as remedies for ‘the human condition’. Did not Mr Eliot see through all this in The Rock?

O weariness of men who turn from GOD
To the grandeur of your mind and the glory of your action,
To arts and inventions and daring enterprises,
To schemes of human greatness thoroughly discredited...
Binding the earth and the water to your service,
Exploiting the seas and developing the mountains,
Dividing the stars into common and preferred,
Engaged in devising the perfect refrigerator,
Engaged in working out a rational morality,
Engaged in printing as many books as possible,
Plotting of happiness and flinging empty bottles,
Turning from your vacancy to fevered enthusiasm
For nation or race or what you call humanity... [28]

And hence that schizophrenic feature of Natopolitan ideology, the ‘two cultures'; the one a vast Cain armed with the Bomb, the other an acquiescent, pietistic Abel, baring his genteel hair-shirt for the blow:

O do not falter at the last request
But, as the huge deformed head rears to kill,
Answer its craving with a clear I Will.

This tone of disenchantment has, finally, permeated the ‘liberal imagination’ and such vestigial intellectual activities as are associated with the orthodox Labour movement. It has cohabited with Herod for a long time in the New Statesman. And (through one of those historical jokes which it is usual for Marxists to announce with the preface: ‘It is no accident that...’) it has fitted itself out with a permanent establishment in Encounter. And Encounter is subsidised by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. And the Congress for Cultural Freedom is subsidised by the Ford Foundation. So that Mr [29] Stephen Spender, co-editor of Encounter and one-time author of ‘oh young men oh comrades’, is now a gaffer on the great international pipeline which pumps out to the remotest province of Natopolis the message of the Founder of the Brave New World: ‘History is Bunk.’

Inside Which Whale?

There are no good causes left, not because of any lack of causes, but because within Natopolitan culture the very notion of a good cause is a source of embarrassment. ‘The passive attitude will come back’, Orwell predicted in Inside the Whale (which was published in 1940 – the same year in which Auden revised Spain):

The passive attitude will come back, and it will be more consciously passive than before. Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism – robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale – or rather, admit that you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it.

But, as Orwell reminded, the yearning for the Jonah myth is not heroic; ‘the whale’s belly is simply a womb big enough for an adult’:

There you are... with yards of blubber between yourself and reality, able to keep up an attitude of the completest indifference, no matter what happens... [30] Short of being dead, it is the final, unsurpassable stage of irresponsibility.

And yet Inside the Whale must itself be read as an apology for quietism. It is true that the attitude which Orwell commended in Henry Miller – ‘fiddling with his face towards the flames’ – may be seen as a gesture of personal dissociation from the ‘world-process’, even as an act of protest. But the fiddling of Henry Miller is close to the exchange of ironic points of light between the Just. And in this essay we can observe the way in which Orwell’s mind, exposed to the same European disasters as was Auden’s, entered into a similar pattern of default. Orwell’s profound political pessimism tended in the same direction as Auden’s spiritual pessimism, and like his it was later twisted (1984 helped to give the twist) into the pattern of Natopolitan ideology. This does not mean that Orwell was wrong to state the problem: in 1940 it was surely more honourable to state it than to evade it with Communist apologetics. But once again, at a certain point the problem was simply given up. [31]

We do not mean that this pessimism was without adequate cause. [32] Homage to Catalonia gives a part of the background; the collapse of the Popular Front gives the rest. 1940 was a nadir of hope which may be compared with 1948-51. And in Orwell’s personal experience this meant also broken friendships, the failure of years of endeavour, daily exposure to fraudulent propaganda from the Left as well as from the Right. [33] We must give credit to the stubborn criticism, the assertion of the values [34] of intellectual integrity, which Orwell also voiced [35] throughout the 1936-46 decade. But since the form of Orwell’s pessimism has contributed a good deal to the form of a generalised pessimism which has outlasted the context in which it arose, and which has become dominant within Natopolitan ideology, it is necessary to examine the premises. [36] The presumption of a determined pattern of institutional change for the worse turns out, at bottom, to be uncommonly like the assumption of original sin. The premise is found in the phrase – ‘Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles’ – so reminiscent of Auden’s dismissal of a ‘low, dishonest decade’. ‘Swindle’ is an imprecise tool of analysis, a noise of disgust. Orwell had first used the notion that ‘progress is a swindle’ in The Road to Wigan Pier, in the context of his polemic against the euphoric scientific Utopianism of Wells; now the notion is attached to ‘progress’ at large, and, in particular, to all manifestations of Communism.

It is true, of course, that Orwell was offering an essay in individual interpretation: his style is aggressively idiosyncratic and avowedly tendentious. Such an essay is an attempt at instant contemporary diagnosis of the kind which is performed in an emergency ward where there is no time for strict clinical (or in this case historical) discipline. But how many of its historical judgements can be taken seriously? ‘In 1930 the English Communist Party was a tiny, barely legal organisation, whose main activity was libelling the Labour Party.’ How many readers, carried forward by Orwell’s gruff assertiveness, notice the Establishment odour of that ‘tiny, barely legal'? And how about ‘libelling the Labour Party'? How many readers hesitate for long enough to put that into context, to recall that in 1930 the Labour Party was officered by MacDonald, Snowden, Jimmy Thomas, and that Oswald Mosley was in the Cabinet – a party rather difficult for a socialist to ‘libel'?

Throughout Inside the Whale the same tone of wholesale, indiscriminate rejection can be heard whenever Communist ideas or organisation come under discussion:

The years 1935-39 were the period of anti-Fascism and the Popular Front, the heyday of the Left Book Club, when red duchesses and ‘broad-minded’ deans toured the battlefields of the Spanish war and Winston Churchill was the blue-eyed boy of the Daily Worker.

Yes? True, there was one duchess and one dean, and the Daily Worker on occasion found Churchill a useful stick to beat Chamberlain with. But was this all that anti-Fascism, the Popular Front and the Left Book Club movement added up to? Of course, Orwell himself did not think so, although the reader could scarcely guess from this that The Road to Wigan Pier was one of the most successful and widely discussed of Left Books.

What was, in 1940, a provocation, is accepted by many, in 1960, as a sober historical evaluation. Indeed, one wonders what on earth the postwar generation can make of the ‘history’ presented, out of context and out of chronological sequence, in the Penguin Selected Essays; it must appear like an endless football game in which one side (Fascism, Reaction) is invisible, while the other side (Anti-Fascism, Communism, Progress) spend their whole time fouling each other or driving the ball into their own goal. Orwell is like a man who is raw all down one side and numb on the other. He is sensitive – sometimes obsessionally so – to the least insincerity upon his left, but the inhumanity of the right rarely provoked him to a paragraph of polemic. To the right ('decent people’, ‘average thinking person’), every allowance; to the left ('bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of “progress” like bluebottles to a dead cat’), no quarter. What is noticeable about Orwell’s characterisation of Communism in Inside the Whale is that time after time his prejudices are angry, antagonistic responses to the ruling Left orthodoxy, so laying the basis for a new orthodoxy-by-opposition. He assumes Communism to be a Bad Thing, driven forward by the mainspring of its own bad will – the power-drives of the Russian state and the deracinated romanticism of Western intellectuals. A sentence such as this: ‘The Communist movement in Western Europe began as a movement for the violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into an instrument of Russian foreign policy’, contains a half-truth which, at a certain level of policy and of ideology, is an aid to the interpretation of the evolution of the Third International. But at another level none of the historical questions are asked. How far was this ‘degeneration’ caused by (or accelerated by?) the European counter-revolution which culminated in Fascism? How far was it fostered by the active anti-Soviet policies of Nazi Germany, Conservative Britain? How far, within this context, did the Communist argument – that the ‘heartland’ of Socialism must be defended – have validity? How far did the foreign policy of Litvinov deserve to command the support of Western socialists, as against that of Ribbentrop, Laval or Sir Samuel Hoare? How far, anyway, is it a statement about the deformities of the movement, but not about the nature and function of the movement itself?

But to all such questions the tone of disgust (’swindle’) was sufficient reply. In consequence, the complex and contradictory character of the Communist movement, the inner tensions, were never seen. Who would suppose, from Orwell’s indiscriminate rejection, that there were many Communists from Tom Wintringham to Ralph Fox who shared his criticisms of orthodoxy? That all Communist intellectuals were not public schoolboys with a ‘taste for violence’, that they were not all ‘squashily pacifist’ and ‘the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled'? That, within the rigid organisation and orthodoxy, the Communist movement in the thirties (and forties) retained (in differing degrees in different contexts) a profoundly democratic content, in the innumerable voluntary initiatives and the deep sense of political responsibility of the rank and file? But Orwell was blind to all such discriminations; and in this he anticipated the wholesale rejection of Communism which became a central feature of Natopolitan ideology. And this failure was important, not only because it helped to blind a later generation to the forces within Communism making for its transformation, but because it denied the possibility of hope within the pattern of social change wherever Communist influence could be detected. This denial of hope [37] had the force of an irrational taboo; and, as Orwell himself noted, ‘even a single taboo can have an all-round crippling effect upon the mind’ (The Prevention of Literature). In this case the taboo contaminated all confidence in social man and imprisoned Orwell in the negations of 1984.

We should also note another characteristic device of Orwell’s polemic. He continually replaced the examination of objective situations by the imputation of motive. If it is assumed that Communism was a Bad Thing ('Why did these young men turn towards anything so alien as Russian Communism?’), the problem is to discover the motivations which made intellectuals turn towards it. The motives to which they themselves pretended are, of course, suspect. [38] Intellectuals in the thirties (Orwell discovered) were in revolt because of the ‘softness and security of life in England’ of the ‘soft-boiled emancipated middle class’ (notice the anti-intellectual tone of soft-boiled, and that emancipated has become a sneer-word). Internationalism was really the patriotism of the deracinated, the appeal to collective security was really ‘warmongering’, and the Left was Reaction. Ironically, Orwell was providing arguments which later became prominent in Natopolitan double-think.

In support of this interpretation, Orwell offered a stanza from the concluding section of Auden’s Spain and a gloss upon it: [39]

Today the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
Today the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.

The... stanza is intended as a sort of thumbnail sketch of a day in the life of a ‘good Party man’. In the morning a couple of political murders, a ten-minutes’ interlude to stifle ‘bourgeois’ remorse, and then a hurried luncheon and a busy afternoon and evening chalking walls and distributing leaflets. All very edifying. But notice the phrase ‘necessary murder’. It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men... To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person... Mr Auden’s brand of amoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. [40]

This is, of course, sheer caricature; but since Auden had himself renounced his earlier political allegiance at the time when this essay was printed he doesn’t appear to have bothered to reply. (He did, however, alter the second line to ‘the fact of murder’.) Hence Orwell’s judgement passed into Natopolitan folklore: Kingsley Amis made some use of it in a Fabian pamphlet on socialism and the intellectuals in 1957. In the context of the poem, which is about Spain and the volunteers who went there, the first two lines have got little to do with the life of ‘a good party man’ (which Auden never pretended to be) and nothing to do with ‘political murders’. The volunteers who joined the Spanish Republican cause (of whom Orwell himself was one) were committed, as soldiers, to the activity of ‘murder'; Auden no doubt chose the word with care to emphasise, exactly, that soldiering, in whatever cause, is not ‘all very edifying’ and that killing entails an ‘acceptance of guilt'; but this ‘murder’ Auden then believed was ‘necessary’ because – as the entire structure of the poem in its first version worked to establish – he believed that the Spanish War was a confrontation of critical historical importance. [41]

It is true that specious apologetics and romantic attitudes were to be found amongst the Left intelligentsia in the thirties. Orwell succeeds in pinpointing those which most irritated him. What he does not do is suggest that any other, more honourable, motivations might have coexisted with the trivia. And in this he falsifies the record. Nor does he tell us anything of the actual choices with which the intellectuals of his generation were faced within an objective context of European crisis. Popular Front, Left Book Club and the rest are seen, not as a political response within a definite political context, but as the projection of the neuroses and petty motives of a section of the English middle class.

It was in this essay, more than any other, that the aspirations of a generation were buried; [42] not only was a political movement, which embodied much that was honourable, buried, but so also was the notion of disinterested dedication to a political cause. Orwell, by indicting the cause as a swindle and by ridiculing the motives of those who supported it, unbent the very ‘springs of action’. He sowed within the disenchanted generation the seeds of a profound self-distrust. Socialist idealism was not only discounted, it was also explained away, as the function of middle-class guilt, frustration or ennui. ‘A “change of heart"’ – as Orwell reminded us in his earlier essay on Dickens – ‘is in fact the alibi of people who do not wish to endanger the status quo.’ But so also can be a pessimistic view of a determined pattern of institutional change for the worse (a ‘world-process’) – which at bottom reveals itself as an assumption of original sin, or of the original malleability, stupidity and capacity for self-delusion of men in the mass. [43]

The final consequence of disenchantment was delayed. Europe itself was beleaguered by the forces of negation. The postwar generation, while indoctrinated thoroughly with the legend of the ‘swindle’ of the thirties, has only a hazy understanding of the forties. Perhaps it is necessary to recall that at one time nearly all Europe was lost to Fascism, and that Jewish people, trade unionists (people), liberal intellectuals (people), and Communists (people) were – well, suffering. The war was nearly lost. If it had been lost it would probably have made a difference – even though ‘all... epochs are transient details’, we would have had to die in that epoch. It was not won by quietism, but by people who still held, in less articulate form, to Auden’s ‘illusion’ that they were, willy-nilly, actors in a critical contest in history, and who consciously accepted their part in the guilt of ‘necessary murder’. Few of those who fought had any ‘taste for violence’. Communists were not somewhere else when the trigger was pulled – and the greatest influx of intellectuals into Europe’s Communist parties was in this period and not in the thirties. Between 1941 and 1945 Inside the Whale got lost. [44] People thought that they were making the ‘world-process’ – not as they would wish to do, but in an extremity of necessity. And the voices of personal motive tended to get drowned (dangerously so, as subsequent Communist history shows) in the winds of the historical imperative.

It was after the war and after Hiroshima, as the Four Freedoms fell apart and the Cold War commenced, that people turned back to Inside the Whale. Once again, disillusion in the power politics of Communism was felt more keenly (and seen more clearly) than in the power politics of the West. Prompted by Orwell and by Koestler, the disenchanted fastened on the problem of motive. All the obstinate questions of actual context – Had they really been wrong to regard the Spanish War as a critical prelude to world war? Could Western liberals (and quietists) so wholly absolve themselves from responsibility for the postwar evolution of Stalinism? – these could be set on one side. It was assumed that whatever happened necessarily happened in this way; that because the democratic elements in the Communist tradition were submerged by the authoritarian, this was inevitably so, and revealed the ‘true’ character of Communism; and that whatever could be observed in Communist history or practice which could not be assimilated to an essential diabolism must – by definition – have been attached to the movement by accident or deceit. And the disenchanted turned to rend the Stalinist apologist as the author of their betrayal. He had asked for it, it is true, and was sometimes the immediate agent. But the real author was inextricably involved in the context of European revolution and counter-revolution, in the backward Russian villages, in the jails of Horthy, in the desperation [45] of the oppressed and the unemployed. But the disenchanted failed to distinguish between their own perfectionist illusions and the aspirations which had fed them. It was a long job to ‘unearth the whole offence’ by ‘accurate scholarship’. Easier to dismiss the whole episode as a ‘swindle’ and the motives which had led to their involvement as corrupt.

It was easier, also, for the disenchanted intellectual to see himself as the helpless victim of a ‘world-process’. It was hopeless to attempt any rally of the disenchanted –

For by superior energies; more strict
Affiance in each other; faith more firm
In their unhallowed principles, the bad
Have fairly earned a victory o'er the weak,
The vacillating, inconsistent good.

(Wordsworth, Excursion, IV, 304 et seq)

Disillusion, reason, self-interest – all seemed to lead to passivity. A ‘world-process’ plus corrupt motives equals original sin. ‘All societies and epochs are transient details...’ turns out to be much the same as ‘progress and reaction’ are ‘swindles’. Auden and Orwell had converged at a common point. Whether you are inside a whale or regard all whales as transient details you will not bother much about navigation.

Somewhere around 1948 the real whale of Natopolis swam along this way through the seas of the Cold War. After watching the splashings about of the disenchanted, with mean speculation in its small eyes, it opened its jaws and gulped – not, indeed, so that the intellectuals could sit in a distinguished posture in its belly, but in order to add nourishment to its digestive system. The reduction of political idealism to suspect motive was a welcome titbit. By the fifties, literature from Dostoyevsky to Conrad had been ransacked for confirmation. Psychologists were called in to testify. Novels, plays and theses were written, displaying not only Communism but also radicalism as projections of the neuroses of maladjusted intellectuals. The theme entered the repertoire of Hollywood spy dramas. The intellectual stood appalled before the seduction of his own more generous impulses. The least chirrup of his undernourished social conscience was silenced lest it should turn out to be a ‘taste for violence’ or a vestige of guilt. ‘And behind that again’ – warned Mr Kingsley Amis – ‘lies perhaps your relations with your parents.’ The Natopolitan intellectual was disabled by self-distrust no less than the Stalinist intellectual was disabled by fear of reverting to bourgeois modes of thought. The very fact of an intellectual espousing any public cause (unless as a career politician) was enough to touch off suspicion. The Western disenchanted delivered themselves over, by their own hand and in confessional mood, to McCarthyism, just as an earlier generation of Communist intellectuals had, by their capitulation before the ‘infallible’ party, delivered themselves over to Zhdanov and to Beria. In Natopolitan culture today, no swear-word is more devastating than ‘romantic’, just as the ‘Utopian’ or ‘idealist’ is the butt of Stalinist abuse. It was left to Mr Amis to make the ultimate definition of political romanticism: ‘an irrational capacity to become inflamed by interests and causes that are not one’s own, that are outside oneself’ (Socialism and the Intellectuals, 1957). Self-interest is not only comfortable: it is also wholesome and sane and does not make revolutions. The aspirations of two decades were put out of their misery without so much as a whimper. [46]

It was a repudiation of responsibility, a trahison des clercs, as abject as any that had gone before: not the repudiation of Stalinism, but the inert surrender to the established facts of Natopolis: not the discovery that the motives of some men were wrong, but the capitulation to Eliot’s sophistry in which human motives, in an affirmative social context, must always be wrong. And yet it was from the lampoons of the disenchanted that the postwar generation picked up bits of ‘history’. [47] The revolt of Oxford intellectuals in the thirties, one young socialist tells us, ‘(though quite sincere) was safe, like the tantrums of a spoilt child’:

You could yell and scream in the nursery – because you knew the nursery walls were built to last. You could even kick and scratch old Nanny – because you knew she would never desert you and would even forgive you in the end. (David Marquand in the Manchester Guardian, 18 August 1958)

The self-emasculated had perhaps received the shabby epitaph which they deserved. They had passed on to the next generation only the great [48] negative of impotence.

But it is not the epitaph which the historical thirties deserved, any more than the self-flagellation of Wordsworth’s Solitary is a true comment upon the men of the Corresponding Societies. It may be years before an objective judgement upon the period can be made. It will not be made until speculations upon motive are placed firmly back into [49] the whole context of the time. Men were not placed in some pure climate of choice, but in a context of savage counter-revolution and military politics which none had chosen. If their choices had been wiser, world war might conceivably have been averted or limited. If their actions had been more self-centred, then the war would certainly have been lost. And it is difficult to see how the evidence of the thirties and forties (taken together) can be read as an irrevocable verdict upon the darkness of the human heart. The worst evil was defeated. And if every form of evil – power-lust, sadism and the corrosion of humanism into abstractions of power – were displayed on the side of the victor, so also was self-sacrifice, heroism and every generous quality in superabundance. The annals of Communism alone contain enough martyrs to furnish a cycle of religions. More than a sound of mockery should come down to us from Jarama Ridge and the concentration camps. In our recoil from the oppressors we forget the integrity of the oppressed. If good, wise and great went to the wall – some to face the firing squads of their own side – we forget that this death was also an affirmation:

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

The Teeth of the Children

From small change, large supplies. Only a minority of the intellectuals of the thirties were actively associated with Communism. Only a minority of these followed through the whole declension from disenchantment to acquiescent quietism. But it is true that the shape of cultural history is decided by minorities. And it was the default of the disenchanted which gave to Natopolitan ideology its form. Their flight from humanism did not take place in some vacant plot but inside the whale of Western capitalism. And upon it the old whale grew fat.

It has happened before that the revolutionary, disenchanted or tamed in youth, has become in middle age the apologist of reaction. His arguments are the more persuasive, since they arise not from self-interest but from despair. They pollute the forces of change at their very source, casting a blight upon hope. The disenchanted revolutionary has seen the Gorgon’s head and been visited by the ultimate horror. His negation falls like a chill upon the rebel and absolves the oppressor from his guilt. Lest the children of the next generation be visited with a like horror the penitent goes among them with ashes on his head. At length he is pardoned and appointed tutor to the children of the King.

The disenchanted did not choose this function, nor were they consciously chosen. Their despair was authentic and the reasons for it were confirmed in the era of the Rajk trial and of Stalin’s Birthday. Because Communism had ‘failed’ it was the more easy to deny all notions of social progress. Central to all was the motif of revolutionary disillusion. A complex pattern of interaction can be seen – as one mind abandoned one position, another mind was already preparing the evacuation of the next. [50] John Dos Passos’ young man found that his adventures ended in a squalid betrayal in Spain; Hemmingway’s bell tolled his knell. Orwell found confirmation of his ‘world-process’ in the Managerial Revolution of the ex-Trotskyist, James Burnham; and in the writing of the ex-Communist, Arthur Koestler, he found confirmation of the corruption of human motive. By 1946 politics appeared to him as ‘a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia’ (Politics and the English Language). 1984 was the product not of one mind, but of a culture.

After the Solitary, Mr Podsnap. The mind, deprived of faith, sinks back exhausted upon the well-sprung sophisms of the past. In some it was a simple reversion to an older pattern of response which had coexisted with the new. Just as Orwell had noted in Auden the persistence of the Boy Scout, so Mr [51] Gollancz had noted, in his Preface to The Road to Wigan Pier the ‘compulsion’ within Orwell to ‘conform to the mental habits of his class’. It is present in all his early writing, not only in his honest recognition of his own class prejudices, but also in unspoken attitudes which inform more active judgements. The genuine working-class intellectual (he wrote, in Wigan Pier):

... is one of the finest types of man we have. I can think of some I have met whom not even the most hidebound Tory could help liking and admiring.

And, implied in this, the supreme commendation: Good man! – make him an NCO! By 1941, in England Your England, he was writing in a manner ('left-wingers... chipping away at English morale’, ‘anti-British’, ‘intellectual sabotage’, ‘a modern nation cannot afford... them’) which it is difficult to forgive. This was not all that he was writing. But it is important to note the drift which, even where it had positive aspects, made easier an accommodation with traditional ideas and institutions.

The ways in which Natopolitan accommodation took place were various; reversion to nationalism was only one. In some minds, accommodation was only partial – various permutations of vestigial faith and new traditionalism were scattered through our culture. In some places the forms of liberalism were contained within overall defeatism; in others important radical campaigns were fought (often on ‘personal’, ‘non-political’, causes, such as the repeal of capital punishment) within the margin of the general retreat. As we entered the fifties the retreat began to look like a rout. The arts, the press, the BBC, the universities, the Labour benches – each had their quota of Southeys.

It became difficult to distinguish between old disenchanted (whose capitulation had been accompanied with pain and hesitation) and new Natopolitan (who had absorbed the arguments of despair by rote). Both were united in scorn of ‘those darling dodos’ who were stuck fast in the humanist illusions of the thirties.

Custom, Law, the Monarchy, the Church, the State, the Family – all came flooding back. All were indices of the supreme good – stability. A new sociology of adjustment was born. That mercurial quantity, [52] human passion, must somehow be ‘fixed’ in a solution of social stasis; even personal relations came to be seen as ‘behaviour patterns’ within ‘institutions’. The relapse of Sue Bridehead into a tormented orthodoxy (in the final part of Jude the Obscure) prefigured the regression of our time. Sociologists, psychologists and husbands discovered that women are ‘different'; and, under cover of talk about ‘equality in difference’, the claim of women to full human equality with men [53] was denied. But if old traditions were revived, they were worn with a new sophistication – like junk jewellery, which everyone knows is worthless, but which matches the contemporary mode. No one believed in the divine right of kings, of course; but the state ritual of Monarchy might ‘fix’ or sublimate uglier irrational drives among the vulgar. It contributed to stability. Perhaps the supreme essay in the new socio-theology was provided, in 1953, by two former Leftists, Mr Michael Young and an American, Professor Edward Shils. They acclaimed ‘the assimilation of the working class into the moral consensus of British society’ (where was it before?) as ‘the great collective achievement of modern times’:

Moreover, many British intellectuals who in the 1920s and 1930s had been as alienated and cantankerous as any, returned to the national fold during the War.

(Chamberlain and Mr Godfrey Winn had been inside the ‘national fold'; the Orwell of Wigan Pier – and the working class – had been without.) As a result of this happy gathering of the strayed sheep, ‘Britain came into the Coronation period with a degree of moral consensus such as few large societies have ever manifested’. Hence the Coronation of the Queen was a ‘great act of national communion’, a celebration of the supreme value, the Family: ‘one family was knit together with another in one great national family through identification with the monarchy’:

Devotion to the Royal Family... does mean in a very direct way devotion to one’s own family, because the values embodied in each are the same. [54]

Each one of these withdrawals commenced with an attempt to correct a balance which the thirties had set awry – a just sense of real traditions and strengths which the iconoclasts had ignored, a healthy rejection of utilitarian attitudes. But because they were contained within no affirmative framework, the balance simply slumped into worse disequilibrium at the other side. In every field the same withdrawal. When Raymond Williams, in 1958, opened some windows to let out the fug, the reviewer of Culture and Society in the Manchester Guardian (Anthony Hartley) advised ‘both Mr Williams and anyone else whose profession, roughly speaking, is thinking’ to ‘stop lying awake at nights worrying about themselves, society and democracy and try to work a little harder at their job’. Solemn historians and social scientists assured us that Chinese peasants and Russian sailors would never have revolted if intellectuals had not dropped the seed of maladjustment in underprivileged soil. Revolutionary ideas were middle-class ‘constructs'; they could never be engendered of their own accord within the soil of working-class culture, where all ideas and relations are dense, local, particular, and inarticulate. Middle-class intellectuals, alarmed at their own innate tendencies to deracination, pressed their noses against the windows of Working-Men’s Institutes and rotting housing estates, seeking to gain vicarious participation in the rituals of the dense and the concrete. Every Marxist term was driven from polite conversation except one: alienation. And alienation was divorced from Marx’s context of ownership and class, and posed as a contagious disease of modern man, whose carrier was the intellectual. [55] The intellectual had no duty to society more important than restraining himself. He must sit on his own head.

All this, also, the whale regarded with approval. For almost a decade it was able to swallow and digest most things which came its way. Only when the intellectuals had fled to the institutional security of its stomach did they notice that in the darkness there was concealed a fellow-traveller: the hydrogen bomb. Every time the whale lurched, intellectual and bomb rolled on the floor together. Only then did some of them start the long climb out.

But it is not true that all of them were unwitting fellow-travellers. Some knew about the passenger, and had arranged to travel that way. ‘Unacted desire breeds pestilence’, warned Blake; and as the thwarted [56] aspirations at the source of the romantic movement gave rise to more than one morbid growth within Victorian culture, so this can also be seen in our own time. Quietism is only one step removed from misanthropy. If ‘all epochs... are transient details’ it can (although it need not) follow that human compassion in any active form is a waste of energy. No traffic need take place between the world of inner experience and that of outer conformity. However pretentious the spiritual drama, no action need result. We end as we began, with the same people drinking cocktails in the same room in the same way. (They have learned, perhaps, to put up with their dislike of each other, especially within marriage; but only the very rare individual need actually go somewhere and get eaten by ants.) [57] ‘Detachment / From self and from things and from persons’ can afford to regard with disinterest the preparations for a nuclear holocaust. And this, if it comes, will come – not in some great act of passion – but because men (West and East) have lost all sense of their real being in a void of abstract words. The affirmatives will corrode: the negatives remain. The bomb will be sent on its way in the name of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or the Love that Passeth All Understanding.

The inner meaning of our time might be disclosed in a critical history of the word ‘love’, in its social connotations; from the unqualified affirmation of Blake (’to Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love’) to the active moral energies of Wordsworth ('For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood / Upon our side, we who were strong in love!’), to the ambiguities [58] of the early Auden, the guilt and morbid undertones of Graham Greene ('Why, he wondered, swerving the car to avoid a dead pye-dog, do I love this place so much?’), the prevarications and negations of Eliot ('Wait without love / For love would be love of the wrong thing’), and the abstract capitalised ‘Love’ of later Auden. In its latest context the word is so purged of human associations and social referents that it can be taken as no more than a vague acquiescence in the will of God. The central affirmative of our culture has crumbled to a handful of semantic dust. [59]

It was from such components that the Natopolitan ideology was formed. It was invented by no one; rather it grew. We have noted the inner compulsions which made possible the twisting into a common strand of the arguments of disenchantment and those of tradition. But an ideology is not constructed out of inner responses alone, but only as these are selected and endorsed within a particular context of power and of social relations. And there were outer compulsions also. This ideology grew inside ‘the whale’ – in the context of Cold War, exhausted imperialism and capitalist ‘affluence’. And an accommodation between the disenchanted intellectuals and the establishment of power offered no difficulty. If you write off all causes as swindles and mutilate your own generous impulses, then there is nothing (except the ever more ghostly voice of personal integrity) to inhibit the fullest indulgence in material success. An ideology is constructed not only by those who work with ideas; but as those ideas are passed through the screens of economic interest and class power. Ideas are transmitted by educational institutions, inextricably involved in the context of power; they are fed through mass media owned by millionaires interested in maintaining the status quo. Intellectuals may be employed, promoted, neglected, in ratio to their acceptability to ruling interests. Few are silenced by force and few are bought outright; but fewer still can resist the ‘natural’ economic processes and pressures to conform. And in this way Natopolitan ideology is made not weaker but stronger; its apologists are ‘inner directed’. The intellectual wants his lolly, in cash, esteem or moral credit, just as much as the tired worker switches on with his own hand (and therefore ‘wants’) the programme which depreciates his values. No unseemly rattle of bayonets or sliding of bolts is required. And this is the more so, since the apparent isolation in Natopolis of the intellectual from the consequences of his theory makes it possible for him to effect some partial accommodation or retreat into academicism without loss of self-respect. [60] None are so detached ‘from self and from things and from persons’ that they do not hear the voice of the tempter within:

Is it not passing brave to be a king
And ride in triumph through Natopolis? [61]

In such ways as these an ideology acquires its strength and social energies. Viewed from outside (as we view Soviet ideology and vice versa) the individual mind seems almost powerless to resist objective pressures to conform; and social consciousness appears to defer to the imperatives of power in a mechanical manner. But viewed from within, as we view Natopolitan ideology, it appears as if we have a multitude of autonomous minds making free choices among a diversity of opinions. It is only when the mind comes into conflict with one of the key ‘strategic’ assumptions of the ideology that it is subjected to severe social and psychological pressures; and then it turns out to be more difficult to think as ‘a free, autonomous individual’ than Orwell supposed. [62]

The assimilation of quietism by the establishment of power presented no difficulties. [63] It had not always been so. Prufrock and The Waste Land had been a protest against the world of trench warfare and Horatio Bottomley. In 1940 Inside the Whale still kicked against the ‘world-process’. But by 1950 the context had changed. The Natopolitan ideology is the ideology of imperialism in the defensive era of the Cold War. Gone is the optimistic progressivism of industrial expansion. Gone is the brash assertiveness of imperialism militant. The Business Society is uncomfortable with any philosophy more searching than that of material success. It does not offer any civilising mission, any moral Utopia; it offers consumer goods. It does not wish the customer to ask questions about the formulŠ behind the brand. It requires only that it shall hold what it has, and that its enemies be kept at bay. It asks nothing better than that it should be thought of as ‘the whale’.

And the whale’s enemies are also those of the disenchanted intellectual. In confronting Communism, business-man, general and poet found that they had a common language – however their interpretation of its terms might differ. During the Korean War, after bulldozers had smashed a path through the debris of ‘liberated’ Seoul, General MacArthur drove with Syngman Rhee to the centre of the city for a ceremony: [64]

He said that fifty-three nations had risen up in ‘spiritual revulsion against the march of imperialistic Communism’, and added: ‘By the grace of a merciful Providence... citizens once more have the opportunity to live under that immutable concept of life which holds invincibly to the primacy of individual liberty and personal dignity.’

No doubt another great ‘act of communion’. Under any sentence so studded with abstract absolutes we have come to expect to find torturers: it was so with Stalin, it was so with Rhee, it is so with La Gloire. But the language of MacArthur and Dulles rang the changes of the ‘immutable concepts’ held in common by the architects of quietism. [65]

We have encountered the parts of this ideology on the way, and we may now bring them together. Its political raison d'ŕtre is the containment of Communism, not in order that we may build the good society but so that we may preserve a philosophical tradition which teaches that no society can ever be good. Its moral principle is the containment of evil, not in order that good may prosper but in order that the spiritual conflict between good and evil may be perpetually resumed. Politics is a swindle, history is bunk. Art must not be polluted by anything from the world of swindles. Only a handful of ‘the Just’ – Matthew Arnold’s ‘aliens’ – can see through the swindle; but they are powerless to act because the ‘stolid housekeepers’ are too gullible, and because swindle is endemic to the human predicament (world-process). But the Just must preserve their freedom to exchange ‘ironic points of light’. Intellectuals may travel inside NATO and roll on the floor with the bomb in order to defend their freedom to see through swindles. Apathy is faith. Faith is Apathy. Passify ith ape. Two One ZERO...

And what has this transcendental count-down got to do with reigning orthodoxies in economic and political theory? Are we not told three times a day that ‘politics is the art of the possible'? Is not the orthodoxy which unites Mr Macmillan and Mr Gaitskell a belief in cautious, ‘piecemeal social engineering'? Is not the Labour Movement hedged in by a narrow empiricism, far from all thought of such Natopolitan absolutes? It is here that we come upon a final irony. For quietism and moderate policies of social reform are not at opposite poles; they are the two faces of the Natopolitan coin. More accurately, political empiricism is the ‘inscape’ of the doctrine of original sin. It is the confined space within which you can still move when you are inside a whale. ‘The possible’ is that small space for adjustments which is all that ‘human nature’ allows. In practical politics the terms only are shuffled. Sin is now that ‘pressure of circumstances’ (or ‘mood of the electorate’) before which the politicians do obeisance. The Cold War is thought of as an endless condition of international life, because the conflict between good and evil (even if only ‘peaceful competition’) must always endure. And Mr Gaitskell, with his psepholitics, turns out to be a Natopolitan to the backbone. Had he been returned to power in 1959 we should at last have had a Philosopher King. [66]

Despite its abstract and universal vocabulary, the inner characteristics of Natopolitan ideology are philistinism and imaginative atrophy. The philistinism which is incapable of really accepting the diminishing influence of the ‘Western’ world is matched by a temporal provincialism. Natopolitan culture has adopted as motto the words of Lord Keynes: ‘in the long run we are all dead.’ Economists are forever ‘priming pumps’ politicians ‘meeting contingencies’, trade-union leaders keeping up with the cost of living index. The most challenging moral issue is reduced to a nice choice of expediencies. At the heart of a disintegrating imperial system, with the weapons of annihilation poised over the earth, the Natopolitan walks carefully down well-known streets, putting his faith in his securities in the bank, and speculating on the ‘aid’ which he might give (some day, next week) to his underdeveloped nephews (who, in the meantime, will have come of age). He would feel naked without the ‘circumstances’, like familiar shops and offices, which shelter him on every side.

The circumstances are there, true enough, though most of them are of Natopolitan making. What is so signally lacking is the will to change them. How far they can be changed we cannot tell until the attempt has been made. But we can be sure that if we do not change circumstances, circumstances will change nonetheless; and they are likely to change for the worse. It is not change, but social stasis, which is the illusion. Apathy is a morbid condition of the will; if we do not shake it off, Blake’s ‘pestilence’ will strike. It has struck already in France. Next it may strike at the world. [67]

‘Pig’s Head on a Stick’

There was occasion enough for this despair. The seemingly compulsive logic of feeling derived from the evidence of two decades from which we now avert our eyes. The generation of the thirties had (like Lawrence before them) toiled up Pisgah: [68] the postwar generation was born on the top: both looked down and saw through clouds of ‘talk of brotherhood, universal love, sacrifice and so on... the graveyard of humanity’. Hiroshima ridiculed all protestations of human brotherhood. Perhaps the talk was ‘just noble phrases to cover up self-assertion, self-importance and malevolent bullying... just activities of the ugly, self-willed ego'? ‘Pfui!’ they said with Lawrence: ‘The very words human, humanity, humanism make one sick.’ ('Climbing Down Pisgah’, ‘Nobody Loves Me’)

It was not silly to ask questions about the nature of man. It was sillier to pretend that evil did not exist; that it belonged, not to men, but to some beast in the thicket of circumstances which, once overcome, would leave man’s original innocence freedom to walk the world without constraint – that, as Soviet ideologues still insinuate, but as the Soviet people have long since ceased to believe, all evil is ‘alien’ to the system, all evil men are agents of the West, all sin is a bourgeois survival. With this evasion, all moral problems could be reduced to the problems of power, [69] all moral precepts be derived from the imperatives of ‘history’ and the necessities of the Soviet state. Communist orthodoxy was thus reduced to the single problem of the conquest of working-class power, and all morality was subservient to this realpolitik.

But it was equally silly to take only the evidence of evil and ignore the witnesses of good; or to seek to detach the good individual from the evil state (or ‘history’ or ‘world-process’) to which all evil propensities are assimilated. [70] There is no moment in history when ‘the Revolution’ will be thrown across like some switch, and all impulses will ever after run within the circuits of good. Nor is human nature confined forever within the circuits of evil. Human nature cannot be abstracted from its context in particular men; ‘the abstract individual... belongs in reality to a particular form of society’. Only within this context can human nature be changed – men may only make their own nature through action in changing ‘circumstances’. The error of the Natopolitan quietist was to forget that his own nature was Natopolitan human nature: his abstract a-political art was in fact dedicated to Natopolitan engagement: his religious sentiment was in part a reflex of despair within Natopolis. But, in the same part, Stalinist human nature was also the product of circumstances: of the repression of 1905, civil war and famine, Fascist terror. As Stalin declared over Lenin’s bier: ‘We Communists are people of a peculiar cut. We are cut out of peculiar stuff...’ And the Stalinist had enshrined in his ideology the opposite error; in his assent to ‘the materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing’ he had forgotten that ‘the educator must himself be educated’: ‘Hence this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, of which one towers above society...’

If the Natopolitan detached the ‘ought’ of morality from the ‘is’ of circumstance, in Stalinism the ‘is’ towered above the ‘ought’. Morality, East and West, gave rise to two opposing absolutes: the Absolute of Working-Class Power and the Absolute of Personal Integrity. And yet each absolute, within its own system, served the status quo; it was Utopian to challenge either the objective laws of history or the subjective limitations of human nature. Man was chained down by necessity, without or within, and above him towered a single absolute: the Established Fact.

But beneath this absolute, men had abandoned human [71] agency. They could not hold back change; but change went with the shuffling gait of circumstance. It did not stem from the operation of human consciousness and will upon circumstance. [72] Events seemed to will men, not men events. For meaning can be given to history only in the quarrel between ‘ought’ and ‘is’ – we must thrust the ‘ought’ of choice into the ‘is’ of circumstance which in its turn defines the human nature with which we choose. Human nature is neither originally evil nor originally good; it is, in origin, potential. [73] If human nature is what men make history with, then at the same time it is human nature which they make. And human nature is potentially revolutionary; [74] man’s will is not a passive reflection of events, but contains the power to rebel against ‘circumstances’ (or the hitherto prevailing limitations of ‘human nature’) and on that spark to leap the gap to a new field of possibility. It is the aim of socialism, not to abolish ‘evil’ (which would be a fatuous aim), nor to sublimate the contest between ‘evil’ and ‘good’ into an all-perfect paternal state (whether ‘Marxist’ or Fabian in design), but to end the condition of all previous history whereby the contest has always been rigged against the ‘good’ in the context of an authoritarian or acquisitive society. Socialism is not only one way of organising production; it is also a way of producing ‘human nature’. Nor is there only one, [75] prescribed and determined, way of making socialist human nature; in building socialism we must discover the way, and discriminate between many alternatives, deriving the authority for our choices not from absolute historicist laws nor from reference to biblical texts but from real human needs and possibilities, disclosed in open, never-ceasing intellectual and moral debate. The aim is not to create a socialist state, towering above man and upon which his socialist nature depends, but to create an ‘human society or socialised humanity’ [76] where (to adapt the words of More) man, and not money, ‘beareth all the stroke’.

‘The job of the thinking person’, wrote Orwell in Wigan Pier, ‘is not to reject Socialism but to make up his mind to humanise it.’ ‘We must love one another or die.’ But how [77] are we to thrust that ‘love’ into the context of politics and power? To this point the socialist, West and East, continually returns. It was here that Orwell stood (in his essay on Dickens) before he fell into despair: ‘The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another... The central problem – how to prevent power from being abused – remains unsolved.’ It is to this point that Communist ‘revisionists’ first retraced their steps, to the Marx of the Theses on Feuerbach and the moralist of the 1844 manuscripts, in the attempt to root out from Marxism the luxuriating weed of pre-determinism:

Between obedience to the world of reality and obedience to the moral imperative, an abyss gapes on whose brink the great historical tragedies have been played... On both these brinks, the moral history of the revolutionary movement of recent years has also been staged. (Leszek Kolakowski, ‘Responsibility and History’) [78]

But we can be content no longer with a never-ending cyclical argument. We know that power is now too deadly for us to tolerate its abuse. And here we encounter a paradox. For the power of the bomb is also an expression of our own human nature: it is our apathy which hangs above us. For the history of political power and the history of human nature have always been interdependent. Professor Popper has argued the other way:

There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. But the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder... (The Open Society, II, p 270, Professor Popper’s italics)

To the sentiment we respond. The history of power politics has been like this, it ought not to be so. But the fact is that all histories hinge on power. The power of some men has repressed the potential nature of other men. These other men have discovered their own nature only in resisting this power. Not only their economic being, but their moral being [79] – their ideas, knowledge, values – have been coloured by the possession of or the resistance to power; at this point all ‘histories’ have found a common nexus. Today we can doubt no longer that we must humanise power and that every other history depends upon the issue. The victims of power politics must enter the arena of power.

But how are we to humanise our own paralysis of will? Will ‘love’ come running up to an apathetic whistle? It is here, amidst the desolate negations of the waste land, that the first peal of thunder is heard. Or, if we must use the imagery of battle, in the extremity of the day – there, pouring over the nearest brow, are history’s reserves. And among the first to run up are many who are far removed from the veterans – the militant class warriors – whom we had been led to expect. They jeer at the whole battle even as they throw themselves into its heart. The disciples of Lawrence are coming back to climb Pisgah, and the disciples of Orwell mean, at last, to hunt the whale.

For, beneath the polarisation of power and ideology in the Cold War world, a new, rebellious human nature was being formed, just as the new grass springs up beneath the snow. These abstract ideologies contended for people’s minds; but people, educated by circumstances, changed by a logic which challenged these abstractions:

Change in the whole social system is inevitable not merely because conditions change – though partly for that reason – but because people themselves change... New feelings arise in us, old values depreciate, new values arise... The things we built our lives on crumble and disappear... (DH Lawrence, ‘The State of Funk’)

Moreover, it is always the truth of an ideology which is its point of greatest weakness, for when reality is viewed in the light of this truth the ideology may stand condemned. Just as the rituals and resounding absolutes of orthodox Stalinism have induced a nausea in the younger Soviet generation, giving rise to the critique of the ‘revisionists’, the positive rebellion of ‘56, the negative resistance of the stilyagi; so Natopolitan ideology has engendered within itself its own negation – a new critical temper, the positives of Aldermaston, the negatives of ‘hip’ and ‘beats’.

Out of the truth of quietism there stems a new rebellious humanism: the politics of anti-politics. The postwar generation grew to consciousness amidst the stench of the dead, the stench of the politics of power. They opted instead for the absolute of personal integrity. It seemed that on one side there was progress, historical necessity, humanism, totalitarianism, Zhdanov, concentration camps, 1984, on the other there was integrity, the Christian tradition, empiricism, personal relations and piecemeal social reform. The old Left, because it refused to look evil in the face, because it fudged the truth about Communism or suggested that human nature could be set right by some stroke of administration, appeared mechanical, ‘bullying’, de-humanised: it could only speak in the language of power, not of socialised humanity. It seemed as though it was within traditional institutions and Christian doctrine that the true values of love and of community had been conserved. And, to a certain degree, this was true. For man’s yearning for community found solace in the rituals of tradition and it was within Christian myth that symbols could be found unpolluted by the language of power. For a second time religion was felt to be the ‘heart of a heartless world’. It was as if one part of humanist tradition could only be preserved within the deep-freeze of mysticism; the values were saved from decay, but they could not be consumed in active social life. It was in Yeats’ celebration of ‘traditional sanctity’ in the face of the darkening flood of violence, in Lawrence’s insights into thwarted ‘societal man’ [80] that the politics of anti-politics were formed. [81]

Out of history, the reserves. True, the battlefield was never abandoned. The old Left fought its stubborn rearguard actions; but it fought, as often as not, on ground the enemy had chosen, and with outdated weapons. From time to time indomitable stragglers rallied (Kenneth Tynan here or John Berger there) and made spirited counter-forays. But the postwar generation remained in the waste land. It was the cock-crow of the Hungarian rising which – by denying the horror of 1984 – lifted the spell of impotence. It was the threat of nuclear annihilation which made the quietists rebel. At Aldermaston the clouds began at last to release their store of compassion. [82]

They had sought to retire from the world of politics, but in their personal lives they found, on every side, the ‘cruel steel traps’ which the outer world had placed within. They had embraced an ideology which boasted its spirituality, but which, in its art, could give birth to images of evil but not one image of affirmative love, to characters diseased with guilt but not one authentic image of good. Like Jo in A Taste of Honey, surrounded in her adolescence with the spurious talk of love, they had opted for honesty: ‘I don’t know much about love. I've never been too familiar with it.’ But when the last illusion has been shed, feeling arises from a logic beyond either illusion or belief. Pity stirs without intellectual prompting, as the hand rises to protect the threatened child. And – in the ‘free cinema’ and in the work of younger writers and dramatists – social values are affirmed, quietly and without emphasis, sometimes ironically, not in the strident language of manifestos but in the particulars of personal life. [83]

And so this rebellious humanism stems outwards from the offence which power gives to the personal – the offence of power against people with different pigment in their skins, the offence of power against people of different social class, the offence of the bomb against human personality itself. The anti-political find themselves once again in the arena of political choice. Because, in retreating to the personal, they found themselves in the atomised, impersonal jungle of Room at the Top, they find that they must reach out once again towards the values of community. [84] Because ‘love’ must be thrust into the context of power, the moralist finds that he must become a revolutionary.

It is not a junction that can ever be whole. It is more like a constant quarrel, between morality and circumstance, which is perpetually resumed. But it is a fruitful quarrel, which must not cease, or between the pull of ‘integrity’ and the pull of ‘necessity’, the drift of circumstances will have its way. And it is a quarrel which must engage the conscious mind and the whole will. From the intellectual today a particular dedication is required. It is in his capacity for Utopian vision that men’s will to change may be contained. If men are paralysed by the horror of their recent history, then it will do no good either to nourish horror or to turn aside and pretend that no horror is there. It is in William Golding’s great [85] myth of our time, The Lord of the Flies, that amidst the pessimism we can find at last a moving image of good:

The Lord of the Flies hung in space before him.

‘What are you doing out here all alone? Aren’t you afraid of me?’

Simon shook.

‘There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I'm the Beast.’

Simon’s mouth laboured, brought forth audible words.

‘Pig’s head on a stick.’

The Beast is real; but its reality exists within our own conformity and fear. We must acknowledge ourselves in the Beast of history, for only so can we break the spell of fear and reduce it to our own size. And then we must meet it as it is. As Simon said: ‘What else is there to do?’

‘The Valley To the Waterers’

We must get outside of the whale. Both whales. How will the historian describe our times? The age of which? Of the Strident Stalinist or of the Quiet Natopolitan? The Age of Apathy? Or the age in which the rebellion of socialist humanism began?

To each its shibboleths: from each its taboos. Stalin has been denounced, Dulles disavowed; but the show continues. Soviet hegemony within the people’s democratic camp glares at the Free World defended by the American alliance. Original sin glowers at the New Communist Man. The Positive Hero makes hectoring speeches against the Creature of Guilt. The free, autonomous individual derides collective man. Young people are slipping out of the auditorium and making their own music in the streets, but the Show must go on...

Can the new human nature which has formed beneath the orthodox snows express itself in positive rebellion? Can a new generation, East and West, break simultaneously with the pessimism of the old world and the authoritarianism of the new, and knit together human consciousness into a single socialist humanism?

It is to this possibility that our actions should be dedicated; and it must be our work to define this ‘socialist humanism’. If the default of the disenchanted led them on to a place of negation where even the springs of human feeling are dry, this does not mean that we should retrace their steps and re-endorse all the facile notions against which they were in recoil. Another name for the Beast of history is experience; even the swindles have something to teach. The wholesome dislike of the reasons of state, the values of intellectual and artistic integrity, a sense of the real strengths within British traditions – all these, once learnt, need not be cast aside. [86] A socialist humanism which does not take into account 1 September 1939 and Inside the Whale will be poor in texture and exposed to error at the point where valid experiences have been denied.

Perhaps, without our knowledge, the key to change has been tossed into British hands, and the world waits impatiently upon us to turn the lock? The materials for a definition of socialist humanism lie on every hand. Our own intellectual traditions rise to meet our needs; our greatest socialist intellectual, William Morris, was a rebel against utilitarianism in every line he wrote. Our circumstances are favourable; here still the Labour Movement maintains its ‘slumbering powers’, the bridges between the intellectual and the ‘decent crowd’ can still be crossed. [87]

May we perhaps owe some duty to the world to put our freedom to use? Why is it that, of the two ideologies, it is the Natopolitan which seems, in 1960, to be the more firmly based? Stalinism survived the critique of ‘56 only by the authority of artillery and censorship. Natopolitan ideology, in Britain, has faced no critique more challenging than the Aldermaston marches. Is it not possible that British intellectuals work in one of the only well-equipped and peaceable laboratories that are left? Where American intellectuals must struggle against their own sense of isolation, amidst the roar of empty affluence and the constant solicitations of ‘organisation man'; and where Russian – or even Polish – intellectuals must work under various hazards and constraints? And as the rebels of Hungary and Poland broke the spell upon our will by the example of their protest, may not the success of their rebellion depend in turn upon our own? [88]

‘Terrible is the temptation of Goodness’, wrote Brecht. We have learnt what Wordsworth learnt before us: the good life is ‘no mechanic structure built by rule’. Socialism, even at the point of revolutionary transition – perhaps at this point most of all – must grow from existing strengths. No one – neither Marxist vanguard nor enlightened administrator nor bullying humanitarian – can impose a socialised humanity from above. A socialist state can do little more than provide ‘circumstances’ which encourage societal and discourage acquisitive man; which help people to build their own organic [89] community, in their own way, because the temptation of Goodness becomes too great to resist. ‘Men are born to do benefits’, said Shakespeare’s Timon; and in doing benefits they can find their own realisation. A good society is not one of puritanical denial run by earnest do-gooders; it is one in which, when Jack (and Jill) are most ‘all right’, they contribute most to the advantage of the whole. [90] Socialism can bring water to the valley, under a beneficent Five-Year Plan; [91] but it must give ‘the valley to the waterers, that it bring forth fruit’.


1. The period ‘1935-45’ is replaced by ‘1934-45’ in the 1978 edition.

2. Vieux jeux – literally ‘old games'; old hat, obsolete.

3. The 1960 edition renders ‘bonds’ as ‘bands’, a typographical error.

4. This line is added in the 1978 edition; its omission in the 1960 edition is perhaps a typographical error.

5. The preceding two verses are added in the 1978 edition.

6. This line is added in the 1978 edition.

7. The preceding two verses are added in the 1978 edition.

8. The previous sentence is condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘And readers of the amended version may be forgiven for overlooking its strengths.’

9. This line is added in the 1978 edition.

10. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

11. See the review by FW Cook and AE Rodway of JW Beach, The Making of the Auden Canon, in Essays in Criticism, 1958, iii. [Author’s note; this note is deleted in the 1978 edition – MIA.]

12. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

13. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

14. The words ‘human history and’ are deleted in the 1978 edition; the retention of the subsequent word ‘alike’ suggests that this is a typographical error.

15. The preceding two sentences are added in the 1978 edition.

16. The preceding verse is added in the 1978 edition.

17. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

18. The preceding verse is added in the 1978 edition.

19. The previous two sentences are condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘Auden felt it necessary to excise from that poem the notions of purposive historical commitment and of the redemption of man through political action.’

20. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

21. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

22. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

23. The word ‘connotation’ is replaced by ‘connotations’ in the 1978 edition.

24. The previous ten lines are added in the 1978 edition.

25. Both instances of ‘Mr’ are deleted in the 1978 edition.

26. The previous paragraph is condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘Just as the Cold War commands our lives through its own inertia, giving rise to a permanent war economy – so within Natopolitan culture it is the idea as much as the actuality of Communism which is the point of origin for a permanent defensive ideology.’

27. The words ‘the Manichaean doctrine’ are replaced by ‘the Christian doctrine’ in the 1978 edition.

28. The previous nine lines are added in the 1978 edition.

29. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

30. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

31. The previous two sentences are condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘Orwell’s profound political pessimism tended in the same direction as Auden’s spiritual pessimism, and once again, at a certain point the problem was simply given up.’

32. The word ‘cause’ is not emphasised in the 1978 edition.

33. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

34. The word ‘values’ is replaced by ‘value’ in the 1978 edition.

35. The word ‘voiced’ is replaced by ‘presented’ in the 1978 edition.

36. The previous sentence is condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘But since the form of Orwell’s pessimism has contributed a good deal to Natopolitan ideology, it is necessary to examine the premises.’

37. The word ‘hope’ is not emphasised in the 1978 edition.

38. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

39. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

40. The preceding verse and quotation are added in the 1978 edition.

41. The preceding paragraph is added in the 1978 edition.

42. It was not the only essay (Koestler’s The Yogi and the Commissar was of equal importance), nor was its effect immediate; but the disenchanted of 1945-49 retired to the positions which Orwell had already prepared. [Author’s note; this note is deleted in the 1978 edition – MIA.]

43. The preceding two sentences are added in the 1978 edition.

44. The preceding passage is condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘It was not won by quietism, but by people who still held, in less articulate form, to Auden’s “illusion” that they were, willy-nilly, actors in a critical contest in history. Few of those who fought had any “taste for violence.” Communists were not somewhere else when the trigger was pulled.’

45. The word ‘desperation’ is replaced by ‘despair’ in the 1978 edition.

46. The preceding sentence is added in the 1978 edition.

47. The preceding two sentences are condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘It was from the lampoons of the disenchanted that the postwar generation picked up bits of “history.”’

48. The word ‘great’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

49. The word ‘into’ is replaced by ‘onto’ in the 1978 edition.

50. I find this pattern most marked in Britain, the USA and unoccupied Europe. In those parts of Western Europe (notably France and Italy) where the Resistance movement was strongest, the pattern is different. Here the attraction of the Communist pole was stronger, although the attachment of intellectuals was often distant and critical, just as there was a stubborn centre of ‘premature revisionism’ in Poland between 1945 and 1948. It is in postwar France and Poland that the first evidence of a socialist humanism detached from either ideology can be most clearly seen. [Author’s note; this note is deleted in the 1978 edition – MIA.]

51. ‘Mr’ is deleted in the 1978 edition.

52. The word ‘quantity’ is replaced by ‘quality’ in the 1978 edition.

53. The words ‘with men’ are deleted in the 1978 edition.

54. Edward Shils and Michael Young, ‘The Meaning of the Coronation’, The Sociological Review, December 1953. See also Norman Birnbaum, ‘Monarchs and Sociologists: A Reply...’, Sociological Review, July 1955. [Author’s note]

55. The preceding three sentences are condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘Revolutionary ideas were middle-class “constructs”; they could never be engendered of their own accord within the soil of working-class culture, where all ideas and relations are dense, local, particular, inarticulate, and bounded within the horizons of East Clu’, West Clu’ and Poob.’

56. The word ‘thwarted’ is replaced by ‘standard’ in the 1978 edition.

57. See the excellent discussion of The Cocktail Party by a Christian critic, Mr Walter Stein, in Essays in Criticism, 1953, i, and his judgement that in this ‘Manichaean play’ – ‘Full-blooded, full-spirited love of another creature, has emerged as either a projection of self, or a projection of infinite, religious, aspirations, into finite symbols for ever removed from all genuine relation.’ [Author’s note; this note is deleted in the 1978 edition – MIA.]

58. The word ‘ambiguities’ is replaced by ‘self-conscious, ambiguous apostrophes’ in the 1978 edition.

59. The words ‘a handful of semantic’ have been removed in the 1978 edition.

60. The text of the preceding paragraph in the 1978 edition is considerably revised from the 1960 edition. The latter is reproduced below; a typographical error, marked at [+], omits several words: ‘So much for the logic of feeling, the drift of sensibility, the inner compulsions which went to the making of Natopolitan ideology, twisting into a common strand the arguments of disenchantment and of tradition. But there were outer compulsions also. The ideology grew inside the “whale” – in the context of Cold War, exhausted imperialism, and capitalist “affluence.” But to acquire its peculiar force it had to be accepted by the establishment of power. Nor was this difficult. If you write off all causes as swindles, and mutilate your own generous impulses, then there is nothing (except the ever more ghostly voice of personal integrity) to inhibit the fullest indulgence in material success. An ideology is constructed not only by those who work with ideas, but as those ideas are passed through the screens of economic interest and class power. Ideas are transmitted by educational institutions, inextricably involved in the context of power; they are fed through mass media owned by millionaires interested in maintaining the status quo. Intellectuals may be employed, promoted, neglected, in ratio to their acceptability to ruling interests. Few are silenced by force and few are bought outright; but fewer still can resist the “natural” economic interest and class power. Ideas are transmitted way [+] Natopolitan ideology is made not weaker but stronger; its apologists are “inner directed.” The intellectual wants his lolly, in cash, esteem or moral credit, just as much as the tired worker switches on with his own hand (and therefore “wants”) the programme which depreciates his values.’

61. A parody of a line from Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine: ‘Is it not passing brave to be a king and ride in triumph through Persepolis?’

62. This paragraph is added in the 1978 edition.

63. The words ‘presented no difficulties’ are replaced by ‘took place with the ease of a “natural” process’ in the 1978 edition.

64. The preceding sentence is removed in the 1978 edition.

65. The preceding quotation and paragraph are removed in the 1978 edition.

66. The preceding two sentences are removed in the 1978 edition.

67. The preceding two sentences are removed in the 1978 edition.

68. ‘Climbing Down Pisgah’ was an essay by D H Lawrence.

69. The words ‘all moral problems could be reduced to the problems of power’ are replaced by ‘all problems of value and choice could be reduced to problems of power’ in the 1978 edition.

70. The remainder of this paragraph is removed in the 1978 edition.

71. The word ‘human’ is replaced by ‘their’ in the 1978 edition.

72. The preceding sentence is removed in the 1978 edition.

73. The word ‘potential’ is not emphasised in the 1978 edition.

74. The word ‘revolutionary’ is not emphasised in the 1978 edition.

75. The word ‘one’ is not emphasised in the 1978 edition.

76. The quotations in this and the preceding paragraph are from Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, III, VI, VII and X. [Author’s note; this note is deleted in the 1978 edition – MIA.]

77. The word ‘how’ is not emphasised in the 1978 edition.

78. The preceding sentence and quotation are condensed in the 1960 edition: ‘It is to this point that Communist “revisionists” like Kolakowski have returned – to Marx the revolutionary moralist of the 1844 MSS – in the attempt to root out from Marxism the luxuriating weed of determinism.’

79. The word ‘moral’ is replaced by ‘intellectual’ in the 1978 edition.

80. The significance of Lawrence in this context has been examined by Raymond Williams in Culture and Society. [Author’s note; this note has been deleted in the 1978 edition – MIA.]

81. The preceding two sentences are removed in the 1978 edition.

82. The preceding paragraph is shortened in the 1978 edition: ‘The postwar generation remained in the waste land. It was the cock-crow of the Hungarian rising which – by denying the horror of 1984 – lifted the spell of impotence. It was the threat of nuclear annihilation which made the quietists rebel.’

83. The preceding sentence is removed in the 1978 edition.

84. The preceding sentence is removed in the 1978 edition.

85. The word ‘great’ has been added in the 1978 edition.

86. The preceding sentence is removed in the 1978 edition.

87. The preceding paragraph is removed in the 1978 edition.

88. The preceding paragraph is removed in the 1978 edition.

89. The word ‘organic’ is replaced by ‘egalitarian’ in the 1978 edition.

90. The preceding two sentences are removed in the 1978 edition.

91. The words ‘under a beneficent Five-Year Plan’ are removed in the 1978 edition.