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The Great State


The Great State

Sec. 1

For many years now I have taken a part in the discussion of Socialism.
During that time Socialism has become a more and more ambiguous term. It
has seemed to me desirable to clear up my own ideas of social progress
and the public side of my life by restating them, and this I have
attempted in this essay.

In order to do so it has been convenient to coin two expressions, and to
employ them with a certain defined intention. They are firstly: The
Normal Social Life, and secondly: The Great State. Throughout this essay
these expressions will be used in accordance with the definitions
presently to be given, and the fact that they are so used will be
emphasised by the employment of capitals. It will be possible for anyone
to argue that what is here defined as the Normal Social Life is not the
normal social life, and that the Great State is indeed no state at all.
That will be an argument outside the range delimited by these

Now what is intended by the Normal Social Life here is a type of human
association and employment, of extreme prevalence and antiquity, which
appears to have been the lot of the enormous majority of human beings as
far back as history or tradition or the vestiges of material that supply
our conceptions of the neolithic period can carry us. It has never been
the lot of all humanity at any time, to-day it is perhaps less
predominant than it has ever been, yet even to-day it is probably the
lot of the greater moiety of mankind.

Essentially this type of association presents a localised community, a
community of which the greater proportion of the individuals are engaged
more or less directly in the cultivation of the land. With this there is
also associated the grazing or herding over wider or more restricted
areas, belonging either collectively or discretely to the community, of
sheep, cattle, goats, or swine, and almost always the domestic fowl is
commensal with man in this life. The cultivated land at least is usually
assigned, temporarily or inalienably, as property to specific
individuals, and the individuals are grouped in generally monogamic
families of which the father is the head. Essentially the social unit is
the Family, and even where, as in Mohammedan countries, there is no
legal or customary restriction upon polygamy, monogamy still prevails as
the ordinary way of living. Unmarried women are not esteemed, and
children are desired. According to the dangers or securities of the
region, the nature of the cultivation and the temperament of the people,
this community is scattered either widely in separate steadings or drawn
together into villages. At one extreme, over large areas of thin pasture
this agricultural community may verge on the nomadic; at another, in
proximity to consuming markets, it may present the concentration of
intensive culture. There may be an adjacent Wild supplying wood, and
perhaps controlled by a simple forestry. The law that holds this
community together is largely traditional and customary and almost
always as its primordial bond there is some sort of temple and some sort
of priest. Typically, the temple is devoted to a local god or a
localised saint, and its position indicates the central point of the
locality, its assembly place and its market. Associated with the
agriculture there are usually a few imperfectly specialised tradesmen, a
smith, a garment-maker perhaps, a basket-maker or potter, who group
about the church or temple. The community may maintain itself in a state
of complete isolation, but more usually there are tracks or roads to the
centres of adjacent communities, and a certain drift of travel, a
certain trade in non-essential things. In the fundamentals of life this
normal community is independent and self-subsisting, and where it is not
beginning to be modified by the novel forces of the new times it
produces its own food and drink, its own clothing, and largely
intermarries within its limits.

This in general terms is what is here intended by the phrase the Normal
Social Life. It is still the substantial part of the rural life of all
Europe and most Asia and Africa, and it has been the life of the great
majority of human beings for immemorial years. It is the root life. It
rests upon the soil, and from that soil below and its reaction to the
seasons and the moods of the sky overhead have grown most of the
traditions, institutions, sentiments, beliefs, superstitions, and
fundamental songs and stories of mankind.

But since the very dawn of history at least this Normal Social Life has
never been the whole complete life of mankind. Quite apart from the
marginal life of the savage hunter, there have been a number of forces
and influences within men and women and without, that have produced
abnormal and surplus ways of living, supplemental, additional, and even
antagonistic to this normal scheme.

And first as to the forces within men and women. Long as it has lasted,
almost universal as it has been, the human being has never yet achieved
a perfect adaptation to the needs of the Normal Social Life. He has
attained nothing of that frictionless fitting to the needs of
association one finds in the bee or the ant. Curiosity, deep stirrings
to wander, the still more ancient inheritance of the hunter, a recurrent
distaste for labour, and resentment against the necessary subjugations
of family life have always been a straining force within the
agricultural community. The increase of population during periods of
prosperity has led at the touch of bad seasons and adversity to the
desperate reliefs of war and the invasion of alien localities. And the
nomadic and adventurous spirit of man found reliefs and opportunities
more particularly along the shores of great rivers and inland seas.
Trade and travel began, at first only a trade in adventitious things, in
metals and rare objects and luxuries and slaves. With trade came writing
and money; the inventions of debt and rent, usury and tribute. History
finds already in its beginnings a thin network of trading and slaving
flung over the world of the Normal Social Life, a network whose strands
are the early roads, whose knots are the first towns and the first

Indeed, all recorded history is in a sense the history of these surplus
and supplemental activities of mankind. The Normal Social Life flowed on
in its immemorial fashion, using no letters, needing no records, leaving
no history. Then, a little minority, bulking disproportionately in the
record, come the trader, the sailor, the slave, the landlord and the
tax-compeller, the townsman and the king.

All written history is the story of a minority and their peculiar and
abnormal affairs. Save in so far as it notes great natural catastrophes
and tells of the spreading or retrocession of human life through changes
of climate and physical conditions it resolves itself into an account of
a series of attacks and modifications and supplements made by excessive
and superfluous forces engendered within the community upon the Normal
Social Life. The very invention of writing is a part of those modifying
developments. The Normal Social Life is essentially illiterate and
traditional. The Normal Social Life is as mute as the standing crops; it
is as seasonal and cyclic as nature herself, and reaches towards the
future only an intimation of continual repetitions.

Now this human over-life may take either beneficent or maleficent or
neutral aspects towards the general life of humanity. It may present
itself as law and pacification, as a positive addition and
superstructure to the Normal Social Life, as roads and markets and
cities, as courts and unifying monarchies, as helpful and directing
religious organisations, as literature and art and science and
philosophy, reflecting back upon the individual in the Normal Social
Life from which it arose, a gilding and refreshment of new and wider
interests and added pleasures and resources. One may define certain
phases in the history of various countries when this was the state of
affairs, when a countryside of prosperous communities with a healthy
family life and a wide distribution of property, animated by roads and
towns and unified by a generally intelligible religious belief, lived in
a transitory but satisfactory harmony under a sympathetic government. I
take it that this is the condition to which the minds of such original
and vigorous reactionary thinkers as Mr. G.K. Chesterton and Mr. Hilaire
Belloc for example turn, as being the most desirable state of mankind.

But the general effect of history is to present these phases as phases
of exceptional good luck, and to show the surplus forces of humanity as
on the whole antagonistic to any such equilibrium with the Normal Social
Life. To open the book of history haphazard is, most commonly, to open
it at a page where the surplus forces appear to be in more or less
destructive conflict with the Normal Social Life. One opens at the
depopulation of Italy by the aggressive great estates of the Roman
Empire, at the impoverishment of the French peasantry by a too
centralised monarchy before the revolution, or at the huge degenerative
growth of the great industrial towns of western Europe in the nineteenth
century. Or again one opens at destructive wars. One sees these surplus
forces over and above the Normal Social Life working towards unstable
concentrations of population, to centralisation of government, to
migrations and conflicts upon a large scale; one discovers the process
developing into a phase of social fragmentation and destruction and
then, unless the whole country has been wasted down to its very soil,
the Normal Social Life returns as the heath and furze and grass return
after the burning of a common. But it never returns in precisely its old
form. The surplus forces have always produced some traceable change; the
rhythm is a little altered. As between the Gallic peasant before the
Roman conquest, the peasant of the Gallic province, the Carlovingian
peasant, the French peasant of the thirteenth, the seventeenth, and the
twentieth centuries, there is, in spite of a general uniformity of life,
of a common atmosphere of cows, hens, dung, toil, ploughing, economy,
and domestic intimacy, an effect of accumulating generalising
influences and of wider relevancies. And the oscillations of empires and
kingdoms, religious movements, wars, invasions, settlements leave upon
the mind an impression that the surplus life of mankind, the
less-localised life of mankind, that life of mankind which is not
directly connected with the soil but which has become more or less
detached from and independent of it, is becoming proportionately more
important in relation to the Normal Social Life. It is as if a different
way of living was emerging from the Normal Social Life and freeing
itself from its traditions and limitations.

And this is more particularly the effect upon the mind of a review of
the history of the past two hundred years. The little speculative
activities of the alchemist and natural philosopher, the little economic
experiments of the acquisitive and enterprising landed proprietor,
favoured by unprecedented periods of security and freedom, have passed
into a new phase of extraordinary productivity. They had added
preposterously and continue to add on a gigantic scale and without any
evident limits to the continuation of their additions, to the resources
of humanity. To the strength of horses and men and slaves has been added
the power of machines and the possibility of economies that were once
incredible The Normal Social Life has been overshadowed as it has never
been overshadowed before by the concentrations and achievements of the
surplus life. Vast new possibilities open to the race; the traditional
life of mankind, its traditional systems of association, are challenged
and threatened; and all the social thought, all the political activity
of our time turns in reality upon the conflict of this ancient system
whose essentials we have here defined and termed the Normal Social Life
with the still vague and formless impulses that seem destined either to
involve it and the race in a final destruction or to replace it by some
new and probably more elaborate method of human association.

Because there is the following difference between the action of the
surplus forces as we see them to-day and as they appeared before the
outbreak of physical science and mechanism. Then it seemed clearly
necessary that whatever social and political organisation developed, it
must needs; rest ultimately on the tiller of the soil, the agricultural
holding, and the Normal Social Life. But now even in agriculture huge
wholesale methods have appeared. They are declared to be destructive;
but it is quite conceivable that they may be made ultimately as
recuperative as that small agriculture which has hitherto been the
inevitable social basis. If that is so, then the new ways of living may
not simply impose themselves in a growing proportion upon the Normal
Social Life, but they may even oust it and replace it altogether. Or
they may oust it and fail to replace it. In the newer countries the
Normal Social Life does not appear to establish itself at all rapidly.
No real peasantry appears in either America or Australia; and in the
older countries, unless there is the most elaborate legislative and
fiscal protection, the peasant population wanes before the large farm,
the estate, and overseas production.

Now most of the political and social discussion of the last hundred
years may be regarded and rephrased as an attempt to apprehend this
defensive struggle of the Normal Social Life against waxing novelty and
innovation and to give a direction and guidance to all of us who
participate. And it is very largely a matter of temperament and free
choice still, just where we shall decide to place ourselves. Let us
consider some of the key words of contemporary thought, such as
Liberalism, Individualism, Socialism, in the light of this broad
generalisation we have made; and then we shall find it easier to explain
our intention in employing as a second technicality the phrase of The
Great State as an opposite to the Normal Social Life, which we have
already defined.

Sec. 2

The Normal Social Life has been defined as one based on agriculture,
traditional and essentially unchanging. It has needed no toleration and
displayed no toleration for novelty and strangeness. Its beliefs have
been on such a nature as to justify and sustain itself, and it has had
an intrinsic hostility to any other beliefs. The God of its community
has been a jealous god even when he was only a tribal and local god.
Only very occasionally in history until the coming of the modern period
do we find any human community relaxing from this ancient and more
normal state of entire intolerance towards ideas or practices other than
its own. When toleration and a receptive attitude towards alien ideas
was manifested in the Old World, it was at some trading centre or
political centre; new ideas and new religions came by water along the
trade routes. And such toleration as there was rarely extended to active
teaching and propaganda. Even in liberal Athens the hemlock was in the
last resort at the service of the ancient gods and the ancient morals
against the sceptical critic.

But with the steady development of innovating forces in human affairs
there has actually grown up a cult of receptivity, a readiness for new
ideas, a faith in the probable truth of novelties. Liberalism--I do not,
of course, refer in any way to the political party which makes this
profession--is essentially anti-traditionalism; its tendency is to
commit for trial any institution or belief that is brought before it. It
is the accuser and antagonist of all the fixed and ancient values and
imperatives and prohibitions of the Normal Social Life. And growing up
in relation to Liberalism and sustained by it is the great body of
scientific knowledge, which professes at least to be absolutely
undogmatic and perpetually on its trial and under assay and

Now a very large part of the advanced thought of the past century is no
more than the confused negation of the broad beliefs and institutions
which have been the heritage and social basis of humanity for immemorial
years. This is as true of the extremest Individualism as of the
extremest Socialism. The former denies that element of legal and
customary control which has always subdued the individual to the needs
of the Normal Social Life, and the latter that qualified independence of
distributed property which is the basis of family autonomy. Both are
movements against the ancient life, and nothing is more absurd than the
misrepresentation which presents either as a conservative force. They
are two divergent schools with a common disposition to reject the old
and turn towards the new. The Individualist professes a faith for which
he has no rational evidence, that the mere abandonment of traditions and
controls must ultimately produce a new and beautiful social order; while
the Socialist, with an equal liberalism, regards the outlook with a
kind of hopeful dread, and insists upon an elaborate readjustment, a new
and untried scheme of social organisation to replace the shattered and
weakening Normal Social Life.

Both these movements, and, indeed, all movements that are not movements
for the subjugation of innovation and the restoration of tradition, are
vague in the prospect they contemplate. They produce no definite
forecasts of the quality of the future towards which they so confidently
indicate the way. But this is less true of modern socialism than of its
antithesis, and it becomes less and less true as socialism, under an
enormous torrent of criticism, slowly washes itself clean from the mass
of partial statement, hasty misstatement, sheer error and presumption
that obscured its first emergence.

But it is well to be very clear upon one point at this stage, and that
is, that this present time is not a battle-ground between individualism
and socialism; it is a battle-ground between the Normal Social Life on
the one hand and a complex of forces on the other which seek a form of
replacement and seem partially to find it in these and other doctrines.

Nearly all contemporary thinkers who are not too muddled to be
assignable fall into one of three classes, of which the third we shall
distinguish is the largest and most various and divergent. It will be
convenient to say a little of each of these classes before proceeding to
a more particular account of the third. Our analysis will cut across
many accepted classifications, but there will be ample justification for
this rearrangement. All of them may be dealt with quite justly as
accepting the general account of the historical process which is here

Then first we must distinguish a series of writers and thinkers which
one may call--the word conservative being already politically
assigned--the Conservators.

These are people who really do consider the Normal Social Life as the
only proper and desirable life for the great mass of humanity, and they
are fully prepared to subordinate all exceptional and surplus lives to
the moral standards and limitations that arise naturally out of the
Normal Social Life. They desire a state in which property is widely
distributed, a community of independent families protected by law and an
intelligent democratic statecraft from the economic aggressions of large
accumulations and linked by a common religion. Their attitude to the
forces of change is necessarily a hostile attitude. They are disposed to
regard innovations in transit and machinery as undesirable, and even
mischievous disturbances of a wholesome equilibrium. They are at least
unfriendly to any organisation of scientific research, and scornful of
the pretensions of science. Criticisms of the methods of logic,
scepticism of the more widely diffused human beliefs, they would
classify as insanity. Two able English writers, Mr. G.K. Chesterton and
Mr. Belloc, have given the clearest expression to this system of ideals,
and stated an admirable case for it. They present a conception of
vinous, loudly singing, earthy, toiling, custom-ruled, wholesome, and
insanitary men; they are pagan in the sense that their hearts are with
the villagers and not with the townsmen, Christian in the spirit of the
parish priest. There are no other Conservators so clear-headed and
consistent. But their teaching is merely the logical expression of an
enormous amount of conservative feeling. Vast multitudes of less lucid
minds share their hostility to novelty and research; hate, dread, and
are eager to despise science, and glow responsive to the warm, familiar
expressions of primordial feelings and immemorial prejudices The rural
conservative, the liberal of the allotments and small-holdings type, Mr.
Roosevelt--in his Western-farmer, philoprogenitive phase as
distinguished from the phase of his more imperialist moments--all
present themselves as essentially Conservators as seekers after and
preservers of the Normal Social Life.

So, too, do Socialists of the William Morris type. The mind of William
Morris was profoundly reactionary He hated the whole trend of later
nineteenth-century modernism with the hatred natural to a man of
considerable scholarship and intense aesthetic sensibilities. His mind
turned, exactly as Mr. Belloc's turns, to the finished and enriched
Normal Social Life of western Europe in the middle ages, but, unlike Mr.
Belloc, he believed that, given private ownership of land and the
ordinary materials of life, there must necessarily be an aggregatory
process, usury, expropriation, the development of an exploiting wealthy
class. He believed profit was the devil. His "News from Nowhere"
pictures a communism that amounted in fact to little more than a system
of private ownership of farms and trades without money or any buying and
selling, in an atmosphere of geniality, generosity, and mutual
helpfulness. Mr. Belloc, with a harder grip upon the realities of life,
would have the widest distribution of proprietorship, with an alert
democratic government continually legislating against the protean
reappearances of usury and accumulation and attacking, breaking up, and
redistributing any large unanticipated bodies of wealth that appeared.
But both men are equally set towards the Normal Social Life, and
equally enemies of the New. The so-called "socialist" land legislation
of New Zealand again is a tentative towards the realisation of the same
school of ideas: great estates are to be automatically broken up,
property is to be kept disseminated; a vast amount of political speaking
and writing in America and throughout the world enforces one's
impression of the widespread influence of Conservator ideals.

Of course, it is inevitable that phases of prosperity for the Normal
Social Life will lead to phases of over-population and scarcity, there
will be occasional famines and occasional pestilences and plethoras of
vitality leading to the blood-letting of war. I suppose Mr. Chesterton
and Mr. Belloc at least have the courage of their opinions, and are
prepared to say that such things always have been and always must be;
they are part of the jolly rhythms of the human lot under the sun, and
are to be taken with the harvest home and love-making and the peaceful
ending of honoured lives as an integral part of the unending drama of

Sec. 3

Now opposed to the Conservators are all those who do not regard
contemporary humanity as a final thing nor the Normal Social Life as the
inevitable basis of human continuity. They believe in secular change, in
Progress, in a future for our species differing continually more from
its past. On the whole, they are prepared for the gradual
disentanglement of men from the Normal Social Life altogether, and they
look for new ways of living and new methods of human association with a
certain adventurous hopefulness.

Now, this second large class does not so much admit of subdivision into
two as present a great variety of intermediaries between two extremes. I
propose to give distinctive names to these extremes, with the very clear
proviso that they are not antagonised, and that the great multitude of
this second, anti-conservator class, this liberal, more novel class
modern conditions have produced falls between them, and is neither the
one nor the other, but partaking in various degrees of both. On the one
hand, then, we have that type of mind which is irritated by and
distrustful of all collective proceedings which is profoundly
distrustful of churches and states, which is expressed essentially by
Individualism. The Individualist appears to regard the extensive
disintegrations of the Normal Social Life that are going on to-day with
an extreme hopefulness. Whatever is ugly or harsh in modern
industrialism or in the novel social development of our time he seems to
consider as a necessary aspect of a process of selection and survival,
whose tendencies are on the whole inevitably satisfactory. The future
welfare of man he believes in effect may be trusted to the spontaneous
and planless activities of people of goodwill, and nothing but state
intervention can effectively impede its attainment. And curiously close
to this extreme optimistic school in its moral quality and logical
consequences, though contrasting widely in the sinister gloom of its
spirit, is the socialism of Karl Marx. He declared the contemporary
world to be a great process of financial aggrandisement and general
expropriation, of increasing power for the few and of increasing
hardship and misery for the many, a process that would go on until at
last a crisis of unendurable tension would be reached and the social
revolution ensue. The world had, in fact, to be worse before it could
hope to be better. He contemplated a continually exacerbated Class War,
with a millennium of extraordinary vagueness beyond as the reward of
the victorious workers. His common quality with the Individualist lies
in his repudiation of and antagonism to plans and arrangements, in his
belief in the overriding power of Law. Their common influence is the
discouragement of collective understandings upon the basis of the
existing state. Both converge in practice upon _laissez faire_. I would
therefore lump them together under the term of Planless Progressives,
and I would contrast with them those types which believe supremely in
systematised purpose.

The purposeful and systematic types, in common with the Individualist
and Marxist, regard the Normal Social Life, for all the many thousands
of years behind it, as a phase, and as a phase which is now passing, in
human experience; and they are prepared for a future society that may be
ultimately different right down to its essential relationships from the
human past. But they also believe that the forces that have been
assailing and disintegrating the Normal Social Life, which have been, on
the one hand, producing great accumulations of wealth, private freedom,
and ill-defined, irresponsible and socially dangerous power, and, on the
other, labour hordes, for the most part urban, without any property or
outlook except continuous toil and anxiety, which in England have
substituted a dischargeable agricultural labourer for the independent
peasant almost completely, and in America seem to be arresting any
general development of the Normal Social Life at all, are forces of wide
and indefinite possibility that need to be controlled by a collective
effort implying a collective design, deflected from merely injurious
consequences and organised for a new human welfare upon new lines. They
agree with that class of thinking I have distinguished as the
Conservators in their recognition of vast contemporary disorders and
their denial of the essential beneficence of change. But while the
former seem to regard all novelty and innovation as a mere inundation to
be met, banked back, defeated and survived, these more hopeful and
adventurous minds would rather regard contemporary change as amounting
on the whole to the tumultuous and almost catastrophic opening-up of
possible new channels, the violent opportunity of vast, deep, new ways
to great unprecedented human ends, ends that are neither feared nor

Now while the Conservators are continually talking of the "eternal
facts" of human life and human nature and falling back upon a conception
of permanence that is continually less true as our perspectives extend,
these others are full of the conception of adaptation, of deliberate
change in relationship and institution to meet changing needs. I would
suggest for them, therefore, as opposed to the Conservators and
contrasted with the Planless Progressives, the name of Constructors.
They are the extreme right, as it were, while the Planless Progressives
are the extreme left of Anti-Conservator thought.

I believe that these distinctions I have made cover practically every
clear form of contemporary thinking, and are a better and more helpful
classification than any now current. But, of course, nearly every
individual nowadays is at least a little confused, and will be found to
wobble in the course even of a brief discussion between one attitude and
the other. This is a separation of opinions rather than of persons. And
particularly that word Socialism has become so vague and incoherent that
for a man to call himself a socialist nowadays is to give no indication
whatever whether he is a Conservator like William Morris, a
non-Constructor like Karl Marx, or a Constructor of any of half a dozen
different schools. On the whole, however, modern socialism tends to fall
towards the Constructor wing. So, too, do those various movements in
England and Germany and France called variously nationalist and
imperialist, and so do the American civic and social reformers. Under
the same heading must come such attempts to give the vague impulses of
Syndicalism a concrete definition as the "Guild Socialism" of Mr. Orage.
All these movements are agreed that the world is progressive towards a
novel and unprecedented social order, not necessarily and fatally
better, and that it needs organised and even institutional guidance
thither, however much they differ as to the form that order should

For the greater portion of a century socialism has been before the
world, and it is not perhaps premature to attempt a word or so of
analysis of that great movement in the new terms we are here employing.
The origins of the socialist idea were complex and multifarious never at
any time has it succeeded in separating out a statement of itself that
was at once simple, complete and acceptable to any large proportion of
those who call themselves socialists. But always it has pointed to two
or three definite things. The first of these is that unlimited freedoms
of private property, with increasing facilities of exchange,
combination, and aggrandisement, become more and more dangerous to
human liberty by the expropriation and reduction to private wages
slavery of larger and larger proportions of the population. Every school
of socialism states this in some more or less complete form, however
divergent the remedial methods suggested by the different schools. And,
next, every school of socialism accepts the concentration of management
and property as necessary, and declines to contemplate what is the
typical Conservator remedy, its re-fragmentation. Accordingly it sets up
not only against the large private owner, but against owners generally,
the idea of a public proprietor, the State, which shall hold in the
collective interest. But where the earlier socialisms stopped short, and
where to this day socialism is vague, divided, and unprepared, is upon
the psychological problems involved in that new and largely
unprecedented form of proprietorship, and upon the still more subtle
problems of its attainment. These are vast, and profoundly, widely, and
multitudinously difficult problems, and it was natural and inevitable
that the earlier socialists in the first enthusiasm of their idea should
minimise these difficulties, pretend in the fullness of their faith that
partial answers to objections were complete answers, and display the
common weaknesses of honest propaganda the whole world over. Socialism
is now old enough to know better. Few modern socialists present their
faith as a complete panacea, and most are now setting to work in earnest
upon these long-shirked preliminary problems of human interaction
through which the vital problem of a collective head and brain can alone
be approached.

A considerable proportion of the socialist movement remains, as it has
been from the first, vaguely democratic. It points to collective
ownership with no indication of the administrative scheme it
contemplates to realise that intention. Necessarily it remains a
formless claim without hands to take hold of the thing it desires.
Indeed in a large number of cases it is scarcely more than a resentful
consciousness in the expropriated masses of social disintegration. It
spends its force very largely in mere revenges upon property as such,
attacks simply destructive by reason of the absence of any definite
ulterior scheme. It is an ill-equipped and planless belligerent who must
destroy whatever he captures because he can neither use nor take away. A
council of democratic socialists in possession of London would be as
capable of an orderly and sustained administration as the Anabaptists in
Munster. But the discomforts and disorders of our present planless
system do tend steadily to the development of this crude socialistic
spirit in the mass of the proletariat; merely vindictive attacks upon
property, sabotage, and the general strike are the logical and
inevitable consequences of an uncontrolled concentration of property in
a few hands, and such things must and will go on, the deep undertow in
the deliquescence of the Normal Social Life, until a new justice, a new
scheme of compensations and satisfactions is attained, or the Normal
Social Life re-emerges.

Fabian socialism was the first systematic attempt to meet the fatal
absence of administrative schemes in the earlier socialisms. It can
scarcely be regarded now as anything but an interesting failure, but a
failure that has all the educational value of a first reconnaissance
into unexplored territory. Starting from that attack on aggregating
property, which is the common starting-point of all socialist projects,
the Fabians, appalled at the obvious difficulties of honest
confiscation and an open transfer from private to public hands,
conceived the extraordinary idea of _filching_ property for the state. A
small body of people of extreme astuteness were to bring about the
municipalisation and nationalisation first of this great system of
property and then of that, in a manner so artful that the millionaires
were to wake up one morning at last, and behold, they would find
themselves poor men! For a decade or more Mr. Pease, Mr. Bernard Shaw,
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb, Mrs. Besant, Dr. Lawson Dodd, and their
associates of the London Fabian Society, did pit their wits and ability,
or at any rate the wits and ability of their leisure moments, against
the embattled capitalists of England and the world, in this complicated
and delicate enterprise, without any apparent diminution of the larger
accumulations of wealth. But in addition they developed another side of
Fabianism, still more subtle, which professed to be a kind of
restoration in kind of property to the proletariat and in this direction
they were more successful. A dexterous use, they decided, was to be made
of the Poor Law, the public health authority, the education authority,
and building regulations and so forth, to create, so to speak, a
communism of the lower levels. The mass of people whom the forces of
change had expropriated were to be given a certain minimum of food,
shelter, education, and sanitation, and this, the socialists were
assured, could be used as the thin end of the wedge towards a complete
communism. The minimum, once established, could obviously be raised
continually until either everybody had what they needed, or the
resources of society gave out and set a limit to the process.

This second method of attack brought the Fabian movement into
co-operation with a large amount of benevolent and constructive
influence outside the socialist ranks altogether. Few wealthy people
really grudge the poor a share of the necessities of life, and most are
quite willing to assist in projects for such a distribution. But while
these schemes naturally involved a very great amount of regulation and
regimentation of the affairs of the poor, the Fabian Society fell away
more and more from its associated proposals for the socialisation of the
rich. The Fabian project changed steadily in character until at last it
ceased to be in any sense antagonistic to wealth as such. If the lion
did not exactly lie down with the lamb, at any rate the man with the gun
and the alleged social mad dog returned very peaceably together. The
Fabian hunt was up.

Great financiers contributed generously to a School of Economics that
had been founded with moneys left to the Fabian Society by earlier
enthusiasts for socialist propaganda and education. It remained for Mr.
Belloc to point the moral of the whole development with a phrase, to
note that Fabianism no longer aimed at the socialisation of the whole
community, but only at the socialisation of the poor. The first really
complete project for a new social order to replace the Normal Social
Life was before the world, and this project was the compulsory
regimentation of the workers and the complete state control of labour
under a new plutocracy. Our present chaos was to be organised into a
Servile State.

Sec. 4

Now to many of us who found the general spirit of the socialist movement
at least hopeful and attractive and sympathetic, this would be an almost
tragic conclusion, did we believe that Fabianism was anything more than
the first experiment in planning--and one almost inevitably shallow and
presumptuous--of the long series that may be necessary before a clear
light breaks upon the road humanity must follow. But we decline to be
forced by this one intellectual fiasco towards the _laissez faire_ of
the Individualist and the Marxist, or to accept the Normal Social Life
with its atmosphere of hens and cows and dung, its incessant toil, its
servitude of women, and its endless repetitions as the only tolerable
life conceivable for the bulk of mankind--as the ultimate life, that is,
of mankind. With less arrogance and confidence, but it may be with a
firmer faith, we declare that we believe a more spacious social order
than any that exists or ever has existed, a Peace of the World in which
there is an almost universal freedom, health, happiness, and well-being
and which contains the seeds of a still greater future, is possible to
mankind. We propose to begin again with the recognition of those same
difficulties the Fabians first realised. But we do not propose to
organise a society, form a group for the control of the two chief
political parties, bring about "socialism" in twenty-five years, or do
anything beyond contributing in our place and measure to that
constructive discussion whose real magnitude we now begin to realise.

We have faith in a possible future, but it is a faith that makes the
quality of that future entirely dependent upon the strength and
clearness of purpose that this present time can produce. We do not
believe the greater social state is inevitable.

Yet there is, we hold, a certain qualified inevitability about this
greater social state because we believe any social state not affording a
general contentment, a general freedom, and a general and increasing
fullness of life, must sooner or later collapse and disintegrate again,
and revert more or less completely to the Normal Social Life, and
because we believe the Normal Social Life is itself thick-sown with the
seeds of fresh beginnings. The Normal Social Life has never at any time
been absolutely permanent, always it has carried within itself the germs
of enterprise and adventure and exchanges that finally attack its
stability. The superimposed social order of to-day, such as it is, with
its huge development of expropriated labour, and the schemes of the
later Fabians to fix this state of affairs in an organised form and
render it plausibly tolerable, seem also doomed to accumulate
catastrophic tensions. Bureaucratic schemes for establishing the regular
lifelong subordination of a labouring class, enlivened though they may
be by frequent inspection, disciplinary treatment during seasons of
unemployment, compulsory temperance, free medical attendance, and a
cheap and shallow elementary education fail to satisfy the restless
cravings in the heart of man. They are cravings that even the baffling
methods of the most ingeniously worked Conciliation Boards cannot
permanently restrain. The drift of any Servile State must be towards a
class revolt, paralysing sabotage and a general strike. The more rigid
and complete the Servile State becomes, the more thorough will be its
ultimate failure. Its fate is decay or explosion. From its d�bris we
shall either revert to the Normal Social Life and begin again the long
struggle towards that ampler, happier, juster arrangement of human
affairs which we of this book, at any rate, believe to be possible, or
we shall pass into the twilight of mankind.

This greater social life we put, then, as the only real alternative to
the Normal Social Life from which man is continually escaping. For it we
do not propose to use the expressions the "socialist state" or
"socialism," because we believe those terms have now by constant
confused use become so battered and bent and discoloured by irrelevant
associations as to be rather misleading than expressive. We propose to
use the term The Great State to express this ideal of a social system no
longer localised, no longer immediately tied to and conditioned by the
cultivation of the land, world-wide in its interests and outlook and
catholic in its tolerance and sympathy, a system of great individual
freedom with a universal understanding among its citizens of a
collective thought and purpose.

Now, the difficulties that lie in the way of humanity in its complex and
toilsome journey through the coming centuries towards this Great State
are fundamentally difficulties of adaptation and adjustment. To no
conceivable social state is man inherently fitted: he is a creature of
jealousy and suspicion, unstable, restless, acquisitive, aggressive,
intractable, and of a most subtle and nimble dishonesty. Moreover, he is
imaginative, adventurous, and inventive. His nature and instincts are as
much in conflict with the necessary restrictions and subjugation of the
Normal Social Life as they are likely to be with any other social net
that necessity may weave about him. But the Normal Social Life has this
advantage that it has a vast accumulated moral tradition and a minutely
worked-out material method. All the fundamental institutions have arisen
in relation to it and are adapted to its conditions. To revert to it
after any phase of social chaos and distress is and will continue for
many years to be the path of least resistance for perplexed humanity.

This conception of the Great State, on the other hand, is still
altogether unsubstantial. It is a project as dream-like to-day as
electric lighting, electric traction, or aviation would have been in the
year 1850. In 1850 a man reasonably conversant with the physical science
of his time could have declared with a very considerable confidence
that, given a certain measure of persistence and social security, these
things were more likely to be attained than not in the course of the
next century. But such a prophecy was conditional on the preliminary
accumulation of a considerable amount of knowledge, on many experiments
and failures. Had the world of 1850, by some wave of impulse, placed all
its resources in the hands of the ablest scientific man alive, and asked
him to produce a practicable paying electric vehicle before 1852, at
best he would have produced some clumsy, curious toy, more probably he
would have failed altogether; and, similarly, if the whole population of
the world came to the present writer and promised meekly to do whatever
it was told, we should find ourselves still very largely at a loss in
our project for a millennium. Yet just as nearly every man at work upon
Voltaic electricity in 1850 knew that he was preparing for electric
traction, so do I know quite certainly, in spite of a whole row of
unsolved problems before me, that I am working towards the Great State.

Let me briefly recapitulate the main problems which have to be attacked
in the attempt to realise the outline of the Great State. At the base of
the whole order there must be some method of agricultural production,
and if the agricultural labourer and cottager and the ancient life of
the small householder on the holding, a life laborious, prolific,
illiterate, limited, and in immediate contact with the land used, is to
recede and disappear it must recede and disappear before methods upon a
much larger scale, employing wholesale machinery and involving great
economies. It is alleged by modern writers that the permanent residence
of the cultivator in close relation to his ground is a legacy from the
days of cumbrous and expensive transit, that the great proportion of
farm work is seasonal, and that a migration to and fro between rural and
urban conditions would be entirely practicable in a largely planned
community. The agricultural population could move out of town into an
open-air life as the spring approached, and return for spending,
pleasure, and education as the days shortened. Already something of this
sort occurs under extremely unfavourable conditions in the movement of
the fruit and hop pickers from the east end of London into Kent, but
that is a mere hint of the extended picnic which a broadly planned
cultivation might afford. A fully developed civilisation, employing
machines in the hands of highly skilled men, will minimise toil to the
very utmost, no man will shove where a machine can shove, or carry where
a machine can carry; but there will remain, more particularly in the
summer, a vast amount of hand operations, invigorating and even
attractive to the urban population Given short hours, good pay, and all
the jolly amusement in the evening camp that a free, happy, and
intelligent people will develop for themselves, and there will be
little difficulty about this particular class of work to differentiate
it from any other sort of necessary labour.

One passes, therefore, with no definite transition from the root problem
of agricultural production in the Great State to the wider problem of
labour in general.

A glance at the countryside conjures up a picture of extensive tracts
being cultivated on a wholesale scale, of skilled men directing great
ploughing, sowing, and reaping plants, steering cattle and sheep about
carefully designed enclosures, constructing channels and guiding sewage
towards its proper destination on the fields, and then of added crowds
of genial people coming out to spray trees and plants, pick and sort and
pack fruits. But who are these people? Why are they in particular doing
this for the community? Is our Great State still to have a majority of
people glad to do commonplace work for mediocre wages, and will there be
other individuals who will ride by on the roads, sympathetically, no
doubt, but with a secret sense of superiority? So one opens the general
problem of the organisation for labour.

I am careful here to write "for labour" and not "of Labour," because it
is entirely against the spirit of the Great State that any section of
the people should be set aside as a class to do most of the monotonous,
laborious, and uneventful things for the community. That is practically
the present arrangement, and that, with a quickened sense of the need of
breaking people in to such a life, is the ideal of the bureaucratic
Servile State to which, in common with the Conservators, we are bitterly
opposed. And here I know I am at my most difficult, most speculative,
and most revolutionary point. We who look to the Great State as the
present aim of human progress believe a state may solve its economic
problem without any section whatever of the community being condemned to
lifelong labour. And contemporary events, the phenomena of recent
strikes, the phenomena of sabotage, carry out the suggestion that in a
community where nearly everyone reads extensively travels about, sees
the charm and variety in the lives of prosperous and leisurely people,
no class is going to submit permanently to modern labour conditions
without extreme resistance, even after the most elaborate Labour
Conciliation schemes and social minima are established Things are
altogether too stimulating to the imagination nowadays. Of all
impossible social dreams that belief in tranquillised and submissive and
virtuous Labour is the wildest of all. No sort of modern men will stand
it. They will as a class do any vivid and disastrous thing rather than
stand it. Even the illiterate peasant will only endure lifelong toil
under the stimulus of private ownership and with the consolations of
religion; and the typical modern worker has neither the one nor the
other. For a time, indeed, for a generation or so even, a labour mass
may be fooled or coerced, but in the end it will break out against its
subjection, even if it breaks out to a general social catastrophe.

We have, in fact, to invent for the Great State, if we are to suppose
any Great State at all, an economic method without any specific labour
class. If we cannot do so, we had better throw ourselves in with the
Conservators forthwith, for they are right and we are absurd. Adhesion
to the conception of the Great State involves adhesion to the belief
that the amount of regular labour, skilled and unskilled, required to
produce everything necessary for everyone living in its highly elaborate
civilisation may, under modern conditions, with the help of scientific
economy and power-producing machinery, be reduced to so small a number
of working hours per head in proportion to the average life of the
citizen, as to be met as regards the greater moiety of it by the payment
of wages over and above the gratuitous share of each individual in the
general output; and as regards the residue, a residue of rough,
disagreeable, and monotonous operations, by some form of conscription,
which will demand a year or so, let us say, of each person's life for
the public service. If we reflect that in the contemporary state there
is already food, shelter, and clothing of a sort for everyone, in spite
of the fact that enormous numbers of people do no productive work at all
because they are too well off, that great numbers are out of work, great
numbers by bad nutrition and training incapable of work, and that an
enormous amount of the work actually done is the overlapping production
of competitive trade and work upon such politically necessary but
socially useless things as Dreadnoughts, it becomes clear that the
absolutely unavoidable labour in a modern community and its ratio to the
available vitality must be of very small account indeed. But all this
has still to be worked out even in the most general terms. An
intelligent science of economics should afford standards and
technicalities and systematised facts upon which to base an estimate.
The point was raised a quarter of a century ago by Morris in his "News
from Nowhere," and indeed it was already discussed by More in his
"Utopia." Our contemporary economics is, however, still a foolish,
pretentious pseudo-science, a festering mass of assumptions about buying
and selling and wages-paying, and one would as soon consult Bradshaw or
the works of Dumas as our orthodox professors of economics for any
light upon this fundamental matter.

Moreover, we believe that there is a real disposition to work in human
beings, and that in a well-equipped community, in which no one was under
an unavoidable urgency to work, the greater proportion of productive
operations could be made sufficiently attractive to make them desirable
occupations. As for the irreducible residue of undesirable toil, I owe
to my friend the late Professor William James this suggestion of a
general conscription and a period of public service for everyone, a
suggestion which greatly occupied his thoughts during the last years of
his life. He was profoundly convinced of the high educational and
disciplinary value of universal compulsory military service, and of the
need of something more than a sentimental ideal of duty in public life.
He would have had the whole population taught in the schools and
prepared for this year (or whatever period it had to be) of patient and
heroic labour, the men for the mines, the fisheries, the sanitary
services, railway routine, the women for hospital, and perhaps
educational work, and so forth. He believed such a service would
permeate the whole state with a sense of civic obligation....

But behind all these conceivable triumphs of scientific adjustment and
direction lies the infinitely greater difficulty on our way to the Great
State, the difficulty of direction. What sort of people are going to
distribute the work of the community, decide what is or is not to be
done, determine wages, initiate enterprises; and under what sort of
criticism, checks, and controls are they going to do this delicate and
extensive work? With this we open the whole problem of government,
administration and officialdom.

The Marxist and the democratic socialist generally shirk this riddle
altogether; the Fabian conception of a bureaucracy, official to the
extent of being a distinct class and cult, exists only as a
starting-point for healthy repudiations. Whatever else may be worked out
in the subtler answers our later time prepares, nothing can be clearer
than that the necessary machinery of government must be elaborately
organised to prevent the development of a managing caste in permanent
conspiracy, tacit or expressed, against the normal man. Quite apart from
the danger of unsympathetic and fatally irritating government there can
be little or no doubt that the method of making men officials for life
is quite the worst way of getting official duties done. Officialdom is a
species of incompetence. This rather priggish, teachable, and
well-behaved sort of boy, who is attracted by the prospect of assured
income and a pension to win his way into the Civil Service, and who then
by varied assiduities rises to a sort of timidly vindictive importance,
is the last person to whom we would willingly entrust the vital
interests of a nation. We want people who know about life at large, who
will come to the public service seasoned by experience, not people who
have specialised and acquired that sort of knowledge which is called, in
much the same spirit of qualification as one speaks of German Silver,
Expert Knowledge. It is clear our public servants and officials must be
so only for their periods of service. They must be taught by life, and
not "trained" by pedagogues. In every continuing job there is a time
when one is crude and blundering, a time, the best time, when one is
full of the freshness and happiness of doing well, and a time when
routine has largely replaced the stimulus of novelty. The Great State
will, I feel convinced, regard changes in occupation as a proper
circumstance in the life of every citizen; it will value a certain
amateurishness in its service, and prefer it to the trite omniscience of
the stale official. On that score of the necessity or versatility, if on
no other score, I am flatly antagonistic to the conceptions of "Guild
Socialism" which have arisen recently out of the impact of Mr. Penty and
Syndicalism upon the uneasy intelligence of Mr. Orage.

And since the Fabian socialists have created a widespread belief that in
their projected state every man will be necessarily a public servant or
a public pupil because the state will be the only employer and the only
educator, it is necessary to point out that the Great State presupposes
neither the one nor the other. It is a form of liberty and not a form of
enslavement. We agree with the older forms of socialism in supposing an
initial proprietary independence in every citizen. The citizen is a
shareholder in the state. Above that and after that, he works if he
chooses. But if he likes to live on his minimum and do nothing--though
such a type of character is scarcely conceivable--he can. His earning is
his own surplus. Above the basal economics of the Great State we assume
with confidence there will be a huge surplus of free spending upon
extra-collective ends. Public organisations, for example, may distribute
impartially and possibly even print and make ink and paper for the
newspapers in the Great State, but they will certainly not own them.
Only doctrine-driven men have ever ventured to think they would. Nor
will the state control writers and artists, for example, nor the
stage--though it may build and own theatres--the tailor, the dressmaker,
the restaurant cook, an enormous multitude of other busy
workers-for-preferences. In the Great State of the future, as in the
life of the more prosperous classes of to-day, the greater proportion of
occupations and activities will be private and free.

I would like to underline in the most emphatic way that it is possible
to have this Great State, essentially socialistic, owning and running
the land and all the great public services, sustaining everybody in
absolute freedom at a certain minimum of comfort and well-being, and
still leaving most of the interests, amusements, and adornments of the
individual life, and all sorts of collective concerns, social and
political discussion, religious worship, philosophy, and the like to the
free personal initiatives of entirely unofficial people.

This still leaves the problem of systematic knowledge and research, and
all the associated problems of aesthetic, moral, and intellectual
initiative to be worked out in detail; but at least it dispels the
nightmare of a collective mind organised as a branch of the civil
service, with authors, critics, artists, scientific investigators
appointed in a phrensy of wire-pulling--as nowadays the British state
appoints its bishops for the care of its collective soul.

Let me now indicate how these general views affect the problem of family
organisation and the problem of women's freedom. In the Normal Social
Life the position of women is easily defined. They are subordinated but
important. The citizenship rests with the man, and the woman's relation
to the community as a whole is through a man. But within that limitation
her functions as mother, wife, and home-maker are cardinal. It is one of
the entirely unforeseen consequences that have arisen from the decay of
the Normal Social Life and its autonomous home that great numbers of
women while still subordinate have become profoundly unimportant They
have ceased to a very large extent to bear children, they have dropped
most of their home-making arts, they no longer nurse nor educate such
children as they have, and they have taken on no new functions that
compensate for these dwindling activities of the domestic interior. That
subjugation which is a vital condition to the Normal Social Life does
not seem to be necessary to the Great State. It may or it may not be
necessary. And here we enter upon the most difficult of all our
problems. The whole spirit of the Great State is against any avoidable
subjugation; but the whole spirit of that science which will animate the
Great State forbids us to ignore woman's functional and temperamental
differences. A new status has still to be invented for women, a Feminine
Citizenship differing in certain respects from the normal masculine
citizenship. Its conditions remain to be worked out. We have indeed to
work out an entire new system of relations between men and women, that
will be free from servitude, aggression, provocation, or parasitism. The
public Endowment of Motherhood as such may perhaps be the first broad
suggestion of the quality of this new status. A new type of family, a
mutual alliance in the place of a subjugation, is perhaps the most
startling of all the conceptions which confront us directly we turn
ourselves definitely towards the Great State.

And as our conception of the Great State grows, so we shall begin to
realise the nature of the problem of transition, the problem of what we
may best do in the confusion of the present time to elucidate and render
practicable this new phase of human organisation. Of one thing there
can be no doubt, that whatever increases thought and knowledge moves
towards our goal; and equally certain is it that nothing leads thither
that tampers with the freedom of spirit, the independence of soul in
common men and women. In many directions, therefore, the believer in the
Great State will display a jealous watchfulness of contemporary
developments rather than a premature constructiveness. We must watch
wealth; but quite as necessary it is to watch the legislator, who
mistakes propaganda for progress and class exasperation to satisfy class
vindictiveness for construction. Supremely important is it to keep
discussion open, to tolerate no limitation on the freedom of speech,
writing, art and book distribution, and to sustain the utmost liberty of
criticism upon all contemporary institutions and processes.

This briefly is the programme of problems and effort to which my idea of
the Great State, as the goal of contemporary progress, leads me.

The diagram on p. 131 shows compactly the gist of the preceding
discussion; it gives the view of social development upon which I base
all my political conceptions.


produces an increasing surplus of energy and opportunity, more
particularly under modern conditions of scientific organisation and
power production; and this through the operation of rent and of usury
tends to
(a) release and (b) expropriate
| |
an increasing proportion of the population to become:
| |
under no urgent compulsion divorced from the land and
to work living upon uncertain wages
|3 |2 |1 |1 2 3|
| | which may degenerate degenerate | |
| | into a waster class into a sweated, | |
| | \ overworked, | |
| | \ violently | |
| | \ resentful | |
| | \ and destructive | |
| | \ rebel class | |
| | \ / | |
| | and produce a | |
| | | |
| which may become which may become |
| a Governing the controlled |
| Class (with waster regimented |
| elements) in and disciplined |
| an unprogressive Labour Class of |
| Bureaucratic <-----------------> an unprogressive |
| SERVILE STATE Bureaucratic |
| |
which may become which may be
the whole community rendered needless
of the GREAT STATE by a universal
working under various compulsory year
motives and inducements or so of labour
but not constantly, service together
nor permanently with a scientific
nor unwillingly organisation
of production,
and so reabsorbed
by re-endowment
into the Leisure
Class of the