The Second International 1881

The Coming Terror

Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Apparently, Eleanor Marx transcribed the wills for the book Fifty Earliest English Wills (Early English Text Society 1882) edited by Frederick Furnivall (1825-1910). The latter founded the Early English Text Society in 1864, from which sprang societies dealing with Chaucer (1868), Shakespeare (1873), Browning (1881) and Shelley (1886). [c.f. Eleanor Marx Vol. I by Y. Kapp p.172 and p.187.] The great historian J.H. Round (whose violent diatribes against other historians are his best remembered publications) also worked on this and his help is acknowledged by Furnivall on several occasions in the book. Eleanor was already a socialist. Round had, in contrast, published the following anti-Socialist tract, The Coming Terror. It is not known whether they ever met or whether he was aware of her views. (See A Revised Bibliography of the publications of John Horace Round by W. R. Powell. Essex Archaeology & History (1998), p.156.)

Thanks to Stan Newins, retired Member of Parliament for drawing this to my attention.

Among these Signs of the Times which present themselves most forcibly to the Student, as he contemplates, from the Philosophic standpoint, the ultimate tendencies of current Politics, there is none more remarkable, yet more unnoticed, than the startling Revolution which is taking place in the Economic Theories held by the Party of Progress. We are witnessing, perhaps unconsciously, a movement which deserves, from its character, a closer notice than it has yet obtained. And it deserves it on two grounds; – in its practical aspect, as having already borne important fruit, and as destined to involve the widest consequences; – in its scientific aspect, as a distinct retrogression towards theories hitherto considered avowedly obsolete.

It is essential, before commencing our enquiry, that we should divest ourselves, at the outset, of all Political Bias. The question is one, not of Parties, but of Principles. In how many a thoughtless invective have the names of ‘Jingo’ and ‘Tory’ been used as convertible terms! Yet where was a more fearless advocate of ‘a spirited foreign policy’ to be found than in the Radical Member for Newcastle? Where has the enthusiasm for War been carried to a higher pitch than in Macaulay, the Whig Historian? In fact, for a hundred years after the cleavage of Parties in the House of Commons, the Tories were to be found on the side of Peace, and the Whigs, as persistently, on the side of War. It has been the same with Economic Theories. We are too apt to think of the abolition of our former Commercial System as a characteristic triumph of Liberal policy, and to forget that it was the accidents of the case, and not inherent Liberalism, that threw the Economical Purists into the arms of the Liberal Party. If Protection had happened to be the interest of the Towns, and Free Trade the interest of the Counties, those principles would have been respectively espoused by the very Parties which respectively denounced them. It is absolutely essential to insist upon this point, because we are too apt to overlook the fact that Parties may be accidentally, and by the force of circumstances, identified with Principles unconnected with their Political Creed, nay even, with Principles containing consequences repugnant to that Creed, and destined to prove to the Party which has adopted them a very mill-stone about its neck.

There is perhaps no Science of such recent growth which has exercised on the World so practical an influence as the Science of Political Economy. The complicated and repressive commercial system, which dated from the Middle Ages, – though breaking down on every side from the influx of new conditions, from the growth of the Cosmopolitan Idea, and from the general improvement in communications, – was bolstered up with a perverse ingenuity and with a laborious perseverance that bore witness to the strength of its traditions, and to the superstitious reverence which it exacted from the men at the head of affairs. It is important to observe that the new Science, which struggled into existence on the ruins of the older system, was essentially the offspring of Philosophers, and was strictly founded on deductive principles, on a priori argument, on abstract generalities. In this, as was but natural, it presented the sharpest contrast to the System it was destined to supplant. The latter, empirical in its treatment and narrow in its aims, was absolutely devoid of Philosophy, and though in reality working haphazard in the dark, believed itself to be intensely practical in the method it so elaborately constructed. Proudly soaring into the opposite extreme, the scientific Economician, secure in his logic, disdained to learn from the world around him, He was laying down the rules of a world-wide game, in which men were the cards and money the counters, and thus rules were henceforth to be held as immutable as the Laws of the Medes and Persians.

It is only to be expected, from the experience of all history, that a movement which, at first, has met with enthusiastic acceptance should, after a time, have to contend with a powerful reaction, perhaps accelerated by its own violence, and also by a clearer perception of the drawbacks presented by the change. A wholesome Pyrrhonism accelerates the return of the Pendulum, and suggests that possibly, after all, Science may not have spoken its last words. It is through this period of sceptical and searching criticism that Political Economy has now to pass, and upon the issue depends our future history. An examination of the principles at stake will throw such a vivid light on the leading questions of the day, that it is necessary to consider seriatim the several influences at work. These influences may be broadly classed under two heads. First, the rapidly growing strength of the ‘Economic’ School, and the rigorous application of its doctrines. Secondly, the rise of doubts, both scientific and popular, as to the validity of these doctrines, and the advantages of their application.

Glancing then, firstly, at the increasing authority of the new Science, we may paraphrase the expression, and elucidate out meaning, by describing it as a growing aversion to interference with the Laws of Nature. For this there are two causes. The first, and more obvious one, is that the same process of change in the relations between different countries, – and even between different districts in the same country, – that called into existence the new Science, has continued, and is continuing, to operate, and in an ever-increasing ratio. The policy of non-interference, of ‘Laissez faire,’ of removing all obstacles to free intercourse and free trade, has been definitely accepted as a self-evident truth, and the Nations who have hesitated to adopt it have been stigmatised as ignorant and blind.

The second cause of this same tendency is to be found in a more recondite quarter, and one which, to a great extent, appears to have escaped observation. We are referring to the influence on Politics of the teaching of Modern Philosophy. “Men,” exclaims Madame do Stael, “who believe only in fate and materialism, can never be sincere friends to liberty.” A happy inspiration enabled this gifted woman to anticipate, in these remarkable words, the assertion of an eminent Scientist of the present day. “Do not hope,” said he, “that the advance of Science must be favourable to Liberalism. In my experience, Agnostics are mostly Tories.” The explanation is not far to seek. If we would sum up the teaching of Modern Science, it might perhaps be comprised in the one expression, “The Sanctity of Nature.” That the Laws of Nature are sacred, and their violation will invariably meet with its fitting punishment, is the cardinal point in the Scientist’s creed. And just as he must reject the notion of miraculous interference by a supra-natural Power, so he must denounce the slightest interference on the part of a human legislator. So too, the anti-cataclysmic teaching of modern Geology must impel the “Uniformitarian” to adopt as his motto the maxim of Linaeus, – “Natura nihil facit per saltum,” – and to discountenance the efforts of reformers to anticipate or to tamper with the course of Nature. This is the first of the points in which Philosophy impinges upon Politics. The second is in the doctrine of Evolution, “All men,” run the famous words of the Declaration of Independence, “are born equal.” Evolution affords us a scientific justification of Inequality. It teaches us that man is no fortuitous concourse of atoms, no more accident of an accident” (as Demagogues Love to term him), but the highly diversified resultant of a series of complex forces. Evolution is in fact, in the truest sense of the word, an essentially Aristocratic doctrine. But not only in this aspect does it conflict with the “New Radicalism.” It is opposed to it no loss diametrically in its Humanitarian aspect, and specially as it effects our Policy abroad. The Evolutionist’s fundamental doctrine of “the survival of the fittest,” is founded on aggression, and based on cruelty, It sternly proclaims that Conquest is the Law of Progress, and that with races, as with individuals, it is desirable that the weak and helpless should be crushed in the “struggle for existence.” Turn we to a third point in which Philosophy is in contact with Politics. Disguise it as we may, experience and logic prove that the Materialist is the Prophet of Selfishness. From the days of these disciples who carried out to their logical conclusions the doctrines of Epicurus, – and revealed in so doing, the true bearing of their Master’s teaching, – it has been obvious that “if in this life only we have hope,” it is absolutely our duty to make the most of it, and to “let,” (if we may be allowed the expression,) “the Devil take the hindmost.” The grasping selfishness which must inevitably be the fruit of such a doctrine, is so essentially hostile to a Communistic propaganda, that we must expect to witness between them a war to the knife. Take, in conclusion, the Fatalistic influence of our modern Philosophy. Round the citadel of’ the Hunan Will the battle still rages sullenly, and the Standard of the Freedom of Man still waves upon its ramparts. But Determinism, thus far, has triumphed, and is now fighting for the final victory, fighting to rivet upon our bodies and our souls the fetters of the Laws of Nature.

In the preceding paragraph, it is attempted to show how wide in its practical bearing may be the influence of Philosophy on Politics. But the central point on which we have to fix our attention is its tendency to emphasise and accentuate the teaching of the scientific Economician. It has been previously shown how, at the same time, a concurrence of causes had united in giving freer play to the Laws of Nature, and how their working had consequently been brought into clearer prominence. It will now be our task to illustrate the Reaction which has been excited by the extreme length to which Economic doctrines have been carried, and to examine how far that reaction can be justified by the inherent weakness of the doctrines it assails.

The Anglo Economic School (as we may term it, for want of a better name) is strictly scientific in its method. The Moral of its teaching may be described as ‘Fanatical submission to the Laws of Nature.’ In this respect it is closely akin to Mohammedanism, the key-note of the Koran being the Unity of God, and the absolute necessity of an unquestioning submission to His will. It is true that while the Deification of Nature is still incomplete, a superstitious prostration before her Will may savour unpleasantly of Fetichism. It is true that ‘the unspeakable Turk’ may retort, with some show of reason, – “We know what we worship, ye worship ye know what!” Yet the fruit of the system must in each case be the same, – a well-grounded belief that “whatever is, is best,” an echo of the Tory cry, – “pieta non morere.” The most eminent doctrinaires of this school would, in fact, reduce the sphere of legislation to the narrowest limits compatible with political existence. They preach emphatically to their disciples that Society should be allowed to work out its own salvation, and sternly denounce the slightest effort to case the burdens of men. These are the Apostles of the Gospel of Competion, daring us to lay our impious hands on the Laws of Supply and Demand, insisting on absolute non-interference with the working of Natural Laws:-

“Natures expelles furea, tamen usque recurret
Et mala perrumpet furtim fastidia victrix.”

- Hon. Er, i. 10.

When we find such names as John Stuart Mill, Professor Fawcett, and the Duke of Argyll among the representative leaders of the School we have described, it may appear a daring thesis to lay down that its tenets, though congenial with Whig and even Liberal traditions, are essentially and inherently anti-radical.

Bearing in mind the position we established at the outset, that a party is not necessarily false to its principles because it breaks away from certain traditions which are not involved in these principles, and with which its connection is merely accidental; we shall be better enabled to understand how a new school of thought has arisen in the “Liberal” Party, called into existence by the growing repugnance to the formulas of the Doctrinaires. Let us term it the Foreign Socialistic School. Its method – which, as might be expected, is fundamentally opposed to the system it assails – is based on forcible interference with the working of Natural Laws. Its aim is the compulsory establishment of an Ideal and un-natural Society. Before we proceed let us glance for a moment at the Rationale of this movement, at the specific points on which it justifies its existence.

In the first place, this Reaction, so far us it is of English growth, expresses the dislike of an intensely practical people to Universalist theories and abstract formulas, even though these, theories and these formulas may apparently be rigidly deducible from a process of scientific investigation. In the next place, the hastening decay of our insular prejudices, and our growing susceptibility to Continental Ideas is increasing among us the influence of those Socialistic Utopias, which are distinctly of foreign manufacture, and of which the more modern manifestations are considered to find their Prototype in the so-called Idée Bakounine. It is to be observed, however, that, the scheme of this celebrated Revolutionist has two distinct sides; one, the purely socialistic, in which it touches the older theories of St. Simon, Fourier, Owen, &c., the other, the “amorphie,” which is peculiar to the later Phenomenon known as Nihilism. It is with the former that we are now more immediately concerned. But a third influence is at work, and must not be overlooked. The great Humanitarian movement can only be briefly touched on, for its importance is too great to allow us to do it justice here. Yet it is necessary to point out how antagonistic its tendency must prove to the doctrines of the New Science, especially in its Evolutionist aspect. It will suffice to call attention to the novel views which have successively arisen on the treatment of criminals, of lunatics, of slaves, of animals, and lastly, of weaker races. If we compare, dispassionately, the views on International Morality which prevailed in England at the time of the Don Pacifico incident, with those to which the present Premier has now so successfully appealed, we shall at once perceive the change which, for better or for worse, – for that is not the question here, – has passed over the National Spirit.

We have thus outlined the points of conflict between the two great Sections into which all Politicians are being rapidly, though perhaps unconsciously, divided. The one School aims at allowing the fullest freedom to the working of Natural Laws, and is founded on non-interference. The other aims at checking and restricting the working of these Laws, and is consequently founded on repression.

Before we proceed to consider the probable results of the ‘New Departure’ which these principles involve, let us turn from the emotional to the scientific aspect of the Reaction we have described, and sec what flaws have been discovered in the accepted Economic system. New Sciences are fated, almost always, to suffer from the enthusiastic zeal of their first disciples. It was so with Natural History, and subsequently, with Geology, – it is so, now, with Evolution. There must always be a tendency to construct an all-embracing system on hasty and imperfect observations. Now, to quote the words of Montesquieu, “Los observations sont l'histoire de la Physique; les systèmes sont la fable.” Experience often modifies the extreme pretensions so rashly put forth at first, and reveals the existence of counteracting agencies previously unsuspected. It is accordingly urged against Political Economy, firstly, that it omits from its calculations essential modifying forces, secondly, that, granting its system to be true, it may not always be wise to follow it. As an instance of the former objection we may give the case of Emigration, as illustrating the Law of Supply and Demand. According to the supposed working of this Law, Nature herself adjusts the balance, and maintains an equilibrium, by causing labour to flow spontaneously in the direction where the deficiency exists. Now it is manifest that this Axiom does not hold good, and that while, in one quarter of the World, there is a permanent deficiency of Labour, in the other, there is a permanent redundancy. We have here an excellent instance of the manner in which practical considerations are wholly ignored by the Scientific Theorist. Again, as bearing on the wisdom of adopting, at all costs, his conclusions, look at Agriculture. It is all very well to insist that a country should abandon a particular production, when it ceases to produce it profitably, but what does this demand practically mean? Obviously, that all the capital sunk in the pursuit is to be sacrificed, and, in the case of Agriculture, that half the country is to be deliberately ruined! According to the latest signs, the Nation may find itself at any moment confronted with the question – “Is the land of England to go out of cu1tivation, or, shall we shake ourselves free from the trammels of Economic superstition?”

So much for the Rationale of the Reaction Its practical effect on Legislation must now be glanced at. That its influence has been legitimately and beneficially exercised in the furtherance of “Factory Legislation,” few, we presume, can doubt. But if we thus admit the necessity of ‘Protection’ in the use of women and children, the question at once arises, where shall we dran the line? If we concede the principle to the weaker individuals, shall we refuse it to the weaker classes, or the weaker national industries? The answer which has, thus far, been given is apparently in the Negative. A current has been steadily flowing in the direction of Protectionist Legislation, however we may try to blink the fact. The “Employers’ Liability” and other cognate Acts have established the principle that the Law should intervene to protect Workmen from their Masters, while the “Hares and Rabbits” Act has proved the first step in a course of Legislation designed to protect Tenant-Farmers from their Landlords. Signs are not wanting that a public opinion has been forming which is even ahead of actual Legislation, and which is preparing to insist, with irresistible strength, on a further advance in the same direction. That same great shop-keeping Class who saluted with their loud hosannas the fascinating vision of Freedom of Trade, are loudest in their clamour when the tables are turned, and when a grim, Nemesis, in the form of the Co-operative system, has threatened them with the same fate as they have inflicted on the Agriculture of Britain. The problem of the Sugar Bounties has sorely tried the consistency of the faithful Free Trader. The agitation is spreading among the working classes, and the members for Birmingham have undergone the signal mortification of having to receive resolutions from their Constituents in favour of retaliatory duties. But there is a greater question looming, in the background. The long-suffering farmer has found, at length, his voice, and we have heard in a new sense the omen dreaded by the Roman Augur, – ‘Bos locustus est'!

Now the most remarkable feature in this Phenomenon, is the source from which the cry is rising for forcible interference with the Laws of Nature. We are witnessing, at this moment, one of the most striking changes of front that has ever been effected by any Political Party. The Standard of the Liberals with ‘Freedom’ for its motto, is being hauled down before our eyes and, on that of the Radicals, the word ‘Repression’ is being already unfolded by the Breeze. Is this statement challenged? Then let us see how the trumpet has already spoken, and ‘with no uncertain sound.’ How has the leader of the Liberal Party spoken of those principles beneath the banners of which that Party so often advanced to the capture of Tory strongholds? He has dismissed them with a contemptuous sneer as only fit to be considered if we were legislating “for the inhabitants of Saturn or of Jupiter.” But who is the most virulent assailant of freedom of action between man and man? Who is clamouring for arbitrary restrictions, to fret and to hamper the greatest of our National Industries? Who but the Nestor of Free Trade, – the great Apostate, – who now denounces, with the hatred of a Pervert, the doctrines which he once so fanatically espoused. There probably exists no other Statesman, who has raised from his Constituents ‘a laugh’ at the expense of the tortures of loyal Irishmen, no other Statesman whose sympathies have made him the Champion of every country at enmity with England, or whose eloquence has embellished every cause – save that of truth and justice. This is no Party question. When we claim that a Statesmen should at least be consistent, should at least be just, we impugn, not his Polities, but his Morality. We admit that a Party may find it needful to change the whole system of its Policy, but we deny that it is legitimate for an individual, while upholding the sanctity of certain inviolable principles, cynically to repudiate those very principles in any case where he may find it convenient to do so.

Happily, there is to be found one Statesman who dares not tamper with fundamental principles, and who has still the courage of his convictions. Among the ranks of the renegades we shall search in vain for the Noble Author of ‘The Reign of Law’, –

ού μήν ούδ Αχιλεύς θετδος πάις ήνκΰμοιο
μάρυαται άλλέπί υηνσί χολου θνμαλγέα πέσσει

HOM. ILIAD iv, 512

For him it was reserved to prove that the scheme of his colleagues was inherently Anti Liberal. Did the Duke of Argyll perceive in time that we cannot stand “halting between two opinions,” and that, if we finally decide on restrictive interference, Nature must be checked at the point of the Bayonet, and the ‘Reign of Law’ must be supplanted by the Reign of Terror?

This is that ‘Coming Terror’ which is the necessary postulate of the movement we have described, if it is carried to its legitimate conclusions. But we would also submit that its advent, under the given conditions, is not merely a logical certainty. Its commencement has been proved by actual demonstrations, which have brought it, according to a now historic phrase, “within the range of practical politics.” Socialism, being essentially antagonistic to Society in its existing form, can only be upheld by force, and the force it employs is – Terror.

‘A sceptre snatched with an unruly hand
Must be as boisterously maintained as gained;
And he that stands upon a slippery place
Makes nice of no vile hold to stay him up.’

KING JOHN Act.iii Scene 4

What better description could we find of the Socialist Leader, and of the method which he employs to obtain his ends? How did the ‘Ratteners’ of Sheffield enforce their paralysing Despotism? How does the Irish Land-Leaguer succeed in enforcing his? He maims, he tortures, he burns, he murders. But he has other methods than these. The individual who dares to assert his freedom, who dares to struggle against a murderous Tyranny, is darkly but surely struck; – he is cut off from the fellowship of men. What is this but a very ‘Terror,’ coercing the honest to join its ranks by dastardly and barbarous cruelties? Let us not deceive ourselves in this matter. Few of us, perhaps, are fully alive to the significance of the Crisis through which we are passing. There is much to shew that, on the next occasion when a successful Terror is organized, we may be deterred by the clamours of a sympathising mob from avenging an outraged Law. ‘The Coming Terror’ will rage unchecked, ‘and what will ye do in the end thereof?’

Is it too late to plead for our Liberties, too late to warn all free-born Englishmen against the schemers who would rule them with a Rod of Iron? Surely the Utopia of the Socialist is too dearly purchased at the price it claims, too dearly, if it needs to uphold it, the dagger of the Fenian, the bomb of the Nihilist, or the rifle of the skulking assassin. Oh, Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!’ was the cry of a victim who had tasted the “Liberty” of the Terror. Shall we too make a Moloch of ‘Liberty'? Shall we too offer sacrifice at the shrine of Anarchy? Rather let us cherish that English Freedom, which has saved us from the Terror which is past, and may yet save us from that which is to come, –

That her fair form may stand and shine,
Make bright our days and light our dreams,
Turning to scorn, with lips divine,
The falsehood of extremes!

May 1881